Sunday, November 23, 2014

2014 Biltmore Christmas Candlight Evening Upgrades and Discounted Biltmore Tickets

'Tis the season for Biltmore Estate to celebrate Christmas...and do they ever. This year, there are 56 trees decorated for the holidays, including a gorgeously decorated tree in the Banquet Hall that reaches high toward the seven-story barrel-vaulted ceiling.

Photo Credit: RomanticAsheville.com Facebook Page


In addition, there are plenty of floral displays, such as cream-colored poinsettias filling the Winter Garden Room, and garland galore. And live instrumental music. And choirs. And more.

During the holidays, Biltmore also offers evening self-guided tours of Biltmore House, where you can see the Vanderbilt's home in a romantic light, with logs crackling in the fireplaces and candles lit, as well as all the twinkling lights on those 56 trees.

If you are a guest of the Inn on Mill Creek B&B, you can purchase discounted Biltmore daytime admission tickets for $49/person with no added fees. Your ticket to Biltmore can be used any day of the week, and can also be used to enjoy more of Biltmore the following day at no charge. You can then upgrade your daytime ticket to add a Christmas Candlelight Evenings tour of Biltmore House for just $15/person. Reservations must be made in advance for the evening tour as times sell out quickly.

We love to make getaways easy on our guests, so save some time on planning and allow us to make all of the arrangements for you for your Candlelight Christmas Evenings tour. Simply let us know which evening and timeframe is best for you.

The Inn on Mill Creek B&B is located just outside the town of Black Mountain, NC, two miles inside Pisgah National Forest. Asheville and the entrance to Biltmore Estate is about 20-25 minutes west of the Inn.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

North Carolina Mountain Birds: Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B
An occasional visitor to the seed/suet snack bar at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B, the Red-bellied Woodpecker is a year-round resident of Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina, and is our November 2014 bird in our 12 Months of Birding at the Inn.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers love the woods, and with hundreds of thousands of acres of National Forest in this area, it enjoys a lot of elbow room. We do see this beautiful medium-sized woodpecker at the feeders from time to time, although he doesn't like an audience and most photos are taken through the window from the inside.

If you do see a Red-bellied Woodpecker, they are pretty easy to identify, with black and white stripes/bars on their backs and bright red feathers capping their heads and running down the napes of their necks. But what really sets them apart from similar woodpeckers is their call. From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

"The Red-bellied Woodpecker’s most common call is a shrill, rolling kwirr or churr given by both sexes. You might also hear a gruff, coughing cha cha cha sounding through the woods, usually a contact call between mates, or a throaty growl exchanged when birds are close together."

Red-bellied Woodpeckers like to build their nests in holes that they've dug out of trees. Many times, they choose dead trees for their homes, but they will also nest in fence posts. They do have a "nest nemesis" -- the European Starling -- who tries, often succeeding, to take over Red-bellied Woodpecker nests.

While you may see Red-bellied Woodpeckers at the feeder, its diet mainly consists of insects, including spiders. But it does eat acorns and other nuts, pine cones and berries. If you put peanuts out in warm weather months, or suet when it gets cold, you may make a friend in the Red-bellied Woodpecker.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Asheville Area Restaurants Open for Thanksgiving 2014

Pack's Tavern, open Thanksgiving 2014 [photo credit: Pack's Tavern]
We know many of you will be spending Thanksgiving at a family member or friend's home eating dinner, watching football, taking a nap, the usual Turkey Day traditions. However, for our guests and anyone traveling to the Asheville area for a getaway next week, never fear, there are plenty of restaurants open on Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 2014. Here are a few, in alphabetical order:

BLACK MOUNTAIN

Palate Restaurant at the Monte Vista: Special menu; $23/person; see menu and reservation information at www.facebook.com/montevistahotel

The Red Rocker Inn Restaurant: Special menu; reservations required and can be made by calling 828.669.5991  www.redrockerinn.com/dining/about-dinner.htm

ASHEVILLE
 
Biltmore Estate: Four restaurants on Biltmore Estate; daytime admission tickets are required. See details at www.biltmore.com

Blackbird Restaurant: Open 2pm-9pm, located at the Aloft Hotel in downtown Asheville. Reserve a table by calling 828.254.2502. http://theblackbirdrestaurant.com/

Carmel's Kitchen & Bar: Open 11am-7pm, located in the Grove Arcade in Asheville, Thanksgiving menu. To reserve, call 828-252-8730. http://www.carmelsofasheville.com/

Grove Park Inn: Multiple restaurants on the resort; see options and reservation information at www.groveparkinn.com/thanksgiving-dining 

Isa’s Bistro: Open 11am until 4pm, special menu $55. Call 828-575-9636 to reserve. http://www.isasbistro.com

Pack's Tavern: Thanksgiving Buffet from 11am to 9pm, $25/person Reservations can be made by calling 828-225-6944. http://packstavern.com/

Storm Rhum Bar & Bistro: Serving from 2pm-8pm, special menu. Reservations can be made online or by calling 828.5058560. www.stormrhumbar.com

Strada Italiano: Open 11am-8pm, Italian family recipes, call 828-348-8448 to make a reservation. http://www.stradaasheville.com/

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Green Knob Fire Tower Hiking Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Green Knob Fire Tower Trail
In early November, we had the chance to hike with friends on one of the Blue Ridge Parkway hiking trails, to the Green Knob Fire Tower. This is a special spot for us since you can see Green Knob and the fire tower from our orchard at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B.

The last blog post we did about the fire tower hike was in springtime, so we wanted to share what the hike was like in fall, after the fall color season. Plus, after our previous hike, the fire tower was closed for some time for repair and we hadn't been on the trail since the tower's restoration was completed in 2013. So, on to the hike!

The Green Knob Fire Tower can actually be accessed from the north and south. The hike from the north end trailhead is a few miles long. The hike we did was the shorter trail from the southern end, heading northward from the Blue Ridge Parkway Green Knob Overlook parking area near Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 350.

Speaking of overlooks, here's a view from the Green Knob Overlook in springtime, and then in the fall, past peak fall color time. The overlook view is to the south, on our area around the towns of Black Mountain and Old Fort.

Green Knob Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, June

Green Knob Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, November
To access the trail, facing the roadway with your back to the overlook, you turn right and walk a short distance (roughly 100 yards) along the Blue Ridge Parkway to the trailhead, which is across the road. The trail to Green Knob Fire Tower is blazed in yellow (trees have yellow tags on the trunks near eye level), and is a well-maintained trail, thanks to the North Carolina High Peaks Trails Association.

Look for yellow blazes on the trees
The Green Knob Fire Tower trail from the Blue Ridge Parkway is considered moderate-to-strenuous, climbing more than 300 feet over a half mile. Most of that is along gradual incline switchbacks, so it's not terribly steep. You will definitely feel the incline, however, and you'll want to watch for tree roots and small rocks under your feet, a common characteristic of trails along what are some the oldest mountains in the world, the Appalachians. Additionally, in the fall, take note that the trail may be covered in an abundance of leaves and acorns, which may cause you to slip if you're not paying attention.

You'll know you've reached your destination when you see this:

Green Knob Mountain Fire Tower, November 2014
The fire tower was built by the U.S. Forest Service on Green Knob Mountain for a reason: Once you reach the fire tower, you'll be standing at more than 5,000 feet above sea level with some of the best views of the Black Mountain range, which includes Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak in the eastern United States (and a few of the other tallest peaks).

Looking northwest...Mt. Mitchell on the left!
The fire tower was originally completed in 1931, and members of the Forest Service served as lookouts in the fire tower until the 1970s. Unfortunately, since its restoration in 2013, the top of the tower and its viewing platform has been closed to the public. But you will still have great views from ground level.

Portion of Mt. Mitchell State Park
To get from the Inn on Mill Creek B&B to the Green Knob Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we recommend heading east to Old Fort and taking Hwy 70/Main Street east to Hwy 80. Turn left and take Hwy 80 (curvy!) north to the Blue Ridge Parkway, about 12 miles. Turn left to head south on the Parkway, and the Green Knob Overlook will be about six miles south, at Milepost 350.4. It's about 45-50 minutes from the Inn driving through the mountains, but the straight-line distance is just a few miles as the crow flies. So while you're there, if you have binoculars, take a look out on the right side of the overlook toward the mountains after the foliage is off the trees, and you may catch a view of our B&B!

Arrow marks the spot, er, the Inn on Mill Creek B&B

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

NC Mountains Fall Foliage Report Week 6

Last leaf report for the year!
This looks to be our sixth and final fall color report for 2014 for the North Carolina mountains around Asheville and Pisgah National Forest. We really are spoiled with at least six weeks of fall color within a 30 minute radius of the Inn on Mill Creek B&B.

The oak trees are providing much of the reds and oranges now, with some that are still green! Maples, sassafras and beech trees continue to be part of this year's fall color palette as well, and even though many are now dropping their leaves, the ones that are still on the trees offer up a really nice pop of color here and there. Even the sourwoods, which started changing several weeks ago, are still holding their color, for now.

Color hanging on near the Inn for the first week of November
We saw a really beautiful sight on November 2...snow on the Blue Ridge Parkway while there was still color at our elevation, making for an interesting fall-meets-winter landscape! The following photo was taken about 15 minutes from the Inn, in Black Mountain, NC. The snowy peaks make up the Craggy Gardens section of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Snowy Blue Ridge Parkway with fall color at Lake Tomahawk
Now as much as we are enjoying the last bits of fall foliage, we are steadily moving past peak at our elevation (2,300 feet) and the evergreen rhododendron are taking over as the primary color in North Carolina's Pisgah National Forest surrounding the Inn on Mill Creek B&B.

So if you're coming to the Asheville area to view the remaining fall foliage, your best options are below 2,000 feet:
  • Biltmore Estate: It's always a late fall color show at Biltmore Estate in Asheville, and they have a really nice variety of shrubs and trees at Biltmore to enjoy. And combined with the beginning of their Christmas at Biltmore celebration, you get two seasons for the price of one! Also two days worth of Biltmore for the price of one when you buy discounted tickets through the Inn on Mill Creek B&B as our guest.
     
  • Chimney Rock State Park: Located approximately 30 minutes south of the Inn on Mill Creek B&B via scenic Route 9, Chimney Rock State Park also has late fall color in Hickory Nut Gorge. This is a great time to take the trail to the bottom of Hickory Nut Falls, a 400-foot waterfall that drops straight down sheer granite rock. Take the Outcroppings Trail that includes the stairway to the top of the Chimney for a nice work-out and be rewarded with a grand view of Lake Lure and Hickory Nut Gorge.
     
  • Catawba Falls: A picturesque waterfall located inside Pisgah National Forest in Old Fort, Catawba Falls can be quite popular in October, so avoid the crowds and go in early November, when you'll be able to view late fall color without a hundred other people on the trail. The trailhead for Catawba Falls is about 20 minutes from the Inn on Mill Creek B&B.
Catawba Falls [photo credit: Nicole Arnold]

Friday, October 31, 2014

North Carolina Mountain Birds: Barred Owl

Beautiful Barred Owl photo by MDF [Source: Wikimedia Commons]
While the phrase, "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?" is not heard much inside the Inn on Mill Creek B&B (answer already well-known: Innkeeper Dave!), you may hear it outside, in the trees of Pisgah National Forest surrounding the Inn. And just who is asking that question? None other than the Barred Owl, our October 2014 bird in our 12 Months of Birding at the Inn blog series.

The Barred Owl, a year-round resident of the forest around the Inn on Mill Creek and Black Mountain, NC, is actually a fairly quiet creature. It roosts peacefully during the day and hunts for its dinner at night, flying without making a sound. It's during those evening meal runs, often right around sunset, when you're likely to hear the Barred Owl's call, which really does sound like the phrase, "Who cooks for you?"

And if you hear that call while you're staying at the Inn on Mill Creek, it's likely that it's coming from a Barred Owl who's a "local" -- one that has lived its whole life near the Inn. Barred Owls are not migratory birds; one study of 158 banded owls showed that none moved more than six miles away. Barred Owls can also live a long life: the oldest documented Barred Owl was 24 years old!

The Barred Owl's diet consist of small animals, such as squirrels, voles (if only they would get all the voles who eat our tulips!!), rabbits, mice and chipmunks, as well as small reptiles, fish and crayfish. The Barred Owl also has its own predator -- the Great Horned Owl.


Planning on searching for a Barred Owl while you're at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B? The Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers the following description of this beautiful bird: "Barred Owls are mottled brown and white overall, with dark brown, almost black, eyes. The underparts are mostly marked with vertical brown bars on a white background, while the upper breast is crossed with horizontal brown bars. The wings and tail are barred brown and white."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

NC Mountains Fall Foliage Report Week 5

The Inn on Mill Creek B&B in late October
"Peak week" for fall color has arrived in our neck of the woods, between Black Mountain and Old Fort, NC (2,300 feet in elevation). The Inn on Mill Creek B&B is situated two miles inside Pisgah National Forest, and with so many different tree types, we are seeing large bursts of varying color all around!

We have a wide variety of oak trees (scarlet oaks being our favorite), especially on Horse Ridge behind our apple orchard at the Inn, and many are now joining the fall color show. Sugar and red maples are at peak along with birch and beech trees, plus sourwood trees continue to hold their scarlet and orange hues, so the mostly yellow landscape is quickly shifting to bronze, orange and red.

A little sampling of late October color in Old Fort, NC
Most of the elevations along the Blue Ridge Parkway above 3,500 feet are past peak, so if you plan a trip to Mt. Mitchell, Craggy Gardens, Grandfather Mountain, Mt. Pisgah or Graveyard Fields, the hiking is still great, but the colors have faded. It is nice to see the structure of the mountains, however, and to see those long range views without foliage in the way. Don't forget to wear layers if hiking at high elevations...temperatures can be as low as the 30s and you might even see snow above 3,500 feet once we get into November! Also take note that portions and places along the Blue Ridge Parkway may start closing starting November 1, depending on the weather.

To find great fall color this week and next, stick to elevations below 3,000 feet. Here are some ideas:

  • Take a fall color drive east of the Inn and stop at the Old Fort Picnic Grounds at the juncture of Mill Creek Road and Old US Hwy 70. This section of the National Forest is a splendid place to have lunch and there is a short, easy forested trail at the back of the picnic grounds, as well as a 4-mile more moderate trail called Young's Ridge that leads off of the Picnic Grounds near the front. Here are some photos taken of the picnic grounds this week:
Old Fort Picnic Grounds in late October
"Leaf crunching" season as we like to say!
Short trail in the woods, innpug approved
  • Facing the Old Fort Picnic Grounds on Mill Creek Road, you can turn right, go 1/10 mile and park near the Old Fort end of the Point Lookout Trail, a 3.5-mile paved greenway that is ablaze in color this time of year. The trail is easy for walkers and more moderate for bicyclists, with about 700 feet in elevation gain from the bottom to the top at Ridgecrest.
     
  • If you turn left when facing the Old Fort Picnic Grounds entrance from Mill Creek Road, you can travel Old US Hwy 70 into Old Fort, where the trailhead to Catawba Falls is not too far away. Or take US Hwy 70/Main Street east through Old Fort for some nice driving through lower elevations toward Marion, including scenic Highway 221. Here's the drive this week on Old US Hwy 70:
Old US Hwy 70 between the Inn on Mill Creek and Old Fort
  • We also recommend the 434-acre North Carolina Arboretum southwest of Asheville, which has 10 miles of beautiful forested hiking and biking trails through the Bent Creek area near Asheville. To get to the Arboretum from the Inn via the "scenic route", take Hwy 70/State Street west through charming Black Mountain and Swannanoa. You can then get on the Blue Ridge Parkway and travel the Parkway south a short distance around south Asheville from Milepost 382 at the Folk Art Center to Milepost 393. This stretch of the Parkway is in full color. The Arboretum does have a nominal entry fee.
     
  • For a free, smaller-scale alternative to the North Carolina Arboretum, the Asheville Botanical Gardens north of downtown Asheville near the UNC-Asheville campus has over 600 plant species that are native to the Southern Appalachians and a half-mile walking loop around the grounds to enjoy, along with a few side trails. (Donations are accepted in lieu of an entry fee.)
     
  • The WNC Nature Center is also a neat place to visit, located on the east side of Asheville, about 20 minutes from the Inn on Mill Creek B&B. You'll have the chance to check out the wildlife at the Nature Center and see beautiful fall foliage, too.
We will be doing at least one, if not two more fall color reports since it does look like the color will be sticking around a little while in our neck of the woods and heading south toward places like Chimney State Park. And don't forget, when the leaves start falling, beautiful color can be found by looking down instead of up!

Along the trail at the Old Fort Picnic Grounds, late October