Home Again, Home Again

Day 52: Thursday, June 20, 2013
Start: Duncannon, PA
End: Amherst, NH
Miles Driven Today: 450
Total Miles: 9,378

It’s over. I’m sitting here in my easy chair, getting used to home again. There’s a huge pile of mail to sort through. Bags to unpack. Laundry to be done. But that’s for tomorrow.

We had another lovely visit with Bob and Sharon yesterday. Sitting around the kitchen table, we caught up on the trip and the happenings in the almost two months since we last saw them. It was a nice respite before the final sprint home, and visiting with good friends was a fit way to start and end this grand adventure.

Of course, Jasmine felt right at home and climbed up onto the kitchen table. Perhaps she wanted to get in on the conversation. Or perhaps, she was just a little thirsty!

Singha! Jasmine's favorite brand!

Singha! Jasmine’s favorite brand!

Juliet spent the evening searching for food. She sniffed (and snarfed) every inch of the house, looking for tidbits of food that the resident dog, Lily, had dropped on the floor, under furniture, etc. She was driving us nuts! I think we’ve created a monster… 🙂

Buddies

Buddies

We have marveled at how much both dogs have changed throughout this journey. Jasmine is much quicker to acclimate to a new situation. She co-existed with Lily after a few minutes. Perhaps it’s because she had met Lily on the way out. But climbing on the table, accepting treats from everyone, and running around the house without her tail between her legs…such progress. Juliet is so much more curious, confident and STUBBORN. True Dachshund traits are coming out. But what’s really great is to see the two dogs finally bonding.

Our final leg of open road

Our final leg of open road

We’ve had a great run. NOTHING bad happened to us. No flat tires. No pickpockets. No items stolen from our room. No car trouble. Rarely any crowds. No tornadoes. No forest fires. We’ve had an incredible experience and the trip of a lifetime. I’ll summarize it all this weekend, after a bit of sleep and settling in!

Today’s travels were long, but relatively easy. There had been an accident on the bridge through Harrisburg a few weeks ago, so we decided to skip going through Harrisburg and went some backroads to reach the Interstate. So, once again, we had some picturesque travels across open roads.

But we were soon motoring our way back to New Hampshire. We flowed through New York, retracing some of our route on the Turnpike to the East of the Catskills and then through Mass and up home to New Hampshire. We hit very little heavy traffic except for areas with road work. Even then, we made it home in around 8 hours.

Back to New York

Back to New York

Massachusetts - We skipped it on the way out

Massachusetts – We skipped it on the way out

Close to home

Close to home

Waiting for us when we got home was a huge pile of mail, some packages we sent home, and Tom’s prized piece of Acoma pottery that we purchased in Albuquerque. It was a great welcome home, along with an in-tact house (thanks Sam!).

Acoma Pottery by Michael & Robin Romero

Acoma Pottery by Michael & Robin Romero

All is well. We’re a bit sad that the trip is over. But there’s really no place like home. As we were driving the last few minutes until we reached our house, I looked at the lush landscape that we call home. We’ve seen a lot of beautiful places and driven some wonderful open road. But seeing our town…the road home rivals any of the picturesque and quaint backroads we took.

It’s good to be back.

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Back in Pennsylvania

Day 51: Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Start: Winchester, VA
End: Duncannon, PA
Miles Driven Today: 141
Total Miles: 8,928

Today was a day to visit friends. We started out in Winchester and headed just 30 minutes East to visit one of Tom’s former colleagues, Paris Resnick. Paris now owns and runs the Moose Apple Christmas Tree Farm in Berryville, VA.

It was a short but lovely drive to the farm. Our open road was quite nice.

Today's open road - Berryville, VA

Today’s open road – Berryville, VA

We were soon at the farm. Perfectly manicured Christmas trees greeted us at the foot of the driveway.

Arriving at Moose Apple Christmas Tree Farm

Arriving at Moose Apple Christmas Tree Farm

As we pulled up the driveway, we saw a fabulous log cabin. There was a huge wrap-around porch (which we later found out wrapped ALL the way around the large house).

Moose Apple Christmas Tree Farm - Log Cabin

Moose Apple Christmas Tree Farm – Log Cabin

We got a tour of the place. They have a nice variety of trees. What was great was that it was quiet…but not. Tons of birds were chirping and darting amongst the trees; sweet voices surrounded us. We spotted a bunny in the blueberry patch. There were nests all around the rafters. A little paradise!

The farm does (not surprisingly) almost all of their business between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but many people come out in October to pick and tag their trees. The farm will also be hosting a wine tasting in October with a local winery. Taste a bit of vino, pick out a tree…come back and cut it down. Sweet!

Tom and Paris

Tom and Paris

The inside of the house was even more spectacular than the outside! And the handmade crafts were fabulous! Kathy, Paris’ wife, paints and their daughter makes stained glass and fused glass (we bought an ornament). The farm also has jams, jellies and syrups made specifically for them. I picked up a jug or two of Brandy Vanilla Syrup. YUM!

We said goodbye to the Resnicks and motored on to Duncannon, PA to visit Bob and Sharon. Our route took us through an unusual part of the area where we were in three states in a matter of five minutes. We traveled from West Virginia to Virginia and into Maryland in a short spell! What travelers we are!

Hello there Maryland!

Hello there Maryland!

We were soon in Pennsylvania and headed for our final destination.

Hello again, Pennsylvania!

Hello again, Pennsylvania!

It was good to be in familiar territory! We started out our journey here; it was fitting that this be our last stop! Jasmine was looking forward to the visit!

Checkin' out the scenery

Checkin’ out the scenery

Perhaps Jasmine likes it here because she gets away with a lot. She climbed onto the kitchen table from my lap. Sharon’s response? “She’s allowed to do that HERE!” 🙂

Dogs are allowed on the kitchen table here!

Dogs are allowed on the kitchen table here!

We’ll stay the night here, and then we’re heading HOME. Yes, our journey is coming to an end.

Of course, before we left for home, we had to see one more thing…

First there was Margaretville, then...

First there was Margaretville, then…

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!

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.

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!