Manatees Fun on the North Carolina Rivers

South Toe River

July 25, 2011       Trying to skirt around the mountainous roads in western North Carolina is an act of futility.  Regardless of our plans to avoid the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is a nightmare for a RV pulling another vehicle, mountains are everywhere in this part of the state.  Of course, that is the charm of the area.  The elevation is also the reason for the cool night and moderate daytime temperatures, as the rest of the country is sizzling in 90’s. 

Carolina Hemlocks, a Forest Service Park located along the South Toe River off Hwy. 80, was our next stop.   With only 36 campsites, the small park is peaceful in the morning and at night.  But, it is a popular place for river tubing, which attracts crowds once the day starts to warm up.  We avoided the throngs by getting out to fish the river at daybreak.
Alan fishing on the South Toe River

The trout seemed to be laughing at us as we cast red crawlers and a variety of lures trying to catch them.  A picture-perfect trout hole, we scouted out on the second morning, had a dozen trout swimming around for the two hours we attempted to catch them.  I finally caught a nice brown trout, but we decided the crowds that visit daily must spook them.  Our inability to catch them had nothing to do with our skill or lack thereof.

Christmas tree farm
Ashe County Cheese Company
Moving on the next day, we arrived in Ashe County.  Home to a thriving Christmas tree industry, we past several Christmas tree farms as we drove into the area.  West Jefferson is the cultural center of the county, with a dozen galleries in the downtown area.  A walking tour provides a glimpse at numerous murals depicting the history and character of the town.  Another highlight is the Ashe County Cheese Company.   They have been making fresh hoop cheese here since 1930, and still make the product the same way they did 80 years ago.   

Mural in W. Jefferson
Three venues with traditional bluegrass music playing through the summer are offered in town weekly (all on Friday night.)  In nearby Todd, the Todd General Store offers bluegrass music and dinner on Friday nights.

Staying at the New River State Park, we planned a kayak outing with a local outfitter.  A couple of days later, arriving early, we were driven, with our kayaks, 6 ½ miles up the New River for (what was suppose to be) a 2-3 hour paddle back to our car.  Planning on doing a little bass fishing on our way down the river, we assumed it would take a little bit longer, but we had no idea what we were in for. 

"Our" part of the New River
The other part of the New River
Shortly after climbing into the kayaks, we heard the familiar rumbling of water indicating rough waters or a waterfall.  We had seen other portions of the river and had read about the slow, quiet river experience.  As it turned out that was another part of the river (our outfitter failed to mention the low water’s impact on our part of the river.)   We wound up walking about a third of the distance, pulling the kayaks over the rocks and shallow water, half of the time trying to maneuver in fast moving water through rocks, and a small portion of time in calm waters fishing.  Alan managed to catch a small mouth bass in spite of the difficulties.  The most fun (okay, so I’m being sarcastic) was the last hour of the trip as heavy clouds, then rain, thunder and lighting accompanied us back.  Adding to the fun, the dark skies turned the clear water black; we were unable to see and avoid the rocks.  Drenched to the skin and exhausted, we had to move our camp when we returned because there were no sites available for the weekend.  Luckily, we only had to travel 15 miles up river to our next site. 

Bluegrass music at the Festival
This all happened on Friday.   Despite intentions to partake in some of the local music, we were too bushed to move anywhere once we got resettled.  The next morning brought sore muscles but enough energy for a trip to nearby Sparta for the Blue Ridge Mountain Arts and Craft Festival.  Buying some locally made jams and cookies, sampling locally made wines, and listening to some of the bluegrass we hade missed the night before, the festival provided another glimpse of life in the North Carolina mountains.

We’ll be moving into SW Virginia tomorrow, but we’re already planning our return trip to NC. 
Tractor graveyard on both sides of the road for 100 yards.

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