By Mike Terrell
Special to the Record-Eagle
If you like road trips and have a "bucket list," make sure the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway is at the top.
It's been on mine for years, so last fall I drove the parkway from just north of Roanoke, Va., to where it ends at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
It's the longest linear national park in the nation, stretching 469 miles from the Shenandoah Valley in central Virginia to Cherokee and the Smoky Mountains in the southwestern corner of North Carolina. Along the way, it passes Roanoke and Asheville and countless small mountain villages, which are just off the parkway. It's one of the USA's most famous roads.
The Blue Ridge Parkway hearkens back to older days when you traveled scenic byways to enjoy the views. Fast wasn't a consideration, and it isn't on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The top speed limit is 45 mph on the two-lane road.
It's a national park. Every bend seems to offer an enticing vista — a hawk's-eye view of a river valley, peaceful pastures with grazing cows and a tree-covered summit or rocky peak.
What you won't see are billboards, stop signs or a traffic light — just jaw-dropping views. Cruising along at 45 mph was like taking a step back in time, and I loved it.
The country's ultimate crooked road snakes along the spine of the Appalachians, crossing four major rivers, 100 gaps and six mountain ranges. It climbs to a little over 6,000 feet near Mount Pisgah in North Carolina, the highest point on the Blue Ridge, and dips to 650 feet above sea level crossing the James River in southwest Virginia.
There are numerous side trips to take off the parkway, and plenty of places to pull over for the plethora of pictures you'll want to take. If hiking is your thing, there are easy to difficult hikes all along the way. With the use of the milepost system — numbers increase as you drive south — it's easy to find points of interest as you go.
The National Park Service has added or restored cultural attractions like the Blue Ridge Music Center at the parkway's midpoint; Mabry Mill, a century-old gristmill near Roanoke; and Johnson Farm, a restored 1930s living history attraction. There's even a marker commemorating the valley where Tom Dooley, the man who took a life in the well-known Kingston Trio song, was hanged in the 1800s. I'm not sure the "tall oak tree" is still standing.
Most of the attractions and things to do along the parkway are free.
When I took my trip at the end of October and early November last year, most NPS lodging facilities had closed for the season. However, I had the parkway to myself much of the time and had no trouble finding places to stay. I found really nice lodging just off the parkway, about the midpoint, at Little Switzerland on a mountaintop with lovely views. It was not part of the NPS. I also spent a couple of nights in Roanoke and was able to explore that area.
Roanoke and the famous Roanoke Valley, just off the parkway, have a lot of history and many attractions. A couple of interesting places to stay are the Cambria Inn and the historic Hotel Roanoke. Both offer easy walking access to downtown and the historic Market District and Roanoke City Market.
A tour of the Roanoke Star and Overlook, offering a bird's-eye view of the city, is a must. Touted as the world's largest manmade star, it has been overlooking the city for nearly a half century, which is why it's nicknamed The Star City. It's just off the Blue Ridge Parkway as it passes the city.
If you go, don't miss dinner at Carlos Brazilian International Cuisine and Shula's 347 Grill, known for its outstanding steaks. The number represents the number of wins in Don Shula's NFL coaching career.
For railroad buffs, there's the Virginia Museum of Transportation, featuring the largest collection of diesel locomotives in the south, and the O. Winston Link Museum in the former Norfolk & Western Railway Passenger Station. It features a magnificent collection of striking black and white railroad photography and auditory works that is thought to be one of the best collections in the world.
On the web: www.visitroanokeva.com, http://www.blueridgeparkway.org.
By Mike Terrell
Community in Brief: 12/11/2013
Benzonia Academy Lecture Series continues; Kingsley Lions meet; TSO's "Home for the Holiday's concerts; Dance Center holiday concert; and more.Continued ...
Community in Brief: 12/10/2013
Library holiday open house; book and bake sale; Grawn Church hosts "Sweet Shoppe"; and more.Continued ...
Historical Photo of the Week: 12/09/2013
Can any readers identify the children in this photo?Continued ...
Historical Photo Update for 12/02/2013 image
Historical photo information, provided by readers, for the Dec. 2 image:Continued ...
News From 100 Years Ago: 12/09/2013
Honor man bucked drifts with auto — When he reached here his machine showed the effects of hard usage.Continued ...
Northern Notes: Rain doesn't dampen support
Rain doesn't dampen support for Cooks' House pig roast fundraiser for Traverse Health Clinic.Continued ...
Community in Brief: 12/09/2013
Christmas Cookie Walk; Christmas dinner.Continued ...
- Sunday, December 8, 2013
'Perry Hannah's Gifts: Then and Now'
“Perry Hannah’s Gifts: Then and Now,” is expected to arrive in town this week, fresh from the printing press and just in time for the holidays.Continued ...
Owen Walters is one of the lucky ones. “It was hard for me to do things,” he said, as his mom, Terra, reached over to squeeze his hand. “It’s really hard still.”Continued ...
Marta Hepler Drahos: Crafty Christmas helps mend broken heart
For years I’ve been on the receiving end of gifts lovingly made by hand — gifts like a picture frame decorated with beach stones I helped its creator collect, caramel and chocolate sauces for a favorite baked pear recipe, quilted wall hangings depicting my wedding and my beloved pets.Continued ...
Ed Hungness: Scooping the ashes
This fall we have been using our fireplace more than in years past. The season made its appearance and the first snow arrived before a final leaf raking.Continued ...
Books in Brief: 12/08/2013
Illustrator visit; Author discussion.Continued ...
Best Sellers: 12/08/2013
Best-selling books in northern Michigan and across the country:Continued ...
Community in Brief: 12/08/2013
"Cabin Fever" artist talk; Bayside Travellers dance; Betsie Valley Library open house; and more.Continued ...
- Saturday, December 7, 2013
'Messiah Sing' ushers in TC holiday season
David MacDougall considers himself the kind of singer who sounds better singing with a crowd than on his own.Continued ...
Rob Ford: Spread holiday cheer with eye contact
‘Whatever you do, don’t make eye contact” I said to myself. “It’s OK to look at your hands, look at your shoes, look at his beard or look at anything else, but just don’t make eye contact.”Continued ...
Body&Soul in Brief: 12/07/2013
"Pangea's 4 Peace" fundraiser; Parkinson's Support Group Christmas party; Christmas cookie sale; and more.Continued ...
Blood Drive Calendar: 12/07/2013
Where to donate blood in the region:Continued ...
Body&Soul Newsmakers: 12/07/2013
People in the news:Continued ...
Clinic model replicated nationwide
What began two decades ago on Hilton Head Island as a free clinic using retired physicians and volunteers to care for the working poor has become a model for dozens of similar clinics nationwide.Continued ...
Feds give states incomplete Medicaid data
People shopping for insurance on the federal marketplace may be informed they’re eligible for Medicaid and that their information is being sent to state officials to sign them up.Continued ...
Forced C-section is ruled justified
A newly released court judgment says that doctors were medically justified in forcing a woman to have a cesarean section last year because it was in her best interests.Continued ...
Community in Brief: 12/07/2013
Child care for holiday shoppers; old-time country dance.Continued ...
Education Newsmakers: 12/07/2013
The following local graduating seniors were named Kiwanis Club of Traverse City Students of the Month:Continued ...
- Friday, December 6, 2013
Liberace exhibit a trove of glittery glam
For years, Las Vegas tourists have had no place to pay their respects to one of the glitzy town’s founding fathers.Continued ...
- Community in Brief: 12/11/2013