EPIC US ROAD TRIP DAYS 26-29

THE APPALACHIANS - GEORGIA, NORTH CAROLINA, VIRGINIA & WEST VIRGINIA


Image || Linn Cove Viaduct of the All-American Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina.

Epic US Road Trip 2016 – The Appalachians

The Appalachian Mountains, commonly referred to as simply the Appalachians, are a system of mountains stretching for some 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometres) in a northeast to southwest direction in eastern North America, from Belle Isle in Canada to northern Alabama & northeast Mississippi. Formed some 480 million years ago, they once reached heights similar to those of the Alps and the Rocky Mountains before the onset of natural erosion knocked them down a peg or two. A long series of alternating ridgelines and valleys divided into various mountain subranges, these are ancient lands steeped in history, cool and misty hills carpeted in blue-green hemlock, pine and oak trees, a picturesque ecosystem that is home to an abundance of wildlife including cougars, deer, black bears, wild turkeys and great horned owls. A nirvana for hikers and the outdorsey type, the region is criss-crossed by craggy mountain trails, many of which combine to form the famous Appalachian Trail, the country’s longest amble – measuring 2,150 miles (3,460 kilometres), it traverses no less than 6 National Parks, 8 National Forests and a whopping 14 states. Needless to say, and regardless of the time of year, jaw-dropping photo opportunities present themselves around seemingly every exploratory bend in the road.

Early Fall/Autumn on the All-American Blue Ridge Parkway outside Asheville, North Carolina, USA. September 23, 2016.

Road tripping in Appalachia. Early Fall/Autumn on the All-American Blue Ridge Parkway outside Asheville, North Carolina. || Appalachia is rolling peaks of deep forest, iconic autumn/fall foliage, misty vistas, fresh mountain air, rustic wooden cabins and windy mountain roads connecting quaint old-time music-lovin’ communities, villages & towns with ye olde stuck-in-time main streets. In a country synonymous with road-trippin’, the Appalachians offer up probably the finest US road-trippin’ experience of the lot. Forming a natural barrier to east-west travel, the mountain range were not much of a barrier to us, although the going was slow – shunning the regional Interstates means covering even short distances will invariably take longer than it ought to. But this region of picture-postcard antebellum mountain America should not be rushed. A drivers delight, the state of Virginia alone boast 3 All-American Roads, among them the famous 469-mile-long (755 kilometre) All-American Blue Ridge Parkway. Stretching from North Carolina into Virginia and billed as ‘America’s Favourite Drive’, we visited both ends of the Parkway, deviating when necessary but using it as our primary conduit in taking 4 days to drive southwest to northeast through the region. It served us well and as expected offered up many a fine photo opportunity.

Appalachia Drives
It was a long 4-hour-plus, 300 mile drive from Montgomery, Alabama, to Cornelia, Georgia, from the steamy US Deep South to the edge of the cool Appalachian Mountains. Going from one to the other in the same day heightened the already obvious contrasts between the two regions; gone were the cotton fields and the colourful & crumbling blues-lovin’ towns of the South to be replaced by quintessential old-time music-lovin’ Appalachian towns & villages full of flags, thrift stores, antique shops, saw mills, yard sales, farmer’s markets, roadside lemonade stalls & pretty picket-fence houses with rocking-chair-studded wraparound front porches. The whole of Appalachia was idyllic. It was misty, sometimes too misty, but always idyllic. Four days of Appalachia drives started on Epic US Road Trip day 26 in a sleepy & sunny Cornelia, northern Georgia, on the very fringes of yes, The Appalachians.

A thrift store in Cornelia, Georgia, USA. September 22, 2016.

A thrift store in Cornelia, northern Georgia. September 22, 2016.

PICTURE OF THE DAY || DAY 26 || September 22, 2016


Image ||Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina.


“The Appalachians didn’t waste any time in leaving an impression. And once they started they didn’t let up. Not on this particular day at least. One National Scenic Byway; one All-American Road, probably the most famous of them all; one national park, definitely the most popular of them all; two state lines separating three Appalachian states; reaching the highest point in Georgia; & a Swiss-German alpine village wannabe on the wrong continent and many thousands of miles from the nearest Alps peak. All this on Epic US Road Trip day 26, the first of 4 days in Appalachia.”

Day 26 || September 22 2016

Route || Cornelia, Georgia to Asheville, North Carolina (via Helen & Brasstown Bald, Georgia & Great Smoky Mountains National Park)
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 261 (420)
Posted From || Asheville, North Carolina
Today’s Highlight || Newfound Gap of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

Wow. The Appalachians didn’t waste any time in leaving an impression. And once they started they didn’t let up. Not on this particular day at least. One National Scenic Byway; one All-American Road, probably the most famous of them all; one national park, definitely the most popular of them all; two state lines separating three Appalachian states; reaching the highest point in Georgia; & a Swiss-German alpine village wannabe on the wrong continent and many thousands of miles from the nearest Alps peak. All this on Epic US Road Trip day 26, the first of 4 days in Appalachia.

My Grass Is Blue. Off Georgia State Route 180 of the Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway near Soapstone Creek, northern Georgia, USA. September 22, 2016.

My Grass Is Blue. Off Georgia State Route 180 of the Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway near Soapstone Creek, northern Georgia. September 22, 2016.

Getting underway on this day, a short 20-mile drive from Cornelia saw us approaching Helen. En route we passed the Nacoochee Village Antique Mall. Needless to say one of the region’s prettiest sights stopped us in our tracks and ensured we pulled over to appreciate the scene some more.

Nacoochee Village Antique Mall, outside Helen, White County, northern Georgia, USA. September 22, 2016.

Nacoochee Village Antique Mall, outside Helen, White County, northern Georgia. September 22, 2016.

(Alpine) Helen
A town full of German-spiced eateries, cuckoo clock stores and Bavarian architecture is the last thing you’d expect to find while touring the Appalachians Mountains of northern Georgia. But that’s exactly what the Swiss-German mountain village wannabe of Helen, or Alpine Helen if you’re really getting in the mood, provides.

(Alpine) Helen in White County, northern Georgia, USA. September 22, 2016.

Formally a logging town that hit on hard times, Helen reinvented itself as a replica of a Bavarian alpine town in a bid to attract tourists. And it seems to be working – tourism is now Helen’s biggest earner. (Alpine) Helen, White County, northern Georgia. September 22, 2016.

Bavarian architecture in Helen, White County, northern Georgia, USA. September 22, 2016.

Bavarian architecture in Helen, White County, northern Georgia. September 22, 2016.

National Scenic Byways – The Return
I guess mountains mean National Scenic Byways & All-American Roads. Having spent the last 8 days driving the (very flat) Great Plains of the US heartland & via the cotton fields & forests of the steamy Deep South, not since road trip day 17, when high among the passes of the Colorado Rockies, had we driven a National Scenic Byway or an All-American Road. That all changed within a few miles of leaving Helen as we joined Georgia’s Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway.

National Scenic Byway #6 – Russell-Brasstown National Scenic BywayUS Scenic Byways Logo
Surrounded by the beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the byway winds through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians. From the vistas atop Brasstown Bald to the cooling mists of waterfalls, scenic wonders fill the region. Hike the Appalachian Trail, fish in a cool mountain stream, or just drive the 41-mile (66-kilometre) scenic loop road.

The Stars & Stripes flying atop the viewing deck of the Brasstown Bald Visitors Center in Hiawassee, northern Georgia, USA. September 22, 2016.

The obvious highlight of the Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway is the vista from atop Brasstown Bald, the highest point in the state of Georgia atop its highest peak & accessible via a one-way diversion off the 41-mile scenic byway loop. Yes, of course the 360-degree views across the canopy of the Chattahoochee National Forest and beyond from the outdoor viewing platform of Brasstown Bald’s Visitor Center are epic (it’s one big, endless green blanket of foliage this time of year), but the views on this particular day skyward of the Stars & Stripes fluttering in the breeze were also rather pretty. Brasstown Bald Visitors Center, Hiawassee, northern Georgia. September 22, 2016.

Continuing north and it wasn’t long before we ran out of Georgia state terra firma by making it to the state line with neighbouring North Carolina. Hello Epic US Road Trip state number 20.

Foliage attack at the Georgia-North Carolina state line off U.S. Route 441/U.S. Route 23 north of Dillard, northern Georgia, USA. September 22, 2016.

State sign #20 || Welcome to North Carolina. Foliage attack at the Georgia-North Carolina state line off U.S. Route 441/U.S. Route 23 north of Dillard, northern Georgia. September 22, 2016.

north_carolina_glossy_square_icon_256North Carolina

State Nicknames – Old North State; Tar Heel State. State Mottos – Esse Quam Videri (To Be, Rather Than To Seem) (official); First in Flight. Admitted To The Union – November 1789 (12th state). Population – 10 million (9th most populous state). Area – 53,800 sq miles (28th largest state). Capital – Raleigh. National Parks – 1 (Great Smoky Mountains). National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 3/1. Famous For – College hoops; the world’s first controlled flight of a powered heavier-than-air aircraft (by the Wright Brothers in December 1903 near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina); banking; hurricanes; the Appalachians. State Highlight – Appalachian drives. North Carolina Titbits – The second territory to be colonised by the British, the state is named in memory of King Charles I (Carolus in Latin); natives are called ‘tar heels’, a nickname said to relate to both their tar pine production & their legendary stubbornness; British band Pink Floyd is named, in part, after Floyd Council, a North Carolinian blues guitarist, mandolin player, and singer; the international doughnut chain Krispy Kreme hails from North Carolina; Pepsi was first produced here in 1898; the state leads the US in the production of flue-cured tobacco & sweet potatoes, and is second in production of pigs and hogs, trout, turkeys &, emm, Christmas trees.
North Carolina. First In Flight. Asheville, North Carolina, USA. September 23, 2016.

North Carolina. First in Flight. State #20. Asheville, North Carolina. September 23, 2016.

It was a 50-mile drive north from the Georgia-North Carolina state line to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center at the eastern entrance to America’s most visited, and by some way, protected wilderness area, UNESCO-listed Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

08 Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Size: 522,426 acres/2,115 km². Founded: 1934. Annual Visitors: 10.8 million (most visited).

Every year here, for a few weeks in late spring, there’s a twinkling light show, courtesy of synchronous fireflies. Also in spring, an annual wildflower pilgrimage showcases blooms so prolific and diverse that this landscape is nicknamed “Wildflower National Park.”

Although this is the most-visited U.S. national park, it retains an enchanted quality, a place where emerald moss carpets boulders and a dreamy, “smoky” mist recalls the region’s Cherokee name, Shaconagay, “land of the blue smoke.”

The dreamy blue haze … that ever hovers over the mountains … softens all outlines, and lends a mirage-like effect of great distance to objects that are but a few miles off.

– Horace Kephart, travel writer, in The Outing magazine (1912)

This area was part of the Cherokee homeland before the tribe was forced west. Some remained in what is now the park, either by hiding or by lobbying the government, and their descendants live in the nearby Qualla Boundary.

Today, visitors hike, bike and drive the history-steeped land. The American Hiking Society says, “Almost every trail in Great Smoky Mountain National Park is eligible for your hiking bucket list.” However, the organization’s blog cites the 12-mile Baxter Creek Trail’s “4,000 feet of climbing, sweetly smelling spruce trees and a lush rainforest understory.” The Appalachian Trail also makes a 70-mile appearance here.

Several self-guided car routes are available along the 384 miles of road. An 11-mile, one-way loop road circles the historical Cades Cove, where preserved log cabins, barns and churches highlight the region’s former way of life. Every Saturday and Wednesday morning (from May to September), the car route is open to bicyclists and walkers only.

This is a park rich with stories, such as that of the Walker sisters, from a family of 11 children with a Union-soldier father who farmed the land. Six of them never married and stayed in what became the park, meeting visitors and carrying on with traditional work and crafting well into old age. Their log home remains.

Sightseers encounter place names reflecting southern storytelling tradition. Among them: Place of a Thousand Drips (waterfall), Mouse Creek Falls and Hen Wallow Falls. A rounded rock outcropping is dubbed Charlies Bunion.

Visitors who arrive via Cherokee, N.C., Gatlinburg, Tenn., or Townsend, Tenn., enter an area that’s 95 percent forested with the largest block of virgin red spruce on Earth. And if they visit Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in the Smokies, on a clear and (rare) pollution-free day, they can see for 100 miles and possibly take in seven states.

Great Smoky Mountains, located in North Carolina and Tennessee, is the most-visited U.S. national park. It still retains an enchanted quality, a place where emerald moss carpets boulders and a dreamy, “smoky” mist recalls the region’s Cherokee name, Shaconagay, which means “land of the blue smoke.”

From The Washington Post – The Essential guide to all 59 U.S. national parks.

UNESCO logo

Stretching over more than 200,000 ha, this exceptionally beautiful park is home to more than 3,500 plant species, including almost as many trees (130 natural species) as in all of Europe. Many endangered animal species are also found there, including what is probably the greatest variety of salamanders in the world. Since the park is relatively untouched, it gives an idea of temperate flora before the influence of humankind.

– UNESCO commenting on Great Smoky Mountains National Park

At the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park near the park's Oconaluftee Visitor Center, North Carolina, USA. September 22, 2016.

National Park #8 || At the eastern entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park near the park’s Oconaluftee Visitor Center, North Carolina. September 22, 2016.

Newfound Gap
A 16-mile drive from the park’s eastern entrance via Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s windy Newfound Gap Road – completed in 1932, the road links the states of North Carolina & Tennessee – brought us deep into the park itself, eventually depositing us on Newfound Gap.

On the North Carolina-Tennessee state line atop Newfound Gap in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, USA. September 22, 2016.

At an elevation of 5,046 feet (1,538 metres), Newfound Gap is a mountain pass, although not a very high one, sitting on the Appalachian Trail and straddling the North Carolina-Tennessee state line. Gifted ‘For The Permanent Enjoyment Of The People’, the park was one-half paid for by the two states & the US Federal Government (making it the first national park in the US to be part-funded by Federal funds), the other one-half paid for by John D. Rockefeller Jr. in memory of his wife, so says a plaque displayed on Newfound Gap’s Rockefeller Memorial from where former US President Franklin D. Roosevelt formally dedicated the park on September 2, 1940. On Newfound Gap on the North Carolina-Tennessee state line in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. September 22, 2016.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina, USA. September 22, 2016.

Land of Blue Smoke || The view over UNESCO-listed Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Newfound Gap on the North Carolina-Tennessee state line. Described by the native Cherokee as shaconage, meaning ‘blue, like smoke’, it’s this ever-present smoke-like natural bluish haze, and mist-like clouds that rise following a rainstorm, that give the park its name. September 22, 2016.

Retracing our steps back to the park’s eastern entrance meant we were not far from our introduction to one of the most iconic stretches of roadway in the country, the famed All-American Blue Ridge Parkway.

At the southern entry to the All-American Blue Ridge Parkway, milepost 469, off US 441 outside Cherokee, North Carolina, USA. September 22, 2016.

We hadn’t actually planned on driving the Blue Ridge Parkway until tomorrow, Epic US Road Trip day 27. However, today we found ourselves driving a portion of the 85 miles of Parkway that separates its southern entrance to the city of Asheville, our intended destination for this day. Of course we had to get the obligatory photography before setting off. At the southern entrance to the All-American Blue Ridge Parkway, milepost 469, off US 441 outside Cherokee, North Carolina. September 22, 2016.

All-American Road #5 – The Blue Ridge ParkwayUS Scenic Byways Logo
Billed as ‘America’s Favourite Drive’, the serpentine All-American Blue Ridge Parkway snakes for 469 miles (262 miles in North Carolina, 207 miles in Virginia) through the southern Appalachians, from the Great Smoky Mountains National park in western North Carolina north to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, although that’s officially doing it backwards – mile postings run from 0-469, north to south. The Parkway provides spectacular mountain and valley vistas, quiet pastoral scenes, sparkling waterfalls and colorful flower and foliage displays as it extends through the Blue Ridge Mountains. Wildflowers bloom in spring but it’s the colours of autumn/fall, the Parkway’s most popular time of year with leaf-peepers, that steals the show – the Parkway is said to be home to Mother Nature’s most breath-taking & longest-lasting show of autumn/fall foliage. A 45 mph speed limit (lower in parts), numerous scenic overlooks, biker conveys & plentiful roadside attractions all combine to ensure the going is slow. That said, one still needs to be alert – foggy days, blind corners & a general absence of guardrails can make for some hairy driving.

PICTURE OF THE DAY || DAY 27 || September 23, 2016


Image ||Early Autumnal scenes on the All-American Blue Ridge Parkway outside Asheville, North Carolina.


“It’s not quite autumn/fall just yet, but it’s getting there; sporadic leaves are falling & foliage is slowly turning colour. As pretty as it is now in late September, I can only imagine how pretty this particular stretch of the Parkway, heading northeast just outside Asheville, would be when autumn colours are turned up the max.”

Day 27 || September 23 2016

Route || Asheville, North Carolina to Galax, Virginia (via the Blue Ridge Parkway)
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 200 (322)
Posted From || Galax, Virginia
Today’s Highlight || Autumnal scenes on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Waffle House, Asheville, North Carolina, USA. September 23, 2016.

We loved starting the day in Waffle House. It didn’t happen too often but it did on this day in Asheville, North Carolina. September 23, 2016.

(Friendly) Asheville
It’s somewhat official; Asheville, in western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, is one of the friendliest towns in the country, so says Conde Nast Traveler who rank it at number 7 on that particular list. So, and although there are seemingly 6 friendlier towns in the land in which to start your day, Asheville proved a nice place in which to wake to kickoff Epic US Road Trip day 27.

Asheville, North Carolina, USA. September 23, 2016.

Asheville, North Carolina. September 23, 2016.

We loved Asheville,” raved one reader. “Good restaurants. Gay-friendly (although we aren’t gay). Lots of arts, theatre companies, art galleries, with an eclectic, fun, and lively River Arts District.” It’s “an all-around wonderful small city,” says another reader. “Great mountain scenery and friendly people. Always a smile from those you meet.”

– Conde Nast Traveler’s list of the 10 friendliest (& unfriendliest) cities in the US 2015

'Crossroads' in Pack Square, Downtown Asheville, North Carolina, USA. September 23, 2016.

They have this cool thing going on in Asheville’s pretty Pack Square, the site of the town’s first courthouse, prison & stocks. At the foot of the square’s present-day towering centerpiece, the granite (Zebulon Baird) Vance Monument, a work entitled Crossroads sees bronze pigs and turkeys trot by on their way to market, a reenactment of activity in the square of the early to mid-19th century when it was a crossroads for stagecoach travellers and a gathering place for drovers who would heard cattle, hogs & turkeys to markets further south. It’s kind of cute. Pack Square, Asheville, North Carolina. September 23, 2016.

The Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 2 – Autumnal Delights, Mount Mitchell & Linn Cove Viaduct
After leaving Asheville, it wasn’t long before we were back once again on the region’s All-American Blue Ridge Parkway. And it was glorious, easily the pictorial highlight of the day.

On the idyllic All-American Blue Ridge Parkway outside Asheville, North Carolina, USA. September 23, 2016.

It’s not quite autumn/fall just yet, but it’s getting there; sporadic leaves are falling & foliage is slowly turning colour. As pretty as it is now in late September, I can only imagine how pretty this particular stretch of the Parkway, heading northeast just outside Asheville, would be when autumn colours are turned up the max. On an idyllic stretch of the All-American Blue Ridge Parkway outside Asheville, North Carolina. September 23, 2016.

Early Autumnal scenes on a portion of the All-American Blue Ridge Parkway outside Asheville, North Carolina, USA. September 23, 2016.

I couldn’t help but linger here for a while playing with leaves, shadows, passing traffic and the rays of light breaking the overhead cover of foliage. Yes, it was glorious. Early Autumnal scenes on a portion of the All-American Blue Ridge Parkway outside Asheville, North Carolina. September 23, 2016.

Early Fall/Autumn on the All-American Blue Ridge Parkway outside Asheville, North Carolina, USA. September 23, 2016.

Early Fall/Autumn on the All-American Blue Ridge Parkway outside Asheville, North Carolina. September 23, 2016.

Mount Mitchell & Mount Mitchell State Park
A slow, meandering 30-mile drive along the joys of the Parkway, via a stop to take in some Blue Ridge vistas from the lookout at Craggy Gardens Visitor Center, brought us to the apex of North Carolina’s 1,946-acre Mount Mitchell State Park, an International Biosphere Reserve.

Mount Mitchel of Mount Mitchell State Park, Yancey County, North Carolina, USA. September 23, 2016.

On the crest of the region’s timeworn Black Mountains, the summit of Mount Mitchell, at an elevation 6,684 feet (2,037 metres), is the highest point east of the Mississippi River. Signs abound detailing the ‘mighty peak’, although driving most of the way to the summit means it hardly feels ‘mighty’. That said, the views of the heavily forested and forever misty Blue Ridge Mountains and the surrounding rolling ridges and fertile valleys, are rater nice not to mention very typical of the region. Mount Mitchell State Park, Yancey County, North Carolina. September 23, 2016.

Descending from Mount Mitchell and it’s another 55 miles of Parkway delights, a distance that’ll require some 90 minutes of driving, before reaching a Blue Ridge Parkway must-see and one of the route’s most photographed features, the famous Linn Cove Viaduct.

The Linn Cove Viaduct on the All-American Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, USA. September 23, 2016.

Although work on the Blue Ridge Parkway began way back in September 1935 it wasn’t considered fully completed until 1987 with the construction of the Linn Cove Viaduct, seen here in the classic shot of the viaduct emerging from the Blue Ridge foliage. The last piece of the Parkway jigsaw, the 379-metre-long award-winning viaduct is made up of over 150 precast segments of concrete weighing 50 tons each, a section of the road that was literally lifted into place and joined together piece-by-piece to create one of the Parkway’s most iconic features. Like elsewhere along the Parkway, the viaduct is especially pretty in autumn when the all-encompassing greenery seen here turns typically autumnal. The Linn Cove Viaduct on the All-American Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. September 23, 2016.

Continuing in a northeasterly direction, but leaving the actual Parkway itself, things got very rural as we approached the state line with Virginia, approximately 100 miles from the Linn Cove Viaduct.

Old school gas pumps in Jefferson, North Carolina, USA. September 23, 2016.

We fill up at least daily, a necessity even for a small economical car like the Hyundai Accent given the mileage we’re doing. It only seemed appropriate when filling up on this day in Jefferson, North Carolina, a 30-minute drive from the Virginia state line, that the gas pump was of the old school variety, the very old school variety; I wasn’t even sure if it was operational (it was). That said, they took payment via card so it’s not that rural. It just looks it here in a region that can only be classed as stereotypically rural Appalachia. Jefferson, North Carolina. September 23, 2016.

Not long thereafter, and on a full tank, we reached the North Carolina/Virginia state line. It was quiet & rural here too. Hello Epic US Road Trip state number 21.

At the North Carolina-Virginia state line off US Route 221, northwestern North Carolina, USA. September 23, 2016.

State sign #21 || Virginia may very well be for lovers, but it’s also more than adequate for father & son epic US road trippers. At the North Carolina-Virginia state line off US Route 221, northwestern North Carolina. September 23, 2016.

virginia_glossy_square_icon_256Virginia

State Nicknames – Old Dominion; Mother of Presidents; Mother of States. State Motto – Sic Semper Tyrannis (Thus Always to Tyrants). Admitted To The Union – June 1788 (10th state). Population – 8.4 million (12th most populous state). Area – 42,700 sq miles (35th largest state). Capital – Richmond. National Parks – 1 (Shenandoah). National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 2/3. Famous For – History & being the birthplace of America; The Pentagon; tobacco; having a lot of towns & cities that end in ‘burg’; the CIA; bluegrass music. State Highlights – Appalachian drives between bluegrass towns. Virginia Titbits – Eight US presidents were born in Virginia giving the state the nickname ‘Mother of Presidents’; it’s also nicknamed ‘Old Dominion’ as the first permanent colony in mainland British America was established here in 1607; the Virginia General Assembly is the oldest continuous law-making body in the New World & the state’s government, one of the country’s most effective, is unique in how it treats cities and counties equally, manages local roads, and prohibits its governors from serving consecutive terms; Virginia is the most populous US state to not have a major professional sports league franchise; Virginia spends the highest amount per capita on defence, in large part because the state is home to the Department of Defense headquarters, The Pentagon, the world’s largest office building; the state is armed to the teeth – it boasts the largest concentration of military personnel and assets in the world, including the world’s largest naval base; of the 41 independent cities (cities not in the territory of any county or counties), 38 are in Virginia.
Outside New River Campground off US Route 221, southern Virginia, USA. September 23, 2016.

Virginia. State #21. Outside New River Campground off US Route 221, southern Virginia. September 23, 2016.

Historic & Musical Virginia
Make no mistake, there’s history here in Virginia, officially the Commonwealth of Virginia. Lots of it. A small Appalachian state which somehow also manages to boast a long Atlantic coastline, this is an historically diverse region that is literally the birthplace of America, where English settlers established the first permanent English-speaking colony in the New World in 1607 at Jamestown, Virginia – Virginia is the oldest of the 13 original colonies & the state boasts many an historic landmark with the state capital of Richmond, one of a whopping 38 independent cities in the state alone, among the country’s oldest cities. The lands here are caked in blood from America’s conception, birth and coming of age; Yorktown in southeastern Virginia was the site of the last battle of the American Revolution and the British surrender of 1781 & as the epicentre of the Civil War there are more historic battlegrounds here than in any other state.

On the Crooked Road in Virginia, USA. September 25, 2016.

Historic clout aside, Virginia, for us at least, also means music. Old-time so-called Appalachia ‘mountain music’. A present-day legacy of Celts – displaced from Britain & Ireland in the 19th century, they filtered into the Appalachians, mixed with the locals & created a genre of folk mountain music – today old-time music & bluegrass festivals are as linked to the Virginia hills as the dark strands of dogwood and fir trees. The state even honours this legacy via its very own Heritage Music Trail along its so-called Crooked Road, a regional destination covering 19 counties, four cities and over 50 towns and communities where heritage music is celebrated year round (although mostly in the warmer months). And to partake in an Appalachian musical celebration is why we’ll happily find ourselves tomorrow putting the wider road trip on hold for a day in the Crooked Road town of Galax, Virginia.

The Rex Theater in Galax, Virginia, USA. September 23, 2016.

Bluegrass. Live bluegrass, the best kind. BlueRidge Backroads at the Rex Theater, Galax, Virginia. September 23, 2016.

Galax
Just one of dozens of regional towns claiming to be a gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains, Galax, on Virginia’s Crooked Road, is a quiet, quaint & prototypical old-time music-lovin’ Appalachian town of simple living, friendly locals, strong accents and a rich musical heritage – beginning in 1935, the town is home to world’s oldest and largest competition for old-time music musicians, the Old Fiddlers’ Convention. And for one day in August 2016, that day conveniently being tomorrow, it’s also home to Rex Fest, a day-long celebration of regional music & dance.

Stevie Barr & Friends. Rex Theater, Galax, Virginia, USA. September 23, 2016.

We have our tickets for tomorrow’s all-day Rex Fest bluegrass musical bonanza, but tonight we got a taste of what is to come by attending a performance by Galax resident and shit-hot banjo picker Stevie Barr (& Friends) in the town’s historic Rex Theater. The 100-mile-an-hour performance of premier pickin’ was foot-tappin’ awesome, but we still managed to resist the urge to do some front and centre dancin’ with the locals. Maybe we’ll succumb tomorrow. Blueridge Backroads presents Stevie Barr & Friends at the Rex Theatre, Galax, Virginia. September 23, 2016.

(For way more on the musical genre that is bluegrass, check out day 32 when we visit the Old Homeplace in the wooded hills above Rosine, Kentucky, the revered home of Bill Monroe, The Father of Bluegrass, and the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, Kentucky.)

PICTURE OF THE DAY || DAY 28 || September 24, 2016


Image ||Rhonda Vincent & The Rage, Rex Fest, Galax, Virginia.


“Galax… is a quiet, quaint & prototypical old-time music-lovin’ Appalachian town of simple living, friendly locals, strong accents and a rich musical heritage… and for one day in August 2016 … it’s also home to Rex Fest, a day-long celebration of regional music & dance.”

Day 28 || September 24 2016

Route || No driving today!
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 4 (6.4)
Posted From || Galax, Virginia
Today’s Highlight || Rhonda Vincent & The Rage, Rex Fest, Galax

They say a change is as good as a rest. By that logic the changing scenes & locations of an on-going road trip equate to one long rest. The longer the road trip, the longer the rest. Maybe. Maybe not. But sometimes an actual rest is called for. For us today is that day and after 27 days and 8,018 miles of driving, we’re finally taking a rest. For the first time since Page, Arizona, on Epic US Road Trip day 13, we’re spending two nights in the one location. Today is also, and more importantly, the first day of the trip where we’ll be staying off the roads; save for a 4-mile return trip earlier to the laundromat & to Melanie’s Cafe in Galax for breakfast, today, Epic US Road Trip day 28, is a driving-free day. And we’ve Rex Fest to thank for that.

The schedule. Rex Fest, Galax, Virginia, USA. September 24, 2016.

The schedule. Rex Fest, Galax, Virginia. September 24, 2016.

Festivals have been central to bluegrass music since the 1960s. Many Americans with enough leisure time, pocket money, and good cars and RVs, drawn on by the lure of a great Interstate highway system, hit the road in search of their music. During the good-weather months, one can almost always find a bluegrass festival within driving distance, in almost all parts of the country.

– Reproduced from text on display in the International Bluegrass Music Museum, Owensboro, Kentucky (See Epic US Road Trip day 32).

Rhonda Vincent & The Rage headlining Rex Fest in Galax, Virginia, USA. September 24, 2016.

Rhonda Vincent & The Rage headlining Rex Fest in Galax, Virginia. September 24, 2016.

Rhonda Vincent & The Rage. Rex Fest, Galax, Virginia, USA. September 24, 2016.

Rex Fest was headlined by Rhonda Vincent, The Queen of Bluegrass, and her awesome band The Rage. Having been a fan for well over a decade, the highlight of this particular day was invariably when Rhonda posed for me while in the middle of her last song of the night. Oh, and meeting her after the set was pretty sweet too. Rex Fest, Galax, Virginia. September 24, 2016.

PICTURE OF THE DAY || DAY 29 || September 25, 2016


Image ||Mabry Mill on the All-American Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia.


“Operated until 1936, the three-part mill was restored & landscaped by the National Park Service in 1945 and today the mill, providing such an appealing and classic image of rural Appalachia life, is a major tourist draw.”

Day 29 || September 25 2016

Route || Galax, Virginia, to Lewisburg, West Virginia (via the Blue Ridge Parkway & Shenandoah National Park)
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 354 (570)
Posted From || Lewisburg, West Virginia
Today’s Highlight || Mabry Mill of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia

The rest over & our sojourn from the road at an end, Epic US Road Trip day 29 saw us departing Galax & continuing along Virginia’s Crooked Road before rejoining the Blue Ridge Parkway for the third and final time en route to West Virginia, the final Appalachian state on this the final day in Appalachia. We didn’t see all we wanted to see today, but we did see a lot of rural Appalachia. In places the region reminds you of one big dusty & rusty garage sale.

Rural Appalachia. On the Crooked Road in Virginia, USA. September 25, 2016.

#IPulledOverForThis. Seen today off the Crooked Road in Virginia. September 25, 2016.

The Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 3 – The Puckett Cabin & Mabry Mill
We rejoined the Blue Ridge Parkway for a portion of today’s northeasterly drive, the third day of the last 4 that we allowed the Parkway to slow things down. The Parkway will do that; again, it’s not a route to take if you’re in any kind of hurry.

The Puckett Cabin of the All-American Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia, USA. September 25, 2016.

More than a century ago log cabins were a common sight in Appalachia and in other rural parts of the eastern US. A well-known attraction on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Puckett Cabin was home to ‘Aunt’ Orelena Hawks Puckett who lived in this rural cabin during the latter part of her 102 years. Married at 16, she would develop, at the age of 50, into a renowned midwife who would deliver some 1,000 babies, delivering the last in 1939, the year she died. Somewhat ironically, none of her own 24 children lived beyond infancy. While hard for all, life in rural Appalachia was especially hard for some. The Puckett Cabin on the All-American Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia. September 25, 2016.

It didn’t rain today but it was horribly damp & overcast from start to finish, the low-lying mist common to Appalachia determined it would seem to stick around. But the overcast conditions just seemed to add more mystique to another of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s must-see sights, and probably the most famous of them all, the famed Mabry Mill.

Mabry Mill of the All-American Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, USA. September 25, 2015.

Pipping the Linn Cove Viaduct to the title of most photographed feature on the whole 469-mile-long stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Mabry Mill was built in 1903 by Edwin B. Mabry, a jack-of-all-trades who first used the mill as a blacksmith and wheelwright shop before using it as a saw mill and, by 1905, a gristmill. By 1910 the front part of the mill was completed and included a lathe for turning out wheel hubs, while by 1914 Mabry had bought adjacent tracts of land, mostly for the purpose of acquiring more water power which he used to drive the mill to grind corn and saw lumber for his Meadows of Dan neighbours. Operated until 1936, the three-part mill was restored & landscaped by the National Park Service in 1945 and today the mill, providing such an appealing and classic image of rural Appalachia life, is a major tourist draw. During busy times demonstrations of crafts in the gristmill, sawmill, blacksmith shop and weaving house are given National Park Service volunteers, while year round a short trail through the parkland surrounding the mill has exhibits detailing life in rural Appalachia. Mabry Mill of the All-American Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. September 25, 2015.

Rural Appalachia. The Blacksmith Shop at Mabry Mill on the All-American Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia, USA. September 25, 2016.

Rural Appalachia. The Blacksmith Shop at Mabry Mill on the All-American Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia. September 25, 2016.

Rural Appalachia. A Whiskey Still by Mabry Mill on the All-American Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia, USA. September 25, 2016.

The interpretative path of the pretty parkland surrounding Mabry Mill serves to document rural life in Appalachia by passing many buildings, informative displays & farm implements, most of which were restored in the 1940s & 1950s. This is a restoration of an old Appalachian Whiskey Still. Many settlers and early residents of Appalachia, mostly from Ireland & the British Isles, brought with them the knowledge and the custom of making whiskey. Although tax laws and, for a while, Prohibition made the activity illegal, moonshiners have always operated in the mountains of Appalachia, and probably still do to this day. The Whiskey Still by Mabry Mill of the All-American Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia. September 25, 2016.

It was a long drive from the Mabry Mill to the start of the next National Scenic Byway & National Park of the wider road trip. En route we searched out another sight from a bygone era, one of the region’s covered bridges.

Jacks Creek Covered Bridge, Patrick County, Virginia, USA. September 25, 2016.

The small Jacks Creek Covered Bridge is a 48 foot (14.6 metre) bridge that was built in 1914 by a Charles Vaughan. Spanning the small Smith River, the historic landmark, preserved by the County for future generations, is a silent reminder of the past having been bypassed by a parallel modern bridge. Jacks Creek Covered Bridge, Patrick County, Virginia. September 25, 2016.

One of the most beautiful places in America.

– Lonely Planet USA, 6th Edition, commenting on the Shenandoah Valley & Shenandoah National Park

A terrific trio in Virginia, USA. September 25, 2016.

The Terrific Trio. At the entrance to the Shenandoah Valley & Shenandoah National Park; the start of the National Scenic Byway Skyline Drive; and the end of the All-American Blue Ridge Parkway. Rockfish Gap, Virginia. September 25, 2016.

The Terrific Trio
It was late in the afternoon when we arrived at Rockfish Gap, a rather special point that marks something of a heavy-hitting terrific trio – the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway (the end for us, the start for most) and the start of the National Scenic Byway Skyline Drive at the entrance to Shenandoah National Park. Unfortunately we didn’t see much of the latter two at all. In fact, we saw nothing.

At the southern entrance to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, USA. September 25, 2016.

We were looking forward to the drive, the 105-mile National Scenic Byway Skyline Drive, the last planned National Scenic Byway or All-American Road of the wider road trip, a road that twists and winds through the over the 200,000 pristine acres of Shenandoah National Park. The stunning scenery while driving a crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains – of Piedmont Valley to the east & the Shenandoah River Valley to the west and as seen from some 70 scenic overlooks along the way – ensures Skyline Drive is one of the nation’s premier drives, especially in autumn. When we arrived at the start of the drive, and at the entrance to the park, the low-lying mist was thick, the visibility very poor, just like it had been for most of the day. It was late and time was not on our side even if the conditions hadn’t had been as poor as they were. A decision was made to not go any further north, to skip the drive and to make west directly for West Virginia instead. At the southern entrance to Shenandoah National Park on the Skyline Drive near Rockfish Gap in Virginia. September 25, 2016.

Shenandoah National Park

Size: 199,173 acres/806 km². Founded: 1935. Annual Visitors: 1.3 million.

09 Shen

A classic road trip lies within the boundaries of this park. Skyline Drive runs like a 105-mile spine along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. With 75 scenic overlooks and a leisurely speed limit, traveling end to end takes three to four hours. The roadsides bloom with a seasonal progression of wildflowers — from early trillium through azaleas and mountain laurel to black-eyed Susans and goldenrods. The Wilderness Society listed Shenandoah among its best parks for fall color. The annual Fall Foliage Bike Festival coincides with that display.

Although the park can be driven in a day, accommodations and dining are available for those who linger to explore the paths, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Overnight options include the 1939 Big Meadows Lodge, a stone and wormy-chestnut structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Before the area was designated as a park, homeowners here kept farms, orchards and grazing animals. Traces of former residents include garden-patch daffodils and more than 100 family cemeteries, some still maintained by descendants.

One site of note is Rapidan Camp, the summer retreat of President Herbert Hoover. Here, 70 miles from the White House on 164 wooded acres, the president, first lady and friends relaxed and held meetings. The guest book of the 13-cabin compound includes such names as Lindbergh, Ford and Edison.

In 1935, the compound became part of the park; its three remaining buildings are open for ranger-led tours.

Today, summer visitors may catch a view of a more ethereal variety.

“Fog lies like a soft white blanket on the Shenandoah Valley and the Piedmont, while the mountaintop is clear,” visitskylinedrive.org says.

“If conditions are right, you can look down on a ‘fog ocean,’ with the lower peaks rising above it like islands.”

From The Washington Post – The Essential guide to all 59 U.S. national parks.

At the southern entrance to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, USA. September 25, 2016.

Of course, and even though we didn’t actually visit the park or drive the Skyline Drive, we still had to get the obligatory picture at the park’s entrance, which we did before turning our back on the park and making for the state line with West Virginia. At the southern entrance to Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. September 25, 2016.

There wasn’t much light left on Epic US Road Trip day 29 by the time we reached the Virginia-West Virginia state line, some 90 minutes after leaving Rockfish Gap. We even had to use the headlights of the car to help us get the obligatory state line picture.

Welcome to 'Wild and Wonderful' West Virginia. Interstate 64, Alleghany County, western Virginia, USA. September 25, 2016.

State sign #22 || Welcome to ‘Wild and Wonderful’ West Virginia. Interstate 64, Alleghany County, western Virginia. September 25, 2016.

west_virginia_glossy_square_icon_256West Virginia

State Nickname – Mountain State. State Motto – Montani Semper Liberi (Mountaineers Are Always Free). Admitted To The Union – June 1863 (35th state). Population – 1.8 million (13th least populous state). Area – 24,200 sq miles (41st largest state). Capital – Charleston. National Parks – 0. National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 5/1. Famous For – Coal; mountains & the great outdoors (WV is ‘Wild & Wonderful’); being ‘simple’. State Highlights – The great outdoors. West Virginia Titbits – West Virginia is the only state to form by separating from a Confederate state (Virginia in October 1861) and was one of two states formed during the American Civil War (the other being Nevada); West Virginia is one of the most densely karstic areas on earth; almost entirely mountainous, hence its nickname, West Virginia is also the only state to lie entirely within Appalachia.
Lewisburg, West Virginia, USA. September 26, 2016.

West Virginia. State #22. Lewisburg, West Virginia. September 26, 2016.

Wild & Wonderful West Virginia. Shoneys, Lewisburg, West Virginia, USA. September 26, 2016.

Wild & Wonderful West Virginia. Shoneys, Lewisburg, West Virginia. September 26, 2016.

Wild & Wonderful West Virginia
It’s all about the great outdoors in ‘Wild & Wonderful’ West Virginia, a mostly mountainous state and the only state to lie entirely within Appalachia. It’ll come as no surprise then to learn that the state boasts some rather pretty, picture-postcard antebellum mountain America architecture.

Residential Lewisburg, West Virginia, USA. September 26, 2016.

In the leafy suburbs of residential Lewisburg, Greenbrier County, West Virginia. September 26, 2016.

Lewisburg
Lewisburg, only some 15 miles west of the West Virginia-Virginia state line, is historic, not surprising really as most towns around here are. It’s also quaint, quaint & quiet; less than 4,000 people call it home. Nonetheless, it’s a popular place thanks its historic downtown and its numerous Civil War connections; held in late May each year, a re-enactment of the 1862 Battle of Lewisburg is one of the town’s big annual events.

Lewisburg, West Virginia, USA. September 26, 2016.

Founded in 1872 and built around a natural spring that’s still here, Lewis Spring, Lewisburg’s historic downtown is lined with specialty shops and art galleries. A short walk from leafy residential neighbourhoods of quaint antebellum B&Bs, the whole place is rather photogenic. Lewisburg, West Virginia. September 26, 2016.

West Virginia. 'Nuff Said. Shoneys, Lewisburg, West Virginia, USA. September 26, 2016.

West Virginia. ‘Nuff Said. Shoneys, Lewisburg, West Virginia. September 26, 2016.

As quaint as Lewisburg is, we didn’t hang around too long. We had ground to cover. A lot of ground to cover. It’s over 300 miles from Lewisburg to Lexington, Kentucky, our intended destination for this road trip day, even longer if you take a detour. We did meaning Epic US Road Trip day 30 was yet another long but enjoyable day on the US road, something we’re fast running out of as we approach the end.

Epic US Road Trip Home

THE UPPER MIDWEST || Wisconsin & Minnesota

DAY 01 139 miles || Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to Madison, Wisconsin

DAY 02 302 miles || Madison to Saint Paul, Minnesota (via Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area & Prescott, Wisconsin)

DAY 03 259 miles || Saint Paul to Bemidji, Minnesota (via St Cloud, Brainard & Walker, Minnesota)

THE DAKOTAS || North & South Dakota

DAY 04 458 miles || Bemidji to Bismarck, North Dakota (via Grand Forks, Lakota & Rugby, North Dakota)

DAY 05 459 miles || Bismarck to Deadwood, South Dakota (via Fort Yates, North Dakota & Badlands National Park, South Dakota)

DAY 06 167 miles || Deadwood & The Black Hills (Mount Rushmore National Memorial & Crazy Horse Memorial)

THE NORTHERN ROCKIES || Wyoming, Montana & Idaho

DAY 07 354 miles || Deadwood to Billings, Montana (via Devil’s Tower & Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monuments)

DAY 08 262 miles || Billings to West Yellowstone, Montana (via the Beartooth Highway & Yellowstone National Park)

DAY 09 227 miles || West Yellowstone to Jackson, Wyoming (via Yellowstone National Park & Grand Teton National Park)

DAY 10 280 miles || Jackson to Salt Lake City, Utah (via Alpine, Wyoming; & Montpelier, Paris, & Bear Lake, Idaho)

THE SOUTHWEST || Utah, Arizona & New Mexico

DAY 11 330 miles || Salt Lake City to Panguitch, Utah (via Brian Head & Cedar Breaks National Monument)

DAY 12 273 miles || Panguitch to Page, Arizona (via Bryce Canyon National Park, & Zion National Park)

DAY 13 307 miles || Page (Horseshoe Bend) & Grand Canyon National Park (North Rim)

DAY 14 175 miles || Page to Kayenta, Arizona (via Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona & Monument Valley, Utah)

DAY 15 252 miles || Kayenta to Durango, Colorado (via Monument Valley, Utah, the Four Corners Monument, & New Mexico)

THE ROCKIES || Colorado

DAY 16 348 miles || Durango to Leadville, Colorado (via Wolf Creek Pass & Monarch Pass)

DAY 17 299 miles || Leadville to Estes Park, Colorado (via Independence Pass, Aspen, Berthoud Pass, & Rocky Mountain National Park)

THE GREAT PLAINS || Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri & Arkansas

DAY 18 307 miles || Estes Park to Cheyenne, Wyoming (via Laramie, Como Bluff, Medicine Bow, & Buford, Wyoming)

DAY 19 404 miles || Cheyenne to Burwell, Nebraska (via Scotts Bluff National Monument & Carhenge, Nebraska)

DAY 20 407 miles || Burwell to Kansas City, Missouri (via Spalding, Nebraska; SW Iowa; & Omaha, Nebraska)

DAY 21 286 miles || Kansas City to St Louis, Missouri

DAY 22 322 miles || St Louis to Memphis, Tennessee (via Dyess, Arkansas)

THE SOUTH || Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama & Georgia

DAY 23 308 miles || Memphis to Vicksburg, Mississippi (via Clarksdale, Yazoo City & Bentonia, Mississippi)

DAY 24 336 miles || Vicksburg to Pratville, Alabama (via Selma, Alabama)

DAY 25 297 miles || Pratville to Cornelia, Georgia (via Montgomery, Alabama & Stone Mountain, Georgia)

THE APPALACHIANS || Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia & West Virginia

DAY 26 261 miles || Cornelia to Asheville, North Carolina (via Helen & Brasstown Bald, Georgia & Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina)

DAY 27 200 miles || Asheville to Galax, Virginia (via the Blue Ridge Parkway)

DAY 28 004 miles || Galax, Virginia

DAY 29 354 miles || Galax to Lewisburg, West Virginia (via the Blue Ridge Parkway & Shenandoah National Park)

KENTUCKY & THE GREAT LAKES || Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana & Illinois

DAY 30 404 miles || Lewisburg to Lexington, Kentucky (via Chesapeake, Ohio; Cordell, Kentucky; & Sandy Hook, Kentucky)

DAY 31 241 miles || Lexington to Beaver Dam, Kentucky (via Lincoln Homestead State Park & Mammoth Cave National Park)

DAY 32 190 miles || Beaver Dam to Bloomington, Indiana (via Rosine & Owensboro, Kentucky)

DAY 33 282 miles || Bloomington to Chicago, Illinois (via Indianapolis, Indiana)

DAYS 34-36 017 miles || Chicago, Illinois

Pin It on Pinterest

Shares
Share This