Tuesday, November 8, 2016

West Coast Observer: Fall colors along the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge Parkways

A lovely trip – with one exception

By William Silveira

Marylin and I were looking over our newspapers one Sunday in September when we came across and article by Christopher Reynolds in the September 11 travel section of the Los Angeles Times. The article, “You’ll Want to Slow Down,” was part of a “Celebrating Our National Parks” series that the Times had been running. The article ran to three pages, with large color photographs. It recounted the author’s travels on the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge Parkways in 2015. The sum of the article, plus our memory of a short glimpse of a piece of the Blue Ridge Parkway during a visit to North Carolina about 17 years ago, plus my 70,000 unused points on Southwest Airlines’s customer rewards program was all the incentive we needed. We started planning immediately.
    Initially, I thought we might extemporize on lodging choices, but a careful reading of Reynolds, along with Marylin’s good judgment, convinced me of the folly of that. There were probably going to be many people peeping leaves at the same time. And the Parkways are in close proximately to several large cities. So, we carefully plotted an itinerary using a government publication, “Blue Ridge Parkway Directory & Travel Planner.” The Reynolds article and the travel planner stood us in good stead. And I was grateful we had planned ahead in regard to lodgings.
    We flew from Bob Hope Airport in Burbank on October 11 and returned home on October 23. Southwest does not offer service in Fresno and I did not want to tackle Los Angeles International Airport. It meant an overnight stay in Burbank, as we had an early flight, but it was worth it. We flew to Dulles International Airport in Virginia, spent the night there in a Homewood Suites hotel, picked up our red Jeep Compass at Enterprise Car Rentals the next day, and were on our way to Luray, Virginia. Luray is Milepost Zero for the Shenandoah Parkway.
    The Shenandoah and Blue Ridge Parkways were created by the federal government in the 1930’s to give East Coast persons access to national parks and wilderness areas, which we had in greater relative abundance on the West Coast. The highway is one contiguous national park ending in the Smoky Mountain National Park, which borders on Tennessee and North Carolina. The road was a driving pleasure. The speed limit is 45 miles per hour, no trucks are permitted, and there are numerous scenic lookouts. In the Shenandoah Parkway we were able to look out at the Shenandoah Valley on the west and the Virginia Piedmont on the east. The Shenandoah Valley is justly famed for its beauty.

    It is not my intent here to go into a day-by-day recital of our trip (whew!), but I will comment on some highlights and one disappointment. Among the highlights: gorgeous fall colors as we gained altitude in the Smoky Mountains, panoramic vistas across mountain ranges, blue mist arising from the mountains near the town of Boone, N.C., scenic waterfalls, lakes, and the beauty of the highway itself – no cross roads, natural rock arched crossings underneath the highway for intersecting roads, and no billboards.
    We met our editor, Morris, and his wife, Carolyn, for lunch in Boone. (They were kind enough to drive up from Chapel Hill to meet us.) After a few minutes of talking and visiting with Morris and Carolyn, the years seemed to melt away and we left them with hearts refreshed with a renewal of old friendships.
    In Galax, Virginia, we attended a performance by a group of old-time country musicians at the Rex Theater – the Fisher Peak Timber Rattlers. [For example:]

Perhaps about 20 people in the audience left their seats and danced to the music. It was the first time we had seen dancing in the old, country style of flat footing.

    The next day, we visited the Blue Ridge Parkway Music Center and heard a performance of old-time country music by a group called the Virginia Luthiers. [For example:]

They are very accomplished musicians and perform all over the country. They also make stringed instruments – hence the name, Luthiers. They were excellent.

First edition cover.
By Source, Fair use, Link
    Our stay in Asheville, NC was too short and was marred by a stay at a pretentious B&B (the 1889 Whitegate Inn & Cottage) – the one exception to our lovely trip. There is much more we would like to see of Asheville. We did happen on to the boyhood home of author Thomas Wolfe (his mother’s boarding house). After going through the visitor’s center devoted to him, and taking an excellent tour of the boarding house, we came away with a desire to read at least one of his books. (I’ve ordered Look Homeward Angel from Amazon.)

Our last stop on our way south was Bryson City, North Carolina, home to the Great Smoky Mountains Railway. We took an approximately 50-mile ride along the Tuckasegee River. The passenger cars were from the 1920’s and were pulled by a real steam-driven locomotive. We saw a lot of fall color, but the ride was a bit tame. In Bryson City we stayed at the Fryemont Inn. It is a charming, sprawling old place, first constructed in the 1920’s. I don’t think there is a level floor in the whole place. (I told Marylin it was making me develop sea legs.) Parts of the exterior are still sheathed in bark from the trees in the local forests. There is a large porch with rockers to sit back and enjoy the views. We were on the American plan and had dinner and breakfast included with our room. The menu choices were extensive, the food plentiful and excellent.
The room came with its regular resident, the cat Pumpkin
    We flew back to Burbank from Greenville, South Carolina. On our way there we left the Blue Ridge Parkway to travel on Highway 64. This was an unplanned side excursion, but well worth it. The road travelled through some extensively forested countryside, most of it in the Pisgah National Forest. Our only regret was that we didn’t have more time to spend there.
    Just so some of you don’t come away with the impression that all we did was eat, drink, and gawk, I want to say we did take some hikes that were well worth the effort. In fact, there are many excellent hiking opportunities all along the parkways and in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Copyright © 2016 by William Silveira

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