Inns of the Southeast: The Monte Vista Hotel

Dreaming about a short getaway in 2021? The Monte Vista Hotel in Black Mountain, North Carolina is a classic inn, laden with history - and adjoining a local art gallery and studios! We visited last week, and were impressed by their great safety protocols and cozy spaces, indoors and outdoors - as well as their beautiful Christmas decorations!

Join Caroline on location to learn the story of this lovely boutique hotel, and take a look around . . .

For more travel inspiration and Southeastern stories, become a member of our Corps of Discovery! 

Posted on December 31st in Virtual Travel Series

Our 2020 Holiday Gift Guide

'Tis the season - we’ve created a festive round-up of a few of our favorite locally made creations and experiences in the South Carolina Upstate and Western North Carolina. We hope this list sparks plenty of inspiration and holiday cheer - and it's a great way to support small, local businesses this year! We’re also sharing ideas in the travel department - a one-of-a-kind gift for you and yours, that comes with shared memories for years to come. [And yes, we do indeed offer gift certificates!] 

And now . . . 

For the foodie:

Mulled Wine Blend

What are we missing this holiday season? It might be the carefree milling around festive holiday markets - whether in Germany’s Black Forest or our Blue Ridge Mountains - sipping a delicious, steaming cup of mulled wine. Mulled wine, or Gluhwein, is a traditional hot drink found during the winter months in Germany (and across Europe, under a variety of names), made from heated wine, blended spices, and citrus. Thankfully, we’ve found very nice local mulling spices to keep you warm and cozy at home this year!  Perfect for turning your Trader Joe’s red wine into something truly special. It’s also made in Asheville by Spicewalla, a culinary company founded by (James Beard Nominated) Asheville chef, Meherwan Irani. Psst - these spices are also usually available for purchase at the Swamp Rabbit Cafe in Greenville, SC.

Shop here

Macaron Making at Le Petit Croissant 

Vincent Caradonna is a native of Annecy, France, who owns Le Petit Croissant shop in Greenville, SC. He was personally responsible for keeping our spirits up throughout lock-down in 2020 with his impeccable fresh-baked croissants! As a master chocolatier and pastry chef, he also offers macaron making workshops, as well as chocolate and bread workshops - sign up for a slot on a scheduled date, or book a private class for a group. 

See upcoming workshops

Travel in Tuscany. . . need we say more? 

Join Explore Up Close in October 2021 as we discover hidden treasures of Tuscany, on this hand-crafted small group adventure through the Italian countryside!  Gourmet experiences await around every turn . . . we can already taste the Brunello di Montalcino and the truffle pasta (hand-rolled, of course). 

View the trip details

For the artistic soul: 

Once Again Sam: Fiber Art Landscapes

This beautiful fiber art is made by Greenville artist Sarah Mandell. We’re fascinated by her unique work, and how she creatively interprets the world through fiber - from felted plants and insects, to detailed landscapes rendered in wool. Her South Carolina State Park & 50 States landscape series are nothing short of wondrous. 

Shop her work

Southern Women Artists of the Johnson Collection 

Discover the vibrant work of female artists of the South, as showcased by the Johnson Collection in their exhibition, “Central To Their Lives: Southern Women Artists in the Johnson Collection,” which “examines the particularly complex challenges Southern women artists confronted in a traditionally conservative region during a period in which women’s social, cultural, and political roles were being redefined and reinterpreted.” The Johnson Collection is South Carolina’s largest private art collection, based in downtown Spartanburg - and is nationally acclaimed for its pivotal role in elevating art and artists connected to the South. 

Order the exhibition catalog from Hub City Bookshop here


Charleston in Bloom: March 14 - 17, 2021 

There’s nothing quite like Charleston in the spring!  Join Explore Up Close on this festive small group trip that will immerse you in some of the area’s loveliest outdoor spaces - from storied gardens in bloom at Middleton Place and Drayton Hall, to exploration of Wadmalaw Island. 

Find the trip details


The Splendid Channel Islands: August 31 - September 9, 2021

An upscale, other worldly blend of French traditions, British sensibility, and island charm - we may not want to leave!  From World War II bunkers, to the streets that Victor Hugo walked as he wrote Les Miserables, to dramatic sea cliffs, you'll be mesmerized by the idyllic microcosms of Jersey, Guernsey, and Sark. 

View the trip details 

For the outdoors adventurer: 

The Landmark Project

This Greenville-based company is popular around the country, but their flagship store is rooted right here in the Upstate!  They curate and produce an incredible collection of ethically-produced clothing and gifts that celebrate the National Parks. We love their vintage aesthetic, and their commitment to protecting the great outdoors through art.

Shop their website


Pisgah Map Company

Have we mentioned how much we love maps? Based in Western North Carolina, these are the coolest trail guides for our region around - in their own words, “the culmination of decades of local knowledge and firsthand experience in the woods, rivers, rocks and trails of the Southern Appalachians.” 

Shop their website 


Exploring South Carolina’s Blackwater Rivers | February 21 – 24, 2021

Winter is a great time to explore coastal South Carolina’s natural treasure trove!  Join Explore Up Close for a unique small group adventure - exploring nature and wildlife preserves on foot and by kayak, including Hobcaw Barony and South Island. Our home base will be the wonderful property of Mansfield Plantation - perched on the banks of the Black River, outside of Georgetown, SC.

Trip details


Venture Out West with Explore Up Close: 

The Colorado Explorer: June 2021

Denver  |  Garden Of The Gods  |  Cañon City  |   Royal Gorge Railroad  | Rocky Mountain National Park  |  The Stanley Hotel  |  Estes Park  |  Boulder 

Exploring Southern Utah: October 2021 

Zion National Park  |  Bryce Canyon  |  Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument  |   Capitol Reef National Park 

Jasper to Vancouver, by Scenic Rail: August 2021

Banff National Park  |  Jasper National Park  |  Lake Louise  |  Icefields Parkway  |  Maligne Lake  |  Rocky Mountaineer Train  |  Vancouver  |  

For the lover of stories and off-the-beaten track places: 

The Explore Up Close 2021 Calendar

Our first-edition wall calendar is here, to spark fresh inspiration for travel and exploration of the Southeast in 2021. Featuring our photography of the diverse landscapes of our region - from the mountains of North Carolina, to Florida's Forgotten Coast - and snippets of stories that invite deeper exploration . . .  it’s a love letter of sorts to our region

Shop the calendar


Corps of Discovery membership with Explore Up Close

The Corps of Discovery -- our one-of-a-kind membership program, featuring local history, travel photos and videos, online Lunch and Learn events, and more! 

A Corps of Discovery membership makes a wonderful gift, for anyone interested in learning more about the Southeast - and beyond! 

Learn more here

Note: When purchasing the Corps of Discovery as a gift, please email us separately to confirm your gift recipient.


For family fun: 

Universal Yum Boxes

These fun boxes arrive on your doorstep once a month, laden with sweet and savory treats from around the world!  Each month features a different country, and it’s not all just about the snacks - we found them to be highly educational, too!  Each box includes an easy-to-read brochure with fun facts, and even games, about the featured country. An amazing way for young people - and the young at heart - to learn more about other cultures! 

Visit their website


A Custom Family Adventure

After a year apart, gather the family together to celebrate and explore together again - with a custom private trip, planned and guided by Explore Up Close. Whale-watching in Canada, rainforest fun in the Caribbean, highlights of Europe, or the Great American National Park Experience - we love crafting the perfect trip for family (and friend) groups of all sizes. Contact us today, and let the planning begin! 

Posted on December 10th in

Introducing our new logo!

Say hello to our lovely new Explore Up Close logo! 


Why did we make this change now (of all years!), and what’s the story behind that feather? 


Well.  We’re glad you asked . .. because if you haven’t heard, we love a good story. 


Explore Up Close was founded by Chumley Cope in 2004 - born out of his love of history, storytelling, and travel to places that often took him well off the proverbial beaten path. 


He drew the logo for his new company by himself - inspired by a downy woodpecker feather he picked up on a walk near his home. He'd picked up the feather as a curio, as a token of the day's exploration. It symbolized the wonder of place and the spirit of discovery that he would bring to his travel. 




The original Explore Up Close logo 


For nearly 15 years, Chumley ran every aspect of the company by himself - dreaming up itineraries, leading small groups from Spartanburg and Greenville and Asheville and Bluffton on hand-crafted adventures. 

A few years ago, he tripled the size of his team, by hiring his daughter Caroline and her husband Khal. Explore Up Close continued growing in new and exciting ways: expanded trip offerings, new clients, and partnerships with diverse organizations across the Carolinas. 

And then, suddenly we found ourselves in untested waters in March 2020. Our travels had taught us to expect the unexpected, but a global pandemic that put a freeze on travel of any kind . . . well, it felt like we’d been dashed out of our snug little boat into icy water. And yet, once we’d absorbed the initial shock . . . we knew how we were going to get through this. By relying on our bond as a family and as a team, through the support of our community, and by reimagining everything that Explore Up Close could be. 

Explore Up Close launched our first Virtual Travel series in late March 2020 - an email newsletter designed to bring the outside world and engaging stories to our clients, in the midst of isolation and lock-down. We dove into our archive of photographs and experiences, and took to the backroads to film short videos in remote locations across our region. 

One surprising effect of the pandemic was that it quickly revealed the strengths of a type of travel we consider our bread and butter: small group exploration of lesser-known places and stories of the Southeastern United States.

By the end of the summer, our “Virtual Travel” took a new shape: the Corps of Discovery membership program. Our membership program was designed to keep Explore Up Close afloat and connected with our community, and it centers on sharing the same thoughtful exploration that our travelers know and love. 

Amid the uncertainty of 2020, it was thrilling to see Explore Up Close grow in new directions - a silver lining that we never anticipated. We began dreaming up a new website that would allow us to better showcase our expanded offerings in 2021: storytelling through words and photography, our growing membership program, and the future of our small group travel. Looking at our faithful logo of over a decade, we felt that it was time for a refresh - in celebration of the new paths that have opened up for us this year.


We collaborated with talented graphic designer Julia Bridgforth on our new logo and branding - and we’re so glad that we did! Julia honed a fresh look that captures our mission: to help curious explorers uncover hidden stories and places, and to foster deeper connections with the world and each other. A mission that felt more important than ever, this year. 



The feather 

The downy woodpecker feather that Chumley drew in 2004 had new life breathed into it - and remains a central part of our logo. It symbolizes our appreciation and fascination with the details of place.


The colors 

Our updated color palette was inspired by nature. It’s a modern take on our original periwinkle blue, and draws on tawny yellow and cool blues and grays. 


The stamps 

If you’ve been on an Explore Up Close trip, you must know this - we like old things, full of character. Historic hotels, ancient landscapes, stories and legends - and wine - that have only gotten better with age . . . our love of the historic was melded with vintage passport stamps for a fun variation of our logo. 

wxr9DqFc9puARvutrKaJUNHEPCvf6WUHTktKVaxw        kU8AdLwhDKo_3BNdcnhy90D8PMGwgn6BswbkW3OA


The maps 

Finally, another defining love at Explore Up Close - maps and landscapes. These topography elements are drawn from maps of the Appalachian Mountains, where we have our roots - an ode to the place-based and map-oriented travel style of Explore Up Close. 



So here we are, at the end of a year full of reflection, growth, dark and light moments, and irrepressible exploration. We can’t wait to see what’s coming in 2021, and beyond.  

We warmly invite you to join us as our journey continues. 


Support Explore Up Close today - become a Corps of Discovery member! 


Support Explore Up Close in 2021 - sign up today for a 2021 trip! 


Introduce your friends to Explore Up Close - send them a complimentary copy of our 2021 Travel Catalog.

Referrals are the #1 way we grow, and we are so grateful to each person who has mentioned us to their neighbor, shared our emails or Facebook posts, or invited a friend to travel with us. To request a catalog for a friend, it’s easy: contact us by email or phone to make the arrangements, and we will mail them a copy of our 2021 catalog. You can even include a personalized note to them, if you’d like! 


Posted on December 2nd in Small Group Travel

Virtual Travel Video: The Major of Saint-Lô

Today, our Virtual Travel video focuses on the story of Major Thomas Dry Howie - the Major of Saint-Lô. This native South Carolinian stormed the beaches of Normandy, and continued to inspire his men, and the world, after his death. 

Thomas Howie was born in Abbeville, SC in 1908, descended from the French Huguenot community who established themselves in South Carolina before the Revolution. They named the town Abbeville, in honor of their French town they left behind. 

Over 150 years later, one of their descendants would return to Normandy to liberate France in World War II, and is buried on French soil in the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. Thomas Howie is one of South Carolina's heroes - and today, we wanted to share his story. We'll also show you the moving memorial in his honor that is located in Abbeville.  

Click below to join Khal, and let's explore . . . 


Here is a link to the famous photograph of Major Howie's flag-draped body in Saint-Lo, published with the following caption:

"25 Jul 1944, St. Lo, France --- Under Old Glory, the body of a U.S. major identified only as "Major Aowie" rests atop the ruins of St. Croix Church in St. Lo, France. The major was killed leading an assault on the town... His last wish being his desire to lead his men into the German stronghold. His troops, fulfilling his wish placed his body among the ruins as they fought to drive the enemy from the area."


For those of you who are fascinated by the poignant history and sacred spaces of this beautiful part of France . . .

We invite you to take a look at our 2021 small group adventure: Normandy + Brittany: France's West Country.

Posted on November 1st in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: The Linville Gorge

It's a wilderness adventure into the "Grand Canyon of the East" - North Carolina's Linville Gorge!

Enjoy a preview of Khal's backpacking adventure into this historic wilderness area below - and become a Corps of Discovery member to view the entire video! 


Posted on September 4th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Cape Fear Water Taxi

Welcome to this week's Virtual Travel experience!

In today's video, Chumley visits one of only three inland river ferries that still function in the state of North Carolina. He's not exactly up the creek without a paddle, but he is at the river without a ferry. Click below to hear our on-location story of the week, featuring the historic Elwell Ferry in Bladen County, NC.


Posted on July 31st in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Mount Mitchell

Welcome to this week's Virtual Travel experience!

In July of 1857, Professor Elisha Mitchell of the University of North Carolina fell to his death, on the northwestern slope of what was then commonly known as "Black Mountain."  He was miles from the highest peak on the long ridge, that boasted multiple peaks over 6500 feet, including the highest point east of west Texas and west South Dakota.  Mitchell died while walking to meet a guide whom he hoped could verify that he had identified the highest peak in the range some 22 years earlier.

Join Chumley on location . . . and take the eye test yourself:  Can you identify the highest point on "Black Mountain" that is now known as Mount Mitchell?

Posted on July 24th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Junaluska

Welcome to this week's Virtual Travel experience!

Join Chumley on location in Robbinsville, North Carolina, where he uncovers an under-the-radar memorial to Junaluska -- a Cherokee leader who named himself, after going through a great struggle.

Posted on July 10th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Tapoco Lodge

Welcome to this week's Virtual Travel experience!

Join EUC founder Chumley Cope in the newest chapter of our Friday Video Series. Chumley is still "on location" near Cheoah Dam in North Carolina's Graham County . . . to tell you more of the local story. This week, we feature a video and photos of the beautifully-situated Tapoco Lodge.

Posted on July 3rd in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Cheoah Dam

Welcome to this week's Virtual Travel experience!

This week, EUC founder Chumley Cope has ventured into the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina. The Little Tennessee River flows north and west from its sources into Tennessee, framing the southern boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains en route. The river's swiftness made it a prize for electricity developers, beginning early in the 20th century. Join Chumley on location beneath the Cheoah Dam -- where a famous movie star went missing in 1993.


Posted on June 26th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Sunburst, NC

We invite you to enjoy today's virtual travel experience!

For today's Virtual Travel experience, we're exploring some of western North Carolina's lumber heritage. Join us as we visit the historic Sunburst community -- a model lumber mill town not far from Waynesville, NC. Join Explore Up Close founder Chumley Cope on location to learn more!

Today's video witnesses Chumley traveling beyond the border of South Carolina for the first time in the new Explore Up Close virtual travel series. His trek north of the border takes him to the lovely Bethel Valley, just south of Waynesville, NC. Tune in, as Chumley recounts the story of Sunburst -- one of North Carolina's prettiest place names, and today just a "ghost community" where a lumber mill town once thrived.


Posted on June 19th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Mary H. Wright School, Spartanburg, SC

We invite you to enjoy today's virtual travel experience!

For today's Virtual Travel experience, we're exploring some of South Carolina's mid-century Civil Rights history! Join us as we visit the Mary H. Wright School, in Spartanburg, South Carolina -- one of the state's best examples of an Equalization School. What's an Equalization School, you may ask? Join Explore Up Close founder Chumley Cope on location to find out!

These were South Carolina's last-ditch efforts to stave off integration in the public schools, by funding state-of-the-art schools for African-American children. It was an attempt to prolong the entrenched concept of "separate but equal" public facilities -- including schools -- established by the Supreme Court in 1896. But by 1950, a bundle of court cases (including Briggs v. Elliott, from Clarendon County, SC) was making its way to the land's highest court, challenging the idea that "separate" was indeed "equal." Our latest video includes photos of education pioneer, Mary Wright, and a circa 1925 school for African-American school children in the rural Carolina Piedmont.

Posted on June 12th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Limestone Springs, South Carolina

Our latest Virtual Travel video focuses on the story of Limestone Springs in Cherokee County, South Carolina

Limestone Springs was located in the Piedmont region, in what's now the town of Gaffney, SC. Throughout the 19th century, it attracted many people from the Lowcountry and Midlands due to its medicinal springs and mild climate. The area was also home to a limestone quarry, which would eventually play a role in building one of our nation's most distinctive monuments.

In 1849, a request was sent throughout the United States asking for rock to aid in the construction of the Washington Monument. In South Carolina, this request was answered by Thomas Curtis, the president of Limestone College (located, of course, in Limestone Springs). Founded in 1845, the college was the first institution of higher education for women in the state. Curtis owned the nearby limestone quarry, from which a large slab of limestone rock selected. This stone was engraved with the state seal, and sent on to Washington. If you visit the Washington Monument today, some of these stones with commemorative seals can be seen from inside the elevator shaft! 

Click to join Chumley, and let's explore . . . 


Posted on June 5th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Northern Ireland's Presbyterian Heritage in SC


Our latest Virtual Travel video focuses on the story of a community of early Scots-Irish Presbyterians in Chester County, South Carolina

William Martin was a Presbyterian minister who fled religious persecution in Northern Ireland in the 1770s, and brought his congregation of around 500 families to live in what's now Chester County, South Carolina. Martin and many of his parishioners worshiped at the Catholic Presbyterian Church - an intriguing name, which we'll explain!

During the American Revolution, Reverend Martin became what the frustrated British called a "sedition preacher" - a man who effectively stirred Patriot support in his community from his pulpit. Since churches served as key gathering spots for rural colonial communities, local preachers were often effective recruiters for the cause. Men from William Martin's congregation would ultimately form two entire Patriot regiments! 

Click below to join Explore Up Close founder, Chumley Cope, and let's explore . . . 



Interested in more Scots-Irish history? Browse our upcoming trips!


Posted on May 29th in Virtual Travel Series

Exploring South Carolina's Rosenwald and Equalization Schools

Have you ever come across one of South Carolina's "Rosenwald Schools" or "Equalization Schools?" 

Rosenwald Schools were a progressive educational program born of a partnership between Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute, and Julius Rosenwald, philanthropist and president of the Sears Roebuck Company. These early 20th century schools played a critical role in educating young African-American students in rural communities, and around 5,000 schools were built between 1917 and 1932. 

Equalization Schools were created by the state government during the 1950s, in an attempt to prove the success of "separate but equal" schools . . . and to circumvent desegregation. Funding for these modern schools was produced through the first SC sales tax (3%), which funded new schools for white and black students - albeit still segregated. For a map of these schools - and further reading - check out:

We took a look at two examples of these historic schools on location. Join Explore Up Close, Chumley Cope, and let's go . . . 

The Hope Rosenwald School in Newberry County, South Carolina (built 1926)


Mary H. Wright - A South Carolina Upstate Equalization School (built 1951) 


Posted on May 18th in History and Culture

Virtual Travel Video: Due West + Erskine College

Our latest Virtual Travel video takes you to the picturesque campus of Erskine College, a private liberal arts school of about 800 students. 

Here, we'll uncover the origin of the little town of Due West, formed at the crossroads of the European and Cherokee trade in colonial South Carolina. Later, this crossroads became the beginning of a new life for Scots-Irish Presbyterians, fleeing religious and political persecution. 

Click below to join Caroline on location, and let's explore . . . 


Posted on May 15th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Historic Glenn Springs, SC

Our latest Virtual Travel video explores the historic resort community of Glenn Springs, SC. Though it all but disappeared during the Great Depression, this was once a popular resort for wealthy 19th century visitors, who traveled from far away to "take the waters." Thanks to local preservation efforts, several historic buildings still stand proudly - and are even being freshly renovated for the community to enjoy.

Join Explore Up Close founder Chumley Cope, and let's go! 

Posted on May 8th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Porto and the Douro Valley

Join Caroline on a virtual voyage in Northern Portugal, as we discover the city of Porto, and the storied Douro River Valley. 

Click below to watch the video, and let's explore . . . 

Posted on May 1st in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Rosemont Plantation & Ann Pamela Cunningham

Join Explore Up Close in Laurens County, South Carolina, as we delve into a fascinating tale of early historical preservation in the United States - the story of how George Washington's Mount Vernon was saved by a South Carolina lady. 

A Laurens County native, Ann Pamela Cunningham established one of the country's first preservation organizations, when she formed the Mount Vernon Ladies Association in 1853 and spearheaded efforts to preserve Mount Vernon for future generations. 

Her letters wryly describe her negotiations with George Washington's great grand-nephew, John Augustine Washington: 

"I shook hands with Mr. Washington; told him it was leap-year, women were bound to have their way. He might resist with all his might, but I knew I was to be victor, and must counsel him to follow the example of his illustrious ancestor, who never acted on a grave affair without having slept on it." 

Join us in Laurens County on the site of her family's ancestral home, Rosemont Plantation. The house burned in 1930, but the fascinating story of Ann Pamela Cunningham and her Mount Vernon Ladies Association remains. 

Click below to watch the video, and let's explore . . . 


For further reading:

Posted on April 24th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Conestee Mill + McBee Chapel

Join Chumley and Caroline with Explore Up Close, as we explore two historic sites in Greenville County, South Carolina: Conestee Mill, once known as McBee Manufacturing, and an intriguing chapel built for its workers, both established by one of Greenville's most influential early figures, Vardry McBee.  

Click below to watch the video, and let's explore . . . 

Exploring Conestee Mill + McBee Chapel from Explore Up Close on Vimeo.


Posted on April 17th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Cokesbury College

It's Friday, and we're back with another Virtual Travel video!  So far, we've been featuring snippets of "hidden" history that surrounds us, and today is no exception.

Join Explore Up Close founder, Chumley Cope, as he shows you one of his favorite buildings in the South Carolina Upstate: a beautiful 19th century women's academy, known as Cokesbury College, in Greenwood County. 



Posted on April 10th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Exploring Oconee Station

This week, we are featuring some of South Carolina's early frontier history in Oconee County.  Join our founder, Chumley Cope, and let's explore . . . 


Posted on April 3rd in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel: Two of our favorite Presidential homes

Mystery Photo Reveal: April 1, 2020

This week, we featured two lovely Presidential homes in Virginia. Eight former Presidents have hailed from this powerful state, including four out of our first five Presidents. In fact, by the year 1850, if you weren't born in Virginia; or within a stone's throw of Charlotte, NC; or into the famous Adams family of Massachusetts . . . you wouldn't have been President! 
( . . . unless you were Martin Van Buren of Kinderhook, New York).

For the first photo - many of you correctly identified Thomas Jefferson as the builder of Monticello ("Little Mountain" in Italian), more or less overlooking Jefferson's proudest architectural project -- the University of Virginia.

On his headstone, Jefferson wanted to be remembered for three achievements: as the author of the Declaration of Independence, author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty (which influenced the Constitution's Bill of Rights), and builder of the University of Virginia.

The second photo does not capture the true length of this house, which is over 300 feet long, including a 68-foot long ballroom . . . perfect for dancing the popular Virginia Reel. It remains the longest wooden frame house in America, and is still occupied by our 10th President's grandson. Now, you're intrigued, right?!

This house, a plantation on the James River, was purchased by President John Tyler in 1842. When he retired from the presidency in early 1845, he renamed the home "Sherwood Forest," as a playful retort to his political opponent (and leader of the Whig party), Henry Clay. Clay believed that President Tyler had betrayed Whig ideals, and considered him an "outlaw" in his own party.

John Tyler was the first Vice President to succeed a President who died in office (as such, he was derisively called "Your Accidency" by his opponents). His predecessor was William Henry Harrison, another native Virginian, who campaigned under the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too."

Thanks for following along, and stay tuned for Friday - we'll be sharing our second Virtual Travel video!

Posted on April 1st in History and Culture

Virtual Travel Video: Spartanburg's Daniel Morgan Monument

Announcing - militia drumroll, please - our very first Virtual Travel Video! 

This week, we wanted to share a snippet of local history with you, about a monument that some of you may have strolled by in downtown Spartanburg's Morgan Square. 

This 1881 sculpted monument depicts Revolutionary War hero Brigadier General Daniel Morgan, known for leading the Patriots to victory in the Battle of Cowpens. This was a decisive turning point in the American Revolution, hastening the events that led to the British surrender at Yorktown. 

Today, we're sharing the surprising story behind the monument itself, which was put up post-Reconstruction. Join our founder, Chumley Cope, and let's explore . . . 

Virtual Travel with Explore Up Close: Video 1 from Explore Up Close on Vimeo.


Posted on March 27th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel: The TVA and the Clinch River

Mystery Photo Reveal: March 23, 2020

As many of you correctly guessed, this photo was taken in the Volunteer State -- Tennessee. The railroad bridge spans the Clinch River, which was the site of the TVA's first impoundment: Norris Lake and Dam, named for Nebraska Senator George Norris (pictured). 

Norris (a Republican, perhaps in name only) was a great ally of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal legislation. Described by FDR as a "knight of American progressive ideals," Norris introduced the Senate version of the TVA Act, which became law in May 1933. (Monday's email incorrectly linked Norris to the Ways and Means Committee -- untrue; that committee only exists in the House of Representatives. That's our corrected testimony!)

The Norris Dam would ultimately power the "Secret City" of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which played a key role in the Manhattan Project.

The Manhattan Project was the secret work of the United States government during World War II to create an atomic reaction, and, ultimately, weapon. State-of-the-art laboratories, along with accommodations for 30,000 employees and their families (though the population was over twice that by 1945), were tucked away in the sparsely populated, mist-shrouded hills of Tennessee. (The other secret cities established were Hanford, Washington, and Los Alamos, New Mexico).

Finally, an interesting connection to our region . . .

The TVA constructed an entire town to build and administer Norris Dam and Lake; this new town was called Norris. A TVA staff "landscape engineer" named Earle Sumner Draper drew up the design for the town, which featured curvy, winding streets, and large wooded lots. Draper's earlier landscape design work can be seen today in some of our region's most famous (and charming) residential neighborhoods: Druid Hills (Hendersonville), Myers Park (Charlotte), Hayes Barton (Raleigh), Sequoyah Hills (Knoxville) - and the layout of the hotel and "resort" complex at Lake Lure, NC.

Posted on March 25th in Virtual Travel Series

Announcing . . . Virtual Travel with Explore Up Close!

Greetings Explore Up Close friends, 

We're happy to announce a fun and intriguing "virtual travel" series that we'll send to you by email every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. We're excited to continue to bring our exploration to you, in the comfort of your home! It's our hope that this will keep our minds and hearts traveling, even while we stay in place right now.

Here's what to look forward to in your inbox each week . . .

Each Monday, we'll share a mystery photo from our travels - and it's up to you to guess where it is! Stay tuned for our first photo, coming later today . . .

On Wednesdays, we'll reveal the location of our mystery photo, along with snippets of stories related to this place. We'll also engage with questions that we receive via email, so if there is something that you've been wondering - from our favorite places, to travel logistics, we encourage you to ask away!

Each Friday, we'll spice things up with a fun travel video from our team. Now . . . where did I put my movie director's beret?!

If you aren't currently on our mailing list, but would like to receive our Virtual Travel series, simply click here to join our mailing list. 

We could all use a bit of an escape right now, so we warmly invite you to join in the fun, and share this series with your friends. Here's to past and future adventures!


Chumley Cope
Explore Up Close Founder

Posted on March 23rd in Virtual Travel Series

A Encouraging Note from Explore Up Close

Hello friends,

[Above the din and smoke enveloping the plains of Waterloo, rose the steady clear lilt of a solitary bag-piper, dressed in his Gordon Highlanders tartan . . . and the melody of "Johnnie Cope, Are Ye Wakin'?" flooded into the valley and into the hearts of the troops.]

This is Chumley, founder of Explore Up Close, writing with some words of encouragement. (As for the above passage . . . sometimes, only the music of the Scottish Highlands can capture a particular feeling.)

We're obviously experiencing a lock-down on all travel and routine activities, which will stretch on for several weeks. There will be updates from officials and experts about the specifics of the lock-down, and the duration -- so we, like you, will monitor and reassess our world of travel possibilities as those updates roll through.

Here are a few notes that I hope are comforting to us all.

First of all, on the personal side: If any of you who live in our immediate area (i.e. the Greenville / Spartanburg areas) need anything -- a grocery store run, help getting to an appointment, toilet paper from my wife's stash -- please contact us. Call me, leave a message, and I'll respond.

Related to our scheduled travel during the next month or so: 
We are taking the approach of wanting to reschedule trips that fall between mid-March and mid-April. As I said above, we'll keep monitoring developments about the virus and safety restrictions, and make smart decisions about later trips -- and whether we can take them as scheduled or need to reschedule. So, if you're signed up for a spring trip, we'll be in touch with details about our plans.

We will also take this unexpected free time to share some wonderful travel photos, and snippets of great stories from our archives, which we hope will help lift your spirits and normalize your lives.

Among the true joys that we've found during our years of Exploring Up Close are the friendships we've experienced along the way with our fellow travelers. So, in our present dislocation, we'll continue to keep in touch . . . and we'll look forward to some great backroads exploration in our future!


Chumley Cope
Explore Up Close Founder


Posted on March 16th in Small Group Travel

Exploring South Carolina's Pee Dee

We're exploring South Carolina's Blackwater Rivers, in the fascinating (and less-visited) Pee Dee region!  Here are just a few of the rich South Carolina stories we're uncovering:

  • The survival of the Gullah culture and language, daring Revolutionary War exploits, beautifully preserved churches and small towns, and one of South Carolina's most interesting 19th century families
  • Pristine natural beauty, for photographers and nature lovers:
  • Majestic cypress trees, draped with Spanish moss; a wide diversity of birds and wildlife; the waterways of the Great and Little Pee Dee, Waccamaw, Santee, Black, and Samipit Rivers; early spring flowers in bloom

Here's what Explore Up Close founder, Chumley Cope, has to say: 

Posted on February 17th in History and Culture

Passports 101: A Guide for Applying and Renewing Your Passport in 2020

Applying for a passport - or renewing an expired passport - may seem daunting, but we're here to walk you through it. The good news: it's easier than ever today, so don't let passport woes stop you from traveling outside of the United States! Timing is everything, so it's best to apply for a passport (even if you are just renewing it) several months in advance to ensure that you receive it in time for your trip. Here is the Explore Up Close guide to applying for a passport - happy globetrotting!


If you are applying for a first-time passport, you can apply in person at many post offices. Post office locations can be found here. While the closest location may be the most convenient, sometimes wait times are much less in post offices just outside of the city. For example, I live in Spartanburg and there is a post office not far from my house, but I went to the post office in Moore to renew my passport and was served almost immediately after walking in the door. Whatever post office you choose, it is best to make an appointment. Before your appointment, you will need to fill out the DS-11 form, which can be found online here. Proof of citizenship and identification will be required at the appointment, as well as a photocopy of each. Your evidence of citizenship must be an original or certified copy. In addition, you will need to bring one 2" by 2" color photo.


If you need to renew an expiring/expired passport, you can do this easily by mail. You will need to fill out the DS-82 form, which can be found online here. Then you will mail in the form as well as your most recent U.S. passport, one 2" by 2" color photo, necessary fees, and any other required documents. If you have urgent international travel within 14 days, you can make an appointment at a post office, or other passport center, and pay an additional $60 expedite fee.


Photo Tips. You can take your own photo, but it is best to get photos made at places like CVS, Walgreens, or FedEx stores. If you have a Costco membership, this will be the cheapest place to get a photo made. Photo requirements can be found here.


For more complicated situations, or additional information, take a look at the State Department’s website, found here.

Posted on February 11th in International Travel

Hello, 2020! A decade of Explore Up Close, in review

As this year comes to a close, we're reflecting on our favorite memories from 2019 . . . and from the past decade.  It's been a big year for our small family company, and we couldn't be more excited as we look ahead to 2020!

Here's 2019, by the numbers . . .

10 countries visited:
Austria, Canada, Chile, Denmark, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Portugal, Scotland, Spain
11 states explored:
Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia
25 small group trips
183 curious travelers 

Over the past decade . . .

In 2009, Explore Up Close was celebrating 5 years in business. Our small team was even smaller - founder Chumley Cope ran every aspect of the company - and led each and every trip - by himself!  Over the past 10 years, we are proud to have grown to a team of three full-time employees. And, we've been very fortunate to work with a host of incredible guides and great minds along the way.
We've also widened our travel repertoire since 2009.  Today, in addition to our small group tours, we proudly organize and guide trips for family and friend groups, churches, special interest groups, and more. For the friends who dream of hiking through the Scottish Borders, for a family's summer adventure to the Pacific Northwest, or for a church choir group discovering the Reformation and music history in Germany . . . organizing custom group travel has become one of our favorite ventures yet.
Most of all, we're grateful to have the opportunity to do what we love! To each person who has opened our emails, shared our name with a friend, or joined us for a small group adventure over these past 10 years: thank you for sharing this journey with us. Here's to the special places and stories waiting in 2020!

Posted on December 31st in Small Group Travel