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 Travel Trails By Martin B. Deutsch

martin TOUR THE TAR-HEEL STATE

BY MARTIN B. DEUTSCH

July 1, 1965 -- Day by day, orbit by orbit, satellite by satellite, we are moving deeper into the wonders and mysteries of the space age. It won't be long before the first space-age tourist steps onto the surface of the moon. This penetration of the universe, as miraculous as it is, just a Buck Rogers fantasy a few years ago, becomes even more astounding when we realize that it was only sixty-two years ago that the Wright brothers successfully took off for man's first sustained flight by a heavier-than-air machine. It was on December 17, 1903 that Orville and Wilbur, at Kill Devil Hill near Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, became airborne four times in their twelve-horsepower, 600-pound plane, the longest flight lasting fifty-nine seconds, covering 852 feet at a maximum speed of thirty miles an hour. The average altitude was ten feet.

I think you and the wife, and especially the kids, would enjoy a visit to the Wright Brothers National Memorial on North Carolina's Outer Banks. And while you're at it, you can plan to spend several weeks in the Tar Heel State for a truly wonderful vacation, with a wealth of historical and recreational attractions squeezed into the 500 miles between rugged Cape Hatteras on the Atlantic Coast, and the splendid Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains in the west.

North Carolina, which bills itself as the "Variety Vacation" state, is endowed with recreation areas, national parks and forests, fine fishing and hunting, golf and other sports, outdoor dramas and summer theatres, festivals and tobacco auctions, some of the most historic mansions and cities in the South, beaches and lakes galore, and more than 72,000 miles of roads and bridges--all toll-free. Camp and other trailer sites, cottages and cabins, motels and hotels, also abound. And the average temperature during the summer months in all parts of the state hovers in the pleasant seventies.

You might also be interested to know that North Carolina is less than a day away by car for more than half the population of the United States. And we can guarantee you this: y'all will be welcome.

Getting back for a moment to the Birthplace of Aviation, the Wright Brothers Memorial lies on a long sandpit along the shore, accessible from the north by U.S. 158, crossing Currituck Sound by the Wright Memorial Bridge. The monument itself is a granite plyton, sixty-feet in height, built atop a ninety-foot sand dune. The visitor center, open daily from eight-thirty to five, features a replica of the 1903 "flying machine," and a fine view of the flight grounds and monument. There is no charge. If you happen to own a light plane, there's also a small airport nearby.

Just so you don't think that North Carolina's ties with man's conquest of air and space lie only in the past, you might want to visit the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Data Acquisition facility at Rosman in the state's mountains. This "tracking station," which keeps its ears turned to U.S. satellites by means of a "big dish," is open to visitors, with station staff serving as guides from eight a.m. to four-thirty p.m., Mondays through Fridays.

Before we work our way inland, let's spend a few more minutes on the Outer Banks, where Mrs. Wright's boys conquered the air. Stretching along 120 miles of the state's shoreline, the area consists of a series of narrow islands and peninsulas, a sort of natural outpost between the sounds and the ocean. The first English colony was set up on Roanoke Island in 1585. Pirates subsequently sought the sheltered coves and mariners have long avoided the area. Cape Hatteras is one of the islands. Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is on Roanoke, and the courageous but futile first effort to set up a colony here in 1585 comes vividly to life in the excavation of the old fort and the artifacts in the Fort Raleigh Visitor Center. An outdoor symphonic drama, "The Lost Colony," is shown nightly except Sundays at the Waterside Theatre, from late June to early September. Reserved seats $3, others $2, children six to twelve, $1. Also on Roanoke Island is Manteo, headquarters for some of North Carolina's hunting and fishing, and the side of an important Civil War battle in 1862, in which the Union won a significant victory. Other Outer Banks areas offer fine resorts and beaches and many retain the quaint, picturesque charm of a quiet maritime existence.

Speaking of fish and game, more than thirty species of salt-water fish may be tackled from surf, piers and boats along shore. Blue marlin, dolphin, pompano, red snapper, king mackerel, sailfish, striped bass, tarpon, tuna and wahoo are typical of what's on hand. There's no license required for salt-water fishing. Mountain trout waters yield brook, brown and rainbow. Lakes, ponds and rivers are renowned also for bass, crappie and panfish. Hunters can go after either big game, such as deer, bear and boar, or ducks, geese, marsh hens, woodcock, ruffled grouse, quail, pheasant and wild turkey. The seasons vary. There's an authoritative booklet, "Fishing and Hunting," published free by the State Travel Information Division, including maps and advice on tackle. Write for a copy to Raleigh, North Carolina.

Before we move all the way west to the superb Blue Ridge Country and Great Smoky Mountains, home of the tallest peaks in Eastern America, let's stop off at a few worthwhile places in between. First, there's the capital, Raleigh, which is about 206 miles directly west of Kitty Hawk, and traces its lineage back to 1792. Here you can visit the handsome state capitol building, the North Carolina Museum of Art, Andrew Johnson's birthplace, and possibly most interesting, the Nuclear Reactor Building on the State College campus. You can pay a charge-free call Monday through Friday, from eight-thirty to five.

At Durham, not far away, you can drop in at a tobacco auction from September through December. Cigarette factory tours are offered at Liggett and Myers on weekends eight to eleven-fifteen and one to three-thirty; American Tobacco Company, weekends nine-thirty to eleven and one-thirty to two forty-five. Duke University, with its West, or Main, campus, considered one of the finest in America, is also here. The lovely Sarah Duke Gardens on campus will soon clean you out of color film.

A little further on, at Chapel Hill, you'll find the oldest university in the state, the University of North Carolina, opened in 1795. A real treat is Morehead Planetarium on campus, with weekday programs in the evening and three times a day on Saturday and Sunday. The admission charge is less than $1, and the building also houses art and scientific exhibits. The Coker Arboretum in Chapel Hill is also worth a look, with its more than 500 colorful botanical specimens.

Winston-Salem, to the northwest, dates back to 1753, when a group of Moravians from Pennsylvania bought some land. They eventually named the community Salem, and much later, in 1913, joined with Winston, which had been founded in 1849. Today Winston-Salem is a leading tobacco center. You can tour R.J. Reynolds, Monday through Friday, from eight to three and six to ten. You can visit tobacco warehouses, the Municipal Iris Gardens, Reynolda Gardens, Wake Forrest College and Tanglewood, a park with swimming pool, lakes, golf course, picnic area, arboretum, week-end showboat tours on the lake, summer stock, a deer park and barnyard zoo, horseback riding, fishing, boating and camping. Each facility has a separate charge. Old Salem is a laudable project to restore the Moravian village of the late eighteen century. This vivid re-creation (in many cases, it's the original) includes a reception center (closed on Sundays), the Market and Fire House Museum, Salem Tavern, Miksch Tobacco Shop, the John Vogler House (1819 dwelling of a silversmith), the Home Moravian Church, and Lovely Salem Academy and College. Combined admission to most of the places for adults is $1.50, children 40 cents.

Incidentally, we've brought you into the heart of the state almost due west from Kitty Hawk, but there's also an attractive alternative. You can follow the Outer Banks south to Wilmington, the state's principal port, then drive 123 miles northwest to Raleigh. Wilmington is more than just a jumping-off place. Located on the Cape Fear River, it is the hub of four of North Carolina's most popular beach resorts: Wrightsville, ten miles east; Carolina, sixteen miles south; Kure, seventeen miles south, and Fort Fisher, nineteen miles south. Wilmington also played an important role in the Revolutionary War and was the major port of the Confederacy. It is a city of great charm and you would enjoy taking the family to visit the gracious Greenfield Lake Gardens (free); St. James Episcopal Church (1751 and 1839); Headquarters of Lord Cornwallis; the famous Deep-Sought Orton Plantation (admission fee); Brunswick Town State Historic Site, and the U.S.S.: North Carolina Battleship-memorial, dedicated to a courageous lady of World War II fame.

Throughout North Carolina, as you follow your own vacation trail, you'll encounter a series of state parks, open daily from eight a.m. to ten p.m. from May through August; to eight p.m. during March, April, September and October and to six p.m. November through February. Admission and parking are free, but there are normal charges for fishing, swimming, boating and camping. Trailers are permitted in all parks except Mount Mitchell. You need reservation s for camp sites, which have to be made for a minimum of five days. Aside from Mt. Mitchell, there are cliffs of the Neuse State Park; Fort Macon State Park; Hanging Park State Park; Morrow Mt. State Park; Mt. Jefferson State Park; Pettigrew State Park, and William B. Umstead State Park. These are just some of the better-known ones.

Before we get into the mountains, I wasn't to refer to the state's golf courses--there are nearly 200 open the year round across North Carolina. I also recommend a stop at Asheville, one of the great resorts in the East, and as good a gateway to the Smokies as any. Two rivers flow through this community of 60,000, which is renowned for local skills, such as weaving and pottery, as well as several special events, such as the Craftsmen's Fair and the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, all annual summer events. There's also golf (four courses), tennis, miles of hiking and horseback trails, well stocked streams, good hunting in season, and the Dogwood Trail, a well marked route through town which passes scenic attractions. You might also visit the Thomas Wolfe Memorial; Chimney Rock, twenty-five miles to the south-east on U.S. 74; the Stuart Nye Silver Shop, and the Elk Mountain Scenic Highway, which will bring you to the magnificent Blue Ridge Parkway.

Also west of Asheville is Cherokee, headquarters of an Indian reservation which comprises more than 50,000 acres. The reservation is crossed by that portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway which enters the Great Smoky Mountain National park. Some 5,200 Cherokees still live on the reservation, remnants of the powerful tribe which once owned most of the Southeast. Private guides may be hired from May to October to see the Indians work at their native handicrafts. Outside the Cherokee village, at the Mountainside Theatre, the historical drama "Unto These Hills" is performed from late June to early September by descendants of the tribe's heroes. Shows start at eight p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. Prices are from $1.50 to $3.

Just south of Asheville lies one of the most unusual and impressive homes in the U.S.A. The Biltmore House and Gardens, surrounded by a 12,000-acre estate, was developed in the late nineteenth century by George W. Vanderbilt and opened to the public in 1930. This French Renaissance mansion of hand-tooled and carved limestone has 250 rooms and an art collection which includes a chess set of Napoleon's, Ming dynasty china, and original Sargent portraits. Also on the property, you can visit the herd and inspect the barns of the Baltimore Dairy Farms, renowned for pure-bred Jersey cattle. Open daily from nine to five, from February first to December fifteenth. Admission runs $2.40 for adults, $1.40 for kids six to sixteen. A full tour takes about two hours.

Just a short distance west of Asheville, driving through Cherokee, you'll enter a scenic section which compares favorably with any in North America, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, made all the more attractive by the soft haze which always seems to embrace these green-blue mountains. Your point of entry to this 500,000-acre park, which lies half in North Carolina, and half in Tennessee, is the southern terminus of the magnificent Blue Ridge Parkway, which moves proudly north along the Blue Ridge at elevations of from 2,000 to 6,000 feet, all the way to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

The Great Smoky Park offers those high peaks, a wide variety of plant and animal life, fine fishing streams, hiking trails and modern campgrounds, which in North Carolina include Smokemont, Deep Creek and Balsam Mountain. Since the park rangers only nine to nineteen miles in width, hotel and motel accommodations in adjoining communities are plentiful and easy to reach. There's no charge for entry, and camp sites and parking are free.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is open all year, even though icy sections may close certain portions in winter. Recreational facilities in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are available May first to the end of October. The forty-five mph limit on the Blue Ridge is carefully enforced, but you won't want to hurry through that scenery anyway.

Highest natural point of the Parkway is the Richland Balsam (6,053 feet) in the park, but you can get up to 6,643 feet via the observation lower atop Clingman's Dome, where you are really "On Top of Old Smoky." Among other scenic points and lookouts, you'll want to keep an eye open for Cumberland Knob, Doughton Park, Crabtree Meadows and Craggy Gardens. There are, of course, many other worthwhile stops along the Blue Ridge in the Tennessee and Virginia sections. There are reasonable overnight facilities at a lodge in Doughton Park, and food at quite a few places along the way. (The AAA advises motorists to keep gas tanks at least half filled at all times.)

Some of the route's highlights as you drive north, as we've already mentioned in passing, include Craggy Gardens, about seventeen miles northeast of Ashville, a recreation area especially picturesque in June when the rhododendrons are in full bloom. You can follow hiking trails here which will keep you occupied anywhere from an hour to a day. These self-guiding trails, numerous along the full length of the parkway, lead you to the most striking vistas and are well marked by labels or numbered stakes. Booklets at visitor centers will also outline these walks for you. Linville Recreation Area, near the mountain resort town of Linville, offers a fine view of Linville Falls and Gorge, which runs for twelve miles and attains a height of 1,000 feet. You can hike, picnic, fish and hunt in this area, which is also distinguished by its profusion of rhododendron. Also worth a short call is The Museum of North Carolina Minerals, open without charge from May through October.

Incidentally, if you feel like concentrating on the sights and letting someone else do the driving, several tour operators offer excellent motorcoach trips into this region. For example, from New York, Tauck Tours offers a delightful thirteen-day itinerary of the "Smoky Mountains-‘Ol Virginia, departing approximately every other Monday through the warm weather months. Your travel agent can give you information on this and other Smoky Mountains vacations, and make all the necessary arrangements for you.

We've really only touched on North Carolina's visitor highlight here, and we'll save for some other time the details of such attractions as Blowing Rock (on the Blue Ridge Parkway); Cape Hatteras National Seashore; Charlotte; Fontana Village (a resort); the Great Dismal Swamp; Greensboro; Little Switzerland; Moores Creek National Military Park; Natahala National Forest; Pisgah National Forest; and the winter resort of Southern Pines.

For an excellent, illustrated summary of the state's tourist bill of fare, write for the booklet, "North Carolina Variety Vacationland," to Department A, the Department of Conservation and Development, Travel Information Division, Raleigh, North Carolina. There's no charge for this, and it will provide a vivid full-color picture of what's available in the state.

This column originally appeared in Argosy magazine.

Copyright © 1962-2007 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.