After all of the crazy landscapes, from vast deserts to ocean cliffs, it was nice to be back in something familiar. The temperature had dropped by the time we reached the Smokys and there were hints of fall in the air. Nights and mornings were cold with mist hanging in the air until late morning when things finally warmed up out of the 50s. We did a few hikes through the park taking in the mountain views, waterfalls and quiet meadows. I loved the area and definitely want to go back some day.
The Blue Ridge Parkway over 450 miles long and though somewhat doable in a day, we decided to give ourselves two so that we could go at a relaxed pace and stop when we felt like it. It was such a good idea! The scenery along the Parkway was gorgeous and there were tons of pull off overlooks to take in the views. There were also a number of museums, visitor centers and places to hike along the way which broke up the drive nicely. We stopped at a lot of the pull offs and some of the way were Folk Art Center, Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, Mabry Mill and Peaks of Otter. It was a relaxing, beautiful drive and if anyone had to travel in the area, they should definitely make this a part of their route.
|Views from the Blue Ridge Parkway|
|Looking Glass Rock|
|Making friends near Moses H. Cone Memorial Park|
|Peaks of Otter - Darrell is bracing himself against the clouds of black flies!|
The morning before we made our way into Shenandoah National Park, we decided to take an hour detour to the East to see Monticello. I felt it was my duty as a student of architecture to visit Jefferson’s house and I was glad I did. The home was so well designed and proportioned that even though it is high on square footage, it doesn’t feel large. The grounds too were beautiful and perfectly laid out. I decided that someday I would have a vegetable garden on par with his, though not 1000 feet long.
Shenandoah National Park begins right at the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway and continues to follow the mountain ridges for 100 miles on Skyline Drive. Though I liked the Blue Ridge Parkway better for scenery, Skyline Drive was beautiful in its own way. We arrived at the park in the late afternoon after visiting Monticello and were fortunate to grab one of the last 10 available campsites in the park! Similar to Zion, we only realized after grabbing the site, that it was on a major thoroughfare, this time to the bathrooms. So the evening was spent chatting with everyone passing by on their way back to their campsites! The next morning was cold! By the time we picked up the site and were on our way the car was still only telling us it was 38 degrees outside. But we still managed a nice morning hike down to a small waterfall and stopped at a couple of the visitor centers.
That afternoon brought us to the end of our National Parks and back to cities and visits with more family and friends. We left Shenandoah in the early afternoon and headed over a town just outside of Washington D.C. to visit with Darrell’s other Aunt and Uncle. We had some good home cooked meals there and were able to take in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum next to Dulles Airport. It was really fun and we got to see the space shuttle Discovery! While in the D.C. area we also got to visit with our friend Charles who has been taking care of our cat Sophie while we’ve been adventuring. It was really nice to see him and visit with my kitty (who remembers me!).
On Tuesday the 25th we made our last big stop in Baltimore, Maryland. One of my good friends has lived there for the past 6 years and this is the first chance I’ve gotten to come down and visit with her! While she was still at work we took in the National Aquarium which was really fun (aquariums apparently became a theme for us on the trip!) They had a glass pavilion that was set up like a rainforest with birds and bats flying around and tanks with fish and reptiles native to Australia. Very cool set up! That night we at out at a place called Mama’s on the ½ Shell which was really good and it was great just talking and catching up!
The morning of the 26th was our last day of driving and we would be back in Massachusetts that afternoon! We drove up through Pennsylvania and New Jersey crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge into New York. I wanted to swing into Somers, NY to show Darrell where I grew up. My family and I lived there for 11 years before we moved up to Massachusetts and it was interesting to see how much had changed! Finally we headed up Route 684 to Route 22 and by 3pm we were home!
Our journey lasted 55 days, took us through 28 states and had us drive almost 12,000 miles! We visited 13 National Parks, 14 State Parks, 7 National Forests, 4 National Monuments, 2 National Grasslands and 1 National Lake Shore! Plus the countless other National Forests, Grasslands and BLM land that we drove through along the way. The trip was an experience that we probably will never have again and I am so grateful that we had the opportunity to make a dream a reality. This country is so vast and contains so many different and spectacular landscapes that I never really appreciated until this trip. At some point in their lives everyone should just take some time to drive and experience the beauty that this country has to offer!