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An ‘ocean guy’ checks out the mountains

Posted: November 6, 2014 9:34 a.m.
Updated: November 7, 2014 1:00 a.m.

South Carolina is one of the few states blessed to have both ocean and mountains, something that is rare, indeed.

Kansas and Nebraska would kill for either.

Most people here in the Palmetto State prefer either the water or the hills, so the “beach vs. peaks” question is a common one.

I’m an ocean guy. Sure, the mountains have a certain appeal, with scenic views that sometimes seem to stretch forever, but there’s something about those endless tides that is gripping.

 (My friend Waylon Fortenberry of Chesterfield County used to accuse our boyhood buddy, Frank, of being so boring that when he went to the beach, the tide would go out and refuse to come back in.)

There’s one thing that the mountains have hands-down over the coast, and that’s interesting place names.

Hey, down on the coast, you can count on beach after beach: Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach, Holden Beach. You get the message.

Terrific places, but not much imagination in their monikers.

Mountain sites are a different story. On a long drive I made recently, I came down I-77 through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, certainly one of the most scenic interstate boulevards in the country.

When I make that trip, twice a year, I always smile when I get to Virginia and encounter the signs for Fancy Gap.

What a great name. If you went to a Hollywood movie director and asked him to devise a  perfect catchphrase for a mountain location, he’d do well to come up with Fancy Gap.

Legend says the town was named back in the mid-1850s after a “fancy road” that was built through the mountains.

Fancy Gap has lots of mountainous cousins. In fact, the hill country of the Carolinas, Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky are quite gapped up, with Roaring Gap, Pipers Gap, Bulls Gap, Cumberland Gap, Big Stone Gap and Mortons Gap.


North Carolina’s mountains have a number of nattily named towns, ranging from Blowing Rock, named for an immense cliff that overhangs the Johns River Gorge, to Cashiers to High Hampton to Banner Elk.

There’s something about setting out on a trip to Blowing Rock or Banner Elk that has a bit more pizzazz than getting in your car and heading to Atlantic Beach or Sunset Beach.

And how about Tuxedo, also in the mountains of the Tar Heel state? It was originally called Lakewood, quite a humdrum name, until one resident suggested Tuxedo might spiff things up a bit.

(Full disclosure: an acquaintance of mine once drove up to Tuxedo, murdered his estranged wife and stuffed her body in a trashcan in his boathouse. I hang around with some nice folks, don’t you think?)

North Carolina is also home to Bird Town, Cherokee, Rainbow Springs, Horse Shoe, Mountain Home, Skyland, Crabtree, Panther Creek and Roaring River, not to be confused with Roaring Gap.

There’s an unincorporated community up in the hills that’s known as Sodom. I don’t know anything about the morals of the people who live there, but I do know that there’s not a neighboring town known as Gomorrah. Thank goodness for small favors.

Sodom’s not that far from Marble, Green Creek or Sunburst, though it’s a good ways from both Flat Rock and East Flat Rock.

Not to be outdone, Tennessee boasts Pigeon Forge, Caney Branch, Natural Bridge, Dumplin, Knob Creek, Strawberry Plains, Parrottsville, Elk Garden, Sugar Grove and Rural Retreat.

If you think I’ve been spending some time with an atlas, you’re right. 

And all this got started with my driving by Fancy Gap.

You’re probably hoping I don’t make any more road trips in the near future. I’ll keep you posted.


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