Living History along America’s Scenic Byways

originally published via The Citizen of East Alabama | 2013

Autumn leaves began their parade as the car hugged each curve along the Crooked Road. The Crooked Road is in fact a crooked road which winds its way through Virginia, crossing the Tennessee line near Damascus. In my opinion, it’s one of the best places to take in early fall colors. The colors drift down from the mountain tops in cascades eventually arriving at the bottom, blanketing the Virginia Creeper Trail (a notable biking adventure trail] along the White Laurel River.

Crooked Road IV

One can hardly resist pulling the car off the road and hiking down to the river’s edge for photographs, which is exactly what I did. I’ve collected countless photos on adventures throughout the area, and like the leaves, I treasure them all. Each visit yields new experiences. On this adventure, my journey took me down through Mountain City and then into Watauga Country, North Carolina.

A short distance from Boone there is a valley that I have grown to love, named Valle Crucis. Along NC 194 two rivers collide which form the shape of a cross. In the 1840’s a settlement was formed which later received the name Valle Crucis. Over the past one hundred seventy years or so the small rural town hasn’t changed much, this being one of the reasons I adore it.

I arrived in the early morning hours, frost still clinging to the ground and steam slowly rising into the air. The valley was quiet with only the groan of gravel beneath the car tires.

As one steps inside the old general store, the screen door clatters, and it springs back to close. The old wooden floors creak as if they have a story to tell… There one finds the warmth of an old wood stove [the stove, a store clerk informed me was acquired from an old one room schoolhouse over in east Tennessee.]

Within the belly of the stove wood crackled and an intoxicating amount of heat was projected throughout the room, eventually heating the entire store. Feeling quite chilled by the morning air, the stove presented a warming welcome. Rocking chairs arranged by the stove, accompanied by a checker board with Nehi and Cheerwine bottle caps complete this scene.

Mast Sketch. Stove I

Enchanted by this place, I retrieved a glass bottled Cheerwine from the old Coke cooler and took a seat on the church pew next to the stove, a quiet corner which invited my pen and paper. There I began a sketch. As locals stopped by to check their assigned mailboxes, conversations drifted from one topic to another. Several stopped to compliment my work and some spoke across the counter regarding the weather. One expressed delight in discovering the Valle Crucis “Mystery Pumpkin Carver” was at it again. As it turns out, a local carves pumpkins every autumn and secretly places them throughout the town on many an unsuspecting porch step. Whimsical, intriguing and skillfully crafted, I discovered one had been placed upon an old plow opposite a bench where Doc Watson [the legendary local flat-top picker] once sat playing his guitar.

Mast General Store [1883]
Mast General Store [1883]

Time passes slowly on days such as this. By the time my sketch was complete, I had become friends with the general store dog and was honored by the rich conversations shared with locals ranging from art to the area’s intriguing history.

Being a romantic at heart, such places make my list of favorites. It is these places that invite one to step back in time, explore and stay awhile. It is these places which remind us of bygone eras, and in discovering them, we awaken to realize that such treasured places still exist. They exist not only within our hearts or in the memories of our elders, but can be found along the crooks and bends of winding roads throughout America’s heartland.

    —Art is Life Expressed- Sarah West

-this story was originally published in the Citizen of East Alabama [2013]