Timeline: July 11-14
After our return from the bike tour, we enjoyed some dedicated time at home, spent catching up with our Charlotte friends, riding our bikes regularly with the Charlotte Area Cyclists, and taking care of a few small projects around the house. We’d planned on taking one mid-week camping trip and the middle July proved to be the appropriate time, so the week before we reserved a site at Stone Mountain State Park for Monday through Thursday and prepared to spend time out of doors.
The two hour drive up the I-77 was familiar by now and we changed it up a bit by exiting early to head to Wilkesboro to a coffee shop, Talia Expresso, recommended to us by our friend Eric. We split a cup of coffee and a scone, sorry that we planned to eat later in camp as the food offerings here looked quite good. Fueled up, we hit the small country roads leading up to the park for the remainder of the drive into camp.
Dinner that night, and for the next two, would be camp food, mostly the usual stuff we cook. This time it included chicken sausages and sliced up potatoes in foil cooked on the coals, then a pasta night, and finally a large tuna salad. My original intent with coming here was the hope that we’d be far enough up into the mountains to mitigate the heat and humidity we deal with in Charlotte in the summer. In this case, I guessed wrong, Stone’s elevation not being high enough to really make a difference.
This really manifested itself the next day when we embarked on one of the two day hikes we’d do in the park, the Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls Trail. We’d end up hiking a little under four miles with plenty of elevation gain as we descended to the lowest point in the park.
The humid conditions made for vexing circumstances, sweat soon soaking my shirt and eventually pouring from underneath my hat. But we returned to camp satisfied with the effort and spent the afternoon relaxing, having just beaten a thunderous rain storm at the end of the hike.
The next day we hit the nearby trailhead for the four plus mile Stone Mountain Loop trail, which would take us up and over the summit of the big granite dome which gives the park its name and then around the back side, repeating a portion of the hike we’d done the day before.
It’s a pretty steady climbing up to the top where your reward is a spectacular view of the surrounding country side.
We descended to the back side of the dome and made a stop at the Hutchinson Homestead, built in the mid 19th-century and restored in 1998. It has a log cabin, barn, blacksmith shop, corncrib, meat house and original furnishings. Unfortunately, the homestead buildings are closed during the week and we couldn’t get a glimpse of the interiors, but it was worthwhile imagining how this family made a self-sufficient life for themselves in this valley.
We returned to camp, again sweat drenched and thirsty and after cooling down and cleaning up, hopped in the car to explore a bit of the surrounding area. Our first stop was just outside of the park at the Stone Mountain Country Store, featuring some grocery and camping items, cooked food like pizza and sandwiches and most importantly, hand dipped ice cream. No need to maintain any suspense about what type of food we consumed; a large scoop of the flavor of the day.
After driving around we returned to camp for dinner, endured yet another passing rain storm and went to bed happy with the day’s activities. Our last day in camp would take us out cycling and then for a run into the nearest town, Elkin, for dinner. We took off on the bikes and circled the outer circumference o the park, exiting at Longbottom Road intending to take it out to a “T” intersection which would lead to a loop back.
We rode and rode and after finally encountering a very steep incline, without ever hitting the intersection, we turned around and rode back to Traphill and then to the John P Frank Parkway and the ride up a long hill to the park.
On the way in we, of course, made a stop at the Country Store for one more scoop, the finished up the final half mile to the camp site. We showered and made ready to drive into Elkin, but first sat in the car and waited out a rain storm of such intensity (thunder and lightning as well) that it was amazing to witness. After it abated we rolled out of camp and took off for town, about 20 minutes away. Our first stop was at the town’s brewery, Skull Camp.
Unfortunately, it was closed so we drove further on, hitting downtown within minutes to discover that the storm that had passed through camp had hit this town with a ferocity that ripped a sheet metal roof off an old building cutting off the power to the side of town we’d hoped to eat in. We walked down one side of the main street to the brew pub we’d scoped out on line, but they were closed without any power.
So we walked back down the street to the car and noticed that Fiddles Pub was open and so dropped in for what would be an entertaining couple of beers and lively conversation. Topics covered the gamut, from the upcoming election, to life in Elkin (only one of the six folks present were actually from North Carolina), and others too numerous to mention. After a couple of beers and no hope of the power coming back on we left the pub in search of food.
As it turned out, we ended up at a large restaurant just off I-77 that we’d had a chance to eat at (but didn’t) in the spring at the end of a ride we did along the New River Trail with Charlotte Area Cyclists, Pirates Landing. Not sure what to expect we were pleasantly surprised by the quantity, pricing, and quality of the food we received. We opted for the Buccaneer’s Broiled Seafood Feast at $17.95, which included Flounder, jumbo shrimp, scallops and crab cake, which also came with a house salad, choice of potato, & steamed vegetables.
It was a very good meal to split, plenty of food for the two of us, leaving us with the knowledge that the next time we rode New River, we’d stop here with the group to eat on the way home. We returned to Stone Mountain, slept well, broke camp the next morning and drove to Winston Salem to tour the Reynolda House, which was featuring an Ansel Adams exhibit that was to close that weekend. We very much enjoyed the Adams exhibit as it featured a number of his works that we’d not seen before, along with many favorites.
This is an amazing property, like so many constructed at a time when America’s royalty (Hearst, Biltmore, etc.) built palaces to rival those in Europe. Unlike many of the others, Katharine Smith Reynolds proved equal to her husband, R.J. Reynolds, in drive and initiative. She played a dominant role in the planning of a self-sufficient estate just outside the city limits of Winston, for which she began acquiring land soon after their marriage.
Working with architect Charles Barton Keen and landscape architect Thomas Sears, both nationally known, Katharine created a 60-room bungalow for her family, formal and informal gardens, a lake and other facilities for healthy recreation (a seeming contradiction coming from a family whose fortune was based on the sale of tobacco products), a school, a model farm for demonstrating the most current farming and dairying practices, and a village to house workers.
Reynolda was part of a national trend known as the American Country House movement through which affluent Americans created estates for healthy living outside of cities. Katharine’s ideas were influenced by and contributed to this phenomenon, which embraced large houses in park-like settings with dairies, model farms, and extensive recreational facilities including stables, an outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts, and a golf course.
We left for home satisfied with the time spent at Stone Mountain and the Reynolda House, vowing to return at a later date to take in its gardens and neighboring village. With a two-month trip planned to begin in late August, the camping allowed us to get out all of the gear and make notes about what needed to be replaced or augmented, or just generally remembered to be brought along (we forgot a couple of things). Two long hikes and a good bike ride, combined with those beers in Elkin sealed the deal, making it a week to remember.
Stone Mountain State Park: http://www.ncparks.gov/stone-mountain-state-park
Talia Expresso: http://www.taliaespresso.com/menu/
Stone Mountain Country Store: http://stonemountainstore.com/
Skull Camp: http://www.skullcampbrewing.com/
Pirates Landing: http://www.pirateslanding-nc.com/