Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Blue Ridge Parkway - South of Cold Mountain

If you haven't traveled the Blue Ridge Parkway yet, do it. Clear your calendar, pack a lunch, and step back into a time when Sunday drives were a part of Americana. The parkway is a National Park, so commercial vehicles aren't permitted. Along the road you'll see trees, not signs. Mountains, not buildings. Rhododendrons, laurel and a thousand other wildflowers, not trash. It's one of my favorite places, so you'll know why we chose this road for today's outing.

Kelley and I planned on hiking some of the trails off the parkway, but when the forecast called for a chance of thunderstorms in the mountains, we decided a drive would be better. That motion was seconded when, after arriving at El Chapala, our favorite restaurant in Pisgah Forest, my bad knee began hurting. So a drive it was.

From Hwy 64, we drove north on Hwy 276. A mist rose off the creek that runs alongside the road, and flowed into the trees, giving the forest an almost enchanted look. It was beautiful. I wanted to stop at Looking Glass Falls to see if the effect was the same there, but...too many people.

We continued our journey to the BRP and once there, for a change of scenery, we turned south, toward Cherokee. We'd driven this stretch only once and that was in the fog (a proposed scenic route back from Gatlinburg) so we missed A LOT. I had no idea places called Graveyard Fields, Black Balsam Trail and Devil's Courthouse existed down here.

After stopping at two overlooks to get closer views of Looking Glass Rock, we stopped at the East Fork Overlook and listened to the Pidgeon River. Would have loved to have seen it, but...too many trees.

Next, we stopped at Graveyard Fields and chose the short hike to the Second Falls. Then we headed down the path toward the fall's base. After trekking back up to the parking lot, and catching my breath, we continued down the Parkway.

Thunder boomed in the distance and the afternoon stretched toward night, so we decided to turn around after viewing Devil's Courthouse. The breeze was so cool, and the clouds surrounding the mountains so scenic, I hated leaving. Before we left, some of those wonderful wispy clouds blew in, shrouding the sky. What a finale.

As per our custom, we stopped for ice cream at the Dairy Bar off Hwy 64, and then headed home. It was a terrific day and I'm pleased. There's so much to see in the Carolinas, and especially along the parkway. I can't wait to explore what both have to offer.

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