Sunday the 20th promised to be a great day. That is the day I started
down the Blue Ridge Parkway. Up until a couple of months ago, I'd never heard
of it. It's certainly no secret to anyone who lives within 500 miles of it,
but, hey, I'm a Left Coaster.
And I have a confession to make right here in public. Having grown up
between the Olympics and the Cascades and having traveled in the Rockies,
I've always thought of the little mountain chain back east as interesting,
but really nothing more than foothills. Not real mountains at all. After all,
the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi is only a little over 6,000 feet
high. Why, shucks, ma'am, I've driven over passes in the Rockies way higher
than that (I think I have a picture of me and MOKE next to a sign indicating
10,000 feet +), and I wasn't anywhere near the tops of the mountain. And I
can look out from my front porch at Mount Rainier and it tops out at over
Well, the next two days didn't exactly change my mind about the size of
these "foothills," but it certainly opened my eyes to a different kind of
stunning, mountain beauty. I can't say this is the best drive in the world,
but if you ever get the chance to drive through this majestic area, do so
without hesitation -- except probably in winter.
There is a northern piece to this road called the Skyline Drive that
starts in northern Virginia at Front Royal and runs a "mere" 105 miles before
ending near Waynesboro and the start of the Blue Ridge. It is a recommended,
scenic drive, but I didn't take the extra time to go that far north for the
start. If it is anything like the Blue Ridge, take the time!
This little jaunt along the tops of the southern Appalachians was started
in 1935 as a scenic drive to link two new national parks (Shenandoah and
Great Smoky Mountains). It was also part of the plan for recovery from the
depression by being a way to put some of the unemployed to work. Since it was
a government project, it wasn't completely finished until 1987; although, to
be a bit more fair, many parts of it were done and used earlier and almost
all parts were done by the 1960s. Elevation changes? You'll be as low as 646
feet (higher than any spot in Florida!) and as high at 6,053 feet.
A welcome to 469 miles of wonderful driving and great scenery. Rockfish Gap at 1,900
The section between Rockfish Gap and Roanoke I think is my favorite;
although, choosing any one section over any other is really just choosing
between various levels of "great." This first section didn't get as high as
later bits, but still provided spectacular scenery and mile after mile of
winding, well-paved roads. The climbs were also more gradual and I don't
remember any third gear sections like would show up further on down the road.
Very early on in the trip I figured out that this was motorcycle
paradise. There were many out obviously enjoying the ride. (Many is a
relative term. The road was never crowded during my entire drive.) Also, very
early I was passed by an E-Type going the other way with the top down and
containing two grinning people. The road is that good! I made a stop at one
of the exhibits along the way (Humpback Rocks Pioneer Exhibit). Shortly after
getting back on the road I was passed by the same E-Type going the same way
as before. Obviously, the road and the car and the mood matched well enough
that they had to have gone back the other way when I was off the road to run
that section again. (This time the other person was driving.) The Blue Ridge
will do that to you!
Let me explain the road. If you really wanted to be stupid, you could
bolt the slicks onto the 1440 and blast down the road at 9/10ths. But it
isn't necessary, or recommended. Just drive smoothly near the Park speed
limit of 45mph and get in a groove. (Zen and the Art of the Blue Ridge?)
You'll find enough challenge to keep your concentration (especially on 3½"
rims!) and still be able to anticipate the stopping points to look out over
this incredible vista of mountains and valleys. Too fast and you'll miss half
of the reason for driving the Parkway - the scenery. Also, be mindful of
rocks on the road. I only encountered one, but it would have meant a busted
sump if I'd been using 10/10ths. (As an aside, you are warned of possible
rocks on the road by signs stating, "Watch for Fallen Rocks." With all the
religion practiced in this part of the country I would have thought these
rocks could have been saved.)
Although I stopped a number of times along the way during the day's drive
to take in one incredible vista after another, I didn't attempt to take any
photographs. I don't think any would have done the area justice. And each
time I stopped I thought about the people who must have first worked their
way through the labyrinth of valleys and settled in to call this home.
Besides the winding roads and the scenery, the other nice thing about the
Blue Ridge Parkway is the absence of towns. This place has been kept as clean
of "civilization" as possible -- a little too clean if you're running a small
gas tank. Plan ahead! (You are provided with mileage markers along the road
to help remind you of your position in the park. They are helpful if you are
following a guidebook or the National Park Service's excellent map.)
Just before mileage marker 217 you cross into North Carolina.
The second time into North Carolina.
I intended to leave the Parkway for the night at Highway 421 to head west
to spend the night in Boone - yes, that Daniel Boone. It was near here at
Daniel Boone's Trace where he forged a path through the mountains to
Kentucky. First, I ran into a section of the Parkway that was closed and was
lead off onto a well-marked detour. It was well marked on the road but I had
no idea where I was going. I stopped long enough to fire up the laptop and
the GPS and followed comfortably along after that until I reached Boone. I
don't know what it was, but the map and the roads didn't want to coordinate
and I found myself in the middle of Boone (it's bigger than the name would
imply!) and couldn't find the right road to the hotel. I finally stopped and
spent some time looking at the maps and the GPS location. It was easy after
that. (I know. It might have been easier to stop and ask someone for
directions, but that would go against the Man's Road Rules Creed. Besides,
the GPS was more fun!)
EG and I had traveled 1,923 miles since leaving Miami.
Monday the 21st, I went back east on 421 to pick up the Parkway as far
back up the route as I could go rather than go the shorter route south to the
Parkway. I didn't want to miss a mile that I didn't have to.
The goal for the day was to get to Asheville with enough time to visit
the Biltmore Estate and still get to meet up with another Mini owner. Since
the drive was short I planned a few other stops along the way.
The first stop was at the Linn Cove Viaduct Visitor Center. The Viaduct
was the last section of the Parkway to be built, is 1,243 feet long and is
one of the most complicated roads every constructed. It runs along the side
of Grandfather Mountain and was built with almost no disturbance to the
mountain at all. No tunnels blasted or work roads built. Stop at the Visitor
Center. The explanations there are better than I can do.
The next stop was at Linville Falls Visitor Center just past mile marker
316. A couple of short hikes wander through the trees to get to different
views of nice falls. I dragged the hiking shoes I've been lugging around for
weeks out of the boot and took a stroll for a couple of miles along the
various paths to see the falls. Nice walk. OK falls. Worth the time for the
combination, but don't expect to be "wowed" by the falls.
The day's weather was a bit different with some mist appearing along the
way and spectacular views out over the many valleys. I tried a photo but I'm
afraid it doesn't do the scenery justice.
Many valleys with mist and fog in all of
The last stop promised to be the best of the day on the Parkway and was,
sort of. The road into Mount Mitchell State Park takes off the Parkway at
milepost 355. Mount Mitchell, at 6,684 feet, is the tallest mountain east of
the Mississippi. As I climbed the road toward it the mist settled in and it
was slow going. It cleared just a little as I rounded a corner near the
Ranger Station where some roadwork was going on. I stopped while a backhoe
blocked the path and I waited patiently. One of the Rangers finally came over
and said I could go through to the top if I wanted but that they were going
to complete the ditch across the road and I wouldn't be able to come back
down for an hour or more. Because I was hungry I suggested I had better skip
the drive but I was informed there was a restaurant near the top. OK. Stop
for lunch and see the sights. I'd chance it. They moved the backhoe and let
me through, the last car to go up the road for at least an hour. What they
didn't tell me was that they'd just filled another ditch with a wide expanse
of crushed rocks; loose crushed rocks; VERY loose crushed rock! Maybe they just
wanted to see if EG and her 10" rims could get through. No trouble, but I was
working hard to make sure I didn't get stopped. Once stopped I would have had
to swallow some pride and beg help from any of the 8 or 10 people standing
around watching the toy car.
After stopping for lunch at an all but deserted restaurant, I continued
on up the road to the parking lot near the peak of the mountain.
You may not be able to make out the
elevation sign reading 6,578 feet. Also, from this side you can't see EG
panting a bit. The third thing you might not notice is the absence of any
scenery past EG. Those are clouds and more clouds. For viability one could
see for, oh, four feet!
From the parking lot one can take a short hike, more like a short walk,
really, to the base of a tower at the peak of the mountain. I moved EG into
this photo to show you the small distance to go. How many of the highest
mountains in the Rockies or Cascades can you drive almost to the top and then
take a short walk the rest of the way. Maybe, none.
The short climb left from the parking lot to the base of the
The elevation sign at the base of the tower.
I climbed the tower and read all the very interesting signs about all the
wonderful sights I was not seeing because of the clouds. I even took a photo,
but it isn't worth wasting the space to show it!
The trip down the mountain was a bit more exciting than the one on the
way up. I was wondering whether the ditch project had been finished. Would I
be trapped in the clouds forever? The clouds had really moved in and I was
through the ditch areas and right in the middle of the construction crew
before I realized what had happened. Even 15 mph was too fast to be driving.
It took a while to get off the mountain into normal mist that allowed speeds
all the way up to, oh, 30 mph. It wasn't misty in the car, and, looking at
the fuel gauge, I noticed that getting to the next fuel stop in Asheville
might be a bit tricky. I hadn't figured in the slow trip up and down the
For some time the drive was into and out of mist with spectacular views
when visibility allowed it. Also, the driving continued to be up and down
more steep grades like it had been most of the day. There were several where
I had to drop down into third gear.
As I was descending I was watching the fuel gauge sink into the E-zone.
Mind you, I wasn't in big trouble because I was carrying a 2-gallon gas
container in the boot, but I'd rather not run the tank dry. That was about
the time I hit the road construction and the road narrowed to one lane and it
wasn't my turn to go. So I sat for a while, impatiently waiting. Finally, off
I went continuing downhill towards Asheville. No problem. I should have as
much as two or three drops left by the time I get there. Ahead I could see
the junction for the turn to Asheville. It should be just around the corner.
Then I saw the sign, "Asheville, 5 miles."
Wait for the next exciting chapter. Will Chuck make it to a gas station?
Why all the movie trucks at the Biltmore Estate? Who's Neal Weinmann? What do
Thomas Edison, F. Scott Fitzgerald, several generations of Rockefellers,
Henry Ford and at least eight presidents have in common?