Growing up, my family frequently vacationed in western North Carolina. And whenever we traveled to Asheville, NC, one of my favorite summertime activities was to get to ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP).
For those who are not familiar with the BRP, it is two-lane scenic route built in the 1930s that stretches 469 miles along the peaks of the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia to North Carolina. For someone who loved mountains and cars, you couldn’t find a better national park to explore. As a child, I always envisioned as my Dad drove us north on the BRP to Mt. Mitchell what fun it would be to drive on the BRP in my own little sports car.
As an adult, I got the chance to share my love for the BRP with my wife and children when we too would vacation in the area. Driving the curvy mountain roads, I was a little kid again taking in the spectacular views of my childhood. Only I wasn’t in the little sports car I had dreamed of – I was driving a mini-van.
On one of our visits to the Folk Art Center (Milepost 380), a favorite stop of ours on the BRP, I came across the book Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History by Anne Mitchell Whisnant.
I had purchased and read other books in the past about the BRP but reading this in-depth accounting, I gained a new appreciation for this road I loved so much and for the first time, knowledge of some of the controversy surrounding its building. At times, I was even caught by surprise when my reading would evoke emotions for unknown reasons. This led me to realize that this road had a lot more to offer beyond the southern 100 miles I had previously experienced. As I absorbed this fascinating information, I also couldn’t help but marvel at R. Getty Browning, the chief locating engineer who walked every mile of the proposed route. His feat motivated me to action. If he could walk the entire route, I could surely drive it. And I just happened to have the right car – a little red convertible.
Driving the entire 469 miles would bring some of things I had just read about to life. This would be a trip where the journey not the destination was the purpose of the trip. And it just so happened to be the 75th anniversary of the completion of the BRP. What better year to drive it and help celebrate its Diamond Jubilee?
When I explained to my wife what I planned and asked if she wanted to go, her quick response was an emphatic no. This would just be a trip by myself with my thoughts, my music and the sun beaming down on me in my little red sports car. Having learned through my reading that the 105-mile long Skyline Drive ended at the beginning of the BRP. I decided to add that onto my trip as well.
Living almost 700 miles from the beginning of the Skyline Drive, it took me more than a day just to get there. While this portion of the trip was all interstate driving with little of interest to see, I was filled with anticipation the whole way. As I settled into my hotel room in Blacksburg, VA on the first night of my trip, I was excited to think that early the next morning I would be at the beginning of my real journey.
The next morning, I drove the remaining 100 miles to the beginning of the Skyline Drive. I planned to drive the whole trip with the top down but light rain at the start forced me to keep the top up. I took a few quick photos of the starting point and began my adventure.
Soon after starting out, the rain cleared and I was able to put the top down. I stopped at several scenic overlooks along the way to take pictures but for the most part was dissatisfied with what I saw.
After years of seeing majestic mountain scenes on the BRP in North Carolina, I was disappointed that most of the views along the Skyline Drive were of the Shenandoah Valley. While the view gave me a sense of being on top of the world looking down, there weren’t the mountain scenes I was really looking for. I stopped for a brief picnic lunch but then decided to accelerate my pace to reach the BRP.
At one point, it appeared that I was driving back into some rainy weather. As anyone who owns a convertible sports car knows, you never put the top up if you think you can out run the rain drops. I was managing to get just a little mist in my face when all of a sudden I exploded out into full daylight. I then realized that I hadn’t just driven through rain; I’d driven through a cloud. I decided to turn the car around and take this shot into the cloud creating my own Twilight Zone excursion.
As I neared the end of the Skyline Drive, I began to see views of distant mountains.
This was what I was really looking forward to seeing and not too long after this view, I came across this sign, which was the main purpose of my trip. Now I was going to begin driving on a portion of the BRP that I had never been on before.
I had read that where the BRP started (Milepost 0), the view showed fewer mountains than valleys.
My first views confirmed this but before long, I came across a Christmas tree farm nestled among the foothills.
As I approached the spot where I planned to spend the night, I was excited to see a view of the mountains I would be driving through the next day.
From my reading, I had learned that lodging on the BRP was limited to only a few locations but was something definitely worth the experience. It just so happened that the Peaks of Otter Lodge (milepost 86) was just the right distance into the BRP for me, as I had spent most of the day getting to and driving down the Skyline Drive. It turned out to be the perfect spot to spend my first night on the BRP. The lodge had a 1950s rustic appearance and the room and view were charming.
Even the bathroom had a built-in feature you don’t find anymore, particularly in this day of disposable plastic razors.
Before dinner, I wandered around to get some pictures of the area.
Coming back from a hearty, southern-style dinner of fresh vegetables, I found the lodge lit up nicely with the mountains as a backdrop.