So, here we are. One thing I hate hate hate is driving for more than say, six hours at a stretch. Driving makes me grumpy. So I looked into air travel to the Smokies. Unfortunately, one thing about National Parks that's pretty universal is that they are hard to get to. Short of rail service that would take over 30 hours of travel time, there were not may options for our 10 hour plus drive.
So then I began looking at places along the route which might be good stopover points.
On Friday, we left for Natural Bridge, Virginia, where there is a natural arch rock formation that is 215 feet tall, 40 feet thick, and spanning 90 feet! They actually have a road (US Route 11) running directly overtop, which, as an engineer, totally blows my mind. It makes me super nervous that the Department of Transportation is willing to rely on materials which man does not control as a means of support. So what if it has been here for 500 million years!
Ultimately, we did drive over it, thinking we could get a different view, but the current purveyors of this bridge have covered their bases in ensuring that one pays the $18 admittance fee to look at the rock. There are tall fences which afford no view.
We did get a few pictures, but it was almost dark:
The Natural Bridge - note the size of the people!
The next morning we went to the caverns, which were opened to the public in the 70's. The cave was very cool (like literally - a welcome relief from the HEAT we have had). However, it seems as though our trip caving a few years back may have ruined us for commercial tours. All we wanted to do was crawl around in the areas roped off!
After the cave, we hopped in the car for another 5 hour drive to Asheville, North Carolina. Everyone kept telling us how it was like this town was built for us - lots of mircobrews, outdoor sports, and live music. It did not disappoint. They have nine microbreweries, and we never did get to try them all in our short stay. We caught a Grateful Dead cover band late in the night and bar-hopped with the best of them. After hotel check out on Sunday, we walked the streets, and went to a coffee shop (almost as many of these as bars), the "Mellow Mushroom" - a pizza place, with beer, of course, and a chocolate lounge. So many choices of cool flavored chocolates! (And beer, of course!)
At the Mellow Mushroom
With bellies full of pizza, beer, and chocolate, we finally left for our ultimate destination, the Great Smoky Mountains. We're here in Bryson City, North Carolina, planning to hike a few trails this side of the park before heading to Tennessee tomorrow. (It will be a new state for me, I have never even driven through Tennessee.)
View of Fontana Lake