20171015_123142When you ask where to eat and the county and they recommend a hot dog at the bowling alley, you begin to worry.  And when the best part of the county is the hot dog at the bowling alley well…

20171015_123107We first went to Stone Mountain State Park. We started with the visitor center which had a few display but dated and not much to speak of. We really didn’t have time to hike and there is nothing else there-  no lookouts or anything. I was hoping for something like Pilot Mountain where with a short walk you could have a scenic view. We didn’t find that in the park. We drove the loop of the park but there was nothing really to see. Maybe we missed something but it was disappointing.  We then headed the Blue Ridge Parkway which was beautiful as usual.








We ended up eating at the bowling alley. First, it is actually outside the bowling alley which makes it a little better. Secondly, they had unique different topping based on different regions. I had the Atlanta  Cobey had the  Kansas City and Claire had the Chicago. I will say it is the best value of any of our meals yet. We ate for 13 dollars and it was a pretty dawg for the good hot dog! If you are ever in Sparta get a hot dog from the Hot Dog Station. There were a few other places to eat in the area that I would have tried if we had stayed longer but we had to get on the road for VA. The parkway and hot dogs at the bowling alley saved the day!


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11987104_10206301221544128_466116147548740139_nBecause of scheduling issues, we ended up doing  Yancey County in two parts – Sunday afternoon and Tuesday morning.  We arrived in Burnsville at lunch time on Sunday. We soon figured out Sunday may have not been the best day to visit. We had a hard time finding a restaurant that was open. We finally found Sam’s Regal Beagle and decided to give it a try.  After we sat down, we began to hear a table in the next room loudly complaining. They complained about how long it took to get food, the waitress, and the quality of the food. The restaurant ended up charging them very little for a large party. We couldn’t help but wonder if this was a bad decision.  We stuck it out and ended up pleasantly surprised. They were out of some items but we were happy with our orders. Our waitress was the same one and she was friendly and attentive. Our food came out in a timely manner. It was not great but good.  Glad we had a better experience.

We then rode around the town looking for something open without much luck. We did enjoy looking at the quilt squares and the many murals in the area. The photo above and the photo to the right are all from the area.


11902497_10153453222548950_1943773066144332891_nOn Tuesday morning, we had a foggy but beautiful drive to Mt. Mitchell.   It gave the background about the tallest mountain not only in North Carolina but the Northeast. The mountain is named after Elisha Mitchell who measured the mountain three times. The last time he fell to his death. There are several great trails.  We split up into several groups and tackled several different trails. Cobey had a great time and Mt Mitchel helped saved Yancey County from the bottom to closer to the top. Claire and I went on a shorter hike and then went to lunch at the Mt Mitchell Restaurant. I had a burger and Claire had soup. It was a good lunch with a nice view.  Mt Mitchell makes Yancey worth the visit.

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The Blowing Rock

Moses Cone ManorI went to Appalachian State University for college. I love the area and I wanted my kids to love it also. I was determined to have Watauga shine. We took the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway into the area. We stopped at one of my favorite college hangouts – Price Park. It was a nice day and there were lots of people but we finally found a place to park and walked around a bit. We decided against renting a boat at Price Lake and headed on to Moses Cone Manor. We enjoyed the views from the house and the beautiful crafts. If you have never been this is not your average crafts, the quality is excellent.  Moses H Cone was a textile magnate who built this 20 room, 13,000  square foot home in 1901. It is a must stop when you are on the parkway.


Mystery HillI lived in the area almost five years but never made it to the tourist traps. I decided this was my chance.  The first stop was The Blowing Rock. There is a town called Blowing Rock but there is also a tourist attraction. There is a Cherokee legend about the Blowing Rock that explains why there is a perpetual wind from the rock. It has fabulous views and I got a great but scary photo of Claire. (the photo at top of blog) But honestly, there are places like this throughout the area and you don’t have to pay but you may have to hike a little bit. Glad I went once but don’t know that  I would pay to go back. The same goes for Mystery Hill. The kids liked it and had fun but it was a little hokey.  You also get to visit the museum with your admission. It includes a huge arrowhead collection and the 1903 Dougherty House that once stood on the campus Appalachian. The house shows life in the 19th century.


The New Public House and HotelAfter Mystery Hill, we headed for Kilwin’s in downtown Blowing Rock. Downtown is cool and quaint and fun to walk around. One of my favorite downtowns in the state.  The kids liked the ice cream at Kilwin’s but they loved the orangeade. They claimed I had been depriving them.  We walked around and stumbled upon the The New Public House. Fortunately. they had room for us at a table in the bar. This was one of our best meals during our challenge. The kids shared Jambalaya and I had Free Range Chicken.  The service was great and the atmosphere is neat.




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After dinner, we drove to Boone where I showed them the stadium and my old dorm.  The second dorm I lived in has been torn down.  Claire got a photo with “The Rock” and the footprints.  We got a photo of what is the ugliest courthouse we have seen so far and then headed to the hotel.


Foggy Mountain Gem MineThe next morning we ended up going gem mining at Foggy Mountain Gem Mine. They both enjoyed it, worked together and ended up with a bag full of gems.  The staff was friendly and helpful. I would go back for sure.  Of the three paid attractions we did in the county, it was by far the best.  They both decided that Watauga County was pretty good even if their mom liked it and it is still tops for me.

View from Blowing Rock

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11745436_10205984728431998_8246457334648000331_nWe made it to the farthest western county – Cherokee County.  This county we also did with our field trip group which made it extra fun. We started the day driving about a half hour out to Murphy to Field of Woods. This site was the first we did for our history project that will show “curiosity” of North Carolina. They have the 300 ft wide ten commandments which claims to be the word’s largest. There are also other attractions including Psalms of Praise wall, empty tomb, all nation cross and more. I would plan to spend about hour to check everything out and climb to the tomb.

11751440_10205984809394022_3851740904946553025_nWe then went back into town for a tour at the Cherokee County Historical Museum. We loved this tour with Mr. Palmer and Wanda Stalcup. It is a small museum that is packed full. We learned so much and you could tell our guides loved their county and history.  I wish we had more time there. This is one of my favorite small town museums that we have visited and the people is what made it.  I loved learning about the symbols on the bear, the story about fairy crosses and the story about the mask made for the museum. We then went to Main Street USA for lunch. It was a tip from the museum and it was cheap and good country cooking.

11745348_10205986961767830_4482054335220159397_nOur next activity was a three mile walking tour where we saw the spot of Fort Butler where Cherokee were held before the Trail of Tears, the first White Settlers monument and the spot where Cherokee got water on Trail of Tears. On the way out of town to Graham County, we stopped at the little church on the hill where Abraham Lincoln’s biological father is buried.  We ended our day back in Murphy at The Sweet Tooth where the kid enjoyed some great ice cream.



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Highland Games and Horn in the West

Posted by Carmen Ledford on Sunday Jul 10, 2011 Under Claire, Cobey, Good Eats/Not So Good Eats, Homeschool, Kid's Corner, Travel

I had heard about the the Highland Games while I was at school at ASU but never attended. They are held at Grandfather Mountain each year. We got there shortly after lunch and spent a few hours there. The tickets for adults are a little pricey I think at $30; but, the kids are only $5 so that helps. You also have to pay $5 each for the shuttle up to the event.

It really is hard to review the games because we got an inside view with the MacMillan Clan. They have tents surrounding the main field for each of the clans. Our tent even had great food which the kids loved.  There are all kinds of different sports to watch on the field. Claire loved watching the dancing and the sheep herding but did not care for the bag pipes. Cobey was fascinated with the whole thing and wanted to look up to see if we were in clan. We are still trying to figure it all that out. We are worried we may have been part of the clan that joined the Tories in the Revolutionary War. There is a lot to see, do and eat!  It reminded me of a huge family reunion with great entrainment.  I think we will now have to add a family history to our studies next year.

That evening we went to Horn in West. We got there 30 minutes early to purchase our tickets which worked out great. They have a living museum there with frontier home, blacksmith, tavern, and store. They have costumed interpreters to tell you more about the structures and items in them. We went through each of the buildings and then found our seats.

The show was outstanding. It starts with the Battle of Alamance and ends with the Battle at Kings Mountain. The kids had been to the site of the Battle of Alamance and learned about Kings Mountain. I think this made the play even more meaningful to the kids. But even if your kids do not have the background mine did,  the action will keep them interesting and the story line gives them an insight to the people during this period.  If you have an upper elementary or older student you should add it to your must do list.  When you do, rent the 50 cent cushion- the seats are hard and bring bug spray.

We had two great meals at Shatley Springs outside of Jefferson. If you are in the area and would like a great home cooked meal then check them out. We also ate at the Mountain House in Boone. I still don’t believe it is as good as the good ole days. The menu has shifted way from the country cooking and has more steaks and fish. The food and service were good not great.


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We headed for the mountains this weekend to visit some good friends. On the way up, we stopped at Guildford Courthouse National Park. After all the parks we have been to that have been so good, I don’t know why they continue to surprise me. This park is much bigger and better than I expected. I highly recommend it to anyone learning about Revolutionary War, colonial times, or NC History.

We started in the museum with a thirty minute movie that gave a good overview of the battle.  We then walked through the museum which is not huge but has some good exhibits and different from other parks. We then watched the map presentation which shows in detail the moves of the forces. The kids finished their junior ranger program and then we saw a musket demonstration.

We decided to do an audio tour instead of the ranger tour. The audio tour gave information about each stop. I was glad we did it because we would have probably missed the first stop which was great.  Not far down the road is the Colonial Heritage Center. Here they focus more on colonial life using the Hoskins Farmstead as the back drop. There is a map display that I think is better than the one in the visitor display. They have a separate junior ranger program that is very good. They get to know what life would be like for  two of the Hoskin’s children for Hannah and Joseph.  There are  different pages for girls and boys.

We went through the museum first that showed life on the farm and included clothes they wore, how a mill worked, different trades, and a life size cabin. The children answered most of the questions of the Junior Ranger program in the museum. We then had a guided tour of the building outside- home, kitchen and barn. We had an awesome guide. She was so great at engaging the children and asking them questions. She even stumped Cobey with a few questions.

After we completed the junior ranger badges, we finished the audio tour. We did not get out at every stop but around three our four. We were at park for over four hours and the kids loved it and wanted to go back.

On the way back from the mountains, we stopped at the Winston-Salem Children’s Museum. This was our second visit and the kids had a great time. Cobey loved the beanstalk that you climb to get to the second floor. On the second floor, the kids loved the Krispie Kreme shop. Cobey spent most of his time there where it was his store and he ran the business. Claire also enjoyed the grocery store and the storybook area. There was a special puppet show there based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. I was excited about that because we are going to start Shakespeare this year and this was an excellent introduction.

After the museum, we had dinner at Frontline Brewery a few blocks away. The service was excellent and food was delicious. Tuesdays is half off the children’s menu so give it a try.



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I really am being to love New England. I was having a great trip but I have really loved the past two days. Maine is so beautiful with the rocky coast and the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont are breathtaking. We just happen to go past the longest covered bridge this morning. I had to stop for a photo.

Our first stop was at Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site. I gave them some choices and Claire wanted to go learn about the sculptor. This national park is excellent and in a beautiful setting. We started with the movie and Claire was excited to see that Saint-Gaudens had done the Shaw Monument that we had seen in Boston. I love when they make the connections.

The volunteer was not very positive about us finishing the Junior Ranger and although it was a longer one it was not impossible. The program is very well put together. It trains them to pay attention to detail.  There is also lot of sketching of things that they see. The kids would not have gotten near as much out of it without the program. If you are going, take the time and do the program so they can get something out of it and they get a cool patch at the end.

There is lots to see and do here. You can have a tour of his house and an art tour which we did not do. There are Horse Stables, Gardens, a studio, gallery, a working studio, and trails. I think we ended up spending three hours there without any tours. The kids sketched a lot and we did do a short trail which is beautiful!


After we finished there, we headed for Vermont. I could not believe how beautiful the drive was. I kept telling the kids to look out the window. Claire said she wanted to come in the fall and so do I. I can’t describe it but they are different than our mountains. Maybe I have been away from ours too long. I really loved the ride.

We stopped at Ben and Jerry’s Factory to take a tour. I could not believe how many people where there. It was like going to an amusement park. The tour is three parts- a movie, description of what is happening on the factory floor and a free sample. The kids enjoyed it but I was not that impressed. I really don’t even like the ice cream. (I hope the Ben and Jerry’s mafia does not come after me for that.) I got the kids more ice cream outside and myself a smoothie. The smoothie was pretty good. We walked up to the Ben & Jerry’s graveyard for retired flavors. The kids loved seeing that because they had seen it on the website. After that we took the long way to Burlington on purpose. I wanted to see more of the beautiful mountains.

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Busy Day In Boston

Posted by Carmen Ledford on Friday Jun 24, 2011 Under Claire, Cobey, Homeschool, Kid's Corner, National Parks, Revolutionary War Sites, Travel

We started off our day by picking up Bruce at the airport. Navigating underground tunnels was the first adventure. I never knew you could have so many exits in a tunnel. We then headed straight for Boston and set up our tours. We booked a Boston Tea Party Cruise, the Beantown Trolley Tour and the Duck tour. We then visited Paul Revere’s House and Old North Church. Both were included in our Boston Go Cards. We paid 1.50 for the children’s tour guide at Paul Revere’s House and it added a lot to the tour. I recommend it! We also got the guide at the Old North Church. The five minute talk in the church was much better than the guide. We then headed for a Freedom Trail Tour. We stopped for hotdogs on the way from a cart. I love that about cities.

We had the best costumed guide with Freedom Trail Foundation. He had a great voice that was loud enough to be heard over the noisy streets. He told the story of Boston and its people. After studying the Revolutionary War for months, I thought I knew a lot but he reminded me of some and told new interesting stories that I had not heard. He covered the story of the Revolutionary War with some other stories thrown in from different time periods. I HIGHLY recommend this tour and doing it before you do any other sites on the trail. After the tour, we went to the Boston National Historical Park. We probably should have gone there first and gotten the Junior Ranger information but it worked out fine. They answered the questions about the things we had seen and had to draw something from each of them. They have five sites and you have to do at least three of them. I thought the program was pretty good and they learned something new from it. If your kid hates to draw then they will not like it.

After they completed their Junior Ranger Program, we headed to the Duck tours. We scheduled our tour at 530 after everything else had closed. We had a snack from the grocery store while we waited to board. We had another great tour guide, who you could tell loved his city. He told us a ton of information about the city in a fun high energy manner. Claire was so excited when we hit the water. Cobey said the best part of the day was when he got to drive the boat. It was another excellent tour that I recommend. If you are short on time, do the evening tour but if you more time do it first as an overview. It gives you lots of information on what you may want to go back and see.

We also did the Beantown Trolley. We basically used it twice for transportation. It was included in our card. It worked out twice for us but I would not waste your money otherwise. The trolleys get very crowded and you can’t get on. You have to time it perfect or you will be waiting for a trolley for at least thirty minutes. And the Duck tour was more entertaining and gives you an overview of the city. It is a pretty compact city so I recommend walking.

After dinner, it took us forever to get out of the city and back to the hotel. We go back Sunday and there is no way we will be able to see everything left on our list. We will do our best though. I think Claire is a country girl. She kept complaining about the noise , chaos and crazy drivers.

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We slept in this morning. I think we were up a little after eight. I am wondering if my schedule will stay shifted when I get home. I doubt it! Cobey seems to be tired and dragging a little today. He is the  one that needs his sleep. It has not phased Claire in the least except I have been awake before her a few times.

Our first stop was Lowell National Historical Park. The park is about the city of Lowell and it’s part in the shift of America from farms to industry. We started with a twenty minute introductory film about how the town became an industrial city. We then took a ninety minute canal ride that told  the history of the town and how the canal works. We went into a lock and the water rose four feet and four inches. I had never done that before so that was a neat experience. We learned about the man who saved the town from two floods after he was criticized that the floodgates where not needed.  Some tours get to tour a gatehouse so if you can do that tour I recommend it.


After the tour, we took a trolley to the Boott Cotton Mills Museum which is part of the National Park. They have done an excellent job making this museum interesting for kids. When you enter the museum, the kids put on an apron and clock in. They then search for the child cutouts that tells them a little information and something to try. They got to try many of the ten steps of making fabric. They also saw the machines in action. Boy, was that loud! At the end of the museum, they can mark where their clothes are made on a map. But their favorite part was building a city with homes, railroads, factories and parks.  We then walked over to the where the boarding house where the girls lived. Girls and young woman from surrounding farms were the first workers in the factories.

We walked back to the visitor center, grabbing a late lunch at Subway on the way. The kids got their Junior Ranger badges for the park and we were off to Salem. I highly recommend this national park.  There are a lot of staff in this park and everyone was friendly and helpful that we encountered. There are cost involved in the tours and museum but well worth it. It is one of our new top National Parks. You could easily spend a full day there but you know us,  you can’t keep us anywhere for long.

We were off to Salem because Claire wanted to go to The House of the Seven Gables. My friend Mary Beth recommended it and she was right. The kids loved. The tour guide did a wonderful job telling us the history of the house and about the people of that lived in the house. She also told us enough about the story written by Hawthorne to make us want to read the book.  We then had a self-guided tour of the house Hawthorne was born in which was moved to the property.

We then went down the street to the Salem Maritime National Historical Park. We had less than an hour so we did not get to take full advantage of the park so I can’t give it a fair review. The staff was very helpful and friendly. The kids were able to complete the program in less than an hour and they learned something new. They have tours of the cargo ship and custom house. I would like to go back and take those tours sometime. Salem is one place I would like to return to and spend the entire day.

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Plymouth and Cape Cod

Posted by Carmen Ledford on Tuesday Jun 21, 2011 Under Claire, Cobey, Good Eats/Not So Good Eats, Homeschool, Kid's Corner, National Parks, Travel

It has been a wonderful day and we saw some fabulous things. We started at Jenny’s Grist Mill which is the oldest in America. The tour guide gave information about the mill and the the surrounding area. It was more informative than the talk we heard at Washington’s mill. The same guide gave us an hour tour of the historical area including the famous rock, Bradford statue, Pilgrim memorial and much more. You could tell he is passionate about history. I highly recommend starting with this tour when you come to Plymouth before you go to Plimouth Plantation. It gives you a great foundation to build on and shows you where everything actually was.


We then headed to Plimouth Planation which was also a great experience. It is a living history site which are often our favorites. We first went to the Wampanoag Homesite. They have actually Wampanoag people tell you about how life was like and thought of the arrival of Europeans. The next stop was the English village where Claire wanted to try every bed in every house and there where a lot!  We meet Governor Bradford and several other colonist. They were cooking, building, sewing and other chores as you walk thru the village and interact with them. We then went to craft center where you can see craftsman making items for the village. The last stop was a movie about the first Thanksgiving.

We then drove three miles down the road to the Mayflower II. A reproduction of the Mayflower. We were impressed with the size and learned what tonnage meant. Claire got to read from a Geneva Bible. There were colonist and museum guides on the ship. This was our final site in Plymouth and then we were off to the Cape.

We drove by and got our tickets for the a Harbor tour of Hyanis and then headed for the Cape Cod National Park. We thought we would do the Junior Ranger program in a hour then go back for dinner. We were so wrong. It was the most involved Junior Ranger Program that I have seen. He said it would take two to three days to complete. After looking at it, I would say at least a full day. We stayed and watched the movie on how the Cape Cod got its shape which was interesting. Then we went to the shore. Claire and Cobey loved playing in the sand and ocean for a few minutes. Claire collected rocks which were quite diverse in size and color. I really like the idea of collecting rocks on a beach. There were no dunes and the sand was not soft. It was very different from our beaches and I can see why they  all flock south now.


We had dinner at Spanky’s Clam Shack. The food was pretty good but pricey to me but probably par for the area. We ordered one entree, one appetizer, one side salad and two drinks and it was forty dollars before tip.

After dinner, we took our cruise which was at seven. The cruise was nice and better than the Mt Vernon one but not as good as the one in Hampton, Virginia. The biggest highlight was suppose to be the Kennedy compound with sun and distance you really could not see much. You did get to see some houses on the way out and a lighthouse in the distance but there was really not much to it. I have to say that I am not that impressed with “The Cape”. I guess I did not see the good parts but really not interested in returning so that may be my last visit unless George wants to invite me to Martha’s Vineyard.

The only bad thing that happen today was we ended up in a flip flop hotel tonight. We will be checking out early tomorrow. It took be an hour to find something else for tomorrow night! I am going to try and sleep now with the roar of the a/c it is going to be hard.

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