|The next morning, we both awoke late. John had spent a good
portion of the night in Mary's room, trying to get her to sleep comfortably.
We had started out by putting her in the playpen, but it was too close to the
vent. The air coming through it caused her to cough uncontrollably, to the
point of stridor, and she would wake up screaming. So, John arranged a
sleeping area for her on one of the beds, where the footboard of the other bed
prevented her from falling onto the floor. Then, John placed the playpen on
the bed, creating a safe little area in which she could sleep. When all that
was said and done, John fell asleep on the other bed to keep her company until
she, too, fell back to sleep.|
Needless to say, we were a little slow getting started that morning, but after we showered and ate breakfast, we finally got the motivation we needed to get going.
Our original plan for our visit to North Carolina was to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is located at the North Carolina-Tennessee border. We changed our minds, however, when we looked at the mileage to the park. The drive time would have been several hours, and that would have been very difficult for Mary to handle. Instead, we decided to take a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, an historic roadway, maintained by the National Park Service and known for its magnificent vistas. Spanning 469 miles, the Blue Ridge Parkway, which opened in 1939, connects the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks as it travels through the crests of the Appalachian Mountains. Millions of visitors come to the parkway each year to enjoy the many attractions along the way. They come to see the rhododendrons in full bloom during the spring, to get a taste of the local cultures of the region, and to take part in the various activities that the area has to offer.
During the evening, we had seen an advertisement for Grandfather Mountain, one of the attractions along the parkway, and that sparked our interest. I was particularly interested in the Mile High Swinging Bridge, from which visitors get a stunning view of the mountains. We decided that that would be our main destination of the day - and, if we had time, we would also do a short hike along the way.
Since we didn't want to take any chances with Mary getting pneumonia, we made sure to bundle her up in thermal underwear, along with a turtle neck and jeans, before taking her out of the house that morning. There was a good chance that there would be snow on the ground at Grandfather Mountain and along the parkway, and we wanted to keep Mary as warm as possible. Once she was bundled up properly, we put her in the car seat and began our scenic drive.
To get to the Blue Ridge Parkway, we went back to US 321 and took it northwest to the town of Blowing Rock. On the other side of town, we came to a Blue Ridge Parkway interchange, which put us on the parkway at approximately milepost 295. From there, we traveled south.
As soon as our drive began, we were immediately taken by the beauty of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Even though all of the trees were leaf-bare from winter and none of the rhododendrons had bloomed, the parkway was spectacular. At every half-mile, there are scenic vistas, where motorists can pull over and gaze down at the valley below. Each of these vistas has a sign, explaining what the view is.
The parkway itself is a windy-twisty mountain road, with a speed limit of about forty miles and hour - of course, if you go any faster than that, you will miss something. From the passenger seat, John was able to see little bridges on the creeks by the roadside, some of which were deep in the forest and not immediately visible from the highway. He guessed that there were some trails in there and wondered how one could get there.
We had barely driven ten miles before we came to Grandfather Mountain, at milepost 305. The park was located on a side road, a mile off of the parkway. Despite the steep price to enter the park ($12.00 per person, Mary was free), we paid the fee and drove up to the visitor's center.
The visitor's center contained a museum and a gift shop, as well as a statue of Mildred the Bear, who had been, at one time, an inhabitant of the park. We browsed through the museum first and learned about the natural resources of North Carolina: animal and plant life, its geology, and its Native American history. Then, we spent a lot of money at the gift shop, where we purchased gifts for people, including a T-shirt for Mary (one that said, "Hiker in Training" - very appropriate).
We learned that there was an animal habitat behind the visitor's center, so we took an hour to explore that. It was sort of like a mini zoo, with a handful of animals on display in their native habitats. Some of these animals had been harmed by humans - the bald eagles, for example, had been shot and were recovering. We saw three of them in the habitat - they were very beautiful, very majestic birds.
Mary's favorite part, though, were the river otters. There were three of them, and they were frolicking about merrily in their mock river and in their caves. Mary watched them intently, laughing and pointing at them with delight.
My favorite, however, were the bears. We had heard that we might not get to see any of the six black bears that live there in their habitat, because they were still hibernating. However, after careful observation, I finally spied two of them slowly looking for food at the rear of their enclosure. After several minutes, one of them sauntered into full view, and I was able to take a picture of him.
In addition to the bears, eagles, and otters, the park also had a panther and a white tail deer. The cougar kept hiding from us, but the deer was in full view, as he was being videotaped by a film crew, while the zookeeper tried to lure it out into the open with food. He was frightened away, though, when Mary began to fuss…oops!
Once we were finished at the zoo, we got back into the car and drove to the top of the mountain, where we could see the Mile-High Swinging Bridge. To get there, we had two options: 1) we could park the car at the trailhead and hike the three-quarters of a mile to the top, or 2) we could park at the top and hike up the stairs to the bridge. John chose the latter, so that he could minimize Mary's exposure to the cold. (It actually was not that cold outside, but there was a cool breeze blowing.)
We parked the car and carried Mary up the stairs to the Mile-High Swinging Bridge, which was called such because it was located at an elevation of 5,280 feet, or one mile. The bridge itself is metal, having been recently renovated, in 1999, and swings in the breeze; according to the signs posted there, it is actually dangerous during periods of high winds.
We put Mary down, and she walked with us halfway across the bridge…and then, of course, she got scared and insisted that we carry her the rest of the way. Once on the other side, John carried her as he stepped across the rocks to sit on top of Linville Peak; I followed only a few feet behind, avoiding ice that was hidden away in the shadows around the rocks. At the top, we all sat down and enjoyed the silence and the breathtaking beauty of the 360° view that surrounded us.
We could have stayed there all day, on top of the mountain - in fact, we stayed there for quite some time, until another tourist came along. That was when we decided that it was time to go, so that we could have lunch.
After leaving Grandfather Mountain, we returned to the Blue Ridge Parkway and drove to the town of Linville Falls for lunch. We stopped at a little diner there - I can't remember the name of it, but the waitresses were very friendly and the food was good.
We continued south on the Blue Ridge Parkway for several more miles, until we came to the town of Little Switzerland - which, as you can imagine, looked…well, like Switzerland. The highway was lined with little chalets, gift shops and restaurants, all decorated in an Alpine style. It was there that we bid farewell to the Blue Ridge Parkway and started back towards the mountain house.
To return to Lenoir, we took US 221, one of the highways that parallels the parkway, to US 70, then back to US 321. The route took us through more of the backroads, through many small mountain communities consisting of several trailers and farming equipment. We also passed by Christmas tree farms, where there were rows upon rows of small fir trees that would one day be cut down and delivered to a Christmas tree lot for purchase.
The ride home was uneventful, for the most part. Mary was asleep before we reached the mountain house, so we carefully carried her inside and laid her down on the bed. With her asleep, John and I took advantage of the quiet time to drink beer on the deck out back and enjoy the warm afternoon sunshine. "Now this is the life," I said. "We'll definitely have to come back here someday and stay here again."
Later that evening, we took a drive back into Blowing Rock for dinner. Uncle Richard had recommended a Mexican food restaurant called Los Arcosiris - or known as "Los Arcos" to the locals - because it actually served decent Mexican food. For lack of any other ideas, we decided to give it a try.
We managed to get lost on the way there and found ourselves at the outlet malls that Aunt Lotte had told us about. Although we are not that big on shopping at outlet malls, we did want to go into the Carter's children's wear store. Aunt Lotte had purchased a good number of Mary's dresses there and suggested that we stop there if we had the time. Since we needed directions to the restaurant anyway, we went inside and did a little bit of shopping for Mary. Not only did we get directions to the restaurant, but John also picked out a cute little outfit for Mary.
Los Arcosiris reminded me of Eva's in Casa Grande, AZ. Their menus were similar, as was the atmosphere, and the food, though not the best, was still good.
After dinner, we returned to the mountain house and retired for the night. We were all quite tired out, and we hoped that we could all get a good night's sleep.
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