Finding Wonder


Article by Sue G. Collins

Photography by Sue G. Collins

While travel has been curbed for me during the last 10 months, I decided to venture out recently on a road trip from Atlanta to explore the nearby North Carolina mountain towns of Banner Elk and Blowing Rock. My grown kids shook their fingers at me, reminded me of the death tolls and relentlessness of the virus, and begged me to be careful. I postponed the trip a few times, then packed my masks, sanitizing wipes, disposable gloves, hand sanitizer, and warm clothes and headed north in November. With the reassurance from the good people at The Chetola Resort, I confidently reviewed a sporty itinerary that included outdoor shooting at the Chetola Sporting Reserve, fly fishing with their Orvis Endorsed guide and patio dining near the fireplace at Timberlake's.

I stopped in Banner Elk, NC, for the night, ordered food to go from Stonewalls, where the new owners, Scott Garland and chef Tim Heschke, offer up a chef-driven menu and heated patio dining. Still squeamish about being out and about, I spread out my dinner on the dining table at the sweet  Perry House Bed & Breakfast where host Mike Dunn reassured me of the cleanliness and safety he and his wife and co-host provide. Mike suggested a hike at Grandfather Mountain. Buy tickets online and enjoy a winding road up nearly 6,000 feet. A unit of the United Nations’ Southern Appalachian Man and Biosphere Reserve, the mountain is estimated to be 300 million years old.  – with certain rock formations dating back 1.2 billion years. There are easy trails through meadows and more challenging trails around the back. After being rather cooped up over the last year, I headed to The Black Rock Nature Trail, parking at the Hiker’s Parking Area (three curves below the summit) with a wide-angle view of the Swinging Bridge, MacRae and Attic Window Peaks, as well as Beacon Heights and Grandmother Mountain to the southwest. I only passed two other hikers during my two-hour hike (a young family with Mom hauling a 1-year-old in a backpack carrier!). The trail led me to an opening where I had to climb this ladder to enjoy the view. I did it and I did!

The Chetola Resort is a lovely property, with condos and inn rooms, outdoor fire pits, patio space for fresh air dining and socially distanced tables indoors. All staff was wearing masks (though some guests seemed indifferent and we steered clear of them). It's a pleasant walk to downtown Blowing Rock, which was teeming with shoppers while shop owners tried hard to offer safe conditions. Back at the resort, I wandered the trails and adjoining 3,600-acre Moses Cone Park.

A few hours on the Watauga River on private waters with Orvis-endorsed guide Dustin Coffey helped me ground, wading comfortably after a brief lesson and reminder that we were in a no-politics zone. Fair and appreciated. My husband caught a Southern Slam (brown, bow and brookie) in a quiet pool while I clambered up and down the river and found a few brown and rainbow trout willing to put up a fight. Fly fishing is a perfect socially distanced sport and I am enamored! Dustin provided all the gear and takes individuals and groups onto private waters where the living is easy and fish await.

The folks at Chetola's Sporting Reserve welcomed us later, with a masked briefing and a tour of the 5 Stand Clay Station, 13 Station Sporting Clay Course, Pistol & Rifle Range and Archery Range that dot the 67 acres of rural rolling terrain. The reserve stands among towering pines, red maples, and mighty oaks, and surrounded by the incredible Blue Ridge vistas in the heart of the gated Blue Ridge Mountain Club. This is a video of a few curves along the way as we drove into the Chetola Sporting Reserve. WHEEEEE!


Getting away did me a world of good. I was vigilant and for the most part, felt safe on a driving road trip during a pandemic. The rolling hills of western North Carolina served up a reminder that life goes on in the face of adversity, for those of us who are blessed to be roaming this beautiful earth. May you roam and find peace and wonder. Safely.

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