Monday, January 21, 2013

Grandfather Mountain

Several weeks back, we felt like spending the day in the mountains, so we got in the car and started driving west. About the time we got to Winston-Salem, Marla threw up. Trip over!

Saturday, we tried again - this time, puke free! (Hooray!)

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Actually, maybe it was just as well that we made this trip this weekend, instead of in November. While we only got less than an inch of snow on Thursday, the mountains of northwestern North Carolina got more. Way more. Amber likes snow, so often when the snow doesn't come to us, we go to the snow! (This drive to Danville in December 2009 comes to mind.)

Of course...the problem is, that while the main roads in the Boone area were all clear, the same could not be said for, say, the Elk Knob State Park entrance road. We'll have to try Elk Knob again some other time. (As far as being able to claim that we've "been to" this park, I don't think this counts.)

After playing in the snow for a little bit, we meandered on down to Grandfather Mountain. Last time we were in this area (June 2007), we drove by the privately owned and operated Grandfather Mountain attraction, scoffed at the relatively high entrance fees ($14/person at the time), and went to an obvious tourist trip instead. (Makes perfect sense, right?)

Grandfather Mountain has since raised their fees to $18/person. So why go now and not then? Well...perspective, I suppose. When we were in Vermont and New Hampshire three months ago, that kind of price was pretty much the going rate. The Mount Washington Toll Road, for instance, was $33/car. In comparison, this isn't that much different. Besides, since we live in North Carolina, I think we were bound to pony up and visit this place sooner or later. May as well do it now while Marla's admission is still free, right?

So, what is there to do at Grandfather Mountain? Well, they give you an audio CD to listen to in the car, just like on Mount Washington. (However, you do not get a "This car climbed Grandfather Mountain" bumper sticker. Just as well.) The Mount Washington CD was very well done, I thought. Grandfather Mountain? Well...the road to the top is too short (only 5 minutes each way), so nothing really synced up right, even if you followed the instructions (e.g. "If you're not stopping at this pullout, skip ahead to Track 7"). It's hard to make a CD for a road that's only a 10 minute round trip. But they did include a couple of instrumental bluegrass tracks at the end of the CD, which was a pleasant surprise.

There are two main places of interest along the Grandfather Mountain road. One is the museum/visitor center and mini-zoo (with otters, cougars, and bears, only some of which we actually saw). Rather than spend a whole lot of time in the museum or mini-zoo, Marla instead just played in the snow for a little bit with her brand new snow boots, which she may or may not ever get to wear again:

After the halfway point, you pretty much just go to the top, and that's that. Woo. But one reason we decided to pay up today, of all days, was because there were no fog or clouds. My favorite thing about the view at the top: look one way, and there's snow on the ground. Look the other way, and there's no snow at all!

They also have a "mile high swinging bridge" at the top which spans from one minor peak to another. For some reason I interpreted "mile high" as "a mile above the ground", which of course is ridiculous; it's actually just a mile above sea level. (Clever marketing, though.) The bridge was neat, I suppose, but I was actually picturing something a little more spectacular. The bridge was also pretty crowded, being the primary attraction and all.

On a normal day, you can also go hiking on one of several trails at the top of the mountain, but the trails were all closed due to snow. Even though we had the backpack with us just in case, we wouldn't have hiked there, anyway, due to time constraints.

Sure, Grandfather Mountain is a nice place with nice views. I'm glad we went, and we made a great day trip out of it. But what's "special" about it? I haven't figured that out yet. The thing is, there are a million nice places with nice views in this part of the state. I mean, if you want to go hiking or something, just get on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and there's a nice view every couple of miles, and plenty of hiking trails to choose from. If you live in North Carolina, I think you may as well come to Grandfather Mountain once, just to do it (like we did). But if you're here on vacation from out of state, there are plenty of other places to go that are just as nice, and don't cost $18/person.

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