From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway

A beautiful Appalachian highway remembered



On our way home from a visit to Washington D.C. in 2007, we spent an afternoon on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Blue Ridge Parkway starts at Afton, Virginia and ends in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, near Waynesville, North Carolina. We drove the northernmost 55 miles of the Parkway, from Afton to Buena Vista, in Virginia.


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about someone asking me, "What's the most beautiful place you've ever seen?" The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the places I remembered when I thought about my answer to that question. The scenery is far more beautiful than my photos suggest. You really should look at some of the lovely photos of the Blue Ridge Parkway on Flikr.


We drove slowly and stopped many times to enjoy the spectacular views. It was early April, and the weather was chilly. Patches of snow lay here and there. The trees didn't have their leaves yet. It was very quiet up there, and we rarely saw another car. Sometimes we looked into the distance and saw the farms and highways and towns of the Shenandoah Valley far below us. They seemed very far away and unreal, as if we were catching a glimpse of the modern world from some point in the distant past.

We turned off the Blue Ridge Parkway when we reached the road to Buena Vista, I was surprised that the descent into the valley was so steep. Signs along the road advised truckers how far it was to the next runaway truck ramp. (If a truck's brakes fail while coming down the mountainside, the driver can plow it into a long bed of deep gravel to stop it.)

From there, this story continues downhill, so to speak. I had caught a bad cold in Washington D.C., and during our afternoon on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I had started running a fever. I was eager to pull in for the night, so we stopped at the first motel we saw in Buena Vista. It was the worst motel we've ever stayed in (in the U.S., anyway,) but I felt too sick to look any farther. The one redeeming feature of the place was the cheap price.

I asked for more pillows because the ones on the bed were so flat. The motel manager grudgingly produced one more pillow, and it was just as flat as the rest of them. The room was very chilly, and the heater didn't seem to work. The bathroom had no ventilating fan, so when we showered, clouds of steam filled the room and dampened our blankets.

During the night, I woke up and realized that I was even sicker. I could hardly breathe or swallow. I ached all over, and my chest hurt when I coughed. I remember thinking that I had to get out of that horrible room, before I died there.

I took this photo of the Blue Ridge as we left the motel early the next morning. I was still very sick. I know that when we came through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky, we drove up to the overlook where I took a few pictures. For the rest of the trip home, I have neither memories nor photographs.

When we finally arrived home, I left the unpacking to Dennis and Isaac. I came into the house and fell in bed, and I slept for the next several days in a feverish stupor. After I finally recovered, I realized that someone should have taken me to the doctor!

I know that my little tale about the Blue Ridge Parkway ends strangely, but that's how it is sometimes with true stories.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.