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Day 72 – Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina Part 2)

I awoke to a HAZY morning.  I was a bit disappointed as Reader’s Digest describes Linville Falls as one of the most popular stops on the parkway and if travelers could pick one stop along the route, Linville Falls would be the most likely choice.  I hoped that the fog only hung over Asheville, and headed to the mountains to see what the day had in store for me.  Lucky for me, my hope turned out to be reality.  The mountain tops, in crystal clear skies, towered above valleys blanketed in clouds.  Looking out above the clouds gave me a feeling like I was in the Himalayas – obviously far from it – but the panorama looked magnificent.  I stopped at countless overlooks to admire the views.

It took a few hours to make it to Linville Falls, but we enjoyed a lovely mile hike along broad trails to three different overlooks.  Several visitors were out enjoying the fantastic day as well, thus the mutts made lots of new friends!  The wide trails were a nice change.  Most have been extremely narrow making it difficult to pass with two dogs.  The trails were also relatively smooth and flat…another nice change.  Of late, I’ve had to release the dogs from the leashes in a number of spots just to clamber over the rocks safely.

We made one more, short stop at the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, but I knew we had a 2 hour drive in front of us to get to Charlotte for the evening, so we didn’t go for a walk.  With a house waiting for us, I was anxious to settle in for the holiday.  We got to the house around three to find a loaf of pumpkin bread and coffee ready to brew at 6am in the morning – so great!  Walter and Cindy hooked me up again.  Walter even sent me an email with the local Thanksgiving events and corresponding internet links – the Turkey Trot and downtown parade.  Right now, I’m just  enjoying resting on the couch! ETB

Day 71 – Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina)

After driving around Waynesville and the vicinity for half an hour stopping at a few places on both my GPS and “Around Me” app to find them closed or virtually vacant, I finally happened upon O’Malley’s for a beer and Monday Night Football.  The game was horrendous, but the fried portabella mushrooms were fantastic.  For you Dallasites, they could compete with Snuffer’s.  I was planning on getting a chicken sandwich, but they had turned off the grill and only kept the friers hot.  As I was nursing my draught beer, Mark took a seat beside me.  He was ex-navy, ex-volunteer firefighter, ex-electrician, and current courier.  While he was fighting a fire in New Smyrna Beach, Florida where he was originally from, the roof collapsed and essentially crushed his knees.  It took him four years to walk without a limp!

It was a cloudy morning at Walmart, yet not a bad view.  I got an early start for a day on the Southern part of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The parkway was fog covered, misty, and windy which made for a somewhat eerie visit.  I felt like I was the only one around…no cars on the road and none at our first stop, Waterrock Knob.  Waterrock Knob was an important location to the pioneers due to its mountainside spring.  With the area blanketed in fog, I didn’t see the spring.  The view of clouds remained the same upon arriving at the summit after scrambling a half mile up a slick, rocky trail.  I did, however, find a cache…not easily I might add.  I lost reception on my phone near the summit, so without directions to the exact coordinates, I just began looking under rocks as I walked.  Shockingly, I first found a “letter box” hidden by “”.  I had to look up the organization online to determine the purpose of the letter box.  Apparently, the association teams up with states to encourage longer hikes by offering incentive tags based on points accumulated.  A handful of rocks later, I found the hidden ammo can.

I supposed I wasn’t the only one on the Parkway.  I spotted this beautiful hawk of sorts.  I need Bart, the birder, to identify it.  Its face and breast were very light relative to any of the other hawks and vultures I’ve seen soaring overhead.  I had a perfect photo opportunity of it perched on a high, tree limb as I passed by in VANilla.  By the time I reversed, parked on the grass aside the road, retrieved my camera, and rolled down the window, it decided to fly off and, of course point, its back to me.

The dogs and I continued on to the highest point of the Blue Ridge Parkway at Richland Balsam.  The area is covered in a spruce and fraser fir forest, though many of the fraser firs have been killed by an insect called the balsam woolly adelgid which was accidentally imported to the United States from Europe in the early 1900s.

We took our next walk to the top of Devils Courthouse, a rocky summit that both Cherokees and early settlers thought was haunted by demons.  The rocks conceal a cave where the devil was believed to hold court.  The summit provides a splendid mountainous view.  On a clear day, visitors can see South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee.

On our way to Mount Pisgah, we stopped at Looking Glass Rock Overlook.  The rock is a pluton, a mass of molten rock formed underground that becomes exposed through centuries of erosion. When water or ice rests on the face of Looking Glass Rock, the surface reflects rays of sunlight like a mirror.  Clearly, I wasn’t a witness to a sunlight reflection today.

Our final stop before resting in Asheville was supposed to be Mount Pisgah, an area where the chance of a bear sighting is more likely than other areas on the parkway.  Unfortunately, the campground area was closed.  Since I have one decent picture of a bear and the weather was fairly gloomy, we arrived in Asheville early enough to watch an afternoon matinee – Unstoppable.  The movie was great and the popcorn hit the spot! ETB

Day 63 – Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia Part 2)

The dogs and I headed back to the Blue Ridge Parkway to continue south to the border of Virginia and North Carolina before jumping off to visit parts of eastern Tennessee.  The next two stops on the Parkway included Smart View and Mabry Mill.  Reader’s Digest explains the names of each stop fit the description mountain folk applied ages ago.  Given all the stunning views I enjoyed yesterday, I couldn’t imagine what a right, smart view would include.  In this instance, I was taken more to the view of the old, log cabin perched on the hillside than the vast vista of mountains beyond.  After a short walk around the picnic area, the dogs and I moved on to Mabry Mill.

From 1910 to 1935, Ed Mabry ran the mill, a blacksmith shop, and a woodworking shop just to name a few of the businesses that contributed to his reputation as the man that could “fix most anything”.  The mill building, separated into three sections, housed a sawmill, a gristmill, and a woodworking shop.  In the gristmill, Mabry only ground corn as opposed to some of his competitors which also ground wheat.  He used his sawmill during the rainy times when the water flow increased and used his jigsaw and other tools in the woodworking shop to produce wagon wheels.

The site also included a whisky still to brew moonshine and a mule powered sorghum mill and evaporator used to yield molasses.  I found these items interesting as I had never seen the apparatus.  Next to each display a sign documented the production process.

To make moonshine, cornmeal, malt, and sugar are mixed with water and fermented in barrels for several days to almost two weeks.  The fermented mash (beer) is heated in the copper still.  The vapor is then transferred to a flake stand which contains a spiral tube (also known as the worm) that is immersed in a constant flow of water.  The worm condenses the vapor into liquid which flows into another barrel to hold the corn whiskey.

Sorghum molasses became popular during the Civil War when sugar and corn syrup supplies diminished.  A mule, attached to a ten foot sweep, walks in a circle to operate the rollers to which stalks are fed.  The rollers extract a bright green juice that is strained and then cooked for several hours in an evaporator.  Ten gallons of juice produce one gallon of syrup which is bottled once it reaches the proper consistency.

The morning was also the last of the sunlight, as the afternoon brought thick thunder clouds and rain.  The mutts accompanied me through two hours of rain past the first few stops I planned to make in Tennessee, including Watauga Lake and Cherokee National Forest.  Given my recent luck with National forests, the rain was probably a blessing!  And as for the lake, the magical setting created by low hanging clouds over a jade colored water surrounded by mountains was in perfect view through VANilla’s passenger window.

While searching for the next Walmart in Elizabethton, I stumbled across a historic site that I plan to visit in the morning.  In the meantime, I enjoyed a spinach salad at Fatz Café before camping in the parking lot for the night.

Day 62 – Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia)

Yesterday’s post in Virginia…

Today the dogs and I started down the Blue Ridge Parkway which connects to the south end of Skyline Drive through the Shenandoah Valley that I completed last week. The drives, similar in scenery, were quite different in other ways. Skyline Drive passes through a National Park where a toll booth marks a limited amount of entry and exit points…I believe three in total. As such, the Skyline Drive area is more pristine. With signs identifying activities such as picnicking, hiking, and camping, the Blue Ridge Parkway is slightly more commercialized, though still an extremely natural area. In addition, many more exhibits line the area such as self-guided geological trails, Appalachian farm houses, and a rebuilt logging railroad the dogs and I visited today. A nice feature at most trailheads included a sign posted with the mileage and approximate time to complete the trail…a bonus for me as I didn’t have any trail maps.

For much of the drive I passed beneath brown leaves fluttering to the ground,

Otter Creek (mentioned later in post)

but occasionally I crossed through regions where the hemlocks, hickories, maples, and oaks ranged in colors of green, red, yellow, orange, and brown. I’d have to use the names of crayons from the 128 count box to describe the appropriate shades…raw umber, goldenrod, neon carrot, mango tango, laser lemon, burnt orange, maize, orange red, sunglow, scarlet, burnt orange, forest green, and mahogany to name a few. I wanted to pull off the side of the road so many times for a photo; however, the turnouts tended to be in overlook areas where the winter weather had already arrived as opposed to the protected sections of the forest. The overlook areas provided brilliant views of their own. Green valleys separated mountain tops covered in crimson red trees….nature’s version of Christmas decorations.

The drive passes by several creeks, waterfalls, springs where pioneers brewed moonshine, lakes, rivers, and even the Kanawha canal. The dogs and I took a few walks by the water. We first strolled by Otter Creek, which tumbles ten miles down the Blue Ridge to the James River, and around Otter Lake. Lily pads covered the edge of the lake as Bluegills hovered beneath the fishing dock waiting for tourists to drop some bread.

Before exiting the Parkway in Roanoke to visit a distant relative, Quinn, we took one last 1.6 mile loop trail by Fallingwater Cascades. As we walked 2,000 feet, mostly down, I knew a nice uphill climb awaited us before reaching the parking lot. Aside from Scout beginning to feel puny toward the end, a moderate hike was an exuberant way to finish the day.

We spent a delightful late afternoon and evening with Quinn. Over a home cooked meal of steaks, potatoes, and salad, I learned all about the business of auctioning farmland…quite fascinating! To top it off, I got to see the Cowboys play for the second time this season (both games against the Giants), and surprisingly they squeaked out a win!