Up on the Blue Ridge Parkway


Up on the Blue Ridge Mountain, there I'll take my stand

Up on the Blue Ridge Mountain, there I'll take my stand

Rifle on my shoulder, 6 shooter in my hand

Lord, Lord, I've been all around this world

-Traditional



There is a road, no simple highway Between the dawn and the dark of night


-Robert Hunter

Ripple


As long as I’ve had Airstream dreams, I’ve dreamed of the Blue Ridge Parkway. For all the iconic highways stretching across the horizon or through mountain passes in the West, it’s hard to imagine a more captivating driving experience than the Blue Ridge.


The Parkway begins at the southern edge of Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive and ends at the gates of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Between those two points is a gorgeous, stunning 469-mile ribbon of road winding through mountains, hollows, gaps, and meadows, underneath 27 tunnels, and past historic farmhouses, all without a single stop sign, stop light, crossing, or billboard. Just billions of trees and hundreds of scenic turnouts to take in astonishing views over the neighboring valleys. Commercial vehicles are not allowed. It is pure driving heaven. Almost like being on a hike, except in your car.


We've had the opportunity to drive portions of it in the past, both in a car and towing Stanley, but never more than a few dozen miles before being pushed off by weather (snow in January) or the need to make some miles (this is not your fastest route from point A to point B). Every time that I’ve had to retreat, I’ve vowed to return for the full run some day.


The adventure began with 6 incredible nights in the Great Smokies. Don’t believe the reports about crowds. Well maybe do, I don’t know, but we were there right before the July 4th holiday weekend and it was fine, especially when hiking. We did several 10-mile hikes without seeing another soul except a black bear who was very surprised to see us.



At this very humid time of the year, it more than lived up to its name with low lying clouds blending with the hillsides to create the famous blue smoke.


Let's Drive


It was thrilling to drive out the gates of the park and take an immediate northward turn just before the town of Cherokee onto this epic road at Milepost 469. And up we went.


It’s fair to say that this was much more my dream than Lori’s. Many people find the road to be, well, long. But she came around after she saw the countless vistas and she decided that I (probably) wasn’t going to crash over the side of a mountain. But for Buck the Big Black Truck – it was a bit of a nightmare. There are no flat places on the Blue Ridge, just ups and downs. No straightaways either. So, he was either trying to pull a 5500lb trailer up a very steep hill, or he was trying to keep it from pushing him down another one around a tight turn at 100mph. Tough duty. I had to stay alert too. I drank less beer than normal.



The first leg of 87 miles took us from The Smokies to Asheville NC where we spent the 4th of July weekend celebrating America. I think I can sum up Asheville by saying it’s a groovy town, full of groovy hipsters and their groovy dogs. They all hang out barking at one another in one of the countless beer gardens along the French Broad River or on South Slope. Occasionally, a guy like this will float by on the river and I’ll try to hit him with a beer can for his impertinance.


The sections before and after Asheville through North Carolina are the most mountainous and the toughest driving. But it also comes with the most stunning views with elevations frequently topping 5000 feet. There are dozens hiking trails to take advantage of along the way too.



The parkway was begun by the Roosevelt Administration in 1935. In 1966, after 30 years of construction, the Parkway was complete except for one section that didn’t open until 1987. Hurricanes Frances and Ivan both caused long closures to major sections and to this day it is rare that all 469 miles are completely open at any given time, due to frequent landslides and weather-related damage.


After travelling north for 250 miles, as you near the Virginia border, the mountains yield to gentler hills and rolling fields. There are more farms and homes visible from the Parkway here, but the beauty remains as the National Park Service enforces a variety of restrictions on what can be built or done adjacent to the road.



We camped at a variety of locations along the Parkway as we pushed north. We also stopped in places like Floyd Virginia which has a long tradition of folk and blue grass music. Near Floyd, we camped at Highland Haven Airstream Park where Stanley joined up with 40 other Airstreams all perched high on a ridge overlooking the mountains. There we saw one of the most stunning sunsets of our travels.



We passed Roanoke Virginia (a small section we had to bypass as a bridge is still out there) and finally on up to Shenandoah National Park where we got to see Alex & Steph who drove over from DC. In effect, the Parkway continues right through Shenandoah for another 101 miles, making the entire drive 570 miles of bliss. And a dream comes true.


STILL and calm, In purple robes of kings, The low-lying mountains sleep at the edge of the world. The forests cover them like mantles; Day and night Rise and fall over them like the wash of waves. Asleep, they reign. Silent, they say all. Hush me, O slumbering mountains -- Send me dreams.


The Blue Ridge

Harriet Munroe


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