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49 South Serpentine Avenue
Hot Springs, NC
USA

(828) 206-1487

Offering vacation rental cabins in Hot Springs, NC.

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Plants and Animals on the Spring Creek Nature Trail

Natalie Marsh

A few days ago I posted about a fantastic hike that is just minutes from Hot Springs. Today I am posting a few things we saw a couple of days ago on our hike along the Spring Creek Nature Trail!

Remnants from a squirrel feast!

Remnants from a squirrel feast!

These shells from red oak acorns are the remnants left after a squirrel feast! The acorns have just begun to drop and the squirrels are heartily enjoying the bounty. They seem to like to munch in very scenic locations, like perched up on a log or, in this case, on a rock step that overlooks Spring Creek. They may have good taste in finding a lovely setting, but to taste one of these acorns will pucker your mouth up! We do, for fun, harvest acorns, grind them, and soak out the astringent tannins (called “leaching”) just as Native Americans did long ago. We then dry the very pleasant tasting flour and use in dessert recipes! Perhaps a squirrel will join us on the trail sometime and she can snack on her acorns, and we on ours!


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Lobelia cardinalis loves the wet partial shade on the edges of Spring Creek. It is one of several Lobelias native to the area, but is the only one with a stunning red color. Another showy red specimen you may see fluttering about this flower? The ruby-throated hummingbird! It is the primary pollinator for this Lobelia.


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Clockwise from top are Rhododendron, Galax, and Partridgeberry. These are all native evergreen plants that thrive in the acidic soils on this hike! Rhododendron is toxic for animals to eat, and the wood smoke is toxic if burned in a campfire. Its redeeming qualities are its large, gorgeous blooms in May, as well as it strong, curving “trunks” that are used to create decorative rustic porch and stair railings. Galax was historically used (and over-used) for greenery in Christmas wreaths. Partridgeberry vines along the forest floor and produces small red berries that ripen over summer. Though safe to eat, they taste like…nothing. Very disappointing! My daughter still eats a few each time we are hiking though, just to enjoy a wild edible! Each single berry is actually the product of two flowers that are merged at the base. You can look on the berry and see two little dots that are the remnants of the two flowers.

 

Hiking on Spring Creek Nature Trail

Natalie Marsh

Just 5 minutes from Hot Springs and the cabins is a hidden gem of a hiking opportunity. The Spring Creek Nature Trail is one of two hiking loops that begin from the parking area for the Rocky Bluff Campgrounds, and of the two, it is our family’s favorite. It is much less traveled than the Laurel River Trail but holds much of the same allure; namely, water!

Kids and adults alike can relax and play on one of the many “beaches”, of which some are sandy and some are more rocky, like the one above.

Kids and adults alike can relax and play on one of the many “beaches”, of which some are sandy and some are more rocky, like the one above.

Time to hike the loop: 45 minutes to one hour at a consistent moderate pace
Difficulty: Somewhat difficult. Some large high steps and some muddy areas, especially after rain. Our 3 year old can hike it by herself, but some families may wait until kids are 5 or older.
Sights and Attractions: You will hike downhill 5-10 minutes through lovely shaded forest before reaching Spring Creek. There are a few fantastic spots along the creek to play with kids (or adults!) and take a dip. Small sandy “beaches” are fun for sand play and river rocks are great for stacking rock balances and such. Spring Creek is quite clean, unlike the nearby French Broad River, so play without concern! We find Chantrelle and Lactarius mushrooms along this hike in July-September, along with many beautiful (and sometimes edible!) plants I will blog about soon.
Season to hike: Spring, summer, and fall. The hike is largely on an east/northeast facing bank and gets morning to midday sun but in winter will be shady and slippery.
Getting there: Take 209 out of Hot Springs until you see a large National Forest sign on the left for Rocky Bluff Campground. Park just off the road in front of the gate if it is closed, or drive in if open (Memorial Day through Labor Day). If you drive in, the parking will be on your left. Walk around the driving loop (it is a short loop) until you see the sign I have pictured below. There are two entrances to the loop, but this is the easiest to find and also it is easiest to follow the path when hiking from this entrance.

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Enjoy and happy hiking!

Goldfinch Cabin Gets a Porch!

Natalie Marsh

At long last Goldfinch Cabin has a beautiful porch and stone patio! We look forward to providing this lovely outdoor hangout for our guests this year. 

The porch construction will be complete by the end of January so keep your eye out for photos of the final product!

Along with the help of a contractor friend, both Andrew and myself (Natalie) are pitching in hours to get this thing built. We love getting our hands involved in projects like this! Andrew, of course, is actually a carpenter and stonemason by trade so this is right up his alley. I am a decent "deck hand" (pun intended) for cuts, carrying, and measuring. We are having fun and hope you all will enjoy it!

Porch Demolition

What was a previously a little-used storage area is being transformed in to a porch and grilling area!

Chantrelles

Natalie Marsh

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September is a fantastic month to seek out the fungal "flowers" of Appalachia...mushrooms! We enjoy many edible mushrooms from the area, including various Lactarius species, boletes, and chantrelles. Of all of the mushrooms, chantrelles are probably our favorite! 

After harvesting, we clean off any dirt with a dry brush. Sometimes we use water if necessary, but it can make the cooked product a bit "mushier" which we don't prefer. Then, we heat up some butter and toss in the mushrooms, perhaps with some garlic from our garden. Ten minutes of sauteing produces a wonderful mushroom dish that is great on its own or with fresh sourdough bread!

Safety Note: We encourage all of our guests to venture forth and explore the many mushrooms in our area, but we do recommend that before consuming any mushrooms that you consult with an expert OR reference multiple mushroom ID books to ensure a positive ID.

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Apple Cider Pressing

Natalie Marsh

Our daughter Chloe at the base of an apple tree munching on a fresh apple

Our daughter Chloe at the base of an apple tree munching on a fresh apple

Pressing fresh apple juice is one of our family's favorite activities! Here in Appalachia, there are many old orchards and trees of generous friends that supply us with mountains of apples to enjoy each year.

We often head out in our pickup truck and load up all of our baskets and crates with every shape, size, and color of apple you can imagine! Sometimes, when branches are heavy with ripe apples, we will scramble up the trees and give them a light shake and get some real "apple rain"

Once we collect, we return home to press. Often friends gather to help and we all set up in the front yard for the pressing process. First we feed them through the grinder, which is a hand-cranked device that smashes the apples in to small, juicy, apple pulp. Next, we place the pulp in to a wooden press. As we compress the apple pulp, gallons of juice will flow out of the spout at the bottom. We are constantly dipping our cups under to test the results...Yum!

Apple juice can be canned, fermented in to hard cider, frozen, boiled down in to an apple syrup, or enjoyed as-is, deliciously sweet and raw nutrition straight from the source!

July at Max Patch

Natalie Marsh

On a foggy July morning, my daughter Chloe and I headed up for some morning hiking on Max Patch. No long range views today, but the breeze and the surrounding fog made me feel like I was on a private Scottish Island!

I harvested yarrow flowers while Chloe munched on her favorite outdoor treat "sour grass" (Oxalice spp). We dry yarrow and keep it around for cold and flu season--The tea is pungent but effective in helping recover from fevers and colds! We also use it in our wound salve, along with calendula and comfrey from our garden. These ingredients infused in oil plus a few shavings of beeswax from our honeybees makes a great concoction to help cuts and scrapes heal all year long! The white flowers you see in the photo above are yarrow.