City and Country along the Blue Ridge Parkway, VA
By Candyce H. Stapen
Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway is one of America’s great drives. The 469 mile road straddles mountain peaks and dips into valleys, twisting by overlooks and dappled hillsides as it connects Shenandoah National Park, VA, to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC. A getaway following the parkway offers a combination of country and city sights. To celebrate the scenic byway’s 75th anniversary in 2010, accommodations along the route lure tourists with special rates and packages.
Although it’s tempting to drive the entire 469 miles on the parkway, don’t because it’s slow going. The road curves and speed limits are low. Instead, alternate between motoring along the parkway’s scenic roads and making up time on faster I-81, which parallels the parkway.
At the Rockfish Gap Tourist Information center, milepost 0, U.S. Highway 250 at the parkway’s entrance, gather brochures and plot your stops. If you’ve packed sandwiches for an impromptu lunch, pause at the picnic tables along the James River, mile 63.7. The nearby James River Trail leads to the Kanawha Canal Lock. Check with the park service for the schedule of guided lock tours as well as for the dates of the James River Batteau Festival.
Roanoke, mile 120, offers museums and historical attractions as well as moderately priced lodging. You’ll know you’ve reached the region when you see the Roanoke Star/Overlook. The city’s most visible attraction since 1949, the 100-foot-tall illuminated star made out of steel, concrete, and 2,000 feet of neon tubing shines from the top of Mill Mountain.
Children like the Virginia Museum of Transportation, known for its collection from railroad’s golden era. See steam, diesel, and vintage electric locomotives as well as cabooses, a railway postal car, and a business car. The model trains exhibit delights kids with six tracks, multiple viewing levels, and a model of a Barnum and Bailey Circus. Kids can romp at the Star Station Transportation Playground’s child-sized helicopters, cars, and trains.
The Taubman Museum of Art, an 81,000 square foot structure, showcases American modern and contemporary art as well as a changing array of national and international shows. “Beauty in African American Culture” explores how the culture depicts African American beauty in photographs, film, video and advertising. Check the museum’ schedule for family weekends, afternoon concerts and performances by the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra.
For more African American history, visit the Booker T. Washington National Monument, Highway 122, 6 miles east of Burnt Chimney. Booker T. Washington was born into slavery in the kitchen of this nineteenth-century tobacco plantation. He lived here until the age of 9, when he was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Later Washington became a respected educator and founder of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, as well as an adviser to presidents. The historic 0.25-mile-long Plantation Trail loops through this 207-acre restored plantation.
Back on the Blue Ridge Parkway take time to explore Rocky Knob, milepost 167. Its 4,800 acres offer 15 miles of hiking trails, including the Rock Castle Gorge National Recreational Trail.