Friday, May 29, 2020

Blue Ridge Parkway + Asheville: The Road to NC Adventure

Well howdy there, Blue Ridge Mountains!  This area of North Carolina is celebrated for its endless long-range vistas and opportunities for outdoor adventures.  


The "backbone" of this area is the Blue Ridge Parkway, a meandering, 469-mile, single-lane roadway just made for slow'n'easy driving, and lots of oohs and ahhhhs.


 Blue Ridge Parkway runs from Virginia's Shenandoah National Park in the north, all the way to North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the south.   In no particular order, here are just a few of our favorites in this area!


Grandfather Mountain has the highest peak in the Blue Mountain range, with a variety of hiking trails as well as the Mile High Swinging Bridge.




This is America's highest suspension bridge, and can also be one of the windiest!


You can drive to an upper parking lot at Grandfather Mountain, or park in a lower lot and hike up and under the bridge.

 

Dogs are welcomed here, except on the Grandfather Mountain Summit Trail, where Fido would not be well-equipped, due to steep and slick rocky faces, ladders, and narrow precipices.  But generally speaking, all of the trails on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway are paws-friendly ... and plank-friendly!  


The curvaceous Linn Cove Viaduct is the most iconic and photographed spot on the entire parkway.  


Seemingly suspended in thin air, this 5-mile stretch of the Parkway is supported by only 7 piers.  This was the final stretch of the Parkway to be completed, considered by all to be a true engineering marvel. 


This portion of the Parkway was temporary closed to traffic, but that didn't stop "Walking Dead" hordes of pedestrians from enjoying car-free strolling on the Parkway.  In fact, a few days prior, there was an entire clogging team hoofing out their routine in the middle of the road ... just cuz they could!  (Side note: have you seen the GEICO commercials with the cloggers?  Hilarious!)


The Erwin's View Trail leads to luscious Linville Falls.  Crowds at the top were blessedly sparse and I celebrated my 53rd birthday here with a private picnic with my two best friends, Sprinkles and Philip!



Viewed from four different overlooks, Linville Falls takes a 2,000 foot descent through rugged Linville Gorge.  Scenes for various movies have been filmed here.



The view from the top of the falls is equally enchanting!


The 7,500-acre Chimney Rock State Park is seriously gorgeous ... and a serious trek!  With capacity controls in place, the parking lot further up the mountain was closed, and the 26-story elevator built inside the mountain was not an option.  Instead, we hiked the very steep Four Seasons trail ... getting closer ....


and THEN took 491 steps (that's right ... 491, not a typo) to the tippy top!  



Proud to be an American ... a tired American, that is!


But oh, was it worth it, with fabulous 75-mile views of Lake Lure, the Piedmont area of NC, and the Foothills.


The majority of the film Last of the Mohicans was filmed here and in other locations in the Blue Ridge Mountains.


Descend those 491 steps, and add another 1.2-mile hike to lead to the luscious Hickory Nut Falls, a 404-feet stunner. Due to recent heavy rainfall, it was running fast and hard.  The "viewing" platform below had become a "soaking" platform!



Back down below, the nearby Lake Lure Flowering Bridge converted an abandoned bridge into a gorgeous horticultural showplace, maintained by volunteers. 

 





There are no towns or commercial enterprises right on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but there are many small towns just off the Parkway. Boone is named for the intrepid adventurer who camped here several times on his way to Kentucky in the late 1700's. 



Besides shopping on King Street, and the beautiful Greenway Trail for strolling and biking, Boone is also home to Appalachian State University, whose mascot is named Yosef.  That's not Joseph, it's Yosef.  Yosef is mountain talk for "yourself."  As in, "be yosef." 



I'm not here to extend any Appalachian stereotypes, but I'll just throw it out there that in 1947, ASU sponsored a Mr. and Mrs. Yosef contest, and skills needed for the titles included hog and chicken calling.



When in Rome, do as the Romans do ... so when in Boone, do some Booneshine!



Blowing Rock is a tourist's dream, only 3 square miles, yet is home to more than 100 shops, two dozen restaurants and nearly 20 hotels.  It is also very close to the Moses Cone Manor, a gilded age mansion that now houses the Southern Highland Craft Guild, offering handmade crafts by local artists, as well as popular trails.



Blowing Rock was likely the inspiration for author Jan Karon's popular At Home in Mitford series, as she wrote the books while she lived here.  Indeed, Blowing Rock is an inspiration, if just for your dreams and prayers.





Of course, RV travelers have an important prayer ... safe journeys always, and that the sewer tank never backs up.


  In the tiny hamlet of Little Switzerland, visit Switzerland Cafe and order everything they make, either to-go or in their Cafe.  You will NOT regret it!  The BEST homemade bread, homemade pimiento cheese dip (without pimiento, because they use roasted red pepper instead), scrumptious BBQ'd pulled pork, and chicken salad to die for.  I didn't get a picture of Switzerland Cafe, because we couldn't see very far in front of us that day due to this spooky fog, but it's worth a visit for sure!


Further down the Parkway toward Asheville, Mount Mitchell is highest point in Eastern North America at 6,684 feet.  Generally, you'll have long-long-long range views, but once again, fog took control. Mother Nature in charge, as usual!  


An observation platform, restaurant, and nice hiking is available up top, and the twisty road leading there was a lot of fun to drive.


One of the most popular hiking areas in the area, Craggy Gardens, is known for its beautiful displays of wild Catawba rhododendrons in late May and early June.  "Rhodies" only grow on exposed ridges above 3,000 feet in this area.


Ahhhh, Asheville, how do we love you -- let us count the ways!  Eclectic, bohemian, free-spirited, quirky -- just a few of the reasons this city receives universal thumbs up from all who visit.












 Asheville is known as the craft brewery capital of America, and you'll certainly find no shortage of suds here.  Our favorite was Wicked Weed Brewery in the South Slope neighborhood, where you'll find a half dozen breweries in just four blocks. 


 You might think the name Wicked Weed is an ode to marijuana, but we learned that the English called Hop a "wicked weed" back in the day, as it would take over their cash crop fields.  One thing's for sure, their brewery is taking Covid precautions in a BIG way!


A formerly run-down area of abandoned warehouses have been converted into eclectic working artists' studio workshops and galleries in the River Arts District.  Blocks and blocks of buildings are painted in stunning graffiti - so many amazing displays of street art, that it was hard to pick just a few to show here!










This was my favorite, but I'm not sure what it is. SnakeDogBear?  ViperGoat?  LlamaCobra?
You be the judge!



And now for your vision test.  Christopher Walken ... or Bugs Bunny?



Finally, a round of "Where's Waldo."  Can you spot Sprinkles and me?

 
Asheville boasts 250+ independent restaurants in a world-class culinary scene, and the one you won't want to miss is also in the River Arts District.  12 Bones Smokehouse has BBQ so delectable, that despite being a bare-bones (see what I did there!) "spit and sawdust" kinda place, Barack Obama has visited ... twice!  


Covid had lessened the customary lines that usually snake around the building, and restricted dining to the (dog-friendly!) patio, but who could mind be "restricted" outside on a beautiful Asheville afternoon.


Breweries, restaurants, arts scene, what are we missing here .... hmmmmm .... oh yah, live music!  In non-Covid times, Asheville's famous live music venues include the Grey Eagle, and The Orange Peel.  Many a local legend and even world-famous artists like Jack White, Bob Dylan and Ice Cube have launched careers here.


In any summary of Asheville, you'd be remiss not to mention Biltmore Estate, America's largest home with 250 rooms in a mere 178,926 square feet.  George Vanderbilt II's circa-1895 "country retreat" offers estate tours, grand on-site gardens, and a winery in a former dairy barn. Tours were regrettably Covid-cancelled, so we'll have to catch it next time!


Biltmore tours and other attractions might be cancelled ... but one thing is not!!!!


We loved Asheville, but did not love Stuart Little, who had hitched a ride in our tow Jeep from our last stop.  He snacked his way through a granola bar left in the dash, but stopped short of eating the engine wires.  I'm told the wire coating is now more commonly made with soy than rubber, and rodents find that irresistible, so sadly he had to go.



Our stay in Asheville was enhanced by one of the most amazing campsites we've ever experienced at Mama Gertie's Hideaway Campground in nearby Swannanoa, NC.  Our week-long stay included nightly oooohs and ahhhhhhs at views like these!



Next up, we're heading to the southernmost destination on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway ... the most-visited National Park in the entire country!  Helloooooo, Great Smoky Mountains!