Tour the backroads of western North Carolina

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 2, 2011

By Deirdre Parker Smith
SALISBURY — Now that we take “staycations” (a dumb word, but there you go), limiting ourselves to day trips or long weekends, we need inspiration for the next excursion.
Carolyn Sakowski of John F. Blair, Publisher, has updated her popular travel book, “Touring the Western North Carolina Backroads” just in time for Christmas. And you know what follows Christmas, don’t you? January, the longest, dullest month of the year.
Touring the book offers a little armchair travel and will spark ideas of where to go, maybe on one of those boring January weekends, weather permitting.
Judging by the contents of previous editions, the book is a fun way to plan a trip, and it does get you off the only thing more boring than January — the Interstate highways.
This book provides 21 tours of two-lane roads that harbor great scenery as well as forgotten landmarks and historic sites. And the tours all come with a piece that explains the context of the site or the tour itself.
The tours take readers (and travelers) from the Northern mountains, near Virginia, to the Southwestern corner of the state, where North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee converge.
In that territory, you will find Cherokee lore, local legend, colonial tales and of course, the weird stories that attract the curious.
It’s not just history, though. There are hikes to take and waterfalls to appreciate.
This new edition has, according to a press release from Blair, updated directions, added sites, new photography and a list of recreation nearby the sites, if want to extend your tour.
Sakowski, now the president of Blair, must have been burning the midnight oil to get all of this done, along with her duties heading up the Winston-Salem publisher. Blair specializes in regional non-fiction, and has put out a series of “Touring the Backroads.”
Blair says she drove more than 4,000 miles to update this edition. That’s not a day trip. That’s a pilgrimmage.
The first edition of the book came out in 1990, after Sakowski, who has a master’s degree in history from Appalachian State University, spent hours in local libraries looking up interesting bits about the mountain counties.
She was pleased to find that 20 years later, many of the same sites remain undisturbed, and some endangered areas have since been preserved.
And once privately-held areas like Chimney Rock and Grandfather Mountain have been preserved as state parks.
Speaking from experience, I have enjoyed the books and the tours, and found some places I never would have ventured to otherwise.
We were lucky enough to have dinner at the former — in my mind, the late — Esmeralda Inn near Chimney Rock. It burned to the ground some years later. Film stars like Clark Gable and Gloria Swanson stayed there while filming in the area.
Some of the highlights Blair suggests:
• Best Easy Hike to a Waterfall — Pearson’s Falls, located on U.S. 176 between Saluda and Tryon, is a 90-foot waterfall made accessible by an easy quarter-mile trail. En route, the trail passes more than 200 species of ferns, as well as various species of mosses, trilliums and orchids.
• Best Eccentric Character —A bronze plaque on a massive slab of granite on the side of N.C. 107 between Cashiers and Cullowhee denotes the boyhood home of Dr. John R. Brinkley. Brinkley was known for his goat-gland operations that supposedly created marvels of sexual potency in thousands of patients in the 1920s and 30s. He was also the father of the border radio stations that made musical groups such as the Carter Family famous.

Signing and slide show
Carolyn Sakowski will be at Literary Bookpost, 110 S. Main St., on Friday, Dec. 9, at 5 p.m. to sign books and present a slide show of some of the areas she visited for her update of “Touring the Western North Carolina Backroads.”