It’s always fun to go somewhere new, isn’t it? Somewhere you’ve never been before, somewhere you’ve dreamed about. Maybe that somewhere is on your bucket list.
Of course, it’s also enjoyable to return to familiar places — locales which hold a special place in your heart and in your memory.
I have done a little bit of both this past week.
A Blue Ridge Parkway Bucket List
For as long as I can remember, my family has visited North Carolina. It’s something we Floridians do. Sometimes we traveled to Maggie Valley but other times to Banner Elk. Both locations have easy access to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Driving on the BRP has always been a favorite pastime, especially in the fall.
When our children were still in school, we started a bucket list of things we wanted to do one day. We agreed that one day, we would drive the Blue Ridge Parkway from one end to the other, the entire 469 miles. We went so far as to say we could do it as soon as our youngest went off to college. That was ten years ago.
We have traveled the parkway near our family’s cabin in Banner Elk many times over the years. We have driven as far south as Crabtree Falls and as far north as Jeffress Park, beyond Boone — a distance of 70 miles.
This past May, on our way back to Banner Elk from Pennsylvania, we started at the northern end of the parkway. Due to time constraints, we only traveled forty miles or so.
A few weeks ago, we decided this was the year to start from the southern end. We did decide to adjust our plan and make the trip in several legs at different times rather than doing it all at once.
Parts of the route were new to us while others were nostalgic and stirred up many memories.
Let The Memories Begin
The Blue Ridge Parkway starts (or ends) near Cherokee, North Carolina. We adjusted our customary route from Florida to go up through the center of Georgia. Once we got past Atlanta, we got off on one of the smaller state roads — a road that was a main artery of travel before the interstate system was developed.
We traveled this same road thirty-five years ago when we drove from Atlanta to Maggie Valley, North Carolina for our honeymoon. The highway is still dotted with Mom and Pop “motor courts” and attractions which were once the rage decades ago. We stopped at Tallulah Gorge just as we did on our honeymoon. It was a little quieter, a little more worn than when we first visited.
That evening, we ate dinner at The Dillard House in Dillard, Georgia. Memories flooded my mind — the time we drove through the night with our two-and-a-half-year-old son and three-month-old baby to get there in time for breakfast, the time we stayed at the inn with our school-aged children and the time we took our son and six of his friends after his high school graduation. Seven teen-aged boys in an all-you-can-eat family style restaurant was a site to behold.
When we drove through Cherokee, I remembered taking pictures of my little ones with the fall decorations and the Indians. My baby tasted her first ice cream there — she liked it. Come to think of it, she still does.
We stopped at Waterrock Nob on the parkway and reminisced about the times we drove up to watch the sunset with my husband’s oldest sister.
Maggie Valley called us so we exited the parkway to spend the night. That tiny town holds so many memories for both my husband and me. Several couples, including my grandparents and my in-laws, vacationed there over half a century ago. We drove up the mountain to a quaint, old log cabin building — The Smokey Shadows Lodge. I stayed there with my parents and grandparents when I was a little girl. Somehow, I remember it being much larger.
The now deserted Ghost Town in the Sky was at the bottom of the mountain. It was one of those attractions of the past which just couldn’t compete with the flashier theme parks like Disney World or Universal Studios. My husband and I both remember going as children. Thankfully, it was around long enough for our son to continue the tradition.
We took a ride down an old country road that led to a small cottage and a larger log cabin situated on the bank of a beautiful mountain creek. We spent our honeymoon in the tiny cottage which belonged to his sister and her husband. Of course, my thoughts drifted back thirty-five years. One of the things I remembered was how cold and dead it was in early April. This Florida girl was used to seeing flowers blooming as early as February.
My husband’s parents built the two-story log cabin. There are so many memories within the walls of that cabin — trips with friends before our children were born, family trips and reunions, hot summer days with our children playing in the creek. It was blissful to sleep with the windows open, lulled to sleep by the constant rush of water dancing over rocks and boulders. Food tasted better when eaten out on the deck overlooking the creek below.
My sister-in-law lived in the cabin for a few years before she died. When she was still living, my husband and his other sister purchased property across the creek from her. We were planning on building two small cabins and a bridge across the creek to create a family compound. As we stood on that property and peered through the trees at the cottage and the cabin, we remembered all of the fun times we experienced yet mourned the dream that was lost.
Once we were back on the parkway, we stopped at Craggy Gardens and Mt. Mitchell. We recalled a fun Wilbanks family outing over two decades ago.
Mission Accomplished (Almost)
We completed the first leg of the Blue Ridge Parkway, something we had not yet done. We started at one end and drove to a point we have been many times. The incredible beauty of God’s creation with the first hints of fall color emerging was breathtaking. Even more, we enjoyed our nostalgic trip down memory lane.
How about you? Is there a place you return to again and again? Is there a place that holds your memories and a piece of your heart? It’s fun to have a place like that to visit, isn’t it.
I’m writing this while on the road so I don’t have access to my older photos. I will add them to this post a little later so check back some time next month. Don’t worry, I’ll remind you.