North Carolina on My Mind

Day 48: Sunday, June 16
Start: Asheville, NC
End: Wilkesboro, NC
Miles Driven Today: 156
Total Miles: 8,374 

Our second day on the Blue Ridge Parkway was as scenic and pleasant as our first. Leaving the hustle and bustle of Asheville, we were on the Parkway in just a few minutes. Our first stop was at the Folk Art Center. A cooperative effort between the National Park Service and the Southern Highland Handcraft Guild, this center showcases the fine handicraft of artisans in the region. The Guild also runs several other shops in the area and on the Parkway (including the center at the Moses H. Cone house). It’s worth the stop!

Of course, the moment we got there, two young women approached us asking for a jump-start. This is the second time we’ve helped stranded travelers. Ladies and gents, just throw a set of jumper cables in your trunk. Really.

Anyway, we were on our way in no time. Today’s roads were less windy and challenging than yesterday, but still meandering through forest and mountainous terrain. There were so many lookouts and so many beautiful vistas…I’ve included just a few.

Another Blue Ridge view

Another Blue Ridge view

Blue Ridge Parkway Panorama

Blue Ridge Parkway Panorama (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

Smoky blue mountains and a beautiful vista

Smoky blue mountains and a beautiful vista

Roadside Rhododendrons

Roadside Rhododendrons

We stopped at the Craggy Gardens visitor’s center and met the same ranger that we spoke to at the Asheville center yesterday evening. At least they get to move around and have a bit of variety in their job! We stopped to ‘smell the roses’–or, in this case, the Rhododendrons, and spied the next tunnel around the bend:

One of the many tunnels on the Blue Ridge Parkway

One of the many tunnels on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Craggy Gardens

As we made our way North, we decided to stop to find another deli to get a picnic lunch. Little Switzerland stood out on the map, with a cafe and an attraction called the Emerald Mines. Bingo! We got off the Parkway and were immediately in the town. Of course, the bright sign advertising the Emerald Mines (tours, panning, gift shop, etc.) beckoned us. So off we went!

There were two areas–a mine museum and self-guided tour, and a little mining area. The mining area looked like a fun place to take the kids. You get a bucket (various sizes/costs) and a sifting box. You shovel your ‘raw’ materials (sand, some gemstones, some rocks) and wash away the sand to find your treasures. It looks like a fun place to take kids.

Barn quilt on the way to the Emerald Mines

Barn quilt on the way to the Emerald Mines

Mine shaft opening at Emerald Mines

Mine shaft opening at Emerald Mines

We then stopped at the Switzerland Cafe and had lunch. They had outside seating, so we just ate outside. While we were pulling in, Juliet started barking at a Jack Russell terrier walking down the street. Our little non-barking dog has turned into a Barky McBarkster!

After lunch, we went on to the Linn Cove Viaduct. This viaduct was the last bit of the Blue Ridge Parkway to be built. It hugs the face of Grandfather Mountain and was built specifically to lessen the impact on the ecology of the area. Each part of the roadway was constructed off site, and each piece was installed in place. Here’s a video of us driving across the viaduct! Oh so thrilling! 🙂

Towards the end of the day, we stopped at the Moses H. Cone summer house and Craft center. Wonderful house (forgot to get a picture…duh), the same art as the first Folk Art Center. But still a nice stop!

The 'summer house' of Moses H. Cone

The ‘summer house’ of Moses H. Cone

We’re staying in Wilkesboro tonight. Unfortunately, the smaller towns along the Parkway didn’t have dog-friendly accommodations. Wilkesboro is about 20 miles off the Parkway, down a HUGE hill and into a valley. The Holiday Inn Express that we’re staying at…well, let’s just say that they are dog tolerant, if that. They tried to ream me with an additional fee on TOP of the ridiculous dog fee that I’m paying. Uh, NO. Then, you can’t have the dog in the lobby; yet the doors that they told us to use have a no dogs allowed sign. Holiday Inn Express, you stink!!!

However, we’re in for the night after a lovely dinner at the Mason Jar Grill. Yummy food, inexpensive…and hush puppies. What could be better? Their homemade banana pudding! YAY!!

Tomorrow, we’re back on the Parkway to Roanoke, Virginia. However, the good weather we’ve experienced throughout this trip is coming to an end. We’re going to have a wet week, especially as we get closer to home.

Jasmine says, "What's for dinner?"

Jasmine says, “What’s for dinner?”

Chillaxin' at the Holiday Inn Express in Wilkesboro. Dog unfriendly. Don't stay here.

Chillaxin’ at the Holiday Inn Express in Wilkesboro. Dog unfriendly. Don’t stay here.

It’s been awhile but, I’m back

I’ve been off line for awhile but, that doesn’t mean I am not having a good time.

Had a couple of hard drive days going from Colorado to Kentucky that were not very interesting or fun but, the rest of the trip is still going great.

As Mahgrit stated, we decided to skip South Dakota and swung south to see more of Colorado. We went over the Rocky Mountain National Park, which had only opened the week before. I was there many, many years ago but could not go over it because it was still closed at the time. The views were simply awesome. Once again, Mahgrit had some trouble with the heights. We were up at 11 to 12 thousand feet in elevation a couple of times. The temperatures vacillated between 47 degrees at altitude and high 70s to low 80s down in the valleys. There was still a lot of snow on the ground and the snow removal equipment was still handy at the top.

After we left there we booked across eastern Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, and part of Indiana on the way to Kentucky. We spent a few fun says with Mahgrit’s old friends. It is interesting, I read somewhere, that real friends may not see each other for years at a time but when they get together it is like no time has passed at all. This was our visit to Mahgrit’s friends. It was like they all got together just the day before. Raise a drink to good friends.

We are now on the backside of our adventure. We followed the bourbon trail south into Tennessee, a great ride with interesting distilleries along the way. Today we went through the Smokie Mountains and began to follow the Blue Ridge Parkway. WOW!!! These mountains are not as high as the Rockies but WOW!!! This is the most winding road I ever drove on. There was not a stretch of road that ran straight for more than a few hundred yards. Curves, after curves followed by switchback after switchback, followed by corkscrew turns and even a complete circle turn ( the road went through a tunnel and then over the top, cool). There were hundreds of motorcycle riders. This is a paradise for them.

There were lots of people at the turnouts but we saw very few as we drove. All in all a great ride. I love driving on roads with little or in some cases no traffic.

We are heading north and trying to figure out how to stretch this trip out as long as possible. But, sigh, it is coming to an end shortly.

Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway

Day 47: Saturday, June 15, 2013
Start: Sevierville, TN
End: Asheville, NC
Miles Driven: 140
Total Miles: 8,218

Today took us into the Great Smoky Mountains and onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. We left our (somewhat smarmy) hotel room early to ‘sprint’ through Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. The number of attractions, theaters (okay, so the mind-reading pig did intrigue me), souvenir shops and themed hotels and restaurants were grossly fascinating.

Titanic Theater in Pigeon Forge

Titanic Theater in Pigeon Forge. ICEBERG!

We wanted to make sure we made it through the throng before the hordes of summer travelers finished their pancake breakfasts. Seriously. I have never seen so many non-IHOP pancake joints in my life. We did pass up on Dollywood as well. Tom was heartbroken (NOT).

We made it through entertainment row and then into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We were surrounded by lush green…I felt like I could BREATHE again!

Road to the Smokies. MUCH nicer open road!

Road to the Smokies. MUCH nicer open road!

As we traversed through the park and stopped at the many vistas, I was continually in awe of the beauty. I remarked to Tom about how much we’ve seen, and how different each of the National Parks has been. However, the lush woods of this park felt familiar and comfortable (okay, other than the sheer drops and narrow roads). The thick, wooded terrain really reminded me of New Hampshire.

Blue skies, Smoky Mountains.

Blue skies, Smoky Mountains. (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

Mountain beauty

Mountain beauty

On the Appalachian Trail

On the Appalachian Trail

Along the way, we stopped in a number of National Park visitor’s centers. Tom, of course, made the best of each of the stops. No, I didn’t see any bears.

Grrrr...

Grrrr…

Oh! It was only Tom!

Oh! It was only Tom!

The Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles long, stretching from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains. The Parkway meanders through the Appalachian Mountains and intersects with portions of the Appalachian Trail. The parkway’s construction started in 1935, and the last section was completed 52 years later, in 1987! That’s not much longer than the Big Dig! 😀

The Southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway

Today’s drive on the Parkway wound through the Nantahala National Forest and the Pisgah National Forest (and over Mount Pisgah). We also went over the highest point on the Parkway (a bit over 6,000 feet). Driving the road was pretty intense due to the inordinate number of twists and turns. Tom (more than once) commented on the fact that the Parkway has been the windiest road we’ve driven thus far. Given that we’re only about 80 miles into the 469…um…

More beautiful views

More beautiful views (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

Rhodies in bloom add to the beauty

Rhodies in bloom add to the beauty

We picked up food before we ventured onto the Parkway, and we found a wonderful vista near the Waterrock Knob visitor’s center to spread a blanket and have a picnic. A perfect, warm day…and a perfect place for a picnic. Another bit of heaven.

Happy feet! Having a picnic at Waterrock Knob Overlook.

Happy feet! Having a picnic at Waterrock Knob Overlook.

Soon we reached Asheville, North Carolina and our hotel for the night. We’re a few miles off the Parkway near the Biltmore Estate. It was kind of tough to find a dog-friendly hotel, but the Best Western came through…and even gave us a goody bag! Given the number of poop bags we’ve been through on this trip, this was a welcome sight!

Thanks for the doggie goodie bag, Best Western!

Thanks for the doggie goodie bag, Best Western!

Dinner was at a local joint, Little Pigs BBQ. They are a local joint and they got decent reviews on Yelp. We headed over there and I had the BEST fried (broasted) chicken that I’ve had in years. And hush puppies! YES!!! I’m glad I had salad last night and today…

YUMMY broasted chicken at Little Pigs BBQ

YUMMY broasted chicken at Little Pigs BBQ

Tomorrow, we continue on the Blue Ridge Parkway, meandering across the Appalachians. Another day, another adventure!

Note: I’m surprised that no one commented on the fact that my day count was a bit…off. 🙂 It has now been fixed!

Kentucky and the Bourbon Trail

Days 45 & 46: Thursday, June 13 & Friday, June 14, 2013
Start: Burlington, KY
End: Sevierville, TN
Miles Driven Today: 331
Total Miles: 8,078

We were all set to leave on Thursday. We had a great time with the old “gang” from Kentucky. Tom and I were ready to hit the Bourbon Trail. And then a text from Heather came in late on Wednesday night. “Want to meet us for lunch at Skyline tomorrow?”

Hell yes!!!

So, we decided to do lunch with Heather and her daughter. And if we did that, we wouldn’t get to our destination until pretty late. SO that meant staying another night at Minda’s. Minda, being the gracious hostess that she is, let us camp out for another night. We made the best of it with a great lunch and visit with Heather and a nice pot of Coq au Vin and more Graeter’s ice cream for dinner. We know how to live!

Skyline Chili

Chowing at Skyline Chili

The dogs were really comfy and happy at the Michels’ house. They made themselves very comfortable and were peacefully co-existing with the resident dog, Sparky.

Jasmine and Juliet made themselves comfortable

Jasmine and Juliet made themselves comfortable

Alas, all good things do come to an end. And given that Minda’s daughter is having a horde of teen-age girls over for a sleep-over tonight…hm…just in time! (Just kidding, Grace!!!) So, off we went in search of the Bourbon Trail.

Instead of taking the highway all the way to Frankfort, we decided to get off the Interstate and take some back roads. We went through small towns like Owenton, KY and were able to finally take some snapshots of a few of the barns on the Kentucky Quilt Trail.

Barn quilt on the Kentucky Quilt Trail

Barn quilt on the Kentucky Quilt Trail

Barn quilt on the Kentucky Quilt Trail

Barn quilt on the Kentucky Quilt Trail

We made it to Frankfort in less than two hours and hit our ‘priority’ stop–Buffalo Trace Distillery. Tom had been sipping on Buffalo Trace each time we visited the Michels family…so we had to stop there! We picked up a few choice items…given our wild Bison encounters, we are loving the furry beasts (and Tom is loving the bourbon!). I tasted a bit of the Bourbon Cream and had to have some to take home. YUM!

Tom's new favorite bourbon--Buffalo Trace!

Tom’s new favorite bourbon–Buffalo Trace!

Pre- or post-tasting? You decide.

Pre- or post-tasting? You decide.

MMMM...bourbon! The Bourbon Cream is the BEST!

MMMM…bourbon! The Bourbon Cream is the BEST!

Our next and final stop was Wild Turkey. We picked up a turkey call and a great bourbon barrel coat rack. Alas, at both Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey, we couldn’t take the distillery tours even though our timing was good. The day was way too hot to leave the pups in the car for any length of time. We knew that this could be a problem…but we still enjoyed both distilleries!

Wild Turkey Distillery

Wild Turkey Distillery

Tom riding the Wild Turkey!

Tom riding the Wild Turkey! Pre- or post-tasting? You decide!

Back on the back roads. One of the reasons we stopped at Wild Turkey was to see the S-shaped bridge near the distillery. We couldn’t get a good shot of the bridge, but it was pretty darn cool!

S bridge right past the WIld Turkey Distillery

S bridge right past the WIld Turkey Distillery

We also opted to go through Daniel Boone National Forest instead (again) of the Interstate to really enjoy the scenic byways and hills of Kentucky.

Beautiful road past Daniel Boone National Forest

Beautiful road past Daniel Boone National Forest

That route put us through Cumberland Gap on our way to Tennessee. We picked up salads from Cracker Barrel (yes, SALADS…healthy food!) and had a picnic in the park.

Picnic at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park

Picnic at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. Who says Cracker Barrel can’t do ‘healthy’ food? 🙂

Tunnel through Cumberland Gap

Tunnel through Cumberland Gap

Hello Tennessee! Thanks for the Welcome!

Hello Tennessee! Thanks for the Welcome!

One of today's open roads. Beautiful Tennesse hills.

One of today’s open roads. Beautiful Tennesse hills.

Then it was off to our stop for the night, Sevierville, Tennessee. Sevierville is outside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We’re going to visit Gatlinburg, the Smokies and hit the Blue Ridge Parkway tomorrow, so this just sets us up for our next adventure. We’re settled in for the night and are looking forward to tomorrow’s sightseeing. We’ll end up in Asheville, North Carolina tomorrow night. From there, we’ll head up the Blue Ridge Parkway to its Northern End. I’m really looking forward to the Smokies and the Appalachian Mountains!

My Old Kentucky Home

Day 43 & 44: June 11 & 12
Start: Louisville, KY
End: Burlington, KY
Miles Driven: 94
Total Miles: 7,747

Yesterday's open road

Yesterday’s open road

We’re back in Northern Kentucky visiting the Michels family and other friends. It’s nice that we were able to swing through again and see more of my old friends! Who says you can’t go home again?

We have said that the dogs have changed on this trip. They are more easy-going and tolerant and MUCH less skittish. All of this has been readily apparent during this visit with the Michels.

Jasmine is much more accepting of people, and Sam has a new friend.

Sam and his new best friend

Sam and his new best friend

A changed dog

A changed dog

What's on TV?

What’s on TV?

The pups have some spiffy new bandannas…of course, they advertise my VERY favorite ice cream. The best of both worlds!

Graeter's Ice Cream Doggie Bandana!

Graeter’s Ice Cream Doggie Bandana!

Juliet is also pretty darn content. And sleepy. 🙂

Juliet's life is so rough

Juliet’s life is so rough (NOT)

Minda held a happy hour last night. It was great to see old friends and just hang out in the kitchen to talk. Of course, French Martinis were involved!

Tammy and Heather

Tammy and Heather

Heather and her husband Tom

Heather and her husband Tom

Pete

Pete

Minda, Grace and Sparky

Minda, Grace and Sparky

Tom is tired of the paparazzi

Tom is tired of the paparazzi

We’re actually staying another night so we can hang a bit longer and have lunch with Heather today. Then it’s off on the Bourbon Trail!

Cross-Country Sprint

Days 41 & 42: June 9 & 10
Start: Colorado Springs, CO
Via: Kansas City, MO
States Visited: Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky
End: Louisville, KY
Miles Driven: 1,081
Total Miles: 7,653

Apparently, silence isn’t golden. There has been some concern that we’ve fallen off the face of the earth since we haven’t posted in a couple of days.

With the motoring we’ve been doing, there hasn’t been much to report. We sprinted across the country over two days to get to Kentucky. We’re spending a few days here before hitting the Bourbon Trail, the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We stopped in Louisville to have a short respite before moving on. Thanks to the HUGE number of hotel nights, we already earned a free night in the Drury; in fact, we earned a lovely suite! It just so happens that a former Firetide colleague, Shelly Swift, moved to Louisville about five years ago. So I looked her up and we went out for drinks at Mojito’s. YUM!

To make our sprint as short as possible, we (unfortunately) ran the Interstate to get here. That’s why there’s a severe lack of pictures. Billboards, exit signs, pasture lands. However, you’ll find the most interesting pictures below, PLUS a plethora of dog pictures. Joe was expecting them.

CANDY!

CANDY! Tom knows that I cannot resist CANDY!

Filler up!

Filler up!

Crossing the...um...which river is this?

Crossing the…um…which river is this?

Jasmine loves the Drury Inn & Suites

Jasmine loves the Drury Inn & Suites

Playful pups

Playful pups

Tickle me Juliet!

Tickle me Juliet!

OOOF! That's the SPOT!

OOOF! That’s the SPOT!

A content pup

A content pup. Traveling with dogs is so great!

Did you say DINNER?

Did you say DINNER?

A scratch is all it takes to make this girl happy

A scratch is all it takes to make this girl happy

Rocky Mountain High (Colorado)

Day 40: Saturday, June 8, 2013
Start: Fort Collins, CO
End: Colorado Springs, CO
Miles Driven: 343
Total Miles: 6,572

Today’s travels took us up into (and on top of) the Rockies. Even though we only traveled from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, we covered some serious landscape.

We stayed in Fort Collins so we could have easier access to Rocky Mountain National Park. We woke up early, packed up and headed for the park. Our approach to the park said it all…the John Denver song kept playing in my head (hence the title of this post).

I don’t think any of my pictures can do the park justice. Stunning vistas, a trail that skirted one of the highest peaks, and roads that were so steep (and scenic) that I had to avert my eyes (my fear of heights really kicked into high gear on this one).

However, being up there, overlooking the vast forests, peaks and valleys…I felt like I was on top of the world.

On the way to Rocky Mountain National Park

On the way to Rocky Mountain National Park

Hello Rockies!

Hello Rockies!

Vast beauty of the Rockies

Vast beauty of the Rockies

Mountains, valleys, sheer cliffs...oh my!

Mountains, valleys, sheer cliffs…oh my! (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

At the top

At the top (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

Atop the Trail Ridge Road Scenic Byway

Atop the Trail Ridge Road Scenic Byway

EEK! Where does the road go?

EEK! Where does the road go? It looked like the road just ended…14,000 feet up!

After we left the Rocky Mountain National Park, we continued on our scenic journey through the Arapaho National Forest, past Winter Park and Copper Mountain, down across the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway, through both the Pike National Forest and the San Isabel National Forest, past Pike’s Peak and down to Colorado Springs. We saw some substantial mountains, including Mt. Elbert (at 14,433 feet, the highest peak in Colorado) and a group of mountains named after colleges (Oxford, Harvard, Columbia, Princeton). We even stopped at the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. A busy day, but SO very pretty!

Of course, our two back-seat drivers were happy to be with us. We’ve noticed that they are more curious about where we are (especially when the car stops). They couldn’t be more pleasant travel companions!

Where to next?

Where to next?

Tomorrow is the first of two ‘power motor’ days to get us across the plains and back to Kentucky. I don’t know if there will be anything to report…but then again, cute pictures of the pups might be in order!