The Harris Sisters have wrapped up another memorable Girls' Weekend! Each year, we Harris Sisters spend a long weekend somewhere new spending some much-needed girl time together. We usually pick somewhere that we've never visited before, but this year we picked Boone, NC, which somewhere we're VERY familiar with (somewhere we used to visit growing up). So this write up with photos is going to be steeped in nostalgia and all kinds of childhood memories - you guys can decide if you'd like to visit there too!
Long-time followers of our blog know that we usually wear matching t-shirts at least one time on our trip and they often match the theme of our trip. This year, we're supporting Deanna's friend who is a local artist that created these awesome Yellowstone t-shirts. We are always happy to shop small and support amazing artists. If you'd like a matching t-shirt, you can pop over to Amber's Facebook page and send her a message about purchasing one: Amber Savage Studio
When we arrived at our cabin, we started our relaxing. Spending time in the hot tub was at the top of our to-do list, considering our activities and reservations didn't start until the next day.
We had big plans on our itinerary for Friday. We had set aside the whole day to visit Tweetsie Railroad, which is first theme park built in North Carolina in 1957 (and one of the first in the US).
The featured attraction at the theme park is a train pulled by one of Tweetsie Railroad's two historic narrow-gauge coal-fired steam locomotives:
- the 1917-built #12, which is the only surviving narrow-gauge engine of the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad
- the 1943-built USATC S118 Class 2-8-2 #190, which was the "Yukon Queen" from Alaska's White Pass and Yukon Route
We rode the #190 Yukon Queen, and remember how I mentioned that we used to visit Tweetsie Railroad when we were growing up? Here's a photo of Harris Sisters Deanna (left) and Donna (right) with our Grandma Elizabeth in front of the #190 engine in 1978 when we were 2 years old.
Each time you ride on the train, your train car is "escorted" by a cowboy (who is a park employee/actor in one of two Wild West Train Adventure shows).
The train stops twice on the tracks and the cowboys get off the train to perform the show. There are two separate shows, so we rode the train twice and got to see both shows. One thing that is noticeably different from when we were growing up is that parts of the show are no longer performed on the train. When we were younger, cowboys would board the train and have a gunfight in the aisles between the seats. Now, the show is performed completely outside of the train. While the cowboys shoot their "guns" a few times during the show, because it's not up close and personal, young children may not have as much of an issue with the loud noises that the guns make during the show. Both shows are comedy routines.
Pro Tip: When boarding the train car from the front entrance, sit in the seats to your left side as you walk down the aisle (which will be the right side of the train as you are seated and facing front) because when the train stops, that is where the action will be.
The cowboys are available for photographs after you exit your train and before the next train boards.
Another live show that we were able to see was Diamond Lil's Can-Can Revue at the Tweetsie Palace, which featured both singing and dancing. Amethyst, Ruby, and Emerald stole the show with their high kicks!
Pro Tip: This show is performed in a venue that serves snacks. So, not only does it provide a nice (air conditioned) break from the heat of the day, it also might be a nice place to stop for a snack if you've got little kids with you!
The can-can girls are available for photographs after the show.
And the last show that we saw for the day was Tweetsie Railroad Country Clogging Jamboree on Miner's Mountain. These girls were super-talented and had so much energy that they wore us out just watching them!
The cloggers are available for photographs after the show.
In between shows, we rode on some of the rides. Of course, we took a whirl on the Carousel.
And a personal favorite of The Harris Sisters is the Tilt-A-Whirl. This ride is better known to us as "The Blue and White Things" Why? Because the Tilt-A-Whirl at our local county fair always had blue and white cars when we were growing up, and this is what we've called every one of these rides since we were little. Note: the cars in the background of this photo shows nary a blue and white car!
Here we are on the inside of a decidedly red and blue "Blue and White Thing" but that does not deter us or really ever get us to call this ride a Tilt-A-Whirl. That is part of the magic of being a Harris Sister!
We rode this ride at least 8 times and whooped it up and had all sorts of fun. By the time we were finished, the ride operator was quite familiar with us.
The ride that probably had the longest line all day was the Turnpike Cruisers. These are the little classic cars that you drive around a track. We waited until late in the day when the line had cleared out to take a spin on the Tweetsie Turnpike.
Pro Tip: If you stand by the bench to the side of the entrance queue, you should be able to get a good photo of someone making the last turn before parking and exiting their car. If you miss that photo op, there are also two parked cars just beyond the entrance queue. They will be to the right as you exit your cars and head under the awning. This is where we got our photos.
These are the same cars that we remember riding in as a child. Here are a few photos of Deanna (red car) and Donna (yellow car) riding on the Turnpike Cruisers with Daddy in 1978. Do you see how Daddy's knee and elbow are mere inches apart? That is still about how you fit in these cars.
Pro Tip: If you have long legs and you're riding in one of these cars by yourself, it might actually be easier to sit on the left side of the car to reach the pedals.
Much to our surprise, one of our very favorite rides, The Tweetsie Twister (known in many theme parks as The Scrambler) was closed for renovations. Had we had the opportunity, we would have also whooped it up on this ride, much like we did on the Blue and White Things. Instead we were just generally sad that we missed out on one of our favorite rides.
For those of you who don't know what this ride is, here's a photo of Donna and Deanna riding The Scrambler at Dollywood from our Girls' Weekend 2013
. Gee, we look a whole lot happier here!
Much like the Blue and White Things, The Harris Sisters have always affectionately called this ride The Cigarette Crusher. We used to take turns riding this ride with Daddy when we were little. And anyone who has ever ridden this ride will tell you that you are thrown to the outside of the ride once it starts and that will certainly crush anything in your pockets - in his case, cigarettes.
Here's a photo of Donna (left) and Deanna (right) in 1978 with Daddy. Notice the placement of his cigarettes in his front pocket (this is why they got crushed). Daddy doesn't smoke anymore, but we will forever call this ride The Cigarette Crusher.
Deer Park Zoo
After riding the rides, we visited the Deer Park Zoo at the top of Miner's Mountain. This is a walk-through petting zoo with African pygmy goats, European fallow deer, nubian goats, emus, llamas, burros, miniature horses, micro-mini donkeys, and Olde English babydoll southdown sheep. You can buy ice cream cones filled with food to feed them and you can pet them as you walk the path.
The African pygmy goats would walk right up to you while you were on the path. We remember this from when we were little too!
Here is Deanna (left), Donna (middle), and Mama with a baby goat at the Deer Park Zoo at Tweetsie in 1979. I want to steal that goat and make it my pet. Deanna is backing away slowly. She was skeptical, at best.
And this photo is somewhat memorable in our family. It's a photo of only me because Mama and Daddy could not convince Deanna to be in the photo. She was scared of all of the animals.
In between the shows and the rides and the petting zoo, we managed to take quite a few other photos too. Here are some of the best ones:
So, who do we recommend Tweetsie Railroad for? Well, train enthusiasts, western enthusiasts, and children of all ages will find something to do here on any day you visit. The park also hosts special annual events: Fireworks Extravaganza for July 4th, K9s in Flight Frisbee Dogs, Railroad Heritage Weekend, Day Out with Thomas, Ghost Train, and Tweetsie Christmas.
It kept The Harris Sisters entertained from the time they opened until one hour before closing, and we're three grown women! While some of the rides are geared toward younger children, if you go with the knowledge that they have many things to do (shows, petting zoo, and rides), then you will certainly find plenty of things to fill your day. We tip our hats to you, Tweetsie!
Land of Oz Theme Park
For Saturday, we had set aside the whole day to visit the Land of Oz theme park in Beech Mountain, NC. In 1970, it opened as a theme park based on the Wizard of Oz books under the guidance of Grover Robbins, who had been successful with Tweetsie Railroad. The Land of Oz was a fully operational theme park until 1980.
Nowadays, you can either book a private tour (which is what we did) or you can visit during one of their annual events: Journeys with Dorothy (held on Fridays in June) or the three-day Autumn at Oz celebration is held the first weekend in September.
Our tour started just past the Fountain of Youth. According to our guide, Zack, while this is not a part of the books or movie, this fountain was at the original theme park entrance. The thought behind it was that all who entered The Land of Oz would be young again for the day.
And we also passed the Judy Garland Memorial Overlook on our way to find the yellow brick road like Dorothy and escape to a land "where troubles melt like lemon drops."
The first part of the tour took us to Gale Kansas Farm, complete with Professor Marvel's Wagon, a big red barn (which used to be a petting zoo when the theme park was operational), and of course, Dorothy's homestead.
Fun Fact: Our tour guide asked us if the house looked familiar. And it does! Turns out when they built the house, they modeled it after the home shown in the background of the famous painting American Gothic by Grant Wood. See the similarities?
While we were in this area, we were treated to a live performance of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by Dorothy.
We continued the tour into Dorothy's house and saw many fun details in the rooms. For example, the photo on the left below is L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its sequels.
There's a little Toto statue parked over by Aunt Em's yarn basket.
There's a photo of the Dorothy and Aunt Em we all remember from 1939 The Wizard of Oz movie, Judy Garland and Clara Blandick.
You'll see blue gingham peeking out of this basket on the bed, in homage to Dorothy's dress.
And there's more blue gingham in the kitchen right beside a box that says Baum's Horse and Stock Food Syracuse, NY USA (again, a nod to author L. Frank Baum).
And the kitchen also houses a picnic basket similar to the one Dorothy carried down the yellow brick road, along with another Toto statue.
After traveling through the rooms of the Gale house, which are beautifully staged for the period, you descend the stairs to the cellar. The cellar is dark and windy! Why? "It's a twister! It's a twister!" The walls are painted with glow-in-the-dark paint to show the items that flew by the window during the tornado. A big screen plays that scene along with the familiar music as you walk through.
When you exit the cellar, you're definitely "not in Kansas anymore." You're still in the Gale house, but this part of the house has been constructed on an angle. So, not only are you walking sideways, you'll notice that this part of the house is an exact replica of the first part of the house, only all of the items are scattered about and made to look as if the house was picked up by a tornado and deposited in Oz.
The doors are hanging off the hinges.
This is the same room we showed you before. You'll note L. Frank Baum's photo is now on the floor along with Aunt Em's yarn basket.
This is the same photo of Dorothy and Aunt Em from before, only now it's on the floor with other items.
A closer peek at the destroyed bedroom.
And here's Aunt Em's destroyed kitchen.
And as you exit out the back of the house, of course you find that the house has landed on a witch!
And it looks like we've landed over the rainbow! Our journey down the Yellow Brick Road began at this point of the tour.
Pro Tip: While The Land of Oz encourages you to dress as your favorite character, the angled part of the Gale house and the Yellow Brick Road might be difficult to navigate if you're not wearing comfortable shoes. Parts of the Yellow Brick Road are uphill.
We learned that the bricks with the shiny, bubbled surface were original to the theme park. They've slowly been replacing these bricks because they are more slippery than regular bricks during inclement weather.
These colorful houses were part of Munchkinland.
This rock face, which is near the corn field and apple trees, looks like the Wicked Witch of the West!
If you look closely, you can just make out a heart on the side of this rock, which is near the apple trees where the Tinman appears during Autumn at Oz. Remember the Tinman asked for a heart!
This was part of the behind the scenes tour. This was the original area that the Cowardly Lion used to perform in. The actor would go into the cave shown, and pop out to greet people. Because there's only a small staircase up to this area and a small viewing area at the top, the Cowardly Lion no longer performs here. They are no longer able to accommodate the large Autumn at Oz crowds with this area.
This area remains from the original theme park too. It was originally installed to be an area to keep birds (much like the original petting zoo). They soon found out that the climate in the mountains was not conducive to keeping birds outside, so instead of getting rid of this area, they kept it as a whimsical piece of art.
This is the Wicked Witch of the West's castle and where she performs.
As you wind down the Yellow Brick Road, you'll see where poppies begin to line the path.
And you see the big Oz gates, which used to lead to the Emerald City part of the theme park.
The original Emerald City part of the theme park consisted of gift shops and an amphitheater where they performed the Magic Moment Show.
An artificial balloon ride was the theme park's only ride. It was a modified ski lift that allowed visitors a view of the park and mountain scenery before leaving The Land of Oz. They have a frame from one of the original balloon rides on display here.
In 1975, a fire was set to the Emerald City Amphitheater and the surrounding gifts shops. Two buildings were destroyed, along with the park's offices, costumes, sound equipment, and props. At the same time, many items were stolen from the museum, including Judy Garland's dress from the movie. The theme park never really financially recovered from this, which is what ultimately led to them closing in 1980.
The last leg of the tour is their current gift shop/museum, which is located outside of The Land of Oz. They have both props and memorabilia from the movies and the original theme park as well as items to purchase. On Saturdays, they have an additional character meet-and-greet. We got to meet Glinda the Good Witch!
So, who do we recommend The Land of Oz for? Well, you'd definitely need to be a fan of The Wizard of Oz (books or movie) to enjoy this theme park. It is really well done and our tour guide Zack was extremely knowledgeable about the history of the park as well as the movie. He shared all sorts of information with us while we took the tour.
If you choose the private tour (as we did), you will have a more intimate experience with just your group and your tour guide. You likely learn more about the history of the park, with only the opportunity to see one or two characters (we saw Dorothy and Glinda). If you choose to attend one of their Autumn at Oz festivals, you will attend with many more people, but you will have the opportunity to see many characters.
With the exception of the Gale house, the tour is almost completely outside. So, make sure you dress for the weather for the day. We had a beautiful sunny day, and made sure to wear sunscreen for our 90-minute tour. But, if you attend Autumn at Oz, you might need to dress warmly or bring an umbrella. (Events are rain or shine.)
We wrapped up our trip with a brunch at Shatley Springs. This is also a place that we visited when we were younger. The area has both cabins you can rent and a family-style restaurant.
This area (and the healing spring water it is known for) was discovered in 1890 by Martin Shatley.
The water runs underneath the restaurant building, and your server will bring you a pitcher of the spring water for your table when you order. You are also welcome to either bring your own containers or purchase empty gallon jugs from the cashier shop (this is where you pay your bill when leaving) so that you can fill them up and take some of the spring water home with you.
You can find the water on the left side of the building (as you are looking at it). You will see a little rocked in area with steps, and you'll hear the water running as you approach.
While you wait to be seated, you can visit one of the gift shops they have on their property or sit in a rocking chair on their front porch.
Pro Tip: Shatley Springs serves down-home Southern-style food. Most people will either say "I love it" or "I hate it" based on the food type alone. If you'd like to visit but Southern cooking isn't your favorite, make a reservation for breakfast or brunch. That's what we did!
This is a busy restaurant, so we'd recommend getting reservations for your party to ensure you don't have a long wait.
We spent the rest of our time this Girls' Weekend hanging out, relaxing, and planning exciting things for the blog. Stay tuned!
So if you have a chance to visit Boone, NC, there are lots of things to do in the area for a fun weekend!
Make sure to check out our other Girls' Weekend posts
for our photos, recommendations, and reviews on the other places we've visited in previous years.