Ten Best: Nearby vacation spots

by Amy Kingsley

Hanging Rock Ifyou’re like most people, rising gas prices are forcing you to reexamineyour fiscal priorities. Especially this summer – a hot spell thatpromises record prices at the pump – when elaborate vacations may bebeyond the reach of those unwilling or unable to take a secondmortgage. We’ve got an idea: Stick to North Carolina. Save your moneyby booking a weekend getaway at Hanging Rock State Park outsideWinston-Salem, where you can camp, hike, fish and swim. Cherokee Soit’s not exactly Vegas. It’s not even Biloxi. North Carolina gamblingrules limit the variety of games at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino to videoslots, video blackjack, video baccarat and video poker. Tribal lawsenacted by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians also prohibit the saleof alcoholic beverages at the casino. There are, however, buffetsaplenty, so load up your plate and picture yourself in Sin City. Asheville It’sa favorite of The New York Times travel section, and anyone who hasspent serious time in this state has probably already been there. Sothis entry is for newcomers. Asheville, a Bohemian village tucked intothe North Carolina highlands is just a few hours from the Triad. Thereare plenty of good places to eat, drink and make merry. If you’reinclined towards outdoorsy-ness, the mountains make for a more thanbeautiful backdrop. Ocracoke Island Summervacationers flock to the Outer Banks like cliff swallows returning toMission San Juan Capistrano. By late May, the sandy shores are alreadyglutted with students and families filling up on Vitamin D and UVB.These islands that hang like keratin fixtures off the coast are one ofthe state’s greatest natural treasures. Deceptively fragile, likepieces of eggshell, their reputation as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic"lends them some historical depth. Especially Ocracoke, where the pirateBlackbeard met his end. Seagrove Ignore the name -Seagrove isn’t anywhere near the water. It’s a little town about anhour south of Greensboro with a pottery tradition that dates backnearly 300 years. Today the pottery capital of the world is home tomore than 100 studios, some of which are open to the public. Visit theNorth Carolina Pottery Center for a healthy dose of background beforeplunging into the clay-baked byways. Lake Lure Thisman-made reservoir at the bottom of the Hickory Nut Gorge initiallypowered a turbine owned by the Carolina Mountain Power Co. that wasrepossessed by Stroud & Co. at the beginning of the GreatDepression. The residents of Lake Lure bought the plant, dam and lakeback in 1965 and turned the area in a tourist center. Dirty Dancing wasfilmed here, and if you’re a fan, you can rent Johnny’s Cabin or Baby’sBungalow for $255 a night. Yadkin Valley ReenactSideways right here in the Tar Heel State’s official viticultureregion, the Yadkin Valley. Twenty wineries operate in the agriculturalareas flanking the Yadkin River, including RayLen and ChildressVineyards, and you can find them all on the Yadkin Valley Wine Trailwebsite. Bed and breakfasts and small motels litter the region, sofinding lodging should be a snap. Ghost Town in the Sky DisneyWorld is a two-day trip south to Florida – too far, in other words,unless you’ve managed to lay hands on one of those nifty electric cars.Maggie Valley, at the entrance of the Blue Ridge National Park, is hometo an alternative. Ghost Town in the Sky is a Wild West-themedamusement park accessible by chair lift and incline rail. It’s cheaperthan Disney’s flagship park and significantly smaller. But it does havea carousel, roller coaster, drop tower and beautiful Appalachian views. Calabash Thissmall town is so Southern it practically belongs to the other Carolina.The southernmost incorporated community on the Brunswick Islands isalso the "Seafood Capital of the World," a place where the fish isabundant and the deep fryers plentiful. Calabash gave the worldCalabash-style seafood, an appellation loosely interpreted as "piles ofdeep-fried seafood." You can find it in the Triad, but it’s better atthe source. Home sweet home Sometimes it’s nicejust to tool around the house on lazy summer days, to wake up early andenjoy a leisurely cup of coffee before embarking on whatever projectyou’ve set for yourself. Staying home means skipping the traffic, theexpense and the stress of a formal vacation. But it also means skippingout on some of the adventure.