Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Chestoa View Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Looking for some incredible views when you visit the mountains of Western North Carolina? Combine a day of scenic driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Asheville with an easy hike, such as the Chestoa View Trail (0.6 miles long).

Black Mountains Overlook
One of many overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina
Chestoa View Trailhead
Chestoa View Trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC (0.6 miles)
Located just four miles south of Linville Falls on the Blue Ridge Parkway is Chestoa View at Milepost 320.7. You'll see a small parking area and picnic tables, with the Chestoa View trailhead leading off from the parking area. Before you begin, though, walk to the left of the trailhead and head down a set of stone stairs to the Chestoa View overlook, which looks out on the Linville Gorge area.

The Chestoa View overlook is different from a lot of Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks where you typically pull off to the side of the Parkway to take in the expansive mountain views -- this one is more secluded and you can't see it from the road. Views are still spectacular, though!

Chestoa View overlook in the summertime
OK, so let's talk about the trail: The Chestoa View Trail is a little over a half mile long. It's an easy, flat hiking trail that leads you through hardwood forest and rhododendron thickets. Tons of native ferns and wildflowers. Dappled sunlight. Moss covered tree trunks. So picturesque!

Chestoa View Trail
Chestoa View Trail
About halfway along the trail, the pathway splits, forming a loop back around to the part of the trail that you were on at the split. Think of this trail like a (not so straight) sewing needle and the split begins the eye/loop of the needle So at this point, you can go left or right to start the loop. The left-hand path opens up to a stellar view of Table Rock in the distance.

View of Table Rock from Chestoa View Trail
View of Table Rock from the Chestoa View Trail
Once you complete the loop, you're on your way back to the parking area.

Oh, and the Chestoa View hiking trail is pet friendly and with all the sniff-worthy foliage and a well maintained pathway, the innpugs give this trail two paws up. (Keep in mind that your dog should be leashed at all times on any of the Blue Ridge Parkway hiking trails.)

Pet Friendly Chestoa View Hiking Trail
The Chestoa View Trail is innpug-approved
The Chestoa View overlook and trail is about 60 minutes from the Inn on Mill Creek Bed & Breakfast, and is a great place to stop if you're planning to be out on the Parkway near Linville Falls and Grandfather Mountain for the day. Here are a few options on how to get there from the Inn:
  • Take Highway 70 east through Old Fort then take scenic Highway 80 north for 12 miles to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Turn north on the Parkway and travel about 22 miles. You'll see some beautiful overlooks along the way.
     
  • Take Highway 70 east, go past Highway 80, and then turn left (north) onto scenic Highway 221 in Marion. Take Hwy 221 about 20 miles to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Along the way, you'll pass a winery, a fantastic local cheese shop, a golf course, and even caverns. Turn off of Hwy 221 and head south on the Blue Ridge Parkway and travel about four miles.
     
  • A third option is to take Highway 70 east and turn left onto Curtis Creek Road (before you get to Highway 80) and travel 12 miles up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, where you'll turn north. You'll be driving along Curtis Creek through the Curtis Creek Recreation Area, which was the first section of land purchased under the Weeks Act of 1912, establishing National Forests. IMPORTANT: Curtis Creek is unpaved for about nine miles to the Parkway and we recommend it only if you have 4-wheel drive. It can get bumpy!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

2014 Sourwood Festival is August 9-10

[photo credit: sourwoodfestival.com]
One of our favorite small town festivals is coming up on August 9-10, 2014: The Sourwood Festival in Black Mountain, NC. This is a free street festival where you can browse 200 art and craft vendors, honey vendors and more. That's an amazing amount of cool stuff to see in a downtown that is about four blocks. Lots of fantastic local food, live music, and even kids' activities are also part of the Sourwood Festival, which is named after the sourwood tree that honeybees pollinate to give us our fabulous local honey that we use in breakfasts at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B. And we have plenty of sourwood trees here inside Pisgah National Forest in the mountains of western North Carolina.

Sourwood tree in full bloom in July at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B
Honeybees loooooove these delicate flowers on the Sourwood tree!
One of the things we love about the sourwood tree is that it is one of the first trees to change color in the fall, sometimes as early as late September. When the sourwoods change, you know big blasts of fall color are right around the corner! And the leaves stay on the sourwoood tree for a long while, usually well into-October. The leaves turn a rich shade of red, almost burgundy that contrasts very nicely with its white flower fronds.
Sourwood trees change to a scarlet red in early fall
If you will be in the Black Mountain / Asheville area during the weekend of August 8, 2014, put the Sourwood Festival on your list of events not to miss, even if it's just to pick up some of that tasty sourwood honey. The street festival portion is Saturday, August 9 (9am-8pm) and Sunday, August 10 (9am-5pm), and the festival officially kicks off at 7pm on Friday, August 8, with the Sourwood Idol contest, an amateur singing competition. And believe us, there are plenty of talented singers in this area. In fact, the most recent winner of the national singing contest American Idol is Asheville native Caleb Johnson.

As of this post, we have a few rooms remaining for Sourwood weekend:

Check room availability at the Inn on Mill Creek

For more details about the festival, visit www.sourwoodfestival.com.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Herb Garden Makeover

The Inn on Mill Creek Bed & Breakfast has a small herb garden within the Pool Garden (our garden that used to be a swimming pool way back when). At our elevation in the North Carolin mountains, 2,300 feet above sea level in Zone 7b, some herbs overwinter just fine, while others are basically annuals. This means our herb garden has changed its look practically every year. But over the course of six years, one thing has remained certain: the Herb Garden has slowly become nondescript and has lost its identity, blending in with the rest of the Pool Garden over time.

Herb Garden in fall - St. John's Wort, Mint and Sage competing for space
Herb Garden, center right, blending a little too well into the garden
When we decided that one focus of our 2014 projects was going to be garden enhancements at the Inn, the Herb Garden was a natural contender for the number one spot on the “improve me” list. We give the extremely well thriving Chocolate Mint all the credit. The awesome smelling (yes, just like chocolate chip mint!) herb had basically taken over the entire herb garden – yes, we now know mint likes to grow, and grow, and grow – so we deemed it time to tame that plant and to tidy up the garden.

One trip to the social media wonder that is Pinterest was all it took to gather up some inspiration. Herb garden photos…check. Potted herbs…check. Potted herbs sunk into the herb garden…oh, now there’s an idea…

We set to work in early April, knowing that herb season – and the Painters Greenhouse Herb Festival – was just around the corner. The entire Herb Garden was dug out.

Goodbye for now, Chocolate Mint (photo from instagram.com/innonmillcreek)
Some perennial herbs were saved (St. John’s Wort, Thyme and Purple Sage made the cut), while others were taken to a more manageable size (Chocolate Mint, we’re looking at you). Pots were procured in two different shapes and three different sizes for variety and the plan took shape on paper.

What Innkeeper Brigette does in her spare time in March and April
We made it to the Painters Greenhouse Herb Festival in Old Fort and picked up quite a few plants for the herb garden: Rosemary, Sage, Lavender, Chives, Thai Basil, Large Leaf Basil, Dill, Chamomile and Parsley. We planted them all in pots, placed the pots in the garden and filled around them with dirt. A few bags of  large pine bark mulch and voila, potted herb garden! 

Before filling around with dirt (photo from instagram.com/innonmillcreek)
A couple of herbs were ordered online, Salvia and Tarragon, so two of our pots remained empty at the beginning of May.


Herb Garden Project 2014 at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B...pretty much done!
All plants in and happy, even the Chocolate Mint
Now that our herb garden has had a couple of months to grow, we are figuring out what works best in terms of watering (every other day seems to do the trick), what is struggling and why (the poor Salvia can’t catch a break from insects), and we actually pay attention to the growth habits of each herb – something we didn’t do when they were all competing for space and growing together amidst a sea of Chocolate Mint. We still love the Chocolate Mint, we do, it’s just that we love it much more in a container.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

July 2014 Exhibit at the Red House Studios and Gallery in Black Mountain


As you know, we at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B are big supporters of our talented local artists, including those who are members of the Swannanoa Valley Fine Arts League. So we wanted to make sure you knew that the SVFAL has an art exhibit showing in July of 2014, called People, Places and Things, at the home of the SVFAL, the Red House Studios and Gallery near the Monte Vista on West State Street in Black Mountain.

People, Places and Things will feature selected works by SVFAL members, showcasing, you guessed it, people, places and things. Curators for the show are Pat Cotterill and Lynn Newhouse. A reception for People, Places and Things will be held on July 11, from 5pm to 7pm.  You can check out the July art show at the Red House Monday-Saturday (10am-5pm) and Sundays (noon to 4pm). We highly recommend it!

Next up for the SVFAL is the 47th Annual Juried Exhibit in August. Learn more about the Swannanoa Valley Fine Arts League at www.svfalarts.org.

Monday, June 23, 2014

North Carolina Mountain Birds: Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B
Summer is here and that means a myriad of songs are brought to us each day by nature here at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B inside Pisgah National Forest: bullfrogs, crickets and of course, birds, to name a few. And you know if something has "song" in its name, you can count on it being part of nature's summer live concert series. Thus, we've given the Song Sparrow our June entry in our 12 Months of Birding at the Inn series on the blog for 2014.

Song Sparrows can be found in most parts of the United States at some time during the year, in winter, summer, or all year long. In our neck of the woods near Asheville, North Carolina, Song Sparrows are year-round residents. And the way they look varies by region: according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, there are 24 subspecies of Song Sparrows in 52 forms, making them one of the most regionally variable birds on the continent.

Generally, Song Sparrows are brown birds with lots of streaks, and the streaks on their heads can be reddish brown and grayish brown. They often have a dark spot on their white chests. Song Sparrows also have short beaks and long tails.

And about their song, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes it this way:
The Song Sparrow sings a loud, clanking song of 2–6 phrases that typically starts with abrupt, well-spaced notes and finishes with a buzz or trill. In between, the singer may add other trills with different tempo and quality. The song usually lasts 2-4 seconds. Patterns of songs vary over the species’ enormous range, so the Song Sparrows you hear when traveling may not sound quite like those from your hometown.
In addition, the Song Sparrow will sound the alarm when it thinks a predator is approaching its nest, with a loud, sharp chip note.

Song Sparrows are not shy birds, and you will often see them on the low branches of our peegee hydrangea, on the tall boxwoods next to the Pool Garden and on shrubs in the Pool Garden, and at the bird feeders. This makes them excellent photography subjects!

Song Sparrow on the bird bath frame at the Inn on Mill Creek
I see you...Song Sparrow at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B
To learn more about our North Carolina mountain birds, check us out on the North Carolina Birding Trail.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Graveyard Fields is Getting Some Great Upgrades

Graveyard Fields, a favorite place for viewing wildflowers in the summer and fantastic foliage in early fall in the North Carolina mountains, is getting some upgrades this summer. It is set to reopen in July 2014.

Graveyard Fields is, essentially, a mile-high valley, located off the Blue Ridge Parkway southwest of Asheville, North Carolina (Milepost 418). It gets its name from the tree stumps that used to dot the landscape that looked like grave stones. Those tree stumps no longer exist, but Graveyard Fields is instead now filled with wildflower meadows, blueberry and other shrubs and small groupings of trees, with the forested mountains rising around it, providing a unique experience along the Parkway. It is a popular early fall hiking spot, with rhododendron tunnels, boardwalks, waterfalls and brilliantly-colored foliage that changes early in the fall season due to the types of trees and shrubs and the high elevation.

Check out this awesome photo by our friends at RomanticAsheville.com to get an idea of what Graveyard Fields looks like in early- to mid-October:

[photo credit: RomanticAsheville.com]
With the help of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service, plus a National Scenic Byways Grant, the trail system at Graveyard Fields and the overlook/parking area are getting a much needed facelift. Upgrades include:
  • Parking lot expansion to add more parking spaces and the addition of a guardrail
  • Addition of a trail map and interpretative signage for the Graveyard Fields Loop Trail
  • Installation of new boardwalks and improvement of drainage along the trail system
  • Construction of new restroom facilities
We can't wait to see the new and improved Graveyard Fields!

July 4, 2014 Events around Asheville, Black Mountain and Old Fort

Montreat Parade [photo credit: veganlibrarian on Flickr]
Exciting news: All of the towns around the Inn on Mill Creek Bed & Breakfast -- Asheville, Black Mountain, and Old Fort, North Carolina -- will have fireworks displays this year! Of course, there are other events going on, and if you want to avoid the crowds, we can help with that as well. Here's what's happening in our neck of the woods during the 4th of July weekend:

July 4 in Asheville: Pack Square Park in downtown Asheville will have live music starting at 4pm on Friday, July 4. There will also be food vendors and local brews and wine available for purchase. Fireworks start at 9:30pm

July 4 in Black Mountain / Montreat: The annual Montreat 4th of July Parade kicks off at 10:30am. If you love small town parades, this is a must-see! Black Mountain will host a family friendly street party starting at 5pm on Sutton Avenue, with fireworks to follow around 9pm.

July 4 in Old Fort: The small community of Old Fort will host its first fireworks event since 2006, with a 45-minute display along Catawba River Road. The parade begins at 4pm at the Elementary School.

Other weekend events:
Oh, and if you really are wanting to avoid the crowds, afternoons in our Great Room at the Inn on Mill Creek are usually pretty peaceful.