April 30 – May 3
One of our goals for the year was to try to do more local camping. We’d discussed doing so with Sarah and Hans and finally an opportunity presented it self, the first weekend of May at Pilot Mountain, a North Carolina State Park. Located about 90 minutes north of Charlotte it lies about 12 miles south of Mt. Airy, the town made famous as the muse for Andy Griffith’s Mayberry.
We went up a night early on Thursday figuring it would give us a chance to get a bike ride in on Friday before Sarah and Hans arrived after work that day. I outfoxed myself by going old school, relying on my keen map sense instead of using the GPS, ensuring that we’d get off track. This is primarily due to the fact that the park is split into two sections, with the campground in the northern part, while I was using dead reckoning to get us to the southern half.
After a brief detour through scenic Yadkin and Surry counties, we got on track and made it to the campground, set up camp, a little bit of a challenge as the sites are all located on a rocky hill side, with little level ground. Being later than anticipated and with a cool night setting in, dinner was a simple affair, jarred pasta sauce with squash, mushrooms, and onions to give it some body.
The weather forecast for the next day or so was dicey and would prove to be damp, rain starting that evening and lasting on into the latter part of the next morning. We spent the morning sitting in the front seats of the car, reading to kill time as we waited for the weather to break as it was forecast to do. Realizing that a bike ride would be out of the question, we made alternative plans to spend the day sightseeing in the area.
Our first stop was at the summit adjacent to Pilot Mountain. Wind and moisture in the air made for a chilly short walk to the viewpoint but combined with it being a Friday meant we had the area to ourselves. We left the summit and drove down and out of the park to the nearby town of Pilot Mountain, looking for a small sandwich shop mentioned in a local eats article we’d brought with us. It was closed when we found it but a woman inside noticed us, came outside to meet us to let us know that they would be open the next day, having had to limit their hours due to her husband’s illness.
She recommended a couple of other places in town (an interesting exchange, she was friendly in an unassuming way) and we walked a block to one of them, The Living Room Coffee House. A couple of people were sitting at the counter chatting with the woman behind the counter when we entered, engaged in a friendly conversation that implied they all knew each other. We ordered a coffee and the TLR BLT, which came to us with heirloom tomato, a locally grown lettuce, house made fresh dill aioli on a delicious wheat berry bread. It was just the right amount of food as we headed out of town to the southern section of the park.
On the way to the entrance we stopped in at Horne Creek Farm, a multi-year project to reconstruct the physical environment and seasonal work cycle of an early 20th-century family farm in the Northern Piedmont. We spent about an hour walking the grounds, touring the house, visiting the barn with its resident donkey. A stop at the gift shop netted us a couple of jars of locally made jam and we departed having enjoyed a glimpse at life as it was lived a hundred years ago.
We found the entrance to the southern section of the park and drove on a dirt road down to the Yadkin River, in search of remnants of the Bean Shoals Canal. Part of an ambitious project undertaken between 1820 and 1825 to build a three-mile canal around Bean Shoals, it was abandoned before completion. The only remaining sign of the canal is one of the retaining walls.
On the way back to camp we drove around the perimeter of the park, stopping to snap a picture or two of the backside of the mountain. We settled in at camp and began dinner, marinated pork tenderloin on the campsite’s grill accompanied by rice and grilled pineapple, a meal we could make and keep warm waiting for Sarah and Hans to arrive. Hung up in Friday commuter traffic it would take them longer than anticipated; once in camp we made short work of setting up their tent, tucking into dinner and getting caught up on activities we’d all enjoyed since last we met.
The next morning Joanna and I made breakfast (when camping with other folks we often split meal duties so we took dinner Friday and breakfast Saturday). We then hit the trailhead in camp for the steep two plus mile hike up to the summit we’d visited the day before. Much nicer weather and it being the weekend brought out crowds of people and so we spent just a short amount of time taking in the views. With some wine tasting on the agenda we hustled back to camp, cleaned up as necessary and took off for some afternoon fun.
Our first stop was Mt. Airy, site of a wine festival that day. The festival was crowded and at twenty dollars per person to enter, we decided to skip it and instead grab a bite to eat at a recommended restaurant nearby, Trio. Once seated our server let us know that it was their last day of operation; they were closing for good later that day. Joanna and I split an order of fish tacos and a glass of wine apiece. We’d finished up the wine by the time our food came and our server asked if we wanted more; we declined knowing we’d taste later. When the check arrived we were all pleasantly surprised to see that we were only charged for the tacos and the dessert we enjoyed, a local cobbler known as a Sonker; apparently to recognize the closing they were giving away the wine. If only we’d known that earlier we might not have left the place.
We left Trio and walked back down Main Street looking at the displays in shop windows, finally stopping at Miss Angels Heavenly Pies for a second helping of Sonker. It was a good sized, enough to split four ways although it wasn’t quite as flavorful as the one we’d eaten earlier at Trio. Dessert jones quenched, we jumped in the car and drove to the first of two wineries we’d visit that afternoon, whose name I can’t recall.
The grounds there were large with a wedding finishing up as we pulled in the parking lot. As we went into the tasting room a number of members of the wedding party were standing at the bar, enjoying for them, a very memorable day. Our server was knowledgeable about the offerings and guided us effectively through our choices. North Carolina wines offer good quality, but many of the reds are quite up to the standard we expect from full-bodied vintages grown under more favorable circumstances.
Our last stop for the day was at JOLO, a fairly new venture just off highway 268 not far from Pilot Mountain. It too is a beautiful property, situated in the shadow of the mountain and after our round of tasting, Hans purchased a bottle of the 2014 Grey Ghost Vidal Blanc described as a dry white wine. Dry in this part of the country means less sweet than Muscatine so while not entirely as dry, it was entirely pleasant to drink outside on the patio, Pilot Mountain in the background, a warm breeze underlying our relaxed conversation as the last of the afternoon drifted by.
Dinner that night was an informal affair, an assortment of the various snacks, meats, and cheeses we’d thought we’d eat during the afternoon. And wine, a bit more wine. Sunday morning dawned bright and clear allowing us to pack up camp dry and after a hearty breakfast of oatmeal with many hard to resist ingredients to add to it, we packed up the Highlander and took off for Charlotte, looking forward to the next time we’d get to put up the tent. Planning was in process for a visit to the Outer Banks in early June, and those would jell as the month of May transpired. We’ll cover it all in the next series of posts.
Pilot Mountain State Park: http://www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/pimo/main.php
The Living Room Coffee House: http://www.thelivingroompm.com/
Horne Creek Farm: http://www.nchistoricsites.org/horne/