A Slow Trip up the Blue Ridge Parkway

After a night just north of Cherokee, a place we really do not have the urge to revisit, we found our way to the Blue Ridge Parkway about 50 miles north of its southern end in The Great Smoky Mountains. We left behind the dramatic presentation Unto These Hills – a Dramatic Retelling of Cherokee History and Cades Cove and many wonderful hikes that will have to wait for another day, another trip. We had decided at some point to retrace a trip we had taken in 1984 with a tent and B and B guide but going northward, the direction of the Appalachian Trail through hikers, this time. Our first stop was Asheville, the home of The Biltmore, and many art galleries and wonderful scenery. Although I wanted to see The Biltmore again, we decided to focus on hiking, craft shopping and galleries.

Having done an exploratory drive up the Parkway to the closure and a nice hike we came back through Asheville to see if we could find Mast General Store to see if they could outfit me with hiking boots. We could not find parking and we were tired so we went back to Gee 2 for relaxation and dinner. The next day we set out to shop at the Allanstand Folk Art Center on the Parkway. It is one of five craft centers representing North Carolina crafters. After successful shopping there among some of the finest crafts we’ve seen we set out for Asheville again and this time we found parking. Before we could get to the store however we walked into Blue Spiral Gallery and were lost for over an hour. The space is immense, the collection superb and the people were very warm. It was now lunch time so we retraced steps to a spot we had noticed driving in called Mellow Mushroom where we had a delightful lunch on the street under the warm sun. The shopping at Mast General was less satisfying and I still have my 30 year old Danner hiking boots. Several galleries later including a wonderful new photography gallery left us ready for rest. After happy hour with neighbors in the campground we had a light dinner and some reading before falling asleep exhausted.

As we pulled out of Tapps RV in Asheville we knew we were facing a major detour around a large landslide about 15 miles north of us. We skipped the 50 miles, having explored the southern portion up to the slide area by car the day before. We began the journey using a wonderful book “Walking the Blue Ridge” by Leonard M. Adkins. We have had this book for a dozen years or more, but little changes on the Parkway. We had two problems. The book is laid out North to South so we felt like we reading Hebrew as we started with the book opening from the right (the back to English readers) and worked our way forward. This resulted in a number of surprises as we failed to leap ahead to the beginning of a section to read the background that we were traversing in reverse order. The other “problem” was the date. Very little (next to nothing) is open on the Parkway before May 1. This included campgrounds. I called the ranger desk and was told that Linville Falls and Peaks of Otter were the only two that were open. There is over 200 miles of ridgeline between them. Well 50% is better than nothing. We spent two lovely nights in Linville Falls CG with a couple of other RV’s and two Hosts. Even the water was not on, no problem for us as we bring our own, but for the hosts it was a very real issue. They are promised full hookups. We took a lovely hike to Linville Falls from the campground where we met and hiked with Dennis and Beth Bedell, the other motorhomers camped near us. They joined us for happy hour later that day after we went exploring in the car.

From Winter 09 Vol 2

From Winter 09 Vol 2

From Winter 09 Vol 2

On the exploration we came across the Altapass Orchard.

From Winter 09 Vol 2

It was closed, but we saw activity and pulled in. We met the owner who has been running the orchard and retail store for 16 years. They have live local music on weekends and are working to preserve the orchard and its surroundings. The place was built by the railroad to generate freight for their new rail line. We were told that rail buffs will recognize the Clinchfield Loops as an amazing railroading achievement and it is still in use and visible from the orchard stand. We drove on and returned to Gee 2 eventually.

The next morning, with Carol at the helm, we continued north. Our major stop was at the Moses Cone Manor House. The weather was not friendly and it was snowing as we pulled into the parking lot. The Manor sits on a large estate that was given to the Parkway. It comprises the house and miles of carriage trails overlooking Blowing Rock. The manor house is another of the Craft Guild chain and the material on display is just wonderful. Fortunately we are space limited in the motorhome and are very much in “look, don’t buy” mode. We sat in the coach with the dining table overlooking the valley while we enjoyed our lunch and the view. Along the way we stopped in more overlooks and roadside pull offs than it is reasonable to record. Many of these stops for just a few minutes so the driver could take time to see and enjoy the scenery. Our stop for the night was in the town of Meadows of Dan, Virginia, at the Meadows of Dan Campground. It seemed familiar and it was. We had stayed there in 2003 when we joined Dan’s family for the Floyd Fest music festival along the BRP nearby.

Our plan for the following day was to camp at Peaks of Otter and continue our exploration of that area. We have stayed there twice before, once in a tent many years ago. It is a beautiful place with a lodge across the lake from the campground and a trip to Sharp Top that can be hiked or for a small charge there is a bus to the top. Actually one year we climbed another peak and were almost to the bottom before Carol missed her camera. We ran back to the top and it was gone. We stopped at the ranger station to report it and he already had it and was holding it for us. There are also many engaging level walks in the area. Our stop was not to be this time. It was still closed! I called to ask if we might stay over in the picnic area, but the ranger said that the enforcement division would not be happy. We got out the books and settled on Yogi Bear Jellystone RV Resort in Natural Bridge. The only reason we stayed there was that the alternative was a KOA that cost more and had nothing more to offer that we wanted. Germain, the GPS, said we should continue north a bit a then turn left on Petites Gap road for the best route to the campground. We verified that the GPS was set to AVOID unpaved roads. As I turned left over Carol’s well stated qualms I said “see the road is paved” for the first 100 yards! We entered a roughly 3,000 foot descent in 5 miles on a road that was single track dirt with occasional turnouts for vehicles to pass. Since we are used to the road to Dan and Malena’s I was most concerned about the tightness of the hairpins and the steepness of the descent. The turns were fine, if a bit scary, and the descent was first gear and foot on the brakes all the way down. We met three cars coming up and were fortunate that they could see us in time to pull off and let us pass. We would stay at this campground again if necessary as we have once before. We would not enjoy it in season as it clearly caters to families with noisy children and has many wonderful attractions for them.

Thursday found us on our last lap on the Parkway as we climbed up route 501 to rejoin the Parkway at its lowest point crossing the James River where it crosses the Blue Ridge, this is 649 feet. The highest elevation in Virginia is 10 miles to the south at 3,950, we did most of this descent on the aforementioned dirt road! We stopped at the river crossing to enjoy the trails that reach the river’s edge and pass under the BRP bridge as it crosses the river.

Some spelling errors are easier to correct than others:

From Winter 09 Vol 2

and here is the Pedestrain at the Pedestrain Overlook.

From Winter 09 Vol 2

We made one more stop that day at Indian Gap for a very short hike, about.3 mile round trip, to a wonderful jumble of immense boulders that would be a wonderful playground for children of most ages. After a lunch stop in a pull out overlooking Sherando Lake I took the helm and we began a familiar drive that brought us to Dan and Malena’s early afternoon.

We are here until Sunday, May 3 and then we will try to make the 500 miles to Rochester in one day, unless we take two.
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From Winter 09 Vol 2

Five days and 1000 Miles – Civil Rights History Revisited

Eventually Carol will post a detailed retelling of our visit with Ruth Stewart in Houston. Briefly we had a wonderful day visiting this 92 year old women who proceeded to drive us around Houston and tell us her life story as a black singer performer in the era of segregation. She performed and studied in Europe before returning to the US eventually to become a teacher at Southern Texas University.

The next morning we left Livingston with the idea of seeing two more major stops on the Civil Rights Trail we have been following for the past 7 years. But first, my hiking boots are 30 years old or so and are worn out. I need to find new ones and I saw we were passing near a Bass Pro shop in Jackson MS. I also know that Bass Pro shops allow free overnight parking. It seemed like a bright idea to head there for planned shopping and a “free” overnight stop. It worked out fine, but they did not have the boot I wanted in the size I need. When we came out of the store the lot was mobbed. Across the street is a baseball stadium and Mississippi State and University of Mississippi (Miss v Ole Miss) were playing the Governors Cup. With the score Ole Miss 8 to 1 in the 7th the crowd began to break up and by 9:30 we were able to move to the edge of the lot and set up for the night.

The next morning we got up before the store opened and moved out relatively early for a three hour run to Selma, AL. I called ahead to find out if there was parking for us nearby at the National Voters Rights Museum and Institute just down the street from the Edmund Pettus Bridge which you might remember as the site of Bloody Sunday in 1965 – rather than my trying to write a history you can read about it at http://www.nvrm.org/ We found parking three doors down in front of the Masonic Temple. After spending enough time to absorb the story and some of the material we moved on to Montgomery, driving over the Edmund Pettus Bridge and following the root of march across US 80 to the steps of the Capitol there. Actually we checked into the Woods RV Park on the edge of Montgomery and used the car to go first to the Rosa Parks Museum. We arrived with only an hour left to closing, but were able to take in the multimedia exhibit and most of the rest of the presentation. There is a Montgomery City Bus and the story of Rosa Parks’ quiet rebellion is played out on the windows of the bus while we stand in front of the theater that was the bus stop where it happened. This was very powerful, maybe one of the strongest presentations of all the museums and memorials we have seen.

One is inclined to say “dayenu” (Hebrew for “it would be sufficient”-the translation loses something). We drove from there toward the Capitol building, another obsession of ours and also the destination of the March from Selma. I did not realize that the church that Martin Luther King Jr was pastor of at that time was the closest private property within a block of the capitol. After we walked all over the capitol grounds we walked back to the church because our car was parked there. We saw a gentleman outside the church clearly waiting for something and he greeted us with the standard question we get when someone sees our NY plates out of context, “where you folks from?” with this for a conversation starter we figured out he was the current pastor of the church, the only other car parked on the street was in the pastor’s parking spot. He invited us in for a tour of the church and a bit of explanation of its history.

Now we decided to have dinner in town. Throwing a dart at the restaurant guide we came of with Nancy Paterson’s Bistro. When we arrived at the specified address there was no such restaurant. Not to be denied Carol called and determined that they could satisfy her vegetarian needs and got driving directions. They were wrong and we chased all over town. Three calls later – believing that this restaurant had become the holy grail – we arrived there. It was worth all the chasing around, it is a superb bistro and the people are very nice. I would not hesitate to send anyone there with the expectation they would have a fine (not inexpensive) meal. They also make a fine martini.

Up early the next morning we rolled out for another 300+ mile day. This brought us through Atlanta, right through on I 85, and eventually up to the Cherokee, NC area where we stayed at Fort Wilderness CG, terrible entrance road and WiFi didn’t work. Up again early and onto the Blue Ridge Parkway for a log slow haul to Tapps RV in Asheville. We will stay here again when we are in the area. Great location near the BRP and town, good WiFi and slow laundry. Nice people both staff and fellow Rvers.

I see that the pictures I want to include are still not processed, I’ll update this and repost when I have the pictures on line.

Ruminations on Indecisiveness

We couldn’t seem to decide on our route. Each day we looked at the weather and changed our mind about how far north or south we wanted to go. The fact that the weather to the east of us was dreadful did not help. We thought about going to Big Bend or Falcon State Park to stay warm, but low to mid 90’s seems to be a bit too warm. As I wrote the above we were sitting in El Paso, TX. You would think this is about as far south as you can get, but traveling east we could take US 90 and really go south or further on we can pick up I 20 heading toward Dallas. Eventually we needed to know whether we would continue even further north toward I 40 or stay south and come up I 59 or I 75.

Amazing! as we pressed on east on I 10 past Van Horn and Ft Stockton with the idea of reaching Junction by 6 PM or so I spied a sign I had seen several times before., Sonora Caverns and with that sign was another advertising Sonora Caverns RV Park We had been on the road 6 or 7 hours and the idea of a cavern and a campground seemed like a great idea. Both highway signs listing camping had no indication of this campground. None of our campground guides list it and the only reference we found was in the “Next Exit” with a mention that it was 8 miles off the exit and no other information. As we pulled into the drive a family member(?) greeted us, told us how to get into the pull through campsites and said we could pay in the morning with our cavern tour.

We were all alone in the campground for 30 minutes.

From Winter 09 Vol 2

From Winter 09 Vol 2

While we were setting up, a tow truck pulled pickup truck pulling a fifth wheel camper into the campground spotted them in a campsite and left. This is not the best way to arrive in a campground that is 50 miles from no place. We eventually met the travelers a father, son and son-in-law from England. They were hauling the fifth wheel and a U Haul trailer behind a rental car from Baja to Miami, this day they had made negative 30 miles. It being Friday night 50 miles from no place they had bought the replacement parts they thought they might need to repair the 1984 Ford pick up which had been sitting and rotting for 10 years in Las Vegas.

We wandered up to the lodge/shop/entrance to the caverns to scope out the situation and discovered that they were starting a tour in fifteen minutes with a party of two. On the spot we decided to delay dinner and go on the 1 ½ to 2 hour tour at 6 PM rather than waiting. WOW!!!!

From Winter 09 Vol 2
From Winter 09 Vol 2

We have been in many public and private caverns and experienced many disappointments, but this cavern is one of the most beautiful we have been in and, once past the dormant areas that had been vandalized in the early years, we saw more formations and areas covered with a great variety natural formations than either of us can remember.

From Winter 09 Vol 2
From Winter 09 Vol 2
From Winter 09 Vol 2
From Winter 09 Vol 2

This is one of the few caverns that is warm and humid, the temperature was high 70’s and the humidity was said to be 98%.

We returned to the surface and walked down to Gee 2 and could see our neighbors deep under the hood of the old truck. They were to remain there until late into the night. In the morning we heard the truck engine sputtering and roaring and when we spoke they seemed satisfied that they were going to go on down the road after they had a chance to tour the cavern. We pulled out and will not get to hear the next chapter of their story. We rolled on to Jim Hogg Park, an Army Corp of Engineers facility (COE) near Georgetown, TX just north of Austin. We are visiting with Patrick and Leigh Rainwater and will move on Monday to Livingston, TX where we will have our own Sedar and take some time to see Houston.

I guess we have made some decisions at least for the next week.

A week later and I haven’t gotten around to posting this yet. It has been pouring on and off and this is the first rain day we can remember in a couple of months. We settled into Rainbow’s End, the Escapee home park in Livingston, TX with the idea that we would take a day trip into Houston, 75 miles to the south, and be settled for the beginning of Pesach (Passover) with full hookups in familiar surroundings.

From Winter 09 Vol 2

We had no idea of finding other Jews to share any of the holiday with, which would be a very strange holiday for us. The second afternoon here we were sitting in the sun reading when a woman came from the financial planning office on the adjacent street corner and asked if we would witness a will signing. As we walked in we noted a lot of Jewish material on the walls and bookshelves. Our initial reaction was mixed as this is evangelical country and their professed love of Israel leads many to adopt Jewish symbols for their own. However as soon as Dave opened his mouth the sounds of Long Island filled the room and we knew we had found something rare, Jewish residents in Livingston, TX. We found out just how rare on Friday night when we were invited for Shabbat dinner with the entire Livingston Jewish community, all six if them plus some spouses.

We took our first run into Houston and went to the Rothko Chapel, the Cy Twombley building and the Menil Collection plus the Houston Center for Photography. We also saw the Richmond Hall installation of Dan Flavin. Of course in the Menil Collection there was a Donald Judd and several John Chamberlins. The collection also includes an extensive collection of surrealists although there were no Dalis on display. We spent five hours or more in these exhibits and then went over to the Museum of Contemporary Art which had an exhibit based on puppets. It was apparent that the subject was misleading to parents who thought it would be welcoming for children. There were warning signs at the entrance, but we still saw young children going though with their parents. The show is very strong and much of the material is clearly not suitable for children, some not for me either.

We plan to go back to Houston to visit a woman who Carol met and befriended on an interminable shuttle from LAX to our children’s home a year ago. Then we have set a route through Selma and Montgomery AL to continue our exploration of the Civil Rights Movement in the South. From there it seems that all otherwise reasonable routes to Charlottesville require that we pass though Atlanta and so it will be.