Meadows of Dan Campground to Carrollwood Campground, Hillsville, VA
Wednesday, May 24, 2006 … 73 Camper Miles – Total 996
Sunny, gorgeous, 70, light breeze
Time to get on the road. We broke camp and we on our way by 9:30. Of course, we couldn’t get out of town without a stop at Nancy’s Candies factory outlet. Too bad … we were there 30 minutes before opening. Not to worry, though, the nice women opened early for us. We purchased a pound of fudge and accepted the complimentary chocolate-covered pretzel rods.
Next stop was the Blue Ridge Music Center a few miles down the Parkway. This is a beautiful, new facility. The display is a work in progress but currently documents the beginnings of the country music recording business. It turns out that the earliest commercial recordings of mountain music was by artists from this particular area. No one knew if the music would sell. Obviously, it did. Hopefully the facility will attract more live performance art in the future.
Continuing to drive south, we can’t help but comment on the massive amounts of rhododendron that line the road. Sometimes it is a continuous, 15 foot high wall that runs for many hundreds of yards. This rhododendron has a white bloom, however, and doesn’t bloom until mid-June. It must be an amazing display! Along the way we stopped at Gully Creek Trail (part of Cumberland Knob trail system) and did the 800 ft climb to the top. The trail was lined with rhododendron and there was lots of rock hopping.
A bit further south was the Groundhog Mountain overlook and display. Driving the Parkway you pass many miles of split rail fences constructed by National Park Service crews. At Ground Hog Mountain you can learn names for the different designs and why people choose to use one kind vs. another.
A few miles later we stopped at the tiny, seemingly isolated log cabin of Aunt Orlean Puckett. This amazing woman bore 24 babies, none of whom lived past infancy. Then, at age 50, she became a mid-wife. During that career she assisted in the births of more than 1,000 babies, delivering her last one in 1939, just before she died age 102!
That evening we camped at a private place called Carrolwood Campground in Hillsville, VA. On advice of the owners and a mention in a local “What’s Happening” rag, we drove to a bluegrass “jam session” at the Hillsville VFW. Oddly, the room was like a high school gym with chairs around the edges. We found out why later as many of the attendees got up and danced to the music. The whole affair was cute but a bit disappointing. Turns out that the “jam” was the same folks playing the same songs every week. The musicians tried, and the elderly fiddler was actually a good musician and quite skilled, but the whole effect was not quite the intimate kind of session that we’d imagined.
Carrollwood Campground to VanderpoolcCampground
Thursday, May 25, 2006 … 106 Camper Miles – Total 1,102
Warmest day so far. O/cast am, clear pm.
Continuing south on the Blue Ridge the next day, we stopped at Brinegar Cabin where there is usually a demonstration of local weaving. However, it was still too early in the season. We could see a loom shrouded in plastic through the windows but there was no sign of a weaver. Next stop was at Doughton Park. There, we hiked the Wildcat Rocks trail and parts of the Bluff Ridge and the Bluff Mountain trails (too steep and long for the time and energy we had) and the Fodder Stack trail. The views were beautiful.
A bit further down the Parkway, the E. B. Jeffress Park offered the Cascades Trail and we walked it. This was the best signed, most interesting and rewarding short trail we’ve done to date. It was an easy walk, there were informative signs and the cascade was very pretty. Plus, we saw some new wildflowers.
Bill had spotted wild turkeys along the road earlier on this trip but one near the road along the next stretch seemed slow to run. So, Bill got out of the car and started shooting pictures. The hen only moved slowly out of the way and Bill was really close to her when he noticed her brood running through the grass. After a final close-up, he left the brood be.
We were now in the Boone, VA, area with lots to do. We stopped a couple of places to shop for a few items we needed and headed to the private Vanderpool Campground. Vanderpool is owned and run by Fred & Sharon, a really nice couple. It was clean and inexpensive and we decided to stay there over the holiday weekend and explore the area around Boone rather than fight the crowds for campground space. We set up camp, took showers and accepted the Mr. Coffee maker Fred offered for loan during our stay. (Our original French press broke on our drive to Catasauqua on our first day out.) That evening we prepared a veggie and chicken stir fry for dinner.
Friday, May 26, 2006 … 0 Camper Miles – Total 1,102
Rain o/nite. Mostly sunny, mid 70s, with occasional showers & thunderstorms pm.
While Sandy did a couple of loads of laundry, Bill installed mud flaps on the car. The car already had vestigial mud flaps but we noticed quite a bit of dirt had been thrown up onto the camper by the tires. We’d found a cheap pair of truck flaps at an auto parts store and Bill cut them to fit and screwed them into place. Hopefully they’ll do the job.
Boone is home to Appalachian State University. With an on-campus population of 15,000, it is a very nice university town with interesting restaurants and shops. We had to stop at both the Boone location of the Mast General Store and Foot Sloggers, both of which have a good selection of backpacking gear to shop for new fanny packs. We had lunch at Angelica’s Vegetarian Restaurant. The place had very good food and knew how to meet Sandy’s dietary needs. Afterwards, we hit the Visitor Center and drove to Valle Crucis, location of the original Mast General Store for a special sale they were having.
Dinner was at The Library in Boone, where we listened to excellent blues by the Harris Bros. Then it was off to the really backwoods, tiny town of Todd and the Todd General Store where it was said there would be live bluegrass. Indeed, there was. Bluegrass 1101 appears at several Floyd area venues. They are two decent musicians, guitar and banjo, playing a variety of traditional tunes. The Todd General Store venue, by the way, is quite famous. The area is home to some VERY famous musicians and it is said that folks like Doc Watson stop in from time-to-time to play a few tunes for the folks.
Saturday, May 27, 2006 … 0 Camper Miles – Total 1,102
Partly cloudy, warm and windy.
Just a few miles from Floyd is Grandfather mountain. This is a private mountain with two major, adjacent peaks, Calloway and MacRae. On recommendation of the folks at Footsloggers, we purchased our $5 hiking permits and did the Profile Trail to Calloway Peak.
We covered 7.2 hard-climbing, rock-hopping, ladder-climbing miles on this in-and-out, 1,832 foot vertical, round trip. Our feet were hot, our knees were sore and we were tired. But, we saw lots of new wildflowers and some spectacular views along the way. Verdict? An outstanding day we will remember!
Returning to the campground, we immediately took much-needed showers. A few minutes later we met Justin and Amanda from Raleigh, NC, who were tent-camping next to us. After dinner we had them over to our camper for conversation and a bit of wine. Nice folks!
Sunday, May 28, 2006 … 0 Camper Miles – Total 1,102
High 70s, partly sunny
Today we played normal tourists on Grandfather Mountain. This time we paid the normal $14/person entrance fee and drove the spectacular switch-back road to their visitor center. We walked across their famous Mile-High Suspension Bridge for the great view.
Then we donned our fanny packs and took to the Grandfather Trail that goes to MacRae Peak, next to Calloway that we’d hiked to the day before. Though this was a much shorter trail, it was no less interesting. It was very steep in places. So much so that a series of cables and ladders are provided to help traverse the most difficult portions. Even so, this is no place for street shoes! Whereas Calloway is a forested peak, MacRae, though not as high, is a rocky ridge which is windy with an even more spectacular view.
Driving down the mountain, we stopped at their private museum and wildlife habitat. The black bears, mountain lions, etc. were interesting to see.
On our way back toward Boone, we stopped at the Old Hampton General Store. They advertised barbeque pork and turkey, which sounded good for lunch … and it was. Even better, though, was the bluegrass band that was playing inside. Four folks were playing, banjo, mandolin, guitar and bass and they were excellent! Bill asked what they called themselves and they replied that they hadn’t gotten around to figuring out a name for themselves, yet. Figures … the best we’d heard and they didn’t even have a name.
Blowing Rock is adjacent to the Parkway (remember the Parkway?) and gets lots of press. So on this horrible busy holiday, we stopped by. And, what do you know but we were just in time for the featured concert by the Ashe County HS Steel Band. A high school steel band, you ask? You bet! There were about a dozen players and they were pretty good! (We feel that we are decent judges of steel bands since visiting Trinidad for Carnival this past winter.) The band’s only been around for a few years, but they have thirty hopefuls signed up for next year. Right on!