Every place has one, they say. A special place that the locals know well and love and would just as soon keep to themselves.
A special place where there is good food, or good company, or good surroundings, or just good vibes.
Travel shows and books take pains to try and point out such special, out-of-the-way spots that escape the notice of the crowds as well as rival shows and books. You’ve likely seen photos or video of, say, a sidewalk café hidden down a plain alley in Paris or a lonely bridle trail out west with beautiful, snow-capped peaks in the distance.
Such places, the big newspaper in the state capital described, are beyond the trees and fields that you race by unaware while on the interstate. They’re “places worth visiting, places most outsiders have never heard about,” according to “The News and Observer” in Raleigh.
Say a stranger comes up and asks you what special place is here in the Tri-Counties? What would you recommend?
This summer “The N&O” is listing what it is billing as “North Carolina’s Best-Kept Secrets.” One special spot in each of the state’s 100 counties. “Things you gotta try in NC,” the newspaper is touting.
Each week a few counties and their best secrets are being revealed. The newspaper’s series began Memorial Day and will continue till Labor Day.
So aren’t you wondering? What are the best-kept secrets of Wilkes, Surry and Yadkin counties? The Raleigh folks are revealing their pick for Wilkes today; there’s no word yet on when they’ll make their Surry and Yadkin picks.
But let’s have some fun and make our own picks now. Here’re mine.
It’s hard to think of Stone Mountain as a secret. It’s so BIG, really big. And they say the state park is the most popular in North Carolina.
Yet I’ll mention Stone Mountain to someone from elsewhere and they’ll ask, “Georgia?”
No, not Georgia. Our Stone Mountain is not the tourist spectacular near Atlanta with its Civil War carving and laser light shows at night. Thank goodness.
Our Stone Mountain, instead, is quiet, peaceful, natural and nestled half-hidden in a cove at the foot of the Blue Ridge. Tourists stopping up at the Stone Mountain overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway may just glance down over it without a second thought.
But what a mistake. The views, the trails, the water. Stone Mountain is a Garden of Eden that happens to be in our backyard.
And it’s far enough away from the interstate to keep the crowds down. Far enough away to qualify as somewhat of a secret. You have to want to go to Stone Mountain to find your way there.
In addition to the standard hike up the 600-foot-plus monadnock, the park offers additional treasures like the historic Hutchinson Homestead and Stone Mountain and Widow’s Creek waterfalls.
The Raleigh newspaper named Jones Lake State Park as Bladen County’s best, so I see no reason not to name Stone Mountain as Wilkes’ best.
Wilkes does share Stone Mountain with Alleghany County, as the county line runs right over the top of the granite dome. But even just a share of Stone Mountain more than qualifies as Wilkes’ best.
It would be redundant to list Pilot Mountain right after Stone Mountain. And there’s another jewel in Surry that warrants mention as well.
You won’t find Mayberry on a map. But it’s real, just as the little girl Virginia knew Santa Claus was real.
Mayberry, once the fictional setting for “The Andy Griffith Show,” these days is not just a nom de plume for Mount Airy. Townsfolk there have gone to great lengths to try and make Mayberry come alive.
From the mural on the big blue water tower on Rockford Street to the Mayberry squad cars cruising downtown to the replica of the Mayberry jail to the big fall street festival, fans of the “Griffith” TV show can come to Mount Airy and almost feel like they really are in Mayberry.
Mount Airy promotes its Mayberry alter ego so well, what with the museum and the shops and memorabilia everywhere. You may contend that it’s no secret. And it’s not.
But here’s the secret. Yes, little Virginia, there is a Mayberry. And if you come to Mount Airy, you just might find it.
You don’t have to travel to Lancaster County, Pa., to get a taste of Amish life.
Tucked away in the southwest corner of Yadkin County is a smaller community of the group best known for driving black, horse-drawn buggies, wearing distinctive clothing and eschewing many aspects of modernity.
The Shiloh community features picturesque farmland and the only Amish community in North Carolina. A founding group came here in 1985 from Kentucky, and today the Yadkin community is home to some 30 Amish families.
It’s not like in Lancaster County, where Amish fill town streets and tourists come by the busloads.
But in Yadkin, stop in at the Amish general store that the Boss of the House just adores (a second store is closing at the end of the month). Grab a sandwich or pastry and pass some time on the front porch, where plenty of benches and rocking chairs await.
Note the “Modesty Is Appreciated” sign on the front door and that the wine bottles contain juice only. And who knows who from among the locals just might drop in.
Drive slow on the country roads because you can come upon a horse and buggy really fast.
The Amish are not secretive, but then again they don’t seek attention. Thus the Shiloh/Windsor area is a gem waiting to be discovered.
So what are your picks for our Best-Kept Secrets? As the Raleigh folks make their picks I’ll try and give an update in a “Hometown” column. And we can compare answers.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.