Hello From Mountain Country

Trip Start Apr 30, 2012
Trip End May 12, 2012

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Where I stayed
Holiday Inn Express, Asheville, North Carolina

Flag of United States  , North Carolina
Friday, May 4, 2012

Hi, Y'all!

We've heard that phrase quite a bit, as you might expect! Every time we hear it, it's said with a smile and always good to hear.  The folks here are all very friendly and talkative, adding to the sheer beauty of the Smoky, Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains we're enjoying so much.

We spent the better part of Wednesday in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  We could have spent ALL day there and more, but I guess we'll have to save that for yet another trip.  It was warm (in the mid-80s) and partly sunny, adding to that "smoky" look these mountains have.  They get their name from the Cherokee, who called them "shaconage" or "blue, like smoke."  Climate, moisture and other elements result in the smoky appearance.  But there is one sad fact here: Pollution has diminished the appearance and long-range views of the mountains by as much as 80 percent.  Despite this, 1,500 flowering plants, dozens of native fish, over 200 species of birds and 60 types of mammals still thrive here.  The highest point in the park is called Clingman's Dome, over 66-hundred feet.  You can drive to a stop about a half-mile from the top, then walk the rest of the way.  Dad did this in 1950.  62 years later he did the same thing Wednesday and enjoyed every minute of it!

We've spent the last two days in and around Asheville, North Carolina, a very friendly, laid-back city of about 70-thousand.  Yesterday (Thursday) we took in the Biltmore Estate, which has to be seen to be believed.  At 175-thousand square feet, you can hardly call this a "house" but they say it's the largest "house" in the United States!  The mansion and grounds were bought in the late 1800s by George Vanderbilt, Grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who made the family fortune in shipping.  He named the place "Biltmore" which is a combination of the last four letters of his name and "More," the English word for open land.  There's plenty of that...over 8,000 acres!  The mansion was designed by William Morris Hunt and the grounds designed and landscaped by Frederick Law Olmstead who designed Central Park in New York.  He also designed Jackson, Marquette and Washington Parks as well as the Midway Plaisance in Chicago.  A winding drive of at least three miles takes you to the mansion, opened with a huge party on Christmas Eve, 1895.  This tour is a great one, allowing you to take it all in on your OWN time.  Also, the audio sets and headphones are among the best I've encountered on tours like these, not only for their ease of operation but the overall presentation you listen to as you walk through the mansion.

Thursday afternoon we drove about 30 miles outside Asheville to visit the Carl Sandburg farm, known as Connemara.  Sandburg and his family moved here from Harbert, Michigan in 1945 and he died here in July of 1967.  Perhaps Sandburg is best-known in our area for his poem "Chicago" (in which he coins the phrase "City of the Big Shoulders") but he finished editing his six-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln here.  It's great to see how the National Park Service has preserved and maintained the home and grounds.  Once inside the home, you get the feeling that the Sandburgs still live here, as all their furniture, kitchen appliances, records (Yes!  Records!) and thousands of books are all in place.  Going through their house was a HUGE contrast from Biltmore!

Ever since we've been in this part of the country, we've been struck at the magnificent beauty of these hills and mountains.  What's fascinating is the way in which they contrast with each other, changing in shade and color from a lighter to a darker blue as one range seemingly merges into the next and fades into the distance.  Only a poet like Sandburg could describe them as "seeming to hang in the air."  We'd like to hang here a lot longer, but we're headed to South Carolina today.  We'll be back when we can.  Y'all have a good'n!

On The Road...The Drivers,

Dave And Paul Schwan

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