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Today our “primary highways” series brings us to the state of North Carolina.  We visit the Outer Banks, the Research Triangle, Bank of America Plaza, geek out on Moog synthesizers in Asheville and view the mountainous west.

It feels a little odd to be post this now, after the vote to approve Amendment One (it was written beforehand).  There is quite a bit of ire directed at the state, and I did honestly hope that NC would be the first state in the region to defeat a marriage-discrimination amendment. But here we are, and there are still a lot of good people there, and so we focus on what's good and look forward to today's disruption of the Bank of America shareholders' meeting.

As always, please leave your thoughts about places in the state, especially all the places weren't able to cover in the article.  And thanks to everyone for your support of this series!

[Originally posted on]

[Originally posted on]

Today our "primary highways" series brings us to the state of North Carolina.

Crossing from Virginia into North Carolina on I-95 (which I most recently did in 2009 under cover of darkness), one gets the sense that "now we are really in the South."  It's perhaps a combination of the vegetation, terrain, but especially the name "Carolina".

That particular trip involved traveling southward along I-95, and then later returning to the state near the coast on US 17.  The contrast between the different corridors was quite apparent.  The US 17 corridor, when when it was not exactly on the coast, was surrounded by shorter vegetation in a lighter shade of green.  As we got closer to Wilmington and I-140, it was hard to tell whether we were in a quiet coastal region or in an outer suburb with lots of highways but relatively little visible development.  From 17/I-140, we turned onto I-40 and headed north.  But if I the time for a proper visit, I would have continued up US 17 back towards the Outer Banks.

One can talk a particularly scenic trip through the Outer Banks on North Carolina Highway 12, which stitches together many of the barrier islands via bridges, causeways and ferries with fantastic views.  The road goes through the Hatteras National Seashore.  It also goes through Kitty Hawk, often credit as the location of the Wright Brothers' first flight, though it was actually in nearby Kill Devil Hills.  One of the most prominent landmarks, in addition to the continuous stretches of beach, is the Hatteras Lighthouse.

The Outer Banks are part of a beautiful and quite fragile environment, and one that is quite prone to being hit by hurricanes and subject to storm surges and flooding.  Consider this breach of the islands and the highway that occurred in 2011.

[Photo from NCDOT on flickr.]

If we leave the Outer Banks and head northward and eastward on I-40, we eventually come to the Raleigh, the state capital and one of the main cities of the Research Triangle together with Durham and Chapel Hill.  The Research Triangle is home many technology companies (both in the Research Triangle Park and beyond), and is anchored by Duke University, University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University.  These schools are also known for their basketball teams.  Raleigh is a much larger city and the center of state government, and sports both an inner and outer beltway, I-440 and I-540 respectively, though the latter is only partially built.  Durham, to the north and west, looks from images as a grittier city that might attract my interest, especially with the old tobacco-factory buildings that have been converted to mixed use.

[GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

It is also home to a large and vibrant African American community with a long history of successful businesses and a neighborhood once dubbed "The Black Wall Street."  It was also a center for early Civil Rights activity including some of the earliest "sit-ins."  Already in decline by the late 1960s, the neighborhood appears to have been torn apart by the construction of the Durham Freeway (NC 147) through the center of the city. It is a familiar sounding story (like the Cross Bronx Expressway in New York).

From Durham, I-85 and I-40 run concurrently to the city of Greensboro.  Greensboro includes one stretch of I-40 which is signed with no fewer than six different highway numbers.

>From Greensboro, we take I-85 south and west towards Charlotte, the state's largest city.  Charlotte has become a major banking center, most notably it is home to "way too big to fail" Bank of America.   It has prospered and underwent a major construction boom with a large jumble of post-modern skyscrapers.

[By Riction (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons]

The Bank of America headquarters in Charlotte is the "tallest building between Philadelphia and Atlanta."  It is the one with the green lights on top in the photograph above.  This sculpture, Arnaldo Pomodoro's Il Grande Disco sits on Bank of America Plaza.  It is known locally as "The Disco Wheel."

[Photo by Antonio Viva on flickr. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)]

Bank of America is having its shareholder's meeting this week, and a large protest is expected today to coincide with the meeting, presumably converging at this very plaza.

We return to Greensboro and head west on I-40.  The development becomes sparser and the landscape more hilly and scenic as we approach the Blue Ridge Mountains.  And more treacherous as well.  We turn onto I-240 to the town of Asheville.

While I have not yet been to Asheville myself, it sounds a little bit like the resort towns here in northern California, with music, arts, and old-style downtown turned upscale, and new-age types.  But for me it is most notable as the home of the late Bob Moog, the great synthesizer pioneer and of our heroes at CatSynth.  Asheville continues to be the home of Moog Music, Inc, which makes both hardware synthesizers and one of my favorite musical iPad apps, Animoog.  The independent but related Bob Moog Foundation is building a museum and cultural space in Asheville, and they are involved in education outreach and teaching students the science and art of electronic music with programs, with specific efforts in western North Carolina.

We conclude by turning north onto I-26, a relatively new and quite spectacular highway through the mountainous border region between North Carolina and Tennessee.   The highway, which opened in its current Interstate form in 2003, winds it's way through mountain passes, alongside cliffs, and even through a tunnel.  This video gives a sense of what it is like, even though it is traveling in the opposite direction, from Tennessee back to North Carolina.

Originally posted to catsynth on Wed May 09, 2012 at 09:20 AM PDT.

Also republished by Headwaters and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Nice diary (9+ / 0-)

    Former Triangle resident here. Nice photos! Yes, Durham is worth a visit and Asheville is as well. I grew up going to see the Durham Bulls in their ballpark right near where your photo was taken (it's no longer located there though, they have built a new park). I-40 was completed when I was in high school, right around the time I was learning to drive - that was the first highway I ever drove on.

    Wilmington is a nice city to visit as well. It also has a beautiful old cemetery - Oakdale. And it's right by Wrightsville Beach, a really nice beach.

  •  Thanks for the (8+ / 0-)

    trip down memory lane. My five years in Chapel Hill were some of my favorite; and, despite having hardly a penny to my name, I managed to see most of the cities and sights you listed. It's a beautiful, diverse state that, despite last night's setback, is still on the right long-term political trajectory (if you had told me when I left in 2003 that a black Democrat would get their 2008 electoral votes, I'd have said you were growing something else in your tobacco field and apparently consuming large quantities of it).

    and one of my favorite musical iPad apps, Animoog.
    Isn't it great? I have it on my iPod, which presents some physical challenges -- but I was pleasantly surprised by how much they managed to pack into the app. Though I don't have much use for an iPad (Angry Birds works fine in smaller form, for example), synth apps are the one category that I would LOVE to explore on a device big enough to actually hit the right keys.

    You are reading my signature line. #hashtag

    by cardinal on Wed May 09, 2012 at 09:44:35 AM PDT

  •  Greetings from Asheville, one of 5 counties to (12+ / 0-)

    DEFEAT proposition #1.

    You completely missed Winston-Salem, btw.  Went right past it on I-40...

    And Lake Norman/Davidson on I-77 going north from Charlotte...

    Happy little moron, Lucky little man.
    I wish I was a moron, MY GOD, Perhaps I am!
    —Spike Milligan

    by polecat on Wed May 09, 2012 at 10:14:04 AM PDT

  •  nice work ! but link some google maps EOM (4+ / 0-)

    If you didn't like the news today, go out and make some of your own.

    by jgnyc on Wed May 09, 2012 at 10:18:12 AM PDT

  •  You really need to ... (12+ / 0-)

    ... get off the freeways in North Carolina!! Here's a couple of starter roads, concentrating on the western part of the state, through the mountains.

    From Asheville, head south to Murphy, near the SW corner of the state, on US-19 through Cherokee (you can get to it easily taking I-40 west to the Lake Junaluska area). Within that little jaunt you'll see some fine scenery as you get into the Blue Ridge, and early along that way you'll see one of the rarest features of an American highway, a corkscrew curve where the road literally loops over itself. It's a fascinating point of interest, built that way during the WPA days of road construction to make a turn with altitude change in a very tight little place on a mountainside. Cherokee is a great touristy stop. Don't forget about US-441 up through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park(and into Gatlinburg and the glitz of Dollywood, if you're into that sort of thing, but it's in Tennessee so let's leave it along for now). Murphy is a nice little town with plenty of tourist accommodation at the end of an easy day.

    Head east from Murphy on US-64 to see some of the nicest scenery in the eastern US. The road is a  bit twisty at points but it goes through a whole slew of little towns full of interesting stops, lots of antiques and shopping, and for those who're willing to poke around some of the finest handmade furniture shops in the world. The road is pretty easy through Franklin, then it's basically the way all roads in the mountains used to be... towns like Highlands and Cashiers are standouts. Before you get to Brevard, for an even finer little road, try NC-215 headed north up (really up) to the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is truly a national treasure everyone should spend at least a bit of time exploring.

    The BRP was a major 30s project. It runs from Cherokee all the way through Asheville and on to Lynchburg, VA. No stoplights or highspeed cruising here! It runs along the highest possible route at the crest of the Blue Ridge. No particular facilities on this road, but regular access to descend to reality for breaks when needed. There is truly impressive stonework along the road,  and around the entrances to the occasional tunnel, done by local craftsmen when they built the thing and still strong and lovely to see.

    One other little treat in the far west of NC is US-129, north from US-19 near Andrews (between Cherokee and Murphy). This used to be a main route, trucks and all, from Atlanta to Knoxville. It's probably one of the most twisted up-and-down rides you'll find, not for those in a hurry. You might see lots of motorcycles, as it's a favorite touring route; be sure to stay in your lane! Head back east on NC-28, right at the TN line, to return to US-19 by way of Fontana Village, another tourist area, headquarters of a major TVA centerpiece project (the Fontana Dam, which probably saved a lot of local folks during the Depression).

    You really don't need a certain place to go around here. Just tank up and take a ride.

    The furnace of Affliction produces Refinement, in States as well as Individuals. John Adams, 1776.

    by semiAdult on Wed May 09, 2012 at 11:30:10 AM PDT

    •  Tons of fun on two wheels! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      “The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.” — Marcus Aurelius

      by LamontCranston on Wed May 09, 2012 at 04:42:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  One really fun ride! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      luckydog, Audri

      My now Ex SO loves the Dragon.  So, one Christmas trip he takes me there on the Tennessee side and tells me to drive.  I had strong feelings of having been there before.

      When I saw signs for Fontana Dam, just followed. I grew up in Georgia and spent our rare 3 -4 day vacations roaming around the area.  Stayed in a cabin in Fontana Village a few times, Cherokee, tourist traps. He thought I was nuts!

      We got up to the dam, it was snowing - about 8 - 10 inches on the ground.  No car tracks on the road.  We stopped, wandered around the top of the dam a while, snow had stopped and the sun came out.  Hard to describe the beauty on that mountain.  No sign of other humans anywhere, still, sun shining through snow covered trees.

      We headed down, no car tracks for miles!  Oh, and no pics - didn't have a camera.

    •  I ride it 3-4 times a year (0+ / 0-)

      I have a cabin rented in Nantahala for the last week this month.

      I'm riding my bike up there (VTX1300), the wife is driving the 350z.

      It's gonna be soooo much fun.

      To be a Republican, you have to believe that our economic problems are caused by the poor having too much money and the rich not having enough.

      by Tommy Jones the Band on Thu May 10, 2012 at 01:37:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  one note tho: (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The 11 miles that make up the dragon are in TN. It starts at the NC/TN line.

      To be a Republican, you have to believe that our economic problems are caused by the poor having too much money and the rich not having enough.

      by Tommy Jones the Band on Thu May 10, 2012 at 01:38:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Duck, NC on the Outer Banks (7+ / 0-)

    is my town.  Our town had 64% AGAINST amendment 1.  I think the  average age of our voters is about 65.  We have many retired military and federal government folks here.  Just goes to show, it's not just college students who are sane.

    A small note; when the Wright Brothers flew, Kill Devil Hills was part of Kitty Hawk - it was one town.  The site where the first flight actually occurred is now in KDH, but at the time it was Kitty Hawk.

    "I'll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box when there's evidence of any thinking going on inside it." Terry Pratchett

    by kiwiheart on Wed May 09, 2012 at 04:16:09 PM PDT

  •  North Carolina is a beautiful state (8+ / 0-)

    And, like the rest of the U.S., it moves forwards in fits and starts.

    "Where are we to turn? We can only turn to ourselves." ~ Edward M. Kennedy

    by chapel hill guy on Wed May 09, 2012 at 04:23:23 PM PDT

  •  Greensboro & Chapel Hill, the towns of my youth (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

      I wish as you were passing through the Piedmont that you had found the time to stop at one of the legendary barbecue places like Allen & Son in Chapel Hill or Stamey's in Greensboro. And, of course, Lexington (on the way to Charlotte) is the logical place to go to get Lexington-style barbecue.
         A little known, but very pleasant way to spend an afternoon in Greensboro is to go out to Guilford Courthouse Battlefield Park. The battle was a crucial turning point in the Revolutionary War that led directly to Yorktown and the end, and the park itself is a lovely mix of meadows, old oaks, and rolling hills. It is never crowded, and the road that runs by the park continues on to take you into the Blue Ridge in a few hours.

  •  I ride I-26 between TN and NC when I have about (7+ / 0-)

    an hour and a half of free time for a really soul cleansing motorcycle ride.  The vid. doesn't do it justice, but the road is a great, soft sweeping highway that gives views not to beat of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.  Our farm is approx. 20  miles off that highway, deep into the mountains....

    Priceless, and Peaceful.

    .....Better love the outdoors, to live here!

    “The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.” — Marcus Aurelius

    by LamontCranston on Wed May 09, 2012 at 04:57:37 PM PDT

  •  Can't do NC without mentioning (7+ / 0-)

    the Blue ridge Parkway which is one of the most beautiful drives around.

    Also I love US 276.  From South Carolina into North Carolina it is an incredibly beautiful drive.  I have to drive most of the SC segment in 2nd gear in my stick shift car.  But 276 also heads north out of Brevard, NC to connect with the Blue Ridge Parkway.

    "Growing up is for those who don't have the guts not to. Grow wise, grow loving, grow compassionate, but why grow up?" - Fiddlegirl

    by gulfgal98 on Wed May 09, 2012 at 04:57:44 PM PDT

  •  the Cherohala Skyway (0+ / 0-)

    is a great cruise from Robbinsville, North Carolina to Tellico Plains, TN.  On one side of the road is the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the other side is the Cherokee National Forest.  

    There are pullovers for outlooks with historical signs about the Cherokees, who lived in this heavenly spot until they were forced out in the exile of the Cherokees - Trail of Tears.

    Here's a site for more information:

    ‎"When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative." (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

    by Sandy on Signal on Wed May 09, 2012 at 05:49:45 PM PDT

  •  It's kinda odd. (0+ / 0-)

    I once had some great times in the western part of the state, fly fishing with good friends.

    Now though, my attitudes toward NC are mostly negative.  Here in MD, it seems that the NC vacationers are mostly upper middle class GOP types, low information workers tired of the OC scene, and other non-descript conservatives.  That's probably not supported by actual data, but it's only my impression based on the myriad OBX ovals around here.

    Then there are my wing nut relatives.  Nice folks, but fundie idiots in their own right.  I know they were pro-1 voters.  Sad.

    I myself have spent some great times in both the western mountains and the coast; but after the vote Tuesday, I sadly have not intention of ever spending another day in that state for now.

    You can't spell CRAZY without R-AZ.

    by rb608 on Wed May 09, 2012 at 05:51:18 PM PDT

  •  Waves from Charlotte (0+ / 0-)

    I-77 is evil and must die :)

  •  My Asheville Diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I did not know that about Moog!  Interesting.  Maybe I will  check it out in September during the convention if I have the time.

    Posted in June 2011

    "I think 2008 is going to be a good year." Senator Barack Obama - Des Moines, Iowa, January 1st, 2008

    by PoconoPCDoctor on Wed May 09, 2012 at 06:21:34 PM PDT

  •  First In Flight (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    As I told my niece the motto "First in Flight" is on the North Carolina license plates because no one can figure out how to drive their roads. ;-)

    "A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world." Oscar Wilde

    by michelewln on Wed May 09, 2012 at 07:00:06 PM PDT

  •  Look Homeward Angel. (0+ / 0-)

    Thomas Wolfe was from Asheville. His wonderful novel caused a bit of a stir.

  •  I-26 from Tennessee is my favorite stretch of road (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    quiet in NC

    I travel at least twice a year from Delaware to NE Georgia - Gainesville - my hometown - to see family.

    Started avoiding I-95 to I-85 years ago.  Just discovered the I-26 stretch in the video a couple of years ago after I got GPS.  It still showed as under construction on most maps.

    I take I-66 to I-81 to I-26 to Ashville then 23/441 through the NC mountains - a beautiful drive.

    Stopped in Ashville last year. Ordered pizza from Digable Pizza - awesome!  Had to give them a plug!

  •  About the Outer Banks..... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    quiet in NC

    You have a great picture of the Hatteras lighthouse, but it's before the great move of 1999, one of the engineering feats of the century. Now it sits a bit further back, but more protected.

    The entire stretch of the Outer Banks is incredibly beautiful and fragile--from Ocracoke Island, across the ferry to Hatteras Island (which includes the wonderful towns of Hatteras, Frisco, Avon, Waves, Salvo, Rodanthe, and Buxton), then up to Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, Southern Shores, Duck, and Corolla.....just a wonderful, peaceful, beautiful drive.

    And it's only three hours from Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill...a super easy drive.

  •  Boone (0+ / 0-)

    I like the Boone, Grandfather Mountain, Blowing Rock area for the scenery.

    Mission Road near Murphy/Hayesville in Western, NC, though only five miles long or so between U.S. 64 and Upper Peachtree Road, is a site to see.

    Also between Murphy and Andrews, where the airstrip is in the valley - very nice.

  •  NC IMO has some of the best roads in the country.. (0+ / 0-)

    ....maybe I think that because I travel back and forth from North to South Carolina every day and compare them to SC's worst roads in the country but, they do work really hard to maintain least in my area.

    Back in the early 50's, there was a real push to improve the roads in NC and the efforts are still visible. the back roads are often banked nicely to help you maintain your speed through the corners.

    If corporations are people, what am I??

    by suspiciousmind on Thu May 10, 2012 at 02:05:04 PM PDT

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