Mabry Mill, Virginia

My wife and I recently took our first extended trip since moving to Missouri seven months ago.

It also was our first long trip since the COVID-19 pandemic started, so that left limited options. We were celebrating our five-year anniversary and several places we looked at visiting, including our first choice of Hawaii, required lengthy quarantines for visitors.

We wanted to avoid large crowds, so we decided to make it a five-day road trip. I’ve loved the Blue Ridge Parkway, which goes 469 miles through the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina, since I was a kid. When I lived in Georgia between 2011 and 2013, I made several trips to drive the parkway, over time seeing it all the way through North Carolina and ending just over the Virginia border.

In recent years, I’ve taken my wife on shorter trips up the parkway in North Carolina, so, this time, we decided to start at the northern end of the parkway near Charlottesville, Va., and head south.

We left Missouri on a recent Tuesday afternoon, stopping in Louisville for the night. The next day, we drove through West Virginia, stopping at the New River Gorge bridge, before reaching Virginia with a couple hours of daylight to go.

We decided to drive up a bit of Skyline Drive, basically an extension of the parkway in Shenandoah National Park. It allowed us to see a lovely sunset and get up close with some deer along the road, which had great views of the valleys below on both sides. Unlike the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is free to drive, you are normally supposed to pay a $30 entry fee to go on Skyline Drive. But no one was manning the entry stations, so it was free when we went (oddly enough, this was the second time we’ve saved a $30 entry fee at a national park this year. The computer system was down when we went to the Grand Canyon in February, so everyone got in free).

Thursday, we started our drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway in earnest, and we picked a nasty day. It was rainy and/or foggy the whole day, giving us only a couple good views of mountains peaking out of the fog. The rest was just looking down at a bunch of gray, but the trees along the road itself were still pretty.

When I told my father we were going to drive the Blue Ridge, he questioned why we weren’t going later in the fall, when more leaves were changing. Well, there was some fall foliage starting in spots, so it was still beautiful. And judging by all the leafy trees around here, I’m sure we will get to see plenty of leaves change color in Missouri.

We made a stop Thursday at the Natural Bridge, a 215-foot arch carved into the rocks. I barely remember going there as a child and seeing the initials of a young George Washington (who surveyed the area) carved into the stone along the creek below the bridge. It was really cool seeing it 40 years later, especially now that I know he was the namesake of Washington, Mo.

After seeing the bridge, I was pretty proud of myself for walking the 137 stairs back up to the visitor center. We then drove over the Natural Bridge, which is crossed by a state highway. Unfortunately, the sides of the bridge are lined with solid wooden fencing along the road. They must really want you to pay the $7 to go into the park to see anything.

We stopped at our hotel in Roanoke for the night and were told that our hotel, which was listed as “pet friendly” when we booked it wouldn’t take pets. We were able to book a room in a nicer hotel that would allow our little dog Lucy that was listed at the same price. Unfortunately, it required us to drive to the other end of town and pay a $50 pet fee at the new hotel, which we gladly did because we were worn out.

We missed a 20-mile stretch of the parkway that was temporarily closed around Roanoke, which means I’ll have to go back someday so I can officially say I’ve driven the entire thing. But Friday, we drove into North Carolina, allowing me to say I’ve driven the whole parkway at one time or another, except for that segment.

Before leaving Virginia, we stopped at maybe the highlight of the drive ­— Mabry Mill, a picturesque grist mill in Floyd County, Va. It came complete with a working water wheel and lengthy chute system. It was also one of the few places with a gift shop open. The shop there was privately operated, while most of the government-run visitor centers on the parkway were closed (because of COVID, I would think).

Please check back next time to read about our trip into North Carolina.