Roaming the Blue Ridge Parkway – 2012

Shenandoah

I’d been doing a little research on what’s regarded as the great drives in the USA. I was finishing up in Washington DC and four hours south was the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Parkway is roughly 800km in distance and travels from Virginia to North Carolina and links the Shenandoah and Smokey Mountain National parks. Back in Australia these are places Id only heard of in song such as Bob Denver’s “Country Road” or seen on American Civil War movies. So my knowledge of the area was pretty minimal and I couldn’t wait to find out more.

In 2012 the Aussie dollar was bouncing between parity and exceeding the value of the US dollar. This made roaming the USA very affordable and so I could extend my travel budget to a few luxuries. My first luxury was outlaying a substantial amount of cash to rent an American muscle car for my 6 week road trip, a Ford Mustang. Usually when I go backpacking, I conserve my money and minimise my spending, 2-minute noodles for dinner with tomato sauce for flavouring comes to mind. For this roam 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, I think there were tears of joy in my eyes, I was very, very excited. 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’ve driven, with an excellent stereo system and good fuel economy, I was ready to go.

Ford Mustang Yee Ha

My destination was the Shenandoah National Park. The Interstate drive was anywhere between four and six or more lanes across and both sides of the road was constant trees and greenery, it was very picturesque. After four hours or so I stopped at the entrance and purchased myself a National Park Service Season Pass. A Season pass gave me access to all the US National Park for the year and was about three times the cost of a one-day ticket entry. I would be visiting plenty of parks so thought this was great value. I headed along Skyline drive for roughly 3 hours looking over an endless sea of green thick forest in all directions. It was a pleasant sunny day, there was little traffic and driving conditions were optimal, I was almost as pleased with the park as I was with the car. I did a little hiking, skipped a stone on the Shenandoah River, saw a few waterfalls and plenty of wildlife, but mostly I just drove with the roof down, wind running through my hair.

Wind running through my hair….. wait

In total, my first day of travel from Washington through the park was 8 hours, for the evening I’d booked a “luxurious” Hotel 6 in Asheville, North Carolina. I checked into the hotel and wandered around the small beautiful small tourist town , I found out Asheville is known for its idealic location, friendly people’s and quality eating. There are also 20 craft breweries in town which had a great appeal. I ate some buffalo wings and immediately started “sampling” as many local brews as possible. It was a quiet night and not many people about so mostly ended up speaking to bartenders and local barflies. This was my first time by myself in the USA out at night and found it all very friendly, I also managed to get used to the idea of tipping, something I have found to be very American. After several samples, I stumbled back to my hotel and fell asleep.

Cherokee

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, it was all every tasty and I was assured by the hotel staff also healthy… not sure about that. I wandered about town for an hour digesting last night and breakfast, Asheville really was beautiful, it was a shame Id only spent a night, but I had a timetable to stick to so I headed back to the hotel, jumped in the car and tore off again, this time to the Smokey Mountain National Park. Hopefully one day Ill get back to friendly Aeshville, I imagine on the weekends the town would be much more popular.

I found myself in the town of Cherokee, a small place and home of the Cherokee Indian, I’d heard of them on TV show F Troop, or maybe it was the Jeep Cherokee Car. The town is the 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. There was also a museum that had details on the Chickamauga Wars which was when the settlers and the Cherokee Indians fought battles in the late 1700’s, also the American Civil War where the Cherokee sided with the Union and Confederates. After the museum I went and purchased myself a dreamcatcher to hang on the rear view mirror (its for luck) and then headed into the Park.

The route through Smokey Mountain was only 90 kilometres so I had plenty of time to take in the park. I went on a short hike, I found out the park is famed for its wildlife including black bears, forests and spectacular views. It in many ways resembled the Shenandoah from the day before. I then headed to the Clingman Dome, at its peak it is roughly 2000 metres making it the highest mountain in the state of Tennessee. After an hour climb, I walkied onto a sprial concrete walkway which leads to a domed shape observation tower. Unfortunately, the view cloud obscured the view by cloud so I could not see much, just low level cloud and a few hundred metres over the tree canpoy. I stayed there for about 20 minutes and then realised how chilly it was, apparently board shorts, thongs and a singlet is not appropriate clothing in the morning on Smokey Mountain. I headed back to the car and continued on.

Clingman Dome

 I exited the park, my destination was Nashville Tennessee, on the way through I drove through the town of Pigeon Forge an unexpected and surreal experience. The city essentially is one huge theme park with a seemingly endless variety of putt-putt golf greens, water slides and the massive Dolly World which is based on the life of Dolly Parton. I really only had time for one garish over the top display so I pulled into the carpark of the ship Titanic for lunch. I went into this “amazing” restaurant, Taco Bell, which the staff member assured me was very healthy, gorged myself on 12 healthy tacos and then headed for Titanic (after 12 tacos I was feeling Titanic).  Now the Titanic I found out is to scale, well half the scale as its half the shipt, it was designed however to look like the original ship and is to scale or at least the half what they built. It contained 20 galleries, had 400 exhibits and is the largest Titanic museum in the world. My expectation was pretty low but I actually learnt a lot in this frankly bizarre display, half a Titanic in Pigeon Forge on the other side of the world from England where the original ship was built. It was a surreal but educational experience, I often wonder if Dolly World is just as rewarding.

Well this was my drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It took a 2 days though I think much more time could be spent discovering the area with its beauty and history. I enjoyed my night out in Ashville, learning more about the Cherokee Indian than sound bites from old American TV Comedy shows. I also learned the history of the Titanic, its can be very weird what you discover when traveling on the road. Mostly however Id gained a further appreciation of American Muscle cars. I was very much enjoying being on the road for the sake of actually driving, the novelty of the car would wear off as I head further into the USA. It had been a great couple of days on my Road Trip, next up I was heading for Nashville and Ill have a blog out soon.

The Beginning of My Road Trip Along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Stop Off at the Titanic

Shenandoah view

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..

Mustang Road Trip

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.

Only later did I learn my hair had blown 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…