I was lost in Raleigh again, but nowhere near the place had I wanted to be. Where was I supposed to be? I pulled into the gas station to fill up and searched for that place I was supposed to be. As I was refilling, a gentleman two stalls over waved and yelled “Hi”. At first, I thought he was getting someone else’s attention, but there was no one around. I waived back and said “Hello!” He smiled and waved back. I realized this is an example of Southern Charm in North Carolina.
Since my visit to the gas station on April 16, 2015 I realized something. I was right in the middle of where I was supposed to be. It clicked in less than 24 hours after my arrival to a city I had never stepped foot in before. Raleigh was number ONE for many reasons!
North Carolina comes alive when you live here because of its people. Significant history, appealing countryside, and even good food can is part of the experience. Adding helpful, friendly, and cheerful people changes the mist from plain cake to an angel food celebration. I have traveled and lived in many cities and only in North Carolina where you will find pleasant and helpful people.
And that’s how people in North Carolina are.
Living in North Carolina is no accident from birth or a job transfer; it’s a studied choice. When I decided to rebuild a business in Real Estate, it meant that I could live pretty much anywhere I wanted. For this reason, I spent the better part of six months looking for a place where the topography was appealing, the climate was sunny and temperate, the economy was thriving, a sustainable housing market, and the people were nice. I found Raleigh, North Carolina.
Over the last year since my arrival, life has been one joyful discovery about the state and the people who live here. Indeed, sometimes too good to believe. Many mornings I wake up thinking: Today’s the day I’m going to be disappointed. But I never am. I completely forgot about smog that I frequently saw over the city and I rarely sit in traffic congestion – only when it rains of course. It’s very peaceful here.
Wineries are catching on, too, and more opening every year based on the sunny climate. In fact, before Prohibition, North Carolina was a successful wine-producing state, and it’s returning to that heritage all across the state. In 2011, the 100th winery opened.
The wine industry in North Carolina has taken off. Every year wineries are opening across the state, often in remote places where grapes are replacing tobacco as a crop, and cotton mills as business. Many of the wines produced are sweet, from scuppernong and other Muscadine grapes, which have historically done well here. But growers and vintners are also beginning to make such dry wines as Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio, as well as such specialties as blueberry wine. Some of the wines are available in grocery stores and wine shops; others are sold mainly out of the winery’s shop, often at the vineyard.
Craft brewing is the newbie. Cities of all sizes have their own breweries and brewpubs. The mountain town of Asheville, with 10 breweries, was voted “Beer City USA” in a 2011 newspaper survey and is fast becoming of the country’s best craft beer destination. In the past few years, both New Belgium and Sierra Nevada have chosen Ashville as the site for new breweries.
Oskar Blues opened a satellite brewery in Brevard, North Carolina. I recently was able to experience the Oskar Blues location and it was perfect. Nestled in the mountains, I following the directional down a small road and found the large warehouse. When I was there, the weather was very pleasant and everyone was sitting on the patio and listening to a local musical talent while enjoying one of my Colorado favorites.
Asheville has more breweries per capita than any other city, and it recently received eight medals at the 2015 Great American Beer Fest in Denver. That’s pretty impressive since there were 3,500 beers served and more than 800 different breweries from around the country. Some of the winners included, Wicked Weed Brewing, Southern Girl Lager, 3C India Pale Ale, Duck-Rabbit Baltic Porter, Duck-Rabbit Marzen, The Miller’s Toll, The Guilty Party, Beets, Rhymes and Life.
Historically important, North Carolina is one of the 13 original colonies who played a key role in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War I and II. The area is rich in Native American history; blacks made many early significant advantages here; and the Moravians created a historic settlement in Old Salem. The Wright brothers first accomplished powered flight in North Carolina, on a site that is popular today with hang gliders more interested in playing than in setting records.
North Carolina remains one of the states with the highest percentage of its population claiming awareness of the Scots ancestry and, is the state with the highest percentage of inhabitants self-identifying as Scots Irish. The first sizable group arrived in 1739, which came from the Highland county of Argyll (yes, Scotland) and settled on the Cape Fear River between Cross Creek and the Lower Little River. Numbering some 350 men, women, and children, the group was led by Highland gentry who provided much of the financing for the venture and received the largest grants of land. Gabriel Johnson, a Lowland Scot and North Carolina governor from 1734 to 1752, was accused of showing favoritism to his compatriots, and the General Assembly exempted the newcomers from taxation for ten years after their arrival.
Today, the greatest concentration of Scots Irish is on the west side of the state, from Charlotte through the mountains. For the last 56 years, the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games and Gathering of Scottish Clans bring the color of hundreds of tartan plaids and the clamor of half a dozen bagpipe bands for the festival. This place was selected because of the spectacular mountain setting that is so reminiscent of Scotland. The deep blue peaks of 6,000-foot mountain tower all above a meadow of ringed by 130 red, blue, yellow and green striped tents. This event also includes 800+ runners that take part in a 5-mile footrace climbing 1,568 feet in elevation to the summit of Grandfather Mountain
As for topography, North Carolina has some of the oldest mountains in the world, the largest natural sand dune on the East Coast, and some of the most unspoiled beaches and islands in the country. With the rich soil of the Piedmont and foothills North Carolina grows apples, vegetables, Christmas trees, cotton, and tobacco, a problematic crop with much historic significance.
Each of the three major geographic areas of the state – the mountains, the Piedmont, and the coastal plain-differs radically from the others. It’s almost like traveling through three small states. The nature of each region influences several kinds of commerce, and has also left a mark on the people. As you travel you’ll hear fascinating changes in the music of the accents of people native to each region.
The Appalachian Mountains were once much larger (10x as high) than they are today. With the erosion over hundreds of millions of years, most of the rocks formed thick layers of sediment all across the Piedmont, Coastal Plains, and in the Atlantic Ocean were carried away. In earlier times it was nearly impossible to travel in the mountains; hence the development of small pockets of civilization separated by stretches of wilderness, creating those tough, independent, resourceful self-sufficient folks – mountain people. The kind of early self-sufficient and distance from major metropolitan areas made the growth of all kinds of crafts almost inevitable. The mountains are still the riches source of handcrafts in the state.
The Appalachian mountains make up the smallest part of the state, but they compensate in interest and beauty for what they lack in area. They were formed over 480 million years ago and gain wisdom and age – the Rockies to were formed 55-80 million years ago for comparison. At one time, the Appalachians were presumed to be as large as or bigger than the Rockies, but time and erosion have whittled them down to where they now stand. Some of the highest mountains in the Appalachians are here in North Carolina, including Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi river, and 39 other peaks above 6000’ elevation and 100 that rise over 5000’ elevation. Stretching from central Alabama into Newfoundland, the Appalachians have miles and miles of great white-water, skiing, hiking, road cycling, mountain biking, waterfalls, and arguably better climbing, and has one of the top 10 most dangerous hiking peaks, Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, due to its famous dangerously erratic weather and the strongest wind’s ever recorded on land at 231 MPH!
The Piedmont, located in the center of the state between the coastal plains and the mountain regions and makes up almost two-fifths of the state. Piedmont is a French word meaning “foot of the mountain” and stretches from central Alabama to New Jersey.
I had the opportunity to explore one of Piedmont’s secrets – Uwharrie National Forest – this weekend. This is the smallest of four national forests in North Carolina even though there are 100 miles of hiking trails and allows other activities like biking, horseback riding, ATV, dirt bike, motorcycle, and 4 X 4 riders, camping (tent or RV), swimming or just picnicking! The Uwharries were once considered a coastal range and has slowly raised the eastern seabed until today as they lie in the Piedmont, 150 miles from the coastline. It also should be well noted that about 500 million years ago by accretion along the tectonic plate; they were thought to have once peaked at 20,000 ft. and were thought to be ocean floor volcanoes. Another historic point: in 1799 gold was also discovered which led to America’s first gold rush.
This experience was beautiful and quite impressive with a sanctuary of hardwoods, pines, and rocks. The rocks rise above fifteen feet and there were many streams to cross. The soft soil and bed of leaves made the trail very enjoyable and with a temperature of 63 degrees in February, I cannot complain. All of this reminds me of hiking in Oregon as I rarely saw another person hiking even though there are some cars in the parking lot.
The Coastal Plains
The coastal plain accounts for about two-fifths of the state’s area and has been considered dangerous since the first settlers tried to cope with the ever-changing beaches, currents, and waterways. There was no guarantee that just because you had safely sailed into a particular port once, you would find it safe, or even open, the next time you tried. That’s at least one reason English colonization shifted up towards the Chesapeake and why North Carolina was settled more sparsely than some other colonies. Even today you’ll find areas that are remarkably sparsely settled compared to other coastal regions. For vacationers, activities and sightseeing highlights are related to the same activities that have long supported the area economically – fishing, boating, and beach going.