Friday, January 26, 2024

RonnieAdventure #0603 - Bechtler Mint, Chimney Rock, Bat Cave, Biltmore, NC

When I think of gold rushes, I visualize mining in western United States; so, I was surprised to learn that the first United States gold rush was in North Carolina. There are a number of kiosks in Bechtler Mint Site Historic Park near Rutherford that provide information on the North Carolina Gold Rush. 

It all started in 1799, when a 17-pound gold nugget was found in a stream east of Charlotte. Soon thousands of prospectors arrived in North Carolina to find their fortunes. The gold around Charlotte was soon panned out, so the prospectors moved northwest to Rutherford, where placer mining was more successful. 

Accounts vary, but it is believed that Christopher Bechtler heard of the gold rush and came from Germany to Rutherford on December 16, 1829, to search for gold. He was not familiar with mining and his search for gold was unsuccessful. Bechtler had been a jeweler and metalsmith in Germany, so miners in the area urged him to create a market for raw gold by opening a private mint. 

The nearest United States mint was in Philadelphia, which was too far to transport raw gold, so Bechtler started minting gold coins for other miners by charging 2.5% of the coin's value. By 1837 he had minted $2.4 million in coins, including the first $1 gold coins in the United States. It is unclear if the adit at the Bechtler Mint Site Historic Park was part of Bechtler's mining activity, or if the adit was used as a secure storage area for gold to be minted. 

Located a short distance from Bechtler's mint site is a historic marker stating that this was the location of the first Rutherford Count Courthouse. The site is not well kept and is covered with brush and weeds. No courthouse ruins were visible on the site.

Lake Lure is located near the resort community of Chimney Rock and was the place where they filmed the Dirty Dancing movie in 1987. It is a beautiful lake, located in a mountain setting, so it is a popular tourist destination during the summer months. 

Chimney Rock State Park is a place for outdoor enthusiast that like to hike, climb, bird watch, and photograph beautiful and unusual places and things. This is a full-day destination, and we did not have a full day in our travel plans, so we did not stop at the park. We did, however, see a rare bigfoot creature shopping in one of the stores. 

Just up the road from Chimney Rock is the unincorporated community of Bat Cave. The actual Bat Cave is the largest augen gneiss granite fissure cave in North America and is not open to the public. However, the town is on the list of unusual place names and it was reported that tourist keep stealing their signs. 

Continuing through Bat Cave, the road crosses the Eastern Continental Divide at 2,880 feet, then descends into Ashville (population 94,589), where the world's larges privately owned home is located.

In 1895 George Vanderbilt purchased 125,000 acres of land for his country estate near Ashville and then constructed his 250-room Biltmore House. The house is surrounded by beautiful gardens, fountains, and landscaped grounds. 

I did not do my research before we arrived, so I was under the impression that we could just drive up and take pictures of the house and gardens. That was not the case.

After driving through the first security gate without any problems, I found a long line of cars waiting at the second security gate. I noticed a visitor center just before the second security gate, and there were no cars coming, so I just pulled in the oncoming lane of traffic and passed the long line of cars to get to the visitor center. Inside, I learned that the Biltmore House was one of the most popular historic sites in the country, with over a million visitors each year. Realizing that it would take all day to even get to the house, we settled for watching a movie about the property in the visitor center. I used my camera to take a few pictures of other pictures found in the visitor center. 
Entrance Gate to Biltmore Property
Biltmore Visitor Center Lobby
Biltmore Visitor Center Lobby
Biltmore - Photographer Unknown
Biltmore - Photographer Unknown
Before leaving Ashville, we stopped at the Little Pigs B-B-Q for lunch. For $6 each, we got a pulled-pork sandwich with sides. That is less than half of what it would cost for the same meal in Las Vegas!

Mars Hill (population 1,869) is the last city in North Carolina when traveling north on Interstate 26 and is the home of Mars Hill University. 

Mars Hill University is a private Christian university and was the first college in western North Carolina. Originally it was called French Broad Baptist Institute (1856-1859), then Mars Hill College (1859-2013), and now Mars Hill University (2013-). Becca Pizzi, the first American woman to win the World Marathon Challenge, is a Mars Hill University alumni.  

The Rural Heritage Museum is located in the original campus library, one of the oldest buildings on campus. Artifacts relevant to the history and culture of the Southern Appalachian region, along with changing exhibitions, are presented in the museum. 

Just before leaving North Carolina, along Interstate 26 there was a scenic overlook with sweeping mountain and valley views. Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the year and most of the fall colors were gone. I am sure this must have been a spectacular view a few weeks earlier. 

Friday, January 19, 2024

RonnieAdventure #0602 - NASCAR Museum, Charlotte Speedway, Dale Earnhardt

NASCAR's Hall of Fame is located in one of stockcar's racing capitals of the world, Charlette, North Carolina. 

We started our visit to the Hall of Fame by watching a movie about auto racing in the High Octane Movie Theater, which was equipped with high-volume-surround sound. The large screen and surround sound allowed us to not only see the large format movie, but it also allowed us to feel the sound. 

The movie gave a history of  how and why NASCAR was formed and how it became the organization that is is today. Early NASCAR races were held on the sands of Daytona Beach, combined with sections of a beachfront asphalt-paved road. After the movie, there were three levels of the museum to explore.

For an extra fee, visitors could sit in race cars that were equipped with video equipment and participate in simulated races. From the balcony it was possible to watch the race on a large video screen above the cars. When a driver was involved in a crash, they were not eliminated from the race, they were able to just start the race over again from the pits. Cars not involved in the crash just kept racing and the cars that started over from the pits had to catch the rest of the pack, or wait for the pack to catch them. 

The famous Cars movie star Lighting McQueen, sponsored by Rust-eze Medicated Bumper Ointment, was also on display.

The Toyota Holidays for Heroes vehicle was located in the NASCAR Hall of Fame lobby to honor all military veterans. Donners were allowed to write messages on the truck. I'm not sure who left us the message, but it was there when we arrived. 

After an exciting day at the NASCAR Museum, we stopped at the highly recommend Amelie's for something to eat.  Not only was the food great, but the desserts were even better. The unusual d├ęcor was an added benefit. 

Charlotte Motor Speedway is a 1.5-mile-quad-oval racetrack built in 1959, northeast of Charlotte. Also included at the property is state-of-the-art ZMAX Dragway. 

When the speedway was first constructed, it was not a profitable venture and went bankrupt within two years. In 1963 the track emerged from bankruptcy and under better management the speedway's mortgage was paid in full by 1967.

The speedway has 24-degree banked turns, which is far less than more modern track that contain banks of over 35 degrees. Grandstand seating capacity at the track is 89,000 and total seating is 146,000. 

Tours of the racetrack were not available on the day we visited the facility, so I just photographed the track seating chart. 

Before going to Ashley's basketball game at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, we drove up to Kannapolis (population 53,114) to visit a memorial for hometown hero Dale Earnhardt. Earnhardt died February 18, 2001, when he hit a wall at 180 miles-per-hour and his seat belt broke. Before the accident, the seatbelt manufacturer had tried to convince Earnhardt that he installed his seatbelts incorrectly, but Earnhardt did not listen and just installed them "his way."