We drove on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and I can only describe it as stunning.
We entered at its very northernmost origin, in Afton, Virginia, and immediately began to rise, up from the Shenandoah valley, on twisting roads that grew richer and richer in color as we gained in elevation. We stopped in a grove of elms, having passed up the first few scenic pullouts because the crowds were too heavy. We found ourselves alone in a yellow forest lined with black trucks, a brown carpet of freshly fallen leaves on the ground, and lichen thick on the rocks.
Leo was in a sour mood (he had just woken from a nap that he had needed to be a bit longer) but when I took a handful of leaves and tossed them into the air, his frown turned into a mischievous smirk. The whole family then scuttled about, grabbing leaves and tossing them into the air. And then the moment was over, and it was time to get back in the RV and drive. We didn’t make it far before I pulled over at a proper scenic pull off, with a view of the Shenandoah valley below and blue-green mountains away with yellows, reds and pops of orange. It was breathtaking, and a fellow leaf peeper and myself gushed about how gorgeous it was, and compared notes.
Feeling heady with the view and rich with new knowledge, we climbed back in the RV and continued driving.
Maneuvering the Parkway is quite pleasant, even when hauling an RV. The speed limit is a modest 45, and though the road twists and turns, there are no horrible switchbacks (Those only came when we got off of parkway). Plus It’s literally a scenic drive. No one in their right mind would drive on it if they’re in a hurry. Go slow! Who care? Everyone I saw was pulling over every other stop anyway.
It would have certainly been more fun to drive in a car because more of the pull outs would be available, and we could have delved a bit deeper, but still, a perfect day for driving in RV in autumn.
The mountains were golden yellow, with dots of orange, red and green. I have little experience with fall. In Central Texas, trees lose their leaves, but it’s not such a showy affair. There’s no hillsides that transform into a watercolor painting. In Texas, there’s no kaleidoscope of moving color as the clouds pass overhead, and the sunshine changes reds to oranges and oranges to yellow.
My brain malfunctioning, I pulled over.
We even found ourselves on the Appalachian trail, literally.
Most of the pullouts were too small (or too crowded) to accommodate an RV, so we had to drive past most of them. That was a bummer, but so it was. There are still a fair amount of places an RV can pull over, if only to stretch your legs and take in the view, it’s still worth stopping often. We stopped at one of these, though there was not quite enough room for us to pull all the way forward. We were out of the road, which was better than we could do on many of the pullovers, but not in a parking spot. But that was fine. We were near our car, everyone was out sightseeing, if there was a problem, we’d move.
Besides, there was a lot going on, and moving the RV isn’t always easy. For example, there was a gaggle of four older hikers carrying massive backpacks and armed with walking sticks. They were walking off a small trail that came from down the mountainside and exited the forest… directly into the space between my truck and trailer. I gawked, looking at the four hikers. Thru hikers, they were telling to the people whose truck was blocking mine from parking in a spot.
“I…. I think I parked my truck on the Appalachian trail,” I said to Raquel, horrified.
Raquel said something to the effect of “It’s fine. They’re not going to get confused over it.”
I felt horrible. “Let’s check it out!” Leo declared, but I had to move the truck.
I went back while my family went ahead. The family ahead of me was leaving. I could move the truck! Only one of the hikers was still ambling around.
I had to pass him to get into my truck. There was no avoiding it. I could go around the back of the RV and—
No. That way lied only madness.
I walked past the hiker, bowing and mumbling, “I… I think I parked on the Appalachian trail. I… I’m sorry.”
To which he replied. “It’s not like I was going to get lost. I wanted to come over here to admire the view anyway.”
And then he waived and vanished across the street and down the path marked with a white hatch mark.
We tried to follow him a few minutes later, on the advice of the family who had made me park on the trail, who had said that it was super easy and nice.
We discovered a treacherous descent traversing a boulder strewn path that was nigh impossible for young Xander to descend and had to turn back immediately. Of the hiker, there was nothing to be seen. He had vanished as quickly as he had arrived, to descend into the stunning valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains, to hike over roots and rocks, under branch and vine, in hot or cold, so he could crest the next ridge and see the next spectacular view.
We got back in our truck and towed our RV to the next vista.
We were told to get back on the AT trail at one exit, that warned us of treacherous terrain, and am I glad that it did. The next stretch of the mountains turned out to be the most spectacular yet.
The stretch just north of Roanoke is the place to go.
This was the first part of the trail (headed south from the origin) where I could see mountains on both sides of the ridge. That is, the road was literally built at the very top of the mountain ridge in places. We’d drive along, a wall of spectacular red maple on one side of us, rolling hills of pines far below on the right, and then it would drop away and there’d be an entire valley of maple on the left. Then the right side would rise up, and be replaced with another color of flame, and then it would open up all over again.
It was spectacular, well worth a drive. Or better yet make someone else drive you!
It was only bad when we went to Buena Vista, and had to take the highway back down into civilization, but the truck handled it well enough, even with the RV in tow. An eight percent grade is a lot when towing, but the engine downshifting automatically really is awesome. We made it down without melting our brakes, but the red light at the bottom of the hill smelled like someone had failed to do so.
We drove to the center of town and were able to find a place to park just past the outfield of a baseball diamond, with the roar of Friday Night Lights not far away, and a clear night sky, above. There’s an old plantation house on the other side of a line of RVs, and the homecoming dance will be there tomorrow. It feels so much like the rural south it almost hurts.
Pictures to come! Our internet connection is really bad right now, but I wanted to get this out before Thanksgiving!