My family has been in western North Carolina for hundreds of years, and I can’t imagine life without this place. Everyone in U.S. Christmas (USX) lives in the Appalachian region, so don’t hesitate to hit us up if you plan to visit. Here are some spots I recommend.5. The Blue Ridge Parkway
This 469-mile road draws tons of tourists through the Appalachians each year, and it really is a beautiful place. I have been through most of it and I always feel at home there. Drive slow and check out all the overlooks and parks, but don’t be in a hurry—the speed limit is 45 mph. Also, avoid the Parkway in the winter because the parks service does not scrape the snow or do anything that would pollute the road. Even when the main roads are clear the Parkway can be very dangerous. I once slid to the absolute edge of a cliff because I forgot this rule. Summer is the season for this spot. Safe travels.
4. Pisgah National Forest
I can literally walk out my front door and enter this 510,000 acre wilderness. I don’t know how many bands have stayed at my house and gone tramping around these woods with me. Several people have returned to visit just to go back in. Pisgah Forest is a major inspiration for the new USX album Run Thick in the Night and the recently recorded but unreleased album The Valley Path. There are tons of access points all over western North Carolina. If you plan to go exploring during hunting season, especially during the fall be sure to make lots of noise and wear bright orange. Every year some idiot mistakes a human for a deer and shoots them.
3. Turtle Island Preserve
Turtle Island is the private home of Eustace Conway, a man who shunned the modern world at age 17 and never looked back. You can read about him in Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel The Last American Man. I included his home in my list because it is such a beautiful place, and Eustace is a remarkable person. Turtle Island is not open to the public all the time, but Eustace does have an open house a couple of times a year. His website, www.turtleislandpreserve.com says the next open visitation is in March. While Eustace might look like a Phish-following street hippie, I can assure you that is not the case. He is one of the gnarliest people I have ever met. He hunts with bows and blades, stitches up his own wounds, and makes everything he needs himself. Every structure on the property is a work of art. A visit to his home is simply unforgettable, but be sure to make sure it is cool first.
2. Mt. Mitchell and Roan Mountain
Mt. Mitchell is the highest point in the eastern United States. It is a strange place, both beautiful and tragic. On a clear day you can see for hundreds of miles, but due to pollution those days are rare. There are also many dead trees close to the top due to acid rain. I used photographs from the summit in the first USX Neurot vinyl EP. It is always cold up there, and it is fascinating to see the shift in terrain and vegetation as you drive up. Roan Mountain is on the border of my native Mitchell County, NC and Cloudland, Tennessee. At its peak are grassy meadows that are unique to the region. There are ravens that fly from the mountain and the ruins of an old hotel at the top. This hotel was built by wealthy people and catered only to the rich and powerful. When it closed the Appalachian people stripped it and now all that is left are stones. This scene reminds me of the Shelly poem “Ozymandius.” I have seen people up there when there in all seasons and I was once bitten by a hippie’s dog when there was a foot of snow on the ground. So be careful. Again, there are always lots of weirdos in the woods.
1. Linville Falls
Located on the Blue Ridge Parkway near my home in North Carolina, this tourist-friendly waterfall has always been one of my favorite places. It isn’t remote or hard to find, and there are always tons of people there, but I can’t imagine my life without it. My grandfather was a park ranger and I remember going there with him when I was three or four and walking out in the gardens at the parks entryway at dusk and talking to one of his park ranger friends. That memory is one of the best I have, and I think it is because that place is one of the few that has remained unchanged throughout my life. When I was a little older my grandfather took me fishing at the base of the waterfall and I found a deer jawbone on the bank. I still have it somewhere. The waterfall itself was washed out and reduced by a recent flood, but it is still beautiful. There are at least three overlooks on the park trail, be sure to check the highest one. The surrounding Linville Gorge itself is a great place to explore, but be sure to take proper precautions and always let someone know where you are going, and when you plan to return. And don’t be surprised to see random naked people sunning themselves on rocks, only to stare at you as if you just walked into their private club. For some reason, there are always lots of weirdos in the woods.
** U.S. Christmas’s Run Thick In The Night is out now. Order here.