The USA’s favourite road
t took more than half a century of work to complete the 766km that comprise Blue Ridge Parkway. A whole 52 years passed from when president Franklin D Roosevelt laid the first stone, in 1935, until the last stretch was completed in 1987. It was built as a result of a plan to revitalize employment and the economy, in this area to the east of the country, which, at that time, had become impoverished as a result of the Great Depression.
Stanley William Abbott, a landscape architect who worked on the project, described the setting where Blue Ridge was built as a place with “evidences of a simple homestead culture and a people whose way of life grew out of the land around them”. It was an open-air museum exhibiting agricultural life in the mountains. This blend between nature and culture survives today, though significant progress has definitely been made.
A wooden treasure
At Mile 176 is one of the best-known pit stops along Blue Ridge Parkway: Mabry Mill. It took several decades to build, in the early 20th century. Local musicians gather there on Sundays during the summertime.
Blue Ridge Parkway doesn’t enjoy the international acclaim of Route 66 or the Pacific Coast Highway, but it is a favourite among locals. Indeed, it is known as the “USA’s favourite road”. It passes through the Appalachian Mountains—in its south section—and the most important points are two national parks, one in each of the two states it crosses: Shenandoah, Virginia, and Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina.
It is managed by the US National Parks Service, and in 2015, they recorded a total of 15 million visitors. Despite this inflow, the route is designed for slow, contemplative journeys. To travel it from start to finish, you need a full week if you don’t want to rush. It is lined with trails that let you ‘escape’ the most heavily trodden route, and viewpoints where you can stop (382 of them).
Travellers normally start in Virginia and finish in North Carolina. Asheville, Boone and Roanoke are the most important cities along the way, but the best stops aren’t in towns. Part of Blue Ridge Parkway intertwines with the Appalachian Trail, a legendary hiking route, and the longest in the country, crossing 14 states. Mabry Mill—a wooden mill that has become a monument—is another essential picture-postcard stop on this road.
The maximum speed on Blue Ridge Parkway is 45 miles per hour. And the best time to navigate its curves is in autumn, when the leaves are falling off the trees. You can take advantage of longer stops to go hiking, horse riding or bird watching. Only one hotel along the route opens all year round: Peaks of Otter. You will find it at Mile 86, and it overlooks a lake where you can fish. Another alternative is having a picnic at one of the 13 special picnic areas.
Of course, there is no road in the United States that doesn’t have its own soundtrack. They play the one for the USA’s favourite road at Blue Ridge Music Center (Galax, Virginia). Concerts take place in its auditorium and there are open-air performances. The centre is responsible for promoting local music, which sounds like African banjo combined with European violin.