Get yourself a hot beverage as this is going to be a bit long.
As has been mentioned, I spent several weeks in Greensboro, NC at one of our contractor facilities in September. It was most of September actually.
So when I got back home on the 17th I threw a curve ball at Melanie.
What about I take off next week and we drive the new car down to Chattanooga via Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway as a Birthday expedition?
To remind you, this is the new (to us) car:
As we discussed earlier, I had gotten a wild hair and bought Scarlett in August.
Oh course Melanie asked, “top down?”, and the answer was “absolutely”. Amazingly enough she said yes, so we began our planning.
We didn’t want to kill ourselves driving too much, so I split the drive down into, approximately, 6 hour jaunts. So our plan was as follows:
- We would depart on Sunday morning, enter the Shenandoah National Park, and begin the trip down Skyline drive.
- We would travel the length of Skyline Drive, on to the Blue Ridge Parkway and overnight in Roanoke, VA at one of our favorite hotels, the “Hotel Roanoke“. Jourdan and Stefani’s wedding was held there and we fell in love with this old world hotel.
- Day two would have us leaving Roanoke and driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Blowing Rock, NC where we had booked a room at the very highly regarded Alpine Village Inn.
- Day three had us leaving Blowing Rock, and completing the drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway winding up in Cherokee, where we had booked a room at the Casino.
- On day four we would head into Chattanooga, where I had booked a room at “The Chattanoogan“.
This all seemed good and well, so we packed up the car and departed on Sunday morning.
As this blog is “allegedly” about photography, a brief description of the gear brought on the trip seems to be appropriate at this juncture. A Think Tank Retrospective 7 bag was loaded with the Fuji XT-2 with the XF18-55 mounted, the XF10-24 UWA, and the XF55-200 zoom.
In the bag went several batteries, a charger, the little Minolta Table Top tripod I’ve had since college, and my Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 in the back pocket. Separate from all this was an Innorel travel tripod I had bought a couple of years ago before my non-trip to Greece.
The car was all packed up with the luggage filling the meager trunk space of the SC430 and completely filling up the back “seat”. We wuz packed to the gills, as they say. Leaving the house around 9, traveling west to Front Royal on I-66 with the top up as it was rather cool and windy. Stopping at the entrance to Skyline Drive, we got a Senior Pass giving free access to all National Parks in perpetuity. It was $80 and entrance to Skyline Drive is $30 now, so it won’t take long to cover the price.
It was a beautiful fall day, and a bit cool, so the top was put down, the windows raised, the heater engaged and off we went. We’ve driven Skyline Drive a number times, so there was little need to stop just to take pictures. Leaf season hadn’t yet begun, so we just enjoyed the ride down.
Saying all that, we did stop a couple of times to stretch our legs and while stopped, grabbed a couple of shots:
Departing Skyline Drive in Waynesboro, we found our way to the entrance to the Parkway. The northern section of the Parkway is/was very similar to Skyline Drive, so we motored on with the main difference being the speed limit of 45 mph versus 35 mph on Skyline Drive. What this did begin to highlight was the astounding amount of understeer present in the SC430. It would simply plow in a straight line with the wheels turned, until it had scrubbed off sufficient speed to begin the turn into the corner.
This was in drastic comparison to the near neutral behavior of the S2000 in similar situations. Oh, well, you wanted a luxo barge dude, you got it. At some point, re-engineering of the SC430 suspension will come to the table, but that’s not now.
Stopping in the afternoon to take a restroom stop, and there was a “Virtual Welcome Center” in the parking lot. Talking to the folks manning the station, they told me there isn’t a Welcome Center in the top part of the Parkway so they and their truck would just pick a rest stop location and use that. In our discussions, they mentioned that a goodly section of the Parkway near Roanoke was closed due to a rock slide. I was directed to the Park Ranger, who very nicely drew us a map of where to get off and back on the Parkway in the morning.
Getting to the Hotel Roanoke around 4:30, we checked in and found our way to the room. We wanted to eat at Taaza Indian Cuisine in Roanoke, as we had eaten there before and loved it. Reservations were made for 6, we lazed around for a bit and then went to dinner. The food was most excellent as before, so it was quite the treat. Highly recommended if’n you are ever in Roanoke.
In the morning, we got up, had a luxurious buffet breakfast at The Roanoke, and departed around 9:30. After making our way around the closed section of the Parkway. we were able to rejoin at Callaway Road.
Anyway, it was a nice ride and we got the opportunity to stop a couple of times for nice scenery:
We got to Blowing Rock around 2:30 and since we had not eaten yet, we stopped at The Blue Ridge Diner in Boone, NC which is near to Blowing Rock to eat lunch. The less said about that experience, the better. Little did we know it was a harbinger of things to come in our brief time in the area.
After dinner, we hit the grocery and ABC store for some sustenance and headed to the Alpine Inn. What jumped out at us when we entered the facility was this welcoming sign:
There were perhaps 4 of these ever so welcoming signs sprinkled about the office of the facility. Ringing the bell produced a flurry of activity from the dog you can see in the door, then a minute or so later the clerk coming to the door. After a fairly unfriendly conversation, she grabbed my credit card and then handed me a receipt and key out of the door.
The Alpine Inn is an old school motel from years gone by that has, in the owners defense, been prettied up as much as possible. Saying that, we don’t normally stay at motels and for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you why I booked it, other than it was very highly rated. There are not a lot of hotels/motels in Blowing Rock so that could account for the high rating. There were a LOT more options in Boone, which is only about 15 minutes away. Just sayin’.
Anywho, after an evening snack of some of the stuff we had bought at grocery, we were treated to a nice sunset, marred only by the female couple down the way having a knock down, drag out screaming contest followed by a spectacular slam of the door. After that excitement, we retired to the room and settled down for the evening.
In the morning we got up early as we wanted to get out of the hotel and get something to eat. As I’m packing the car, the owner comes walking by and blurts out “You getting coffee?”. As best I can tell he was trying to steer us to some friend of his for breakfast, but I told him we were going to the Toastery, which was right next door. He failed to respond.
We got the car packed up and left, and pulling into the lot of the Toastery, and it was closed. It was really nice of the owner of the Alpine Inn failing to mention that in our brief conversation. As you might expect, we don’t recommend the Alpine for your hotel/motel selection while in the Blowing Rock area.
So, after a quick breakfast at Cracker Barrell, I know, I know, chain food, we got back on the Parkway. This section was far different than the two northernmost sections as it was fairly flat and straight for most of the route. What we did notice was that the elevation was some 1000 foot higher and the leaves had begun to turn in this section.
Along the route we saw signs directing us to Linville Falls. We had a bit of time, so we took a slight detour to see what the falls were all about.
The trails were quite extensive:
Melanie decided to stay in the car, so I got the camera bag and headed out. There were few folks around, so I had a nice walk, as it turns out all the way to Erwin’s View and back along the southerly path. It took me about an hour and a half, but it was a nice walk and lots of great images emerged from the adventure.
At Erwin Fall’s there is an observatory with places to sit and enjoy the view, which I will admit was spectacular. When I got there, a gentleman was sitting there enjoying the view. After a few moments I made a comment about how wonderful it was and he agreed. Melanie and I had been discussing the view the entire trip and we wondered if people who live in the area get used to it and really don’t see it anymore. I asked the gentleman about this, and he said he had lived in the area his entire 55 years and never ever got used to it as it was constantly changing. One day there will be something to see that isn’t there to see the next time you visit.
He told me he visits the overlook several times a week as schedule allows, only interrupted during the height of the pandemic quarantine as the area was overwhelmed by young folks flush with Government dispersals looking for things to do as they had been sent home from school/work/whatever. That wave dissipated after a couple of months and the area went back to the sleepy little jewel it was before.
We bid farewell and I made the walk back to the car. After a quick rest room break we got back on the Parkway and headed to Cherokee for our last night on the Parkway.
The Cherokee reservation is an interesting place. Very, very touristy with the main attraction, obviously, being the Casino. One thing we did notice upon entering the casino is there is virtually no cell phone service. That was very curious, and a bit problematic as I was unable to access my reservation to check the address.
Anyway, following the signs posted along the road, we made our way to the casino to check into the hotel. We were about to pull into the valet area when Melanie mentioned that she had wi-fi so we pulled into the parking lot to check the reservation. That was when I noticed that our reservation was not in Cherokee, but in Murphy about an hour to the West. Doh.
It was all in the direction, literally, of goodness as it put us one hour closer to Chattanooga. After a brief rest stop we got back on the road. It was an easy drive with good roads between the two towns.
Before checking in at the Casino, we decided to stop at “ShoeBooties Cafe” in Murphy, NC for dinner. A little local place, it was about half full when we sat down. After looking at the menu, Melanie told me what she wanted and then went to the restroom. The server came to take our order, and in the entire “conversation” she spoke exactly 4 words to me. H’mmm, something I said was definitely off-putting.
Melanie came back to the table, and we waited. And waited. And waited. After almost an hour we had begun to get up to leave, and our server came and plopped the food down without so much as a word. The food was actually quite good which made the experience all the more perplexing. At this point it was getting late, and we hadn’t seen our server in a while so we asked one of the other servers if they could get our bill. When the bill was brought, the server profusely apologized for the other server’s behavior. She acknowledged that the server was a problem, and that efforts were underway to encourage her to do something other than be a server.
Anyway, we departed and drove the couple of minutes to the hotel. Unloading the car, I went to check in. The counter clerk looked at his screen and tells me, your reservation is for tomorrow night….. Great.
We have plenty of rooms though. Can’t honor the rate we gave you of $69, but tonight will be $199. What? Seriously? Yep. At this point the bellman has all our luggage in a cart and Melanie is walking toward me with him in tow. I relay the story and apologize to the bellman saying that the luggage needs to go back in the car. I cancel the reservation, and the bellman helps me put all the luggage back in the car. I give him a $20 tip for being a sport and he tells me the StoneBrook lodge next door is usually about $100 a night and typically has room availability.
So we drive over there and park in the lot. It’s 8 o’clock at night at this point and we are tired. We decide to call the Chattanoogan to see if they could accommodate us that night rather than staying at the StoneBrook. Getting through to a real live person at the desk of a hotel is a bit of a challenge nowadays, but after about 20 minutes of phone bingo I was on the phone with Brandon who was manning the desk at the Chattanoogan. He listened to my story, and looked up our reservation. Since we had booked a suite, he said he couldn’t put us in a suite as their weren’t any available, but they had plenty of room availability. Just get driving, we’ll be ready for you when you arrive, were his words.
It’s about a 2 hour drive from Murphy to Chattanooga, a majority being on twisty, 2 lane mountain roads in the dark. As I’ve gotten older, my night vision is really not what it used to be and situations with glare from oncoming lights are really problematic. So we carefully made our way on Highway 64, stopping at Sonic in Cleveland, TN for a quick snack before arriving at the Chattanooga at 10:30 at night.
Brandon met us at the door with a valet, got the car unloaded and whisked us into a very nice room for the night. As you might imagine at this juncture we were exhausted. I cannot say more nice things about the way Brandon eased us through this little brouhaha. Great job Brandon, great job.
We’ll finish the trip next time with our exploration of Chattanooga a most welcoming and wonderful place.