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: 05/22/2013
NWS hosts author; Parkinson's support group; film and discussion; and more.Continued ...
Community in Brief: 05/21/2013
Weather balloon launch; TCAPS Music Boosters concert; library plant sale and more.Continued ...
Historical Photo of the Week: 05/20/2013
Can any readers identify the people in this photo? (Click the photo at right to view it larger.)Continued ...
Info on May 13 historical photo
Historical photo information, provided by readers, for the May 13 image:Continued ...
News from 100 Years Ago: 05/20/2013
Marriage licenses were issued today to William J. Smith and Alta E. Wells, both of Traverse City; Will M. Russell and Lola May McCombs, both of Buckley, R.F.D. No. 1.Continued ...
Local student earns rank of Eagle Scout
Nicholas Loew, an Elk Rapids High School freshman has earned the rank of Eagle Scout.Continued ...
Community in Brief: 05/20/2013
Interlochen schedule changes; author program; SEEDS fashion show; and more.Continued ...
- Sunday, May 19, 2013
Leelanau Birding Festival runs May 29-June 2
Robert Parsons has traveled to Texas, Arizona, Florida and even Costa Rica to seek out unusual birds. Now Parsons is adding Michigan to that list.Continued ...
Sand in his veins: Mountz has 38 years at Sleeping Bear
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Kathy Gibbons: Time to say goodbye — once again
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Terry Wooten: One poem leads to another — and friendship
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MILLER — A son, Elijah Thomas, to Tom and Amy (McNeil) Miller of Lake Ann, March 28.Continued ...
Travel in Brief: 05/19/2013
Agritourism listings; New exhibit; Disney at Palace. (Plus more)Continued ...
Community in Brief: 05/19/2013
Beekeepers meeting; Korean War story; Swirl in Petoskey; and more.Continued ...
- Saturday, May 18, 2013
Priest uses big rig to make special deliveries
Father Ray Cotter delivers more than sermons. Two weeks ago, the former truck truck driver turned priest drove a semi-tractor-trailer rig to Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., to pick up 1,164 free military computers for use in Michigan Catholic schools in the dioceses of Lansing, Saginaw, Gaylord and Marquette.Continued ...
Mental Wellness: Dealing with difficult people
There was a time when I really enjoyed conflict. I don’t mean between people, but I felt like social change almost always happened when people stood up for their beliefs. This also was during a period in my life when my hair was dyed like a leopard.Continued ...
Body & Soul in Brief: 05/18/2013
Lupus meeting; cancer survivor picnic; Lyme disease support group; and more.Continued ...
Area Blood Drives: 05/18/2013
Find a blood drive in the area:Continued ...
You're Needed: 05/18/2013
Organizers of the Art Rapids! fair to be held in June in Elk Rapids are seeking host families for some of the artists who will be participating in the event.Continued ...
Perspectives: Structuring a balanced life as we age
Whether we realize it or not, we all live within “structure.” Sometimes it becomes too limiting or too confining. This can be physical, emotional and spiritual.Continued ...
Claudia Schmidt comes home to Sleder's
Claudia Schmidt will perform in an “On the Porch” concert at Sleder’s Family Tavern on Sunday, May 19.Continued ...
Health Newsmakers: 05/18/2013
In June, Barbara McIntyre, Ph.D., ATR-BC, LPC, will present the paper “Grief Expression and Healing Through Art” at the 44th annual American Art Therapy Conference in Seattle.Continued ...
Community Newsmakers: 05/18/2013
David Barr and Beth Dwaihy-Barr will be honored at the Legacy Gala on Saturday, June 15 at the Novi Civic Center in Novi.Continued ...
Community in Brief: 05/18/2013
Moyers' interview on climate; Short's kick-off party; chamber music on IPR; and more.Continued ...
Education Newsmakers: 05/18/2013
TC Central High School Freshman, Taylor Weckstein, has been named Distinguished Finalist in the 2013 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards in Michigan for the creation of her charitable organization Giving 1 Family at a Time (G.1.F.T).Continued ...
- Community in Brief: 05/22/2013