Don’t Rain on My Parade

Day 50: Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Start: Salem, VA
End: Winchester, VA
Miles Driven Today: 237
Total Miles: 8,787

Today, we finished driving the Blue Ridge Parkway. Unfortunately, we hardly saw any of it! It rained today. Or I should say, it POURED today. The area had a nasty swath of thunderstorms. To make matters worse, the Parkway was also fogged in. So, prior to the torrential downpour, the fog was so thick that we could barely see 50 feet in front of us.

Luckily, we found another tanker truck full of coffee. (Nah!)

Coffee Tanker!

Coffee Tanker!

Today’s open road was…not so great. But one rainy day out of fifty…I can live with that!

Today's rainy and foggy open road - Blue Ridge Parkway

Today’s rainy and foggy open road – Blue Ridge Parkway

After we finished the Blue Ridge Parkway, we were going to drive Skyline Drive across Shenandoah National Park. The entrance is just past the end of the Parkway. However, when we got there, the ranger told us that it was completely fogged in the entire way. So, we decided to just motor along the valley floor and get over to Winchester. We took a local route rather than the highway. It snaked through small towns all along the way.

Tomorrow, we head to see Bob and Sharon, and then we’ll sprint home on Thursday. I’m sad to see this adventure end, but I’ll be glad to be home and to NOT live out of a suitcase.

Of course, Jasmine is none too happy at the prospect of seeing Lily, the very large and enthusiastic Labrador mix tomorrow. I’m hoping that her experiences on the road have made her a little less…fragile than the last time we visited!

I have to co-exist with a big dog? I am morose!

I have to co-exist with a big dog? I am morose!

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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!

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!

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!

A Day in Yellowstone National Park

Day 37: Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Miles Driven Today: 259
Total Miles: 5,763

Today’s adventure was a visit to Yellowstone National Park. While it was a bit of a haul from Jackson, we’re glad that we decided not to stay in Montana. We’re really enjoying our cabin.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

I hadn’t realized that Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park were so close together. You’re out of Teton for just a few minutes before you hit the entry to Yellowstone. Once in the park, you pass over the Continental Divide for the first time in the park at an elevation of over 7900 feet.

Continental Divide

We encountered the Continental Divide throughout the park

Our ‘must see’ in the park was Old Faithful, so we took the Grand Loop to the West. The scenery (not surprisingly) was magnificent. Tall pines lined our road, sheer cliffs and canyons flanked us to the right. Old Faithful was around 40 miles INTO the park, so it took a bit of time to get there. As we turned the corner, we could see it spouting above the tree line. Uh oh. That meant a 60- to 90-minute wait until the next ‘show’.

We parked in the village and walked around the visitor’s center. There are a number of villages around the park that include a lodge, visitor’s center, groceries, restaurants and gasoline as well as campgrounds and cabins. Old Faithful Village was teeming with people; not surprising since this is the single most popular attraction in the park.

There were benches and a viewing area all around Old Faithful, so we took the pups out in the stroller and sat in the sun waiting for the next eruption. A little over an hour later, the geyser spouted, shooting water and steam over 100 feet into the air.

Old Faithful

Old Faithful

Old Faithful

Old Faithful

We then went on to the Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin. The springs and pools around here are uniquely colorful, with brilliant cerulean, orange and ocher rings and boiling, steaming cauldrons of mineral-rich water. The colors are formed by micro-organisms that thrive on the hot water. I found the area to be particularly inspiring; the photos are going to serve my artwork well!

Bubble Bubble Toil and Trouble

Bubble Bubble Toil and Trouble – Excelsior Geyser Crater

At the Grand Prismatic Spring

At the Grand Prismatic Spring

Brilliant color at the Grand Prismatic Spring

Brilliant color at the Grand Prismatic Spring

We went on to see waterfalls, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Yellowstone Lake and so many other vistas. And we only saw one part of the Grand Loop; we would need several more days to see all that the park had to offer.

Base of the falls at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Base of the falls at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Beautiful Waterfall in Yellowstone

Beautiful Waterfall in Yellowstone

Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake

Tom was exceptionally happy that we were also able to see Bison in the wild. We stopped on Fountain Flat Drive and saw a herd of Bison (including young calves) across a river. We also spotted a bunch of Bison in Hayden Valley along with some antelope, mule deer and a number of Canadian geese. It was a good wildlife day. (We also saw some additional bison, antelope and deer near Teton on our way back!)

Field of wild Bison

Field of wild Bison (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

Bison

Bison

Big Bison

Big Bison

I couldn’t imagine how congested this park gets in the heart of the summer season. Today’s visit was filled with tour buses and full parking lots, but the park wasn’t at capacity. Once again, we’re happy about our timing, good weather and good fortune.

Today's Open Road

Today’s Open Road

Tomorrow is a ‘down’ day in Jackson. We’ll hang out, do more sightseeing (and perhaps a couple of the local museums) and just relax before heading out on our next adventure. I did find this t-shirt at a gift shop in the Grand Teton National Park. It so fits the trip!

My Motto

My Motto

Park-o-Rama

Day 34: Sunday, June 2, 2013
Start: Bryce Canyon City, UT
End: Richfield, UT
Miles Driven Today: 215
Total Miles: 4,992

Today was a scenic motor day. We decided to take the longer loop on Route 12 and Route 24 through Escalante and made some detours as well. It was another day of unbelievable views and quiet roads. Just our speed!

Wel left Bryce and were immediately blown away by a change in landscape. We entered the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument area (quite a large area) and were hit by a lovely open road and the beginning of our driving adventure.

Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument

Entry to the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument

We saw a sign for Kodachrome State Park, and we had to go. Who wouldn’t go to a park named Kodachrome? Right after the turn-off for the park, we saw a visitor’s center for Escalante. We stopped, chatted with the Ranger about both Escalante and Kodachrome, and motored on.

While Escalante was mainly made of a buff-colored stone, Kodachrome returned us to the iron-rich soil that we saw in Zion and Bryce. Deep terra cotta stonescapes surrounded us in this dramatic park. It was more a camping and hiking park, so our visit was short. But even on the main roads, we could see the bright beauty of this area…the reason for the park’s name. I would imagine that the landscape’s imagery changes dramatically throughout the day…it would be great to see.

Kodachrome State Park

Kodachrome State Park

Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument

Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument

Incredible vista in Escalante National Monument

Incredible vista in Escalante National Monument (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

Escalante Vista

Escalante Vista

Route 12 wound in and out of Escalante, skirting into and out of the Dixie National Forest. It was a stark contrast of deep, lush greens and stark desert landscapes. We loved it. The changes in altitude and temperature were equally dramatic. At one point, we were at 9,800 feet; the temperature in Richfield was almost 30 degrees more than at the summit in Dixie National Forest.

Aspens in Dixie National Forest

Aspens in Dixie National Forest

We loved this route. Desert, deep red canyons, lush groves of Aspen, rich floral meadows, wide grazing land…it was all on our route.

The road less travelled

The road less travelled (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

At the intersection of Route 12 and Route 24 in Torrey, we took yet another detour to Capitol Reef National Park just a few miles East of the intersection. Once again, we were thrown into a canyon with thick walls of iron-rich red cliffs and dramatic stone formations. We went a few miles in to the visitor’s center and then took a bit of the scenic drive. However, we wanted to reach our destination at a reasonable hour, so we left and motored back West. Given what we saw on the way TO the park…we saw much of the majesty of this area.

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

Open road to Capitol Reef

Open road to Capitol Reef

We reached Richfield and our modest overnight accommodations and are now safely and comfortably settled for the night. Tomorrow, we’re driving all the way to Jackson, Wyoming. We’ll stay a couple of nights there so we can spend a full day exploring the Tetons. We then will go up to Yellowstone!

For you Jasmine and Juliet fans, the girls are doing GREAT. One of the things I’ve been noticing is the interaction between Jasmine and Juliet. Jasmine is starting to cuddle more with Juliet. In the car, on the bed, and in the crate, these two are together 24 x 7…it was bound to happen. Juliet’s assertiveness is also changing the alpha dynamics. I’m not sure which dog is alpha (they tend to go back and forth). I do know that at the end of this, the dogs will be a little better bonded. Buddies? Maybe not today, but I’m hopeful.

Pals

Pals?