Train # 92, Amtrak’s Silver Star, pulls out of Jacksonville, FL right
on time a few minutes after 11:00pm and we are glad to trade train
station seating for the relative comfort of beds in Viewliner sleeper
62011 Gulf View. We have a short overnight ride so it’s right to
bed rather than enjoying the nocturnal views of our passage from north
Florida into the woods and swamplands of southeast Georgia.
Sleep comes quickly as the train runs nonstop to Savannah
then follows the former Seaboard line into South Carolina. The
track north of Savannah is noticeably bumpier as this route is not the
focus of attention by its owner, CSX, as the ex-Atlantic Coast Line
route via Charleston is its primary freight line. I wake during
our brief stop in Denmark, SC and again in Columbia but manage to sleep
as we make three other overnight station stops. In the morning we
eat some breakfast rolls we brought with us since this train doesn’t
carry a regular dining car.
We arrive in Cary, NC less than 10 minutes late at 8:15am
and find an interesting little station tucked between the former
Seaboard line from Florida and the old Southern Railway line from
western North Carolina. Today the ex-Southern tracks host four
Amtrak trains per day in each direction, namely a trio of Piedmont
trains linking Raleigh and Charlotte and a lone Carolinian connecting
New York with Charlotte. The station building is a modest but
modern brick edifice and the presence of diverging rail lines right
outside its doors makes this an interesting place to change
trains. We could have connected in Raleigh but Amtrak’s computer
displayed a Cary transfer which allowed a bit more breathing room had
our train from Florida been late.
Train # 75 eases to a stop in Cary on-time at 10:12am and
we climb aboard one of its comfortable coaches. We note that this
is a rare Amtrak station (other than terminal stations) where a person
can arrive aboard an Amtrak train on one track and depart on a train
boarding on a track that diverges from the opposite side of the
station. Only Charlottesville, VA, Selma, NC, and Schenectady, NY
come to mind among active non-terminal stations.
An early morning Piedmont arrives in Cary, NC in August 2007 en route to Charlotte.
The Piedmont route heads west from Cary and within 20
minutes our train calls at Durham, home of Duke University and the
Durham Bulls Triple-A baseball team. We continue west through
Greensboro where we join the route of Amtrak’s Crescent which links New
York and Washington with Atlanta and New Orleans. We next roll
southwesterly through High Point which is the connecting point for
Thruway busses to Winston-Salem. At 1:10pm the Piedmont makes a
timely arrival into Charlotte where we rent a car and begin our tour of
The Sapphire Valley/Cashiers area is our first
destination and we enjoy several spectacular waterfalls that are
accessed with minimal effort. Each waterfall is unique as one is
the tallest waterfall in the eastern United States, two allow visitors
to walk behind the bottom of the waterfall greeted by misty spray from
the falling waters, and a couple feature swimming holes below the
falls. One of these even doubles as a sliding rock where mostly
young folks slide down the modest falls on the seat of their
pants. In addition to the waterfalls, we enjoy shopping,
antiquing, and dining in this area and we find the Hampton Inn,
Sapphire Valley to be the perfect lodging choice with its clean and
quiet rooms which feature beautiful mountain vistas on the front side
of the hotel. The hotel’s indoor pool and front porch rocking
chairs are welcomed after our days of exploring waterfalls, hiking, and
Whitewater Falls, highest waterfall in the eastern United States, is located south of Sapphire, NC.
Cashiers Sliding Rock is located off Whiteside Cove Road south of Cashiers.
Silver Run Falls is a short hike from Highway 107 south of Cashiers, NC.
Dry Falls, along US 64 west of Highlands, NC, allows visitors to view
the falls from many perspectives including behind the falling waters.
The attractive exterior of Hampton Inn Cashiers/Sapphire Valley.
The view from our room at the Hampton Inn Cashiers/Sapphire Valley.
This beautiful stone fireplace is the centerpiece of the breakfast area at the Hampton Inn located in Sapphire Valley, NC.
The indoor swimming pool at Hampton Inn Cashiers/Sapphire Valley.
An hour west of Sapphire Valley one can ride the Great
Smoky Mountains Railroad which operates trains in both directions from
Bryson City. Having made this trip recently, we bypassed it this
visit but heartily recommend the ride on this scenic former Southern
Railway line. The trip to the Nantahala Gorge is especially
scenic though the shorter trip to Dillsboro is also a pleasant
journey. Both steam and diesel power are employed at various
times by the GSMR so it is best to inquire before your visit if that is
important to you. The GSMR is an easy day trip from Sapphire
Valley which allows the Hampton Inn to remain a base of operations for
your visit to the area.
The engines run around the train on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad trip to Nantahala Gorge.
After a couple days in Sapphire Valley, we make a short
drive to Asheville to visit the beautiful Biltmore House and Gardens
which was opened in 1895 by George W. Vanderbilt. The Biltmore
estate offers magnificent vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is
truly one of the greatest homes in America. Construction of the
house took six years and required the building of a railroad spur line
to bring in construction materials. An audio tour of the house
takes approximately two hours and is very interesting. Among the
rooms we visit are the entrance hall, the banquet hall where up to 60
people could be served dinner, a formal sitting area known as The
Salon, a music room, library, tapestry gallery, and numerous bedrooms
and sitting rooms. We also tour the kitchen, pantry, and
recreation facilities such as an indoor swimming pool, gymnasium, and
bowling alley. The adjacent horse stables today house an
excellent cafe which is worth a lunch time visit. A series of
colorful gardens stand in close proximity to the house and are a
must-see during a visit. During summer 2018 the fantastic Chihuly
exhibit featuring works of art made of glass was featured at Biltmore
House, primarily in the gardens. The colorful pieces complimented
the natural beauty of the gardens and drew large crowds to the
estate. A visit to Biltmore also includes a scenic country drive
with stops at its winery, shopping and dining village, and other points
of interest. There are numerous lodging choices in Asheville but
it is wise to plan well in advance to ensure availability and hopefully
obtain an affordable rate.
The stately Biltmore House.
Construction of the Biltmore House required a railroad spur line to the property.
The Banquet Hall at Biltmore House could seat up to 60 guests.
The Blue Ridge Mountains provide a great view from the Biltmore House.
Biltmore's Tapestry Gallery features a set of tapestries from the 1530s called The Triumph of the Seven Virtues.
The Billiards Room at Biltmore House.
Biltmore's gardens featured the Chihuly Exhibition of colorful glassworks in spring/summer 2018.
One of several varieties of roses in the gardens at Biltmore.
Hibiscus provide color to the gardens at Biltmore.
Chihuly works in the pond at Biltmore's Italian Garden.
Departing Asheville we head eastward to Boone,
NC, nestled high in the Blue Ridge Mountains. This is one of our
favorite getaways and we always leave refreshed and relaxed.
Drives on the Blue Ridge Parkway are a favorite activity with a picnic
included along the way, usually by the Boone Fork stream near Price
Lake. Tweetsie Railroad is another favorite place to visit as its
pair of steam locomotives offer the south’s longest running steam
operation. One will usually find # 190, a native of the White
Pass & Yukon Railroad, pulling the train during the busiest part of
the summer season with original East Tennessee & Western North
Carolina # 12 in charge of the train during other times of the
operating season. On a subsequent visit in June 2018 Tweetsie
hosted the popular annual Day Out With Thomas event which is a favorite
of children wishing to ride behind Thomas The Tank Engine. The
Holiday Inn Express is convenient to all area attractions and has a
variety of outstanding accommodations. A nightly ritual during
our stay is standing on our balcony and watching colorful mountain
sunsets amd this year’s visit did not disappoint.
Thomas the Tank Engine visits Tweetsie Railroad in June 2018.
Thomas and Tweetsie steam locomotive # 190 head the train during the annual Day Out With Thomas Event.
# 190 originally served the White Pass & Yukon RR in Alaska before moving to Tweetsie in the 1960s.
Thomas and # 190 lead the train across Dead Horse Trestle.
Tweetsie # 12 originally worked for the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad.
Tweetsie # 12 begins another journey in this October 2014 scene.
Holiday Inn Express, Boone, NC.
The breakfast room at Holiday Inn Express in Boone.
Our autumn tradition the past three years has incorporated
rail travel with high school and college football. In 2015 the
destination was the Los Angeles area for high school games in Burbank
and Upland plus a UCLA game in the Rose Bowl. The following year
we traveled to Fort Worth, Texas and Tulsa, OK for high school football
games and to Stillwater, OK for the Oklahoma State vs. Texas
game. Our 2017 journey takes us to a high school football game in
Lenoir, NC and to college football games in Durham and
Winston-Salem. Duke University’s Wallace Wade Stadium is
interesting as you walk down to your seat after entering the ticket
gate. Most stadiums require walking up to your seats. Duke
is off to a good start en route to an eventual bowl game appearance and
we enjoy the game as the Blue Devils defeat Baylor. A visit to a
Duke football game is an enjoyable experience though devoid of the wild
atmosphere of Duke basketball games. It is worth allowing time to
enjoy the Duke campus most notably the Sarah P. Duke Gardens and the
gothic University Chapel.
Hibriten High School tackles Newton-Conover in an 18-17 thriller in Lenoir, NC in September 2017.
The Baylor Bears offense attempts to move the ball against the Duke Blue Devils.
Duke football games offer excellent seating to watch the Blue Devils offense move the ball.
We depart as the 4th quarter winds down and made our
way westward to Winston-Salem to take in the last three quarters of
Wake Forest’s win over Utah State. The Demon Deacons seem to gain
increased energy as the game wears on leading to a blowout win.
Combined with a stroll around the attractive campus, a visit to a game
at Wake is a great activity on a football weekend. Attending two
college football games in one day is a new experience for us and we are
tired when we return to Boone for the night.
Wake Forest drives the ball against Utah State.
Wake Forest football games are a great autumn activity in Winston-Salem, NC.
The train trip home will retrace our steps from several
days earlier with a leisurely drive to Charlotte for the 3:15pm
Piedmont # 76 which takes us to Raleigh. Our wait stretches to
three hours as train 91 the Silver Star is slightly late and once again
sleep comes quickly aboard our roomette in Viewliner 62007 Colonial
View. We slide into Jacksonville at 6:55am after an uneventful
Numerous Amtrak stations are convenient for accessing
Asheville, Sapphire Valley, and Boone by rental car with Charlotte,
Greensboro, and High Point easiest. Winston-Salem is closest to
Greensboro and High Point while Durham is a stop for the Piedmont
trains and the Carolinian. Stops in Raleigh and Cary are also
convenient for persons traveling on the Silver Star as are many stops
along the overnight Crescent route.