Colorado’s Chimney Rock Named National Monument

Chimney Rock in Colorado is now a National MonumentThis past Friday, as part of his America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, President Obama signed legislation that officially designated Colorado’s Chimney Rock a national monument. The move extends permanent federal protection to the site, and 4700 acres surrounding it, all of which are located inside the San Juan National Forest.

At the center of the new monument is the 315-foot-tall rock spire that dominates the landscape and covers more than 1000 acres by itself. But this natural stone formation, which can be seen for miles in all directions, also happens to be the location for an important archaeological site. Chimney Rock was once home to a thriving community of Pueblo Indians who first inhabited the area about 1000 years ago. Remnants of that community remain today, with over 200 small dwellings, as well as some larger workspaces and ceremonial structures, still in place. It is believed that at its peak, the site was home to more than 2000 people.

In July of this year, an economic survey was conducted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to determine the impact of designating Chimney Rock a national monument. That study found that not only would there be a sharp increase in the number of visitors to the site but those additional visitors would also mean more revenue for the surrounding communities. The study indicated that the local economy could see an annual boost of as much as $1.2 million in the years ahead.

[Photo credit: Kevin Moloney/New York Times]

Fall escapes to the North Carolina Mountains

Fall is almost here and with it come crisp, blue skies and leaves of yellow and red. Enjoy the season with a quick, inexpensive getaway to the North Carolina mountains. The hard part is deciding which getaway to choose.

Kings Mountain State Park: If you like the great outdoors, camping at Kings Mountain State Park is a low-cost option. Whether you have an RV or prefer to pitch a tent on one of the 115 campsites, there’s a place here for you. Campsites consist of packed gravel and have electrical and water hookups. In addition to camping, the 6885 acre park has picnic tables and shelters, boating, a general store, hiking and nature trails, equestrian facilities, fishing lakes and a Living History Farm. The park is adjacent to Kings Mountain National Military Park.

Chimney Rock Park: Situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, Chimney Rock Park is home to The Chimney, an elevation of 2,280 feet that provides a 75-mile view. There is also a walking trail and Hickory Nut Falls, a waterfall of 404 feet. There are gift shops and diners, or carry a picnic lunch to eat by the stream running through the community.Chimney Rock has provided a backdrop for scenes in various movies, including The Last of the Mohicans, Firestarter, and A Breed Apart. Just minutes down the road is Lake Lure where Dirty Dancing, the 1987 movie starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey was filmed.

Little Switzerland: Get to this destination early in the fall because some of the businesses close during the winter and re-open in April. The Big Lynn Lodge and Little Switzerland Christmas Tree Farm stay open year round, so cozy up in a room with a view or camp out in the Bear Den Campground. There are many things to do in Little Switzerland, including hiking, shopping and dining. Try Hearthside Handmades, Simple Pleasures or check out The Switzerland General Store. If you’re a booklover, lose yourself in Little Switzerland Bookstore that’s full of books, nooks and crannies.Asheville Biltmore House and Gardens: A mansion awaits you in Ashville, NC. Specifically, the Biltmore House, situated on 8,000 acres of rolling hills. George Vanderbilt’s 250 room French Chateau was finished in 1895 and gives a glimpse into the past to show how people worked and lived in America’s largest home. Admission includes a self-guided tour of Biltmore, all-day access to the gardens and Antler Hill Village, complimentary wine tasting at the Winery, dining and shopping opportunities and free parking.

Boone, NC: Travel up to the High Country to visit the mountain town of Boone, NC, home to Appalachian State University. Spend the day fishing at the well-stocked Grandfather Trout Farm or try your luck at the Magic Mountain Mini Golf and Gem Mine. Still not tired? Try out the Rock Dimensions Climbing Tower where rock climbing guides and instructors are there to give a hand. Take the youngest ones to the Children’s Playhouse, a non-profit museum, art center and play space, or visit Apple Hill Farm or Moretz’s Mountain Orchard.

Tweetsie Railroad: All aboard! Time to go to Tweetsie Railroad in Blowing Rock, NC. Play cowboys and Indians by taking a ride on Steam Engine #12, a train so famous it’s listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. There’s also a Country Fair, Miner’s Mountain for panning for gold, the Arcade and Shooting Gallery and Deer Park, home to deer, goats, miniature horses and pot-bellied pigs. If you’re planning for Halloween, the attraction is open Friday and Saturday nights from October 1 through October 30 for the 2010 Ghost Train Halloween Festival.

Mount Airy, North Carolina: Visit the Andy Griffith Museum in Mount Airy, North Carolina, Andy Griffith’s hometown. The museum is home to Andy Griffith and Matlock memorabilia donated by Andy Griffith himself. Betty Lynn, who played Barney Fife’s girlfriend, Thelma Lou, is a resident of the town, and there are upcoming opportunities to meet her.Take a tour guided by Emmett Forrest, who grew up with Andy Griffith and is a lifelong friend of the actor. Actor George Lindsay, who played Goober, will donate some of the wardrobe he wore during the filming of the show to the museum. Additionally, the 21st Annual Mayberry Days Festival will take place September 23-26 2010.

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad: Want to really relax and let go? Then book a ride on a train with the Great Smoky Railroad. Depart from Bryson City, NC in a First Class Coach for a 4 1/2 hour, 44 mile round trip ride along the Tuckasegee River into the Nantahala River Gorge with a one hour stop at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. First Class includes lunch, a souvenir tumbler with all you can drink coffee or soda, and a GSRD totebag.