Going south from the Skyline Drive, we crossed straight onto the Blue Ridge Parkway which was first set up as a scenic driveway in the 1930s. The first US national park was actually Yellowstone, set up way back in 1872 and there are now hundreds of national parks monuments and forest all over the US. Apparently, many of them were furiously contested by logging and other companies with business interests in the land and its resources. As a consequence individual Acts of Congress were used to create each park which made them untouchable. It’s a shame that such far sighted political will has become so compromised in more contemporary environmental debates.
The Blue Ridge side is less developed in terms of trails and lodging than Shenandoah Park but there are several roads leading off the parkway to small mountain towns so it’s pretty easy to find cheap motels. It’s also much more interesting because you get to see and meet some real places and people. The Buena Vista Motel was great and downtown was only a short walk so we were able to go out for dinner and then walk back watching a full moon rise above the mountains. We also found out exactly how many people live there.
There were a couple of longer trails further on including the beautiful Otter Creek Trail which meanders along the bank of a rocky creek before going up into the forest, past huge volcanic rock formations and then back down to the creek. This was definitely another Virginia Trail highlight as was the Blue Ridge Music Centre where we got to see some excellent live music. There is a musical heritage trail through Virginia and the Centre explained a lot of the origin and development of Blue Grass and Mountain music. The centre will become a state of the art museum next year which is good news for ethno-musicologists and musical obsessives everywhere. The museum reminded me of another US trip we did in 2002 which took us on the jazz, blues and country music trails all the way up from New Orleans to Chicago through Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. There were a lot of signs for churches down there too and the only other signs you saw were for prisons so I guess the only other option is the military!
Another musical diversion ended up being the town of Floyd where several resident master blue grass and mountain musicians are teaching (sometimes for free) in order that the traditions are continued. They are supplied by Floyd’s own instrument maker and on Friday nights the town’s central street is open to musicians. There are actually small performance bays built into the sidewalks! There are also numerous artists and craftspeople who live in the surrounding areas and they are slowly moving into The Station which is a new but small area of shops, galleries and studios.
We finally turned off the Parkway at Galax, heading West again towards our next friend stop in Frankfort, Kentucky. We didn’t have a rattlesnake moment on the Blue Ridge parkway but we did have a few anxious visibility moments. If you are above or below the clouds you’re fine but at that elevation in between….