Grandfather Mountain

Grandfather Mountain, N.C.

In my last column’s exciting cliffhanger, we were about to cross into North Carolina on our trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway. Crossing the state line for me was important, because it meant that I’d seen the entire 469-mile parkway at one time or another, starting when I lived in Georgia in 2012.

Unlike the previous day’s fog and rain, the weather was beautiful Friday, Sept. 18, so we got to see some grand views as we headed into North Carolina. We stopped in Blowing Rock, N.C., to see the town’s namesake rock, which, like the Natural Bridge in Virginia, I last visited as a child. We were trying to avoid large crowds, so we stayed away from the swamped downtown after driving through.

We ate at a restaurant called Foggy Rock. Oddly enough, the urinal in the men’s room was made of a keg from The Lost Coast Brewery, a brewery in Northern California that is named for another scenic drive we’ve taken.

As for Blowing Rock itself, which you might have seen on online listicles for “the most overrated tourist attraction in each state,” it was a little crowded, but not terrible. The rock wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was only $9 and there’s some nice views. However, with people constantly posing on the edge of the rock, I am shocked there aren’t more tragedies there.

Heading south on the parkway, I was taken aback by the number of people crammed into some of the scenic viewpoint areas. We really wanted to see the Grandfather Mountain overlook, which was foggy when I tried to visit previously. I was afraid it would be packed, but hardly anyone was there, giving us a great chance for pictures. I guess the Blowing Rock tourists only want to venture so far from town.

Since we’d seen the rest of the parkway to Asheville, our stop for the night, we decided to get off the parkway and take the main highways.

We stopped at Buxton Hall, a barbecue restaurant I’ve wanted to try for a long time. It features whole hog hash and rice, which is one of my favorite dishes. It’s usually available only in South Carolina and parts of Georgia. They had plenty of temporary outdoor seating, so we were able to have dinner with our dog Lucy.

Our hotel was nice enough and actually allowed the dog. One thing I noticed on the trip is they are slowly bringing back the hotel breakfast buffet. For a while after the pandemic started, the hotel would give you a “breakfast bag,” containing a bottle of water and maybe a prepackaged pastry or granola bar.

Our hotel in Harrisonburg, Va., had bagels and prepackaged bowls of cereal and fruit carefully laid out.

In Asheville, they actually had hot sausage and eggs, but it was served by an attendant. Unfortunately, also back were the large groups that tend to show up at hotel breakfasts, taking over the breakfast room, talking endlessly and barely eating. Of course they weren’t wearing masks.

We skipped the hotel breakfast Saturday and instead went to Biscuit Head, which had been recommended to us by a woman we were in line behind for several hours a year ago at a Nashville hot chicken popup in Portland, Ore. My mimosa chicken biscuit was very good, though the Sriracha coleslaw made it a bit soggy because we drove several miles before eating it as there wasn’t enough outdoor seating at the restaurant.

Before leaving Asheville, I tried a honey pepper pimento cheese chicken sandwich that Chick-fil-A is test marketing there (it tasked better than it looks). We then drove the final stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway between Waynesville, N.C., and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Some spots in the national park were extremely crowded, especially the visitor center parking lots. I’d never been to Cades Cove, a valley on the far end of the Tennessee side of the park. I had no idea how popular it was. We tried the 11-mile scenic drive but had to bail eventually because traffic was bumper to bumper.

We then started making our drive back to Missouri, staying about an hour east of Nashville and making it home by 4 p.m. Sunday.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a great, secluded scenic drive, and not too far from here. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a fun, somewhat isolated, vacation during the pandemic.