By Harley Nefe
Many High Country residents may recognize the name Julian Monroe Fisher and will be eager to hear that he will be returning to Blowing Rock on June 6 for a reunion at Woodlands Barbeque Restaurant with a performance from the old-time string band The Corklickers. And for folks who are not familiar with the name, they are in for a wild adventure learning about Fisher’s life and experiences.
Fisher is an explorer noted primarily for his exploration of the African continent and his knowledge about Victorian Age expeditions in Northern and Central Africa. He is also an Anthropologist, a photographer and a published author among many other accolades. Fisher is a fellow with The Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers in London and an International Fellow with the Explorers Club in New York City. To date, Fisher has conducted expeditions in over 150 countries around the globe and has led six successful expeditions to the African continent.
A review from National Geographic Magazine stated, “Fisher’s expeditions across the planet have done far more than tick off feats of mega-trekking prowess — they are essential aspects of his ethnological and geographic research.”
And Fisher’s research and segue into his travels all began in the High Country.
Fisher’s father moved to the High Country when Carolina Caribbean Corporation was establishing a private resort destination on Beech Mountain. He was the first Food & Beverage Director at the Top of the Beech Inn and later developed and ran the Beech Haus Restaurant, which served mountain trout for 30 years.
“It was definitely, absolutely famous for its trout,” Fisher said.
Fisher worked in the family restaurant from the time he was 15 until his father got sick with cancer and later passed away. Fisher ran the Beech Haus Restaurant the last year it was open before they ended up selling the business.
“Mom ran the front, and I ran the back just like dad did,” Fisher said.
However, by working at his family restaurant, Fisher ended up falling in love with the High Country area and attended college at Appalachian State University.
The first time Fisher heard of the word Anthropology was during his junior year of college when his roommate, Mark Adams, was taking an Anthropology course and suggested the class to Fisher.
Mark Adams along with his brother Gil Adams are members of the band The Corklickers. The band started in early 1976, and Fisher was an original member as well.
“We were The Corklickers, and now we’re meeting at Woodlands on June 6, and I hadn’t seen them in 40 years,” Fisher said. “It’s just crazy.”
Fisher graduated from App State in 1978 and earned his Anthropology degree.
“I believe I was in the first group of Anthropologists at the university,” Fisher said. “There were four of us that graduated that year, and I’m the only one still practicing Anthropology.”
Fisher credited some of his professors from back in the day including Dr. Gregory Reck, Dr. Brian Bennett, Dr. Harvard Ayers and Dr. Patricia Beaver. App State as well as Fisher’s father inspired him to begin his traveling adventures.
“I had to do the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift at Myrtle Beach Hospital as papa was getting tortured with chemotherapy,” Fisher said. “He would sit there and say, ‘If I could do it all over, I would go travel more, and I would write books.’ So, when he told me that, that’s where I walked out of that hospital room when I knew I wouldn’t see him again, and I haven’t looked back.”
After his father died, Fisher didn’t have a job anymore, and so, he went to John Isley who is a radio host with Billy James with their radio show called John Boy & Billy Big. Fisher pitched John Boy an idea of him traveling south as far as his frequent flyer points would take him with US Airways, and then he would report back on his experiences. John Boy then told Fisher that he needed to talk to their producer, so Fisher did.
“He said, ‘I tell you what, we’ll try it twice on Halloween and then on Thanksgiving,’” Fisher recounted.
Fisher also credits the Mast General Store for sponsoring his first adventures. He went to Duane Woolbright at the Mast General Store and told him that he was going to need some boots and a backpack.
“And he said, ‘Alright, I don’t know what it’s about, but we’ll do it,’” Fisher said. “Mast Store made it all possible for me. Mast Store gave me the money, the equipment and the inspiration to keep going. After the first boots and backpack, the Mast Store ended up giving me everything I ever needed for expeditioning.”
Fisher’s frequent flyer points then took him to Cancun, Mexico, where for his first radio show for John Boy & Billy Big, he talked about a man getting stabbed on the beach on Halloween.
“It was a crazy story,” Fisher said.
Then about three weeks later on Thanksgiving, Fisher was on the coast of Honduras and gave another report.
“Everybody was happy, and it was a great thing,” Fisher said. “Then, I got a call from the network saying they wanted to do it every week, and I ended up doing it for 25 years.”
And Fisher wasn’t getting paid a single dollar for going on his journeys and giving reports. Instead, he found sponsors to help.
“I sponsored the lifestyle,” Fisher said. “I went around the globe two or three times, and I got credibility. When I became a member of the Explorers Club in New York City and a fellow with The Royal Geographical Society in London, I ended up doing six research expeditions to Africa, which was more than any member of the history of the club. It’s a very prestigious thing.”
Fisher then continued exploring and sharing stories with John Boy & Billy Big with a series called Monroe’s Talk About the World. Eventually, his interviews and research turned into books, as he has written four books on his adventures.
“I go out with no preconceived idea of what I’m going to find,” Fisher said. “I go to look, and I’ve been very, very fortunate to have been given a ticket to ride like this.”
With Fisher’s exploration career comes many stories, and he has a gift for storytelling, which he said he gets from his father.
“At the Beech Haus Restaurant, Big Monroe, he was the ultimate storyteller,” Fisher said.
Folks in the High Country will get a chance to either reunite with Fisher or meet him for the first time and hear all about his life experiences, as he is coming to Blowing Rock.
Fisher has two children, Julian Monroe Fisher IV who goes by Charley, and Lilian Myrtle who goes by Panama. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fisher has not been able to see his kids since December 2019. However, they will be seeing each other again soon. Fisher and Panama are driving across the U.S. starting June 6, with the first stop being in Blowing Rock.
“When my daughter was 12, I sent her a song called Grand Canyon by The Wind and The Wave,” Fisher explained. “And I said, ‘What do you want to do?’ And she said, ‘I want to go to the Grand Canyon,’ so, we’re driving to the Grand Canyon!”
The cross country trip will take Fisher and Panama through the following places: Johnnie Mercers Fishing Pier in Wrightsville Beach; Blowing Rock; Memphis, Tennessee; New Orleans, Louisiana; Austin, Texas; Amarillo, Texas; Denver, Colorado; New Mexico; the Grand Canyon in Arizona; and the Santa Monica Pier in California.
“She and I are going to start at Johnnie Mercers Pier and dip our toes in the water, and then we’re driving to the Santa Monica Pier by way of a lot of friends,” Fisher said.
Fisher also shared that he is really looking forward to the reunion in Blowing Rock.
The Corklickers, who play old-time music from the 1920s-1930s and are enjoying their 45th year playing, will be performing at Woodlands Barbeque Restaurant on Sunday, June 6 from 4-6 p.m. for the special reunion event.
“They haven’t done a gig in the High Country for just a beer and a little bit of barbeque in a long time,” Fisher said. “They are, I think, without a doubt the best old-time group of musicians that I know that are out there.”
After The Corklickers’s performance, many people will probably stay and hang out. It’s an opportunity to see some familiar faces and for everyone to tell tales.
“We’re looking forward to having Monroe and The Corklickers,” said Jim Houston, Owner of Woodlands Barbeque Restaurant. “And all those folks from that era can stop by and reminisce.”
When asked if he remembers Fisher from back in the day, Houston responded, “Now, you can’t forget him!”
Fisher said he has a feeling that it’s going to be a wonderful event with a great crowd because he already knows of people booking rooms at the Green Park Inn Hotel.
“I really got to do a shoutout for the Green Park Inn because they are providing us our home that night in Blowing Rock,” Fisher said. “I’m beyond emotion.”
Then the next morning, Fisher and his daughter are driving to Memphis, Tennessee.
When reflecting on his experiences, Fisher said it has been a crazy life, but he’s lucky to have had it. And soon he will be making an appearance where it all began.
“After years of living in the jungle, I’m going to pick up my daughter, and we’re going to drive across the country with the first stop being Blowing Rock. I love the High Country,” Fisher said.
“I’m hoping I’m going to be able to keep my composure — just to explain how much I miss and love America. If you get something taken away from you, you will appreciate it so much more. I know it’s cliché and kind of funny, but I figured I had to come into the heart of the jungle to find my way home.”
Photos submitted by Julian Monroe Fisher: