On a recent walk with my daughter Pitt, she asked me if a lot of people come to North Carolina from out of the state to go on vacation.
The first image in my mind was a picture of an Ohio license plate, which is often as common as a North Carolina plate is at the beach during the summertime.
“Yes,” I told her. “Lots of people come to North Carolina for vacation, as a matter of fact.”
Those of us of a certain age remember the advertising campaign created by the state to market North Carolina as a Variety Vacationland. And, of course, it is.
The mountains fill one end of the state, while the coast draws another crowd to the eastern end of North Carolina. But even in between those vacation magnets, North Carolina is a remarkable state to visit.
When I was in college, it was our habit to visit in the homes of fraternity brothers, from time to time. I spent a few weekends in Lincoln County, northwest of Charlotte, where the red clay soil gets slick when it rains, but where the agrarian beauty of the region really shines through. I spent time in Union County, southeast of Charlotte where you can’t help but feel the presence of Andrew Jackson, whose birthplace is along the South Carolina line in that county.
And, there was time spent in Ashe County, where North Carolina meets both Virginia and Tennessee. The glory of the mountains is evident there and the music scene is prolific. I spent a couple hours in a an old country store listening to a group of men play in an impromptu jam session. Most any customer who walked into that store could buy their nabs while they listened to the live bluegrass. Those are magnificent experiences you don’t get just anywhere. But that’s part of what makes North Carolina such a fascinating state.
Aside from the history, I’m struck by the natural beauty that any traveler in North Carolina might encounter. One of the most beautiful places I’ve seen is right off U.S. 1 at the Franklin-Vance line. The Tar River establishes that border and the rolling hills you see as you approach the river are gorgeous pastureland. If that kind of passive beauty isn’t enough for you, take a trip along US 64 between Highlands and Cashiers in the far western part of the state. There, the same U.S. 64 we all use every day is just a curvy two-lane road. At one point along the way, you pass a waterfall that cascades water down the side of a rock outcropping just a few feet from the roadway. Windshield wipers are always required.
To our east, it’s hard to drive through New Bern without taking time to tour Tryon Palace. And, though it’s a fairly new recreation of the original palace, it is a magnificent opportunity to learn about the state and walk through gardens so beautiful it makes you rue the day you ever tried to plant some azaleas in your own yard. North Carolina’s river mouths generate a similar sense of awe and, because they aren’t the most obvious tourist destinations, they often give visitors a much-more reasonably priced experience.
My daughter’s question prompted a lot of thoughts and memories on my part. She pointed out that, since she lives in North Carolina, she doesn’t consider it much of a vacation destination. I suppose that’s true for many of us.
That’s likely the reason behind the state’s latest promotional effort: Discover the state you’re in.