Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Christmas events in the Upstate

If you’ve followed the blog for a while, then you know that during the month of December I switch over to holiday programming with the “24 Days of a Baltic Christmas” series. However, before we put hiking and adventure in Upstate SC on the back burner, here is one more post on Greenville and vicinity – the Femme au Foyer Christmas list, 2017 edition!

Roper Mountain Holiday Lights have become a family tradition over the years, a not-for-profit holiday light extravaganza benefitting education and local non-profits. 2017 will mark the 26th, and final, year of the event, as the Rotary Club of Greenville and the Roper Mountain Science Center Association have found it increasingly difficult to secure volunteers to put on the show. We’ll be heading out for an evening of magic in the coming weeks to take a walk through Winter Wonderland and to drive the 1.5 mile drive through the lighted displays. Maybe even whisper our Christmas list to Santa?

The local Poinsettia Christmas Parade will take place this Saturday (December 2nd) in downtown Greenville, and is always a great way to kick off the holiday season, especially when combined with hot chocolate from Spill the Beans, a walk through Falls Park, and a stop at M. Judson Books to browse for gifts (or to compose your holiday wish list!).

If you’re looking for a small-town Christmas parade, head to Cashiers, NC and you might even see a snowflake or two in the higher elevations! Make sure to stop at the Village Green for some time on a really cool playground, and if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, check out the hiking and waterfalls in nearby Highlands on Mountain Waters Scenic Byway, Whiteside Mountain, or Sunset Rock.

Ice on Main! Wednesdays mean free skating for the first 50 K - 12 students with a report card or progress report showing B or higher in Math or Science, thanks to a grant by Duke Energy! Students must be from Greenville, Pickens, Oconee or Anderson K - 12 public schools, and the promotion runs every Wednesday except Dec. 20 and 27.

The Festival of Trees is from December 1st through January 1st, with 80 holiday trees decorated by local businesses, schools and community groups showcased in the Hyatt Regency Greenville, the Courtyard Greenville Downtown and the Hampton Inn & Suites RiverPlace. It’s an easy, free afternoon/evening to   combine a tour of the Hyatt with a ride on the Greenville Trolley, and for supermom-status, pack a thermos of hot chocolate and holiday cookies to snack on while admiring the lights from the warmth of the trolley!

Make sure to stop by the Children’s Museum of the Upstate with the kids. With reindeer crafts, Frosty the Snowman Storytime, special events like Breakfast with Santa, and the holiday-themed room on the 1st floor, take a breather from your holiday preparations! Remember, you’ve only got one more day to take advantage of the “two months free” with a gift membership offer, which ends November 30th.

…And while you’re at Heritage Green, swing by the library for a free kids holiday program, or stop in the Upcountry History Museum for Mrs. Claus’ Gingerbread Workshop and to view the Jan Brett exhibit. Meet children’s author Jan Brett at a special book signing on November 30 at 10am – ticket info here.

With cooler temperatures and longer to-do lists around the house, we tend to stick closer to home in December. Local State Parks are among our favorite destinations, Paris Mountain being an obvious one as it’s only 20 minutes away. Rose Hill Plantation State Historic Site hosts a Victorian-style Christmas December 2-3rd, and Table Rock presents a special, ticketed performance by four-time Grammy winning instrumentalist Andy Leftwich on December 15th.

Or head to Lake Conestee Nature Preserve, for the Christmas Crafts and Campfire event on December 2nd. We love hiking the trails in all different seasons, but winter is one of our favorites because there are no mosquitos, it isn’t hot, and it’s a relative wilderness just outside of the city. Check out one of the guided bird walks, too!

There are still tickets available to ride the Great Smoky Mountain Railway Polar Express, and Bryson City goes all out for the holidays! Visit the train museum, then board the historic train for a 1¼ hour ride to visit Santa at the North Pole.

For a destination a little closer to home, head to Asheville for the Grove Park Inn gingerbread competition. Christmas at Grove Park Inn is full of twinkling lights, Christmas music, and surprises around every corner in the 100 year old hotel.

If you’re still looking for ideas on holiday activities with the kids, check out Kidding Around Greenville’s events list – it’s got everything Greenville + kids!

For those of you who would like to keep in touch this December, I’ll be posting on Instagram throughout the month with our adventures here in the Upstate. And of course starting Friday, 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas will be here on the blog; your annual countdown to the holidays with a showcase of Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian food, traditions and culture! 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Disney on Ice Presents Frozen!

Mickey and Minnie Mouse are in town for Disney on Ice at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena! Tickets are on sale now for 6 shows, today Nov 24th through November 26th, and start at only $15. Shows are at 1pm and 5pm daily, and include 1.5-2 hours of Disney fun for the whole family.

Opening night was Wednesday night, and the boys and I (plus a couple of our favorite Frozen fans!) headed to Bon Secours a little early for a Tweet & Greet with Mickey himself!

Once it was time for the show to start we took our seats and were soon transported to Arendelle for the Frozen extravaganza: “Be a part of Anna’s fearless adventure to find her sister, Queen Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom in an eternal winter. Join the hilarious snowman Olaf, rugged mountain man Kristoff and his loyal reindeer sidekick Sven as they help Anna in a race to bring back summer. Encounter Everest-like conditions and mystical trolls as you sing along to Academy Award®-winning songs like Let It Go and ultimately discover true love is the most powerful magic of all. Hosted by Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, your whole family will delight in special appearances by stars from Toy Story, Finding Dory, The Lion King and the inspiring Disney Princesses. Experience magic at every turn and create memories to last a lifetime at Disney On Ice presents Frozen - the show worth melting for!”

Between the little girls and boys in the audience belting out “Let It Go,” the dazzling skating and special effects, and the wide ranging cast of Disney characters, we were enthralled from start to finish. Having been my first Disney on Ice experience, I didn’t know what to expect; now I know it isn’t just a show for little girls – it’s fun geared towards the whole family. Just “Let It Go,” and join Mickey, Minnie and Elsa for a great Disney experience at the Frozen Disney on Ice spectacular! 

For ticket and other info, please visit the Disney on Ice Frozen website.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Bascom: A Center for the Visual Arts

We were in town for the Highlands Food & Wine Festival, and on our way from one event to the next we made the most fortuitous wrong turn...

In attempt to turn around on Franklin Road we found ourselves crossing a little creek on a storybook covered bridge before pulling into a parking area surrounded by sculpture and the beautiful buildings of The Bascom: A Center for the Visual Arts. The six-acre campus has been the center’s home since 2009, and at its heart is the three-story, 27,500-square-foot Main Building by DeWolf Architecture and Lord Aeck & Sargent Architecture. The wood structure has a timeless look, easily fooling us into thinking that it was a restored historic barn or mill. This is where the permanent collection is housed, as well as the temporary exhibitions and a café. An outdoor terrace lies to one side, while in the rear are studios, an education amphitheater and the sculpture garden.

Nearby is a 2,500 square-foot barn rebuilt for use as the ceramics studio. The Dave Drake Studio Barn is home to workshops & year-round classes for adults and children, in addition to the “Art by Appointment" custom-designed classes for individuals or groups. The adjacent PcPhail Kiln Barn houses the kiln where all the pottery made on-site is fired.

The Horst Winkler Sculpture & Nature Trail winds through the property offering up-close looks at several of the large works of art, the native flora, a brook, and a small waterfall. Once a farm, the land still bears trace of native plants such as ferns, Solomon's seal and trillium. Outdoor classrooms and a rustic pavilion offer the perfect setting for group outings, and the lovely scenery lends itself well as a backdrop for private events. You can also attend one of the festivals held on its grounds; programming at The Bascom includes a wide range of exhibitions, a permanent art collection, the aforementioned workshops, and numerous community events including a wine festival, garden festival and Autumn festival. For a list of current and upcoming exhibitions, click here.

The Will Henry Stevens Covered Bridge we entered through was built and restored traditionally to form a unique entrance to the center in 2008/2009. The lattice work of the 87ft-long bridge was originally from the Bagley Covered Bridge of Warner, New Hampshire (circa 1807). Historically spanning the Warner River, it was deemed unfit for vehicular and pedestrian traffic, and what was possibly New Hampshire's oldest covered bridge, it spent the next 40 years in storage after being removed in 1966. Nearly 60% of old-growth white pine had to be replaced, but the bridge stayed true to its original construction and used no metal fasteners or supports; the over 1,100 tree-nails, dowels and trunnels are a work of art in its own.

The Bascom has developed into a creative resource for the community, and reflects western North Carolina’s passion for the arts. From the individual studios that dot the mountain roads of the area to the artists’ communities such as the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway and The Bascom, the region is awash with history and culture – and sometimes it takes a ‘wrong’ turn to reveal these treasures to the casual traveler.

The Bascom Center has a facebook page, a Wordpress blog (updated by the current artist in residence), Instagram and Twitter feeds, YouTube and LinkedIn accounts in addition to their website!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Pinnacle Mountain, 1 year after the fire

The Pinnacle Mountain fire started on November 9th last year, and in less than a month had blackened over 10,000 acres in and around Table Rock State Park. Although most trails in the area were closed and much of the Upstate smoked out, the fire was finally contained with no structures lost. Historically the Southern Appalachians burn during drought years, so fire on Pinnacle Mountain is nothing new... it had just been a few years since such a high-intensity burn had occurred within State Park borders, and I was curious as to state of things now that a year had passed.

We jumped on the Blue Ridge Electric Co-op Passage of the Palmetto Trail, passing through an enormous field of boulders to reach the section of Foothills Trail that heads up to Pinnacle Mountain. Most foot traffic comes via the Table Rock Mountain State Park Nature Center – following Carrick Creek Nature Trail up Pinnacle Mountain Trail, or on Ridge Trail from Table Rock. From the Nature Center to the summit of Pinnacle is more than 7 miles round-trip, coming in from Sassafras Mountain might be around 10.

From the Foothills Trail you actually have to take a left on Pinnacle Mountain to reach the summit (adding about ½ mile to your hike), but the 3,425 ft peak does not have any views. Taking a right on Pinnacle Mountain Trail would take you to Bald Knob (also about ½ mile detour) and fantastic views, but either route will add a significant climb in elevation. What’s so special to go through all the trouble? Pinnacle Mountain is the tallest mountain contained entirely within the state of South Carolina (Sassafras Mountain at 3,563 feet is partially in NC), and the views near the top overlook both the Jocassee Gorges and the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, which remain relatively untouched by development.

Coming up on Pinnacle Mountain along the ridge from the south, the first signs of the fire were scorch marks on trees, easily visible because the trail had been used as a fire break for a short distance. The proximity to the line indicated this had been a back-burn, meaning firefighters had intentionally used a controlled fire to create black that acted as a fire break for the advancing flames. The low intensity fire didn’t leave much evidence other than some partially-burned branches and the occasional charred stump of a tree that had died long before the fire.

It was once we had ascended the ridge and hiked a distance from the firelines that we saw evidence of a higher-intensity fire. The granitic balds had white char marks where layers of organic matter had been scorched off, and the jack pine, although standing, were mostly dead. However, I wasn’t surprised to see the brightly colored autumn foliage of deciduous tree seedlings – an indication that the soil had not been sterilized. The fire simply opened up the canopy and cleared the way for new growth.

In addition to tree seedlings, the grasses and herbaceous plants had really taken off. Nourished by an enriched soil and provided unimpeded access to sunlight, a year’s worth of growth was highly encouraging, serving as a reminder that fire is the natural order for our mountains.

Although in some places the granitic balds had been burned clear of vegetation, in most the moss and lichen communities were left intact, the fire naturally stopped by the expanse of bare rock and the lower intensity back-burns not having much an effect on the moist seep areas. We found prickly pear cactus, grasses and even an occasional wildflower still blooming in November, and marveled at the spectacular views which stretched from the Pinnacle Mountain summit all the way to Lake Jocassee.

It was on one of these granitic balds that more than 600 prehistoric petroglyphs were discovered in the late 1990s. The petroglyphs are believed to be created by the Hopewell culture (pre-dating the Cherokees) and are believed to be between 1,500 and 3,500 years old. What is now the Foothills Trail that follows the spine of the escarpment from Jones Gap to Oconee State Park was once a highway that primitive men and early European settlers used to cross the into the rich valleys of North Carolina. I don’t find it surprising that the granite still holds evidence of these early travelers; instead, I am astounded that the petroglyphs were not identified sooner, as close as they are to such a well-traveled path.

These scars on Pinnacle Mountain – left by fire and man – remained in my thoughts on the hike down. The fire breaks and raw earth as discordant with their surroundings as the white char marks on the granite balds, the circular petroglyphs as symmetrical as the dimples left on the granite by decades of water eroding rock. We descended through the hardwoods lit ablaze, but by sunlight and season, not flames, and I wondered at the wonder of it all. A thick carpet of leaves crunching underfoot accompanied us as Vilis loudly sang “everything is awesome”…  and for once, I felt like joining in. There, on Pinnacle Mountain, just 45 minutes from home – you can experience the millennia.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Hagood Mill

Just outside of Pickens, South Carolina is the historic property of Hagood Mill. The operational water-powered gristmill is on the National Register of Historic Places (listed in 1972), and is the centerpiece of the Hagood Mill Historic Site and Folklife Center and its monthly festivals.


The tributary of Twelve Mile River was formerly known as Jennings Creek, and mills have existed on the site since the 1790s. In 1845 James Hagood built the current mill on what is now the Hagood Branch, and operations continued until 1966. In 1973 the mill and surrounding acreage was donated to Pickens Country Museum, and over the years additional historic buildings have been constructed on site: two restored log cabins, a blacksmith shop, a moonshine still and a cotton gin.

Things to do at Hagood Mill 

Nature Trail
The 0.75 mile Nature Trail starts just behind the rock art building at the old outhouse. The trail follows Hagood Creek up to Prater’s Creek Bridge, a 64-foot steel bridge built by the Greenville Steel and Foundry Company in 1930 and brought to the site in 2007. In the autumn the hardwood trees towering over the creek are full of color, and walnuts and acorns litter the trail. After crossing the bridge the loop delivers you back to the mill, emerging on the opposite side of the creek next to the wooden water chute.

Prater's Creek Bridge
Near the end of the trail

Historic buildings
The moonshine still and cotton gin building are located adjacent to the end of the trail. This corner of South Carolina was rather infamous for moonshining, and old stills and other equipment can still be found near creeks in many places (such as Moonshine Falls). It was interesting looking at the old pictures of moonshiners and the many different set-ups that were used over the years for distilling spirits.

Moonshiners wall of fame

Over in the cotton gin building is an entire 1896 Daniel-Pratt cotton gin and cotton press, in use as recently as the 1950s. Additional tools can also be viewed, such as a 1925 horse-drawn crop duster.

To access the mill visitors must cross back over the creek. With the largest waterwheel in the state, Hagood Mill is the only waterwheel in SC still made of wood and one of the oldest known gristmills still producing grain products in the state. The water wheel and mechanical components of the mill were rebuilt in the mid-1970s and restored in the 1990s, but touring the inside of the mill you’ll see much remains as it was 170 years ago. The two story building is constructed of hand hewn logs and covered with clapboard siding, and for years was the vital gathering place that brought together rural families and friends.

The two historic Pickens County log cabins date back to 1791 and 1925, although both have been reconstructed on site. The cabins are open to visitors, as is the family farm exhibit. This area (which includes the ceramics shed and outdoor stage) is the center of the 3rd Saturday festivals, and traditional arts, folklife and living history demonstrations that include milling, blacksmithing, cotton ginning, moonshining, spinning, weaving, bee-keeping, metalsmithing, quilting, woodcarving, flintknapping, chair caning and open hearth cooking take place on site.

Hagood Creek Petroglyph Site
In 2003 prehistoric Native American rock carvings were discovered, having long been buried under a 19th century road. The petroglyphs were preserved, and today can be safely viewed from an observational boardwalk while listening to a historical audio presentation. The 17 human figures and other carvings are among the most significant of their kind in South Carolina.

Look for two stick figures in the center/center right of the photo

In addition to the petroglyph room, there is an additional exhibit room that has information on historic period rock art, the meaning of various figures and shapes, some petroglyphs for up-close viewing and a replica of a portion of the Hagood Creek site for hands-on exploration.

Visit a festival!
The monthly folklife festival and concert series is a huge draw, the music and other entertainment offered at the third Saturday events irresistible to adults and children alike. Many of this region's best bluegrass, old time, and blues musicians have performed at the Mill, including many SC Folk Heritage Award winners.

The next festival is tomorrow! In observance of Native American Heritage Month, Hagood Mill will be hosting a Native American Celebration on Saturday, November 18, 2017. “Visitors and guest performers will participate in the festivities of the day which will include: traditional drumming, singing, dancing, Native American flute playing, storytelling, Cherokee hymns in the Cherokee language, and traditional crafts. Demonstrations will be going on all day throughout the Mill Site including traditional Cherokee blow-gun demonstrations, traditional Catawba pottery making, beadwork, basket making, flint-knapping, finger-weaving, atl atl spear throwing, bow and arrow shooting and more.” For a full description of all the festival events, please visit the Hagood Mill Historic Site & Folklife Center Facebook page.

Bring a picnic
With multiple picnic tables located creekside near the old mill, visitors can take a break for lunch between explorations of the mill, trails and petroglyph site. Some of the resident chickens might wander over to keep you company!

Visit the Hagood Mill store
Fresh stone-ground corn meal, grits, and wheat flour ground on site are available for purchase, along with Hagood Mill cookbooks and a variety of other mill related items. The staff are extremely knowledgeable and helpful, and can be a valuable resource for local facts and lore.


There is a $5.00 parking fee on 3rd Saturday festival days, but otherwise admission is FREE to the Hagood Mill Site as well as the Hagood Creek Petroglyph Site. While in the area you might also be interested in visiting Glassy Mountain, Nine Times Preserve and Long Shoals Wayside Park, three of our favorite natural areas in the Upstate…

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Highlands Food & Wine

For over a century, Highlands NC has provided a mountain respite for visitors from all over the country. The resort town is located at an elevation of 4,118 feet, making it one of the highest towns east of the Mississippi; the surrounding mountains feature an abundance of recreational opportunities including hiking, fishing, waterfall photography and golf. In the postcard-perfect town of Highlands you’ll find a thriving arts scene (including the renowned Bascom Center), antique shopping, upscale boutiques, and fine-dining in a wide selection of restaurants. However the peak of foodie-delight comes in November, during the annual Highlands Food and Wine Festival.

Formerly known as Highlands Culinary Weekend, the festival celebrated its eleventh anniversary this year. Attendees were encouraged to explore nearby trails and waterfalls in between events, and local restaurants hosted individual dinners in partnership with the culinary and wine talent in town for the festival.

Truckin’, Friday’s food truck event, brought a wide array of food trucks from all over – including Greenville and Asheville – to complete a food-triangle-of-fame of sorts. The four hour event took place on Old Creek Circle, amidst tall trees decked out in autumn colors, on a chilly yet sunny Saturday, and proved that once again, the Highlands Food & Wine Festival is worth the trip!

On hand from Asheville was James Beard nominee Elliot Moss with his signature Buxton Hall Barbecue, chipotle cheese grits, collard greens and slaw, the pulled pork bbq bringing back memories of Greenville’s food festival euphoria that recently brought them down our way. Other highlights included Farm to Fender (also Asheville) with their Flying Goat BLT: smoked bacon, fried green tomatoes & local goat cheese, complimented by a side of Tabasco honey cauliflower wings.

A third vendor from Asheville was Bun Intended, the traditional Thai steamed buns and bao truck. Their Pork Belly Bao (with seared pork belly, cucumbers, pickled carrots & daikon, herbs, green onion and apple BBQ sauce!) and the Vegetable Bao are on my personal Truckin’ best-of list.

Greenville favorites Automatic Taco also had pork belly, theirs prepared Korean style with kimchi, cilantro and cashews. Despite worrying about stomach capacity and my ability to try everything, I admit that I couldn’t skip them, even though the Pork Belly Taco is what I usually order when I catch up with them here in town. (Very professional of me, right, making sure they were up to standard up in NC!?)

To complete the Asheville-Greenville-Highlands triangle, multiple local chefs participated during other festival events, including Adam Lewis of Mountain Fresh Grocery and Wolfgang Green of Wolfgang’s. However for Truckin’ we got lucky with a couple of food trucks from within the triangle - Backwoods Bakery and The Velvet Cup – and BrineHaus all the way from Raleigh! It was my first time trying BrineHaus, but the Tabasco sweet potato wings absolutely amazing, especially when paired with an IPA from Oskar Blues.

Beverages included cocktails from Tito’s Handcrafted Vodka, beer by Oskar Blues, and four wine distributors: Ecovalley Wines, Meeker Vineyard, Merry Edwards and Schug Winery. Tito’s had brought the bus, and I wasn’t the first (nor the last) festival-goer to take advantage of the comfortable leather seating to digest and recharge before the next course!

Backwoods Bakery with a mobile pizza oven

In addition to the cream of the culinary crop, this year’s Highlands Food & Wine Festival brought a spate of musical acts to western NC: JJ Grey & MOFRO, Love Canon, Liz Vice and the iconic Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans. The Futurebirds put on a great show before the Truckin’ headliners, Dawes, took the stage; it wouldn’t surprise me if folks came to Highlands just as much for the music as they did the food.

Between the Sip & Shop wine adventure on Friday, the Main Event that takes over Main Street on Saturday, various wine tastings throughout the weekend, Gospel Brunch on Sunday and a Generous Pour (concert) with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the Highlands Food & Wine Festival was really the “Height of Happiness” for food and music lovers, allowing total immersion in food, wine, music and mountains.  And if you’re around for the festival, maybe I can suggest a few other stops while you’re in town…? 
Sunset Rock, Highlands
Mountain Waters Scenic Byway, Highlands to Franklin (4 waterfalls!!!)
Whiteside Mountain, between Highlands and Cashiers

For more on the Festival, checkout the website www.highlandsfoodandwine.com. You can also follow on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Sunset Rock, Highlands NC

The gravel road leading up Satulah Mountain is rutted and narrow, the risky business of passing oncoming traffic only manageable in the rare wider section of road. Luckily it is mostly traversed on foot, although the adventurous sort will drive up the ½ mile to a small opening that allows for a turnaround. It is not a challenging hike, nor lengthy – but it is one you will want to take if you’re in Highlands, North Carolina.

Sunset Rock is located in Ravenel Park and is managed by the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust. Granite domes are unique to the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment, and are known for having a mixture of bare rock, steep cliffs and shallow vegetation. The Highlands Plateau has also been designated by National Audubon Society as one of the Important Bird Areas of the world, and birds of high conservation priority found in the area include the Canada Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Golden-crowned Kinglet and the Red-breasted Nuthatch.

From the main intersection of Main Street with N 4th Street in Highlands, NC, head east on Main until the road turns into Horse Cove Road and follow it just past the intersection with Gibson Street. You’ll see a parking area for Sunset Rock/Ravenel on your right, and the gravel road to the park takes you up to the trailhead.

From the opening at the top of the road, look to your right for the trailhead that leads out to sunset rock – you’ll recognize it by the large info sign. Just a few hundred feet later you’ll emerge at the top of the world… The exposed rock face provides views of downtown Highlands and the surrounding mountains, and is named for what else but the excellent sunsets! There are a few park benches to soak in the views, but no safety railings – keep the kids close!

Whether you’re in town for the Highlands Food & Wine Festival, headed to Whiteside Mountain, or on your way north to one of the multiple waterfalls on the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway, Sunset Rock is worth the trip – especially if you park at the base and enjoy the walk up!

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