Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Blue Ridge Parkway

No storms overnight and the day looked promising this morning so we took a drive on the 469 mile Blue Ridge Parkway which winds it's way through the Appalachians. We started at MM 200 near the town of Fancy Gap and drove north to MM 170 near Rocky Knob State Park. Unfortunately, the parks/visitors centers were not yet opened (they don't open until May 1) but the scenery and views were very pretty.

Our first actual stop was at Mabry Mill, a grist and saw mill built back in the early 1900's. The Mabry family lived and worked there until the 50's and eventually the state took over and made sure the historic mill as well as the grounds (including a "still") were saved from destruction. We had almost blown right past the spot and are so grateful we decided to stop. It was easily, one of the most authentic, and photographic things we have seen in 6 months!

In order to increase the water flow to the mill, Mr. Mabry had built an extensive series of troughs to catch the mountain stream run-off and divert it to his mill. That, in and of itself, had to have been quite a feat as many of the troughs were made of wood (think of making these waterproof and tight from wood he had to harvest and saw himself) and some of rock-lined ditches (hand picked and placed). An amazing thing to see.

On we drove to Rocky Knob which, other than the scenic overlook, was still closed up for the "winter". As we later found out from a lovely lady at the antique shop in Fancy Gap, the parkway is routinely closed from November through April. In a normal year, there is an abundance of snow and the state of Virginia is apparently freakish about people driving on the roads when it snows (this lady had been sent home from her place of business by the state just because it had snowed!). So the people who live on the parkway are basically locked in (by multiple gates) and are only allowed to drive when the snow melts or is minimal. This means that they can be stuck in their homes for 9 weeks at times and then, only dare drive out for groceries and then hurry back home lest they be locked out.

We turned around at Rocky Knob and on the way back down stopped for a short hike at another scenic area. It was a short but steep hike down to a creek bed. It is definitely spring in Virginia and the trees were budding, grass growing green and everything looked fresh and clean. The water was crystal clear and freezing cold, as mountain streams usually are.

Along the creek bed were very clear paw-prints that we truly believe were Bear prints. Big paws, deep claw marks and a known bear population. Pretty cool to think that a bear had been down to the stream for a drink, and by the look of the prints, probably this morning. Also just a little scary to think he may have still been in the area but I was assured that Jeff was "packing" and would defend me if necessary!

By the time we made it back to Hillsville the sky was really dark and by the time we made it to the outskirts of town it was POURING....and HAILING. Big Time. In fact, I can't remember the last time I had seen so much rain. Enough hail to completely coat the roads and we had to get behind a school bus that stopped at about every other house the entire 5 miles down the road. The temp dropped from 72 to 52 in about 5 minutes. And we had left windows open in the BP so we knew there would be some water where it shouldn't be by the time we made it back.  No worries though...after all. It is just water.
Beef stew is in the crock and smelling really good. We haven't had much desire for winter comfort food, since we haven't really had any cold weather since probably December. But tonight, it will be a great treat and so welcome.

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