Tooling through the Appalachian Mountains is like stepping back in time. This well eroded mountain chain is one of the oldest on the planet and offers some amazing vistas. That is, when the mist and fog are not too heavy. Since our visit landed smack dab during the remnants of a hurricane, we altered our schedule to take our mountain cruise along the Blue Ridge Parkway on an overcast day. We knew it would make the views less than perfect, but were positive they would still be wonderful.
The Blue Ridge parkway is 469 miles long, so we knew that only a portion would be in our near future. Our base camp of Gatlinburg lies near the southern end of the trail. After passing through the Smoky Mountain Park, we caught the start of the parkway in Cherokee, North Carolina. We were familiar with this native American town from an earlier visit to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. (You can read about the Cherokee Museum here.) This time we turned away from the town and started our adventure with nature at milepost 469. It wasn’t long before we began seeing flowing streams that cut through the mountains. The parkway was designed to allow travelers visual access to some of the most picturesque portions of the region.
Views for Miles
As we wound our way toward Asheville, North Carolina, we passed through mountain tunnels. The road climbs and falls, but most elevation changes are done gradually. We were amazed at the number of bicyclists we saw during our cruise, even with the inclement weather. Periodically, we would have a break from the sprinkles, and at times we even spotted patches of blue skies. It was during these that we would see the forests being illuminated by shafts of sunlight. It added a magical touch to an already memorable view.
To the Top
A little over half the way between Cherokee and Asheville, we came to the top of the highest point along the Blue Ridge Parkway. A quick stop for a photo opp, before continuing on our journey. While the parkway offers ample hiking opportunities, the moist environment prevented us from testing them out. Instead, we focused on keeping our eyes peeled for more potential animal spotting. After seeing a group of black bears during our day at Clingmans Dome, we were hoping for additional sightings. (You can read about that adventure here.) We are guessing the weather was prohibiting this opportunity or else the creatures found plenty of space to forage well away from the road. Oh well, I guess we would find more adventure in Asheville, North Carolina.
Before heading out that morning, we had already determined our turn around point. The plan was to make it to Asheville and have a quick look see. This city holds plenty of promise for a potential visit in the future, but for now we would just scratch the surface. We headed to the downtown region, since this is our usual focus when visiting larger cities. As we passed along the streets, we saw tons of interesting shops and restaurants calling our names. With lunch time hunger creeping in, the decision to grab a bite was easy. As we scanned the surroundings, we saw the familiar name of Tupelo Honey. This southern eatery was a delight we enjoyed in Knoxville, Tennessee. (You can read about Tupelo here.) We decided that a new taste was in store and parked on a side street that offered easy access to the main area of shops.
As we made our way along the streets, we were enchanted by the beautiful visuals that we were seeing in Asheville. When we happened upon White Duck Taco Shop, the name intrigued us into making a visit. Inside we found a funky fresh atmosphere of bright colors and upbeat decor. It certainly had a playful mood going on, so we decided to give it a shot. The menu at White Duck is filled with an assortment of unique street tacos. Sure you can get the normal steak, chicken or pork, but your choices don’t end there. How about a Crispy Chicken BLT or maybe Lump Crab? You can also sample a Thai Peanut Chicken or perhaps Duck with Mole.
North Carolina Tacos
For our lunch, we settled for a pair of street tacos accompanied by a side of Watermelon with Mint. Some chips and queso rounded out our order. We grabbed a seat and awaited the delivery of our dinner. We had chosen to test out the Lamb Gyro and a Korean Beef Bulgogi as our main course. The unusual flavor combinations work well in street taco form and soon we found ourselves staring at empty trays. The cut watermelon made an excellent accent to cleanse the palate. This stop had been the perfect choice to sustain us on our road back to Gatlinburg. Our scouting trip had showed us that Asheville is certainly ripe for a visit, but for now it has to be put on a back burner.
Heading Back to Base Camp
As we made our way back to the Blue Ridge Parkway, we had plenty to talk about. The afternoon brought the return of rain showers, but we found that our timing on this trip was quite good. Our stop in Asheville had occurred during a break in the rain, so we were able to truly enjoy our time. The showers were keeping the heat down and didn’t put a damper on our driving time. All in all, it was an enjoyable side trip with some amazing views. How many of you have explored part or all of the Blue Ridge Parkway?