We said our good byes and left Charlotte on Thursday morning, heading west through Kings Mountain, Shelby, Forest City and on up to Hendersonville. There, we picked up US Hwy. 64 heading towards Brevard, where we got back on that beautiful US 276 again. We wanted to see that eighteen mile stretch from Brevard up to the junction with the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The road is tight switch back curves the whole way up, through dense forest, with a lot of scenic pull-offs. You can't really see any sweeping vistas from these many pull-offs, but the road parallels a swift moving mountain stream which has it's own charms. There is at least one very dramatic waterfall which can be seen from the road. It can be seen even better if you pull off and walk up to it. There were so many tourists parked there when we passed that we couldn't find a place to park. We went on up the road a ways, and found another place to park and take some pictures. Even thought we didn't get pictures of the waterfall, it was hard to take a bad picture in this place, with that beautiful light filtering down through the trees.
At the Parkway junction, where we'd turned north a few days before, we got on and headed south. I don't recall ever having been on this stretch before. It's possible that I traveled this section before with my dad, but I don't remember. Dad was a huge fan of the mountains, and many times we would take off for the weekend, and just drive up here sightseeing. He seemed to know his way around up here like he'd spent a lot of time exploring it as a young man.
We were headed to the southern Parkway terminus, at the Oconaluftee River and US Hwy. 441. It's a straight line distance of around thirty miles, but maybe fifty or sixty miles of driving due to all the twists and turns in the road. We were in no hurry, and stopped often at the many wonderful scenic overlooks to take pictures. The wildflowers were blooming in abundance this year, and we took full advantage, getting lots of great wildflower shots. Traffic was light, and the weather was just right - warm, but not hot, and a mixture of clouds and sunshine, with the occasional light shower.
Along this section of the Parkway, between US 276 and the southern terminus at US 441, there is one place to exit, about half way, at Soco Gap. This is where US 19 crosses, running between Waynesville and Cherokee. As it was getting on towards dusk by this time, we decided to get off and find a motel for the night. We would continue the trip in the morning.
We headed back towards Waynesville, passing through beautiful Maggie Valley with all it's tourist hotels. We stopped and checked out a few of them, but ended up right back where we started a few days ago, at the Super 8 in Waynesville. We knew the place and were comfortable there, so why not?
The next morning, we headed back up through Maggie Valley to Soco Gap, and got back on the Parkway for the last leg of the journey. Like the day before, everything was just right. The occasional light showers were a little more frequent this day, but not nearly enough to spoil the trip. There were more motorists on the Parkway, also, and lots of motorcyclists. I would sure love to bring my KLR 650 up here. It was made for a road like this.
We stopped in practically every other scenic overlook along this stretch, and there were many. The slightly overcast sky was providing perfect lighting for our nature photography. When we finally made it to the end of the road, the overcast had turned into a very light, but steady drizzle. It didn't stop me from taking pictures, though. I parked the Bronco just over the Oconaluftee River bridge, got my umbrella and camera, and walked back across the bridge for some pictures. There were lots of other people about, also, and some of them were down at the river, swimming, wading, and having fun. It was another great day in the Smokey Mountains, and a great way to finish up our tour of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Here's the link to the photo album above, to view the slide show or any of the individual photos in full screen: http://picasaweb.google.com/Ohareallen/BlueRidgeParkway?feat=directlink