You See What You Seek

Sometimes even the most seasoned adventurer needs a potty break and a cold drink. This McDonalds was the first option we found at Black Mountain, North Carolina.

Oddly, this is one of my favorite random photos from this trip. I like anything with a reflection and the shapes and colors are eye catching. The world is what you make of it and you’ll see what you seek. I was looking for a picture and I found one.

What will you seek today?

A Texas Sized Gas Station

You’ve likely heard the phrase “everything’s bigger in Texas.” Well, there’s a Texas based chain of gas stations that embodies this sentiment. Honestly, calling it a gas station is a gross understatement.

I encountered Buc-ee’s on our journey home from North Carolina last month. They just opened in Richmond, Kentucky this spring in one of their first ventures outside of Texas. While you may wonder why I’m telling you about a gas station, hear me out.

It’s a 53,000 square foot property with 120 gas pumps and a parking lot the size of one found at your average big box store. They employ about 230 people.

They claim to have the cleanest bathrooms in the world. I will give them that- the bathrooms are fabulous. The stall doors are real doors that go to the floor and everything is sparkling clean. The restroom is an oasis in an otherwise chaotic place.

Imagine Times Square with people in cowboy hats shouting about barbecue. Imagine a playground full of six year olds at recess with carts full of camping supplies, souvenir t-shirts and home decor in tow. Imagine a Madi Gras parade with a giant beaver mascot wandering past a wall of beef jerkey, refrigerators of assorted pudding parfaits, and an overwhelming variety of jams, baked goods and potato chips. There’s a burrito bar, fresh made sandwiches and nearly any kind of candy you could want.

It’s a sight to behold.

Vegetarians are not their target market but I was able to get a giant veggie burrito and a pretty little cup of banana pudding with real bananas cut up in it. And yes, I even found a couple of books that were signed by the author.

It’s one of those places everyone should experience at least once because it’s difficult to comprehend without seeing it for yourself. My introverted self was ready to go within fifteen minutes but I’m glad I went.

Also note that the construction of this gas station caused the State of Kentucky to create a new exit, install a traffic light and build a roundabout. A state had to alter its transportation plan for a gas station.

Buc-ees is located along I-75 near Richmond, Kentucky. Learn more about them at their website.

North Carolina Arboretum

Visiting the North Carolina Arboretum was sort of an afterthought. We had spent the day exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway and were looking for something interesting to do before dinner. This was on my list of interesting places and it was open till 9 p.m. so we set out for a much needed walk after a day spent largely in the car.

This 400+ acre arboretum has beautiful flower gardens and trails, offering something for everyone. There are lots of water features as well as nooks and crannies that feel like secret gardens and spaces to get lost.

Plus there are so many amazing sounds of birds, frogs and crickets that create a soundtrack like no other.

It’s paradise.

They do have an education center that was closed for a special event. There’s also a restaurant and bonsai garden that were already closed for the day. That was fine by me because we had a terrific time out exploring the pretty flowers and woodland trails.

Parking is $16 per car. You can get lots more information by visiting their website. I took so many pictures, you’ll likely see more here in the future.

If you are in Asheville, I highly recommend this place. It’s great for all ages and, if you take kids, look for the treasure hunt maps to help them stay engaged and on the lookout for interesting things!

Little Switzerland Of North Carolina

The best things in life are rarely found in the places you plan to go. They typically occur at unlikely times and in places where you least expect to find something special.

That’s exactly what happened when we were searching for lunch on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We had packed snacks and drinks but hadn’t planned for our midday meal. According to our trusty map (always carry a map because cell service is unreliable in the mountains), we were approaching a small town called Little Switzerland.

As you exit the Parkway, you will immediately see a resort called Switzerland Inn. It’s home to fine dining, shopping, a spa and more. But if you keep going, there’s a little area on the side of the mountain where you’ll find the village post office and a complex that includes a restaurant, general store and bookstore.

That’s right, friends.

In the middle of the wilderness, in a town populated by approximately 46 people – yours truly found a bookstore.

It was a proud moment.

We were there for lunch, not books, so our first stop was the Little Switzerland Cafe. Here we had the best meal I’ve eaten in ages.

The food was prepared fresh and served by a handful of waitresses who know how to hustle. We did have to wait a few minutes for a table because it was quite busy with locals and tourists including lots of folks on bicycles and motorcycles.

It was worth the wait.

They have vegetarian options and everything is made with what tasted like very fresh ingredients. My quiche had a flaky, buttery crust and was served with a fresh salad and homemade bread. The attention detail was impressive especially for the price which was about $10.

In the general store you’ll find some souvenirs and handmade items as well as some things you might need while out adventuring like aspirin and bandaids.

The bookstore, though, is the stuff that dreams are made of. It looks tiny from outside but the store is multiple rooms that wind around and reach into the basement. It’s packed from floor to ceiling with new and used books and interesting things to see in every nook and cranny.

At this point in the trip I had already purchased an alarming amount of books so I practiced restraint and purchased just one – a lovely little pocket sized copy of Thoreau’s “Walden.”

Little Switzerland was such a fabulous diversion that I badly want to go back to stay at the inn and explore the area (and the bookstore) more.

By the way, people like to think of Appalachia and rural areas as being backward. There are charging stations for your electric car right outside that bookstore.

Little Switzerland Books and Beans can be found online here. Learn more about Switzerland Cafe here. And if you’re interested in staying, there are a few options in the area including Switzerland Inn which we passed on our way on and off the Parkway. Find it here.

The Path Of Least Resistance

It’s Thursday of what is turning out to be a very long week. The path of least resistance is pretty darn appealing right now.

So, instead of actually writing something that requires thought and effort, here’s a pretty picture to remind you to schedule yourself for some rest or adventure or whatever it is you need this weekend. It’s a long holiday weekend for many of us. Try not to waste it all on yard work and Netflix. Instead spend time doing the things that make your heart and mind truly happy.

I really wish I had a pep talk in me today but I’m running low on pep. Just remember that self care is not an indulgence and it is not selfish. It’s a form of self preservation and you owe yourself that much.

So, go forth and take care of yourselves, friends. We will resume our trip through North Carolina next time.

A Day On the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is said to be one of the most scenic drives in the country. It connects the Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive in Virginia with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. It’s two lane, following the Blue Ridge Mountains, so it’s curvy and lots of fun to drive if you like mountain driving.

Work began in 1935 on the astounding 469 miles long road.

I have not driven the entire thing but have been on sections at various times and it is always a treat. There are side trips to enjoy from the parkway, scenic overlooks, and hiking opportunities. Plus, the looks of the mountains change with the weather and time of day.

We started out early to avoid Saturday morning sightseers. As we drove up the mountain road that morning, we experienced rain and gloom, saw sunshine burning off fog, felt the wind whip through our hair and even drive through a cloud high atop one mountain section.

It was early spring at the highest points where things were just starting to come alive. Down the mountain a ways, spring wildflowers bloomed and trees were in full leaf. The contrast was great fun to experience

The birds were especially vocal everywhere we went and this made my heart happy.

There are some things to see and do along the way including visitors centers, a folk art center and Mount Mitchell which is the highest point east of the Mississippi.

We took a couple of side trips that are worth stories of their own so I’ll tell you about those spots another day.

If you want to do some sightseeing but struggle with walking, this is great way to safely enjoy your natural surroundings. Pack a snack, roll down the windows, and enjoy the ride.