Visiting the quaint little community of Valle Crucis, NC, feels like a throw-back to the late 1800s. The Watauga River winds gently through the mountain valley, past horse pastures, weathered barns and the historic Mast General Store. On our recent trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains, we found an excuse to visit Valle Crucis just about every day. (Click here to read my first post about this trip and here to read about our previous trip to the mountains.)
We happened upon the pasture above during the golden hour—just before sunset—on a heavily overcast afternoon. The way the sun was hitting the muted winter landscape and looming clouds caught my eye, and I pulled the car over to take a few photos. The girls were with us, so I only had a few moments with my camera before someone piped up from the back seat that it was time for dinner. Tout de suite.
Later that night, as I reviewed the photos, I noticed I had captured the light and color of the valley but missed a few details that could have made for interesting focal points. So I headed back to the same spot the following afternoon to take more pictures. The light wasn't as spectacular as it was the previous day, but I did nab those additional details I was pining over in the photos below. (Don't be afraid of the do-over!)
Below: Isn't that tree fantastic?
Below: You'll see the same (now blurred) tree on the upper right side of the photo, this time taken from across the valley. When I spied the barbed wire, hay bales and red barn, I thought the scene would make a nice shot. But when I realized I could also get that tree in the frame, I knew I had to have it.
Our favorite aspect of this sweet mountain valley was the Valle Crucis Community Park, where we spent many hours walking along the Watauga River, playing at the playground and making new friends. Below, clockwise from left: How I love Nora's bulldog expression. Best playground ever. An old red farmhouse along the river. Happy, happy Cricket.
Below: What a pleasant surprise: plump carved bears sprinkled around the park.
Below left: The old-timey Mast General Store Annex, taken from Valle Crucis Community Park.
Below right: I've been fly fishing a few times in my life and have caught exactly two things: 1) myself, managing to wrap the line around my neck, and 2) a rare and highly prized golden trout. I haven't been fishing since I caught that golden trout in Wyoming. You should quit while you're ahead, right? But the Watauga River looked so inviting on a mild winter afternoon that it made us want to grab fly rods and wade in. (And re-read A River Runs Through It for the 100th time.) We didn't get a chance to fish on this trip, but it was fun to watch the fishermen as we strolled the path along the river. (Cricket has been practicing her casting with a plastic toy fishing pole ever since.)
There is something about that moment when we're driving along and the mountains suddenly jut into view that gets me every time, no matter where we are or which mountains lie ahead. I start breathing a little easier, smiling a little wider and have to resist the urge (or not) to belt out "Oh, what a beautiful morning!" for the remainder of the approach.
Jeff said it well as the Blue Ridge Mountains rose up before us a few weeks ago: "There's nothing dramatic about the Blue Ridge, but they're pretty and you don't feel like they're trying to kill you all the time." So true. They aren't the Rockies. They aren't the Andes or the Himalayas. But they are comfortable and beautiful in their own below-the-tree-line-type way. Plus they really are quite blue. (See the last photo for evidence.)
In October we spent a weekend in the Montreat area of North Carolina. This time we headed about an hour and 45 minutes north of Montreat for a week in the Grandfather Mountain area between Boone, Banner Elk and Blowing Rock. We stayed in a residential town called Seven Devils, perched on its own mountain. Our little cabin sat along a ridge at the top of Seven Devils at 3,655 feet, an altitude that is no joke on the scale of the Blue Ridge. (But when we thought of our place in Colorado, which sits at 9,200 feet in mountain valley, we had to laugh a little at the lack of intensity here in North Carolina. And then be grateful it's not -20 degrees, so the little ones could play outside.)
I wasn't sure how exciting the non-snowy winter mountain landscape would be to photograph, but the rising sun—and believe me, we were awake to witness every sunrise thanks to a couple of ear infections—sent me running for my camera each morning to capture its perfection. And then, of course, little things would start to catch my eye here and there...but only after we'd hit up our favorite coffee shop in these parts, Mountain Grounds Coffee & Tea Co. (We also fueled up along the way with takeout from Bella's and Valle de Bravo Mexican Grill.)
I decided to split my photos from this trip into two posts. This post covers the more classic mountain scenes, while the next focuses on a little valley community called Valle Crucis, which we fell in love with.
Above: Sunrise view from the cabin with clouds above and below. (Grandfather Mountain to the right). Below: Another perfect sunrise with the moon still high in the sky.
We didn't get to hike much on this trip due to weather and illness, but we squeezed in one hike along the Beacon Heights Trail, which required little effort but gave a big reward in the form of the view. If you've got more time and aren't hiking with a 2-year-old, check out the classic Profile Trail, which takes you up Grandfather Mountain to Calloway Peak.
My ladies and me.
Winter foliage. Most of the trees in this area are covered by green lichen (below, bottom left) which creates a stunning effect even when the trees are leafless.
I developed a crush on this old barn next to the road leading up to the cabin.
Another crush: Saddle Up Ranch, nestled along a steep section of switchbacks in Seven Devils. (I've got a thing for beautiful ranches, despite my ever-so-slight fear of cattle and horses.)
Having the Blue Ridge Parkway at your fingertips comes in handy when you're trying to get a girl or two to take a car nap.
Check back for scenes and a few travel tips from Valle Crucis. Click here to view more of our adventures.
I had just one culinary goal for Christmas: to make cinnamon rolls for the first time ever. When I told my friend, Lauren, I was looking for a classic recipe, she sent me her family's. Thank you, Lauren! She assured me that making the yeast dough was simple—not the intimidating process I'd always imagined—and she was right. The rolls turned out exactly the way I had hoped. Yum. Now go forth and bake, using this slightly adapted recipe. (I may have doubled the amount of glaze...)
4 ¼-4 ¾ c. flour
1 package yeast (¼ oz.)
1 ¼ c. milk
¼ c. sugar
¼ c. butter
1 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. butter, softened
½ c. packed brown sugar
1 tbsp. cinnamon
2 c. powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
¼-½ c. milk
To make the dough, combine 1 ½ c. flour and yeast in a large mixing bowl. In a saucepan, heat milk, sugar, butter, and salt until just warm and butter is almost melted, stirring constantly. Add this mixture to flour mixture, then add eggs. Beat with a mixer on low for 30 seconds, constantly scraping sides of bowl. Beat on high for three minutes. With spoon, stir in as much of remaining flour as possible.
Turn out dough onto lightly floured surface and knead in remaining flour. Shape into ball, place in a lightly greased bowl and turn once. Cover and let rise until doubled (1 – 1 ½ hours). It’s ready when you press two fingers into dough and the indentation remains.
Punch dough down. Roll into a large, thin rectangle. Spread on margarine. Sprinkle on brown sugar and cinnamon. Roll from short side. Slice into 8 pieces. Place in an 11 x 13 pan. (I used a cast iron skillet.)
Cover and let rise 30 minutes. (Or cover with plastic, refrigerate and let rise the next morning.)
Bake at 350 degrees for 25-35 minutes, until golden brown.
Once cooled, whisk powdered sugar, vanilla and milk in a bowl to make glaze. Drizzle glaze over cinnamon rolls. Then eat. And smile.
Here are a few variations I'm hankering to try: sweet potato cinnamon rolls, chai-spiced cinnamon rolls, caramel apple sticky buns and biscuit cinnamon rolls (no yeast!).
You can check out my nut-free eats series here.
Hello, folks! We just returned from a last-minute, week-long trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains outside of Boone, NC. Sometimes our feet get itchy, so we pack up the car and take to the hills or the beach or anywhere that removes us from the usual routine. Okay, you can never escape the usual routine with babies, but you can change the scenery. And my, the scenery was beautiful. Where do your feet take you when real life seems a bit too heavy or bland?
While I sift through my mountains of mountain photos and try to pull together a few posts, I thought I'd share with you this photo of an owl we see regularly along one of our favorite trails here at home. Cute little owl motifs have become so prevalent in kids' clothing, toys and design that sometimes I forget how neat it is to catch a glimpse of the real thing. Want to learn more about these incredible creatures? My aunt, a science teacher, just recommended these books to me: Wesley the owl and North American owls. I can't wait to dig in.
On an unrelated note, have you been following the recent discussions on slow blogging? I think I'm entering a phase of slow blogging by both necessity and choice. Between the nasty plagues we keep getting and recent shifts in developmental stages (read: serious sleep regression), it's become difficult to find time to do optional things like, you know, think. Or write. Or edit photos. Have you been there, too?
Stay tuned for mountains photos and a nut-free cinnamon roll recipe once I get my head on straight...
The holidays already seem long past, but I still wanted to post a quick recap to remember the fun we had. Life’s been crazy around here lately (when is it not?), so I'll mostly let the photos do the talking.
Above: Remember those DIY flower pot cake stands I made a few months ago? I spray painted them glossy white and used them for a holiday centerpiece. Below: Cricket dashed through rows and rows of Christmas trees before picking the perfect one.
Christmas morning fun. I love those pudgy hands.
I thought our requisite Christmas tree photo looked best in black and white (so please excuse the contrast between this one and the color images).
One of our favorite local spots to take the girls is the Museum of Life & Science in Durham, and we made several trips there over the holidays with our families. The train exhibit and gorgeous red wolf live at the museum. The cinnamon rolls were my own creation—my first attempt ever. I'll be sharing the recipe soon.
Somehow I didn't even get a chance to grab my camera during our first round of family visitors, so half our holiday week went largely undocumented. Boo. We rang in the New Year with my side of the family by throwing a sock hop that started promptly at 4 p.m. I'm thankful to my aunt for taking the goofy photo below of my sisters and me with our families. (Yes, 4 sisters + 5 daughters = 9 girls in a row.) Happy New Year to all!
One of my 2013 resolutions for this blog is to offer more ideas on incorporating artwork into your home. Many of these ideas will come from things I’ve done around my own house. I’m kicking off this resolution today by posting about using a series of artwork to cover a large wall.
Series can be useful when you have a considerable space to fill but one large piece of art feels either physically imposing or conceptually underwhelming. Technically, of course, two or more objects constitute a series, but there is something about the magic number three that is visually satisfying.
I tend to think of successful series as falling under—but not limited to—one of the following categories: a subject/object captured from multiple perspectives (example: Golden by the lake), a subject captured from the same perspective over time (example: Baby giant tortoises acting tough); different perspectives of one geographical/physical space or abstract idea (examples: Dillon bold and Telluride), tied together by complementary colors or design elements.
We have one wall in our dining room (above), which you can see at the far end of the house the moment you walk in the front door. This wall sat blank for the first three and a half years we lived here; filling such a high-profile space with just the right thing seemed impossible.
Eventually—after spending a significant amount of time seeing that boring, blank wall out of the corner of my eye—I concluded that whatever I hung on the wall had to meet the following specifications: it had to be a series of three pieces (one large piece seemed like it would overwhelm our small dining room); it had to be nature photography that appeared somewhat abstract (to complement our other wall art); and it had to include a color that tied at least one of the tones of the living room (preferably grass green) into the dining room.
When we left to spend the summer of 2010 in Colorado, I decided I wouldn’t come home until I had that series in hand. After a few false starts, I came across the flowers in the above series (Golden by the lake) near Lake Dillon and knew I had found what I’d been looking for all along. I took a lot of photos of the same flowers from different perspectives, then played around with cropping and arranging the images until I found a combination of three that balanced each other. I printed the photos on 20x30-inch canvas.
And you know what? I receive more compliments on this series than just about anything else in the house. And I love when it catches my eye.
(An aside on photo canvases: I absolutely love them and would like to offer them as a regular feature in my shop but haven’t had time to update my website. If you’re interested in canvas prints, send me a note and I’ll send you pricing information.)
Want to view the Golden by the lake photos separately? Left, center, right.
Interested in building your own series from my photos? Check out how to order it here.
And here are more posts from Around the house.
How can it really be January already? The holidays flew by here with a week of visits from both sides of our family. (I’m hoping to post some holiday recap photos soon.) What fun to watch the girls continue to build relationships with each of their cousins and assorted aunts, uncles and grandparents.
When I posted our holiday card photo in December, I promised to share some session outtakes and Nora’s 6-month portraits, which I took when Cricket kept running out of the frame.
The above gem speaks for itself. (You'll see that Nora was just learning to sit up...) Below, clockwise from left: I’m giving you my classic I’m-purposely-not-going-to-do-what-you’re-asking-me-to-do look while rubbing Nora’s back. Now I’m hugging my sister so hard she is about to tumble over. Hey, we’re a pretty cute pair of sisters. Whoaaaaa! (And into the frame dives Dad for the save.)
And here are a few of my favorites of Nora. Below: I love to crunch leaves in my hand, then try to eat them.
Below: I’m a great sport, especially considering a spider just jumped over my legs that was so huge my mom thought it was a frog until my dad set her straight.
I'm Julia Soplop. I've spent my life documenting the world around me in writing and photography. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.