What I Did on My (Mini) Summer Vacation

Monday, July 12th, 2004

Yes, I’m going to force you to look at photos of my road trip to Asheville, North Carolina.

Click “more” to see.


This is Natural Bridge, just a few hours outside of Washington on Route 81. To get an idea of how big the thing is, take a gander at those small collections of pixels along the walkway. Them’s people.

Natural Bridge is often cited as a fine example of free market environmentalism — Thomas Jefferson bought the land around the bridge from King George and insisted that it be preserved after his death. It’s pretty amazing. Route 11 runs over the top of it. Unfortunately, it’s also been subjected to some of capitalism’s less savory elements. The perimeter of the bridge is schlocked out with miniature golf courses, a wax museum, and something called “The Haunted Mansion.”


Yes, that’s a black guy holding up the Rebel Flag in downtown Asheville. He was the second one I saw that day — part of an outfit called “Dixie Tours.” The monument behind him is dedicated to Zeb Vance, an honorable Whig and friend of liberty who, like many, was born into the pre-Civil War south and honor-bound to wind up on the wrong side of history.


Fireworks in Asheville. The Fourth of July brought out an odd mix of granola kids from UNC-Asheville (a fairly reputable art school, apparently), mountain folk come down to see the fireworks, and tourists from pretty much everywhere east of the Mississippi. It’s an artsy town with lots of galleries, coffee shops, and bookstores. Most menus are an eclectic mix of deep-south grease and trendy campus vegan eats. I hear there’s some excellent fine dining, too, though most of the better restaurants were closed for the bulk of the Fourth weekend.


Delightful little piece of public art — a cast-iron cat slinking along the precipice of a private balcony. There was another clinging halfway up a nearby lamp post. A bit more creative than, say, this crap.


This is the Biltmore Estate, the largest private residence in North America. It was built around the turn of the century by George Vanderbilt, who thought that, as American royalty, he needed his own castle. It’s absolutely stunning. 250 rooms, 65 fireplaces, and original impressionist paintings dotting the hallways. More impressive than the buiding itself, I thought, were the grounds. 8,000 acres of mountain contryside, including a 3-mile driveway, 100 miles of trails, hundreds of head of livestock, a raftable creek, corn and wheat fields (that I saw), and a winery — all lush and green and exquisitely well-kept.

Hackneyed libertarian observation: I couldn’t help but think that in most ways the average American today lives better than a baron like Vanderbilt did just a century ago, even by Biltmore standards. Okay, so I don’t have aweing mountain views and milion-dollar tapestries in my one-bedroom Alexandria apartment. But much of what made the Biltmore so modern for its time — a swimming pool, a bowling alley, plumbing, a “fitness room,” elevators, refridgeration — most all of us at least have access to today. There aren’t many periods in human history when you can say that within a hundred years, that average man will live as “royalty” does.

You could kill a week just on the Biltmore estate. It hosts concerts throughout the summer (Al Green and the Blind Boys of Alabama are coming in September). During Christmas, they deck the place out, and getting a limited-admittance slot is apparently the hottest ticket in the Smokies foothills.


Grapes hung from the entryway to the Biltmore gardens.


Amusing story. Apparently, the Vanderbilts were none to happy when a McDonalds opened just outside the entrance to the Biltmore Estate. So they cut the franchise a huge check to class up its act. The result? What we’re supposed to believe is the “World’s Classiest McDonalds.” I didn’t visit, but a cabbie said there’s a baby grand piano inside.


One of the many gee-whiz overlooks along the Blue Ridge Parkway.


View from the peak of a mountain you can hike up from a stop along the highway. Check the road winding between the mountains. Just a wonderful drive. (Alas — poor XM reception, though.)


Another view.


Shot from the car while driving through Tennessee. Please don’t ask why, when traveling from Asheville, North Carolina to Washington, D.C., I would have been able to snap a picture of the Tennessee countryside.

I’d rather not explain.

A great trip. A little hot for my taste. But that’s July, I guess. I’d like to go back in autumn.

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21 Responses to “What I Did on My (Mini) Summer Vacation”

  1. #1 |  Cornelius | 

    Nice photos! I miss living in NC… I love Asheville, and the Biltmore Estate is especially great.

    The Blue Ridge parkway is also very peachy. It’s about as pristine and empty a mountain drive as you can find on the east coast. The last time I went down the Blue Ridge I stopped at a particularly gorgeous scenic pullover. A car pulled up next to me with it’s rap music turned all the way up, and two guys got out to throw away trash from McDonald’s. Upon disposing of the garbage, they turned around, got back in, and sped off. As far as I could tell they never even looked up. It was one of those laugh-or-cry moments.

  2. #2 |  Chip | 

    It’s been several years since I visited the Biltmore, but at that time it was still privately-owned and operated by Vanderbilt descendents. They, as you might guess, are big supporters of private restoration and preservation efforts; the restoration and operation of the estate was funded from admission fees.

    And they say there is no market for historical preservation.

  3. #3 |  The Lonewacko Blog | 

    There aren’t many periods in human history when you can say that within a hundred years, that average man will live as “royalty” does.

    ‘Tis true that we proles and serfs aren’t rolling around in our own filth or working 60 hours a week in shoelace factories. But, the “royalty” will always live much better. While a prole is slaving away to pay their health club fees, royalty like Kerry is able to go snowshoeing or kite surfing (most) anytime he pleases, staying in a multi-million dollar home he (more or less) owns.

    Anyhoo, my wackily humorous posts about Asheville are in “A Lonewacko in the Land of the Goddesses” and the next post. I was in Asheville for a day and a half or so, and towards the end of that period I was already feeling closed in. But, at least there are four Arby’s spread cardinally around town.

  4. #4 |  wade | 

    dude, nice looking country

  5. #5 |  Frank N | 

    You can’t force me to see it if I don’t click ‘more’. Of course if I want to post a comment (shakes fists of death at monitor) I am forced to see them. You rat bastage!

    Nice pics, very…the Blue Ridge reminds me on the White Mountains of NH.

  6. #6 |  Bernard | 

    Lonewacko, it’s more or less a given that wealthier people of a given era will always have more options than less wealthy people of the same era. Radley’s observation was that things have improved to the extent that we’re arguably better off than the aristocracy were then. This is no mean feat if you compare 100 year gaps in other periods of history (eg. peasants in 1500’s britain didn’t have too many more options than peasants in 1400’s britain).

    The only thing I would say is that turn-of the century aristocracy could mistreat the servants in ways that are unthinkable for any class of people now. Some of us would chalk that up as a loss (although a lot wouldn’t admit it).

  7. #7 |  Robert | 

    It’s the best place to live, and I don’t want to live anywhere else. ( Well, I live 30 miles west of there and work in Asheville )

    Did you know that Rolling Stone said Asheville was the new freak capital of the USA?

    ( Note to Cornelius: If someone did that while I was present, the athorities would soon be finding a couple of bodies laying beside the road… )

  8. #8 |  Ms. Dani | 

    Frank, LOL!

  9. #9 |  Ms. Dani | 

    I can’t stop giggling…

  10. #10 |  Evan Williams | 

    Curse the Blue Ridge Parkway!

    I was supposed to meet my dad, and my older brother (who is visiting from Los Angeles), at Olde Mill golf resort (near Meadows of Dan, VA) on saturday afternoon. It being a shitty, rainy day, there was no point in taking the parkway down there from Charlottesville. It would have taken twice as long, just so we could stare through the fog. So we took I-81 to 100. But my dad’s got an unhealthy infatuation with the Parkway, and come hell or high water, he was gonna show my bro the “view”, even though my brother grew up here, and probably saw it before, and even though you couldn’t see a damn thing, given that you were actually IN the clouds.

    So, we ended up waiting around the golf course for hours, while they crawled through the fog and rain atop the blue ridge.

    My brother showed up looking like he’d been through the ringer, and my pops, well, he was still goin on and on about the parkway. He’d find any excuse. If it were the nuclear holocaust and we were fleeing the blast zones southwards, he’d drag us out on the Parkway.

  11. #11 |  roger | 

    Nice pictures.

    The Biltmore Estate is pretty cool, but on a more culturally significant note, how were the wax museum and The Haunted Mansion?

  12. #12 |  Danno49 | 

    Natural bridges are a source of fascination for me. Their simple, yet exquisite beauty is rivaled by only a handful of naturally occuring spectacles. I have not seen this one before. It is gorgeous. Here are a few more photos of various natural bridges. Enjoy.

    Tonto Natural Bridge, Arizona

    Owachomo Natural Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument

    Bryce Natural Bridge, Bryce Canyon National Park

    Rainbow Natural Bridge, Utah

  13. #13 |  The Lonewacko Blog | 

    Radley: There aren’t many periods in human history when you can say that within a hundred years, that average man will live as “royalty” does.

    Responding to Bernard: We proles – and, yes, our brothers in the countryside the serfs – do not live like a Vanderbilt. Sure, we’ve got some of the amenities, but we have little power (more than before, true) and few goods (more than before, true). The wealthy will always have things much much better than we lower orders. Perhaps someone could create a lifestyle index measuring possibility of physical harm, amenities available, items owned, etc. and compare royalty vs. serfdom over time to settle this question once and for all.

    And, about natural bridges, I frankly don’t get it. Perhaps it’s because I like being on the top of things and looking down rather than looking up at something. Rapelling off a natural bridge or climbing up the side of one, that I’ll go for.

    If you like natural bridges go to Arches National Park near Moab.

  14. #14 |  Ms. Dani | 

    People earn more money (generally speaking) so that they can have the option of being lazy if they want to be. Poor doesn’t mean “bad” and it is always relative. It’s all based on perception. How much do you personally need to be comfortable? Why is comfort so important to us humans? This is what being “wealthy” or “rich” is all about, the avoidance of any kind of struggle. Not that I am anti-comfort, but that there is too much whining from people who happen to have less than others. More is not better, less is not better. It is good to be content with what you have and to strive to be a good person who contributes to the betterment of self and others. Is it possible to be an ideal realist?

  15. #15 |  TomG | 

    That area is really nice. Planning to do some road riding up there in a few weeks.

  16. #16 |  Bernard | 

    Ms, wealth isn’t about comfort. It’s about options. The more cash you have, all else being equal, the freer your choice on how to spend your time. Some will always choose to do nothing where they are able, but for those with a particular drive it’s always preferable to have more options than fewer (wheras those who are insecure about their direction often feel more trapped when they have options than when they are obligated to a path).

    And Lone, you seem to have missed the key issue. It’s not about whether the poor now are better off than the rich now, it’s whether the poor now are better off than the rich were in 1900. I’m not quite with Radley that we’re better off than they were, but the gap is certainly far smaller than it would be for peasants at the turn of last century compared to aristocrats in 1800. That’s a good sign that pluralism and capitalism work for the general good as well as to the benefit of capable individuals.

  17. #17 |  Andrew | 

    Wow, these are incredible shots. I’ve definitely got to get down there to see for myself.

  18. #18 |  Mike | 

    Great shots. Don’t want to toot my own horn, but if you have a minute:


  19. #19 |  The Lonewacko Blog | 

    it’s whether the poor now are better off than the rich were in 1900.

    Today’s poor and middle-class definitely have better stuff, and certainly our Geo Metros are better than a 1900-era Daimler-Benz.

    However, all throughout history the rich/elites have the power of life and death over the little people. In Radley’s Rah Rah Up With Capitalism! chant he seems to have forgotten that tiny detail.

  20. #20 |  Elizabeth - Travel and Tourism Services Provider | 

    North Carolina is imaginative. i m also planing to visit that beautifull area.