Looking Into North Carolina
I awake in Sparta, North Carolina, to another picture perfect day. It is in stark contrast to the ominous weather that hurricane Matthew is presenting to the Florida coast, as it whirls it’s way up to my home state of South Carolina and beyond. I am heading west, deeper into western North Carolina and hundreds of miles from the coast. By the time Matthew breeches the Carolina’s, I will be safely tucked away at home. No worries though. I live in the western part of the state, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, over two hundred miles from the coastline.
As mentioned in an earlier post, the Blue Ridge Parkway was begun in 1935, yet was not completed until fifty-one years later in 1987. The final piece of the puzzle, so to speak, was put into place at Grandfather Mountain, here in North Carolina. The two halves of the Parkway met here, from Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the southern terminus, and from Shenandoah National Park, at the northern terminus.
In order to preserve the environmental integrity of Grandfather Mountain, which is now a Unesco Biosphere, engineers decided to build around the mountain, rather than blast the Parkway through it. Thus was born the Linn Cove Viaduct, an engineering marvel that minimized the impact of construction on Grandfather Mountain.
Linn Cove Viaduct
There is a visitor center at the south end of the viaduct which shows a short video of how the bridge was constructed. Very interesting! Outside, there is a short trail that leads under the viaduct where you can see the construction of the pilings and the bridge hugging the side of Grandfather Mountain.
I’m in very familiar surroundings now, riding the section of the Parkway that I ride all the time, even as a day trip! Lucky me! Tonight is a camping night, at Blue Ridge Motorcycle Campground, a mere ninety miles from my home. I won’t go into any camping details here. You have read plenty about this campground in previous posts (it is one of our favorites). However, I will always write or post pics of our canine bretheren:
What’s a campground without a camp mascot? This is Sadie. She is one sweet dog.
The next morning, I awoke to the one wet day of the entire trip. The dew point was high, and a heavy drizzle had fallen all night. Outdoor gear was getting packed away wet today. Clouds were hanging low over the campground, and Cold Mountain, the “hill” I have to climb to get back to the Parkway, was totally obscured. But, it was absolutely beautiful.
The ride up Cold Mountain was slow going. At times all I could see was my front wheel as I climbed through the low cloud cover. Finally reaching the ridge and pulling onto the Parkway, I pull over to take in the beauty:
From here, the Parkway ascends to it’s highest point. Virginia boast’s the lowest point on the Parkway, while North Carolina boast’s the highest:
Though beautiful, the eeriness of the fog doesn’t escape me
A group of Can-Am riders at the Highest Point
From here, the Parkway begins it’s long, gradual descent to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I ride down out of the clouds into beautiful mountain scenery.
Twenty or so miles later, my journey ends at MM469. The Blue Ridge Parkway ends at a T junction with US Highway 441. Four days of blissful riding on Skyline Drive and the BRP abruptly ends. Traffic, people, noise, gridlock, aarrrrrggghhh! Welcome to Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Established June 15, 1934
Size: 522,427 acres (800 square-miles)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited park in the park system. Nine million visitors per year come to this park. That’s twice the amount of folks who visit Grand Canyon National Park at four plus million. I circled the Oconaluftee Visitor Center parking lot three times before a space opened up.
The only road through Great Smoky Mountains National Park is US 441. Today, Friday, traffic is heavy, but moving. As popular as this park is, the 800 square miles of rugged land between North Carolina and Tennessee are some of the wildest areas east of the Mississippi River. Finding solitude here in the Smokies isn’t hard, but you are going to have to work for it, battling traffic on weekends to get to any of the trailheads in this park. The symbol of the Smokies, The American Black Bear, serves as an example of this parks remoteness once away from cars and people. With over 1500 bears roaming the park’s interior, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the largest protected bear habitat in the East.
I pulled into the open parking space so fast I almost dropped the beaST! I took a stroll into the Visitor Center, feeling awkward in this throng of people, having not seen crowds in over a week.
This Visitor Center has a Mountain Farm Museum, again, depicting farm life in Appalachia in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Ha! Kidding! Here’s the house mentioned:
More farm scenes
After taking these few pictures, the crowds started closing in. People everywhere! I carefully backed out of the parking space and made my way through the traffic. Oh! To be back in Shenandoah just starting out, just me, my ST, and the peacefulness and beauty of the surrounding landscapes.
I am, however, satisfied with my personal celebration of the 100th anniversary of our National Park Service. It was one great trip. Now I head deeper into Western North Carolina to mingle with the world travelers of Horizon’s Unlimited, for the weekend, at Ironhorse Motorcycle Lodge. But that’s another story.