Road Trip of Rarities 1-10

Road Trip of Rarities 1-10

Besides offering reams of retail, the old store is still Valle Crucis’ US Post Office; (Inset) A vintage shot of the general store.

1. Original Mast General Store - Valle Crucis

Charles Kuralt famously declared the Mast General Store in Valle Crucis the nation’s classic country store, and a single glance at the sagging 1882 structure proves his point. A wander through the overflowing aisles of this atmospheric antique mercantile shares insight into why an isolated rural store like this was yesteryear’s equivalent to Amazon. The store’s merchandise spectrum aspired to be “everything from cradles to caskets” and still today, there’s pretty much everything you could want, including clothing, an extensive selection of footwear, candy, and so much more. Don’t fail to notice the ancient calendars, ads, and other items scattered across the display spaces of a bygone era. Since reopening the derelict old store in 1980, owners, preservationists, and philanthropists John and Faye Cooper have overseen a transition to employee ownership and an expansion to nine other locations in North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee, each one preserving an historic mercantile building.

2. Brevard White Squirrels - Brevard

It can be difficult to spot a white squirrel, but if you’re intent on seeing one, the chances get better in the Brevard area. The squirrels are a variant of the typical Eastern Gray Squirrel that, due to a recessive gene, display a partial loss of pigmentation called leucism. This is not albinism’s complete lack of pigment; rather, mostly-white squirrels often display patches of darker fur on the head or back. Others are snow white. 

It’s thought that with one squirrel out of every three being white in Brevard, the town’s population of 1,000 white squirrels makes it the country’s largest such “colony.” 
This town celebrates its celebrity squirrels. Your next chance to join in is May 26-28, 2023 during White Squirrel weekend, a music, food, and drink-focused street fest. 

There’s even a White Squirrel Institute that promotes and seeks to preserve the squirrels by raising funds for local licensed wildlife rehabilitators. You can help by adopting a white squirrel (earning an adoption certificate and a photo of your beneficiary), but if you just want to see one, the “White Squirrel Locator Map” on the Institute’s website recommends the peaceful wooded campus of Brevard College and the grounds behind the Transylvania County Visitor Center. Good luck!

3. Dan´l Boone Inn - Boone

Boone’s oldest restaurant opened its doors in 1959, and nearly sixty-five years later, busy times still find folks lining up on the front porch. Luckily, an eatery so established and popular easily handles the crowds. A friendly, efficient waitstaff is part of the secret; the other part is a set menu of down-home country favorites served family-style. Dinner brings three meats (fried chicken, country style steak, country ham biscuits) and five vegetables along with biscuits, preserves, choice of homemade dessert, and drink (no alcohol served). Breakfast is a similar spread of just about everything, including fresh stewed apples, grits, redeye or cream gravy, bacon, country ham, sausage, pancakes, scrambled eggs and cinnamon biscuits.

The building was firstly an early physician’s office before converting to Boone’s first hospital, then later a boarding house for Appalachian State Teacher’s College students. The accolades continue to roll in for its reliably tasty food and enduring atmosphere. The restaurant’s country ham, produced since 1948 by Boone’s Goodnight Brothers ham company, is a bona fide favorite taste of the High Country that you can order from the Inn’s website. But that’s as close to the future as you’ll get. Bring a check or cash—credit and debit cards hold no sway at the register.

4. Dale’s Wheels Through Time Museum - Maggie Valley

Hordes of motorcyclists come to WNC to ride its winding, zig-zagging roads. Dale's Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley is a highlight of those visits, billed as, and very likely is, “the world’s premier collection of rare American motorcycles.” Anyone fascinated by bikes will be awed by this cavernous museum with more than 350 classic motorcycles, artifacts, and one-of-a-kind cars. The nationally significant assortment of rare machines is marvelously displayed and insightfully interpreted.

5. Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians - Bryson City

The Southern Appalachians are one of the nation’s premier native fisheries. Casting a fly in Western North Carolina and nearby southern waters may seem like a recently popular pastime, but the sport has been a mainstay of regional outdoor culture for generations. To grasp that firsthand, visit Bryson City’s Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians. 

The museum’s exhibits include historic overviews of the evolution of fishing rods, reels, flies, and creels in dozens of displays and videos. There’s a handmade antique drift boat, fish models, an exhibit exploring regional trout waters, a fly-tying desk with video interpretation, and you’ll even meet legendary historical figures and conservationists from the region’s fly fishing and fly tying past. A nearby aquarium rounds out a fascinating experience with a look at the fish and the habitat they prefer.

6. Foraging with No Taste Like Home - Asheville

This company gives amusing new meanings to terms like “eating local” and “dining out.” If searching for wild foods in the great outdoors has crossed your mind, one Asheville company delivers that experience directly to your taste buds. The wild food experts at No Taste Like Home guide guests through all kinds of scenic local settings where potentially hundreds of wild edibles present themselves for feasting (depending on season, of course). You can end the experience with a demonstration on how to prepare your own finds, or by delivering your goods to one of many noteworthy AVL eateries that’ll prepare and serve your found food at a same-day reservation. Imagine telling the folks seated beside you where your salad came from! The guides also offer to guide you through your own property, where you can taste the “yarden” you didn’t know you had. Guests come away with a great outdoor experience and key insights, among them that WNC’s growing “farm to plate” dining rep extends way beyond a hip, cool concept, to our mountains’ very own status as one of the planet’s richest, most biodiverse locales.

From its underground grotto spa, to scenic skyline views above, the rocky heart of the Grove Park Inn is a priceless historic experience.

7. Omni Ggrove Park Inn - Asheville

This Asheville landmark is what the Historic Hotels of America lodging group is all about. The rocky heart of this 120-year old edifice looks like it was carved out of the earth itself. More modern wings are adjacent, but in the main lobby you'll find massive fireplaces, the Great Hall Bar, and outdoor Sunset Terrace. Great steakhouse dining and a knock-your-socks-off view are worth a special trip to explore, whether you spend the night or not. Ancient elevators rise through rocky walls to immaculate period rooms furnished with Roycraft antiques, which are a big reason why the hotel is so renowned for its arts-and-crafts-style furnishings. One of those rooms was favored by F. Scott Fitzgerald for its view of young ladies stepping out of cars below. 

There’s a lot to see and do here, so expect a parking fee if your visit stretches beyond three hours. The resort’s highly-rated spa always tops the list of options, but it’s popular, so only hotel guests can book spa treatments and day passes. It is highly recommended that you book spa access or treatments with your room reservation.

Another top notch attraction is Grovewood Village, a diverse collection of shops and sights beside the hotel. The Biltmore Industries Homespun Museum chronicles one of Asheville’s earliest art and craft enterprises, a historic force in Asheville’s arts scene. Do not miss Grovewood Gallery, one of the city’s finest art and craft galleries and artist studios. There’s also a great antique car museum and ELDR restaurant, for American cuisine focused on seasonal Southern Appalachian ingredients (Wednesday through Sunday, lunch, brunch, and dinner).

8. Mountain Farm Museum - Cherokee

The Mountain Farm Museum may just be a stroll, but its impressive collection of historic structures paints a vivid picture of what life was like for early European immigrants in what’s now Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

Park at the Smokies’ Oconaluftee Visitor Center not far from Cherokee (restrooms and water available). Leave the center’s south side, and when the trail splits, go left to the Mountain Farm Museum for a flat, half-mile wander among a stunning collection of nineteenth-century backcountry farm structures. During the warm weather “interpretation season,” that includes chickens crowing and pigs grunting. All the structures were gathered here in 1950 from throughout the Smokies. Interpretive signs explain the structures, and picture many in their original locations. 

Exit past the Apple House and turn right back to the visitor center, or add a Native American angle to insight into later “settlers” with a left and an out-and-back stroll on the wonderful Oconaluftee River Trail. A half-dozen interpretive plaques explain Cherokee beliefs and respect for the natural world (in English and Cherokee) with evocative illustrations by Cherokee artists.

9. Scottish Tartans Museum - Franklin

With so many North Carolinians boasting Celtic connections, America’s only museum dedicated to Scottish tartans is right at home in Franklin. Explore the rich history of these colorful, iconic clan fabrics and learn about your own family heritage. The centuries-long migration of Scots to North Carolina, and especially the Southern Appalachians, has made highland games events a big part of summer in the South. This combination of museum and Scottish shop will fascinate anyone, perhaps especially the people and pipers who frequent Scottish events.

The inn, from the blooming Valle Tavern Barnyard.

10. Mast Farm Inn - Valle Crucis 

The Mast Farm Inn is a pristine, 130-year old farmhouse-style inn located in Valle Crucis (valley Crew-sis), a Vermont-like vale that’s home to the state’s first rural National Historic District. The pastoral setting is perfect for a relaxing escape. The immaculate inn has seven rooms in the main house and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but this historic accommodation is no recent conversion. It first functioned as an inn in 1900. Outside on the grounds, four ancient log cabin cottages step even further back in time, one as early as 1810, when the son of first settler Joseph Mast built it.

Guests have breakfast and dinner in the Valle Tavern, the inn’s dining room, with an adjacent and inviting speakeasy-style bar beside the living room. Opposite the inn, a massive historic barn features the Valle Tavern Barnyard, an indoor/outdoor garden spot for butterflies and beers, wine, snacks, sandwiches, and flat breads (Thursday through Sunday, noon-7 p.m., drinks till 9 p.m.). Some folks stroll with their drinks down to sightsee the nearby Watauga River, a trout stream where guests have fishing access.