Magic: The Traveling

A Magic: the Gathering travel blog
Finding MtG in the most unlikely places

Howling Mine vs. Highlands, North Carolina

Magic the Gathering Card: Howling mine

Cave outside of Highlands, North Carolina


Our weekend in the mountains started with all the trappings of a slasher flick. Ominous thunderstorms, a wrong turn onto desolate country highways, gas stations where you didn’t dare ask for directions. The movie poster tagline would have said something like:

They went into the mountains to game… but they were gaming with DEATH.

A back seat strategically packed with cases of beer and Irish car-bomb cupcakes is hardly the place to see if any of my new poison decks will run, so we amused ourselves with cow poker. Cries of “Cow on my side” and “Graveyard! You lose your cows,” quickly turned into “um… another graveyard… weird” and finally to tense silence as we passed
through an apparently unbroken stream of graveyards. No offense to Woodruff SC, but if the dead ever rise from their earthen slumber at the shout of the archangel’s trumpet it’s going to be awful crowded. On the other hand, looks like a great place to be a gravedigger.

Not long after that we started making pacts not to go out in the woods alone or take off our shirts for any reason.

By the time we wound our way up Whiteside mountain above the unincorporated village of Cashiers NC, though I wouldn’t have minded running into old uncle Istvan as long as he handed me a cold beer before he added me to the human woodpile. Thankfully what was waiting for us was a charming hobbit hole of a house full of brilliant gamers, a truly awe-inspiring view of the Devil’s Courthouse overhanging the valley and so many deck boxes and rare binders you could probably see them from space.

Actually we did end up going out in the woods quite a bit, though we tended to stick together and keep an eye out for stragglers. The whole area is a hikers’ paradise and we spent an awesome afternoon trooping up Whiteside. The threat of lightning kept us off the exposed rocks but the winds off the edge of the storm front made the whole wood come alive and kept us deliciously cool. We made it back to the car before the rain hit and spent the rest of the night happily being mind cranked for infinity and speculating on the deck lists
for the new Commander sets

By the end of the first day we had filed the house and spilled out into a tent in the yard and a local inn, but it was the kitchen that served as the tavern from which our adventuring party would set out. We gathered around pans of free-range, organic bacon and bigger-than-my-face omelets and fortified ourselves over pot after pot of coffee and black ‘breakfast’ beers.

After getting in a few brunch-time duels we caravanned down the mountain to find our next excuse to wander around in the woods. On the way we stopped and picked up provisions in charming Highlands North Carolina, first settled in 1875 after it’s founders determined it would be an ideal commercial crossroads through the simple expedient of connecting lines between Chicago and Savannah, and New Orleans and Baltimore. Considering that Highlands has off-season population of less than 1000 people, I’m not sure the vision paid off. Thanks to its altitude and an eastern facing on the Appalachians (which keeps the whole place cool, sunny and well-watered). The Highlands region is home to a unique microclimate which Wikipedia claims “delights botanists.” Now that I think of it we did have a botanist with us, and he did actually seem pretty delighted. I assumed it was the beer, but
maybe it was the microclimate.

After we stocked up on pimento cheese sandwiches and well-done hotdogs we set off down into the valley in search of our next magic moment. Winding switchback highways took us down into pastured valley bottomland which we had actual seen the day before from the top of Whiteside mountain. We parked at the trailhead and set out through the woods on the bones of an old timber road. An hour in we came to the sort of clearing that druids prefer for their get togethers. Along one side lay a wooded slope where house-sized boulders in a tumbling giant’s staircase made a series of ascending natural caves and overhangs. The exposed tops of the boulders were carpeted with ankle-
deep lichen and created a perfect plateau for picnicking. We feasted above the canopy keeping a watchful eye on the eager squads of black and red ants that mobilized the moment a crumb hit the ground.

Well-clambered, we started back only to immediately get caught in a summer storm, and by the time we got back to the trailhead we soaked through. Several of us made a command decision to strip down, embarking on a naked car ride that I suspect several members of Highlands will not soon forget. At some point on the way back I realized we still had a good day and a half to drink all the beer, eat all the food, and make sure that every deck got a good airing. I think we did a pretty good job.

My one regret it is that the wild blackberries and blueberries were not ripe yet. Something other travelers might want to keep in mind as is simply maddening to walk by acres of still-green fruit.

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