So after returning from NEARFest, I bummed around a day or so (including a trip to the very cool Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air & Space Museum at Dulles). Then I headed off to do something I’ve always wanted to do — drive the entire Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway.
Brief history: I was born at the intersection between Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway, so some of my earliest memories are of poking about at places like Humpback Rocks or Raven’s Roost. I grew up thinking that if you get high enough, you can see mountains to either side of where you live, no matter where that is.
So I’ve always wanted to do the Parkway in one shot. So Vivian and I started out on Monday mor–er, afternoon, and headed down Skyline Drive, with the intent at staying at Peaks of Otter for the night. Apart from some thunderstorms and a stupid deer that nearly walked right into my car (not me into it, mind you, the thing was about to hit my car as I slowed down and moved out of the way to avoid it), it was uneventful and we ended up at Peaks of Otter in time for dinner. The waitress mentioned this new beer she had that she couldn’t even pronounce.
“Y-U-E-N-” she started.
“Yuengling!” I interrupted, “I’ll have a Yuengling, please.”
Several times that evening she asked me to pronounce it again for her.
The lodge is really the place to get away from it all. There are no phones in the room, no TVs, no cell phone reception, and there are hardly any outlets to plug in a razor, let alone other devices.
Peaks of Otter really is spectacular, especially to wake up to. We walked around the lake, birdwatching all the while (indigo buntings, towhees, ravens, and some flavor of woodpecker) and ended up at the restaurant for breakfast. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to climb up to Sharptop, which I did the last time I stayed there, I think at age 6.
We started off soon after, seeing a turkey, a racoon, more deer, an indigo bunting, and innumerable wooly caterpillars crossing the road in front of us. I ended up cheating and getting off the Parkway after Pisgah Inn, since I’d previously driven the short stretch from there to Smoky Mountains National Park.
It was rather a lot of driving, but it was fun since my car likes curves and I like being in the mountains.
My folks maintain a place in Brevard, NC, near Asheville, that we inherited from my grandparents. I stayed there a week and got up every morning to birdwatch (and, on one occasion, go out and harass a poor female Eastern Box Turtle which had decided to just hang out on the front lawn).
Then in the afternoon, frequently with my friend Liz from college who lives in Asheville, we’d take off to some sight around there. Including, in no particular order:
Moore’s Cove, until recently a fairly undiscovered falls with an easy trail back to it. It has since been upgraded and more parking made obvious. It’s neat in that you can actually walk behind the waterfall. There was a gigantic hornet’s nest just off the trail.
Looking Glass Falls, which was closed the last time I was there. Just an impressive bit of falls, and it’s right next to the road.
The Folk Art Center, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, has some fairly interesting stuff from local folk artists. I also went to the show they were having in Asheville, and while there were some interesting things there, prices were pretty premium.
Devil’s Courthouse is a rock formation (for some reason tons of rock formations in southern Virginia and further south are named as the Devil’s somethingorother, presumably as part of folk tales, which are highly entertaining to read) that gives you some spectacular views and not a small workout. Climbing is prohibited now (thankfully, climbers in general care little about preserving the rock formations they climb on or the environment surrounding them) due to the very cool Peregrine Falcon young that have been raised and fledged up there for the past couple of years. We also saw an immature Broadwing Hawk on a nearby tree, but we heard the Peregrines and saw them from a distance racing around and giving their distinctive cry.
We also went to two of three waterfalls in DuPont State Forest. Fairly impressive waterfalls, but not much wildlife. Lots of puzzling plant life.
Finally, we hiked all the way to Raven Cliff Falls. This time, I heard a Barred Owl (and possibly saw it) on the way in, and also noticed a funny looking root that turned out to be a Black Racer just lying frozen next to the trail. It was alive but hoping we’d go away. Usually I only see them as they take off at extremely high speed when they become aware of my presence (and generally I’m unaware of theirs). The falls are impressive, but it was hot and sticky to get to them.