Saturday, January 30, 2010

Celestial Events for 2010

For our amateur astronomer guests (and space-loving Innkeeper Brigette), the Inn on Mill Creek is a great location to do some stargazing. Our bed & breakfast is located two miles within Pisgah National Forest, with virtually no light pollution. Much to our delight, the evening lights coming from our neighboring small towns of Black Mountain and Old Fort, North Carolina, are conveniently blocked by two ridges to the east and west of us, making for great opportunities to see planets, stars, meteor showers, the beautiful bands of the Milky Way galaxy (and even the International Space Station sometimes).

Listed below are celestial events that may be visible this year in our neck of the woods, weather permitting. Don't be surprised if you see Brigette and some of our guests outside on these evenings looking up at the heavens.


Photo Credit: NASA

January 30 (tonight!) - The largest full moon of the year happens tonight; we're glad the snowstorm is out of the way and hopefully, the skies will clear up for a good view of the moon

March 22 - This year, Saturn will make its closest approach to Earth on this night; however, the planet will be almost "edge-on", meaning the rings will be hard to see

April 21-22 - You might see some shooting stars during the Lyrids Meteor Shower on this evening; look east after midnight on April 22 for the best viewing opportunity

May 5-6 - The annual Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower happens during Brigette's birthday! Unfortunately, this particular meteor shower isn't one of the big ones, but if you're outside long enough, you might catch up to 20 shooting stars per hour

August 12-13 - One of our favorite meteor showers, the Perseids can provide a great show with an average of 60 meteors per hour. This is supposed to be one of the better years for the Perseids, so make a note to look east after midnight

August 13 - Looking west after sunset, you'll see Venus, Saturn and Mars close to the moon, and the moon will be just a crescent, which should make for nice viewing of the planets

September 21 - This is the best night to view Jupiter through a telescope since will be at its closest point to Earth for 2010

October 20 - This year, you can check out Comet Hartley 2 as it passes 11.2 million miles from Earth; look east before sunrise on this morning for a chance to see the comet, viewable with the naked eye; the Orionid meteor shower also takes place at this time

November 17-18 - Another good meteor shower, the Leonids, can send an average of 40 shooting stars an hour into the night sky from the constellation Leo; the past two years have been cloudy nights at the Inn during the Leonids, so we'll cross our fingers for clear skies in 2010

December 13-14 - It's worth bundling up and heading outside this evening for the Geminids, which is considered to be the best meteor shower of the year; the average is 60 meteors per hour, but some people are estimating up to 120 per hour this year

December 21 - A full lunar eclipse will be visible to all of North America this year, best seen after midnight in our neck of the woods. For an explanation of why the moon appears red during a lunar eclipse, visit www.mreclipse.com/Special/LEprimer.html.

Happy stargazing in 2010!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Chimney Rock Park Elevator Is Open

Great news from our friends at Chimney Rock Park: the scheduled improvements on the elevator to the Chimney are complete and the elevator has reopened to the public. The Chimney is a 315-foot monolith and the focal point of the park. From the parking lot, you can take the elevator up 26 stories, and then it's a short walk and 44 stairs to the top of the rock, where you can see up to 75 miles. Lake Lure and Hickory Nut Gorge are really beautiful from the Chimney. Here's a great photo from Chimney Rock Park's website of the views:



If you're the adventurous sort, you can still take the Outcroppings Trail, a set of stairs and paths up to the Chimney. There are some great views from the Outcroppings. This is also the trail to take to the Chimney if you have pets. Chimney Rock is pet friendly and dogs are permitted in all the outdoor areas, including all the trails, on leash.

For more information about Chimney Rock Park, visit www.chimneyrockpark.com. And remember: we have discount coupons at the Inn on Mill Creek for our guests who are planning to spend time at Chimney Rock so be sure to pick up a coupon when you stay with us.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Biltmore Tickets and Winter Activities


A pretty place, even in winter (from our December trip)

The entrance to Biltmore Estate in Asheville is a short 20-minute drive from the Inn on Mill Creek. During the winter months, you have the opportunity to enjoy Biltmore's house, winery and activities on the estate minus the high season crowds.

We'll be continuing to offer a $10 discount on tickets for our guests and those tickets are good for two consecutive days. That means you can head to Biltmore for two full days for just $30 per person now through March 18. And there's a lot to do there, even in the wintertime: Tour Biltmore House (with 175,000 square feet on a 4-acre footprint, you'll be impressed just by the house itself), take a tour of the Winery and attend one of the red wine and chocolate seminars there, have a fantastic lunch at one of the restaurants on the Estate, and get some great gardening ideas in the Conservatory.

As we like to say, the mountains have their own distinct personality each season, and their winter personality is best viewed at places like Biltmore. Did you know that Mr. Vanderbilt welcomed his guests to Biltmore Estate for the first time in the winter? Imagine staying at your friend's house and checking out the gorgeous view of the mountains while sitting in front of one of 65 fireplaces...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thinking Spring (and Summer)



We're just eight weeks away from our favorite season -- Spring -- in Western North Carolina, and one way we (read: Brigette) pass the time as winter moves along in our neck of the woods is to read through favorite gardening magazines and catalogs. Nothing like looking at lush plants and colorful flowers to brighten even the grayest wintry day.

One "perennially" favorite plant nursery of the Inn on Mill Creek Bed & Breakfast is Bluestone Perennials, located in Dave and Brigette's home state of Ohio. They have a very nice catalog full of a fantastic variety of flowering plants, shrubs, groundcovers, herbs, you name it. Our hedgerow of burning bushes along the slope between the Main House and Lake House came from Bluestone Perennials, as did several of the plants in our Pool Garden and Well Garden. It's nice to have a little piece of back home here in the beautiful Black Mountains of North Carolina.

Included with Aguilegia vulgaris (Columbine) 'Clementine Red' shown above, below are some of the plants that we're thinking about ordering next for our gardens, all of which will arrive to be planted in Spring (all photo credit to Bluestone)...enjoy a little taste of things to come when the weather warms up!


Rudbeckia hirta (Gloriosa Daisy) 'Solar Eclipse'


Veronica (Speedwell) 'Waterperry Blue'


Achillea (Yarrow) 'Heidi'


Salvia nemorosa (Meadow Sage) 'Plumosa'


Helleborus 'Ivory Prince'

Monday, January 18, 2010

Great Blue Ridge Talent Search for Singers

Our friends at White Horse Black Mountain shared that they'll be hosting the Great Blue Ridge Talent Search for Singers starting January 28. What a great way to support and showcase the talented performers in our area! The details from White Horse Black Mountain:

WHAT: The Great Blue Ridge Talent Search for Singers at White Horse Black Mountain

WHERE: White Horse Black Mountain (105C Montreat Road, Black Mountain, NC 28711; www.whitehorseblackmountain.com)



WHEN: Begins Thursday January 28 at 7pm and runs alternate Thursdays through February (2/11 and 2/25). and into March if needed

WHO: Singers who are unmanaged compete for $1,000 in cash and prizes. Prizes include a showcase performance at White Horse Black Mountain, professional career consultations with White Horse co-owner Bob Hinkle (former manager of J Geils Band, Harry Chapin, Etta James, Kenny Rogers, Dottie West, Manfred Mann, etc. (www.bobhinkle.com), a free demo recording in the wonderful White Horse listening room, and other prizes. Singers will fill out an application and pay a fee of $10 to compete. They will receive written feedback from judges.

Asheville native and White Horse Black Mountain co-owner Bob Hinkle's first love in music and entertainment has always been the joy of being present and part of the creative process especially the birth/and growth of new talent and careers. So he's decided to use his significant experience to help young local singers. Bob explains:

"There are so many very talented and creative singers in many genres of music in this area. My wife calls Western North Carolina the 'Greenwich Village' of the South, artistically speaking. Since we have this music venue established now, we thought we'd try to use it more directly to help some of the area artists that are newer on their career paths. That's how the idea of the Great Blue Ridge Talent Search arose."

As part of the Great Blue Ridge Talent Search, Bob will be giving talks about the music and entertainment business to the contestants and answering their questions - essentially a free "coaching" for them. These talks will be open to the public and he also will give longer, free, career consultations to the top three winners.

Potential contestants should visit http://greatblueridgetalentsearch.blogspot.com for information, or contact Bob Hinkle or Kim Hughes at (828) 669.0816. Application forms are available upon request.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

More Photos of Icy Andrews Geyser



As mentioned recently in our Andrews Geyser post, we wanted to see how the geyser looked during the cold snap we were having earlier this month. Well, this week, the cold temperatures on Monday and Tuesday helped the ice and snow accumulate even more on the geyser, a man-made fountain constructed in 1885 (and refurbished and moved across Mill Creek to its present-day location in 1911). It even became a minor celebrity, with some air time on local ABC station WLOS, and we were told it was also on WYFF (our NBC local station).

On two separate days this week, we went back to Andrews Geyser, located two miles from our bed & breakfast, to take more photos.


January 14

As you might know, the valve to control the geyser's waterflow and the water source are on our property at the Inn on Mill Creek, so Andrews Geyser is extra special to us.


Brigette and the innpugs, January 4


January 12...definitely some ice buildup!

Hope you enjoy the photos of the icy geyser, and if you're in our neck of the woods, make sure you stop by Andrews Geyser to take some photos yourself! The temperatures were in the 50s today, and we're looking at a warm weekend ahead, so some of the ice and snow will start melting. You never know when we'll get ice buildup like this again at the geyser. The last time was in 1977 (click for a photo).


January 9


Kids sliding along the ice (January 12)


January 14

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

January Geocaching in Black Mountain


Geocaching logo

Last week, we had the opportunity to do some geocaching, which was wonderful because we haven't been caching for over a month. (Visit www.geocaching.com to learn about geocaching).

Geocaching withdrawal can be tough, especially when you know caches are out there that are thisclose to you, when you're driving past them and can't stop to get them, for example. Such is the case with Black Mountain, North Carolina, which is 10 minutes from our bed & breakfast and has a treasure trove of nice caches hidden all over town (25 caches just within a two-mile radius of town).

Our friends, Travis and Nicole, were staying at the Inn last week, and they're cachers as well, so we trekked around Black Mountain in search of caches on a very chilly January day. If you're into geocaching, you know that one of the nice aspects to the sport is that it allows you to really explore and enjoy an area, no matter the season. We zig-zagged through town, passing the Visitor's Center, Lake Tomahawk Park, the library, restaurants and charming shops, and picked up five geocaches along the way (six for Travis and Nicole, who logged one that I had already found).

The names of caches can be very creative and can sometimes hold clues as to their location. Two of our five were from the 101 Dalmatian series (101 geocaches hidden, numbered and named for local geocachers), another one was called "Bottom of the Lake...sort of", another (our first nano-cache find) was a reference to a point on the course of the Mt. Mitchell Challenge, a long-distance running race from Black Mountain up to Mt. Mitchell in February, and the fifth was titled, "Behind the Flea Market" (had no idea about the flea market...you can definitely learn new things with geocaching).

We're busy working on updates to our website, and one page we'll be adding will be dedicated to geocaching...stay tuned!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Winter Hike on Heartbreak Trail in Old Fort


View of snowy peaks from Heartbreak Ridge

Two of our guests-turned-friends, Travis and Nicole, were at the Inn this chilly January week and we took an afternoon to hike up together to Heartbreak Ridge in Old Fort. The trailhead for Heartbreak Ridge Trail begins about two miles northeast of the Inn on Mill Creek.


Red "A" is the Inn on Mill Creek; Purple marker is Heartbreak Ridge

The north end of the ridge leads up several miles to the Blue Ridge Parkway and is part of the Off Road Assault on Mt. Mitchell mountain biking race each July. The racers have serious endurance. Our innpugs, Csaba and Bugsy, have pug levels of endurance, so we made a simple two-mile roundtrip trek up to the ridge and back.


Two pugs lead the way (for about five seconds until they stop to sniff)

What a great winter hike, even with snow on the ground! The first part of the trail is relatively flat and curves through a valley and across a small stream, which appears to be part of Pritchard Creek The trail then veers to the right (just watch for the yellow blaze marks on the trees like in the photo below) and turns into a switchback trail up the west side of Heartbreak Ridge.


The start of the more strenuous section


Nicole, Brigette and the innpugs take a break on Heartbreak


The view on the way down (and pugs stopping to sniff sniff sniff)

This portion of the Heartbreak Ridge Trail will definitely be going on our list of wintertime hikes. A few tips for hiking at this time of year in our area of Western North Carolina and the Black Mountains:
  • Bring a map or GPS unit (and it doesn't hurt to bring your cell phone, even with spotty reception in the mountains), and tell someone ahead of time where you're going
  • Check the weather before you hike and be aware that elevation changes may mean serious variations in temperature, wind chill and weather conditions; this is a year-round factor to consider when hiking in the Black Mountains
  • Keep in mind that winter days are shorter, especially in the mountains when the sun sets quickly over the ridges
  • Dress in layers (preferably not cotton; when it gets wet, it takes forever to dry) and wear a hat
  • Bring sunglasses to protect your eyes from the Carolina blue sunny winter skies
  • Wear your insulated, waterproof hiking boots
  • Don't forget food and water; you burn lots of calories on winter hikes
  • Enjoy those unobstructed views! Don't forget your camera.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Project List for 2010 at the Inn

Happy 2010! We're excited about the new year here in our neck of the woods between Black Mountain and Old Fort, North Carolina. And in true busy-body innkeeper fashion, we're working on a project list for the months ahead.



First, here are some of the project goals we began and/or completed in 2009 at the Inn on Mill Creek:
  • Planting a White Garden of white-blooming shrubs and flowers and silver-foliage plants
  • Making concrete benches from bench molds for use around the property
  • New tables and chairs for the dining solarium (plus white fabric panels on the solarium ceiling)
  • Continuing our "Greening Up the Inn" initiative of becoming an eco-friendly business
  • Planning and constructing a walking labyrinth based on labyrinths found in Sweden (paying homage to Brigette's dad's lineage)
  • Planning a nature trail around our 7 1/2 acres in Pisgah National Forest
Additionally, in 2009, we became members of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and enjoyed seeing the opening of the Mountains section of the North Carolina Birding Trail, on which we are a site. We also joined the universe of Twitter (the twitterverse as they say), and you can follow our tweets at http://twitter.com/InnOnMillCreek. We post lots of pictures there and are having fun connecting with people on Twitter.

Being the list makers that we are, our 2010 list of projects has begun and includes:
  • Planning and constructing a fire pit near the top of our apple orchard (location has already been mapped out)
  • Installing tongue-and-groove pine or cedar ceiling in the North Terrace Room (similar to what we have in the Lake View Room and Great Room
  • Creating a mini-garden near the driveway and solarium, under the Great Room window (current home of our thriving Prickly Pear cactus...it will stay but will have to share its space with some new plantings)
  • Continuing to plan landscaping around our walking labyrinth that we installed in 2009
  • Continuing to plan our nature trail at the Inn
  • Establishing a Facebook page for the Inn, where we'll be posting photos and information, as well as upcoming events around the area
  • Continuing to tweak the Inn's website to add pages for hiking, birding and guest photos
Our first project goal for 2010 is to become a stop on the McDowell Quilt Trail, an initiative begun in June of 2009, in which quilt blocks are installed on buildings throughout our county. We're thrilled to become part of this effort to extend the Quilt Trail of Western North Carolina into McDowell County. Stay tuned as we work with the Quilt Trail committee and volunteers to design a quilt block for the Inn.

Our best wishes for a fantastic 2010!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Andrews Geyser in Winter

With the wintry temperatures we're having (what we like to call hot chocolate weather), we were anxious to see how Andrews Geyser looks this first week of 2010. The Andrews Geyser was constructed near Mill Creek in Old Fort, North Carolina in the late 1800s as a memorial to the men who died building the railroad through this part of the North Carolina mountains, and as a fountain feature for a railroad resort called the Round Knob Hotel (which burned down in 1903). The sole reason for the existence of our private property inside Pisgah National Forest was to create a water source for the geyser, located two miles down the mountain. We have the dam and the valve that controls the water flow (neat, huh?).

The geyser was relocated just across the creek and refurbished in 1911, then rededicated in 1976 (in a nice coincidence, on the day Innkeeper Brigette was born). The Andrews Geyser now sits in a public park maintained by the town of Old Fort, with the elevated railroad curving beautifully around the fountain as it sprays 80 feet in the air.

This afternoon, we headed with the innpugs to the Andrews Geyser (a five minute drive from the Inn) and saw a beautiful sight. Ice has started forming around the concrete basin, with some of the ice creating what can only be described as ice pillars:



Plus, a nice snowy ice mound is beginning to form at the base of the water spray:



It reminded us of a photo of the Andrews Geyser in January of 2009, taken by one of our talented guests, Warren. A beautiful shot from above:


Photo by Warren Reed