After packing up on Wednesday morning, we left Smokemont and finally got a quick look in the Oconoluftee Visitor's Center at the Cherokee entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I regret not doing this sooner! There was not enough time to take it all in, plus there was a farm village reconstruction as well. The rainy morning made climbing up the Blue Ridge Parkway a poor option, so we headed south to Route 75 and took I-40 to Asheville, where the weather began to improve.
We rejoined the Blue Ridge Parkway and stopped at the BRP Visitor's Center for a short 30-minute movie about the parkway. There was a nifty interactive map that spread the parkway out over 22 feet wide. A video monitor on a trolley let you "magnify" the map behind it so you could see all of the great destinations in that area of the map.
The next hour of driving showed us tantalizing views and fog rolling over the mountains. We stopped to eat at a restaurant near the top of Mount Mitchell. At 6684 feet above sea level, it's the tallest peak east of the Rockies. There were amazing views from the restauraunt of the mountain peaks below us. We enjoyed sitting in the oversized Adirondack chairs and looking out over the Blue Ridge Mountains and Appalachian Range beyond.
Wanting to make time, we continued on, stopping only a coulpe of times at a few turnoffs until we got to Linville Falls. Here, a lazy river falls over twin 12-foot falls into a pool, and then shoots through a steep channel to a 90-foot drop. A short, but moderately strenuous hike took the boys and I to a commanding view of the lower falls and the steep Linville Gorge. From there, we drove over the stunning Linn Cove Viaduct and made it to the next park.
Whatever minor quibbles I had with Smokemont as a campground, they pale in comparison to Julian Price Memorial Park Campground.
This was our third NPS campground, and despite being the most visited campground on the Blue Ridge Parkway, it was, by far, the worst. To start, we'd gotten conflicting information about whether or not there were showers (there weren't). Toilet paper? Ha! The bathrooms didn't even have lighting! There were fixtures but no lights which made them viturally unusable after dark.
The concrete picnic table was covered in moss and its benches were uneven. the tent pad was not big enough for our tent and the only other level portion of the campsite was in a drainage area that would flood in the event of rain. The bad vibes of this place rubbed off to everyone in our party! No wood. No Ice. No person manning the contact station after 4 PM (We had arrived at 6:30 PM, when it was still plenty light out.) We ended up hopping in the car and driving the 12 miles to Boone, NC, where we got ice and food at Food Lion and ate a delicious, albeit excessive, meal at Chili's.
Even though we had booked two nights at Julian Price, and despite the fact that Boone looked like it could be a great little town to explore, we high-tailed it outta there. We had a filling and undistinguished breakfast at Bojangles in Wilksboro, then we powered on to Virginia.
At one point on I-85, we hit a section where the southbound traffic was diverted to one of the two northbound lanes. Since the workzone speed limit is 55 MPH and I was driving a heavily-loaded car (and I like cruise control), we got to be the pace car for I-85! By the end of the contruction zone—only twenty miles ahead, but it seemed like hours—the cars in front of me were miles ahead and several dozen cars behind me were tailgating. Sorry. :)
In the fullness of time, we arrived in Emporia, VA, where we booked a room at the Country Inn & Suites. What a thrill to have a nice clean room, hot showers and contact with the outside world for a night!
The hotel was a great change of pace. We all got a little Internet time, a real bed, weather reports, a hearty breakfast, and even a dip in the pool! We tarried until 11:40 AM or so, then headed east through lovely farm country on U.S. 58 to Virginia Beach, our final destination.