I recently took a
trip along the Virginia section of the parkway and was
overwhelmed by the view and attractions I saw. I now understand
why the National Park
Service refers to it as " Experiencing America's Favorite
Drive." Not only is it a Scenic Byway, it's one of only
31 of the 120 National
Scenic Byways that is designated an All-American Roads. This
means it offers features that do not exist elsewhere in the
United States and are unique and important enough to be
considered a tourist destinations in themselves. Let me take you
for a short hop on the Virginia end of the Blue Ridge Parkway
and you will see why that is so true.
Natural Bridge of Virginia
(MP 61.6, 63.7)
There are lots of changes
going on at Natural Bridge now. It has changed hands and is
destined to become a state park in several years. Major
renovations are due to be finished by March, 2015.
is so much more than the actual bridge. The entire resort is
about 1600 acres. It
includes the inn, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and
cottages, gift shop, and the natural attractions including the
caverns, a Monican Indian exhibit, the play Drama of Creation
and the highlight of it all, the Natural Bridge.
Some of the attractions
that are currently there but do not reflect the image of the
natural phenomena, such as the wax museum, will be removed. New
trails and birding tours will be added
The Bridge was stunning to see for the
first time. It's size and shape are awesome. It rises 215 feet
above ground level and has a 90 foot span. Geologically Natural
Bridge was formed by the action of Cedar Creek, a tributary of
the James River, carving out a gorge in the limestone rock over
millions of years.
Natural Bridge was first touted as a
tourist attraction by Thomas Jefferson., Jefferson bought the
bridge and 157 acres of land around it In 1774 for 20 shillings
that would equate to about $160 today.
He called it "the most sublime of nature's works" and
around the turn of the century he opened it to visitors for a
.02 cents admission.
|Victoria explains the customs of
the Monican Indians
As we proceeded along the path to the
gorge, there is a spot where you see a white outlined box with
the initials "GW" carved in the limestone. Dean Ferguson, the
resident historian, escorted us and explained why he doubts the
veracity of the legend. He believes it was most likely conceived
when the property
was put up for sale by Jefferson's estate in an effort to boost
interest and bring a higher price.
In addition to the bridge, there is a
Monican Indian village at the end of the path. The Monicans have
their own beliefs about the origin of the bridge. They believe
it miraculously opened to offer them an escape route during a
battle with the Powhaten Tribe.
Dean's wife Victoria, who is a member of
the tribe, showed us around. Native workers were busy going
about everyday tasks such as cooking cornbread, sewing moccasins
and other task that were a part of the Indians daily routine
there are about 1600 Monicans in Virginia.
|Deer grazing near Peaks of Otter
Peaks of Otter (MP 84, 87) Continuing along the Blue Ridge
Parkway, we arrived at another scenic wonder. The Peaks of Otter
is one of the most picturesque spots in the Blue Ridge. The
peaks are Sharp Top, Flat Top and Harkening Hill with Manmade
Abbott Lake in the valley between the peaks just behind the
Peaks of Otter Lodge and Restaurant.
The lodge makes a great base to explore the
peaks. We visited and ate in the dining room. Food was great and
the lodge rooms while not luxurious looked so comfy. You have a
great view of the lake from almost all the rooms and can step
out your back door and wander down to the water.
There is some debate about how they came to
be named "otter." One thing for sure, they are not named for the
little river animal. There are no otters around here. The most
logical theory is that Charles and Robert Ewing, early colonists
from Scotland, settled here in the early 1700s and named them
"otter" which is very common in Scotland.
|Bus to the peaks of Otter
There is a lot to see and do around the
Peaks. You will find a winery named for them. Peaks of Otter
Winery and Orchard is a place to relax with a glass of The Mango
Tango or PUFF. an apple wine with a touch of Dragon Fruit added.
You can tour the winery or go into adjourning Johnson Orchard
and pick you own apples.
There are great hiking trails but if
you are a bit lazier like me, take the tour bus to within 1,500
feet of Sharp Top. I hiked up from that point and was rewarded
with a view that is out of this world. You can detour off the
parkway less than 10 miles and visit Bedford, home of the D Day
National Memorial. (Click here for more )
Explore Park (MP 115) Much more than a visitors center,
Explore Park offers the traditional visitors Center services,
information about Roanoke Valley. The park is 1100 acres and
already has 15 miles of hiking and biking trails two miles of
river frontage. It has eleven historical building on the site.
Mountain Church dating back to the 1800s and is used for
|Church at Explore Park
The main function is education. Doug
Blount, Director of Parks and Recreation for Roanoke County,
envisions something more. He sees, " An outdoor adventure
park. We are working with venders to put in campgrounds
and cabins as well as boats and horses. We want to continue that
outdoor brand where when you come to the park instead of staying
for the day you are staying for several because of all the
outdoor activities here."
You can jump off the parkway and visit Roanoke. there is so much
there to do it will have an entier article in a later issue but
just as a teaser, here are a few fun things there: The Star and
Overlook where you get a unique view of the city of Roanoke
under the world's largest manmade star atop Mill Mountain. Just
down the road a bit, you discover The Discovery Center and
Roanoke Zoo. For all the neat thhgs to do downtown, you will
just have to wait for the article on Roanoke so keep checking in
to American Roads
The Blue Ridge Parkway follows the entire southern border of
Floyd County so there are several access points you could take,
either route 8 or Black Ridge Road. Floyd is the heart of Floyd
county, a fiddling, artistic, rural
community filled with treasures. visual, audio and
antique treasures. It's part of The Crooked Road: Virginia's
Heritage Music Trail.
We visited the Floyd Country Store. don't
let the name fool you. It's so much more than a store. It is a
toe tapping, hand clapping. real live music venue each weekend
and scene of a live radio broadcast.
a short distance from the heart of town is Chateau Morrisette
Winery. We toured and ate lunch there and boy was it great. The
wines were all good. The view and the restaurant merged to
create a perfect dining experience.
Castle Gorge overlook (MP 169) For one of the most scenic
overlooks in the Blue Ridge, stop at
Rock Castle Gorge. (see header image)If you are a hiker, you can hike to Rocky Knob Cabins, built by the Civilian Conservation
Corps in the 1930s and the only cabins for rent on the Blue
Ridge Parkway. They were closed down but Lorri Knies, our interpreter
at Mabry Mill said the park service is actively searching for a
way to get them reopened..
Mabry Mill (MP176,1) One of the most impressive stops on the
Parkway for me. Mabry Mill is a collection of historic buildings with living
history interpreters. Lorrie, explained that, " The landscape
designers fell in love with the mill. If you are thinking that
this is such a pretty setting , that's why there was a designer
involved. The mill is original. The blacksmith shop is sort of
original and in the original site. Other building have been
moved in. They brought in a cabin built in the mid 1860s right
after the Civil War. The mill wheel is fully functional"
led us down to the mill which was originally build by Ed and
Lizzie Mabry in 1899. Lorrri commented, "Lizzie was an amazing
woman, she was the best miller around. Ed was the wheelwright."
An interesting event occurred while we were
watching the weaver display her skill, a couple came in. The
woman was carrying a bundle which she proudly unrolled to show
the weaver and those of us gathered around. It was a beautifully
patterned blanket she had woven. The old arts are not dead yet.
Mike Bryan, one of the rangers and an
expert on the mill, told us about how the mill came into being.
"Ed and Lizzie bought the property in 1899. Ed's goal in life
form a very young age was to build thing. So he and Lizzie moved
ot West Va and learned blacksmith and carpentty skills. He made
good mony and sld the farm he had her and bought this land form
the Thompsons and built the blacksmith shop and then the mill
and then the woodworking shop… Lizzie did the grinding which she
loved. Ed did the building which he loved."
Mike showed us the working of the mill and
the sawmill. It was a true adventure in time. I hated to leave
much as I hate to end the article but sometimes we do what we
must. I suggest that you must take a trip to this magic place
and see its wonders for yourself.
For more info: