The Blue Ridge Parkway is a paradox that every American should experience at least once in their lives. This iconic and historic thoroughfare tours the heart of Appalachia, offering a welcomed respite to those looking to escape the trappings of modern American life. For 469 molasses-slow miles you’ll find no fast food or amusement parks. Cell phone service is spotty, and if you drive it in the fall you’ll forgo two days of televised football. When you reach the end there is nothing there, just the beginning of another long, windy road called Skyline Drive. My wife and I reveled in this kind of escapism and planned a south-to-north tour of the entire parkway. For two days we twisted and turned up the Blue Ridge Mountains, hunting for epic Autumn foliage. Here is our trip in 10 spectacular views.pTanbark Ridge Overlook Technically we did not drive the entire parkway. We entered just south of Asheville, skipping about 60 miles of Nantahala National Forest. Regrettably, we missed a couple noteworthy viewpoints, like Devil’s Courthouse and Richland Balsam, the highest point on the parkway. About ten miles north of Asheville, near the Folk Art Center, we found Tanbark Ridge. Apparently a tannery use to occupy the site. Today an incredible view is all that remains.pBlack Mountain Gap Thick fog made for a challenging drive through Craggy Gardens. The descent from these misty heights revealed one the most magnificent panoramas of the entire trip. From mile marker 360 to Black Mountain Gap, we were stunned by the easterly view, where late afternoon sun, vibrant red, orange, and yellow leaves, evergreens, wispy clouds, and a shimmering Lake Burnett all played their part in a natural orchestra. Mount Mitchell State Park At Black Mountain Gap, a quick left turn takes you up 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi. The contrast of the pines and maples at the entrance of the state park are breathtaking.Thanks to its elevation the southern end of the parkway actually displayed more change in foliage than in northern Virginia. That very night a layer of ice covered Mount Mitchell. We, meanwhile, sojourned north in search of fall, not winter. Linn Cove Viaduct As we pushed on toward Grandfather Mountain, we were beset by blustery, fall weather. Leaves danced along the pavement, the skies darkened, and a cold, driving wind jostled my Ford F-250. Near Linville Falls we were surprised to discover two unfortunate souls standing along the roadside thumbing passing vehicles. A flurry of cars splashed by without so much as a momentary brake check of consideration. We offered them a ride, and they climbed in the truck bed. College kids from Boone, they had given up after hiking 14 miles south out of Julian Price Memorial Park. Together we crossed the Linn Cove Viaduct, one of the most iconic and exhilarating views of the entire parkway. After dropping off the hitchhikers, we made for Blowing Rock, where we strolled quaint streets and spent a cozy night wrapped in sleeping bags in the back of the truck. 60-mph winds rocked us to sleep. Northwest Trading Post and Doughton State Park The next morning we sipped coffee and ogled over old pioneer cabins dotting the parkway between the Northwest Trading Post and Doughton State Park. Some were mysterious and history-less, while others included exhibits complete with park rangers working old looms and crocheting. The Brinegar Cabin was especially picturesque. The morning sun poured through the canopy and the spirit of harvest time wafted on a swirling breeze.Blue Ridge Music CenterThe views at the Blue Ridge Music Center were not nearly as stunning as any one of dozens of high-reaching overlooks, but when you’re eyeballing bright red sourwoods in the comfort of a rocking chair and you can hear the twang of mountain music, the museum’s porch is indeed special and worth a nice long tarry before crossing the state line into Virginia. Mabry, Virginia “Welcome ta Mabry County and Mabry Country Store. Where you folks from? Make sure you sign the guest book. There’s a lady sellin’ cornbread and homemade pinto beans out back.”The Mabry Country Store is the best cultural viewpoint on the parkway. When everything else turned into a museum, Mabry Country Store kept on selling canned goods, apple pie, and postcards with FDR on them. In the yard behind the store, a few vendors purveyed homespun goodies. Here we met Karen J. Hall, author of several books about North Carolina quarries and the Blue Ridge Parkway. She told us about a quarry near Mount Airy that can be seen from outer space and how her favorite views were just up the road. “It’s just a sea of gold from Peaks of Otter up to Otter Creek.” Peaks of Otter At the Peaks of Otter Lodge we ambled around Abbott Lake before slinking up to lodge bar, where we inquired about the drive time to Charlottesville. “Well it’s about four hours to Virginia Beach,” the bartender told us. Fearing waylay at the lodge and realizing our bartender would be no help in negotiating the road ahead, we abandoned our beers and headed back out – and just in time. The late afternoon sun slanted in and burst yellow through maples, sassafras, and birch trees – sea of gold indeed, Karen J. Hall. James River The James River is the lowest point on the parkway. At 649 feet the color change was still minuscule in mid October. Nonetheless, the bridge over this storied waterway proffered a remarkable view. It was plain to see that in two weeks, the James River’s rocky banks would be ablaze with color. Before departing, a park ranger, ironically named James, gave us a fascinating lesson on early 19th-century river barrages. When I played with his model barge I accidentally broke the little wooden boat master. A bad omen, I would later discover. Humpback Rocks Fearing we would miss sunset, we sped through a long series of switchbacks toward Humpback Rocks. We pulled into the overlook just as the sun was falling behind the Great North Mountains. In a frenzy of excitement, I unwittingly parked in about 10 vehicles. As I raced about the rocks snapping photos a small riot nearly broke out, and with that we were back in modern America. We drove on to Charlottesville in just 30 minutes, where we forgot about the melee at Humpback Rocks and slept soundly in the truck bed to visions of oak and blackgum leaves. Two long, Autumn days on the parkway does funny things to a person. Nowhere to go, nowhere to be. Just another bend in the road. Related:
By Dialogo January 22, 2014 SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – The United States and the British Royal navies recently made separate narcotics seizures, marking continued success for Operation Martillo, an international mission that gathers 14 partner nations to curtail illicit trafficking routes on both coasts of the Central American isthmus. On Jan. 13, the U.S. Navy announced it seized 313 kilograms of cocaine in the eastern Pacific in late December. The USS Rentz launched a helicopter that caught a go-fast boat carrying the shipment, which was worth an estimated US$10.4 million. Three suspects were arrested in connection with the seizure and handed over to Ecuadoran authorities. The Rentz’ bust was its fourth in recent months, as it has confiscated about 3,000 kilograms of cocaine. “Overall, this mission has a high operational tempo. It’s up to us to keep the pressure on,” Cmdr. Lance Lantier, the USS Rentz’s commanding officer, said in a prepared statement. “The success of [our most recent] operation reflects our continued commitment to countering the flow of illegal narcotics while maintaining a forceful presence.” On Dec. 26, a British Royal Navy ship seized a huge shipment of marijuana from a dilapidated fishing vessel in the Caribbean. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary Wave Knight, a British ship carrying U.S. Coast Guard and Royal Navy personnel, boarded the shipping vessel – called the Miss Kameney – after an overnight chase. Aboard the vessel, officers recovered about 250 kilograms of marijuana hidden in sacks and a crew of five suspects, who were detained and turned over to U.S. authorities in the Dominican Republic. Officials estimated the shipment’s value at more than US$1.5 million. “The operation, successfully conducted when most of us were enjoying a Christmas break, is testament to the hard work of our service personnel and of the demanding tasks we ask them to carry out,” Great Britain Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said in a prepared statement. “I am proud of the work of RFA Wave Knight and the role her crew has played in stopping these drugs reaching the streets.” The bust was the second major marijuana seizure in the year for the Wave Knight, which has been deployed in the Caribbean as part of Operation Martillo. In September, the crew aboard the Wave Knight seized 1,276 kilograms of marijuana from a small fishing vessel in the central Caribbean, south of Jamaica. In that case, seven suspects were detained. The drugs and the suspects were turned over to authorities in Jamaica. In remarks about the bust, Capt. Duncan Lamb, commanding officer of the RFA Wave Knight, recognized the strength of the international effort, which also includes Canada, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama and Spain. It’s led by the U.S. Joint Interagency Task Force South. “The entire ship’s company – Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Royal Navy and US Law Enforcement Team – as well as [headquarters] and prosecuting staff ashore in mainland USA are delighted with this result,” he said. “It has been a truly international team effort. … This operation is a notable disruption to the regional drug trade.” The Royal Navy said the Wave Knight took part in several operations in 2013 that seized or stopped three tons of drugs from being shipped. The ship worked alongside the HMS Lancaster, which seized 1.2 metric tons of marijuana and 400 kilograms of cocaine in the region before returning to Britain, the Royal Navy said. The Royal Navy’s success in the region is among the highlights of Operation Martillo’s successes. Launched two years ago in January, Operation Martillo (Spanish for hammer) brings together countries throughout the Americas and in Europe to better patrol maritime channels against drug traffickers. The operation is aimed at shutting down routes through Central America, but it has also yielded results in the Caribbean, which drug traffickers are increasingly using to move illicit drugs to the United States and Europe.