This summer, my sister-in-law, Kim, and her six-year-old daughter, Emily, came to visit us from Hong Kong. Emily’s school is out for the entire summer, and our girls are tracked out for all of July, so they spent three weeks with us!
Their stay here ended up being divided into three week-long chapters: life at home in Cary, the NC mountains, and the NC beach.
AT HOME IN CARY
During the first week, Kim and Emily tagged along with our girls to their normal events: swim meets, a sailing class, visits to our local museums and downtown, and more. I went to work in the daytime, leaving them to their activities.
THE NC MOUNTAINS
The second week, we spent in the NC Mountains. We rented a cabin in the town of Bat Cave, and we ventured out into the surrounding area. My parents joined us for a couple of days.
On Sunday, we drove to Bat Cave, which is really not much more than a post office and a sign post, with signs saying “Bat Cave, NC” on both sides of the post. We took our time in getting there, arriving the late afternoon. We drove into the town of Chimney Rock to get our bearings (to pee), and we were surprised to find that the entire town was without electricity. So we snaked our way up the mountain to the cabin, which was a good 1000 feet higher in elevation than the town. Eventually, the power came back on, and my parents showed up, too. We settled in, which for some, means unpacking. For me, it means I set up my Linksys wifi router and started scanning for neighboring networks. I had high hopes, because although there was only one other home that could be seen from our cabin, it was another rental unit, and they had advertised internet. Contrast that to our rustic accommodations, with satellite TV and a hot tub, but no internet.
On Monday, we drove a little bit father down the valley into Lake Lure. We took a boat tour of the lake, whose highlights included the site where Dirty Dancing was filmed in 1987, and some nice summer homes (note to self, buy more lottery tickets). We ate a picnic lunch on the shore. A bit further downstream, we found the Broad River Gems & Mining Co., a curious little operation whose proprietors inadvertently taught us as much about the dangers of smoking as it did about geology. For a hefty $25/bucket, city-slickers like us can rinse away the NC mud to reveal stones that have been imported from around the globe (the mine we visited last year had cheaper buckets with fewer stones, and so it felt a little more like mining, whereas this one seemed more like a muddy piñata than anything else). On the way back to the cabin, we stopped by the side of the road to wade in the cool water of the Broad River.
On Tuesday, Mimi and Pops left, and we headed to Chimney Rock State Park. It was hot and humid, but we were not deterred — we made the brief hike up the outcroppings trail to the Chimney Rock, where we caught our breath and took pictures of the valley. We cooled off and had lunch at the Sky Lounge Deli, waited out a small rain storm in the Sky Lounge Gift Shop, and then rode the elevator back down into the cool rocky tunnel. With the rain, the humidity was now well into the 90% range, and we sweated as we hiked along the Hickory Nut Falls trail, which rewards the persistent hiker with a cool 404-foot waterfall.
Wednesday was another steamy day with scattered showers, which we spent at the Biltmore House and Gardens in Asheville. The house tour is bigger than I remember it (or my memory is smaller than the tour), and we even chatted our way into a ride on the old elevator. But in the end, I still have to take solace in the fact that my modest house has many more amenities than old George Vanderbilt’s did, and it costs much less to maintain.
On Thursday, we managed to drag our four-hour drive home into some sort of eight-hour marathon, with frequent bathroom breaks, in-flight movies, snack breaks, and a poorly-timed stop at the NC Transportation Museum in Spencer NC (we arrived there ten minutes before closing time, 5:00pm). I can promise that we’ll return to the NC Transportation Museum some day… that place could easily fill a Saturday!
We spent Friday and Saturday at home, doing laundry and generally recovering from our trip to the mountains.
THE NC BEACH
On Sunday, we packed up and headed out to Atlantic Beach. The drive down was uneventful, and we enjoyed watching videos in the van (I jury-rigged a portable DVD player onto a make-shift shelf in between the front seats). We got to the beach just in time to see the orange moon rising into the dark blue evening sky in the east… awesome.
On previous trips to the beach, we had usually gone out to the ocean in mid-morning, and then worked our way back to the pool by around lunch time… a recipe for sunburn. So this week, we tried a new tactic, staying indoors during the peak hours of 10am – 3pm. So on Monday morning, we woke up and went for a quick walk on the beach in the morning, where we spotted a loggerhead turtle’s nest! That afternoon, we went to Fort Macon — we were completely stunned to find that it now has a brand new visitors center. One of the volunteers was wearing a turtle shirt, so we asked him about the nest, and he said that it should hatch any day now! We left the fort and headed to the Beaufort waterfront, where we ate at Finz and then toured the NC Maritime Museum. Our last stop of the day was at Beaufort’s Michael J. Smith Airport, my attempt at showing Emily that real people can fly small planes in America (there were no planes to see that day… bummer). We returned to the condo for a swim in ocean and then in the pool. Later that night, I went out to check on the turtle nest… there was a small crowd gathered around, hoping to see them hatch.
On Tuesday, we repeated our successful sun-aversion formula, with a walk on the beach in the morning and mid-day at the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. We explored the marsh area, saw crabs and snakes and sharks, and then attacked the gift shop. On the way out, we found a quick geocache nearby, and then headed off to Professor Hacker’s Lost Treasure Golf and Raceway (we did both, golf and racing). We finally topped it off with dinner at the Crab Shack, and a walk on the Pine Knoll Shores beach, where we found two more (less mature) turtle nests. Once again, after we got home, I checked on our turtles.
Wednesday was unusual for a beach day… we did NOTHING until mid-afternoon. The girls played games, and the adults read books and we all talked. Then we finally returned to Fort Macon beach to walk along shore at the easternmost tip of the island. We found hermit crabs and olive snails in the large tide pools, we climbed on the rock jetty, we collected smooth stones on the sand, and we watched an old fisherman catch and release a stingray. We came home and swam in the pool again. And again, we checked on our turtles at bedtime.
On Thursday, we woke up and packed to go home. It was starting to rain anyway, so we did not feel so bad about leaving the beach. We took the Cherry Branch / Minnesott Beach ferry across the Neuse River, and drive on up to Aurora to see the Fossil Museum. We spent just a little time inside before the kids were about to bust, so we went out to the dirt pile to dig for a while. As luck would have it, the rain finally caught up with us, so we filled a 5 gallon bucket with that prehistoric dirt and we loaded up the van to head back home.
What a trip. Three weeks in North Carolina, and we did the mountains and beach and all points in between. We learned about gems, turtles, fossils, trains, sharks, the Civil War, rip currents, airplanes, and 19th century aristocracy. And we also ate at Waffle House! I’d call that an educational summer!