A few miles outside of Asheville, we rounded a sharp curve that revealed a magnificent vista of steel blue mountains.
This story originally appeared in the September/October 2016 edition of Living Intown Magazine.
I swerved into Tanbark Ridge Overlook’s narrow parking area, so the three of us — my mother, my 22-year-old cousin, and me — could repeat what had become a roadside ritual a day earlier: squinting into our matching white iPhones for selfies, Snapchat stories and social sharing.
It was our second afternoon on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The snakelike two-lane highway had carried us through a seemingly endless terrain of knobs, gaps and forks — each more gorgeous than the last. Nothing could have prepared me for such striking scenery, nor for the curious, sometimes hilarious place names like “Beartrap,” “Licklog” or “Thunder Struck.” The latter was a fair description of my temperament: I felt a bit light-headed, perhaps from all the “oohs” and “ahs.”
How naive we’d been at the start of our journey, stopping for photos at every other overlook. Who knew that the eye candy would continue for days and days?
Lots of people, it turns out.
Last year, 15 million sightseers flocked to the Blue Ridge Parkway, the country’s longest linear park and the National Park Service’s most visited site. The 469-mile scenic highway stretches from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to North Carolina’s Cherokee Indian Reservation. Coming from Atlanta, it’s a pleasant three-hour drive to the parkway’s terminus near Cherokee, N.C.
The well-maintained highway is free of billboards and most development. There’s an embarrassment of riches for hikers, campers and climbers, with trails, waterfalls, picnic areas and, of course, the ubiquitous overlooks. Motorcyclists flock from all over the world to brave these famous curves. Though the speed limit is 45 mph for most of the parkway, traffic can ebb like molasses on weekends during the busy leaf-looking season of early October through mid-November.
After a couple of days of sightseeing, I began to understand why going slower has advantages. We’d hurried through our list of recommended destinations, but had bypassed Looking Glass Rock during a detour into the Pisgah National Forest. Now, en route back to Atlanta, I worried that we might be nearing overlook overload. All three smartphones had dwindling batteries — and so did the rest of us.
The sudden appearance of Looking Glass Rock brought new life to my passengers. We found a spot in the viewing area’s parking lot but didn’t rush as before. A few photos were taken, leisurely.
Looking Glass Rock gets its name from the visual phenomenon that occurs when rain or ice makes light bounce off the enormous granite face. Though the rock was dry that day, it still inspired a moment of profound reflection. Wonder really is a renewable resource, I realized. The marvel of the landscape was beyond breathtaking. Snapchat could never do it justice.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com