10 days, 10 states: Drum circles and Hogzilla in North Carolina’s “cess pool of sin”

“A cess pool of sin” -North Carolina State Senator James Forrester, in reference to the city of Asheville-

On a cold autumn evening in downtown Asheville’s Pritchard Park, I find myself in the company of an inebriated man doing his best to imitate a silverback mountain gorilla. With his arms hovering just above ankle level, the bearded, shirtless gentleman plows his way through the forest of people collectively losing themselves in the rhythms of the Friday night Asheville drum circle.

Much as I encountered during my stay in Austin, Texas, Asheville is a progressive bubble of free-thought and cultural diversity in an otherwise conservative surrounding. Nestled at an elevation of 2,200 ft. in the Appalachian Mountains, Asheville is the final stop on my “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights” road trip, and I couldn’t be happier to be here.

Though I consider Asheville to be one of my favorite towns in all of the 50 states, not everyone is as accepting of the drum circle dancing, microbrew swilling, buy local promoting mentality that’s so alive and well.

In much publicized comments made by State Senator James Forrester, the Senator vehemently championed the notion that the city of Asheville was a “cess pool of sin”. Unfazed by the verbal bullet, the cheeky citizens of Asheville have instead latched on to the catchy alliteration and have begun selling t-shirts, bumper stickers, and mountain themed memorabilia that glorify their supposedly sinful existence.

Sipping on a pint of Wee Heavy-er Scotch Ale in the city’s lively downtown district, I write the sinful activity off as research towards familiarizing myself with the city’s well known microbrewery culture. Though Asheville boasts a modest population of just over 80,000 people, no less than 9 breweries operate within the immediate region. Thrice garnering the title of “Beer City USA”, Asheville also made the list of Gadling’s official “24 greatest cities in the world for drinking beer”.

%Gallery-140241%Though the corner stool of a dimly lit brewpub is as good a place as any for quaffing local stout, in a quirky town such as Asheville, there are far more creative options for enjoying your succulent brew.

Options such as inside of the purple painted LaZoom comedy tour bus.

Notorious amongst locals as being a slow moving historical tour that strangely enough involves an angry, bicycle-riding nun, the tour is also famous for having a license allowing history buffs to drink beers while on board. Genuinely funny and staffed by energetic Asheville locals, it’s the history class you’ve always dreamed of.

Drinking on a moving bus? Definitely sinful.

So where else can I find this supposed sin in this supposed cess pool of a town that I just happen to love so much? Well, if gluttony is a sin, then a trip down to 12 Bones Smokehouse is probably the first place I would look. With a work week that would make even the French envious, 12 Bones is so popular for their southern style BBQ they’re only open for business five hours a day, five days a week, all of which have a line stretching deep into the parking lot. In well documented photos adorning the walls, even President Obama isn’t immune from racing down to 12 Bones for a lunchtime BBQ fix.

My 12 Bones item of choice? A “Hogzilla” sandwich that consists of pulled pork, a whole sausage, multiple strips of sugar bacon, and melted pepper jack cheese on a hoagie bun. Add in a side of baked beans and collard greens, pay a meager $7.50 for the privilege of calling it your own, and partake in a gluttonous feast so good it might even be in the neighborhood of sin.

Good BBQ. Good beer. Beautiful mountains. Quirky locals. Fresh mountain air. Asheville, North Carolina is decidedly my kind of town, and if this is the definition of sin, then throw me deep into the cess pool.

Kicked back in a lounge chair on the banks of the French Broad River, the third oldest river in the world, I breathe a deep, 3,600 mile sigh that’s half contentment, half exhaustion. Over the last 10 days I’ve bathed beneath waterfalls in Umpqua, Oregon, and stood outside of the oldest house in America in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’ve hiked the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, Utah, and trekked deep into the foliage of Georgia’s Tallulah Gorge.

The result? Affirming the notion that of all the countries in the world to set off on a road trip, there are few better places to start than right here in our own backyard.

This is the final stop on Kyle’s “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights” series, but by no means the end of the adventures. Stay tuned to Gadling for where he might pop up next.

10 days, 10 states: Introducing Tallulah Gorge and the Seven Natural Wonders of…Georgia?

“Oh Georgia, take me to your Southlands. I sometimes feel that life has passed me by. Oh Georgia, lead me through your heartlands, I need to see them one more time before I die” -Elton John-

By now you’ve probably heard about the new Seven Wonders of the Natural World which were released last week. If you’re anything like me, you’ve already begun formulating a plan on how to visit them all. I’ve already sailed a junk through Halong Bay, watched the sunrise over Jeju Island, and hovered over the Devil’s Throat in thundering Iguazu Falls, so what’s four more?

While I’m sure there are more than a handful of world nomads who have already experienced all seven of the new wonders, I can almost guarantee there is no one out there who has been to all seven of the new wonders and has also–get ready for this one–visited all seven of the Natural Wonders of Georgia.

Yes. You read that right. The Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia.

If I had read that statement five days ago while hiking the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon I would have coughed up a good chuckle at the thought. As I stand here on a roadside in northeastern Georgia, however, the hills dripping in red and orange foliage that spills nearly 1,000 ft. down into Tallulah Gorge, I’ve suddenly stopped my chuckling.

One of the state’s aforementioned wonders and the deepest canyon east of the Mississippi River, Tallulah Gorge State Park is best known for a series of six waterfalls that carve through the gorge and erupt into the Talullah River far below. A regional haven for whitewater kayakers, the Tallulah is known for a steep descent where the water drops 500 vertical feet over the course of only half a mile. You can only kayak the Tallulah, however, on days when there is a planned water release, which is an event that only happens six times every year.

Oh, and you also have to be completely out of your mind. Many of the rapids in Tallulah are classified as class V+, and one rapid by the name of Oceana Falls was described to me as simply being “boat-breaking”. Thanks, but I’m fine with sticking to the 20 miles of hiking trails for the time being.


Speaking of completely crazy, although it’s pleasant enough to take a late autumn stroll through the park, there have been two notable figures in history who thought it would be a better idea to actually walk OVER the park and get a view of the Gorge from directly above.

The first tightrope crossing of Tallulah Gorge took place in 1883 as part of a publicity stunt for a local hotel, and it would be another 87 years before the famed daredevil Karl Wallenda would become the second man to walk over the gorge on a tightly stretched piece of wire. An estimated crowd of 30,000 people gathered around Tallulah Gorge to watch the nimble German do two complete headstands in the middle of his death-defying crossing, and the large towers from where he strung his high wire are still visible in the Gorge today.

Although Wallenda would eventually fall to his death in a tightrope stunt in Puerto Rico 8 years later at the age of 73, his crossing of the Tallulah Gorge still ranks as one of the most notable events to ever take place high up in these Georgia hills. The other, of course, being the filming of the 1972 hillbilly thriller Deliverance, which was filmed and set right here in the gaping Tallulah Gorge.

Tight rope acts and toothless movie characters aside, northeastern Georgia and the towns around Tallulah Gorge are a remarkably agreeable part of the country. After nearly 3,400 miles of driving, I am met with the same sensation I had in Durango of thinking I really could just stay and live here.

Single lane roads. Country stores selling locally made jam. The refreshingly slow pace and community feel of small town America. These are the scenes which inspire me to crawl behind the wheel of a car and drive across the third largest country on the planet. The simple joys of leaving the chaotic drone of the Interstate in favor of winding back roads that lead you to corners of this country you never knew existed.

Corners of this country, like Georgia’s Tullulah Gorge.

Follow Kyle on the rest of his journey as he explores “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”

10 days, 10 states: Going French in New Orleans

“New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin”. -Mark Twain-

Over an afternoon sampling of beignets and cafe au lait, the New Orleans people watching is starting to hit its peak. A horse and carriage streaks past a tap dancing street performer, though the mobs of pedestrians pay little attention to either. A liquored up couple toting hand-grenade drink holders stumble through the 3pm humidity. Across the street, a family of tourists snap pictures of two saffron clad Buddhist monks, who strangely enough are busy snapping pictures of each other, the two of them looking to document their own time as tourists in this city.

It seems perfectly appropriate to be sipping a French brew and watching this scene unfold in one of America’s most notoriously multi-cultural port towns. I’m serenely perched in Cafe du Monde, a French Quarter coffee stand that’s been serving powder-sugar covered pastries and chicory-laced coffees since 1862, and my “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights” bus has officially rolled into one of America’s favorite party towns.

Though a little shindig called Mardi Gras may claim most of the New Orleans fame, the Vieux Carré (French Quarter) is more than just a raucous party spot; it’s one of the most historically important and culturally fascinating places in all of the United States. Established by the French, transferred to the Spanish, and eventually purchased by the United States in a little event known as the Louisiana Purchase, the quarter is now an outdoor museum for some, and the ultimate hedonistic playground for others.

Jackson Square, the colonial square named for war general and future US president Andrew Jackson, was originally regarded as the city’s Plaza de Armas while the city was under Spanish rule. Today the square is a gathering place for scores of guitar players, palm readers, trinket toters, tourist scammers, and everything else in between.


A mere two blocks away, the bars and brothels of Bourbon Street thump to the rhythm of rock beats and the whirl of alcoholic slushie machines. One of the few cities in America with no open container law, as long as your booze is within a plastic cup, the streets of the city are your open air bar. Unlike the glitzy streets of Las Vegas, however, life on Bourbon Street is a little more raw. Shiny casinos and choreographed fountains are replaced by weathered clapboard shutters and festering curbside puddles. As I walk past the unavoidable “Barely Legal” strip club, I realize New Orleans is a long way from relinquishing its port town past.

Wandering down Rue Royal after polishing off the sugary beignets, a familiar, white-bearded face appears on the corner of Rue Toulouse singing soulfully into a microphone. Amazed at my good fortune, the man is none other than Grandpa Elliot, the legendary Nawlins street performer who went viral in the Stand By Me video by musical group Playing for Change. His prowess on the harmonica and husk in his voice remind me of where I am.

Grandpa Elliot sighting officially in hand, there’s now only one thing missing on this New Orleans afternoon, and that would be a massive bowl of Cajun jambalaya.

Ever since crossing the Texas/Louisiana border (the Bienvenue en Louisiane welcome sign a testament to the French and Acadian history), a hankering for a heaping bowl of spicy meat and seafood has been brewing somewhere deep. True Cajuns will argue that the Cajun grub in New Orleans is a watered down replica of the bayou cuisine found in Acadiana (the swamps and parishes of southwestern Louisiana), but for someone sampling the regional cuisine of a 3,600 mile road trip, it’s all Cajun to me.

Polishing off an over-sized helping of rabbit and crayfish jambalaya at Coop’s Place, a dilapidated Cajun establishment popular with locals and the city’s “not-so-elite”, a parade had luckily gathered on nearby Decatur Street, providing me with a rare moment of tranquility to wander the quarter’s momentarily empty streets.

While many are of the opinion Bourbon Street has become a dirty tourist trap where it’s no longer possible to find the traditional jazz music born from these very streets, the jazz culture in the quarter has far from disappeared.

No place was this more apparent than in the iconic image of a lone saxophone player illuminated in the glow of a streetlight on an otherwise empty Rue Royal. Indifferent to the fact that the loose-change toting passerby had migrated to the parade over on Decatur, the young musician continued to wail emotions deep into the warm Louisiana night. If there were ever a moment of New Orleans I wanted to experience, it was this moment presently at hand.

I drop a couple of dollars into the nearly empty sax case, nod an approving gesture, and depart the funky port town with the sweet sound of the saxophone ricocheting from the balconies above.

Follow Kyle on the rest of his journey as he explores “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”.

10 days, 10 states: Keeping it weird in Austin, Texas

“We were headed down the road, hit the border, by the morning, to let Texas fill my soul…”
-Pat Green

I will admit that I eat some pretty strange things on occasion, because when you’re on the road a lot, that’s simply what you do. Snails in France, squid in Singapore, and what might have been cat in Vietnam. Never in my life, however, of all the culinary curiosities that have found their way into my gullet, have I ever harbored the urge to roll out of bed and immediately start eating a taco.

In Austin, however, this is apparently just what you do. You get up. You brush your teeth. And then you go eat some tacos.

Rousted out of bed by my taco-needing, still-intoxicated-from-last-night college roommate who now calls Austin home, morning pleasantries were barely exchanged before making a beeline for a taco stand clear on the other side of town. What initially seemed like unnecessary haste proved to be a keen sense of timing. As it turns out, on any given Saturday morning thousands of young people in Austin, Texas are simultaneously craving tacos. Maybe tens of thousands.

Don’t believe me? I wouldn’t either. That was until I pulled into Taco Deli at 9:30am only to be thrust into the back of a line at least 65 people deep which wrapped around the side of the building into the hinterlands of South Austin. Already well documented by fellow Gadling blogger Elizabeth Seward as being a city known for its food trucks and DIY food culture, old and young Austinites alike have a serious soft spot for Mexican food in the AM.

And, I found out, so do I.

Morning meat aside, Austin is a city that has been well documented in Gadling lately, and justifiably so. As the “Keep Austin Weird” movement has demonstrated, Austin is one of the funkiest and most fascinating cities in all of the 50 states. A bubble of progressive thought in a traditionally conservative state, the movement to keep Austin as a locale which promotes independent businesses and champions large amounts of music, art, and culture has infused the capital city with an energy and an atmosphere that draws people to the city in droves.How large is the current allure of Austin? In a 2011 list put out by Forbes magazine, Austin was listed as the fastest growing city in the entire country with a 37% spike in population over the last decade. Add in the 52,000 students currently matriculating at the University of Texas, and you might understand the depth of the morning rush for tacos.

Even with its rapid growth. however, Austin remains the largest city in the United States that doesn’t have a professional sports team. Much of this is of course due to the Longhorns being the undisputed owners of every shred of sports passion from here to San Antonio, and most argue that there’s simply no room for a pro team in a city that bleeds burnt orange.

Don’t believe me again? Go to a UT tailgate outside the football stadium and begin to question the level of passion. As I undertake the epic road journey that has become “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”, I was fortuitously able to sculpt my itinerary around a Texas home game in an effort to experience the mayhem for myself. Judging from the the throngs of beer toting, burnt orange wearing good citizens of Austin, if you had told me the entire city had shut down for the occasion I wouldn’t have begun to argue. Though Austin may be a progressive bubble, this is still football in Texas, and nothing gets in the way of that. Ever.

Cruising through the uber-hip South Congress (SoCo) district of town prior to the game, it’s fair to say that there’s much more to Austin than breakfast tacos, food trucks, live music, and football. One of the most popular districts with visiting tourists, South Congress is an artsy, oft-photographed neighborhood rife with boutique salons and vintage shops that exude the “weirdness” Austin aims to maintain. As if to justify the funky vibe, a purple-haired man with a guitar and a pair of zebra pants comes waltzing out of the psychedelic themed costume shop Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds, easily melting into the sea of energetic passerby.

Staring down the street at the Texas capitol building (which is the largest state capitol in America, and 7th largest building in the world when it was first built), the streets of South Congress teem with a curbside mixture of proud alumni, tight-jeaned hipsters, camera-toting tourists, hungover coeds, and some poor guy just trying to get a taco.

Thanks for welcoming me to your city, Austin. And thanks for keeping it weird.

Follow Kyle on the rest of his journey as he explores “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”.

10 days, 10 states: Finding America’s oldest in Santa Fe, New Mexico

“We’ll pack up all our junk and fly so far away, devote ourselves to projects that sell. We’ll open up a restaurant in Santa Fe, forget this cold, Bohemian Hell” -Rent-

This may sound alarming, but I have actually met people–American people–who are unaware that New Mexico is one of the 50 US states. As shocking as that seems, it is, I suppose, slightly understandable, but inexcusable nonetheless. After all, there is no state called New Canada, though that barely qualifies as an excuse.

To be fair, however, it hasn’t always been this way. As the 47th star on the US flag, New Mexico didn’t become a US state until 1912. As of this writing, that’s still under 100 years. Although New Mexico’s history as a member of the United States may be relatively young, it’s capital city, Santa Fe, is the oldest European city in the western US.

And this, is exactly why I am here.

From a historical perspective, there are few American cities more intriguing than Santa Fe. Originally given the name of “La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asís”, (“The Royal Town of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi”), Santa Fe was established in 1607 as a remote territory of Spain. Only St. Augustine (1565) in Florida is older, with Jamestown, Virginia (1607) being established by the English at roughly the same time.

It’s endlessly fascinating to me that a mere few hundred years ago, this altitudinous town at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains was actually part of Spain, especially seeing as modern day America was a concept that wouldn’t be realized for at least another 150 years.

Ok, so Santa Fe is old. I knew that while driving here from Durango, Colorado. I didn’t realize, however, that when it comes to being old, Santa Fe is a wonderland of superlatives. It’s the oldest capital city in the United States (as well as the highest at 7,000 ft.). The oldest house in America is in Santa Fe. The oldest church in America, San Miguel chapel, is in Santa Fe. The Palace of Governors, the oldest public building in America, is also, as you might have guessed, here in Santa Fe.

%Gallery-139205%Standing in front of the St. Francis Cathedral Basilica in Santa Fe’s historic downtown district, I am immediately transported to my days spent as a wide-eyed university student in Salamanca, Spain. Although the modern day cathedral was not built until the 19th century, the town’s church has resided on this very plot of land since the day of the city’s first founding.

In the spirit of my “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights” road trip, Santa Fe is also the beginning of the fabled Old Spanish Trail. As the de facto capital of the entire region, the Old Spanish Trail was a rugged trade route that originated in Santa Fe and ran across the desert to faraway Los Angeles. Due to the remote and barren nature of the route, traders would eventually spill into Santa Fe laden with merchandise and goods ready to be bartered and sold.

As my wife and I haggle with a street merchant over a pair of blue turquoise earrings, I sense the energy this Plaza must have held when merchants from Mexico City to Missouri came to hawk their wares. Although the Old Spanish Trail has been replaced by nearby Interstate 40 (which is nowhere near as exciting), Santa Fe’s legacy as a marketplace for crafts and artisans continues to live on. As the acclaimed travel writer Jan Morris famously notes, “Santa Fe is the artiest, sculpturest, weaviest and potteryest town on Earth”.

Of all the goods that have been garnered and sold in this very square, it’s immediately apparent form a leisurely amble through the Plaza that the blue turquoise has managed to thrive. There are blue turquoise necklaces. There are blue turquoise belts. There are statues of animals and boots and entire pieces of furniture that are hopelessly adorned in blue turquoise.

We buy the earrings and climb the adobe stairs to a restaurant that overlooks the Cathedral and Plaza, it’s central obelisk covered in historic New Mexican quotes. Over a dish of New Mexican cuisine–classically Mexican dishes infused with red and green chiles and honey-dipped sopapillas–I partake in a locally craft-brewed beer and watch as the setting sun illuminates the earth-stained adobe walls of the town.

Though normally not one for shopping, in discussing the freshly purchased earrings, for a moment I realize I’m pleased to be just another merchant on an ancient North American trade route; another transaction in the continuing history of one of America’s oldest towns.

Follow Kyle on the rest of his journey as he explores “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”.