And now for the rest of the story —
As travels, even meanders, always do, it came time to turn toward home. Leaving the coast behind, I headed West toward Asheville, North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park a place I had lived for a few months just out of high school and other than to drive by occasionally on trips south had not visited again since my early 20s. I spent a couple of glorious days (not nearly enough) driving the parkway which traverses 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina along the Blue Ridge, a part of the Appalachian Mountains, through tunnels and across streams and deep ravines, all with the glorious backdrop of the blue ridges for miles and miles.
Rising from Asheville at approximately 3000 feet above sea level to 6000+ several times, the climate changed from warm sunshine and blooming dogwoods to still naked trees and brisk wintery winds, then back to the warmth of spring in bloom again. Many scenic overlooks mark your way, along with great hiking opportunities, some easy and some more difficult, to waterfalls and places like Devil’s Courthouse (a cave where the wind makes it sound like someone is talking) and Looking Glass Rock (with a wet face that glows in the sun and shines like a mirror). (L-R below)
My favorite memory is the trip down from Mitchell Mountain, the highest point in the Eastern US. A section of the parkway was closed ahead and I would have had to backtrack at least 30 miles to reach a paved road going down the mountain. Having driven 50-60 miles out of my way, following the tourism office directions to reach the parkway the “easy” way (which I guess means less curves), I was not interested in backtracking that far. Discovering that I did not mind curves (what is with this curvaceous avoidance?), the ranger told me about a forest road shortcut down the side of the mountain that had just been graded, so of course I took it.
What a ride!
The road winds straight down the side of the mountain, switching back and forth and sometimes wrapping around itself, as it follows the terrain and a rushing stream. At the top there is nothing but late winter brown and dull conifers, but as you descend, tiny green leaves soften the stark branches of deciduous trees. Over and over you cross a stream which tumbles over dead fall and boulders — music to your ears. Before long, dogwoods in full bloom delight your eyes as you wind your way into spring warmth. At the bottom, an old mill attests to strength of the water’s flow.
Here are a few scenes from my drive.
Asheville is lovely. Like my hometown, Madison, WI (though only 1/4 the size), it is a small city that is big in beauty and culture. Throw in the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Smokys around the bend, and Southern charm plus music, artisans, and lots of organic food and you have a city I would love to call home.
In fact, when I came down the mountain to find a camp host in a very off-the-beaten-path federal campground just outside of town, I was very tempted to just stay right there and never leave.