Forget New England. If you want to see spectacular fall colors, head to Asheville, N.C. in October. Since arriving here a week ago, we were treated to a gorgeous array of reds, golds and oranges everywhere we turned and especially on the hills that surround this city. The city of 83,000 reminds me a lot of Eugene, Ore. where I grew up, which is also in a valley, except it had evergreen trees rather than these colorful deciduous trees.
We didn’t see much art but we did enjoy soaking up the natural abundance while we were here, visiting Chimney Rock state park and the Western North Carolina Nature Center zoo.
Chimney Rock, about 25 miles south of the city, has several trails that give lookouts to the area. We went up the easiest Hickory Nut Falls Trail to a waterfall. The boys did pretty well walking up most of it, though we had to carry them on our shoulders on the way down.
The nature center included only local animals, including black bears, wolves, foxes and snakes. It included a nice playground for the boys to as Lee puts it get their wiggles out.
We learned about Appalachian culture by attending Heritage Day at the Vance Homestead state park. Costumed characters demonstrated life of centuries earlier in different stations. One woman cooked a meal right from a fire in the house, another woman made cornhusk dolls, a man played the native American flute and some men showed hunting equipment. The boys were entranced.
We also learned that Asheville is the home of famous Southern writer Thomas Wolfe and was the setting for his 1929 autobiographical novel Look Homeward, Angel. Inspired to learn more about this place, I bought the book. Boy was I in shock. Rather than the rhapsodic ode to this beautiful place I expected, it was a blunt expose. Wolfe hated Asheville, hated the mountains, hated the whole South. His descriptive and often poetic style is engaging and it drew me in as he described his dysfunctional family led by an alcoholic father and a money-hungry mother. But I found myself getting depressed at the blatant racism perpetrated by the lead character, who is purportedly the author and the harshness of life there in the early 20th century.
It did, however make it more interesting when Theo and I toured the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, which is the boarding house, where Wolfe grew up and which figures prominently in the novel. The book caused an uproar in Asheville when it came out because of the unflattering depictions of the residents and was banned from the local library for years afterward. I think it’s funny that the town now celebrates the book and makes his house one of its main tourist attractions. I guess communities appreciate fame, whether bad or good.
We loved our accommodations here – a two-bedroom cabin we found on vrbo.com. It has been in the current owner’s family for generations and its evident the place is very loved. It is on a one-acre property with a playhouse and has a big front porch with rocking chairs. That soon became my favorite spot.
Overall, Lee and I loved Asheville and could even see ourselves living here if we didn’t have to leave behind all family and friends. As most of our family lives on the West Coast, that is probably where we will stay.