A journey on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Monday, April 01, 2019
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a captivating roadway that continues for 469 miles into North Carolina and beyond. It is a byway into the heart of the Appalachian Mountains and a narrow, meandering ridge road of stunning scenic sights, impressive historic points of interest and exploration adventures.
Soaring to the crest of the Appalachians, the drive provides vista after vista of misty mountains once explored by Daniel Boone. It is not a road to travel quickly; it is a highway of relaxation, leisure and a getaway from the stress and anxiety of our world today.
We crossed onto the Blue Ridge Parkway at Rockfish Gap, Virginia, and immediately began a rise into George Washington National Forest. The Blue Ridge was the first national parkway constructed and designed for leisurely driving experiences. The southern route takes a tourist through the Blue Ridge; Black; Great Craggy; Great Balsam; and Plot Balsam mountains into North Carolina, ending at the town of Cherokee.
Our first stop was the Humpback Rock Visitor Center, where we acquired an abundance of information and statistics. The highway is a tremendous experience for the next 400 miles, passing points of interest such as Indian Gap, Peaks of Otter, Rocky Knob, Stone Mountain, Mount Pisgah, Linville Falls and, miles later, the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.
At Mile Post (MP) 28 we crossed the Appalachian Trail, a very popular 2,000-mile hiking trail from Georgia to Maine. The number of people out taking a walk was surprising.
The trail parallels the first 100 miles of the Blue Ridge to a point just north of Roanoke. The trail weaves its way in and out along the Parkway, making for excellent stops at dozens of overlooks.
Back on the road, every mile and every twist and turn brings a new panorama of incredible beauty to the lands of Virginia and North Carolina.
We then visited Otter Creek, a popular recreational area for hiking, camping, picnicking and fishing. The Ranger program provides a historical fable of the importance of the area, the remembrance of the narrow-gauge railroads from the 19th century, and the dams and locks along the James River.
It is here the Parkway is at its lowest elevation and its plant life is like nowhere else along the route.
The Peaks of Otter consist of three mountain pinnacles: Sharp Top, Flat Top and Harkening Hill. They overlook the town of Bedford, Virginia. The primary activity at the Peaks of Otter is hiking. Sharp Top is the most popular hike, with a spectacular 360-degree view at the top. Buzzard’s Roost is a separate cliff formation on the opposite side of Sharp Top preferred by many who relish the panorama views from the heights.
We made arrangements to spend the evening at a spot wagon masters camped during the Revolutionary War, known as the Lodge at the Peaks of Otter, where we enjoyed a peaceful and tranquil afternoon and evening. The lodge and restaurant provided excellent accommodations. We relaxed on the patio with an evening cocktail, overwhelmed by the awe-inspiring scenic observation of the valley below. We would recommend a stay if you find yourself in the area.
In the morning, after coffee and a tasty breakfast, we continued our journey south into North Carolina. Generations of Americans have made annual pilgrimages to renew their spirit of the natural beauty and splendor of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
We crossed VA 460, a highway crossing the range east to west and entered the Plateau Region. We found ourselves out of the forest and into a farming region.
Along the drive, we found areas with classic post-and-rail fencing, snaking through meadows of wildflowers. Here and there, white-tailed deer could be seen looking back at us. At MP 115 we crossed one of the highest bridges over the Roanoke River Gorge.
A few miles south of the bridge, we viewed the Devils Backbone, an unusual ridge and rock outcrop near the village of Blue Grass. If you like craft beer, a short drive to Lexington will allow you a visit to the Outpost Tap Room and Kitchen created by the Devils Backbone Craft Brewery.
Among the many sites in Lexington are the Virginia Military Institute and the home of General Stonewall Jackson. Nearby is Lee Chapel, where the spired clock tower rises above the tree-shaded campus of Washington and Lee University and is the final resting place of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. His resting place is popularly known as "The Shrine of the South."
Rounding a curve at MP 176, we arrived at one of our most anticipated spots, the historic Mabry Mill. The mill was created by Ed and Lizzy Mabry with the help of a neighbor. After many hours of hard labor with just hand tools they built a gristmill, waterwheel and flume system.
Three years later, it was in full operation, grinding corn for farmers who traveled miles to the mill. Ed had more ideas for the mill and soon began building a sawmill and a woodworking shop. Today, thousands of people traveling the Parkway stop to visit and photograph the Mabry Mill.
At MP 178, travelers can enjoy the small community of Meadows of Dan. Within the community are various Southern shops, friendly cafes, and countryside lodging.
Special attention is given towards Nancy’s Candy Company. I don’t know how anyone could possibly pass up Nancy’s. The sweet smell is just too tempting to drive by. Our last stop after our visit to the Meadow was Mount Airy, the hometown of Andy Griffith.
We will continue our adventure and exploration of the Blue Ridge in another sitting.
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