Flying over a hill on an ATV, I had an epiphany: this family vacation might just be our best ever.
Visiting Mercer County on our way north, we’d stopped to breathe in mountain air.
A family of seasoned travelers, our active vacations had previously taken us zip-lining in Costa Rica, jaguar tracking in Belize, pyramid climbing in Mexico, urban foraging in New York, and snorkeling in the Caribbean.
Yep, we’re adrenaline junkies.
So, little did we think we could get our fix on a long weekend, here in Appalachia. But we did. So the next time our lives required a road trip northward, we slipped in another trip to Mercer County.
And once again, it delivered precisely the mix of multi-generational thrills we sought. This time, we rode miles of trails on ATVs, a form of transport that has eluded much of our coastal South Carolina experience. We own our ATVs but don’t always bring them with us. But this was the perfect opportunity to tote them along.
Armed with maps from the town of Bramwell, we explored beginner and intermediate courses for a full day. We crawled along hillsides like giant insects, working our way deeply into the forest. The sites are truly gorgeous, as emerald forests bejewel every hillside, and unforgettable vistas lie just around many a bend.
A couple of hours in, we laid out a picnic and stared up at the bluest of skies. We took in the stunning natural beauty of Appalachia, and breathed deeply. Forget Pandora; on this day, we preferred the top hits of a symphony of songbirds.
And, most importantly, we talked.
Readers who are familiar with teenagers may find this last claim most surprising of all. And yet, something about the fresh air, the shared fun, and the new experience turned our quiet offspring into chatterboxes. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But they did happily engage in conversation.
Catching a game
Sated with nature and trail combing, we headed to Princeton to take in a bit of professional baseball, courtesy of the Rays.
If you’ve grown up with MLB fare, then put aside all your notions of baseball fandom. Here in the world of Appalachian League ball, the game matters, but your experience at the game is so much more important. H. P. Hunnicutt field is an historic place, where fans from around the county gather on warm summer nights to cheer on the boys and enjoy something lacking in the world today: community.
(Sadly, we missed the Bluefield Blue Jays. We would have loved to see them—next time!)
Another thing we’ll have to do next time, is play the local CVB’s Geocaching game, a great way for activity-hounds like us to add some friendly competition to our vacation.
Exploring Mercer County’s three biggest towns—Bluefield, Bramwell, and Princeton—you discover something about American history, too. This is coal country, and from the veins of these gorgeous mountains, miners once pulled immense wealth. Bramwell was once the wealthiest city in America, sporting numerous millionaires. This was the land of luxury, and it welcomed fancy people from far and wide.
It remains a place welcoming of strangers. Our small band encountered helpful, friendly folks at every turn. (And we had marvelous food, which for our family is critical to a successful stay!)
At the end of the day (and those days’ ends found us bone-tired and hungry for sleep), the charm of vacationing here is its very realness. This is not manufactured amusement. This is rugged, outdoor adventure that fires up the senses. It’s the family connection that comes from discovering an ancient grove of trees together. Or sharing a quiet moment on a mountaintop. That’s the stuff that family travel memories are made of.
Find your adventure in Mercer County!