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Three Weeks in British Columbia #9 – Storm-Chasing Heaven





January 10, 2018

I first read about this magical place in the September/October 2016 issue of The Saturday Evening Post; the article by Todd Pitock was titled “Storm-Chasing on Vancouver Island.” The subtitle is just as intriguing:

Between October and early March, 10 to 15 fierce tempests a month gather and roll across the Pacific, unimpeded by any landmass until they crash on the shores here. For some, this makes for perfect beach weather. 

Wickaninnish Inn

The rest of the first-person paragraph is, “Sailors know the coast as ‘The Graveyard of the Pacific,’ and chronicles of disasters and survivor stories fill volumes.”


Once Pitock reached Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino, one of the porters informed him, “Oh, a storm is coming all right. But not to worry: the Lodge is built into a rocky promontory, whose floor to ceiling windows are tempered to withstand 100 mpg gusts so guests can look into the heart of the storm without flinching.”

As to what it’s like in a storm, Pitock obliges: “Rain pelts the windows and taps the roof, strong and steady, and then builds into a real torrent, billions of little beads dropping from the sky. The water’s surface whips into a creamy brown foam, and enormous swells heave and then roll in long seams into waves that explode on the boulders, sending bursts of spume a hundred feet into the air. The wind cuts the crest of the waves like a scythe and slings foam and water. Across from the beach are tiny islands with huge sitka spruce trees so strong that the wind can’t bend them. Everything begins to look like an impressionist painting up close. The susurrations [whispers, murmurs] of the water are amplified by a rumbling, a sound of thunder that comes from the sea itself, which we can hear even from within the cozy safety of the lodge, thanks to a pipe that carries the sound in from outside.”

Pitock goes on to some tourism stats: “Today, the 1,875 residents receive about a million visitors a year, though most of them come in season for the water sports and whale watching, not for the storms.”

But Pitock does not conclude without warning po’ folk like us that staying at the inn is not for pikers: “When the Wickaninnish Inn opened in 1996, its cedar-sided building, along with furnishings from recycled old-growth fir, western red cedar, and driftwood and natural stone tile floors covered by wood sisal carpets, all let the 75-room inn fit the setting. But the ‘Wick,’ as it’s called, was intended as an experience for people who take their rustic neat, without the rugged. Let’s call them (or us, as the case is) the Pampered Traveler–people who appreciate a good double-soaking tub, heated floors, private ocean-facing balconies, in-room fireplaces, and a four-star full-service spa. . . . Construction was no mean feat. Each massive post of the restaurant is mounted on a steel saddle connected to a concrete post that is anchored deep into the surrounding bedrock. Pairs of 5-foot-wide panes knit by narrow mullions give guests a 260 degree view of awe-inspiring weather in awesome digs.”

* * *

After I read and re-read that article, I sighed, Wouldn’t it be great if we could see this incredible place for ourselves. Even more–since I’m wishing for the moon–, to be actually privileged to stay there.

The seed had been planted, thus when ten months later we set up this three-week sojourn in British Columbia, a must-see had to do with the Tofino Coast and the legendary Wickaninnish [that extra “in” throws me every time] Inn.

View from the dining room

For, always, I have been a stormaholic. How well I remember a banana boat experience when I was about twelve. My missionary parents booked tickets on this 300-foot ship that shuttled bananas from Trujillo, Honduras to Tampa, Florida. It was cheap so my folks could afford it. Then there was the not-so-small-aspect of all but nonexistent weather forecasting back then. No sooner had we headed out into the Gulf than the wind began to blow, the rain to fall, the waves to grow higher and higher, and (not coincidentally) the ship to rock, roll, wallow, and all but sink; every sane person on board, even seasoned sailors, retreated to their bunks and clutched their bedsteads like they were life-rafts. Same for my parents, brother, and sister. I, however, decided it was high time to get a better view of the action–and my folks were too sick to care what I did. There were no equalizers back then. I staggered down the hallway to the stairs and up to the deck. No one was crazy enough to be there but me. Gradually, I pulled myself along the railing until I reached the bucking prow. And there, shades of the Titanic film’s protagonists, I rode the screeching maritime bronco as the prow reached far up towards the sky, then plunged down deep into another canyon. Never in all my life have I experienced higher highs or lower highs than during those hurricane-driven hours. Finally, as the storm passed, my folks and the irate captain discovered my whereabouts, I got the castigation of my life.

Another time, at the Eagle’s Nest on the rim of Mexico’s Copper Canyon, we were lucky enough to be visiting my brother Romayne (internationally known concert pianist) when a terrific storm blew in. It was no laughing matter as it was the only time in my life when a storm blew up at us from a mile below us! The storm blew up rather than down, through the louvered windows, into the studio onto the priceless nine-foot Steinway grand piano, and an equally valuable seven-foot grand. For hours we labored to save the pianos.

Another tremendous storm hit us in the Mediterranean on board the Stella Solaris. We were in the dining room when the storm hit, sweeping china, glassware, pots, pans, etc., off the serving decks and the guests’ tables, and catapulting them across the room and splintering on the walls.

And, more recently, returning on a cruise from Alaska, just north of Vancouver Island, in Queen Charlotte Sound, a doozy hit us. While Connie hugged the bed, I sallied out into the hallway and sashayed like a drunk toward a stairway. Occasionally I met other lunatics who reveled in storms like me; sometimes we passed without careening against each other, and sometimes not. It really got funny when I got to the stairway–sometimes the next step was higher than I calculated on, sometimes not there at all! Oh how we fellow inebriates laughed! Once I reached the prow of the ship, I joined a crowd of other passengers afflicted with the same malady as mine.

Oh, it was wonderful!

* * *

The dining room

But with that windy [pardon the pun] preamble, our foursome did make it to the Wickaninnish Inn. Not being flush enough to actually stay there, we did book breakfast in that already referred to iconic restaurant with 260 degree view windows. The service was all one would have expected and the food, in a word, “wonderful!” The view itself was worth the price of the trip.

Our waiter loved us! I’ve observed this, in other grand hotels, the waiters clearly tire of many of the so-called “beautiful people” who stay there, affluent couples and families who are bored of luxury the rest of us can only sigh for. Waiters who are used to being all but ignored, really come to life when they meet people like us who sacrifice just to have a meal in their famed dining rooms, people like us who take a personal interest in them, where they come from, how they got here, and how they relate to such five-star facilities. “The Wick” is sometimes referred to as a “Ten-Star.”

* * *

After we’d remained longer than we should have in that Shangri-la of a dining room, we explored the hotel, the grounds, and the rocky promontory storm-chasers revel in.

We vowed to return. Byron declared that he’d save up his sheckels so that he could bring Kim back here on a romantic anniversary. I’d like to do the same, but it’s a “fer-piece” from Colorado!

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We Discover Northern Europe #3 — Estonia

October 19, 2016

Estonia City View - from, "Insight Guides" to Baltic States
Estonia City View – from “Insight Guides” to Baltic States

All our lives, we’d heard about the three fascinating Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania; three small neighboring Northern European countries that have shared histories, similar geographies, different languages, and separate identities. They lie between Scandinavia to the north, Poland to the south, and Finland and Russia to the east. Their combined total land mass is only 67,000 square miles, about the size of Oklahoma—even smaller than Austria. Although they are much alike, they are also distinctively different from each other. According to Insight Guide editors, Lithuanians are stereotypically the most outgoing and nationalistic. Latvians are the most rural in outlook; because Russia did its utmost to swallow up its identity, today only 60% of Latvians are Latvian rather than Russian. Estonia is more influenced by Scandinavia. Under the heading of “Showing Affection” in the guidebook is this thought-provoking paragraph:

Old Town Fortress
Old Town Fortress

“Estonians have mastered the art of being impeccably polite without being friendly. Friendship, for them, is for life…. Despite their differences, Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians are united by a love of nature and the outdoors. Admittedly, they enjoy it in different ways. Lithuanians will drive their car to a beauty spot and blast their surroundings with pop music, whereas Latvians will organize barbecues or swimming parties. Estonians tend to regard such habits with horror, going to great lengths to find a truly solitary spot where they can sit in silence.”


Walking to Old Town
Walking to Old Town

Unfortunately, due to time constraints, it was only possible for us to visit one of the three: Tallinn, the fairytale capitol of Estonia. It was a heartstoppingly beautiful blue-sky day when the Zuiderdam arrived. It took some getting used to for us to shake off distance misconceptions. Tallinn is only 53 miles from Helsinki, Finland; and 80 miles from St. Petersburg, Russia. This close proximity to giants such as Russia has resulted in a tragic past for the Baltic States. Every time Russia sneezes, they shudder. This is one reason they pay so much attention to U. S. politics, for if Russia should once again swallow them up, if the U.S. refuses to honor its treaties, one gobble and they’d be erased from the face of the map.

But it’s not just Russia that has dominated Estonia. The first conquerors wereestonia-alexander-nevsky-cathedral-scan the Danes; since the Estonians held off 1,000 ships, Denmark called in Teutonic Knights; together, in 1227, they took over Estonia. Sweden was next, but proved so repressive that Estonians turned to Peter the Great. By 1721, Russia was firmly in control. Estonia remained subjugated for 270 years until on August 20, 1991, with Russian tanks rolling into Tallinn, Estonia formally declared its independence. Thus, Estonia has only been independent for a paltry 25 years in its entire history!

Tallinn is a medieval walking town with      meandering cobblestone streets. Unfortunately, we weren’t permitted to stay long in the lovely old city. Apparently, it is today being loved to death by Russians, Swedes, Finns, Norwegians, Germans, and Danes—just for starters. Yet, in spite of it all, Estonians revel in their newly won freedom.

Just as was true of the Danes, Estonians were all outdoors, savoring the early May sunshine. They are so far north, Northern Europe is, that they have very long gloomy winters, with precious little sunshine. Consequently, when May comes, no one wants to stay indoors!

It was with great reluctance that we watched Tallinn receding from view, vowing to return in order to explore more of those three magical little nations, each reveling in its new-found freedom.

Toompea Castle



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Gilbreth’s “Cheaper By the Dozen”

March 2, 2016

A timeless classic! There is a tumbler in my mind that is constantly churning books, each vying for a chance to be one of my book of the month selections. Night and day the non-stop churning of books continues. But over the month that separates one book choice from another, certain books tend to surface more often than others. Just so, Cheaper by the Dozen has been struggling for its place in the sun—not just for a month but for close to half a year now. Its time has come.


I first read it during my own growing-up years, and loved it. Also loved the movie. But then, it gradually receded from my conscious thoughts. What changed all this is my need to consider all my known and cherished books so that I don’t short-change any of them.

To a historian of ideas, the Roaring Twenties was an ideological gold mine. First of all, it was a period of profound disillusion and loss of faith in God, the result of a war so horrific that many felt that spirit of God was withdrawing from the earth. Where was God in the millions of dead, wounded, and incapacitated for life? Where was God when some 40,000,000 additional deaths from Spanish Flu were added to battle-related casualties?

Second, when a generation of men went to war during World War I (the so-called “Great War”), millions of women were forced to take their places on the factory home-front—in the process, getting their first taste of freedom. But when all those men eventually returned home, that act resulted in women being forced back into their stereotypical boxes—and many were deeply resentful of this collective clipping of their wings.

Third, the automobile changed everything. Concerned parents called them “bordellos on wheels,” and feared for their daughters’ virginity. And for good reason.

Fourth, the movie industry reinforced this perception that all the traditional moral safeguards against rampant godless hedonism were rapidly being swept away. In the process, more and more, youthful peer-pressure was replacing the “still small voice” of God.

It was unique in another respect: large families were still the norm, birth-control was essentially a non-factor, men openly bragged about controlling women by keeping them “barefoot and pregnant.” In my own immediate family, my mother was one of seven children and my father was one of eleven (two of whom died young). People did die young then. Few people outlived their sixties—and many died in their fifties. Modern medicine was still in its infancy. Smoking was openly encouraged. Obesity was merely a fact of life. Exercise? Why? Diabetes? What was that? But, as for children, they lived out of doors and felt perfectly safe anywhere they went.

World War II had accomplished something peacetime had not. It finally brought an end to the Depression that had been raging ever since 1929. Now, with boundless optimism in the air, get-rich-quick speculation reached epidemic proportions. Fortunes were made by bold entrepreneurs who were convicted that only fools worried about tomorrow.

* * * * *

The father in this book, Frank Bunker Gilbreth, was in real life the developer of the Science of Motion Study, and, not coincidentally, is today considered the father of Efficiency Studies. He and his wife (and business successor after his untimely death) used their children as convenient (and cheap) subjects on which they could test their theories of motion management. He took moving pictures of the children washing dishes to see how he could reduce motions and speed them up. Irregular household jobs were awarded to the kids on a lowest-bid basis (each one submitted sealed bids).

So this, in short, is the world of the Roaring Twenties depicted in this wondrous true story of a man and woman and their twelve children. A story that may seem like a fairy tale to us today—so different from what we daily experience.

And it has to be, for good measure, one of the funniest books ever written.

In summation, I urge each of you to read it on several levels: read it to compare our world to that one. Read it as an armchair historian of ideas. Read it for humor. And read it for one of the most enjoyable (and funniest) reads of your life.

* * *

And, for good measure, you may want to acquire or rent the rollicking 1950 movie. The cast features Clifton Web, Myrna Loy, Jeanne Crain, Edgar Buchanan, Mildred Natwick, Sara Allgood, Betty Lynn, Barbara Bates Ollestad. The film was directed by Walter Lang.

Try to pick up an unabridged dust-jacketed hardback (Thomas Y. Crowell, 1948).

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Autumn in Appalachia – Unexpected Splendor – Part 4

February 24, 2016

We now come to the conclusion of our Appalachian Autumn journey.

After regretfully having to leave the Greenbriar, we jagged up Highway 19 to Hillsboro, and then a few more miles to Pearl Buck’s birthplace. Even though it wasn’t open for tours, we were able to walk around it and take photos. Pearl Buck, the only American to be honored by both the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature. Since I have anthologized a number of her stories, this was a very special stop for me.

Then it was on down the river canyon, then up and up to Pipestem Resort State Park on the Scan_Pic0210canyon rim of the Bluestone River Gorge. After checking in and enjoying the spectacular view while having dinner, we relaxed by the fireplace. Next morning, we took the tramway over 1100 feet down to Long Branch Lake. The lodge proved most difficult to leave.

A short distance away brought us to one of America’s most spectacular bridges, the New River Gorge Bridge: third highest (876 feet) bridge in the United States, 3030 feet length, and longest Scan_Pic0211open steel arch in the world. From the Visitor Center we had a stunning view both of the bridge and the canyon. The bridge is a favorite launching platform for daring bungee-jumpers.

Underneath the bridge is of course the fabled New River, said to be the world’s oldest river. The three intersecting national park gorges are home to some of the greatest whitewater in America. In the fall, when the up-river dams unleash their deep reservoirs upon the canyons below, rafters and kayakers from around the world come here to compete.


Then it was on through peak Autumn colors, as we slowly meandered down the curvy Blue Ridge Parkway to Boone, NC; then next day it was on to Asheville, a retirement and tourist mecca (9,000,000 people visit the town each year). Our first stop was an old hotel that wasn’t expected to survive, the historic Grove Park Inn, the brain-child of E. W. Grove, creator of Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic, that once outsold Coca Cola.


The Inn opened in 1913 to instant acclaim. A crew of about 400 men had accomplished what was considered impossible: constructing the majestic landmark in only twelve months. At an opening dinner, William Jennings Bryan declared that it was “built for the ages.” Regulars included stars of the age such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Houdini, Will Rogers, and George Gershwin—as well as ten presidents: from Woodrow Wilson to Barack Obama. But like all hotels, sooner or later, age caught up with it. Just in time, it was saved by the Dallas husband/wife team of Charles and Elaine Sammons in 1998 – 2002; $45,000,000 was spent on restoration and expansion. Today, Omni Resorts has elevated it into the highest echelon of world-class hotels.

It was a beautiful morning on Asheville’s Sunset Ridge, where the inn is perched with a commanding view of Asheville. Feellng it would be the perfect place for a meal, we waited an hour and a half until a table opened on the outside terrace. It was well worth the wait.

Scan_Pic0213Next we toured the Thomas [Clayton] Wolfe home in downtown Asheville. Wolfe was born and raised in Asheville, and thanks to books such as Look Homeward, Angel; Of Time and the River; The Web and the Rock; You Can’t Go Home Again; and the short story collection, The Hills Beyond, he is today considered one of America’s great novelists. Since I had studied him in depth, this was a real serendipity to be able to see this museum-home. And we were incredibly lucky to have as a tour guide a young scholar who was passionately excited about the Wolfe story. As she led us into room after room, she brought the family, boarders, townspeople, to life before our eyes. By the time she finished, we felt we knew them..

Next we visited the historic Riverside Cemetery, in which are buried Asheville’s two mostScan_Pic0214 famous sons, Wolfe and William Sydney Porter (O. Henry). Both graves are prominently pointed out in nearby signs. But our real serendipity was finding a mother and little daughter Astria hovering over a tombstone. The little girl was lovingly running her hands over some coins they’d just attached to the stone. When we came up to them, we could see a long line of coins–unfortunately, so many coins had been stolen they were unable to bring them up to one dollar and eighty-seven cents, all the money Della had left, as immortalized in one of the greatest Christmas stories ever written: O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” a story I included in my own Christmas in My Heart© story anthology series. At any rate, this mother and daughter’s life-long gift of love is tending the grave of a man buried here in 1910, 106 years ago, and on each visit, bringing the coin total back up to one dollar and eighty-seven cents. What dedication!

Then it was time to move on, traveling the most spectacular stretch of Autumn splendor of the entire two weeks: the almost unknown and unsung “Cherahola Skyway, undulating up and down between 5,000 and 7,000 feet in elevation (the best colors showing up between 4,200′ and 5,400′. Eventually we left North Carolina and descended into Tennessee, encountering the rain that had mercifully held back until then, at Fall Creek Falls. Ordinarily this park would have been spectacular too in Autumn but, in the rain, it was muted. Then it was on to Murfreesboro, concluding our several thousand miles on the back-roads of America. We will never forget the memories we made there.

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Autumn in Appalachia – Unexpected Splendor – Part 3

February 17, 2016


Every day of our trip, the colors appeared brighter than they were the day before. But this was to be a very special day: our opportunity to see one of the most iconic hotels in America:


The Greenbriar valley has been known for sulphur springs that were considered important clear back in pre-Colonial times. Settlers to the area tended to be few, first, because it was so isolated, and second, because of the constant fear of Indian attacks.

Nevertheless, from 1778 on, there was always a hospitality center for travelers at White Sulphur Springs. By the 1830s, more and more famed Americans patronized it, including five U.S. presidents. Since it was on the Midland Trail (later, U.S. Route 40), the facilities received a steady stream of travelers. In the mid 1850s, the Old White Hotel was constructed; it featured 228 guest rooms and was over 400 feet long. It was surrounded by 7,000 acres of forested land, which has been retained until this day.

Scan_Pic0207Though thousands flocked here to be cured of their ailments by the sulphur springs, the Civil War all but brought leisure travel to a halt. Nevertheless, during the war, both North and South occupied the hotel—but eventually the North took total control of the region. After the war, the hotel became one of Robert E. Lee’s favorite vacation retreats.

1869 proved a watershed year, for it was then that the train tracks reached it. Train travel shortened the travel time from Washington from four to five days to only fifteen hours.

But by the Turn of the Twentieth Century, the vast hotel was in danger of being lost to its graduaal deterioration. It was saved just in time by Edwin Hawley, of C&O Railroad, who thereby bought control of the facility. Then came major backing from J. P. Morgan and the Vanderbilts. It was during the years 1910 to 1913 that the great white hotel we see today was constructed. This one was built to be fireproof.

Golf arrived in 1913 with the completion of an 18-hole golf course that has since become legendary. President Woodrow Wilson was among the first golfers to play the course, in 1914. Frequent guests included the likes of the Vanderbilts, Joseph Kennedy, as well as Pulitzer, Armour, Guggenheim, Bloomingdale, Carnegie, Gimbel, Auchincloss, and Flagler.

Just as the Great Depression of the 1930s began, the Greenbriar Hotel was virtually rebuilt and doubled in size. Amazingly, the hotel survived the Depression intact.

Shortly after lunch on December 17, 1941 (only 10 days after Pearl Harbor), the hotel’s general manager was asked if he’d be willing to accommodate diplomats of embassies of newly hostile nations. Then, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the removal of all enemy diplomats from the capital within 48 hours. Eighteen FBI agents came along with them, as well as 50 members of the U. S. Border Patrol. By March of 1942, the number of diplomatic guests had grown to 800; by April, 1000—eventually 1,698! Finally, by July 8, all of them had been sent home.

On August 30, the U.S. Government purchased the hotel, turning it into a 2000- bed military Scan_Pic0208hospital. During its four years of operation, the so-called Ashford General Hospital admitted 24,148 patients, and 11,346 operations were performed. Among the generals were the likes of Omar Bradley, Anthony McAuliffe, Mark Clark, Matthew Ridgeway, Jonathan Wainright, George Marshall, and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

After the war, the government put the facility up for sale. After six anxious months, President Truman agreed to give the C&O Railroad first chance to buy it. Robert Young and Dorothy Draper took command of restoration and redecorating. Draper, in the process, ordered thirty miles of carpeting, 45,000 yards of fabric, 15,000 rolls of wallpaper, and 40,000 gallons of paint.

By then the Greenbriar had been closed to the public for six long years. But would people come back after all this time? VIPs who showed up at the grand opening party included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Bing Crosby, William Randolph Hearst, Jr., John Jacob Astor, Clark Clifford, Cyrus Eaton, and Mrs. Joseph P. Kennedy, as well as a veritable Who’s Who of the age. The press, of course, loved it.

Since that time, it almost seems axiomatic that all U. S. Presidents come here either for relaxation or for important conferences. Eisenhower was such a regular that hotel operators got in the habit of answering all incoming calls, “Good morning, Greenbriar White House.”

In the summer of 1976, Jack Nicklaus arrived to rebuild the Greenbriar Golf Course—took almost two years to complete. Sam Snead has had a lifelong love for the course as well.

On Friday, May 29, 1992, Greenbriar President Ted Kleisner called together an unusual staff meeting none of those present will ever forget: “Today we are going to acknowledge,” he announced, “a secret thirty-five-year partnership with the United States government. This partnership is about to be disclosed in an upcoming article in The Washington Post which reveals the existence of an emergency relocation center, a bunker on our property and describes the facility in such detail that we can no longer deny it.”


The news was indeed mind-boggling: underneath the stately five-star resort sat a huge concrete and steel bunker designed to house Congress in the event of a national crisis! Just as startling: it had been kept a secret for an entire generation. And the bunker contained over 100,000 feet of space. Mosler Safe Company constructed the huge blast doors that protected vehicular entrances into the bunker. The bunker was intended to not only house Congress, but also dormitories, dining room, and a power plant; as well as a sophisticated communications center. An underground water system constantly replenished three huge 25,000 gallon storage tanks within the bunker.

All during the Cold War, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, this vast facility was kept in readiness for use with only a few hours notice needed. A landing strip adjacent to the Greenbriar Golf Course was part of the planned evacuation process.

Today, under new management, the Greenbriar is entering its fourth centuiry. What a remarkable story!

Our source for this section is a book you may well wish to purchase yourself: Robert Conte’s lavishly illustrated hardback, The History of the Greenbriar, America’s Resort, (printed in Canada: The Greenbriar, 2000, 2014).

* * * * *

We found it easy to locate White Sulphur Springs, but anything but easy to find the hotel itself. Clearly, management feels that if you have to ask to find the hotel (situated as it is in the midst of such a vast complex of buildings, golf course, and forested reserve), then maybe you’re not paying guest material. 🙂 Which we weren’t—we just wanted to see it, eat there, and pretend we could afford to stay there.

Eventually we found it, and soon found ourselves in another world. A fascinating synthesis of comfort and understated palatial. A king’s ransom of great paintings gracing the rooms, cut-flowers everywhere. A library in which guests may write letters. We didn’t see a check-in counter anywhere. Strangely, however, in spite of the opulence, we felt at home here, and wished we could stay. We did eat in one of the cafes. My nachos towered higher than any I’d ever seen elsewhere. Bob’s milkshake set a price record—at least for him. But the experience was worth it: we could now cross the Greenbriar off our list of places to see before we die.


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Autumn in Appalachia, Unexpected Splendor – Part 2

February 10, 2016


Hawks Nest State Park

Two months ago (Dec. 16, 2015), we began the story of our fall color expedition with our traveling buddies, Bob and Lucy Earp and, for two days, Ed and Jo Riffel. But it was Bob who was the mastermind; indeed, he’d been plotting our trajectory for months. For he was determined to show us Rocky Mountain show-offs that southeast states featured scenery second to none—especially in autumn.

In all our travels together there has been one constant: whenever possible, get off interstates and freeways, and escape to the back roads on which the real America can be found. The operative two words: slow down.

As our world has continued to shrink and we are able to move from place to place at an ever faster speed, in jets and bullet-trains, there has developed a new appreciation for slow travel. For only by moving slowly can we see anything better than blurs or stratospheric clouds below our wings.

We’d asked Bob for back roads—and he delivered just that.

On this trip, occasionally we were gifted with epiphanies: Life changing moments or realizations. One of them had to do with the pride rural people of Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina evidence in their homes and grounds. Rarely did we see garbage or junk, such as is all too often the norm in cities. Even when driving through areas known for their poverty, rarely could you tell it by the condition of their homes and grounds.

Since we meandered for several thousand miles through Appalachia at peak color, it was impossible to capture more than snapshots—never the entire horizon almost burning our eyes with radiant color. We were forced to admit that the only real photographic record of our trip would reside in the archives of our brains. Amazingly, brain surgeons have discovered that nothing is ever lost: stop a needle at a specific point in our brains, and suddenly a day, an hour, a minute, a second will leap into life, and the individual being evaluated will remember every frame, every moment, every note of a concert. Thus, those autumn masterpieces are not lost; they remain part of us as long as we live. This is why those of us gifted with total recall, who cannot forget anything, are often, of all people, the most miserable: if you remember everything, how can you prioritize? You can see every last individual tree, but have a mighty tough time conceptualizing a forest.

I tried to sketch out our road routes so you could follow along easier, but since one rural road ran into another after another, I gave up. Instead, I’m going to play the greatest hits, so to speak. You’ll still be able to follow, once you round up maps for these states. Back in the December 16. 2015 blog, you’ll remember that we’ve already experienced Barkley Lake, Kentucky Lake, Mayfield, Cumberland Falls, and Berea College—all in Kentucky.

Now let’s move on: a natural wonder few Americans have ever heard about is Kentucky’s most impressive Natural Bridge, out of Slade. It takes quite a walk to climb up to it, but the exertion is well worth it. There is a most comfortable lodge at the trailhead, with its own restaurant, each room overlooking the river. The Natural Bridge is wide enough for automobiles to cross over the long expanse—which they don’t, as no roads get there.


Natural Bridge

Though we’d known there was much beauty in Kentucky and Tennessee, it is no hyperbole to admit that we were blind-sided by West Virginia, a state that would still be part of Virginia had there never been a Civil War. Because the state is known to be one of the poorest in America, and because its coal mines have produced so much pollution and scarred landscapes, it is all too easy to discount the state.

The reality for me was one grand rolling epiphany of autumn splendor.

But the real knock-out punch had to be the state’s high country—if you watched the recent movie, “Into the Woods,” those stunning vistas came from here. I had no idea that the New River Gorge National River, the Gauley River National Recreation Area, and the Bluestone National Scenic River offer some of the most breathtaking natural settings in the world—and they’re all intertwined in 63,000 pristine acres.

Our first real vista point had to do with our stay at Hawks Nest State Park. What a view! We took the steep tramway down over 400 feet to the lake below. And, oh my, what a view from the deck of our room in the Hawks Nest Lodge! In every direction, the hills aflame.