"The Trail" of Mountain Culture in "The Gap"

 
Powell Valley in Southwest Virginia — Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Powell Valley in Southwest Virginia — Photo by Dale R. Carlson

 

“Everyone should visit the glorious mountains of Southwest Virginia- any season, any time. The people are wonderful, the vistas are spectacular, and you and your family will have an unforgettable experience in the place I will always call home.” – Adriana Trigiani, New York Times Bestselling Author

Seeing a play under the stars is one of the true joys of summer!  There are many open-air venues across the country, but what a treat for us to find out that Virginia’s premier outdoor theater is right here in the mountains of Southwest Virginia!  In fact, the Commonwealth of Virginia designated “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” as the state’s official outdoor drama in 1994.  An alluring cultural summer experience awaits you in Big Stone Gap, Virginia!  The outdoor drama is in its fifty-sixth season, making it one of the longest running outdoor dramas in the United States.  This is true “community theater” at its best!  All the actors and musicians are volunteers, not to mention the entire crew it takes to put on such a production.

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The creation of “The Trail” as it has become known began right here in “The Gap” with the novel “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” by John Fox Jr. in 1908.  The book became a best seller in both this country and aboard.  The author and his entire family were living in Big Stone Gap at the time and the fame of the Lonesome Pine has been part of the community ever since.  The culture of the outside world and the Appalachian Mountains is joined in this story of romance and the influences brought by those trying to profit from the natural riches found in the mountains.  Both cultures were rich in a variety of ways, but the joining of two different worlds is never an easy process.  John Fox Jr. was comfortable in both worlds!  His novel used “mountain dialect” that the rest of the country had never heard.  The clashes of bringing law and order and education to the mountains is also depicted.  John Fox Jr. was one of the first volunteer law enforcement known as a “police force of gentlemen” in “The Gap”.  As on all wild western frontiers, locals were used to settling their own disputes in ways that seemed less than civilized in bigger cities.  Such is the growing pains of all of the United States and this is another of those stories.  We are not going to divulge the entire plot but we know you will enjoy the music and acting ability of the actors in this play.  Some of them are seasoned veterans in various roles and their dedication should be commended as well as their continued efforts to bring new actors on every year!  It’s a tradition steeped in the love of mountain culture, music and love of community.

We had the opportunity to speak with Jim Wardell, the General Manager for “The Trail” this season.  Jim has lived and taught music in Wise County for over 30 years.  His musical skills have brought together a wonderful cast for this season.  He hopes to develop a marketing plan that can help them build a stronger future with more corporate sponsors and other uses for the playhouse in off season.  The 2019 season for “The Trail” runs from June 28 – August 24 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.  The music before show begins at 7pm and the show starts at 8pm.  Tickets can be purchased at the Trail of the Lonesome Pine website.

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Photos of Trail of the Lonesome Pine 2019 Season - by Dale R. Carlson

Photos of Trail of the Lonesome Pine 2019 Season - by Dale R. Carlson

     Big Stone Gap has other local attractions to offer before you go to see the outdoor drama so be sure to begin your journey with a stop at the Big Stone Gap Visitors Center when you hit town.  We did and were greeted by Denver “Sug” Hall and Uncle Buck Brown, his dog!  There could be no better Ambassadors for a town!  This is the kind of person and his friendly side-kick that everyone would like to meet when they come to a new town.  We were furnished with maps and information with the zeal of someone who loves where he lives!  Just tell Sug what you are interested in and he’ll point you in the right direction. 

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Photos of Big Stone Gap, VA Visitors Center - by Dale R. Carlson

Photos of Big Stone Gap, VA Visitors Center - by Dale R. Carlson

Our next stop was at the  Southwest Virginia Museum Historical Park in Big Stone Gap.  Starting here is the perfect way for every visitor to learn about the culture and history of Southwest Virginia.   From colonial days and early settlers through the coal era right up to today’s local artists, they cover it all!  Leave yourself enough time to explore all this museum has to offer. 

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SWVA Museum - Photos by Dale R. Carlson

SWVA Museum - Photos by Dale R. Carlson

Another special highlight after touring the museum was the Friday lunch on the lawn with music provided.  While sitting under gorgeous shade trees we were entertained by a local group called The Poplar Hill Reunion Band.  We learned later that many of the musicians were also in the outdoor drama that evening.  The community spirit touches many aspects in this town.  For information about the Summer Music on the Lawn Series call 276-523-1322. 

Friday Lunch on the Lawn at the SWVA Museum - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Friday Lunch on the Lawn at the SWVA Museum - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

The Interstate 101 Passenger Car is also on the park grounds.  Built in 1870 for the Georgia and South Carolina Railroad, this car was acquired by the Interstate Railroad in 1916 and used until 1959, when it was retired.  A successful community-based fundraising effort resulted in the car being restored.  It is going to be used as an exhibit for the Southwestern Virginia Historical Museum in the future.  It sits in a perfect location surrounded by mountains.  A railfans dream!

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Interstate 101 Passenger Car - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Interstate 101 Passenger Car - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

We were able to also tour John Fox Jr.’s Home & Museum.  This house was built in 1888 and as the Fox family began moving from Kentucky to Big Stone Gap to join John Jr. many additions were made.  As a registered Virginia Historic Landmark, the present museum is filled with family memorabilia and original furnishings from the turn of the twentieth century.  The last living Fox family member donated the home to The Blue Fox Guild (named after the Fox Family farm).  They support the museum with funds primarily from luncheons and dinners in the museum that are prepared and served by the ladies of the guild themselves.  After visiting we would love to be able to attend one of these events.  We are sure the southern genteel atmosphere would be an amazing experience.  We only need 20 friends to join us to make it happen!  You can contact Kate Boyer (276-523-2019) regarding scheduling.  Tours are also offered upon request to anyone visiting Big Stone Gap.  At the present time the museum is not open on a regular basis but volunteers live close by and you can give Paxton Allyger (276-393-3336) a call to make it happen!

 
John Fox Jr & the Typewriter he used to write Trail of the Lonesome Pine    Photos by Dale R. Carlson

John Fox Jr & the Typewriter he used to write Trail of the Lonesome Pine

Photos by Dale R. Carlson

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John Fox Jr. Home & Museum - Photos by Dale R. Carlson

John Fox Jr. Home & Museum - Photos by Dale R. Carlson

“The Trail” is performed in the June Tolliver Playhouse in Big Stone Gap.  June Tolliver is the main fictional female character in this outdoor drama that was adapted from John Fox Jr’s book locally by Earl Hobson Smith and Clara Lou Kelly in 1964.  Clara Lou Kelly was the first President of the Lonesome Pine Arts & Crafts Inc which was instrumental in the building of the playhouse and the purchase of Jerome Duff’s home next door.  Fox’s character, June Tolliver, was loosely based on a young lady who came to “The Gap” to get an education named Elizabeth Morris and stayed in Jerome Duff’s boarding house.  Today this house is known as the June Tolliver House.  It is worth a stop to check out local memorabilia before heading to the play.  This too, is completely run by volunteers of the Lonesome Pine Arts & Crafts organization and at this time is only open from around 3pm to 8pm on Thurs, Friday and Saturday when the outdoor drama is performed. 

June Tolliver House - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

June Tolliver House - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

June Tolliver Playhouse - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

June Tolliver Playhouse - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

One should not come to this charming town without visiting the Harry W. Meador Coal Museum!  We stopped in to find out more about the coal fields in SWVA where we were met by Freddie Elkins.  He is so much more than a caretaker for the museum.  Freddie spent over 30 years working in the coal mines and he is a true storyteller.  He made all the artifacts and activities in a mine actually come to life.  He spent over two hours with us and the time flew by.  He made us feel the pride he took in his years of working the coalfields.  Coal mining has been part of Wise County since the 1800s and is another side of mountain culture that everyone should learn more about to understand this region.  It is a true gem and worth your time!

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Harry E. Meador Jr. Coal Museum - Photos by Dale R. Carlson

Harry E. Meador Jr. Coal Museum - Photos by Dale R. Carlson

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Inside of the Harry W. Meador Jr. Coal Museum

Caretaker & Interpreter & Storyteller Extraordinaire - Freddie Elkins

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This little town has a history of producing famous writers and we urge you to also check out Adriana Trigiani, a New York Times best-selling author of 18 books, including the Big Stone Gap series.  She was born in Big Stone Gap and is an award-winning playwright, television writer/producer and filmmaker.  Adriana wrote and directed the film adaptation of her novel Big Stone Gap which was filmed entirely here in Big Stone Gap.  You can check out a map of movie locations at the Big Stone Gap Visitors Center which was also used in the movie as the local diner, called “Carmine’s”, using the sign on their visitor’s center is a unique tribute. The Bluemoonistic Images Team would like to thank Adriana for reaching out to us with her own beautiful sentiments about her beloved hometown!

We also learned that one of those movie locations used as the Mutual Drug Store (314 Wood Ave) is soon to become a new restaurant called “Curklin’s”.  The owners, Wayne and Tracey Jordan, say it will be American casual and will include a bar area with 12 cocktail tables.  The opening date is not definite but they are hoping for the end of September 2019.  Next season he hopes to be offering drinks and/or dinner before the outdoor drama begins.  This complete package will be a treat for visitors to town.

Another new addition this year will be the Big Stone Gap General Store & Café which will be located in the old newspaper building known as The Post.  We visited with the new owners, Penny & Brian Jeffery, while they were hard at work with restorations.  The front of the building will offer space for local artists and artisans with a general store feel.  There will also be a café with a coal-fired pizza oven.  What an authentic touch in this community.  There will be space large enough for wedding receptions and other events as well.  A stage is being built and live music will be performed.  The new owners will be making their home in Big Stone Gap after re-locating from the Raleigh NC area.  Brian grew up in this town and they look forward to investing in the community.  Inside they found a stone block dated “1890” and they have plans to incorporate many of the historical items they inherited when purchasing an old newspaper business in their décor.  This is definitely going to be a great addition to small town life and tourists alike.

Future Home of the Big Stone Gap General Store & Cafe

Future Home of the Big Stone Gap General Store & Cafe

Photos by Dale R. Carlson

Photos by Dale R. Carlson

Before each performance of “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” the guests are treated to an hour of music from local performers.  The night we attended Tyler Hughes was the opening act.  He plays a mixture of old-time and country music.  Tyler studied music at East Tennessee State University in their bluegrass program.  Tyler is a millennial who has found a way to stay in his hometown and continue his music career at the same time.  He is the perfect example of why the Crooked Road roots are so strong in this area.  We want to mention also that Tyler is on the Big Stone Gap Town Council.  We talked to him after the show and found him to be the perfect example of tradition and change.  A wonderful combination that will be a definite benefit to the community!

Southwest Virginia is a place so rich in scenic mountain views!  Begin your journey into Big Stone Gap by stopping at the Powell Valley Overlook, just off of Highway 23N.  (Photo Above)  Southwest Virginia adventures abound with historic sites, music, art and cultural experiences.  You might just wind up feeling like we do that you are finally “back home”.

TAZEWELL HITS A HOME RUN

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The Bluemoonistic Team attended the Grand Opening of the Tazewell Restored and Repurposed Railroad Depot on May 18, 2019.  We loved how they included the word “repurpose” in their announcement!  This has been a community project!  They believed that their citizens working together could accomplish anything and they made it happen!  The depot was built in 1928 and their tag line is “Roaring into the Twenties, Again!” 

Tazewell wants to use this building as a catalyst to do more for their community.  Not only will the depot be used as a museum to highlight their railroad heritage and bring visitors to their town, but it also includes a large meeting room that local citizens can use.  In addition, it will house the Office for the Tazewell County Chamber of Commerce.  Many benefits for everyone in the community.

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During the ceremony one of Tazewell’s citizens, Bob Gemmell, stood at the podium and took all of us on a trip down memory lane describing local stores as they were in the late 1950s-early 60s.  His words brought applause, nods and shouts from all who remembered.  He shared such detailed stories about the stores and people that even we felt like we were there!  As he put it “If you don’t know where you come from, you’ll never know where you are going.”   

Ribbon Cutting - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Ribbon Cutting - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Bob Gemmell - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Bob Gemmell - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

All the dignitaries who spoke that day were an example of the community efforts and pride that went into this project.  We were amazed at all the organizations that had made contributions.  Seeing a community work together in this way gives hope to us all.  One of the featured events that day was the unveiling of an amazing new mural in the community room by Ellen Elms called “Tazewell through the Eyes and Words of Louise Leslie”.  Louise Leslie wrote a column in the local newspaper called “My Main Street” and the mural depicts her words and images as she saw her town.  It’s an amazing tribute to the town, its people and events.  It will stand as a reminder and a history lesson to all that visit the depot.  Thank you, Ellen Elms, for creating such a beautiful piece of artwork.

Ellen Elmes - Muralist Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Ellen Elmes - Muralist Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Mural “Tazewell Through the Eyes and Words of Louise Leslie Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Mural “Tazewell Through the Eyes and Words of Louise Leslie Photo by Dale R. Carlson

One of the most moving moments of the day for a train enthusiast came when Russ Hatfield spoke of his father, the last railroad agent to turn out the lights in this depot.  We were thinking that everyone in the room was wishing he could have been there to see this revival!  As railfans we believe he was “in spirit”.  The architecture and beauty have come back to life and you can almost hear someone calling “All Aboard”! 

Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Photo by Dale R. Carlson

We also came away with a wonderfully unique souvenir that we cherish! A postcard of the depot was for sale and you could have it postmarked with the date of the dedication on it directly from the Ticket Window! As train enthusiasts this was indeed a highlight to our day and will be included in our upcoming book “Mountain Rail Tales”.

Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Photo by Dale R. Carlson

There are so many wonderful places to visit in Southwest Virginia but this is one of those places we feel you shouldn’t miss.  Add it to your list of destinations this summer.  Take a step back in time and learn how it can help make the future better for us all by visiting this historic depot. This old saying was used in many variations at the dedication “You can’t hit a home run if you never swing the bat” . This community has worked so hard to revive a piece of their history.  If they hadn’t stepped up to the plate and decided to save this treasure an important part of this town’s history would have been lost.  We see bright things ahead for this community!  They definitely hit a home run with this project!

The Santa Train 2018 - It's All About the Kids!

The Santa Train 2018 Pulling into Dante VA - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

The Santa Train 2018 Pulling into Dante VA - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

For the second year the Bluemoonistic Team went on the Santa Train Adventure!  During our experience last year we went directly to Kingsport to take in the arrival of the Santa Train at the end of its journey.  (See our Photo Blog from 2017)  This year we wanted to experience it in the small towns along its route. The Santa Train makes 14 stops across Appalachia beginning in Shelby, KY at 6am and ending in Kingsport, TN at 3pm. Along the way it delivers over 15 tons of toys and goods.  Their sponsors include CSX, Food City, Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, Appalachian Power and Soles 4 Souls. Amazing fact – this was the 76th year for the Santa Train!

This year we started in Dante, VA.  This little town of 649 people is located about 50 miles northwest of Bristol VA, in the heart of Southwest Virginia.  The day before we received a tour of Dante from Jason Gullett, Dante’s very own Local Entrepreneur Coal Town Tour Guide, and learned the history of their town.  His enthusiasm and dedication are things we love to write about and document with photos.  The coal towns in Appalachia have gone through many historical changes.  The populations of many of these small towns fluctuated with the expansion and contraction of the coal companies, but the people who remain today are there because it’s home and they are working toward building on their past heritage to create a brighter future.  Dante is working on restoring their railroad depot and we plan to follow their progress in 2019.   

Dante VA Mural - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Dante VA Mural - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Dante Depot Restoration - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Dante Depot Restoration - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Dante is situated in a beautiful location that allowed us to capture the Santa Train coming around a curve as it entered town.  It arrived to between 200 to 300 waiting people.  It was obvious to us though that the “KIDS” were the main attraction.  Dads, Moms and Grandparents all hoisted kids on their shoulders and tried to make sure that every child received his or her toy from Santa!  Warm clothing is also thrown into the crowd and we saw many kids come away with new hats and mittens as well.  But in the true spirit of Christmas getting a toy from the Santa was the goal for every child.  I overheard one Mother tell her little girl that now that she had her toy from Santa she needed to move back so other kids could get one.  In an age where greed seems to dominate, this was truly refreshing.  The joy around the Santa Train was so real you could feel it!  One could not but think “Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus…”

Christmas carols are playing while Santa and his elves throw out their gifts, the kids are chanting “Santa”, and smiles abound.  We’ve attended a lot of Santa events over the years but this has to be the one that will remain in our hearts as the most rewarding. 

Santa Delivering Gifts - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Santa Delivering Gifts - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Santa Throws Gifts Out - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Santa Throws Gifts Out - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Next stop was St. Paul, VA, only about 8 miles from Dante.  Thanks to a kind local who gave us directions, we were able to take a back road that got us to St. Paul just as the Santa Train arrived.  We found a larger crowd in St. Paul but the same eager faces awaited Santa.  Once again the crowd was joyful and loud but very polite.  Santa and his elves are pros at throwing out gifts and making sure some of the larger packages are passed on with care. 

Gifts fly through the Air - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Gifts fly through the Air - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Children Waiting for their Gifts - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Children Waiting for their Gifts - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

We have been to St. Paul many times in our travels to SW Virginia in the last year.  They boast a new boutique hotel called the Western Front Hotel.  We have stayed here many times and love the place.  We stayed at the Western Front on this trip also and enjoyed our time at the “Off the Rails” Bar (perfect for train buffs) and Milton’s Restaurant.  St Paul also has a wonderful brewpub called Sugar Hill Brewery.  With the Spearhead Trails and the Clinch River right on their doorstep this little town has a lot to offer.  Members of this community are also working hard to create a bright future for their citizens.  A visit to this area is a must for those who want a new adventure!

Western Front Hotel - St Paul VA - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Western Front Hotel - St Paul VA - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

We traveled on to Kingsport, TN, where the Santa Train ended its journey.  The city of Kingsport has created a very festive atmosphere with activities for families that add another dimension to the Christmas Spirit atmosphere.  The town was filled with families – many in all variations of Christmas attire.  Those who follow us know that is something we love!

Next year we will visit other little towns on the Santa Train route.  This is a Christmas tradition that has “Bluemoonistic” written all over it and we plan to participate for many years to come.  Of course, the idea of putting Santa on a train to deliver presents is appealing to us, but in our opinion this tradition focuses on what the holidays should be about – the children!   Kudos to the Santa Train and CSX Railroad for bringing that kind of joy to the kids in Appalachia! 

Good bye Santa until Next Year!

Santa Train Departs St Paul VA - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Santa Train Departs St Paul VA - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Towns That Are Creating Their Own Whistle-stops!

Old Fort Depot (Old Fort NC)   Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Old Fort Depot (Old Fort NC)   Photo by Dale R. Carlson

The Bluemoonistic Team is always chasing trains and listening for whistles.  Our latest photo shoot was at Old Fort, NC, where they are in the process of restoring their X-581 Southern Railway caboose.  The former mayor of Old Fort, Bob Wilson, was instrumental in getting the caboose donated to the town by the Norfolk Southern Corp. in the 1990s.  Unfortunately, there was a fire in the caboose in September 2017.  The upside is the town is restoring it completely thanks to Rocky Hollifield (Craggy Mountain Line Railroad) who has been restoring train cars for over twenty years. When it is finished we will be giving you more photos! 

While there we visited the Old Fort Train Depot and Railroad Museum.  The depot was built in 1892 and passenger service operated until 1975.  It is a beautiful specimen of depots built in the nineteenth century.  Glad the town was able to save and restore it.  They have a small but interesting museum that includes artifacts, furniture, photos, signs and a replica of where the seven hand-dug tunnels were built across the Swannanoa Gap for the Western North Carolina Railroad. If they aren’t open when you go visit, just stop by the Town Hall directly across the tracks for a key.  They will be more than happy to show off their museum!  They also have a large room with a kitchen that is rented out for events.  A win-win for the town!

Old Fort Train Depot & RR Museum - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Old Fort Train Depot & RR Museum - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Old Fort Depot Event Space - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Old Fort Depot Event Space - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

While in the area we checked out two other depots.  The first stop we made was at the Marion Train Depot, the oldest depot in Western North Carolina, built in 1867.  There was also passenger service at this depot until the 1970s.  In 2005 the town of Marion with the assistance of the NC Department of Transportation restored the depot.  It now houses their Office of Economic Development and has rooms available for rent for meetings and events. With multi-media equipment rooms that hold up to 150 people it is a perfect meeting space that is right downtown.  They also have a lovely park surrounding the depot and have music at the Train Depot on Thursday nights during the summer. 

Marion Train Depot & Caboose - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Marion Train Depot & Caboose - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Marion Train Depot - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Marion Train Depot - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Marion NC Train Depot Park - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Marion NC Train Depot Park - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Next train stop – Black Mountain, NC.  Their depot, which is also right downtown, has been restored by the Old Train Depot Association and now houses the Old Train Depot Arts & Craft Gallery!  The gallery is filled with beautiful handcrafts by local artists.  Their funds are used to support the upkeep of the depot and heritage art projects in the local schools.  It was an amazing gallery and also contained train memorabilia throughout.  When we were there we got to meet artist, Lenna G. Bucy.  Her business is called “A Basket Case”, a name I love and perfect for a basket weaver.  She also gave us a key to their caboose which is beautifully restored to period and can be viewed when the gallery is open. 

Black Mountain Old Depot - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Black Mountain Old Depot - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Old Train Arts & Craft Gallery - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Old Train Arts & Craft Gallery - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

All three of these depots have been saved by their towns and have found new uses that benefit their communities economically.  The nostalgia of railroads still runs strong today and it is great to see these beautiful structures restored. They benefit the towns in many ways whether it is for museums, event rentals or galleries.  Each depot has a restored caboose next to it as well which also helps make them a tourist attraction.  However, the depots themselves are really the revenue generators. Every local we spoke with was thrilled to have maintained a piece of their history.  The trains may not stop there anymore but they have found ways to create their own Whistle-stops. What a great way to embrace their railroad heritage.  We applaud their successes.

In Black Mountain we were even able to get a few shots of a train going right by the station.  We heard the whistle and ran with camera in hand.  Yep, we chase trains!

Train Spotting in Black Mountain NC -- Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Train Spotting in Black Mountain NC -- Photo by Dale R. Carlson

The Shortest Tunnel in the World

Backbone Rock Tunnel - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Backbone Rock Tunnel - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

While reading about train history in our area, we discovered some interesting information about what was listed as "the shortest tunnel in the world".  That got our attention!  Especially when we realized it would make a wonderful day trip from Ashe County where we live.  The tunnel is located on Hwy 133 about 5 miles outside of Damascus VA.  This unusual rock formation is a ridge of the Holston Mountain in the Cherokee National Forest and stands seventy-five feet high but only 20 foot wide.

As we know from Virginia Creeper history, logging was at its peak in the early 1900s.  The Backbone Rock stood in the way of a train route between Damascus and Shady Valley, Tennessee.  A tunnel was drilled through the rock in 1901 by the Beaver Creek Railroad.  Here's where the story gets interesting.  A big OOPS occurred when the engineers realized they forgot to allow space for the train's smokestack to clear.  One can only imagine how this really played out, but the result was that an area for the smokestack had to be hand chiseled into the rock which certainly adds to the character of this tunnel.  What's not to love about a tunnel that actually looks like a smokestack went through it!

The Beaver Dam Railroad in its prime hauled as many as 100,000 sawed boards daily for the Tennessee Lumber & Manufacturing Company.  But as we all know these ventures were always short lived and when the timber played out the line was abandoned in 1918.  This is a story we have heard over and over again.  With no care to what they did to the beautiful Appalachian mountains, the big companies stripped the land of all the trees and then left without ever replanting a single one!  Many rail lines were built through the mountains and then abandoned, leaving communities to deal with what was left behind.  

After these rails were removed the U.S. Forest Service used it as a truck service road.  In the 1930s the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) came to the rescue!  The tunnel was widened to accommodate a two lane road, hiking trails were established and stone steps to the top were built up and across the tunnel.  It created a beautiful recreational area with a picnic shelter and tables along Beaver Dam Creek.  Today it is complete with an overnight campground that was added in the 1960s.

We can attest to the fact that the site is well used.  While we were there we climbed to the top of the tunnel on the stone steps which is a bit of a challenge going 75 ft straight up but well worth it.  We met all ages making this trek but as the sign says "watch your children" as there are not many guard rails.  We took a picture of a couple at the top that grew up in Abingdon and said as children they use to just fly across the top.  Scary thought but we also saw kids being dare devils.  

Climb to the top - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Climb to the top - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Trail across the top of Backbone Tunnel -- Photo by Dale R. Carlson   

Trail across the top of Backbone Tunnel -- Photo by Dale R. Carlson

 

View from Top - Photo by Dale R Carlson

View from Top - Photo by Dale R Carlson

There were families using the grills and having picnics, kids wading in the water, a couple with hammocks strung up and fly fishermen too.  For us it was a perfect way to spend Earth Day and it appeared many others felt the same!  We truly recommend this magical spot for anyone who wants to take a Day Trip from our area or anyone who wants to spend a few days camping in our beautiful mountains.  What a joy it was to find another backroads adventure for the Bluemoonistic Team while reading about Appalachian railroad history.

Bluemoonistic Images  Photographer (Dale R. Carlson) at work on top of Backbone Tunnel 

Bluemoonistic Images Photographer (Dale R. Carlson) at work on top of Backbone Tunnel 

The BirthPlace of Country Music Museum

Birthplace of Country Music Museum - Bristol VA  -- Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Birthplace of Country Music Museum - Bristol VA  -- Photo by Dale R. Carlson

The Birthplace of Country Museum in Bristol, VA is a quintessential example of how a history museum can be fun, educational and create experiences for all ages.  They bring to life the true beginnings of what we now call country music through recordings, instruments and technological exhibits.  I dare say that most people outside of Appalachia (Appa-LATCH-uh) know very little of the roots of traditional music.  Genres have become blurred today between folk, hillbilly, western, bluegrass and country.  The history behind it all and how it began is in living color here and visitors can become part of it.  Interactive museums are definitely the future and a positive one for sure.  The Bluemoonistic Team spent hours and enjoyed every minute.

Circles of Success - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Circles of Success - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

From the time one steps inside the museum you become part of the music and the people who first traveled to Bristol in 1927 to record their music at what is today known as the "Bristol Sessions".  On July 21, 1927, Ralph S. Peer, along with his wife, Anita, and two sound engineers set up a portable recording studio for the Victor Talking Machine Company in the Taylor-Christian Hat Warehouse at 410 State Street in Bristol, VA.  They advertised in local newspaper for local talent to be recorded on the spot for $50 per recording plus royalties.  Musicians from all over the region and beyond responded and between July 25 and August 5, they recorded 76 songs by 19 performers or performing acts that became known as the Bristol Sessions.  

Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Photo by Dale R. Carlson

You may not recognize all the names but the museum gives a wonderful history of these mountain musicians who stepped from their front porches to sing in front of a microphone.  Some of the most famous were the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers.  We were excited to find a couple of familiar names, Henry Whittier from Fries VA and G.B. Grayson born here in our own Ashe County.  They were the first to record the famous ballad of "Tom Dooley".  The Library of Congress has ranked the Bristol Sessions as one of the 50 most significant sound recordings of all time.  The Exhibits are a fascinating lesson of how Appalachian traditional music influenced the American music scene at the time and still do. Their music styles and songs are still in evidence through the generations of music to today!

Other famous names like Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Johnny Cash have their history here too.  The "Unbroken Circle" room was our favorite.  Talk about drawing you into the experience!  

Earl Scruggs - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Earl Scruggs - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Bill Monroe - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Bill Monroe - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

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We loved making our own recording, mixing songs and listening to Radio Bristol which is recorded live from the museum.  It was such an enjoyable afternoon that we recommend all music lovers experience this museum!  Go find out for yourself how --

"Mountain music came to the city and they called it Country"!

Model Trains are Alive and Well!

Black Cat Station - North Wilkesboro, NC -- Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Black Cat Station - North Wilkesboro, NC -- Photo by Dale R. Carlson

During the Winter months our Bluemoonistic Railroad Adventures have taken us to several locations for model train shows and local exhibits.  Our experiences have shown us that despite the fact that we often hear that kids are only interested in video games and computers today, we have seen the contrary is true!  When you see a kid's face watching a model train or see parents and grandparents join together to watch model train displays, you know that the magic is still alive and well!  

When one listens to a lonesome whistle as a train travels through hills and valleys or the clackity clack of movement along the rails as it whizzes by, it doesn't matter the size or scale of the train as our imaginations go in overdrive.  We find ourselves believing that we are right there standing on the platform waiting for the train to arrive or sitting on a mountaintop watching it trail through the valley below.  We happen to feel that nothing sparks imagination like trains!  

We attended a show in Charlotte in January called "The World's Greatest Hobby on Tour".  Our first thought, of course, was that in this day and age that was a pretty big claim.  The creators of this huge display of model trains, however, certainly delivered.  There was everything from trains the kids could ride or actually play with on the floor to massive model train displays that satisfied every adult model train buff.  We walked around for hours and enjoyed every aspect.  Here's just a few photos that Dale took to spark your interest too!

This was an amazing show and happiness was a very strong power in the room that day!  We came home with many ideas to apply to our own model train display.  This display never goes to the same city every year so look up where you might catch this one in the future at the World's Greatest Hobby Tour website. 

You do not have to wait for the next big model train show, however, to see some amazing model trains.  Last Saturday we visited the Black Cat Station in North Wilkesboro, NC.  Volunteers of the Yadkin Valley Railroad Club open up this wonderful model train destination every second Saturday of the month from 10am - 2pm.  Their displays are amazing and the volunteers are on hand to offer a world of information. 

Black Cat Station - North Wilkesboro, NC -- Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Black Cat Station - North Wilkesboro, NC -- Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Besides this beautiful room being filled with wall to wall displays, they have a smaller room where the little ones can actually play with trains. They offer refreshments as well - Cookies & Trains - what better combo!  They make sure everyone has a front row seat!  Laughter filled the room and we never wanted to leave!  Our hats are off to this great group of model railroad lovers that share their expertise!  

One other local model train display that everyone can experience is in Ashe County at the Museum of Ashe County History.  This beautiful diorama historically depicts the Virginia Creeper Railroad that went from Abingdon VA to Todd NC.  A dedicated group of local citizens spent an estimated 10-12,000 hours building this amazing 30 foot HO display of  Tuckerdale, Lansing,  Todd, and West Jefferson.  Our railroad heritage is interwoven with our county's history and this display is a wonderful way to educate everyone about the role it played in our community. Let our Bluemoonistic Images of this diorama take you back through time!  Put on your railroad cap and listen for the whistle!

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Lansing NC

Photo by Dale R Carlson

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Tuckerdale NC

Photo by Dale R Carlson

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Todd NC

Photo by Dale R Carlson

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West Jefferson NC

Photo by Dale R. Carlson

MOUNT JEFFERSON'S WINTER GRANDEUR

View from Luther Rock on Mount Jefferson - Photo by Dale Carlson

View from Luther Rock on Mount Jefferson - Photo by Dale Carlson

When you stand on top of Luther Rock in the Mount Jefferson State Natural Area and look down on Jefferson, West Jefferson and parts of Ashe County, it feels like you are looking down on that mythical Brigadoon.  During the winter when there are no leaves on the trees to block the view it is even more breathtaking.  We decided to take this hike as a Valentine treat to each other - exercise on a cool day with clear blue skies when photos are also the best.  Memories to take home are gifts that keep on giving for years to come.  This is a winning combination for everyone.  We spent time sitting on the rocks and looking out at the "Coolest Corner of North Carolina" and picking out the landmarks below.  A ham sandwich and a bottle of water become a gourmet meal when you can take in this majesty while you are eating.  

We have heard folks say that they don't come to the mountains in winter because there is nothing to do.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Outdoor enthusiasts know that every season has its own beauty.  As locals we are lucky to have Mount Jefferson Natural Area so close to home.  We visit it often, but it is also worth the drive to enjoy what this special area offers.  Winter hiking is a favorite.  There are five different trails on Mount Jefferson.  Something for everyone from the kid friendly Track trail to the strenuous Mountain Ridge Trail.  There are many advantages to winter hikes - no bugs, heat or humidity!  The clear winter skies also offer a wonderful opportunity for great photos!  The Bluemoonistic team is always looking for that next great photo op and we have found many here!  The one below was taken from the Rhododendron Trail/Track Trail on our way back down the mountain after climbing up to Luther Rock.  Grandfather Mountain is 43 miles from Mount Jefferson but you can see what a wonderful view you have on a clear winter day!

Grandfather Vista  - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Grandfather Vista  - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

We are often asked what the difference between a "natural area" vs a "park".  Basically, a natural area is for day use only.  No overnight camping is allowed.  A natural area is there to preserve the ecological and cultural importance of a region.  Our two Rangers - Tom Randolph and Jeff Matheson - offer a variety of programs year round that educate all ages about the rock formations, plants and wildlife on the mountain.  Check out their Activity Page for monthly updates on the many programs and guided hikes they offer. 

If you are not into hiking then Mount Jefferson also offers three wonderful overlooks that you can drive to and only need to get out of your car to enjoy!  The first overlook is Sunrise Overlook and gives you great views to the East.  The second one is called Sunset Overlook.  The two towns of West Jefferson and Jefferson nestled below between Mount Jefferson and Paddy Mountains are a sight to behold. The highest overlook is called Jefferson Overlook and you can gaze north and west to many far mountain tops, some as far away as Virginia.  What a wonderful, almost 360 degree view, of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  There are also picnic tables, grills and a shelter for family gatherings.  

Sunset Overlook is the perfect place to park your car and take in the sunset.  We let the Rangers know we were going to stay after sunset one winter evening and they actually came up and joined us and followed us down to lower the gate at the entrance.  We so appreciated this courtesy to a local photographer.  We were able to capture another view of Grandfather Mountain immediately after the sun went behind the mountains and the sun's last rays highlighted it behind the Blue Ridge Mountains!  A cold but glorious moment!

Grandfather Sunset (from Mt Jefferson Sunset Overlook) - Photo by Dale Carlson

Grandfather Sunset (from Mt Jefferson Sunset Overlook) - Photo by Dale Carlson

The Bluemoonistic Team feels fortunate to have such a beautiful natural area like Mount Jefferson right here where we live.  We can hop in our car and visit anytime we want and realize every time we go there that it is a wise old mountain with much to teach us.  You will never regret a visit to such a mountain treasure during every season.  You too can feel like you are on top of the world!

The Conqueror - Photo by Dale Carlson

The Conqueror - Photo by Dale Carlson

Romance on the Rails

Wine & Dine on the Rails - Photo by Dale Carlson

Wine & Dine on the Rails - Photo by Dale Carlson

This photo evokes so many poignant emotions.  We tend to romanticize rail travel back in the days when it was a primary mode of transportation.  Not all of it was glamorous, but when you see people dining with china and real silverware through a train car window nostalgia has a way of grabbing you.  We instantly want to be those folks who had the opportunity to experience rail travel at its pinnacle.  The NC Transportation Museum offered the Bluemoonistic Team this opportunity to do just that!  Their "Wine & Dine on the Rails" event was billed as a Valentine special and we couldn't resist the chance to get on board for a romantic adventure.

We were seated in the Atlantic Coast Line "Moultrie" dining car and the tables were set up beautifully as we got on board after our special cocktail hour inside the museum room with the Blackbeard Exhibit.  The room was set up with decorated tables and we were served appetizers along with wine and beer and the mingling began!  It was a treat to meet the museum volunteers who offer their services to keep things running smoothly - one of which owns a home in Ashe County (a nice surprise)!  Our table for two offered us seats by the window to watch our journey.  

Moultrie Car NC Museum of Transportation - Becky Carlson   Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Moultrie Car NC Museum of Transportation - Becky Carlson   Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Wine & Dine on the Rails - Moultrie car - Photo by Dale Carlson

Wine & Dine on the Rails - Moultrie car - Photo by Dale Carlson

Our conductor told us we were going north to Baltimore and south to Atlanta!  Even though we only went around the 60 acre museum campus, it was fun to imagine!  There was something about the clickity-clack of the wheels on the rails and the gentle sway of the cars that added to the ambience regardless of the destination.  

Since we love riding trains, the experience alone was pure delight, but we had not anticipated the gourmet meal that was served.  Four course meals are not our style but we were really glad we had skipped lunch and came hungry.  We began with a Maryland style crab cake with Cajun Remoulade - so divine that we could have stopped there and been happy.  However, we were just getting started.  Then came Caesar salad and the main course consisted of not one but two entrees -- Chicken Marsala with cremini mushrooms and boneless Chuck Roast with port demi-glace along with Yukon golden potatoes and sauteed brussel sprouts with scallions & bacon!  Some of our fellow diners confessed that they came for the food alone!  The perfect end to the meal was a Key Lime Tartlet!  When the Chef appeared in our car he received a huge round of applause! 

Wine & Dine on the Rails - Photo by Dale Carlson

Wine & Dine on the Rails - Photo by Dale Carlson

Riding the rails during a two hour elegant meal just was not long enough for these two train lovers.  As we exited our car through the historically restored "Doris Duke" car, we would have loved nothing better than to enter the private bedroom, close the door and spend the night on the train.  Even though not possible, this beautifully restored train car was another glimpse into the past.  As we walked off the train on to the platform, the lights and sound from the the Southern 6133 locomotive sitting on the tracks once again gave us that sentimental feeling of days gone by.   The evening ended in true railroad lover style and felt as if we had arrived at our destination.  

Southern 6133 - North Carolina Transportation Museum - Photo by Dale Carlson

Southern 6133 - North Carolina Transportation Museum - Photo by Dale Carlson

   

 

Blue Moon in Your Own Backyard

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When you live in the Blue Ridge Mountains in winter you never know if or when you might be able leave home.  We actually love "Snow Days" now that our Bluemoonistic offices are right here in our own little piece of heaven we call Blue Moon Ridge.  With woods and mountains all around us, snow offers many photographic opportunities.  However, there are times when we wish the roads were passable and we could travel to an area where the sunset or moonrise were easier to capture.  This week when every photographer was talking about the Super Blue Blood Moon and the total lunar eclipse, even we had moments when we wished we could travel to the west coast where visibility was going to be much better.  

Even though that wasn't an option for us, we decided to do what we do best - improvise!  We decided we may not be able to capture this event in the perfect location with perfect weather conditions (which never seems to happen no matter where you are!), we could try to take the best possible photos of that Man in the Moon right in our own back yard.  Indeed this moon was certainly close to the Earth just as they predicted and it looked huge up here at our 3500 ft elevation!  Yes, the temps were cold and the moon came up and went down at less than optimal times, but our Bluemoonistic photographer was dedicated to finding the best locations right here at home.  With a little bit of moon chasing and getting up early, he managed to capture some great shots. 

He started two days before the actual full moon.  The "blue hour" of dusk offered just that opportunity even though the moon wasn't quite full yet.  A moon this size was very photogenic for several days!   

The Blue Blood Super Moon at the Blue Hour taken right in our driveway on January 29, 2018!  Photo by Dale R. Carlson

The Blue Blood Super Moon at the Blue Hour taken right in our driveway on January 29, 2018!  Photo by Dale R. Carlson

First of all, just a brief explanation as to why "blue moons" are very special to us.  The first month that we moved into our cabin here in Ashe County in May 2007, there were two full moons.  Thus, being up on a lovely little ridge, we decided to call our mountain home "Blue Moon Ridge".  So when 2018 was going to begin with two full moons we knew it was a good omen!  The first full moon was on the first day of the month and the second on the last - wow, how special is that!

Wolf Super Moon - January 1, 2018   Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Wolf Super Moon - January 1, 2018   Photo by Dale R. Carlson

On January 30 we had 4 inches of snow but by evening enough snow had melted that we traveled into town to capture the moon rise.  Since we have mountains all around West Jefferson and Jefferson, catching the moon coming up directly on the horizon is a challenge. This gives you an idea though of how big this moon really was.  It is always great when moon rise comes a little before dark so that one can see the surrounding landscape.  Perspective is especially important in this case.  

Super Blue Blood Moon rising over Jefferson NC - Jan 30, 2018   Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Super Blue Blood Moon rising over Jefferson NC - Jan 30, 2018   Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Super Blue Blood Moon Rising over Jefferson NC - January 30, 2018   Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Super Blue Blood Moon Rising over Jefferson NC - January 30, 2018   Photo by Dale R. Carlson

The trifecta of celestial events, however, happened in the early morning here between 6:30 - 7:00 am on January 31.  This meant getting up early the next morn also.  As suspected, since we are in the midst of a mountain range, we did not get to experience the red glow or lunar eclipse.  Luckily for us the moon set, however, was directly in the Blue Ridge Electric power cut next to our home.  Thank heavens for small favors!  At its zenith before it dipped down between the mountains, one could truly see how HUGE this moon really was.  The tree line directly below looks dwarfed.  Watching it sink into the mountains was an amazing and humbling experience.  

Since we didn't get to experience the lunar eclipse or the orange glow, we are calling this one the Super Snow Blue Moon instead!  We were very happy that we didn't let this opportunity pass us by even though we were not in "the zone" of perfection.  It seemed pretty perfect to us regardless.  Proving to us once again that things right here in our own backyard can be the best adventure!  Never take "home" for granted.   

Super Blue Blood Moon - January 31, 2018   Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Super Blue Blood Moon - January 31, 2018   Photo by Dale R. Carlson

 

 

A Winter Rail Trail Hike!

The Bluemoonistic Team - Our selfies come with a Canon Mark III, a tripod and self timer!  

The Bluemoonistic Team - Our selfies come with a Canon Mark III, a tripod and self timer!  

In our opinion Winter Hikes are the best!  This past Sunday the Bluemoonistic Team set out for a day along the Virginia Creeper Trail.  The temps were almost 50 degrees and perfect by our standards.  We began by parking in the Damascus VA Town Park and headed through town.  Damascus is known as the "Trail Town USA" with both the Appalachian Trail and the 17 mile VA Creeper Trail on their doorstep.  We love their town slogan "Crossing Paths" - very appropriate for this little village that is known for all its outdoor activities.  The VA Creeper Trail is well known as a Biker Trail and in the summer there are so many bicycles at times that it is a challenge to actually "walk" the trail, but come winter you can virtually have the entire trail to yourself!  Naturally, being off season there were not a lot of businesses open in Damascus but that was not our goal.  We were off for a winter outdoor adventure!  However, check out all Damascus has to offer at their website!

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Equipped with our camera gear and good hiking shoes, we traveled through Damascus and noticed all the inns and cottages that come spring we know will be filled.  It is always fascinating how you notice things that you don't even see in the summer months.  Without leaves on the trees and grass growing up along the edges of the path, one sees a whole different landscape in winter. 

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We were quickly out of town and making our way into the natural mountain beauty.  Laurel Creek runs along and crosses the VA Creeper Trail.  There are many side paths that allow you to venture down to the creek's edge to have a closer look.  That we did!  It allowed us the opportunity to capture some wonderful winter moments.  There was still ice and snow along the creek's edges and we knew we just had to photograph this magic.  Walking along the creek's edge, the roar of the rushing waters blocks out all other sounds and made us feel like we were the only people on the planet.  

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These winter wonderland moments are brought to you by Bluemoonistic Images.  You can find these and other photos on our website.  Take a moment to look at them and we hope they will inspire you to take a winter hike somewhere in our beloved Blue Ridge Mountains.  The silence of a winter forest with mountain views is something everyone should experience!  

Roanoke - A Star City!

Photo taken from our Roanoke Hotel room - Dale R. Carlson

Photo taken from our Roanoke Hotel room - Dale R. Carlson

In our opinion Roanoke VA is the best "big" city that has the southern charm of a small town, and lucky for us just happens to be right here in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  It is known for its neon Roanoke Star that towers over the city from the top of Mill Mountain.  However, what attracted us was not only its railroad history but its connection with the railroad that remains today.  After the Civil War Roanoke, first known as Big Lick, became the intersection for the Shenandoah Valley Railroad and the Norfolk & Western (formerly the Virginia and Tennessee) and thus a Railroad Town was born.  Without the rich coal veins throughout the Appalachian mountains, Richmond probably would not have had such rapid growth.  Today its population is around the 100,000 mark and although there have been many changes in the railroad over the years it is still a railroad town - not just a historical footnote!   The railroad is still a "hub" that holds a thriving downtown area together.  Naturally, that brings joy to the hearts of train buffs.  Our first trip to Roanoke was for a photo shoot at the Virginia Museum of Transportation.  We soon discovered that the city had much more to offer as well.  We wound up visiting Roanoke three times in 2017 and each time brought us new experiences.

First a Railroad Update:  On Oct 31, 2017, passenger service resumed in Roanoke after a 38 year hiatus. Oh Joy!  You can now board the train in Roanoke at 6:19am and arrive in Washington D.C. Union Station at 11:20am!  It can even return you back to Roanoke by 10pm the same evening.  This is going to open up many future business opportunities.  You can also go on to New York and Boston.  Round trip from Roanoke to Washington DC is $72.  That sounds fantastic to us!  You can bet that 2018 is going to find us passengers on this train!  Roanoke has built a new covered passenger platform and parking lot directly across the street that will make it easy for us to take advantage of another new adventure.  

Roanoke Amtrak Boarding Platform - Dale R. Carlson

Roanoke Amtrak Boarding Platform - Dale R. Carlson

We love the fact that the train will drop you in the heart of city and reminds us of the many trips we took in European cities and never needed a car!  You can get off the train and head to one of our favorite hotels by foot  -  the Hotel Roanoke.  This grande dame was built by Norfolk and Western Railroad and opened on Christmas Day 1882.  The decorations at Christmas time are breath taking and take you back in time!  They serve a luxurious breakfast in the dining room that is definitely worth the price and will start off your Roanoke visit in style.

Hotel Roanoke - Dale R. Carlson

Hotel Roanoke - Dale R. Carlson

There are so many things to do in Roanoke that we will definitely not be able to cover all of them.  This city has much to offer from museums, shopping, dining and great views!  Hopefully, once you have read our photo blog, you'll make an internet search for the things that appeal to you.  We started with the Virginia Museum of Transportation and not only found many wonderful trains to photograph but a wonderful history lesson.  For us, the Virginia Creeper Steam Engine No. 6 was of great interest since this railroad not only came through our town, West Jefferson NC, but was the reason our town was founded in 1915.  However, there is something for everyone and all ages in the museum.  

Virginia Creeper No 6 (Virginia Museum of Transportation) - Dale R. Carlson

Virginia Creeper No 6 (Virginia Museum of Transportation) - Dale R. Carlson

Another favorite of ours is the O. Winston Link Museum.  O. Winston Link was a commercial photographer who captured the end of the steam engine era in the 1950s.  He mastery of lighting for night shots was amazing for the time.  With photographs and audio his collection is a stellar piece of history.  The museum is in the restored Norfolk and Western Railroad passenger depot.  Also right downtown you can find the Taubman Museum of Art, the Science Museum of Western Virginia and the Roanoke Pinball Museum.  

The heart of downtown Roanoke is the City Market Building.  It covers a city block filled with independent restaurants and retail entrepreneurs.  The open-air Farmers Market is the oldest continuously operating market in the Common Wealth of Virginia.  It is open 7 days a week all year round!  No matter the season it is an amazing experience.

Roanoke City Market Building - Dale R. Carlson

Roanoke City Market Building - Dale R. Carlson

Roanoke Farmers Market - Dale R. Carlson

Roanoke Farmers Market - Dale R. Carlson

Shopping is always a personal experience but there are many wonderful shops in the downtown area as well.  You will love being able to walk around seeing the sights as well as being drawn in by the many wonderful window displays.  A personal favorite is The Gypsy Palooza.  A young designer that is still affordable.  Definitely a gypsy style that captivates! Another unique experience is Tink's Place.  We were drawn in by the magical window display.  Since we have been known as Tink & Pan for a very long time, you can bet we couldn't wait to go inside!  Be sure to stop by and tell them the Bluemoonistic Team sent you!  

Tink's Place - Dale R. Carlson

Tink's Place - Dale R. Carlson

Gypsy Palooza - Dale R. Carlson

Gypsy Palooza - Dale R. Carlson

Roanoke is definitely a photogenic city and we took every advantage of it.   We even found a friendly tourist who took a photo of us at the top of the science museum in the city square!  Great place to start or end your tour of the city!  A city in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains is a true gem!  

Dale & Becky Carlson (The Bluemoonistic Team) in Roanoke VA   www.bluemoonistic.com

Dale & Becky Carlson (The Bluemoonistic Team) in Roanoke VA 

www.bluemoonistic.com

A Tweetsie Christmas

Tweetsie Christmas Train - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Tweetsie Christmas Train - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

There is nothing like the nostalgia of a 100 year old steam engine in action, but add in the fact that the entire train is decorated with bright Christmas lights and you have magic!  This is the atmosphere that the Tweetsie Railroad theme park has created to give your family a true holiday experience for all ages. A night-time ride through the Blue Ridge Mountains on a lighted train is exciting on its own, but when you can sit in an open train car and take in thousands of sparkling Christmas light displays while bundled up with loved ones singing Christmas carols, it brings the whole experience to another level.  As the Bluemoonistic Team boarded the train with excited, bouncing children, grandparents in lighted Santa hats, and Tweetsie RR Conductors in elegant 18th Century attire, we saw nothing but a sea of smiling faces.  The stresses of our lives did not exist in that world.  Nostalgia is a wonderful thing but the best part was seeing what it did for everyone in the here and now!  From the minute you enter the grounds you know you are in for a holiday treat.

Tweetsie Entrance - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Tweetsie Entrance - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

It's a short 20 minute ride so we didn't even notice the cold.  The piped in Christmas music with the words on the TV screens offered a variety of cheerful voices.  A little boy in the seat behind us must have said "Lookie Daddy" a gazillion times and it gave us smiles thinking back to days when our son did the same thing.  There were young lovers bundled up in blankets, older couples holding hands and, of course, the modern day phenomenon of hundreds of phones snapping selfies.  

While waiting to board Dale was naturally taking lots of photos and of course his cell phone never left his pocket.  The steam and lights on the train and tracks in the photo below captures the enchantment that he feels for trains.  

Steamin' Christmas - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Steamin' Christmas - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Here is just a small taste of the sights and sounds we saw as #12 pulled out of the Tweetsie Station for you!

To make your experience even better there is a Christmas tree lot right in the Tweetsie parking lot so you can pick out the perfect Christmas tree for your family before you head home.  Our own locally owned tree farm, Hart-t-Trees, from Ashe County NC is there to offer you a fresh cut tree in any size that will definitely keep the season real!  

Hart-t-Tree Farms Tree Lot - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Hart-t-Tree Farms Tree Lot - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Tweetsie Railroad is a family oriented theme park in Blowing Rock, NC that has been operating since 1957.  It offers wild-west entertainment that has kept families coming back generation after generation.  The Christmas train ride is a first for them this year and we happen to believe it will indeed become another family tradition far into the future.  Thanks for the memories from the Bluemoonistic Team!

All Photos by Dale R. Carlson - Bluemoonistic Images Photographer

All Photos by Dale R. Carlson - Bluemoonistic Images Photographer

 

 

Hoo Hoo The Santa Train is back!

The Santa Train Arrives in Kingsport - November 18, 2017 -- Photo by Dale R. Carlson

The Santa Train Arrives in Kingsport - November 18, 2017 -- Photo by Dale R. Carlson

The Santa Train has been rolling through the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee along the routes of the former Clinchfield Railroad since 1943 and has become a family tradition ever since.  Local businessmen in Kingsport TN decided that year that they wanted to do something special for their neighboring small coalfield communities to thank them for their patronage.  They had the idea of a Special Christmas Train that would deliver gifts to the children along the route.  The Clinchfield railroad officials immediately saw the public relation benefits also and were glad to help the Kingsport group set up "The Santa Claus Special".  Originally it only consisted of only one car and a few toys and candy that were thrown out to the kids along the tracks.  It was the middle of WW II and may have been the only gifts the kids received.   It has grown today to include 14 stops and 15 tons of toys!  However, the Bluemoonistic Team was witness to the fact that it is still about the children and the Christmas spirit!     

We doubt that Flem Dobyns of the Dobyns-Taylor Hardware Store and Bill Waddell of the Kingsport Times-News who came up with this idea had any idea how the tradition would grow and continue to this day!   This year was the 75th Anniversary of  "The Santa Train" as it is called today.   In all these years there have amazingly only been four men who played Santa: Joe Higgins (1943-44), John Dudley (1945-83), Frank Brogden (1984-2002), Don Royston (2002-present).  In the beginning Santa would return to Kingsport and join in their Christmas parade, but as the crowds have grown the town decided this year to move the parade to December 2 and the local sponsors set up what they called "Santa's Depot" in the Kingsport Centennial Park.  

Santa's Depot - Kingsport Centennial Park - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Santa's Depot - Kingsport Centennial Park - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Staying with tradition Santa's Depot  was set up with all kinds of fun activities for the kids and their families to enjoy while they waited for the Santa Train to bring the jolly old man to his final destination.  Christmas activities were set up in booths all around the park and created a wonderful down home atmosphere that made everyone smile.  There was a booth to write letters to Santa and they got to see him pick them up personally when he arrived!  The children received reindeer horns and Santa Hats at another booth that created a sea of tiny reindeer parading around waiting for Santa.  There were many photo ops where parents could help their children get into the spirit.  A beautiful bronze Santa in the park called "Spirit of Generosity" created by local artist Val Lyle's gave the kids another photo op!  The photos could be emailed to their homes as well as printing them out on the spot for everyone to admire.  There were Christmas cookies, a booth to allow kids to make Christmas wishes that were made into a chain, Christmas coloring books and even live reindeer!  One was definitely a Prancer look alike!  Keeping with the Santa Train tradition all these activities were free to everyone and once again sponsored by the local businesses.    

Letters to Santa - Photo by Dale R Carlson

Letters to Santa - Photo by Dale R Carlson

Photo by Dale R.  Carlson

Photo by Dale R.  Carlson

Bronze Santa - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Bronze Santa - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Santa's Reindeer (Prancer?) - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Santa's Reindeer (Prancer?) - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

The Bluemoonistic Team wandered around clicking photo after photo of smiling faces on children and adults alike.  The park was decorated with Whoville style balloon trees and lots of costumed volunteers making sure everything ran smoothly.  The crowds were definitely there for the children's joy and it showed.  We have never experience such a polite crowd!  There must have been three to four hundred people in the park by the time the Santa Train arrived but with all the fun activities no one minded the wait. 

When the Santa Train pulled into the town folks were cheering and waving.  Little children were hoisted up on Mom and Dad's shoulders so they could get a glimpse of Santa and hundreds of little hands were waving and shouting "Hi Santa"!  It was a sea of holiday cheer that made all hearts grow in size. 

Ricky Skaggs was on the Santa Train this year helping the Elves pass out gifts.  When he arrived in Kingsport, he joined his band along with his wife, Sharon White and treated the crowd to a concert.  It had to have been a long day for him but he put on a great performance and seemed to be having a good time along with the crowd.  It was the perfect end to a special day for us. 

Ricky Skaggs & Sharon White - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Ricky Skaggs & Sharon White - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Of course, since we love trains, we have heard about the Santa Train for years, but experiencing it in person was even more magical than we imagined.  CSX brought out of retirement a special engine to lead the train this year - the first diesel engine acquired by the Clinchfield RR in 1948.  The Clinchfield 800 was a splendid sight to behold for train lovers and probably brought out even more people for the occasion.  We admire all the effort that goes into an event like this, the sponsors give a lot more than just money to this project.  It shows!   If you listen to Patty Loveless sing the song titled "Santa Train" you will get the feel for why this is such a special event in Appalachia!  Put it on your playlist this holiday season!  Hoo Hoo...

The Santa Train arrives in Kingsport for the 75th time!  Photo by Dale R. Carlson

The Santa Train arrives in Kingsport for the 75th time!  Photo by Dale R. Carlson

The Resilience of a Small Mountain Town

Helen, GA  photo by Dale R. Carlson

Helen, GA  photo by Dale R. Carlson

There is a tiny town tucked away in the mountains of Georgia referred to as Alpine Helen.  With only 542 residents it draws thousands of tourists every year.  The evolution of this town through history is an amazing story!  The area began as the center for Cherokee culture.  The oldest road in Georgia began outside of Helen when the Cherokee granted the Unicoi Turnpike could be built in 1813 for white settlers.  Sadly, this was later to be the very same road the Cherokee used to exit the area on their "Trail of Tears".   

Unicoi Turnpike - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Unicoi Turnpike - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Gold was discovered in the Nacoochee Valley (now known as Helen Valley) in 1828.  Thousands of miners and tons of gold transformed the valley.  Extensive mining was carried out until the end of the century.  This brought on another group of opportunists who saw the value of the virgin timber and large lumber companies arrived.  Timber naturally brought the railroads as well to ship the timber.  The lumber companies located along the Chattahoochee River and this began the mystery of where Helen got its name.  A variety of stories have "Miss Helen" as the daughter of a variety of men from a sawmill owner, mill manager, surveyor, an official of the North Western Railroad and perhaps even the man who founded the town.  A book called "The Story of Helen" by Matt Gedney gives a great description about finding the correct Helen.  Naturally Helen became quite prosperous again.  However, when the timber was gone the lumber operations ended in 1931.  Once again the opportunists moved on and by the 1960 Helen was nothing but a row of sad looking concrete buildings.

In 1968 a group of local businesses got together to discuss what they could do to change the sad conditions of their town.  Now comes our favorite part - they decided to consult a local artist for ideas.  Yep, an artist!  His name was John Kollock who lived in nearby Clarksville.  He was known for his watercolors of Georgia landscapes.  They asked Kollock if he had any ideas how they might dress up their buildings in town.  Kollock visited Helen took photographs and presented the business with watercolor sketches the next week.  His idea of turning the town into an Alpine village came from his time being stationed in Bavaria while in the Army.  His idea was embraced by the business men and work began almost immediately.  Thus, modern day Alpine Helen was born!  

It sounds simple but think about it -- what if they had asked a marketing firm!  No disrespect to marketing firms but my gut tells me that only an artist could have created such a beautiful concept.  Kollock was thinking beauty first!  He had few expectations that his idea would be embraced by the town but to his surprise ALL the downtown businesses agreed even though they had little faith that profit could come from tourism.  Things moved quickly once local builders J.S. Chastain and Roy Sims came on board.  They began working on the first buildings less than a month after the idea of renovation was first discussed.  Most of the old downtown buildings were converted before the end of 1969 and things never slowed down.  This was something new in the Georgia mountains and the novelty brought crowds immediately.  Helen was an instant success!  Civic cooperation, imagination and determined locals created nothing short of a miracle for their community.  Kollock himself also went around down and added his artistic touch by adding paintings of local history on the white Bavarian stucco.  This also brought him commercial success for his sketches, watercolors and books.  In our opinion this is the perfect marriage of art and business.  Oh what a wonderful world it would be if this could always be so!

Downtown Helen today - photo by Dale R. Carlson

Downtown Helen today - photo by Dale R. Carlson

Downtown Helen GA - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Downtown Helen GA - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

As the years went on many changes and new additions have been made in Helen.  Since we had lived in Germany for three years, it was a treat to once again to eat German cuisine, drink German beer and experience a trip down memory lane.  Our visit coincided with the last weekend of the famous Oktoberfest!  The event in their Festhalle transported us back to Munich.  They truly have captured the authenticity.  

Festhalle during Oktoberfest in Helen GA - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Festhalle during Oktoberfest in Helen GA - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Helen's story is unique but there are definitely things that other communities can learn from them.  They are not a theme park, they are real people who set out to change their town for the better and continue to do so.  So when you hear someone in your community rail against tourism remember that the meaning of the tourism is traveling for pleasure.  Helen definitely left us feeling as if we had a pleasurable experience.  Our next visit is going to be see their traditional German Christkindlmarkt.  When you want to go back again you know it was a good travel choice! 

Helen GA at Night - Photo by Dale R. Carlson

Helen GA at Night - Photo by Dale R. Carlson