Moses H. Cone Memorial Park

Most folks who visit Blowing Rock, North Carolina are on vacation from far away, usually in summer to escape the oppressive heat in places like Florida or maybe Charlotte or Atlanta.  Not so for Abingdonians—for us, it’s just hop, skip, and jump over the mountains.  It’s exactly 60 miles from Abingdon to Blowing Rock.  Perfect for a day trip.

Well Maintained Carriage Paths Encircle Bass Lake, March 2011.

About a mile outside of Blowing Rock, just off Route 220, is the entry to Bass Lake, part of Moses H. Cone Memorial Park.  An easy day trip from Abingdon (although certainly meriting a long longer trip if desired), the Moses H. Cone Park is a large, outdoor park managed by the U.S. National Park Service.    

Moses H. Cone Mansion, circa 2007

We have been visiting this park for years.  One of our spring rituals, when it’s warming up and we are getting cabin fever, is to come over here on a March weekend, before the crowds swarm Blowing Rock

The walk around Bass Lake, about a mile, is the perfect family walk.  There are a multitude of trails lacing the park that go far beyond the lake.  A map of the trails, somewhat dated, from the National Park Service is located here.

Mrs. Abingdon Outdoors Revealed: Joanne and Isaac on the porch rail of the Cone mansion, circa 2007. Note the view of the lake in the background.

This is a great place to come to relax—lunch at one of the many restaurants in Blowing Rock and a stroll around the grounds of the estate makes for a nice day. 

Aqueduct leading to Bass Lake. Note the mansion at the top of the photo.

Moses H. Cone was a textile magnate that built his country estate in the very early 1900s similar to Vanderbilt’s estate in Asheville.  The Cone estate is not quite as exorbitant as The Biltmore, but with 3,500 acres of land and a 13,000 square foot mansion that overlooks the mountains, it’s undeniably grand.  The estate was designed with the mansion, which sits at  about 4,500′, overlooking the man-made lake and the carriage trails that meander down towards Blowing Rock.  More information on the background to the creation of the estate is located here.

The house is open to the public, and is accessed off of mile 295-298 of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  While the mansion is worth a visit, what keeps us coming back are the grounds.  Imagine Virginia Creeper Trail type trails:  well-maintained cinder or pea gravel covered trails.  

Future Runner Practicing on the Carriage Path, March 20, 2011

The trails crisscrossing the ground make for an excellent area to train for running.  In fact, most times you are here you will see some locals, part-time residents, or visitors running on the carriage trails.  Next time you are in the Boone-Blowing Rock area, check out this park.  You won’t be disappointed.

Bass Lake
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Cartography of the Outdoors

I like maps.  Always have.  Most any kind. 

Twitter and Flickr Map of the United States

Whether it was due to family travels in my early years, the Rand McNally World Atlas my brother gave me for my ninth birthday (back in the days when the world was not a mouse click away),  or the historical maps we used in high school and college, I’ve always enjoyed peering over and studying maps. 

There is still something to be said for a paper map, even a plain old USGS quadrangle.  As an outdoorsman, my favorite maps currently are the hard copy National Geographic Adventure/Trails Illustrated maps. The tactile experience of taking a paper map into the outdoors and comparing notations and contour lines to landmarks and the land itself with the assistance of only a compass and the naked eye is still the essence of orienteering.  It’s hard to imagine Lewis and Clark, Daniel Boone or Jim Bridger using a hand-held GPS.  The accomplishment and romance of their legendary explorations into the vast unknown American frontier would just not be the same thing if they had had the assistance–the crutch, if you will–of modern mapping and satellite technology.

 Not that GPS or other electronic maps aren’t awesome in their own ways.  Which brings me to the maps in this essay.  Several months ago I came across an article in the London Telegraph that contained a link to these Twitter and Flickr maps.  Eric Fischer created these unique maps from Twitter and Flickr metadata.  Twitter is of course the ubiquitous microblogging website, and Flickr is the premier photo sharing application/website in the world.  

Mr. Fischer was able to collect where people geotagged their tweets and uploaded Flickr photos over a period of time in 2011.  The tweets are in blue and the Flickr photos are red (overlapping areas appear white).  Presuming his sample size was large enough, the maps are probably accurate today.  They certainly would appear to correlate with my own idea of where people would be more likely to take geotagged photographs.

The white areas are the most populous areas, and probably where there is more economic activity.  So if you are interested in living in areas of high levels of microblogging (and most likely, more economic activity), the white areas on the maps would be the place for you.

If, on the other hand, you are more interested in the most photographed areas where there is less human activity, the red areas would be of interest.  In the map below, I have noted some of the significant national parks, recreation areas, and wilderness areas in the United States.  These areas correlate closely with high levels of Flickr geotagged activity. 

For example, the Rockies generally but Glacier, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon national parks specifically are among the “hottest” geotagged areas of the country.  Other out-of-the-way places, like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, also stand out.  (You really have to click on this photo to see the enlargement and appreciate the Flickr data.)

The Most Photographed and Geotagged Natural Landscapes - Click to Enlarge

A closer look at Abingdon Outdoors country shows how our region is practically an island of red along the East Coast.  The red spine of the Blue Ridge is clearly visible in the enlargement below, and in the Southeast, the mountainous area of Southwest Virginia, Western North Carolina, and Great Smoky Mountain National Park are the most photographed areas south of New England.

Our region is also unusual in that we are a “red zone” surrounded by white–a relatively less populated, highly photographed area surrounded on all sides by the major population centers of the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast (Washington, Richmond, Charlotte, Atlanta).

Human activity can be very telling about where it is beautiful.  In these maps, the red shows what are  likely the most photographed, less populated areas of our country.  On the United States map above, our region looks similar to the Cascades area of Washington and Oregon, and the Sierra Nevada region to the east of San Francisco.

Lots of people apparently agree that Abingdon Outdoors country is pretty country indeed.

Abingdon Outdoors Country: The Blue Ridge and Southern Appalachians