Mountain Adventures

The N&O is doing a summer series called Best-Kept Secrets that features out-of-the-way and lesser-known spots in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

I was sent to take photos of the "secrets" in five different mountain counties. Because my family lives in Chattanooga, TN, my editors thought sending me would be a good way to avoid paying for a hotel room since I could stay with my parents. Free trip home? I'm not complaining!!

 Saturday: I left Chapel Hill at the crack of dawn to begin my adventure. Around midday I made it to Richland Balsam Overlook, which is the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Saturday: I left Chapel Hill at the crack of dawn to begin my adventure. Around midday I made it to Richland Balsam Overlook, which is the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

 There was a fun mix of people at the overlook, bikers taking a smoke break and tourists stopping to admire the view. I loved this interaction.

There was a fun mix of people at the overlook, bikers taking a smoke break and tourists stopping to admire the view. I loved this interaction.

On Sunday, Mom and I packed a cooler of snacks and hit the road. After getting a little lost, we finally made it to Deals Gap, N.C., home to the infamous Tail of the Dragon. The Tail of the Dragon is a stretch of U.S. 129 that has 318 turns in 11 miles. It is considered by many as one of the world's foremost roads for motorcycling and sports cars. Mom and I pulled into the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort in my 2004 Honda Pilot SUV and let's just say we stuck out like a sore thumb. I drove the Tail of the Dragon twice, while we searched for the perfect pull-off to set up our picnic. I wanted to take photos of the bikers who zipped along the curves. We finally found the perfect spot and set up our camp chairs and opened the cooler. I was so thankful my mom was able to experience this adventure with me.

 Sunday: A biker speeds along a curve in the Tail of the Dragon, a stretch of U.S. 129 that has 318 turns in 11 miles on Sunday, July 6, 2014. Bikers and motorists come from around the world to drive tight, steep curves.

Sunday: A biker speeds along a curve in the Tail of the Dragon, a stretch of U.S. 129 that has 318 turns in 11 miles on Sunday, July 6, 2014. Bikers and motorists come from around the world to drive tight, steep curves.

After leaving Deals Gap, we headed home along U.S. 64 West. We stopped for dinner at the Ocoee Dam Deli, one of my favorite places near the Ocoee River. I grew up going to camp at YMCA Camp Ocoee every summer. The Dam Deli is the restaurant right next to Cookson Creek Rd which leads to camp. It made my heart so happy to stop for dinner there.

 After we finished eating, the sun was just starting to set. There were several chickens in the parking lot by the deli. The light and the setting were perfect so I had to take photos.

After we finished eating, the sun was just starting to set. There were several chickens in the parking lot by the deli. The light and the setting were perfect so I had to take photos.

 The golden hour in the mountains is truly magical.

The golden hour in the mountains is truly magical.

 Monday: I traveled to Murphy, N.C. to see the world's largest Ten Commandments at the Fields of the Wood Bible park.  Evelyne Williams, 9, climbs down the steps running alongside the world's largest depiction of the Ten Commandments at Fields of the Wood Bible Park in Murphy, N.C., Monday, July 7, 2014.

Monday: I traveled to Murphy, N.C. to see the world's largest Ten Commandments at the Fields of the Wood Bible park.

Evelyne Williams, 9, climbs down the steps running alongside the world's largest depiction of the Ten Commandments at Fields of the Wood Bible Park in Murphy, N.C., Monday, July 7, 2014.

After visiting the bible park, I headed to camp. In 2003, I first set foot on the trails of YMCA Camp Ocoee. I was 9 years old, timid, shy, and nervous. But I quickly fell in the love with the place. It was at camp where I learned how to be the best version of my self. It was at camp where I conquered fears. It was at camp where I loved and was loved. It was at camp where I made some of my closest and dearest friends. There is something pretty special about a place where you spend weeks in the great outdoors surrounded by people that love the experience just as much as you do. There is an energy in the air that is indescribable.

Last summer was my first summer to work somewhere other than camp. But because I stayed in Chattanooga, I was able to visit often. This summer, I was worried that I wouldn't get a chance to visit my favorite place on earth. But because I passed camp four times on my way to and from my assignments, I knew I was going to be able to make it happen. I didn't tell any of my friends at camp that I was coming. I just arrived and surprised them. It made my heart happy to spend the afternoon and evening in a place that means the world to me with people that mean the world to me.

 I went out on the boat after dinner and took photos while girls on their campout rode the banana boat. The banana boat is a Camp Ocoee tradition and something that all campers look forward to.

I went out on the boat after dinner and took photos while girls on their campout rode the banana boat. The banana boat is a Camp Ocoee tradition and something that all campers look forward to.

 Tuesday: On my way back to Chapel Hill, I stopped in Brasstown to take photos at Clay's Corner. Clay Logan has owned Clay's Corner in Brasstown, N.C., for 27 years. The small, family-owned gas station and convenience store is home to the annual 'Possum Drop on New Year's Eve, during which locals celebrate the new year with the lowering of a live opossum.

Tuesday: On my way back to Chapel Hill, I stopped in Brasstown to take photos at Clay's Corner. Clay Logan has owned Clay's Corner in Brasstown, N.C., for 27 years. The small, family-owned gas station and convenience store is home to the annual 'Possum Drop on New Year's Eve, during which locals celebrate the new year with the lowering of a live opossum.

 When I got to Clay's Corner, Clay was hanging a sign from the gas station awning advertising his new edition of ethanol free gas.

When I got to Clay's Corner, Clay was hanging a sign from the gas station awning advertising his new edition of ethanol free gas.