Even in the heat of midday, a cook fire smolders beside a rough-hewn log house in downtown Boone. It’s part of a living history village nestled into hardwoods between the Watauga County Farmers’ Market and the Daniel Boone Amphitheater. It’s also one of the many treasures awaiting visitors to the home of Appalachian State University, about five hours from Wilmington.
Accommodations in and around Boone run the gamut from primitive camping by a mountain stream to hotels to luxury vacation homes.
If you’re self-catering, plan your visit to shop at the farmers market on Saturday morning for fresh produce, grassfed meats, locally harvested honey, freerange eggs – even fresh-cut flowers for the dining table. Local artists, crafters, and nonprofits participate, all to the music of a local string band.
While there, talk with the re-enactors at Hickory Ridge Living History Museum. While stoking the fire, young Abbie Anderson explains that the buildings represent life as it would have been during the period of Horn in the West , performed nearby, which recounts the Revolutionary War-era struggles of Daniel Boone, for whom the town is named, and others who settled the area.
For another view of history linked to distinctive Appalachian arts and crafts, take to the Blue Ridge Parkway where Moses H. Cone Memorial Park sits at milepost 294.
Operated by the National Park Service since the 1950s, the twenty-three-room, Colonial-revival summer home of Moses and Bertha Cone sits on 3,000 acres that include walking trails, stocked ponds, horseback riding, birding, cross-country skiing, and rock climbing, all free to the public.
You may be lucky enough to watch a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, such as weaver Sandy Adair, at work on the sun porch.
The importance of arts in Appalachia becomes obvious while driving through the area. Galleries and shops dot the landscape.
Even general stores, such as Boonies Old Country Store on Highway 105, carry paintings and carved walking sticks alongside local vegetables. The area’s most famous general store, the employee- owned Mast General Store in Valle Crucis, operates Rivercross Made in USA next to its original store on Highway 194.
Everything for sale there is made in the USA, and much of it is made in Boone and environs. Woven scarves, jewelry, pottery, photographs, paintings – it’s all there. Likewise, Old Hampton Store and Grist Mill off Highway 221 operates 87 Ruffin, an eclectic gallery of original art.
Art of a different sort comes in the quiet contemplation of fly fishing.
More than a half-dozen guide and equipment shops are nearby. Husband and- wife team Meredith and Patrick Sessoms operate Due South Outfitters, the only guide-owned shop in the region.
They’re happy to take you out for a half- or full-day float or wade trip, but they’re more concerned about teaching people to fish.
“Our goal is to teach. We will divulge information,” Patrick Sessoms says.
“Females and kids pick it up better than males,” Meredith adds. “Males try to manhandle it. A woman has more finesse, and it is a sport of finesse.”
More animals and a 165-pound amethyst crystal are highlights of the Grandfather Mountain educational complex.
The amethyst is the largest ever mined on our continent. Exquisite, carved birds by Bill Chrisman are on display, but the true beauty is in the faces of two bald eagles living nearby. Also, at the top of the mountain, is the famed swinging bridge and miles of walking trails.
On weekends through September, a junior ranger program teaches kids about the ecosystem.
Animals of a more domestic nature abound at Apple Hill Farm, home to alpacas and llamas. Wool spun from the alpaca hair is sold in the shop here, but the highlight is a ninety-minute tour to meet the alpacas and their guard animals (including Great Pyrenees dogs and donkeys), as well as the horses, goats, chickens, pig, cat, and more.
After all the sightseeing, stop by Grandfather Vineyard and Winery, the first production winery in Watauga County, opened in 2011 by furniture maker Steve Tatum and his family.
Here you can stretch out in an Adirondack chair beside the Watauga River.
On any afternoon, the site bustles with locals and tourists enjoying tastings and picnics.
Grandfather Winery is part of the Bon Appetit Appalachia coalition, which promotes sustainable practices. Other members include Appalachian Mountain Brewery and several Boone restaurants.
For a larger selection of wines, stop by Boone institution Peabody’s Wine & Beer Merchants, where literally tens of thousands of bottles from around the world are available along with gourmet treats.
Jeff Collins and his team also offer several wines, beers, and ciders on tap for tasting and purchase. A taco food truck offers a quick take-out meal as well.
The possibilities in the High Country are limitless: ziplining, rafting, art exhibits, Tweetsie Railroad, festivals, award-winning restaurants, college sports, horseback riding, or just sitting on the balcony looking at the beauty of Grandfather Mountain.
It’s all waiting for you on the other side of the state, where the mountains turn smoky blue.
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