I have spent a lot of time recently replaying one of my favorite games ever: Red Dead Redemption. Every time I immerse myself into that game world, my love for everything Wild West-themed is rekindled.
While I have been eyeing up a trip to Tombstone, Arizona for a visit at some point in the future, with the way traveling on airplanes is right now it doesn't seem likely I will make it out there any time soon; yet my hunger for a western adventure continued to burn.
So I did the next best thing and took a weekend road trip to the closest "western" town, Love Valley, North Carolina: notably one of the only towns left where no cars are allowed on the main street.
I actually discovered this very hidden gem while browsing through Atlas Obscura; but there are no articles on the web that truly highlight this itty-bitty town of only 90-some in all of it's good, bad and ugly glory. I had an idea of what to expect, (it is considered the cowboy capital for a reason) but nothing could have really prepared me for what it was like in person.
It was about an 8 hour drive to Love Valley from Tampa, which is still a really long drive just to go to a western-themed town (but nothing compared to driving to the pacific coast) and we didn't arrive until late in the evening on a Saturday.
When we did arrive, we heard a lot of commotion coming from the town (clearly at the saloon). It was packed with visitors and locals alike, who obviously enjoyed the dude ranch atmosphere on a Saturday night. While many people probably would have been put off by all the rowdy cowboys & gals, I think it gave off an authentic 1800s charm.
We didn't investigate the matter, however, as we were tired from the long drive. We lodged for the night at Miss. Kitty's B&B and waited for morning before exploring.
We had no idea what our room or the B&B was going to look like, since photos and reviews are spars on the web -- which made me a little hesitant -- but it was surprisingly cozy and reasonably priced.
It's notable that the entrance of the motel wasn't marked well, so in our delirious tired state paired with the poor lighting, we apparently stumbled in the wrong entrance and stayed in the wrong room. Whoops.
How did this happen you might ask... Well...
I booked through Facebook messenger at the last moment, and the person I was in contact with said they would leave a key "in the first door on the left when you come in" and that was our room. Well, the first door on the left when we came in the wrong entrance lead to a room that was clearly a work in progress, but I figured that since we got a double bed room for only $100 and no additional pet fees, that's what you would expect. We just shrugged it off and made do. It wasn't the worst I've seen, and it was pretty obvious that the town didn't have that much money -- so ideas of luxury should be left to the city.
It wasn't until the next day when we checked out that it was explained to us that the very nice room next to the lobby was the one we were supposed to stay in. -insert uncomfortable laugh here-
I'm pretty sure that this already had the townspeople thinking we were a bunch of city slicker idiots, but this is just the start of the strange encounters.
And for those wondering, here are some photos of Miss Kitty's; I will respectfully leave out the photos of the room we stayed in, since it was being renovated:
It didn't take long for us to fall asleep and before we knew it, Sunday morning had arrived.
We gathered our things and took the room keys to check out, but just as the front entrance was poorly marked, so was the lobby (definitely because we were in the wrong area). We stumbled around with our bags and dogs trying to find the place to pay when we eventually made it to a room that appeared to be the right spot.
We stood around for a while before anyone made their way to the front to greet us.
The lobby was extremely quiet for the short duration of our time there, with only a couple of workers in the main area occasionally saying something to each other.
The very friendly gentleman who rang us up had a very thick southern accent and a tendency to mumble, making it more than difficult to understand what he was saying. We made out enough to know that he said we were supposed to stay in "that room" as he pointed in front of us.
I apologized for the miscommunication, paid, and made sure to write them a nice review for the hassle (as soon as I had cell phone service again.)
We packed our belongings into our car, which was parked in a small grassy lot outside of Miss Kitty's, before making our way to the town.
My first initial thought of the town was how adorable, quaint and exceptionally quiet it was. You could walk through the entire main street in under a minute, (video here), so there really wasn't that much to see. I think the biggest selling point of Love Valley are the miles of horse trails behind the town. But I digress.
There were only a few locals wandering through the streets and businesses that morning -- perhaps because it was a Sunday, and only a handful of the town's businesses were open. We seemed to be the only tourists in the area during the time we were there (which wasn't long) and there was an unsettling silence that would have done any old western tumbleweed scene justice.
As much as there was a certain charm about the little town, it was also a little eerie -- like, The Hills Have Eyes kind of eerie. You know that feeling when you're being watched? We had that.
Not long after we sat down to grab some breakfast at the general store (which was also the town cafe), we noticed one of the locals -- who we first saw that morning working in the motel -- was constantly eyeing us up.
No matter where we went, his eyes (and sometimes he) would follow. If we sat on the porch, he sat on the porch. If we went into the general store, he went into the general store. I tried to smile at him at one point, and just just continued with the blank-face staring. Mind you, he wasn't being secretive about it at all either. He just openly stared us down while we uncomfortably tried to ignore the strange behavior and admire the surroundings.
After being stalked by this odd, unfriendly man for nearly half an hour -- but felt like an eternity -- he finally went on his way... But not before another worker came out and took a seat in close proximity to us with a perfect view of our every move.
This kept happening for the entirety of our no-more-than-two-hour visit in town. There is no exaggeration when I say there was ALWAYS at least one local from the town keeping tabs on us while we explored.
I'm fairly certain that they were just trying to make sure we weren't getting into any trouble, but it was an unwelcoming experience nonetheless.
We hurriedly walked through the town, taking photos and videos as fast as we could, and not spending a moment longer than we had to being seemingly stalked by the locals.
Of course, it could have all just been a big misunderstanding. Maybe we weren't being stalked -- but we didn't want to stick around and find out.
Stalking aside, I loved the atmosphere of the area. There's truly no place else like this on the East Coast, and I would love to go back at some point, maybe when there's an event going on and more tourists to hide behind.