the wonderful world of veena.

27 July 2014

driving the blue ridge parkway.

[note: I have more - and nicer - pictures on my camera, but I've not had time / have been too lazy to upload them, so for the time being, these are just pictures from my phone. there will be multiple photo posts in a month or so]

For years I have been hearing people's stories and seeing their pictures of driving the Blue Ridge Parkway from North Carolina to Virginia and back again. And for years I have been telling myself that one day I will finally get to experience it for myself.

[rock castle gorge]
Last week, I finally got my wish.

[beauty as far as the eye can see]
While I was planning my 35-day road trip, primarily to North Carolina and Virginia, one thought kept popping into my head: I have to work in a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. And although it was a little out of my way, I decided to use my drive from Charlotte to Charlottesville to do just that.

[this was one of those spots that cannot be adequately described in words]
Now, you can just take the Interstate pretty much straight up from Charlotte to Charlottesville, making the drive in around 4.5 hours. Both states are pretty scenic, so you'll get to enjoy some views along the way, but you won't necessarily have many opportunities to stop, take a look around, hang out for a while, take pictures, and generally just take it all in.

[the great valley overlook. amazing]
BUT. If you take a slight detour and find yourself on the Parkway, you have ample opportunities to do all those things and more.

[the pine tree overlook. i spent quite a bit of time here, just looking]
The Parkway itself is 469-mile stretch of beautiful highway that goes from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the Shenandoah National Park and includes numerous campsites, trails, picnic areas, overlooks, and visitors centers along the way. Because the road winds through the mountains, the speed limit is only 45mph, so you have lots of time to enjoy your surroundings.

[this was the part that made me most happy -- a little walk through the woods to get to the thunder ridge overlook]
I joined the highway around mile 213 where it crosses Highway 18 and followed it to roughly mile 4, where I joined I-64 to get to Charlottesville. I spent 7 hours making my journey, stopping at various overlooks to take pictures and to just enjoy the view. I had two in particular that I knew I wanted to stop at, but I also just stopped at random whenever I saw a particularly enticing view. A few had little trails to follow to get to the viewpoints, which I enjoyed, and there was also a pedestrian bridge below the highway where you can view the James River, so of course I stopped there and went for a little stroll.

[the view from thunder ridge]
There were times when I felt like I was in Coorg, driving under the canopy of the trees or scrambling over rocks to get to overlooks. There were moments I was reminded of the drive from Kathmandu to Pokhara, coming around a turn and being blown away by the sheer majesty of the view in front of you. Often I honestly forgot where I was, because I was just so distracted. There were quite a few moments where I wished I had someone else driving so that I could just stare out the windows as the view went past.

[looking out over the james river]
I had - and still have - grand ideas of taking a month or so to drive from one end of the Parkway to the other, stopping along the way to stay in guesthouses and go for treks. And perhaps one day in the near future that will happen, but for the time being I am just grateful I had the opportunity to finally see it for myself.

[I will say this, too: for most of my trip, I have been convinced that the monsoon is following me. I've kind of enjoyed it, as we all know July is when I most miss Bangalore because of the rains. But through sheer luck, the rain stayed away, and I had an absolutely gorgeous - albeit humid - day for my drive up the Parkway. It was raining when I left Charlotte, and it started raining about 30 minutes after I reached Charlottesville, but for those hours on the road, the weather was glorious, and it really made that drive incredible. So thank you, weather gods, for your most amazing gift. I won't soon forget it]

And now I am plotting how I can return to the mountains and just stay there.

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