North Carolina is a state that is rich with historic sites, including the dunes where the Wright Brothers’ took flight, and battlegrounds use in both the War of Independence and the Civil War. It’s a land with great natural beauty with the Appalachian Trail, Great Smoky Mountains, the shores of the Outer Banks and so many more gorgeous views, walks and hikes. The state has engaging museums, an excellent zoo, seven different and out-of-this-world planetariums and three separate aquariums in the Outer Banks to let you get close to the fish while being right by the sea!
North Carolina has so much to draw you in and is a tourist-friendly destination with wonderful guidebooks and web resources to plan a whole trip, long before you cross over state lines. So, we’ll be staying away from those more classic destinations.
We want to cruise along the Road to Nowhere, a road built for people displaced by a dam to get to places easily. Their homes were flooded for the dam, but they were promised their lives wouldn’t be harder because the road would help them. Thirty years after construction had started, only a small amount of road had been laid when the town realized that sulfur was being exposed and water was becoming acidic. They ceased the (already glacially slow) construction and abandoned it. The road stops abruptly after a tunnel, but the area does have great hiking and maps are available. There’s also a great sign for a photo op. It reads, “Welcome to the Road to Nowhere—a broken promise! 1943 - ?”
Parking the car and getting out to explore the state won’t be hard in the parking structure inside the Touch My Building interactive art exhibit. An artist turned a multistory parking structure into a playable musical instrument for passersby to play with to engage people with the city. If we need gas, we’ll be out of luck at our next stop, the last Shell Oil Clamshell station in the U.S. Sadly, the clam is no longer a gas station and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976. It’s amazing to think about what current spots that we go to in our day-to-day lives might someday be considered important. Inside is a lot of memorabilia about the Shell station.
If we head to Mount Airy, we can get gas but not from Wally’s Service Station. The town embraces its status as Andy Griffith’s hometown and has decorated some areas to resemble the fictional town of Mayberry, including Wally’s Service Station, the Courthouse, Floyd’s Barber Shop and so much more. Any fans of the show should head there in September when the Mayberry Days Festival takes place!
We’ll enjoy cruising around looking at roadside attractions. The state is home to a giant cougar on wheels, a giant coffee pot that could hold 11,840 cups of joe at once, the world’s largest bureau with a giant mismatched pair of socks hanging out from a drawer and the world’s largest operational frying pan. The frying pan is used once a year at the North Carolina Poultry Jubilee.
If you like history, but prefer it on the weird side, you can check out the U.S. Weather Bureau Station in Hatteras. It is now a welcome center with a small exhibit about its past. One interesting event in the station’s history was that the operators received a message sent from the Titanic, “Have struck iceberg.” When they passed the message on to New York, the operator there thought that it was a drunken joke and ignored the telegraph. Another point of interest might be the spot of the Goldboro Nuclear Mishap. When a B-52 crashed in 1961, it released two nuclear bombs it was carrying. It could have been a horrific disaster instead of a footnote in history. Three crewmen died, but the rest of the eastern seaboard went on with normal life. There is a sign to mark the spot.
As we drive through the state, we feel it’s crucial to take our foot off the gas. North Carolina is a beautiful place with gorgeous scenery, and it should be taken in slowly. It’s a place to share with friends and family at an easy pace with good music, good food and good company! Start planning your trip today!