Today I begin a new section of my blog, giving some recognition to probably the most important highway in the Appalachian Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway or BRP for short. As I hike different sections of this monumental highway, I will simply begin the titles as BRP followed by the number representing the mile marker of the location of interest. The Blue Ridge Parkway winds 469 miles from Waynesboro, VA, to Cherokee, NC. At 45 mph, and even 35 in spots, it is not made to be a travel route for speed, but one to just get out and enjoy the views. It winds mainly along the ridge lines with a few peaks and valleys here and there. The mountains it spans always seem to be gentler on the vehicles than the roads and highways that intersect it. This is a national park, and aside from some specialty shops, cozy restaurants/coffee shots, and dated mountain lodges managed by park service, you will not find commercial signs or gas stations. It is best to have a map or gps, know where the next highway crossing will be and not let your fuel go too far below 1/4 tank. The Parkway is a haven of outlooks that are designed to pull off the road and get out to view. Some require a small hike up or down and most are well worth the time, but many are simply roadside spectacular views to get out and see and stretch the legs. Expect to come across deer, wild turkeys, beavers, foxes, raccoons, and possibly even a rare black bear siting. Living just an hour away from it, I have found over the years to enjoy bits and pieces of it, but have never made the entire trip. There is just too much to see and do. While this is a great adventure in the car, I find the true treasures that are along it, must me reached by hiking!
First off, I should not be allowed to travel freely on the BRP in late January. Being a National Park and not a highway, it does not get plowed in winter and should be snow/ ice covered and closed in many sections. Some places up here receive up to 100 inches of snow in a typical winter. This is not the case this year in 2012, the winter that wasn’t. It is a toasty 60 degrees up here in the delightful mountain resort town of Blowing Rock, NC. I am going to visit the Moses H Cone Memorial Park at BRP Post 294. This is marked by a sign as you leave Blowing Rock and enter the mini-park area. It is a vast 3600 acres covering both sides of the Parkway. Today, I stayed on the side with the Cone Manor.
Moses H Cone, a man that lived a relatively brief 51 years, was a giant in the textile industry, especially denim. His name is large in the triad town of Greensboro NC, having the Hospital and numerous medical facilities named after him, due to his large donations to his communty . I have also read that Mr Cone’s donations were also instrumental in founding Watauga Academy, or what is known today as Appalachian State University….Go Mountaineers!! Somewhere about age of 40, he and his entourage, made their way to the NC mountains and had this incredibly impressive, large, and beautiful mansion built on top of a mountain near Blowing Rock. It goes by Moses Cone Manor, or Flat Top Manor. It’s impressive beauty and size stand out way below looking up. Today it is a craft center and receives 250,000 visitors a year. Another interest Mr Cone had was building “Carriage Roads” or trails wide enough and level enough for the horse and carriage to comfortably pass. There is a network of 25 plus miles of these carriage roads that today make for some of the easiest hiking in our mountains.
After taking some photos and just conversing with a few other hikers, I started my journey along the “Figure 8” trail, which is just a little side trail next to the manor. It is short, with numerous info stations about the plant life that resides here. After this short trek, I began the journey down to “Bass Lake” which can be seen way below from the manor. The trail, or dirt road is nice enough and wide enough for a car, but it is strictly for hikers and horses. It conquers the elevation change by long, and level switchbacks. At about 2.2 miles, I reached the lake, and was amazed by the view from the lake of the mansion way…above it. It was a pretty day, and the blue sky made the scenery even nicer. There is a side trail that goes all around the lake, I did this of course and enjoyed every minute of it, I will note that it was some 10-15 degrees cooler down here surrounded by the cool icy waters. When I came to the point where the main creek enters the lake, I witnessed some very nice Beaver action, viewed a perfectly made Beaver Dam, it was very cool. It was now time to tackle the unavoidable, the hike back up… There were 2 ways back up, one that went through a 2.3 mile crazy route called “The Maze”, and a more direct route. With my hike approaching the 5 mile mark, I decided today to take the more direct option, but I will be back at a later date to tackle “The Maze”. There was one last stop on the way back at the large building known as the “Apple Barn”. While Moses Cone was here, he grew over 75 varieties of apples. Looking at all of the accomplishments this man had, he must have had an incredible “vision”. As I reached the top, I kept thinking, wow that was mild. His Carriage Roads were designed so well that there was never really a spot where it got steep, just a constant slightly uphill climb. It went almost unnoticed. At the end of the mild climb, the famous “Mountains To Sea” Trail joins in the finish the day.
This was a nice break from the trails I have been used to, the ones that are much more narrow, with roots, rocks and tight spaces to navigate. I can see why this place gets so many visitors, which is another reason I have to visit it on a week day in January to really enjoy it, it is just too crowded. Check out my slide show below for some of the photos of the day….