Beautiful North Shore of Puerto Rico, # 9-PR-20-17 (c) Thomas R. Fletcher

 

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Autumn; fall color; fog; mist; Blue Ridge Mountains; Blue Ridge Parkway National Park; Virginia; USA; Appalachian Mountains; discovery; exploration; freedom; fall; mountains; photography; outdoors; landscape; appalachia; autumn; ridges; scenic; fall foliage; blue ridge parkway; blue ridge mountains; appalachians; nps; parkway; landscape photography; national park

America’s Favorite Drive: The Blue Ridge Parkway

            The Blue Ridge Parkway is considered by many to be America’s favorite drive. A National Parkway managed by the National Park Service, the parkway connects two of the most popular national parks in the United States: Shenandoah National Park and the most-visited of all the parks, Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It’s an All-American Roadway and the longest parkway in the US at 469 miles long. Opinions vary, but we consider fall to be the best time of year for a drive along the parkway. There’s nothing quite like those scenic vistas arrayed in the pageantry of autumn.

            The Blue Ridge Parkway was conceived as a public works project. Inspired by Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive, the parkway picks up at the southern terminus of Skyline Drive on Afton Mountain at Rockfish Gap, Virginia. It runs south to Cherokee, North Carolina. Construction began September 11, 1935 and was completed September 11, 1987, 52 years later. The serpentine roadway twists and turns as it follows the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Virginia into North Carolina.

            Designed for the leisure traveler, the Blue Ridge Parkway isn’t for speedy travel.  The strictly enforced 45 MPH maximum speed limit ensures a slow drive (in some places, the speed limit is even lower).  One may enter the parkway from any intersecting highway.  Marked with mileposts as reference points, the Blue Ridge Parkway runs north to south, with clearly marked directional signs at each entry point. There’s no entry fee to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

            Visitors are encouraged to stop at the many pull-off areas to enjoy the view or hike some of the 350 miles of hiking trails located along the parkway.  There are several areas within the park where visitors can stop and learn a bit more about the region and its history.  One such location, Humpback Rocks Visitors Center features costumed interpreters that bring to life an 1890’s working, mountain farm with its log cabin, garden, animals and farm implements.

        Mabry Mill; Blue Ridge Mountains; Blue Ridge Parkway; National Park; Virginia; USA; carefree; Appalachian Mountains; discovery; hiking trail; exploration; freedom; square; 1:1; rain; wet    Near Milepost 176 is Mabry Mill, the most-photographed gristmill in Virginia. When Edwin Mabry built his gristmill, he had no way of knowing how wildly popular it would one day be. The mill has been restored by park workers so visitors may observe an actual working gristmill. Mabry spent time working as a blacksmith in the West Virginia coalfields before returning to his native land in 1903 to begin construction on his mill (which was first a blacksmith and wheelwright shop, then a sawmill and finally a gristmill in 1905. Whatever Mabry needed, he built for himself. Mabry Mill stands as a testament to his self-sufficiency and hard work. Having no children, Mabry Mill is his legacy, there for all to enjoy.

            There is a gift shop and restaurant adjacent to Mabry Mill. The restaurant features a country-style menu (http://www.mabrymillrestaurant.com/menu/) with breakfast available all day long. There’s an amazing array of pancakes offered (blueberry, buckwheat, apple or sweet potato to name a few).

Autumn; fall color; Roanoke River; clouds; Blue Ridge Mountains; Blue Ridge Parkway National Park; Virginia; USA; Appalachian Mountains; discovery; exploration; freedom; fall; mountains; photography; outdoors; landscape; appalachia; autumn; ridges; scenic; fall foliage; blue ridge parkway; blue ridge mountains; appalachians; nps; parkway; landscape photography; national park

            Another milepost where you’ll likely want to stop is near Milepost 115 to take in the stunning view of the Roanoke River. You can take the time to hike down to the river or simply take in the view, grab some photos and continue onward.

            Mabry Mill and the Peaks of Otter Lodge and Restaurant are the only two places directly on the parkway to dine. The lodge, located near Milepost 86, is the only lodging located on the parkway. Situated beside a lake at the foot of two of the peaks that make up the Peaks of Otter, the lodge is in an ideal location. Collectively known as the Peaks of Otter, the three peaks are: Harkening Hill, Flat Top and Sharp Top. While staying at the lodge, a trip to Sharp Top is a must. If you’re the type that enjoys a strenuous hike, climbing up Sharp Top meets that description and then some. If that’s not you, you can always pay to take the shuttle bus up the steep grade with hairpin turns (if you think the ride up is exhilarating, wait for the ride back down). The shuttle can’t get all the way to the top and the remaining hike is plenty strenuous for most people.

            Sharp Top was once thought to be Virginia’s highest point (later found to actually be Mount Rogers). The Virginia stone in the Washington Monument was taken from the granite atop Sharp Top. The stone is engraved: “From Otter’s Summit, Virginia’s loftiest peak, to crown a monument to Virginia’s noblest son.” The Peaks of Otter are maintained by the National Park Service as part of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Autumn; fall color; Sharp Top; summit; boulder; rock; Blue Ridge Mountains; Blue Ridge Parkway National Park; Virginia; USA; Appalachian Mountains; discovery; exploration; freedom; fall; mountains; photography; outdoors; landscape; appalachia; autumn; ridges; scenic; fall foliage; blue ridge parkway; blue ridge mountains; appalachians; nps; parkway; landscape photography; national park; Peaks of Otter; lodge; lake

            There’s much to see and do on the parkway, but undoubtedly you’ll want to visit the towns and villages located near the All-American Roadway. Located near Milepost 120, Roanoke is one of those places. The city of Roanoke is located at what once was a fork in the Great Wagon Road, which by 1775 stretched some 700 miles from Pennsylvania to South Carolina.  From the fork, the options were the Wilderness Road leading west into Tennessee or the Carolina Road leading south into the Carolinas and Georgia. Visit the Roanoke Star, said to be the largest man-made star in the world, to get a bird’s-eye view of the city and surrounding area.

If you like history, a stop by the History Museum of Western Virginia is a must. The museum tells the story of Roanoke and the state of Virginia.

If you like trains, history and photography, you’ll want to stop by the O. Winston Link Museum (separate museum but same location). Link was a master photographer who documented the last steam engines of the Norfolk and Western Railroad in the 1950s. He accomplished what many thought impossible. Using elaborate lighting set-ups, he photographed moving steam engines at night. No Photoshop for Mr. Link.

            The sinuous two-lane highway offers one stunning view after another as it meanders along the ridges of the Blue Ridge. This is definitely a road trip you’ll want to take. Why not take it in the most beautiful season.

 

If You Go:


Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge

101 Shenandoah Avenue, NE

Roanoke, VA 24016

www.visitvablueridge.com 

 

Peaks of Otter Lodge

85554 Blue Ridge Parkway

Bedford, VA 24523

540-586-1081

www.PeaksofOtter.com

Download your National Park Owner’s Manual at this link: http://www.nationalparks.org/explore-parks/travel-ideas

The Blue Ridge Parkway: http://www.blueridgeparkway.org/

 
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