Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Labor Day on the Blue Ridge - Mount Mitchell SP

When someone says the words “National Park” usually highways don’t come to mind, but there are quite a few roadways in America managed by the National Park Service. One of them is the Blue Ridge Parkway, and we were lucky enough to spend Labor Day weekend cruising this beautiful stretch of the South. Stretching from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the North Carolina/Tennessee border 469 miles north to Shenandoah NP in Virginia, the Parkway follows the Appalachian mountains for endless panoramic views, historic sights, campgrounds and trails where adventures await.

We jumped on just outside of Asheville in the Black Mountains, named for the dark green spruce and fir that grow there. South of that point the Parkway follows the Craggies, the Pisgahs and the Balsams, while farther north it’s the Blue Ridge (which gives the road its name). We stopped at the Visitor Center at mile marker 384 to take our bearings, stamp our National Park passports, make a few inquiries and stretch.

The weather forecasts for the weekend all read the same: rain, chance of rain, thunderstorms likely, more rain. We passed quite a few scenic overlooks without even so much as a glance, as the views were obscured by fog and rain. In more than one spot we slowed to far less than the 35-45 mph speed limit as visibility was low, but the fog and rain lent their own beauty to the journey. The moisture clung to everything – our windshield, the trees, the road – and the fragrance of the firs hung heavy.

We opted to make the first stop we had planned, in Mount Mitchell State Park. The Black Mountains are an old range, formed more than a billion years ago. Subjected to the elements ever since they have been worn and rounded, but the igneous and metamorphic Mount Mitchell is 6,684 feet – the tallest this side of the Mississippi. Up until the 1800s Grandfather Mountain was thought to be the tallest in the area, but when Dr. Elisha Mitchell (a science professor at the University of NC) made an excursion to the area to measure the mountain elevations in 1835, he used barometric pressure readings and mathematical formulas to estimate the height at 6,672 feet: only 12 feet off. A former student and US Senator Thomas Clingman disagreed, and when Dr. Mitchell returned to gather more measurements to support his claim he fell from a 40-foot waterfall and drowned. The highest peak was eventually named in his honor – Clingman’s Dome in the Smokies (6,643 feet tall) is Thomas Clingman’s legacy.

We climbed the short distance to the viewing tower at the very peak but found visibility to be limited. I’m sure on a clear day the panorama is impressive, but we enjoyed reading up on the history of the various viewing tower and looking at pictures of Dr. Mitchell and Uncle Tom (the mountain man who found the body) far more interesting. Only minutes after departing the summit the weather temporarily cleared, and we took the opportunity to eat lunch at one of the many picnic areas, surrounded by raspberry bushes, wildflowers and the buzz of bees.

It was at this point that we took a short detour from the Blue Ridge Parkway, to Mountain Farm. I had read about this lavender, blueberry and dairy goat farm from the blog A Little Bit of All of It, and after reading on their website that species of lavender are in bloom from June to September (and still dreaming of the lavender fields in the south of France that I never got to see) thought it a detour worth taking. As we approached the rain only came down harder, not boding well for the wedding party all set up in the pasture just beyond the lavender fields, which were most definitely not in bloom. We made the best of it however, shopping at the little store and visiting with the goats that produce the aged goat cheeses and goat milk products sold on site. I was sad to hear that Mountain Farm will be closed to visitors after this year; if you haven’t had a chance to visit in person you might want to visit their Etsy store.

Despite the rain we pressed on, winding our way up the mountain roads. As we pulled back onto the Parkway and approached the Linville Falls area it was clear our Blue Ridge adventure had barely just begun.


  1. I can't believe you didn't get to see the lavender again! Clearly it's evading you :P

  2. Un Mikus tika augstāk par augstāko punktu!:)


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