I have researched the great drives in the USA and one that I thought I’d try first is the Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s roughly 800km in distance Virginia to North Carolina and links the Shenandoah and Smokey Mountain national parks. These are places I’d heard of in song, Bob Denver’s “Country Road”, but I had no real idea about the area so I was quite excited to explore and find out for myself.
In 2012 the Aussie dollar was either at parity or exceeding the US dollar, this made roaming the USA more affordable (as of 19/12/2018 its 72 cents AUD to US). Id decided what better way to road trip than in an iconic American muscle car, the Ford Mustang. Being an experienced backpacker, I know what it is to conserve my money and minimise my spending, 2-minute noodles for dinner with tomato sauce for flavouring comes to mind, however, I was on paid leave from my job and the favourable currency exchange made this extravagance affordable. I picked up the red convertible “Stang” from the airport in Washington, set up the mapping navigator which I brought from home and started my road trip towards the Parkway four hours south of Washington. Here is a tip, it’s a lot cheaper to carry around your own navigator than renting one from the car rental companies, but now I guess everyone uses Google maps..
I won’t focus much more on the car, this is a travel blog, not a car blog, but I couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear. It was a brand-new and the fastest car I’d ever driven, the stereo system was excellent and it had surprisingly good fuel economy, particularly with my reckless accelerating, it blew my hair away.
I headed into the Shenandoah national park where I was stopped at the gate for a park entrance fee, prior to arriving in the USA I had organised a Season pass which I recommend highly, this gave me access to all the national parks for the year and was $80 which is better than the $30 park entry fee the National Parks Service (NPS) charge. I drove Skyline drive which takes approximately 3 hours, the park itself is full of waterfalls, spectacular views, forest greenery and wildlife. It was a pleasant sunny day, there was little traffic and driving conditions were optimal, the day was just as pleasing as the car.
After an eight drive I spent the evening in Asheville North Carolina, a beautiful small tourist town which is known for its beautiful location, friendly people quality eating and 20 craft breweries, this particularly had great appeal. I parked at the hotel, quickly showered and headed into town, it was mid-week so it was kind of quiet, I wen to a few of the local bars, talked to some of the bar staff and customers and sampled a lot of locals beers……
The following morning, I was up mid-morning and felt a little woozy from the “sampling”. The hotel restaurant had an all you can eat free breakfast menu, this is common in American hotels, so I took full advantage and had as much bacon, eggs, toast and biscuits with gravy as my stomach could hold, very tasty. I planned out my day, jumped in the car and was off again to Smokey Mountain national park. Unfortunately, I only had one night in Asheville which I regret but I hope to get back to one day.
I headed to the town of Cherokee, a small place and home of the Cherokee Indian, it’s an entry point to the Great Smokey Mountain national park. I walked around the centre of town, a lot of which were tourist shops merchandising traditional Indian culture and souvenirs, I purchased myself a dreamcatcher and then headed into the park. The drive was a short 90 kilometres so I decided to go on a short hike, the park is famed for its wildlife including black bears, as well as forests and views. I headed to the Clingmans Dome, the peak is the highest in the park and in the state of Tennessee, roughly 2000 metres. After an hour climb, I reached a concrete walkway which leads to a domed shape observation tower. The view was obscured by cloud so there was not much to see and it was quite cold. I headed back down and continued my drive.
My destination was Nashville Tennessee which I’ll update in my next blog, on the way through I drove through the town of Pigeon Forge which was totally unexpected. The city essentially appeared to be one huge theme park with a mix in size from putt-putt golf to the massive Dolly World oddly enough based on the life of Dolly Parton. I decided to tour one of these parks so I pulled into the carpark of the Titanic for some lunch. I finished my Taco Bell and headed into the cruise ship which I found out is half the size of the original Titanic and designed to look like the original ship. It contains 20 galleries, has 400 exhibits and is the largest Titanic museum in the world. After this surreal and somewhat bizarre two hour tour, I was back in the car and on my way to Nashville…