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Stepping Out of Bounds in Glacier National Park: Day 3

Canada. Like America, but with bigger beers.

Day Three: Canada. Like America, but with bigger beers.

It was breakfast in the car because we had an ambitious day planned. First, we had to make an hour drive from St. Mary to Waterton Park in Canada. Then, we needed to stop at the visitors’ center to pick up our backcountry camping permit for that night. Finally, we had to make a 30 minute drive to Cameron Lake where John and Teresa would drop us off at the Carthew Alderson trailhead before heading back to Waterton Village to do their own hike at Bertha Lake.

The rain and gray skies had cleared out and we were treated to a bright blue sky day.

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Matt and I had tried to hike Carthew Alderson 4 years earlier, but had actually been snowed out. SNOWED OUT. IN AUGUST. We had a perfect day to do the hike this time. The mirror-like views from Cameron Lake were outstanding. I knew we were in for a fantastic day.

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Carthew Alderson is a one way hike, stretching 12 miles from Cameron Lake and ending in Waterton Village. Gaining just over 2000 vertical feet in the first 5 miles, I knew the first half of this hike would have my gluteus maximi screaming with rage.

The first mile took us through a deep, quiet forest. It was early morning and the dew was still thick on the leaves. As we went up, up, and up the endless switchbacks, there was no sound except the soft padding of our feet on the trail.

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That, and my heaving breath.

Matt leapt up the mountain like a gazelle.

At just over a mile, we reached Summit Lake, an absolutely stunning spot to stop for some water and beef jerky.

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And an oxygen break for those of us who hadn’t just leapt up the mountain like a gazelle.

Gazelle, my ass. I was breathing like a 3 legged elephant in labor.

With twins.

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When Matt asked me why in God’s name I was wearing blue pants, I responded that I was going for a “cute outdoorsy lumberjack” look. He said I had achieved a “deranged elf” look.

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From the lake, the trail turned steeply uphill, climbing the exposed face of Mount Carthew. As the trail broke free of the trees, I saw the thin zig-zagging line that showed me where I was headed.

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Dear Lord. Why do I do these things to myself?

At this point I was hoping my tights were Superman tights and would give me superhuman powers. Like the power to keep walking uphill until I died. And then keep walking.

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We climbed for what seemed like DAYS when we reached a loose scree slope. One wrong move and I would slide down that mountain. Forever. I’d end up in Mexico.

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Eventually, we reached the windy summit. It was simply magnificent.

THIS is why I do these things to myself.

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We spun in a circle, taking in the very enormity of it.

The views stretched in every direction as far as the eye could see.

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When I started getting dizzy from all that spinning (very Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music like), Matt decided we needed to head down the other side before I ended up falling and sliding to Mexico. At least they would be able to find the body thanks to my superblue pants.

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As we descended toward the Carthew Lakes, the views simply got more surreal. It was hard to take in so much beauty.

It was just so BIG.

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We stopped between the lakes for a trail lunch of a turkey club wrap, fig bars, and baby carrots with hummus. With a view of the lake below us and a waterfall above us, it was simply awesome.

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We continued our way down, down, down, past lakes, past waterfalls, through the valley…and then it was all over. Despite the grunt factor, the hike had been amazing. It’s hard to put into words how I feel when I am out there, staring up at that enormous sky, surrounded by towering mountains, looking ahead for miles and not seeing another soul.

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When John and Teresa dropped us off, none of us had any idea what time we would finish. We were all meeting at Cameron Falls in Waterton Village, where our trail ended. Taking a wild guess, I had suggested they meet us there at 4:00. Guess what time we walked out at Cameron Falls?

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(It was the Superman tights. I told you they had super powers).

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We rewarded ourselves with ice-cream and set off for another hike.

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No. I am not kidding.

Sure, my legs felt like spaghetti noodles made out of jello, but that was no reason not to throw on a 25 lb. pack and hike back to a campsite, now was it?

Dear Lord. Why do I do these things to myself?

I managed to do the hike back to Crandall Lake campground by doing it with a giant 16 oz can of Johnny Appleseed Hard Cider. We all need a little help sometimes.

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The trail to Crandall Lake had more uphill than I remembered, but the hike was still relatively short and easy. It would have been easier if I hadn’t been belching up apple flavored beer.

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Crandall Lake is an idyllic spot. The small lake is surrounded by mountains. The tent sites are nestled on one end of the lake in the woods.

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The best part? You can have a fire.

Most backcountry campsites don’t allow fires, but I made it a point on this trip to find those that did. There is nothing like sitting by a crackling fire after a long day of hiking. Sure, it makes you go to bed smelling like a hobo, but camping doesn’t exactly make you smell like a rose anyway.

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I made dinner while the guys got us a fire going: Rice topped with chicken and a spicy chipotle sauce, green beans and roasted potatoes, and herbed cheese rolls from the Polebridge Mercantile. While we ate, I had a surprise hidden in the fire: orange fudge cakes (hollowed out oranges filled with devil’s food cake batter, wrapped in foil, and left in the fire to cook to a delightfully gooey consistency).

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De-licious!

We enjoyed the warmth of the crackling fire until it started to get dark, then it was time to head to the tents for a good night’s sleep.

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Posted by vicki_h 06:46 Archived in USA Tagged hiking camping national_park montana glacier_national_park kalispell Comments (5)

Stepping Out of Bounds in Glacier National Park: Day 2

Two Bears and Counting.

Day Two: Two Bears and Counting.

We woke up to a misty morning at the Lake McDonald campground.

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It was a chilly morning so we warmed up with coffee and cocoa by the fire while I whipped up some peanut butter and banana waffles.

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Our plan was to spend the day getting from the west side of the park to the east side of the park. We thought we’d stop somewhere in between and do a light hike to get us warmed up for the big hikes that would start the following day.

First, we had to hike 2.5 miles back to the car. As we walked, we took in the landscape around us. The Robert Fire of 2003 came during the biggest fire season in Glacier National Park’s history. Due to a combination of draught, high winds, lightning strikes, and human carelessness, 136,000 acres burned that summer. The Robert Fire alone burned almost 60,000 acres.

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Despite the fact that this area had been severely burned only 10 years before, there was beauty everywhere. Life was coming back. A sea of charred, black trees was filled in with endless wildflowers, green grasses, and fresh new saplings.

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When we reached the car, we shoved our overstuffed backpacks into our overstuffed SUV and made the short drive to the Avalanche Lake Trailhead.

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Avalanche Lake is a short, but incredibly scenic, hike. It seemed like a perfect warm-up to get our legs ready for something more challenging.

The trail begins with a pleasant stroll through the Trail of the Cedars, an easy, level loop through cedar giants.

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Rather than looping back to the parking lot, we opted to head up the short, but steep, climb toward Avalanche Lake. After the initial climb, the trail was fairly easy. The entire hike was about 5 miles and only gained 500 feet in elevation.

The views, however, were outstanding. The trail took us through an old growth cedar and hemlock forest.

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Avalanche Gorge, a fiercely rushing cascade of ice blue glacial water running through red rock worn smooth by time and force, offered amazing views on our left.

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Eventually, the trail peeled away from the creek and the deafening crash of the rushing water faded, leaving only the sound of our feet on soft pine needles and the small twitter of distant birds. We were walking through a deep, dark quiet forest. Sunlight filtered through the cedar grove, casting dapples of brightness on the mossy ground, looking like a plush velvet carpet through a fairytale forest.

I was lost in my own, dreamy thoughts, picturing elves hiding behind these wooden giants or imagining fairies, light as air, flitting through the dappled sunlight.

It’s amazing how one word, spoken calmly and quietly, can change everything so quickly.

“BEAR.”

“BEAR. AHEAD. BIG GRIZZLY BEAR CROSSED THE TRAIL RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU,” the people hiking toward us said.

My pucker factor instantly went from a 0 to a 12 on a 10 point scale.

Fairies be damned. I spent the rest of the hike looking for bears.

We never saw the bear and eventually reached the clearing that meant we had reached Avalanche Lake.

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The trail dead-ended into the shores of Avalanche Lake. The lake was surrounded on three sides by towering peaks with streaming waterfalls that formed a bowl shape. The lake sat below them like a mirror.

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We took some time to simply sit and take in the peace of the place before hiking back to the car.

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The parking lot sat next to a nice picnic area with tables along the edge of the creek, so we decided to eat lunch picnic style before driving to St. Mary on the east end of the park.

I made pork burritos with black bean and corn salsa. It’s amazing what you can cook out of the back of an SUV.

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It was about 3:00 when we reached the St. Mary Lodge. We got checked in an grabbed some showers and some naps. We’d only been in Montana for a little over 24 hours and we had already hiked 10 miles. Not used to so much activity, our bodies needed a break!

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Matt and I grabbed some cocktails at St. Mary’s lounge while we waited for John and Teresa to get ready for dinner.

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Our favorite restaurant on the east side, the Park Café, had seen a change of ownership since our last visit and the reviews were not favorable. We decided to try something new: Two Sisters.

As we walked from the car to the door, we saw a big grizzly bear running across the field next door. Two bears in one day? I hoped this wasn't an omen.

Two Sisters was funky. Two Sisters was fun. Two Sisters was purple.

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We all ordered cocktails. Here they are. I am going to let you guess which person belongs to which drink.

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If you guessed mine was the girly pink one, you were wrong.

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It takes a real man to drink a pink martini in Montana.

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I ordered the famous “Red Burger,” aptly named for the spicy Creole sauce that was slathered on top of the giant burger topped with cheese, bacon, mushrooms, and onions.

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John and Teresa both got the “Open Faced Chili Burger.” All I could say was, “Thank goodness you two aren’t sleeping in a tent tonight.” They could have blown that tent into the stratosphere.

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Seriously, that was enough beans to fuel the next launch of the space shuttle. And after burritos for lunch. I didn’t even want to ride in the car with them the next day.

There is one rule in Montana that always stands: No matter how much you eat for dinner, there is always room for PIE!

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As we lay in our rooms at the St. Mary lodge that night, I’m pretty sure I could hear John and Teresa’s beans in the next room.

"Beans, beans, good for your heart....."

Posted by vicki_h 06:55 Archived in USA Tagged hiking camping national_park montana glacier_national_park kalispell Comments (2)

Stepping Out of Bounds in Glacier National Park: Day 1

Let the journey begin.

Ahhhh….Montana. Home of big skies and bigger mountains. The state of open roads, endless valleys, and a river running through it. A place where the soup of the day is whiskey and there are more plaid flannel shirts than a 1991 Pearl Jam concert.

Without really meaning to, we seem to wander back to Montana every couple of years. The call of the mountains is more than we can resist. We can only stay away for so long before we yearn for the crunch of the gravel under our boots on a hiking trail, the chirp of a chubby marmot, and a breath of fresh air.

It was the last week of August and temperatures in the deep south were soaring.

It was time to head to Montana and get lost.

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Day One: Let the journey begin.

While we have flown to Montana under our own power on our most recent trips, we decided to fly commercial thanks to an unbeatable fare. Instead of it taking us 2 full days to get to Kalispell, we left early one Saturday morning and were in Montana by lunch, local time.

The first, very miserable, order of business was to buy groceries and then figure out how to fit 4 adults; 2 oversized suitcases; 2 small suitcases; 4 large backpacks; 3 daypacks; 2 tents; a week’s worth of camping gear, hiking gear, and clothing; and 4 coolers filled with groceries into one standard size SUV with no luggage rack.

There was an inordinate amount of cussing, stomping, and gnashing of teeth, but we finally got it all in there.

Sweet Heavenly Moses.

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By the time we were finished, we looked like a Chinese delivery truck.

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Instead of lunch, we decided on a drive to Polebridge for a 4:00 dinner at the Northern Lights Saloon.

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For us, there is simply no other way to kick off a Glacier National Park vacation than with a long drive up a dirt road for a fistful of pastries, a jar of beer, and a giant slab of homemade huckleberry pie.

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Not wanting to waste a minute, we decided to start our hiking that night. What? Who wouldn’t want to do a 2.5 mile hike at 7:00 p.m. in bear country in an outfit that smelled like huckleberry pie? Just to sweeten the deal, the temps dropped into the high 30s even though it was late August.

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The hike to McDonald Lake campground was a perfect, short jaunt to stretch our legs and help our bodies readjust to our backpacks, which had been in storage for 2 years.

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The sparsely visited campsite was positioned on the western shore of Lake McDonald in an area that had been ravaged by the Roberts Fire of 2003. It doesn’t get many visitors, but we chose it specifically because it was a backcountry campsite that we knew we could make it to in about an hour.

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Despite the remains of the burned trees, the view from the lake was spectacular. It was a cold, cloudy evening, so we didn’t get to enjoy much of a sunset, but it was quiet, peaceful....beautiful.

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The best part of the McDonald Lake campground? You can have a fire!

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Do you know what goes perfectly with a campfire?

Wine and cookies from the Polebridge Merc, of course! Nothing says "glamping" like a paper cup of wine and a greasy, brown paper sack full of cookies.

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The sun completely faded from the sky and it was time to retire to our tents. The two hour time difference meant that we were exhausted even though it was only 9:00 in Montana. As I snuggled down into the warmth of my sleeping bag, I wondered what this trip had in store for us.

Bears? Blisters? Blizzards?

We’d seen it all in our trips to Montana.

I couldn’t wait to wake up and find out what was next.

Posted by vicki_h 12:23 Archived in USA Tagged hiking camping national_park montana glacier_national_park kalispell Comments (4)

That time we went to Asheville and ATE ALL OF THE FOOD

Girls Gone Wild in Asheville, NC

Sometimes, you want to travel to exotic locales like Santorini and sip Vinsanto as the sun sets over the Aegean Sea. Sometimes you want to travel to rugged Montana and hike over mountains and glaciers while munching on a bag of granola and watching for an errant moose. Sometimes you want to do nothing more than spend sun drenched days beside the turquoise waters of the Caribbean with a Pina Colada in hand.

Other days, you just want sparkly shoes, 6 jumbo sized bags of potato chips, 4 girlfriends, and a lot of cake.

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The guys planned a spring fishing trip to the Bahamas, so the girls decided, “What better to do than go away for a weekend where we can spend all their money on shoes?”

Girls trips are the best. There are so many reasons why.

1. You can be a slob.

You don’t have to shower or wear make-up. You can leave your hair in a tangled bun and spend the entire morning in that pair of too-big sweat pants with the holes in the butt and the worn out elastic waist that your husband hates. You don’t have to shave your legs and no one will care.

2. There is no judgment.

Ready for a second bottle of wine? Who cares if it’s only 10:00 a.m. Go for it. Want to sit in the middle of the living room and eat an entire cake in your bathrobe or drink champagne out of the bottle while crying in the bathtub? Go ahead. We’ve all done it. Want to watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians? Secretly EVERYONE wants to see it.

3. You can relax.

I typically get about 10 minutes to myself on a Saturday morning before my husband comes blazing in like the Tasmanian Devil demanding that I fix breakfast, wash his favorite shirt, run 4 miles with him, and help him wash the car simultaneously. And I’m supposed to look sexy and awesome while I do it. A Saturday morning with the girls means 4 hours in your pajamas while doing nothing more strenuous than eating a doughnut while reading trashy gossip magazines. Not to mention the rest of the day will likely include piles of comfort food, some sort of spa treatment, and a champagne lunch somewhere with chandeliers.

4. Talk, talk, talk.

Has your husband every shushed you while you were talking because you are interrupting the T.V.? Yeah. Don’t act like you don't know what I’m talking about. The best thing about a weekend with the girls is that we all talk. All the time. Forever. And no one minds. We actually get uncomfortable with silence.

5. Eat, drink, and be merry.

It’s no secret that I can eat a lot for a small person. In my “real life,” I try to rein it in and not give in to my inner piglet. Being married to Matt-the-Superhuman-RoboMan doesn’t help. He has -3% body fat. I remember attending a birthday party for a friend’s husband a few years ago and, as I picked up the fork to start on my 3rd piece of cake, I looked across the table and saw the look of horror on Matt’s face. “I’m sort of grossed out by you right now,” he said. Not with my girlfriends. I can order triple carbs, dessert, 6 glasses of wine, and if I start laughing while I’m chewing and accidentally spit a glob of gooey tortilla chip onto the table, everyone thinks its funny.

5. Girl Just Wanna Have Fun.

Cyndi Lauper was right. We all love our husbands and our lives, but sometimes, you just need “girl fun.” We all know there is a different kind of fun to be had when it’s just us girls. It’s like 8th grade never ended and we are sitting on the bed eating a bowl of M&Ms and wondering who will wake up with a zit. Only with your girlfriends can you laugh so hard that you wet your pants on a downtown sidewalk (sadly, this is a true story).

Hello Girls Weekend in Asheville, NC!

We all showed up with 4 suitcases for 2 days, because, when packing for a girls weekend away, well…..you just never know what you might need. Little black dress? Sure, throw it in there. Flats? Yes. Heels? Yes. Lots of sweatpants to wear in the morning when you are bloated and hung over? Yes, yes. And you may as well throw that old prom dress and the sequined boa in there. You just never know.

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We arrived in Asheville on a Friday afternoon in late April. The weather was absurdly perfect and we found ourselves in what might literally be the most adorable neighborhood in the universe.

We had rented a house in Historic Montford, just a mile or so from downtown Asheville where we planned to spend 2 days eating, drinking, shopping, eating, walking, eating, shopping, drinking, and eating.

We had chosen the house because of its proximity to downtown, but were overjoyed when we saw the insanely cute neighborhood in which it was located. I felt like, at any moment, a unicorn was going to pop out of the bushes or a happy gnome with a bag of gold was going to hop across the street. Seriously.

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Feeling like we had just wandered into some sort of Hansel and Gretel dimension, we found our own adorable cottage and jumped up and down like 13 year old girls exclaiming over the ivy strewn patio, the outdoor firepit, the cozy front porch, and the warm interior.

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I had made late dinner reservations for us at the Admiral, but, because we like to drink before going out drinking, we popped open a couple of bottles of wine.

I had a feeling that my “check liver” light might come on before the weekend was over.

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We called the Blue Bird Taxi, because we already knew that NOBODY would be driving that night. Within minutes, a little Prius driven by Calvin the Best Taxi Driver Of All Time showed up.

When Calvin took a shortcut through a mall parking lot and headed for an unlit street, the girls were suspicious that he was taking us to kill us. When he pulled up to a random looking cinder block building between the BJ Food Mart and an empty lot with a rusty barbed wire fence, they were sure.

No. That was just The Admiral.

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The Admiral doesn’t advertise. They never have. You have to find it. And when you do, you feel like you’ve been let in on a secret. The Admiral is unassuming. From the outside, you’d never guess it is one of the best dining experiences in the city.

The interior is dark, with a low ceiling, lots of mismatched vintage furniture and touches of warm lighting. There's an old Budweiser sign with neon strategically blacked out so it appears to spell "Dive." Imagine if Waffle House turned down the lights, played some vinyl records, and decorated with your Uncle Fred’s garage sale leftovers. It’s hip in tawdry sort of way.

However, you don’t go to the Admiral for the decor. You go for the food.

And the food is divine.

It was at 9:30 p.m. on Friday, April 25th that the Asheville Food Insanity began. I am not really sure what got into us. Maybe it was stress relief from several weeks of issues we had all been dealing with. Maybe it was the lack of disapproving stares from our husbands as we polished off piles of chocolates and bags of chips. Maybe it was just the joy of being in a beautiful city on a beautiful weekend with beautiful friends.

We were like sharks in a feeding frenzy. Except that instead of blood, we were incited by the smell of vanilla poppyseed cake and bread with real butter.

We started off with drinks. I also ordered up a warm and crusty baguette with olive oil and house cultured butter. The bread was crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and the butter was obscenely salty and delicious.

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I followed that with a bowl of PEI mussels. I know what you are thinking. PEI mussels in North Carolina? Crazy.

Let me tell you. I have slurped Prince Edward Island mussels on Prince Edward Island, so fresh they were still quivering with salt water. The mussels at the Admiral were some of the tastiest I have ever had. The mussels were drowning in San Marzano tomato broth with just a dash of PBR (hey, it is the South, after all) and chunks of smoky bacon and topped with savory chimichurri. The dish was truly inspirational. After devouring the mussels, I mopped up the amazing broth with the baguette and salty butter.

Yes. I ate an entire baguette in addition to the baguette that was on the mussels. Don't judge.

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I followed that (you didn’t think I was done, did you?) with the pasta carbonara. Thick house made fettuccini was topped with delicate chunks of sweet lobster, bread crumbs, pecorino cheese, and egg foam.

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I sampled the others’ dishes: creamy avocado soup; angus flat iron steak with homemade tater tots, mustard greens, pimento cheese, topped with a fried egg and an amazing curry ketchup; shrimp ceviche tostadas; and pork belly with burnt miso aioli and finely shredded cucumbers and carrots with daikon, kimchi bulgogi, and cilantro.

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Because I was eating like I just escaped from a Turkish prison, I had to get dessert. Of course I did. I had the “Chocolate Milk & Cereal.” A glass of white and dark chocolate ganache sat beside the chocolate gelato topped with house made chocolate cereal puffs.

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Having been to the Admiral before, I knew what came next. The others didn’t. I watched their faces when, at 10:00 p.m., the wait staff pushed all the tables aside to make room for the dance party. A DJ started spinning retro tunes as every variety of hipster started pouring into the place and swing dancing where the guy next to us had just been eating his duck leg.

You just can’t beat the Admiral for amazing food and awesome weirdness.

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We danced badly to everything from Ella Fitzgerald to the Beasty Boys before calling Calvin (now that we were convinced he wasn’t trying to kill us) and calling it a night.

Oh what a night.

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Saturday morning was as beautiful as Friday. The weather was warm and the sky was clear and blue. We felt amazing, despite the amount of salt, fat, carbohydrates, sugar and alcohol we had consumed the night before.

It was time for shopping!

Or eating.

Whichever came first.

We headed downtown to peruse the funky, cool shops that are so abundant in Asheville. We made it about 10 feet from the car when….

FRENCH BROAD CHOCOLATE LOUNGE!!!!!

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Apparently, eating would be first.

For four women with calories to consume and money to burn, the French Broad Chocolate Lounge was an oasis of happiness filled with sunshine, hand-crafted artisan chocolates, and most importantly: CAKE.

I couldn’t decide. A thick brownie with coconut? A sipping cup of hot liquid chocolate truffle? A fat slice of maple cake with smoked salt? Dark chocolate honey salted caramels?

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French Broad doesn’t make chocolates. They make magic. And happiness. Magical chocolate happiness.

I settled on the vanilla cake with poppyseed buttercream, lemon curd filling, and a drizzle of lemon sauce. It was indeed a little slice of sunshine.

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We spent the next couple of hours wandering the streets of Asheville with its eclectic shops, historic buildings, and sidewalk buskers with cute puppies.

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We found ourselves at the Grove Arcade, home to one of my favorite places in the entire world: The Battery Park Book Exchange.

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Why?

Because I love old books.

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And because I love champagne.

Battery Park has both.

DE-lightful.

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We polished off a bottle of champagne and realized we were about to be late for our lunch reservation at Curate.

Dear Lord! Missing a meal was out of the question. Run, ladies, RUN!

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Curate, a tapas bar, is regularly rated as the #1 restaurant in Asheville.

(by people who have obviously never been to the Admiral where you can eat the most amazing meal of your life while watching a guy with a handlebar mustache and a banana tattoo dancing to a Buck Owens song while munching on a ramp waffle downed with a PBR in a can)

The restaurant is cozy and warm and everything on the extensive menu is carefully and artistically prepared. “Curate” means “cure yourself,” and we were suffering from needmorefooditis.

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Let the healing begin!

As she prepared our red wine sangria tableside, the waitress suggested we order 3 dishes each. We took her at her word and ordered 12, yes TWELVE, dishes of food. Everyone chose 3, but the plan was to share them all.

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First up were the artichoke chips with yogurt dipping sauce, so delicate they melted in your mouth.

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Next we had spicy chorizo wrapped in potato chips. In the South, this is called a “pig in a blanket,” although this was much better than the Vienna sausage and crescent roll version that we used to make in my trailer park youth.

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That was followed by grilled pequillo peppers stuffed with Spanish goat cheese.

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After that came the kumato tomato salad with preserved Spanish bonito tuna and black olives drizzled with olive oil and sherry vinegar.

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But wait! There’s more! We had warm octopus flavored with sea salt, olive oil, and paprika with a puree of Yukon gold potatoes. Okay, maybe not my favorite dish (I am more of a pig-in-a-blanket kind of girl), but we were here to try new things, so…when in Rome….eat the octopus.

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We felt the need for something green to quiet the voice of our mothers in our heads that were trying to tell us to eat something with vitamins, so we ordered a spring salad with baby artichokes, radishes, sunchoke chips, baby greens, yogurt, and a lemon vinaigrette.

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We stuffed mom back in the closet and moved on to the meatballs with cured iberico de bellota ham in a robust tomato sauce.

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Then, it was on to the grilled iberico pork skirt steak with fresh rosemary and thyme.

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This was followed by lamb skewers marinated in Moorish spices served with house made pickles.

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The patatas bravas were to die for. Leave it to the pig-in-the-blanket girl to also love the dish that looked like home fries slathered in mustard and ketchup. In reality, the crispy potato chunks are topped with a spicy tomato brava sauce and a savory aioli.

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Next up was sautéed spinach with raisins, apples, and toasted pine nuts. (You're welcome, Mom.)

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For our twelfth and final dish, we had a sandwich made from catalan sausage, peppers, and caramelized onions on a crusty baguette.

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Yeah.

We ate all of that.

After lunch, we had a pretty good sangria buzz going on. What better to do with a sangria buzz than go shoe shopping?

If you recall, the impetus for this trip had been the fact that we had been unceremoniously dumped by our men who were no doubt partying it up with frozen drinks on the sunny beaches of Abaco while pretending to fish.

That’s why I decided Matt would buy me an expensive pair of shoes.

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The sangria might have also had something to do with it.

We finished our shopping day strong and headed back to the house for some downtime (and wine) to prepare ourselves for dinner.

Yes. We planned to eat dinner.

After all of that.

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But first – we headed to the rooftop Sky Bar to watch the sunset in style. We called Calvin the Taxi Driver and he showed up promptly in his shiny little Prius.

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I had read about Sky Bar and was dying to check it out. Hidden at the top of the historic Flatiron Building, it is all marble floors and dim lighting with a classy 1920’s vibe. It is magical. Hidden. The kind of place you find by accident and where you can ride a noisy old elevator to a cool fire escape where hand crafted cocktails and amazing sunset views are waiting for you.

I am not sure what made me think we could show up 10 minutes before sunset and simply waltz out onto one of the most awesome, and space limited, places in Asheville.

When we arrived, we did not glide across the marble floors. We were not ushered onto the ancient elevator. We were not whisked away to a rooftop paradise.

No. We were shown into a little bar on the lobby floor of the building where there was a T.V. showing the amazing sunset that smart people, who actually showed up at a reasonable hour rather than dashing in at the 11th hour because they spent too much time putting on their mascara, were watching above us.

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I consoled myself by trying the house infused pineapple-strawberry tequila and looking at my new sparkly shoes.

However, I had barely had time to say, “Dios Mio!” before the elevator buzzed and we were motioned forward.

The elevator didn’t look like it had changed much in the last 90 years. The cage was pulled closed and we were on our way up.

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And we hadn’t missed the sunset. The view was magnificent.

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From the on-site infused liquors to the hand crafted specialty cocktails, the Sky Bar had a drink menu that was as exceptional as the sunset views over downtown Asheville.

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We stayed until the fiery sunset had cooled to a soft sky over the twinkling lights of downtown.

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It was time to eat again!

We walked to Limones, a Mexican Fusion restaurant in downtown Asheville.

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The dark wood floor, soft lights, and happy faces let us know we were in for a great meal.

When I saw the Caipirinha on the drink menu, I had to try it. After spending 10 days in Brazil, I have had my fair share of Caipirinhas and have yet to find one stateside that is made correctly. A proper caipirinha has 3 ingredients: Cachaca, limes, sugar. For some unfathomable reason, American bartenders insist on adding soda or some other watery, sugary substance to the drink.

Limones got it right. It was just like being back on the sandy beaches of Ilha Grande with a bowl of salty olives and a stray dog running around my feet.

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The four of us shared 3 appetizers, because we simply couldn’t settle on anything less. We started things off with the ceviche sampler. The included the ceviche del Mercado, which was made with the fish of the day marinated in lime juice and served with guacamole & red onions. There was also the ceviche verde which had papaya, avocado, and lemon. Finally, there was the spicy ceviche with jicama, cucumbers, avocado, and cilantro. All were accompanied by warm tortilla chips.

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We followed the ceviche with the slow braised short rib nachos with smoked chile crema, guacamole, and salsa verde and the lobster nachos with crema, guacamole and serrano.

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For dinner, I dove into the chorizo burger. The beef was mixed with spicy ground chorizo and the burger was topped with poblano peppers, cilantro aioli, caramelized onions, and cheddar cheese.

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Because we couldn’t end a meal without consuming at least 3 dishes each, we ordered 2 desserts to share: the tres leches cake with peaches, pecans, and mango chile sauce and crispy hot cinnamon brown sugar churros with caramel sauce and Mexican hot chocolate.

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We were the last ones in the restaurant because we literally stayed until there was no food left in the kitchen. I'm sure when we left, the kitchen staff applauded.

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I then went and lay prostrate on the sidewalk praying for Calvin to come pick us up before my stomach started to hemorrhage.

Calvin! Our hero!

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Sunday morning meant one thing: Early Girl Eatery.

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I’m not sure why we were still hungry. I’m not sure we WERE still hungry, or if, at this point, we were simply being driven by some primeval instinct to just try to eat anything that didn’t run away first.

There is always a wait at Early Girl, but there is a reason. It is just that good. We stood out on the sidewalk and literally drooled over the menu, like we hadn’t eaten in weeks.

It was pathetic.

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This was my breakfast. Mine. Alone:

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That’s a giant buttermilk biscuit topped with Benton’s bacon smoky gravy, a fried green tomato napoleon atop buttery grits, and a porky bowl (aptly named) which consisted of home fries, BBQ pork, and scrambled eggs smothered in gravy and farmstead cheese. I’m pretty sure I also ate some of Valerie’s banana bread.

I’d like to say those dishes were split, but they weren’t. They were just mine. And I ate them.

I am so ashamed.

Okay, I’m not really. I’m just saying that so you won’t judge me.

What a weekend! We laughed until we cried. We shopped until we ran out of money.

And we ate until Asheville ran out of food.

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Next up: What happens when 6 people spend 7 days on a 46 foot boat in the Exumas? Madness. Mayhem. And a helluva lot of fun. Find out who cries, who gets diarrhea, and who ends up with the black eye this time. Coming soon to a blog near you!

Posted by vicki_h 15:22 Archived in USA Tagged north_carolina asheville girls_weekend girls_getaway Comments (0)

Third Time’s the Charm

One More Trip to Banner Elk Winery

We spent a wonderful spring birthday weekend and a beautiful fall weekend at the Banner Elk Winery & Villa a couple of years ago, so when I got an email that they were having a “reserve one night, get one free” sale, I jumped on it.

I reserved the Alacante Barrel Suite, the biggest room in the house, for our anniversary weekend. I had always wanted to stay in that room, but had thus far been too cheap to pay the price tag. This was my chance! Besides, Matt would appreciate a weekend away much more than matching “I Love You” t-shirts or a singing fish to hang on the wall.

Nothing says “I Love You” like a weekend full of wine and fireplaces.

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TEN BEST THINGS ABOUT OUR WEEKEND AWAY:

1. The Alacante Barrel Suite.

The Alacante Barrel Suite was bigger than my first apartment. And it didn’t come with a creepy neighbor that wandered the hallway in his boxer shorts and smoked cigarettes by my door. As an added bonus, it had actual working heat, unlike my first apartment. It was also gorgeous. Unlike my first apartment.

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2. The Wine.

The best part of staying at a winery is that there is really no time of day that it’s not appropriate to drink wine. Except for breakfast. But that’s what mimosas are for.

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3. Getting Outdoors.

The highlands of Western North Carolina are filled with opportunities to get outside. For the less adventurous (or those who don’t want to mess up their pedicure with something like hiking boots), there are countless drives along the Blue Ridge Parkway or any number of winding country roads.

Nearby mountains and parks like Grandfather Mountain, Roan Mountain, or Cherokee National Forest have an abundance of hiking opportunities. There is also white water rafting, trout fishing, kayaking, and mountain biking.

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We chose to do a hike on Roan Mountain. The hike takes you 5 miles across a ridge that connects 3 balds: Round Bald, Jane Bald, and Grassy Ridge Bald. An Appalachian bald is a mountain summit that is not a peak covered with dense forest, but rather a large grassy area.

As I walked, I was not really thinking about how many miles I had hiked, I was thinking about how many glasses of wine I had earned.

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4. Hidden Surprises.

I love finding out of the way, off the beaten path, little known surprises. In many cases, this has taken Matt and I on wild goose chases where we drive for an hour through winding country roads looking for “this place I read about” only to find an abandoned building with a paper sign taped to the window that says, “Closed Forever.”

I convinced Matt to follow some obscure signs in the tiny community of Roan Mountain that promised Pizza. He was dubious, but it was that or eat lunch at the gas station with the 3 day old hot dogs spinning in their own fat by the microwave burritos. We found ourselves at what appeared to be a garden shed.

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He looked at me and said, “Are you sure?”

Am I EVER not sure when it comes to eating?

We went inside and were greeted by the smell of freshly baked bread, garlic, and wood smoke. Fresh loaves of crusty sourdough bread were stacked in brown paper and a wood fired pizza oven glowed in the back of the kitchen.

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Smoky Mountain Bakery is where Tim and Crystal Decker have been crafting artisan breads and pizzas for about 5 years. The cinder-block and wood shed that houses the bakery only had a couple of tables, so we claimed one and ordered the Friday special: a 3 topping pizza, 2 salads, and 2 sodas for $15.

The pizza was ready in about 10 minutes with a perfectly charred crust topped with savory sauce, gooey cheese, pesto, roasted garlic, and pepperoni. It was PERFECTION.

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We also saw this strawberry cheesecake in the dessert counter. It was so good we couldn’t even wait to cut a slice. We ate it right out of the box. Classy.

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5. Rest. Relax. Rejuvenate.

I once surprised Matt with an in-room massage on a weekend getaway. When the massage therapists showed up, there was a male and a female. I prefer not to be massaged by a dude. I’m sorry, but it’s just weird. Matt and I quietly conferred and we agreed that he would be as uncomfortable watching me get rubbed down by a dude as I would be getting rubbed down by a dude, so he sacrificed himself and let me have the female massage therapist.

Apparently, being massaged by a guy wasn’t the worst part of the experience for Matt. It was being massaged by a guy with REALLY BAD BODY ODOR.

Poor Matt.

So this time, I booked us massages at the upscale Chetola Resort in nearby Blowing Rock.

And I specified no dudes. And no B.O.

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6. Shopping.

I love the quaint little shops in Banner Elk and Blowing Rock. I can waste an entire day wandering around looking at adorably displayed nonsense that I don’t really need.

Especially if the shop has FREE CUPCAKES.

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7. Food…..Yum.

We were disappointed that our favorite restaurant in the area, Artisanal, was not yet open for the season. Another restaurant I really wanted to try, The Gamekeeper, was also still closed. No matter. We had some phenomenal meals.

The Winery & Villa provided us a great breakfast each morning.

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We also had an incredible dinner at Vidalia in downtown Boone, NC. I never met a french fry I didn’t like, especially parmesan truffle fries with a creole dipping sauce. Matt opted for a Caesar salad and white wine steamed mussels. For dinner, I had the crispy pork served with Cheerwine BBQ sauce, stoneground grits, and smoky collard greens. Matt ordered the oat crusted NC trout with applewood bacon jam, green apple slaw, and fingerling potatoes.

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Lunch at Bistro Roca in Blowing Rock started off with a drink called the Sparkle Pony. Yes, I only ordered it because it said it had edible glitter, but I was not disappointed.

Edible glitter is tasty.

Especially when served with tequila.

We shared the lobster mac n’ cheese and the chicken tamales.

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There was also a fantastic dinner at the Painted Fish in Banner Elk. When we arrived, I thought we had made a mistake. It was in a strip mall and it reminded me of a Shoney’s. Not that there is anything wrong with Shoney’s.

Unless you are under the age of 68.

However, the food was FANTASTIC. And I ate enough of it to be sure. We started off with the tuna nachos and French Onion Soup. I followed that with a bacon and cheddar burger. I don’t remember what Matt had because I was buried in a crispy pile of herbed tater tots. TATER TOTS!

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8. Crispy Crème Doughnut Cheesecake.

Sure, this could come under food, but it was so good, it deserves it’s own category. The Painted Fish in Banner Elk a cheesecake that had a doughnut crust and chunks of Crispy Crème glazed doughnuts inside. Someone decided that wasn’t decadent enough and topped it with a carmel bacon sauce.

Oh Dear Sweet Gooey Doughnut Heaven.

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9. Horses and Rainbows.

Really. What’s better than horses and rainbows? Nothing. Except maybe kittens.

Or free wine.

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10. Time. Together. Away.

Because that's really what it's all about, isn't it?

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Posted by vicki_h 08:45 Archived in USA Tagged wine winery boone north_carolina banner_elk blowing_rock roan_mountain Comments (0)

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