Subscribers to the 12MC Twitter site likely noticed that I’d been on vacation recently and probably already understood that it foreshadowed another travelogue. You’ll be happy with the next several articles if you like those.
I was in Western North Carolina using Asheville as my base of operations for the week. I wasn’t sure exactly what to call the region. Was it Western North Carolina, or merely Western Carolina? There was a Western Carolina University in Cullowhee and a Western Carolina Regional Airport in Andrews, both in North Carolina, although the name seemed to shortchange people who lived in Western South Carolina. Ultimately I decided to name this travel series "Western North Carolina" because it seemed to be more precise as well as the more common usage even though it offered an overabundance of cardinal directions in my mind. Either way I didn’t get too concerned.
First we had to get down to Asheville, though. I didn’t take the most logical or direct route. That would be anathema to any dedicated county counter worth his mettle. We headed first to Chapel Hill for an overnight stop. My wife had a connection to the University of North Carolina and this was her first trip back there in nearly twenty years. That’s how I sold a concept that would set-up a county counting adventure far away from Interstate Highways on the second day of the drive down to Asheville.
Chapel Hill remained as nice as it had a couple of decades ago so everyone seemed to enjoy the detour. I even noticed an interesting sundial outside of UNC’s Morehead Planetarium (map) that would have been a perfect addition to my remarkable sundials article had I known about it earlier.
We headed to Asheville after Chapel Hill. Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly, I spent several days in town and never caught a glimpse of its most famous attraction. I guess a random one-time reader who landed on this page through a search engine query might be surprised, even shocked with my decision. How could someone travel all the way to Asheville and completely avoid the Biltmore Estate — the largest home in the United States — constructed by George Vanderbilt in the 1890’s? Most of the regulars, however, probably knew that 12MC often disregarded the obvious sites for those more esoteric. Plus I’d already seen a bunch of large estates on my recent trip to Newport, Rhode Island. I didn’t need to see another house, not even the biggest one (map)
A tip of the hat goes to Loyal Reader Rhodent who suggested I focus my attention elsewhere. He offered sage advice that led to lesser-known attractions like…
Western North Carolina Nature Center
When I saw the phrase "nature center" I cringed a little because I thought it might be like the little nature center near my home. I expected the typical couple of rooms with turtles, snakes and a few dusty taxidermy birds, and maybe a short walking trail through the trees. The Western North Carolina Nature Center was actually more of a small zoo (map). It featured all the familiar fauna one would expect from the local area tucked into an expansive wooded hillside. The kids loved it. I will also add that the white-tail deer there were the luckiest ones alive. Imagine having shelter, regular feedings and a peaceful place to stay during hunting season!
I began each morning with a walk through a different section of Asheville. The city offered a compact inner-core and I became familiar with its basic layout quickly. Asheville centered on Pack Square Park (map) and radiated out in all directions from there. A larger share of what I’d lovingly call itinerant hippies congregated throughout downtown, certainly more than what I’d expected for a city of its size. They seemed harmless enough, as if the only real "danger" might involve an unexpected drum circle or getting tangled in a web of white guy dreadlocks, or perhaps catching a vague waft of smoke of questionable origin. I’m quite immune to panhandlers and buskers thanks to years of living and working in a highly urbanized environment so I just went about my walks.
Much of my wandering involved the South Slope area, named that way because it occupied a downhill slope immediately south of downtown. What the designation lacked in originality it made up for in accuracy. It was also an area of great transition and clearly hit a tipping point towards gentrification recently. The craft breweries came first and continued to arrive. A couple of years ago this was little more than several rows of small, grimy warehouses and blue-collar businesses in various states of disrepair. Some of those elements remained and I took great delight in finding the original remnants prior to their transformation. And certainly they will transform. Soon. I saw construction everywhere; loft apartments, boutiques and more breweries on the way.
I also enjoyed exploring the neighborhoods just north of downtown like Historic Montford and the areas around Charlotte Street (map) with beautiful homes from the turn of the last century up through the 1930’s. It reminded me a lot of my own neighborhood before people started bulldozing historic homes to replace them with McMansions. Hopefully Asheville has better zoning laws to protect its vintage character.
Asheville provided a great central hub to the natural beauty of the Appalachian Mountains with abundant hiking, climbing, swimming, and rafting. We would pursue all of those activities in due course. However I can’t deny that an immense concentration of breweries springing from the hillsides attracted my attention too. I like to visit breweries although I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll have an entire article devoted to Asheville breweries coming soon.
Twelve Mile Circle is just getting started on this Western North Carolina trip report. Hopefully there will be something for everyone whether casual tourists, outdoor enthusiasts, hardcore geo-geeks or whatever. In the meantime, feel free to view my public photo album if you simply can’t wait to see where this is all heading.
Living in the Commonwealth for so many years I guess I’m predisposed to notice Virginia being mentioned in out-of-context situations. Such was the case with Virginia City, Montana which I saw while researching presidential counties. It was the seat of local government in Madison County named for James Madison, the fourth U.S. President. Madison had been associated with Virginia for his entire life. How fitting, I thought, that settlers arriving in Madison County named their primary town for the home state of the honoree. Except that wasn’t the case. It was a complete coincidence. However that led me to another string of coincidences, of places named Virginia related to silver and gold.
On June 16,  …directors presented the charter to Dr. Gaylord Bissell (who had been elected as Judge of the Fairweather Mining District), the proposed name of the new town was "Varina;" honoring the wife of Jefferson Davis-president of the Confederate States of America. Judge Bissell, a staunch Unionist, declared that there was no way he would approve of a charter which carried this name. One of the charter’s proponents hastened to explain that, inasmuch as Mrs. Davis was the daughter of a prominent New Jersey family, her name actually represented a thoughtful compromise in sectional consciousness. Somewhat mollified-if not totally convinced-Judge Bissell responded by crossing out the proposed name "Varina" and writing in the name of the city as "Virginia."
It was a pretty bold move to try to name a Montana town in honor of the Confederate’s first lady while the Civil War raged on the eastern end of the continent. I’m surprised Judge Bissell even offered Virginia, seeing how it was the home of the Confederate capital of said conflict. Nonetheless Virginia City thrived for awhile as the gold mines prospered, and even served as Montana’s first Territorial Capital. The current population hovers around 200 residents although it has managed to build a thriving tourist industry attracted to the Virginia City and Nevada City Historic District
Virginia City, Nevada
I’ve actually visited Virginia City, Nevada although it was many years ago. A different mineral — silver — attracted miners in the late 1850’s. This was the site of the famous Comstock Lode, with seven million tons of silver extracted in twenty years between 1860 and 1880. It’s the reason Nevada came to be known as "The Silver State."
That was a fine set of statistics although I wanted to see the connection to Virginia. It was tangential. The name derived from James Finney (or Fennimore), "Old Virginny Finney." In 1859 he may or may not have discovered the Six-Mile Canyon portion of the Comstock Lode. There were various competing legends explaining how his name came to be applied to the town. My favorite version involved his penchant for public intoxication:
"[O]ne midnight Old Virginia, going home with the boys and a bottle of whiskey," wrote Charles Howard Shinn in The Story of The Mine (1896), "after an unusually protracted revel, fell down when he reached his cabin, broke the bottle, and rising to his knees, with the bottle-neck is his hand, hiccoughed, ‘I baptize this ground Virginia Town!’"
He was a native of Virginia — thus the connection — and "probably Nevada’s oldest pioneer settler" as well as a "frontier hunter, and miner, a man of more than ordinary ability in his class, a buffoon and practical joker; a hard drinker when he could get the liquor, and an indifferent worker at anything." He died in 1861 after being thrown from a horse while intoxicated.
It was hard to follow-up a story like that although Virginia in South Africa’s Free State province deserved a special mention because of its sheer distance from its namesake. This Virginia was,
…named after the state in America by Louis Seymour, a mechanical and mining engineer who scratched the name of his birthplace on a boulder close to where a railway siding was subsequently built… Years later, after the discovery of gold in 1955 the emergence of a town took on the name of the railway siding. Life here revolves around the gold fields… Virginia’s claim to fame is it pipe-mine, the deepest on the planet, whilst the manufacture of sulfuric acid from gold ore and the mining of gold are what drives the town’s economy.
I’ve seen neither gold nor silver in my little corner of Virginia, although these colorful stories almost make me want to pull out a shovel and start digging in my back yard.
There were numerous other happenings from my recent Cape Cod and Islands adventure that didn’t fit within larger themes. Some of them were unusual. Others simply cataloged additions to my various lists. Still others, well, I’m not sure why I felt they were noteworthy except that they caught my attention for some inexplicable reason. My thanks go out to the Twelve Mile Circle audience for indulging me on this latest travelogue. This is the last installment. We will return to geo-oddity goodness soon.
What the Fox?
I am a terrible photographer. Even so, this blurry monstrosity was even worse than my usual sad fare. I broke a cardinal rule: just take the picture and only then try to get a better one. I was walking down Bradford Street (map) — one of the major roads through Provincetown — very early one fine morning on the way back from seeing the Wood End Lighthouse. I got a strange feeling that someone or something was watching me. I turned to the side and, directly across the street from me, stood a fox with a squirrel in its mouth. We stared at each other for maybe ten seconds while I slowly pulled a phone from my pocket to take a photo. I should have hit the shutter at the first opportunity. Instead I tried to neatly center the image, zoom in and get a perfect shot. Naturally the critter started walking as I set the shot, leaving me desperately clicking as fast as I could, capturing a blurry fox with squirrel. You’d think I’d learn.
Ferry, Ferry Quite Contrary
I like ferries. Longtime 12MC readers already know that. This particular trip offered multiple opportunities.
The Chappy Ferry on Martha’s Vineyard was particularly memorable because it was an unusual example of a ferry requiring another ferry. First people needed to get to Martha’s Vineyard on a ferry then those wishing to travel onward to Chappaquiddick Island needed to take a second ferry(¹), the Chappy Ferry’s "On Time III" boat (map). Also notable was its duration, all of maybe 30 seconds. In fact, my YouTube video showed pretty much the compete route in its entirety. One had to appreciate the simplicity of the solution, going back-and-forth all day long carrying three cars at a time across a narrow channel. It was more romantic than a bridge, I supposed.
We took two other ferries during our adventure, both departing Hyannis on the mainland using Hy-Line Cruises. One involved a round-trip to Nantucket and the other a round-trip to Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard(²). We chose Hy-Line because it made visiting both islands on back-to-back overnight stays a little easier. We didn’t have to worry about getting to different mainland ports. I admit that it was a bit of an odd scheme contrived solely so that I could add to my county counting list. Nantucket was it’s own eponymous county. Martha’s Vineyard plus a few nearby islands formed Dukes County. I felt I had capture both counties on this trip because I wasn’t sure when I might be back that way again.
That created a minor time dilemma. We disembarked at Hyannis after the Nantucket round-trip and then had four hours to kill before catching the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. We ate lunch at the harbor. OK, we still had three hours. Fortunately the Cape Cod Beer brewery was a short drive away. Problem solved.
I noticed a Cape Cod Beer truck loading the Martha’s Vineyard ferry when we returned. I really liked the photo. I should probably send a copy to the brewery.
I have a few stories that I’ll gladly share in person over a pint someday.
12MC Sees Geo Everywhere
Nantucket Water Meter
Maps always seemed to be on my mind even when I’m supposed to be relaxing on vacation. The only greater significance of that statement related to my unnatural interest in Nantucket water meters. They featured maps of the island. It took me awhile to fine one worth photographing. Let’s just say it became an obsession and move along to another topic.
My Digital Fingerprints
That Was Me
I’ve also never missed an opportunity to scour Google Analytics for unusual 12MC readership trends. My real-world adventures created the pattern on this image! That happened as a result of my back-to-back trips to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. I pinged the site from Nantucket in the morning and Martha’s Vineyard in the afternoon. That was the first time 12MC ever received hits from both of those islands on the same day. I’m easily amused.
And let me digress back to County Counting while I’m thinking about it. I also captured the final two counties in Rhode Island that I’d never visited previously. Newport County was a great capture. We stayed overnight in Newport and that counted extra in my mental categorization. Plus it was my first overnight trip ever to the state of Rhode Island so that made it doubly special. Bristol County was a lesser capture. I merely crossed the border then did a U-turn, traversing Bristol for probably less than a minute. It still counted! Now Rhode Island could be listed as completed on my scorecard along with Delaware, Maryland and Connecticut (a.k.a. "easy ones"). I know, Rhode Island doesn’t technically have self-governing counties anymore. I still count them.
Fort Revere Park
Most people probably visited the ruins of old Fort Revere in Hull (map) to see the fortifications themselves. I did that too. That was great. I also enjoyed walking through the underground tunnels within the fort to view graffiti. My wife rolled her eyes. I’m used to it.
(¹) I suppose one could also fly to Martha’s Vineyard although I still preferred the double-ferry option. (²) The triangular route beginning at Hyannis which included a direct link between Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard would have been more efficient. Unfortunately that option only operates during summer months and wasn’t available during my trip.