Fall 2018 - We Do The Blue Ridge

Ralph's Blog

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A Small Problem

There's one big problem with this edition of our blog: we spent quite a bit of time visiting friends and family. That means we mostly talked and ate, so there aren't any pictures from those times. So I start out this blog by simply mentioning that we visited Judy's brother in West Virginia once again. Nothing exciting happened, other than we got to visit a shelter for homeless dogs as Mac's wife Rachael occupies her time caring for dogs who need a lot of attention. Sort of a hospice for elderly, sick dogs, if you will. You never lack for attention when visiting their house.

On To The Blue Ridge

Virginia is home to two of the more interesting National Parks, Shenandoah and The Blue Ridge Parkway. Both consist entirely of a long, winding road, Shenandoah running 105 miles from Front Royal VA to Waynesboro VA and the Blue Ridge Parkway, 469 miles from Waynesboro VA to Cherokee NC. As if that wasn't enough, the Blue Ridge Parkway ends at the beginning of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

We drove about half of Shenandoah a few years ago so this year we decided to do the Blue Ridge, taking 18 days to cover the 469 miles.

There are campgrounds on the Parkway, but with our 37 food fifth wheel most of them are too small to accommodate us. Thus we made reservations at nearby campgrounds, then drove that stretch of parkway and returned home at night. Naturally we visited lots of places nearby, too.

One of those places was Ciro's Flying Pizza. The last time we were in the area (back in 2016) they made a mean pizza. The good news is they still do, so if you ever decide to do the Blue Ridge Parkway I highly recommend starting the trip with a visit to Ciro's.

We started our Blue Ridge adventure with a visit to the famous Luray Caverns; we couldn't miss a visit to them. By now we've seen just about all the interesting formations that nature has come up with over the millions of years it has to produce an artwork, but each cave has it's own charm. Here are some of the highlights.

Who you get as a tour guide makes a big difference. We have been an a few caves more than once, and some of the guides are in love with the place and can fill in the details, others deliver a canned speech. It's the luck of the draw which type you get on any one visit.

Above ground we ran into this fine fellow.

Beginning our trek on the Parkway itself, we found this curious sign.

In case you can't read it, it says: In June and July, during corn-chopping time, this cliff serves the folks in White Rock community as a time piece. Twenty minutes after sunlight strikes the rock face, dusk falls on the valley below.

As is true all along the Parkway, there are magnificent vistas wherever you look.

If you're there at the right time of day, you can see the clouds drifting slowly down the high valleys.


Click for short video clip

The Appalachian Trail crosses the parkway, where we met these intrepid hikers who had started out sometime in Spring in the state of Maine. Since we met them on September 28, they'd been on the trail quite some time. These days my aging and somewhat arthritic body can cope with about a mile of hiking before surrendering; even in my youth I couldn't imagine doing what they were attempting. We wished them good luck and got back in our pickup to continue the easy way down the road.

The Blue Ridge Music Center

As a lifelong folkie, being down in the territory that lent its name to Bluegrass Music was a treat. Naturally we stopped at The Blue Ridge Music Center for a couple of days. They have free folk concerts every afternoon on the patio and we had a simply wonderful time listening.

Not only did was the music for listening, but there was dancing as well. One of the band members was a clogger and one couple near us got up and waltzed to the music.

There were some interesting exhibits in the museum, lots of fine instruments and some historical material that we gladly sampled. If you're traveling the Blue Ridge, plan a couple of days to stop there for the music.

Stone Mountain

No, not the Stone Mountain outside Atlanta, this one is in the Appalachians. There are magnificent views everywhere, like this patch of bare stone on the side of the mountain.

The Beringer Cabin

We stopped at The Brinegar cabin along the way. Much as we love the outdoors, I wouldn't want to live in a small cabin during the winter while waiting to do the backbreaking work of farming in the summer. I have to admire the fortitude and perseverance of those hearty souls who lived that life.

I found an interesting site with Pictures of the cabin before restoration. This site shows the landscape before it was cleaned up. We take large lawns for granted these days, but they didn't have lawnmowers in the 1870s, so vast expanses of lawn were the province of the very rich, not a dirt farmer.

Rant time

About the time I was writing this, we we went out to dinner with family and friends to one of those restaurants with a big TV every few feet along the wall. Personally, I find that annoying, I want to visit with my friends, not be distracted by the tube. Naturally, I was distracted by the tube - two in particular. One was showing Faux Noise, but it kept breaking up into those annoying little squares and freezing, so I figured the Big Tech Guy in the sky was on the job and protecting us poor mortals.

The other was showing a Western, and after a few minutes I recognized Michael Landon. I was confused at first, since the story was set in a cabin in the woods; how did that connect with the Little House on the Prairie? Since I never read the books or saw the TV series, I turned to the Internet and found that one of the books was called Little House in the Big Woods. You learn something new every day, even if it's pretty much useless.

What did strike me is how much the scriptwriters had cleaned up the story. I mean that literally: the women were wearing beautiful dresses with lots of decorations, and those dresses were scrupulously clean even though the family had just barely made it home through a snowstorm. Everybody, even the Indian (of course he was an Indian - we didn't call them Native Americans in 1870) had freshly washed, conditioned and combed hair. There must have been an Early American Laundromat nearby with a passel of servants to keep up appearances.

As I remember, the Little House books were about a poor family trying to make it in the West, but these guys were freakin' rich! Their big, strapping horses had tack that wouldn't be out of place in the show ring at the County Fair. The cabin had glass windows, fer cryin' out loud! The process that allowed cheap manufacture of window glass wasn't invented until after 1900. The Beringer cabin had glass windows, but it was being lived in until sometime in the 1930s, so that isn't all that surprising.

Now I'll complain about the plot. It revolved about the all-too-good-looking-father having to go out in the blizzard to chop firewood to keep the family warm, where he is saved by the Noble Savage when he screws up and almost freezes to death.

Say what? How could any responsible person living on the frontier not have a pile of cut and seasoned wood outside his cabin long before winter set in? Could anyone be so stupid to go into the woods to chop green wood every time he needs to stoke the fire? Give me a break!

Every time I watch TV I am freshly reminded why I don't watch TV.

End of rant.

Back to the Blue Ridge

Then there is this versions of the Tom Doola story. There are a whole slew of variations in the folklore, as evidenced by the the Wikipedia entry for him. Check out Sharyn McCrumb's The Ballad of Tom Dooley for a very interesting take on the story.

Here is some more of the scenery we passed.

While it doesn't compare to our time in the Rockies, there are some respectable mountains on this side of the country. We couldn't see much from the highest peak because that day was very cloudy. Those clouds were moving by us at unbelievable speeds and the wind was downright cold!

The End of the Parkway

We spent 18 days traveling the parkway, stopping for three days to explore the area and then going a bit further. The Parkway itself is a beautiful drive, and there are interesting things to stop at in the town along the way. I hope you can take the time to visit some day, it's well worth it.

By the way, the Parkway map shows several low bridges near the southern end, but those are the bridges under the parkway, our 12' 9" RV would have had no problems traveling from end-to-end. There are many RV parks along the parkway, but most of the sites are too small for our 37' RV. We stayed at private RV parks at intervals along the way, and then drove with only our pickup along the Parkway.

The parkway ends at Cherokee NC, but almost immediately the road leads you into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In other words, you can start at the north end of Shenandoah National Park and drive for days to the end of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and still be within a National Park. The views in the Great Smokies aren't much different from the Parkway, but the entire thing is a treasure.

The Oconaluftee Indian Village

When you finish the Blue Ridge Parkway, you don't want to miss The Oconaluftee Indian Village. The place shows you what life was like for Native Americans in the 18th century, with lots of demonstrations and fascinating people to explain just what they are doing and why they are doing it. Here's a short clip of one of the dances:


Click for short video clip

So OK, the costuming wasn't all authentic, but the lady swore that her Area 51 Alien Sweatshirt was really traditional. They have a tradition of keeping warm on cool days like the day we visited.

Columbia SC

Oddly enough, the most interesting thing there was the world's biggest fire hydrant. I kid you not! Our dog Maxie wasn't impressed, but we were. Also very cool was the mural in the parking lot for the fire hydrant.

Imagine Our Embarrassment

We spent three days in Savannah Georgia, stayed at a wonderful RV park that was a working horse ranch (Judy was in ecstasy) even took a bus tour of the place. We both have cell phones with cameras and I had the good SLR. Somehow we didn't take one, single picture of the place.

The best I can do is show you this image from a commercial site. Mea cupla, mea maxima culpa.

Photo by Pegleess Barrios from Burst

Orlando

In Orlando, our friend Maureen introduced us to the work of Dale Chihuly.An amazing sculptor working in colorful glass, he produces large scale, fantastic creations that are incredibly beautiful.

The museum of his work in St Petersburg is a must-see if you're ever in the area. He also has installations and artwork scattered across the country.

Halloween

We pretty much hightailed it from Florida to Texas without stopping to sight-see. By pure coincidence we were at the KOA in Scott, Louisiana on the weekend they celebrated Halloween. The campground was packed and there was an incredible number of kids in costumes roaming the park, and the trailers were all decorated, too. In the five years we have been on the road, Halloween has pretty much passed us by, so this came as a surprise.

In another coincidence, we were bringing some of our Halloween decorations from New York to Texas for the kids, so we were able to put out our giant spider and the pumpkin man for the occasion. A quick trip to the convenience store netted us some candy to pass out and we had a fine time watching the kids - not to mention the adults.

Our Photographer Grandson

Reaching Texas, we settled in and grandson Franti eagerly grabbed my camera and started taking pictures. Here for your edification are the results.

Thus ended our travels for 2018, see you next year.

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