Monday, September 29, 2014

Oct, 4: Enjoy a beer while your train chugs along

Sipping a beer when you're riding the rails. Sound like a fun combination?

That's what the New Hope Valley Railroad plans to do Oct. 4. From 4 to 9 p.m. that Saturday, the excursion train based in Bonsal  -- a half-hour south of Raleigh, between Raleigh and Sanford -- is staging a fundraiser called  Brew 'n' Chew.

It works like this: You buy your ticket to ride their steam train ($14) or diesel train ($12). At the rail yard, there are samplings and, for an additional $5 per pint, craft beer from Cary-based Fortnight Brewing. Beer will not be sold aboard the train, but you're welcome to bring your purchased pint aboard.

The one-hour roundtrip train rides depart at 5 and 7:30 p.m. (steam) and 6:15 and 8:45 p.m. (diesel).
Chatham Hill Winery will similarly be offering tastings as well as selling wine by the glass.
Manna Concessions will be selling special-menu foods, like fried pimento cheese sliders, shrimp po'boy sandwiches, barbecue pork sandwiches, etc. Sweets will be sold by LadyBug's Treats, a Raleigh-based mobile food-truck operation.

Food -- which includes a side and a non-alcoholic beverage -- can be ordered in advance to reduce your wait time at the food trucks there.Cost: $9.50 to $11.50.

There will be live bluegrass and folk music.

The event is a benefit for NHVR, an all-volunteer enterprise staffed by train fans. Money raised at the event will support restoration of the historic  Cliffside 110 steam engine, which is expected to cost between $350,000 and $600,000.

Information and reservations: Go to the NHVR website.

From Charlotte, Bonsal is a 2 1/2 drive: I-85 North to U.S. 421 (in the High Point area); take U.S. 421 South to U.S. 64, at Siler City. Follow U.S. 64 East; cross Jordan Lake and make a right onto Beavr Creek Road, then a left onto Daisey Street  to Bonsal Street.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Brookgreen Garden's harvest festival is Oct. 4-5

Brookgreen Gardens will stage its annual Harvest Home Weekend Festival Oct. 4-5, with family-friendly activities from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. both days.

There will be live music, special boat excursions on the creeks ($8, $4 for kids), wagon hayrides, a craft tent for kids, scarecrow building (you bring its clothes) and performances from costumed characters from Brookgreen’s Enchanted Storybook Forest.

Festival admission is free with regular admission ($14, $7 for ages 4-12). Details:

Tennessee Aquarium ready for next month -- ODDtober

Zoos and aquariums traditionally don't stray far when it comes to seasonal promotions -- spooky decorations around trick-or-treat time, holiday lights for the run-up to the holidays.

So give credit to the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Tenn., for upping the ante: Their ODDtober events play up the fall month by hinting at Halloween... by showcasing their  weird  animals.

 It's enough to make you point your Buick to the aquarium complex on the downtown  banks of the Tennessee River.

Here's some of what they'll be displaying Oct. 1-31:

Lungfish. When the dry season comes to the Amazon River, these air-breathing water creatures burrow into mud banks, secret a mucous that keeps their skin from drying, and wait underground for months until the next rainy season arrives.

A ghost-white baby American alligator -- shown above. He's an extremely rare albino. They often survive only a few days in the wild because their lack of protective coloration makes them easy target for predators.

African tiger fish. They're a recent addition to the aquarium's Lake Tanganyika exhibit. These nasty creatures have razor-sharp teeth, and in the wild will jump out of the water to snag low-flying birds.

ODDtober events are scheduled throughout the day, from 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., and include everything from keeper talks about penguins to presentations about seahorses. There are about two dozen ODDtober things to see and do each day -- and they're included in regular Tennessee Aquarium admission.

Oh, yeah. There are also costumed scuba divers making daily appearances. They will of course be carving pumpkins underwater each Saturday in October.

And there's always the bigfin reef squid, which has blue eyes and can change the color of its skin. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

'Ten-SHUN! Free stays for vets at Asheville B&Bs on Veterans Day

Where are you spending the night of Tuesday, Nov. 11?

If you're a veteran, you could spend Veterans Day evening in a goodly  number of B&Bs in Asheville -- free of charge.

This is the second year the 17 inns of the Asheville Bed & Breakfast Association are participating in the national "B&Bs for Vets" campaign.  The Asheville total: 57 rooms with complete breakfast.

Visit the association's website to learn about these inns and where to call or email for reservations. 

The association expects all rooks to book; some are already full, but you can put your name on the waiting list.

Rooms are currently available at:

The Reynolds Mansion
Pinecrest Bed & Breakfast
Hawk and Ivy
Applewood Manor Inn
1899 Wright Inn & Carriage House
Beaufort House Inn
Dry Ridge Inn
The Lion and the Rose Bed and Breakfast
A Bed of Roses Bed and Breakfast
Crooked Oak Mountain Inn
Honey Hill Inn & Cabins
Chestnut Street Inn
1847 Blake House Inn Bed & Breakfast

Already booked (get on the waiting list):

1889 WhiteGate Inn & Cottage
Sweet Biscuit Inn
Carolina Bed & Breakfast
North Lodge on Oakland B&B

Shown above: Beaufort House Inn, owned by Jim and Christina Muth. He's a Marine veteran, and is offering the entire inn that evening.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Hot list for fall? How about chili festivals

The Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds is pairing car parks and fall chili events on its website.

Their way-hot list of suggestions:

Happy Trails Regional Chili Cook-Off, Apple Valley, Calif., Oct. 18

Local businesses, clubs and individuals are encouraged to enter the community division, while professionals have a shot to qualify for the 2014 ICS World Championships by entering into the International Chili Society division.

Other offerings include food vendors and a beer garden, live music and a car show.

Chillinois Regional, Taylorville, Ill., Oct. 4-5.

The event, also known as the Taylorville Chillifest, has a chili cook-off and traditional chili tasting, plus Miss and Mister Chilli Pepper pageants, a 5K run, beard and apron contest and parade.

The day’s festivities include a community breakfast, craft show, car show and, of course, chili tasting. Special guest:  Bobby Brantley of TruTV’s “Lizard Lick Towing.”

This festival offers free admission and parking for a day that includes a chili cook-off and tasting, food and craft vendors, live music, craft demonstrations, a lumberjack competition and a kid zone. All chili is cooked from scratch on-site.

St. Nick’s Chili Fix Chili Cook-Off, Anderson, S.C., Dec. 6

The $5 admission and dish-entry fees benefit the local Meals on Wheels. Professional and amateur chili cooks face off for the honor of first prize. Also making an appearance: Santa Claus.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Apple tourism? It's not too late for core events

2014 apple festivals? Well,  North Carolina's official fete in Hendersonville was Labor Day weekend. And South Carolina's, held in Westminster, was the weekend of Sept. 5-6.
But the season for apple-appeal lasts longer than that other fall benchmark, leaf-peeper season, and there are still fruit fests to come.
The Brushy Mountain Apple Festival is Oct. 4 in North Wilkesboro, and the Taylorsville Apple Festival is Oct. 18 -- the same day as Waynesville's Apple Harvest Festival.
And the fun doesn't end there. It just changes a little ‑- into cider .
CiderFest NC returns for its second year Nov. 2, at Asheville's Western North Carolina Farmers Market. Cider makers, mostly from the Carolinas and Virginia -- more than 13 in all -- will be featured. Also at the 1 to 5 p.m. event: cider and cheese tastings, apple press demos, cheese making demos, live bluegrass-flavored music  (the Jon Stickley Trio) and activities for the kids.
Hard cider and non-alcoholic organic cider pressed by organic apple growers in the area, will be served. There will be apple cider pretzels, too.
 Items will also be available for purchase.
There is an admission fee for adults, though -- $30 -- and attendance is limited to 700 tickets. Proceeds will benefit the Green Building Council, which promotes "green" building practices in the Asheville area.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Getting "lost" can take time, campers -- a travel-oriented website operated by insurance giant AIG -- has travel tips and insights at its Travel News page.

An article this summer about best camping spots in the United States touted these three:

Acadia National Park, Maine (shown above): It "offers a mix of expansive wilderness with the safety of an organized campground, according to (the website)  Greatist. The park is situated among trees, rivers and lakes for ample hiking opportunities, but camping is only allowed in designated areas. That means you'll be safe from the bears and coyotes that roam the area and still be ready to take on the woods in the morning."

Arches National Park, Utah. It's "a good choice for campers who want to avoid the chance of a frightening wildlife encounter and don't mind basking in the heat instead. There are fewer spots for wilderness hiking at Arches than in more forested campgrounds, but the park does feature a number of trails and canyons to explore."

Rampart Mountain, Montana, was "described by CNN as the most remote location in the U.S. Located in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, the spot is both far removed from major cities and less traveled than many other popular parks."

All are fine destinations. But what about logistics?

Clearly, clothes alone for your trek will fill a suitcase or two. And  maybe you can ship ahead the gear you need. Or buy it at the airport where you land.

A nearby airport? Not for these places.

Acadia National Park is a three-hour drive from  Maine's Portland International Jetport Airport (PWM).

Arches National Park is close to a four-hour drive from Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC).

Rampart Mountain is indeed remote: about 7 1/2 hours by road from  Montana's Billings Logan International Airport (BIL). It's in the vicinity of Kalispell, Mont.

The difficulty distant  travelers may have in reaching these three areas would seem to help sustain their elbow-room appeal.

Ah, wilderness!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A toast to the elephant that got away

A strange Charlotte anniversary may have escaped your attention, but you can mark the occasion any time with a special glass of ale an hour northwest of here in Granite Falls.

Then and now, you will not immediately see the 2,300-pound elephant.

Sunday, Sept. 11, 1955, a 6-year-old Indian elephant named Vicki escaped from the Airport Amusement Park, a circus on Wilkinson Boulevard not far from what was then Douglas Municipal Airport.

It took nine days to recapture her.

The fugitive pachyderm wandered through neighborhoods, not responding to her handler, other elephants used to lure Vicki home, pit traps nor assorted volunteers.

Nine days later, she ended up in an enclosed field, then returned ‑- exhausted -- to the amusement park.

Charles Kurault, then a writer for The Charlotte News, wrote quite a story about it;  you'll find it here

Two years later, Vicki was sold to A.L. Lord, who operated Granada Farms Zoo, an animal attraction in Granite Falls.

It is said foot injuries sustained during her Charlotte escape never healed; Vicki was found to have an incurable infection and the peanut-eating teen was euthanized in 1958.

But the story doesn't end there.

Her 2 ton-plus body was buried at the zoo. In 1973. the immediate area was redeveloped as a golf course; Vicki is said to rest under the No. 3 fairway.

The links are part of a residential development still called Granada Farms. Ironically, in light of Vicki being there, it is a gated community.

Mario Mastroeli,  the owner of Granite Falls Brewing lives near  there, and his micro offers Vicki the Elephant Peanut Butter Al, which Kyle Case of the brewery describes as "a light ale with a subtle peanut butter note."

Yep. Peanut butter.

It was concocted as a small-batch novelty item, but proved so popular that it's still being made. "It's probably one of our top-5 sellers," Chase noted.

The ale goes for $4 a pint. You can raise a glass of it to Vicki from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. or so, Mondays through Saturdays.

GFBC also has an on-site restaurant. On the menu is the Late Night Burger, which has bacon and peanut butter.

Do they sell peanuts, too?

"No," Case said. "But we give out buckets of them at festivals and outings when we go out to sell beer."

Granite Falls will begin bottling its products within the next several months, and Case said Vicki the Elephant Peanut Butter Ale will probably go that route.

Maybe the spirit of Vicki will be back in Charlotte.