Blue Ridge Parkway Into Virginia

Day 49: Monday, June 17, 2013
Start: Wilkesboro, NC
End: Salem, VA
Miles Driven Today: 176
Total Miles: 8,550

Today’s adventure continued our trek up the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway. Thankfully, I had picked up a book at the Asheville visitor’s center – Guide to the Blue Ridge Parkway. This book not only gives a history of the Parkway, but mile-by-mile info on the best sights and stops. The descriptions of each of the overlooks, views and historic buildings also come with the origins of the names and any historic significance. Like the Route 66 Guide we used, this has been a little treasure that has greatly enhanced our trip on the Parkway.

Today's open road - Blue Ridge Parkway

Today’s open road – Blue Ridge Parkway

Welcome to Virginia

Welcome to Virginia

Stone Bridge - Blue Ridge Parkway

Stone Bridge – Blue Ridge Parkway

One of the more delightful stops was at the Blue Ridge Music Center. Often hosting summer concerts at their outdoor amphitheater in the summer, the center also has a nice museum that showcases the roots of American music. We stopped to have a nice break from the road; we didn’t expect that there would be any performances on a Monday afternoon. We were wrong. We were treated to the music of the Buck Mountain Band. Banjo, fiddle, guitar, stand-up bass and some traditional Bluegrass music…they got our toes tapping! Of course, the girls enjoyed the music too!

Buck Mountain Band at the Blue Ridge Music Center

Buck Mountain Band at the Blue Ridge Music Center

Everyone's paws were tappin' - Buck Mountain Band

Everyone’s paws were tappin’

We stayed for a little while and then decided to move on down the road. We’ve had nearly perfect weather since we started this trip. We had three rainy days since the start–two while we were staying in Kentucky and one on the road when we were motoring from Colorado to Kentucky. Of course, in the span of the five minutes that it took to get the car, the skies opened up. As we drove down the road, the rain caused poor visibility and fog banks steaming off the ground. This didn’t make sense to us…it was 65 degrees out!

Instant fog - Blue Ridge Parkway

Instant fog – Blue Ridge Parkway

Where are we? Pea soup land!

Where are we? Pea soup land!

We were headed to the historic Mabry Mil, and I was concerned that we’d be rained out. The mill is one of the most photographed areas on the Parkway…I didn’t want to miss my photo op! Well, I was not disappointed. By the time we reached the Mabry Mill a few minutes later, the skies had cleared and the sun was peeking through. Stellar!

The mill was beautiful. While it’s not a working mill anymore, there was a craftsman demonstrating the creation of handmade chairs (historically correct, using the same tools as those used during the mill’s operation). The grounds were very beautiful, and the air was clean and cool.

Mabry Mill - Blue Ridge Parkway

Mabry Mill – Blue Ridge Parkway (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

Mabry Mill - Blue Ridge Parkway

Mabry Mill – Blue Ridge Parkway. The clouds parted just for us! (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

Moonshine exhibit - Mabry Mill

Moonshine exhibit – Mabry Mill

There were more vistas along the way, but much of it was rained out for us. However, we did stop at Devil’s Backbone (mainly for the great name).

Devil's Backbone - Blue Ridge Parkway

Devil’s Backbone – Blue Ridge Parkway (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

Once again, the girls have been great. However, Juliet learned a new trick–jump from the back seat on TOP of the luggage in the back cargo area. Bad monkey! She’s getting bolder every day!

Little angels? Not that cherub on the left!

Little angels? Not that cherub on the left!

Tonight, we’re hunkered down at the La Quinta in Salem, VA (suburb of Roanoke)–a free night due to our frequent traveler points accumulated during this trip! Tomorrow, we’ll finish the Blue Ridge Parkway and traverse Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park (thanks John…we were planning this but your suggestion cemented our plans). We’ll then settle for the night in Winchester, VA and then head to Central PA to visit our friends Bob and Sharon for a night and regale them with our travel stories.

We began this trip visiting Bob and Sharon and the Michels family. It’s so nice that we are able to start and end a great trip with good friends.

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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.

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!