Southern Roads & Museums: Part 6

Part 6    Good Roads and Bad Decisions

If you have a moment, look up the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway on the internet and find a general map of the route.  Linda and I did this during our planning stages.  We did not want to have to “rush” our trip so we set ourselves rather “low” mileage objectives for each day.  

As we perused a map of the Blue Ridge Parkway, we could see certain towns, travel times and distances laid out on the page.    Afton (Waynesboro) to Roanoke 120 miles.   Roanoke to Fancy Gap, (Mount Airy) 80 miles.  Fancy Gap to Blowing Rock 95 miles.  Blowing Rock to Asheville, NC (our ultimate destination) 90 miles. 

For our 6th day on the road, the itinerary is to begin at Roanoke (mile post 120) and meander on down to a place called Fancy Gap (mile post 199).  Notice the word meander… because if you do the math, we were only scheduled to drive 80 miles today.  This rather modest mileage goal would eventually have HUGE consequences in our overall enjoyment of the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway.


It is a beautiful sunny day as we set out from Roanoke and searched for the nearest entrance to the Blue Ridge.  Well, low and behold, the nearest section is “closed for construction” and we are detoured at least 15 miles along local roads before we finally hook up onto the “official” Parkway.  At one point Linda and I were SURE we had missed a turn.  We were about to retrace our steps when we came around a bend and saw another detour sign pointing the way.  By 10 am we are back on the Parkway and enjoying the view.

My trusty co-pilot and I are traveling at a speedy 35-40 MPH, stopping at overlooks to read the information signs and in general just enjoying the road.    One of the special sights we wanted to see was Mabry Mill, located at Mile Post 176.  Unfortunately, one item we did NOT note when researching our trip was that this popular spot would not open until April 29.  What day is today?  April 17.  Thus, like almost everything else on the Blue Ridge (and previously on Skyline Drive) the restaurant ….and other facilities…. are all closed. 

Fortunately, the general grounds are open and Linda and I walk around, read the markers and get a real sense of what it was like to live in these mountains and hollows over 100 years ago.  One lasting impression was that life back then was a lot of hard work. 

Around 1905 Ed Mabry began building a grist mill with help from his wife Lizzy and neighbor Newton Hilton.  Initial construction took about 3 years to complete.  Once up and running Ed turned the grist mill operation over to Lizzy.  He then spent another couple of years adding a sawmill, a woodworking shop and finally a blacksmith & wheelwright shop to the building.   By the time he was done Ed Mabry had a thriving operation that was known, and supported, by customers and neighbors from up to 20 miles away.  Talk about grit and determination, this family had it in spades.


Since we have so few miles to travel today Linda and I spent more than 2 hours exploring this outdoor museum. 

After our Mabry visit, we continue on.  At one particular overlook in the early afternoon, we pull over and are enjoying another “goldfish lunch”.  Off to the side was a couple sitting at a table enjoying a modest picnic.  I wandered over to their car and noticed the license plate.  They were from New York, but the surround around the license plate caught my eye.  It said “I’d Rather Be Watching the Andy Griffin Show”. 

At first we did not get the significance of the plate… but that would soon change. 

By 3:30 we had completed our allotted 80 miles and we climb down out of the mountains and head for our reservation in Mount Airy, North Carolina.  Mount Airy is the closest town to Fancy Gap with amenities.   As we are driving down out of the mountains I ask Linda if she can tell me a little bit about Mount Airy.  It’s always nice to know a bit about the local history of the area.  She consults the oracle (i Phone) and guess what?  The Andy Griffith Show takes place in a mythical town called Mayberry, USA.   And Mayberry is loosely based on Mount Airy, North Carolina. 

Well, what do you know!   That couple we had seen earlier were probably heading home to New York after a trip to a place they most likely always wanted to visit.  Kind of similar to our desire to see the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. 

By 4pm we are all checked in and killing time until we head out for dinner.  Something had been percolating in the back of my mind all day and I finally express it to Linda. 

“You know, it’s still pretty early and we are already done with our driving for today.  How many miles did we drive today, and how many are we supposed to do for tomorrow?”

Linda consults the “Purple Book”, her loose leave binder with the general plan of attack, including hotel reservations and points of interest.  “Today we did 80 miles, Roanoke to Fancy Gap.  Tomorrow we have about 100 miles scheduled.  That will get us from Fancy Gap to Blowing Rock.  After that its about 90 miles to Asheville.  Why, what’s on your mind?”   She has a sense something is up.

“Well, I’ve been thinking.  I know we don’t want to rush things… but after today, 80 miles a day, or even 100 miles a day doesn’t seem like a lot of miles to cover.” I continue on with my brain storm, hoping to convince the keeper of reservations that we should change our plans. 

“What do you think of the idea of blowing off Blowing Rock”, hoping she gets the pun I just presented, “and we combine the next TWO days of driving into ONE single day.  All together it’s a total of about 190 miles.  Surely, we can cover 190 miles in a single day… and not really miss anything interesting along the way.  Like I said yesterday, how many overlooks can you overlook?”

Linda is not always an easy person to convince.  But eventually, after much discussion, she begins to see the logic of my argument. 

“This will only work if we can change our reservations in Asheville.  If we can’t come in a day EARLY this is a NO GO.   I have a nice place booked at Homewood Suites” … another Hilton chain naturally.  “Let me make a couple of calls and see what they say in Asheville.”

Ah, the joys of having an understanding wife.  Over the years Linda has come to expect my occasional brain storms.   She calls them something else… but we should skip over that for now. 

A few phone calls to confirm an early arrival in at our Destination City, plus cancelling our reservation at Blowing Rock. “No Charge?  Really? Great!” says a relieved Linda and our plans have been changed.

Little did we know that this decision was a major mistake.

Next Time

Bad Mountain Roads 

-Ray Boyer