“Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning,….”
Especially when you get to visit family!
Last April, we spent a couple of weeks with our son and his wife visiting, sightseeing, gardening, and relaxing. North Carolina is gorgeous this time of year. Trees are leafing out, azaleas are in full bloom, the sun is shining, and Spring is in full swing!
We spent our two weeks in the Fayetteville area camped at the Smith Lake Army RV Park. This FHU campground is open to the military and their families. It is a very nice campground set up on the hillside overlooking Smith Lake and surrounded by acres of pine forest and rolling meadows. Miles of hiking trails weave around the campground and the recreation area. We took full advantage of the trails. Hiking the 5-mile loop was a terrific way to start each day. It was quiet and peaceful, except for the fact that it lies directly in the flight path for Simmons Army Airfield. But, we didn’t mind at all. It was fun to run outside to see the different aircraft flying overhead.
Airborne and Special Operations Museum
Located in the heart of Historic Downtown Fayetteville is the Airborne and Special Operations Museum which honors those brave men and women who are a part of those daring units of the military. Upon arrival at the museum, visitors are greeted by Iron Mike, a statue representing a World War II paratrooper who has just jumped into battle. This 3,000 lb, 16-foot tall statue sets the tone for the museum, filling guests with a sense of awe and respect. Within the museum’s walls visitors can learn about the history of the Airborne program from its inception in 1940 to present day operations. Exhibits include detailed information as well as static displays of weaponry and equipment. A wall in the lobby displays the names of the 77 Congressional Medal of Honor recipients who received their honor while assigned to an airborne or special operations unit. Admission is FREE, but donations are graciously accepted. Please check the website for days and hours of operation.
Just across the parking lot from the museum is the North Carolina Veterans Park, a lovely park dedicated to the citizens of North Carolina who have served in all branches of the military. Though the visitor center was heavily damaged by Hurricane Matthew last fall and is temporarily closed, the outside gardens and sculptures can be enjoyed by all. The park was designed with North Carolinians in mind. Soil from each of the state’s 100 counties was incorporated into the walls and sculptures of the park. And to further give homage to the residents of the state, hand casts of 100 people, one from each county, are displayed as a representation of the raised hand of military men and women when they take the oath. It is truly a wonderful place to ponder and reflect upon the brave men and women who serve and protect our country.
Cape Fear Botanical Gardens
My kids know me well enough that if “visiting a botanical garden” is on a list of possible activities, I’m ready and rarin’ to go. The Cape Fear Botanical Garden, located in the heart of Fayetteville, is 80 acres of pure beauty.
Positioned alongside the Cape Fear River, the CFBG offers visitors an opportunity to see various perennial and annual blooms nestled amongst pines and hardwood trees as trails wind their way in and out of the forest.
Several water features including ponds, fountains, and the Cape Fear River provide habitats for aquatic plants and wildlife. CFBG offers many classes and programs for the public including yoga and tai chi, homeschool learning classes, Wine & Whimsical painting events, and volunteer-led nature hikes, just to name a few. Bring a picnic basket and plan to spend several hours at the garden. It is a hidden gem in the city of Fayetteville.
I want to make special note of a fabulous restaurant our daughter-in-law introduced us to in downtown Fayetteville. Fayetteville Pie Company, locally owned and operated by two military veterans, serves delicious, homemade savory and sweet personal size pies. The menu is small, offering 3 choices of 6-inch savory pies, such as, white chicken chili, pulled pork & sweet potato, and beef & stout, and 3 choices of 4.5-inch sweet pies, such as, pistachio cream, peanut butter cup, and lemon meringue. The menu changes frequently, to utilize seasonal ingredients and each pie is prepared fresh and in house. No factory-processed, pre-frozen fast food here. You can certainly taste the love and care that goes into each pie. Yum, yum, yum! The small, eat-in restaurant takes no reservations and is open M-F, 11am-2pm. And when the pies that are baked for that day are gone, they are gone. So get there early!
The entire Raleigh-Durham area is a treasure trove of activities for young and old alike. You could spend an entire year exploring countless museums, parks, live theatre, concerts, sporting events, restaurants, etc. Though our schedule didn’t permit a lengthy visit to the city, we did get to experience a few gems.
North Carolina Museum of History
Raleigh has a wonderful downtown area full of eateries and sights to see, including the North Carolina Museum of History, the Museum of Natural Sciences, the State Capitol, and the Governor’s Mansion, all within walking distance of each other. We were able to find FREE on-street parking a block away (which is always a blessing considering the size truck we drive) and there are several paid parking lots in the downtown area. Though we didn’t have time this trip to visit the Museum of Natural Sciences, we did visit all three other sites.
The North Carolina Museum of History is by far one of the best FREE museums we have ever visited. (Donations are very much appreciated). Beautiful, informative displays educate visitors about the people and events that helped shape the history of the Tar Heel State. (And when you visit, you’ll even learn why North Carolinians are called “Tar Heels!”) Exhibits range from a walk through 14,000 years of NC history to the NC Sports Hall of Fame; from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s to a recreated 1920’s drugstore; and of course, proudly displayed are the Wright Brothers Flyer and Glider. All exhibits and displays are not only educational, but attractive and very well-maintained.
Of particular interest to me, given my 10 years as costumer with Carnation City Players, was a temporary exhibit “Made Especially for You by Willie Kay.” This exhibit showcased the extraordinary talent and popularity of North Carolina’s premiere dressmaker, Willie Otey Kay. Miss Willie, an African-American, overcame poverty and the racial boundaries of her day to become the most sought after dress designer of the rich and famous of Raleigh high society. Without using any commercial patterns, Willie Kay created exquisite bridal gowns, formals, and debutante ball gowns. Not given to creating a “fashion statement” with her designs, instead, Miss Willie meticulously handcrafted each garment to flatter the customer and as a result, those dresses were unique, beautiful, and treasured. Many of Miss Willie’s creations were on display at the museum, generously on loan from several Raleigh-area families.
The North Carolina State Capitol
Just a few steps away from the museum complex is the North Carolina State Capitol, one of the best preserved examples of a Greek Revival style civic building. Self-guided tours are available throughout the building with the house of representatives and senate chambers restored to their full 1840’s glory. You can stroll through the State Library and the State Geologist Room and take a seat in the “peanut gallery” of the House and Senate chambers, imagining what the discussions must have been like on the floor during the time of the Civil War. Though most of the government and legislative offices have moved to new locations, the governor’s and lieutenant-governor’s office remain on the first floor. The grounds surrounding the Capitol are beautifully landscaped and maintained, with benches providing a place to rest after a busy day of sightseeing.
We have never been “park ourselves on the beach and do nothing” kind of people. I know that is the ideal vacation for some, and that’s fine, it’s just never been appealing to us,….until this visit. Our visit to the coast landed on the kind of spring day guaranteeing all of us that winter was indeed finally over and promising the advent of summer. The sky was deep blue with puffy white clouds. The temperature was a perfect 78 degrees. A light, salty breeze was blowing in off the ocean. As the sun shone on our bare arms and legs, we could feel Vitamin D coursing through our veins. Digging our toes into the cool, damp sand, we were in heaven.
Carolina Beach State Park
Located south of Wilmington is Carolina Beach State Park. The 761-acre park is on Pleasure Island, a triangle shaped piece of land sandwiched between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean. As with all North Carolina state parks, entrance to the park is FREE. Though no swimming is allowed in the park because of dangerous currents and drop-offs, there are plenty of other activities to keep you busy, such as, picnicking, camping, hiking, boating, and ranger-led programs.
It was a beautiful day for a hike, not too hot or buggy, so we took advantage of the seven miles of hiking trails, wandering through many different habitats like hardwood and pine forests, a tidal cypress-gum marsh, and wetlands. The Flytrap Trail is a very popular .35-mile trail. There were many of us present that day, with eyes glued to the path, cameras at the ready, trying to find the elusive Venus Flytrap. The Venus Flytrap, one of the few carnivorous plants in the world, is native to this region only. We were anxious to see one in the wild, but alas, we were too early in the season. We did, however, see many gorgeous spring blooms and thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the park.
If your travels through the Tar Heel State take you anywhere close to Mt. Airy, you have to spend a day in Mayberry. Growing up watching The Andy Griffith Show, we were excited to walk down the streets of the town that served as the inspiration for the classic TV show. It’s all there, Floyd’s Barbershop, Otis’s jail cell, Goober’s filling station, and the courthouse that served as Andy’s office. It made us long for the days when programs on TV actually had some redeeming value. And knowing that Andy Griffith lived a humble life and poured a lot of his money back into his hometown made us respect him even more. It was a fun trip down memory lane for us two Baby Boomers.
Fun with the kids, hiking, gardening
The highlight of our visit to North Carolina, of course, was spending time with our kids. Whether it was shopping, hiking, gardening, sightseeing, having a BBQ, or just relaxing on their back porch, it was a sweet time for making memories.