Go to the bathroom and get yourself a snack...this is another long travelogue of a post!
Normally, I come home on Friday night to a lonely Rosie and an otherwise empty house. I look forward to either crashing from a busy week with a book, or doing a few fun chores: using up old bananas in banana bread, finally getting the floor vacuumed, or even catching up on blog stuff. (No, vacuuming is not fun, but it's soooo nice to have a carpet without wads of black dog fur all over it.)
Last Friday was odd. When I got home, Miss Chef's car was there. Not only was she not at work, but her car was parked on the street, as if she were planning to leave before me in the morning. I came in to find her sitting at the computer, dressed in street clothes. No chef jacket?
I plopped my bags on the floor and asked her what was up.
"Well," she said, shutting down the computer, "Remember how I wouldn't really commit to anything this weekend, when you asked if I wanted to go to the fair?"
"I have a surprise for you..."
She had reserved a hotel room in Flat Rock, arranged time off, taken Rosie up to Maria's, and even packed the car. We were ready to leave for a weekend in the mountains! I was impressed--I'd been thinking longingly of our trip last year to Brevard and Hendersonville. Not only had she read my mind, but she'd been really devious about it, too. She'd texted me the night before that she had to work a double because the line cook was sick...she signed off that message with "See you Saturday." Little did I know she'd arranged a month ago to switch shifts.
So into the car we jumped and off we drove. Miss Chef had a folder with directions to the hotel, as well as a few places she thought we should visit. Not only had she planned everything, but she was paying for everything and doing all the driving.
Yes, I know how lucky I am.
We got to Flat Rock late, so it wasn't until Saturday morning that we headed out to really enjoy the mountains. Miss Chef had also ordered a perfect fall weekend, with blue skies, bright sun and temperatures in the high 60s.
Our first adventure was to Chimney Rock State Park. The natural monument and 64 surrounding acres was purchased in 1902 by a Dr. Lucius Morse for $5,000. He and his family developed the area as a park open to a paying public, expanding their landholdings to 1000 acres. It remained in the Morse family until 2007, when the state of North Carolina bought the land for $2.4 million. That's quite a good investment!
Here's why people come from around the world to visit Chimney Rock:
We'd already driven up and up and up to get this far...that jutting rock is another 315 feet above the parking lot. Think about climbing to the top of a 30-story building, and you've got the idea of our task. I thought the guy at the ticket booth at the park entrance was joking about an elevator being closed--an elevator? To a mountain? But yes, they have an elevator. And yes, it was closed for upgrades. Whatever. We were here to climb.
We warmed up with a stop to enjoy the view from the parking lot.
Below us we discovered Lake Lure. This is an artificial lake, created by damming the Broad River in 1927. This was also the work of the Morse family--Dr. Morse's wife is credited with naming the lake. Trivia: parts of several movies, including Dirty Dancing and Last of the Mohicans were filmed here. Ooooo....
As we set off up the trail to the top, we passed by some people taking rock climbing lessons.
About this time, Miss Chef realized she couldn't find her keys! Well, there was no point in panicking; we'd come to climb the rock and climb we would. The car wasn't going anywhere.
I hadn't realized that we'd be climbing stairs the whole way. I thought we'd be scrambling up steep trails, but it was way steeper than I knew! (These are actually stairs down to another trail...which we eventually did climb back up later in the day...but this gives you the general idea.)
I had to take many, many breaks! It probably took 20 to 30 minutes to get to the top. I was very happy Miss Chef was patient with me and didn't care how often I had to stop.
Yes, I know how lucky I am. :)
This picture should give you some idea of how high we were. The walkway is part of a (temporarily closed) side trail that was about a quarter of the way up.
Of course, we didn't spend as much time looking down as we did out.
I patched together this view from 3 different pictures. You can click on it, then on "show original" to biggerize it (and see where my patches don't quite meet, lol).
Here are some more, regular pictures:
Can you tell we were enjoying ourselves?
Yours truly, soaking in the sights. Like my hat?
Although it obviously wasn't peak color yet, we still found some beautiful leaves to ooh and ahh over.
Miss Chef gets credit for these. I actually made a conscious decision to put the camera down and just enjoy the colors. So I didn't get anything as spectacular as last year's photos.
We met a lovely couple at the top, and sat chatting with them for a while. We admired the several dogs that had made the climb with their owners, and I admired the young couples who had packed their infant children up all those stairs. (You can rent backpack-style carriers at the base. Maybe I'll ask Miss Chef to carry me up next time.)
Back behind Chimney Rock, we could see the next stop on the further climb--can you see the people behind the railing? (Click to biggerize.) That spot is called Opera Box. What a clever name! The profile of the cliff to the right reminds me of a champagne cork.
We opted not to continue on up that way to Exclamation Point, the highest part of the park available to visitors. I had had enough stairs (I get a touch of vertigo on them, but mostly my legs were a bit shaky), and Miss Chef's bad knee was really bothering her.
It was a lot faster going down; as we started our descent, I wanted to give folks on their way up a high-five and say "Good job!" Once back at the parking lot, Miss Chef got a number for a car-unlocking service from the gift shop, and we ate lunch while we waited. It was an hour and a half wait, but the weather was gorgeous, and we had lots to look at.
I have to say, every single person we met on our weekend was unfailingly friendly and lovely. Tourists, parking rangers, locals, everybody.
Once we got back into our car*--after a lesson from the friendly car-unlocker man about how to hide a key on your car--Miss Chef put her knee brace on and we headed out on another trail. This one was to Hickory Nut Falls, which we knew nothing about. But we were still in the mood for a walk in the woods, and this was a much easier trail, with no stairs.
*Although I promised Miss Chef I'd take a picture of the unlocking process to
embarrass her post on this blog, I got distracted and forgot. Dang!
It was about 30 minutes' walk along a wide gravel trail to get to the falls. There were a lot of people on the way there and back, but it didn't really feel crowded. Here's a picture looking back at the last bridge approaching the falls. Makes me glad the Morse family did such a good job creating these trails!
It was hard to get a good picture of the falls, so here's a video instead. Not the most impressive falls I've visited, but picturesque all the same.
After the hike back, we decided we had done our exercise for the day, so we headed on out. I drove down the twisty road, which was kind of fun. Miss Chef kept a tight grip on the passenger side door; maybe she was afraid the unlocking guy had damaged it?
We stopped to buy apples and cider--the road back toward Interstate 26 was lined with orchards every 500 feet! Miss Chef bought a peck of cameos and a warm fried apple pie. I opened the cold apple cider before we made it back to the car--I was thirsty after all that climbing!
After a brief stop back in the hotel room, we headed into nearby Hendersonville for dinner.
I love the historic downtown area. We parked on the south end of the 5-block center of Main Street and strolled up and back, peeking in closed shop windows and reading menus. We finally settled on Mezzaluna, an Italian place with a casual, open feel and slightly upscale food. Miss Chef had veal saltembucca, I had fettucine with prosciutto, asparagus and peas in a creamy sauce. I did not take pictures.
We didn't stay for dessert, because we had already ascertained that Kilwin's, a sweets shop up the street, would be open until 10 pm. (As I type this, I am munching on the last of the chocolate-covered pretzels we bought there.) And that was enough excitement for one day...we headed back to the hotel and a well-earned rest.
Sunday was apple day! Miss Chef's folder included directions to Skytop Orchards just minutes from our hotel. Once we turned off the main road, we knew why they named it Skytop--the road was even steeper than the one to Chimney Rock! The views were gorgeous, with plenty of gold, orange and red blazes to keep me pointing out the window.
Skytop Orchard is quite the destination. They have a big shop full of a dozen varieties of apples, cider slushees, hot cider, jugs of cider, apple breads and cakes...and hot, fresh apple cider donuts made right in front of you.
We had just had breakfast, so we decided to hold off on the treats. We were there to pick our own apples. We eventually found the fellow in charge of handing out baskets and got directions. Turns out we were right at the end of the season; all that was left were some gold varieties and pink lady. Also, the directions included a twenty-minute walk and the phrase "beyond the dropoff."
We were in for more climbing.
But this was more fun. No stairs, for starters. And gorgeous views.
I swear, I did not plan Miss Chef's cameo. We just make a good team.
Once we made it to the far, far edge of the orchard land, we finally found some apples still in the trees. Most of them were yellow...
...but we were mostly interested in the pink ladies. Truth be told, we found most of the best ones already on the ground. We didn't care where we found them, the hunt was the thing.
Miss Chef was busy finding more apples than we could possibly eat, so I stopped picking to take more pictures. I've adjusted the saturation and contrast of these to make the colors more like we saw them in person.
Above is the bottom part of the dropoff we were going to be hauling our apples back up. Below is the woods at the far edge of the orchard.
After dragging Miss Chef away from the trees, we hauled our apples back up the dropoff to the main shop to pay for them. As we walked into the building, I noticed a woman writing a whiteboard sign "Skytop is picked out," and another woman erasing the varieties available off another whiteboard. Good thing we got there first thing in the morning!
The farm also includes a sort-of barnyard with sheep, goats and geese for the kids to feed and maybe pet. I distracted two very domineering sheep in this pen so Miss Chef could make nice with the lone little goat.
There was also this pretty little pond with some ducks happily soaking in the sun.
After getting to know The Boyz at Morning Bray Farm, and Linda's heard at the 7MSN Ranch, I was hoping to meet some donkeys, but this was as close as it got...
|"I wish I could be a real boy..."|
...so I consoled myself with some of those apple cider donuts we'd been eyeing earlier!
It was a delicious ending to a lovely, relaxing weekend. We did a brief trip back into Hendersonville for lunch (okay, and maybe we had to hit Mast General Store), and then headed back home. It's amazing how quickly we drop out of the mountains as we drive east toward Charlotte; next time we may have to venture a little further in. Because surely, there will be a next time.
Here's a last picture from Hendersonville...they do love their bears!