Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Blue Ridge Parkway - this rock blows!

From Grandfather Mountain it was a very short drive back to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We still had half the day left for exploring, but wanted to make sure we were registered for a campground after the close call the previous evening. We shouldn’t have worried as the Julian Price campground at milepost 297 has close to 200 spots for RVs and tents, and we had our choice of campsites that early in the afternoon. The Julian Price Memorial Park, formerly an insurance executive’s retreat, is a 4,200 acre area on the Blue Ridge Parkway containing the campground, Price Lake and several trails. Boat rentals are available, fishing is allowed and there are several pull-offs that look perfect for a picnic. After checking out our options we chose to set up our tent in the loop closest to Price Lake, taking some additional time to organize everything for the evening as it looked like we were in for more rain. And sure enough, we had barely gotten to our next stop before the rain came.

Price Lake at dawn
We pulled into the Parkway Craft Center parking lot at milepost 294 in Moses H. Cone Memorial Park just as the deluge hit. Tossing on raingear we ran for Flat Top Manor, whose roof was just visible from the parking lot, hoping for some shelter until the worst of the rain passed. As we approached the mansion it became clear that we weren’t the only ones with thoughts to wait out the rain as the mansion’s veranda was full of people  - and every last one of them was staring at the scene spread out before us.
Perfectly situated overlooking the valley below, the covered porch was a great place to watch the storm putting on a beautiful show of lightning, fog and rain. The Victorian Neo-Colonial home was built by Moses H. Cone and his wife Bertha at the turn of the twentieth century and emulates Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate in nearby Asheville. While the first floor houses the Craft Center and a National Park visitors center and gift shop, the second floor can be seen during the Park Service tours. We glanced at the crafts for sale but made no purchases, stamped our National Park passports, watched the rain from the veranda just a little longer and then went to splash in the puddles. A short walk around revealed several choices of trails (which we would have considered if the lightning hadn’t been so very active) and more scenic views of the valley.

Flat Top Manor, named after Flat Top mountain nearby
As the rain had paused we headed to Blowing Rock, the tourist town that now provides a great jumping-off point to tour the Blue Ridge Parkway. Our destination wasn’t the crowded sidewalks of civilization, instead it was the actual Blowing Rock. Legend has it that a long time ago, when the windy cliffs of the area were home to the Cherokee and the Catawba Indian tribes (which were hostile to each other), there lived two star-crossed lovers. One day when walking near the famous Blowing Rock the reddening sky signaled to the brave that he must return to his tribal duty. The maiden urged him to stay with her, and the brave was torn between love and duty; in desperation he hurled himself off the top of the gorge. The horrified maiden beseeched the Great Spirit to bring him back to her, and the famous winds of the John’s River Gorge blew her lover back into her arms. It is said that Blowing Rock is the only place in the world where it snows upward.

Compared to some other destinations in the area (like Grandfather Mountain), entry was not expensive: adults $6, children 4-11 $1. Our timing was perfect as they had just reopened after lightning and thunder in the area, and we made our way out to the most fantastic views of the trip. The fog rolling up the valley after the storm made for an extraordinary scene, and each lookout brought renewed wonder at the show nature was putting on for us. The setup is nice, with a garden and pond, several short trails and an observation tower, but if you’re there, you’re there for the view.

A short while later we opted not to enter the traffic jam that was Blowing Rock (the town), but instead drive towards the Parkway. We saw this Mexican restaurant and made possibly the best decision of our trip – not to eat ramen for dinner, cooked huddled somewhere out of the rain, but instead take a <short> break from the camping and eat a big dinner. With full stomachs we could concentrate on the evening task at hand: building a campfire with wet firewood. And because this girl scout had her husband with, we succeeded.


  1. The campsite photo >zoomed< me back ?? years to camping trips with you and Anniņa (before there were six of us) up on Leelanau Peninsula... the almost-big-enough tent,kids running around the camp/cook fire with dad in charge of nobody falling in. We always brought a hammock and sometimes our hanging chair (remember that?), and the car going home was a lot heavier due to the "souveniers" - rocks! (Which we still have...)

  2. I am fascinated by Blowing Rock Liene! Looks like a great that scenery!

  3. So pretty! Thanks for linking up. My grandparents have a cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains but I've never heard of Blowing Rock. I definitely want to visit there one day!


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