Mountains & Memories: Brevard, NC
The other week, G & I traveled down the Blue Ridge Mountains to Brevard, NC, to visit my father one last time before he jets off to Ecuador. Since he’s still living in my grandparents’ house (nestled on the side of a mountain in Pisgah Forest), it was also, perhaps, the last time I’d be on the property–something I grieved while we were there. The property, from the old logging trails to the waterfall, to the expansive views of the Blue Ridge was my ‘magic place’ as a child–a place I could run around and explore, a place that was thrillingly cold and foggy in the morning, but with crystalline skies by afternoon.
During our short weekend, I took G back to the places I loved the most as a child, but we also explored some of the new Brevard–the town full of restaurants, shops, and even a brewery now. I’ve heard it’s becoming a mountain “it” town and I definitely understand why–mountains, a valley, proximity to Asheville, it’s a pretty sweet little place. I have a feeling I’ll be back, even if it won’t be to the house & property I love, but, hey, I’ve got my eye on these cute little cabins close by.
We left Roanoke after work on a Friday, so we needed to grab some dinner en route. Before we left, I managed to find Dip Dog on the map in Marion, Virginia, off Route 11 (the pre-I-81 road). When it opened 55 years ago, I assume the road was full of cars traveling from Tennessee up the eastern seaboard. Now, it’s a lot quieter with mostly local folks grabbing Friday night dinner.
It’s a road-food affair: order your food and go or sit down at an open air (but, thankfully, covered patio–it was raining) to eat. The namesake Dip Dog is a just a corndog and I can’t say there was much special about it (except maybe the price, $1.45), but the bacon cheese burger ($4.25) was a lot more impressive, if only for the thick-cut crisp bacon on top. The meat itself was nothing special, but that bacon was something I’d go back for any day. The fries, eh, they’re frozen and flash fried.
The food at Dip Dog isn’t much, but the ambiance is kitsch-fun with photos of Dip Dog lovers posing with the restaurant’s t-shirts and bumper stickers all over the world. Plus, it’s local, family-owned, and decidedly not corporate which passes my standard for road food. Definitely a decent start to the trip.
After arriving late in Brevard, we shared a beer (Dale’s Pale Ale in honor of the brewery opening it’s east coast location in Brevard in late 2012, early 2013), and then hit the sack. I woke the next morning to one of my favorite memories: dense fog obscuring the house’s view of the valley and mountains. The way it blankets and muffles the usual morning chatter of birds is surreal and something that reminds you that you are in a temperate rain forest (it rained every day we were there).
After eating breakfast, we headed down to the other side of the valley to the place I call “The Stream,” but is otherwise known as Davidson River. Summers we visited my grandparents, we’d always spend the majority of our time building damns in the stream or jumping off the Coon Tree rock into the deep pool of water below. It was one of the best watery playgrounds you could imagine–a place safe enough for us to run around unattended, large grassy areas for picnics, and ice cold mountain water. The feet numbing temperatures felt like crawling into bed after a long day–that feeling you can’t replicate anywhere else.
A little further down the river from Coon Tree is Looking Glass Falls, a 60 foot waterfall, that’s easy to park and walk down to. I’ve also spent plenty of time swimming around in the pool below the falls, futilely trying to swim up to the thundering deluge. If you’re ever in the area, definitely visit it as it’s gorgeous, just get there early in the day or else you’ll have to fight the crowds to see it.
A little further up the road, towards the Blue Ridge Parkway, is the Cradle of Forestry, a USFS museum/park that features how life was at the nation’s first forestry school. It’s a fun place, especially if you have kids, and we browsed the exhibits (plenty of creepy wax figures to laugh at), watched a short circa 1982 video on forestry, and hiked around a 2 mile loop on the property. Highlight? Definitely the old logging train and crane. I wish I had the pictures of me as a kid crawling around the train to compare to the one from this trip. It’s serious fun, ringing the bell, and clambering over the logging cars.
But learning about forestry is exhausting and we were starving, so we headed back into town before making it all the way up the mountain to the Parkway. Lunch of choice? Definitely The Square Root. It was G & I’s second time eating there and I’m a fan. This time I ordered the fried green tomato sandwich with a side of sweet potato chips. The sweet potato chips were soggy (probably old, we were on the late side of lunch), but the sandwich was spot-on with a red pepper aioli & a bed of mixed greens.
Sustained, we headed over to the newly established Brevard Brewing Company to try out the brews. In a region inundated with amazing craft beer, Brevard, I think, has a leg in with their classic standards like Bohemian Pilsner and American Premium Lager, as well as their adventurous mixes like the Coriander Ale. My favorites? The Munich Dunkel and the Coriander Ale. The Dunkel was smooth and rich, the Coriander, light and peppery with a light hop.
On the way home, after the torrential downpour that stranded us at the Brewery (oh, dang, I guess I’ll have another beer), we caught this incredible skyscape in the valley. See? That’s why I love this place.
The next morning, before leaving town, we tromped down my grandparents’ property to find “The Waterfall.” Not only did my grandparents live on the side of a mountain, their property also included a waterfall. Sure, it’s not 60 feet tall, but it’s a good 10 or so, and, again, as a kid, this waterfall was pure magic. Finding it was a bit tough without my grandfather having cut out a pathway, but we eventually stumbled across it after tunneling through age-old rhodendron.
With sunlight driving shafts through the rhododendron and the canopy shifting a bit in the breeze, it was hard not to feel like we’d stumbled upon some shadowy-soft otherworld. I hadn’t been there in well over a decade, maybe even 15 years. The fall I used to splash under felt reduced but at the same time more sacred, a last bit of wilderness in an area now over-run with development. The ferns, the water, the spiders knitting in the branches–it was almost too much. Wonderment is something I don’t experience enough; I’m glad I had this last time with the waterfall.
Afterwards, the long-enough drive back to Roanoke, but, thankfully, with a pit stop in Asheville at the Laughing Seed Cafe. The vegan Bahn Mi featuring marinated seitan with house made kim chee, pickled carrots, daikon, and cucumbers with a spicy mayo hit the salty-spicy sweet spot, as did the side of jalapeno onion fries (you have to order those–well worth the extra dollar or two). G’s Havana Cuban (tempeh, pickles, black bean spread, tomatoes, caramelized onions, swiss cheese, and Lusty Monk mustard) was really good too. And the side salad? I love it when side salads include all the goodies of tomatoes and sprouts and carrots, etc. Shows the restaurant really cares. One day soon I’m going back to Asheville just to eat and drink–so many good restaurants and breweries, it’s hard to pick just one for a meal, but Laughing Seed is an excellent place to grab a bite to eat while passing through.
As for Brevard, like I said, I’m going to miss it terribly, but I know I’ll be back again. It’s difficult when you lose connection to a place–when I moved to Roanoke, my mother moved away from Atlanta to Mobile, thus severing my family ties with the city I grew up in. Now, with all of my grandparents dead, I never get back to Charleston anymore and Brevard will also be on the use-to list. I hope whoever buys the property finds the waterfall and protects it like my family did, I hope they open back up the view of the mountains from the deck, and I pray that they’ll allow the forest to grow and flourish on the property, not chop it down and build or sell. There’s always hope.
2035 Lee Highway
Marion, VA 24354
The Square Root
33 Times Arcade Alley
Brevard, NC 28712
Brevard Brewing Company
63 East Main Street
Brevard, NC 28712
Laughing Seed Cafe
40 Wall Street
Asheville, NC 28801