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Posts Tagged ‘Blue Ridge Parkway’

Beep! Beep! Honk! Honk! — Curse of the Drive-By Tourists

It’s an odd sort of thing: a National Park that’s really just a stretch of road. But that’s what the Blue Ridge Parkway is: a stretch of road. It’s a terrific stretch of road, however. It runs between Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, and contains some of the nicest scenery east of the Mississippi. There are great swaths of sparsely developed land on both sides of the road, and plenty of small towns and great diners and other out-of-the-way places up and down the Parkway.

Courtesy of National Park Service

The big problem with the Parkway is the phenomenon of the drive-by nature tourist. Growing up in Western Massachusetts means growing up loathing one particular type of tourist: the leaf-peeper, that sightseer who comes up once a year, clogging our roads, looking at the world through their side window. It’s even worse when they won’t even get out of their cars to have lunch & help the local economy: they just turn around and go back to Rhode Island or Boston or wherever they come from. Eventually, it’s safe for the locals to get back on the roads, but by then, fall’s over and the roads to the mall get overloaded with Christmas shoppers….

Ah well, at least it’s only once a year. On the Blue Ridge Parkway, however, you get these types all year round. But unlike the roadways of Western Mass., the Parkway isn’t a real travellers road, it is just for the tourists. They’re not clogging up roads that working folk have to travel, so that’s fine. But I still get peeved by these drive-by tourists, even on roads built for them.

Courtesy of National Park ServiceMy big beef is this: nature is meant to be experienced, up close. It cannot be appreciated from the air-conditioned comfort of your Lexus SUV. You need to get out, put feet to ground (or paddle to water, or snowshoe to snow, or mountain-bike tire to trail, or whatever your modus operandi may be). That’s how you see the glory of nature. Get off your butts, and climb that ridgeline. Not only will you get some exercise, but then the views and vistas will be truly earned! And earning the reward makes the reward so much more satisfying.

Beyond that, in my opinion, roadside tourism leads to a misunderstanding of nature. It leads to a belief that nature is this broad, sturdy, indestructible everything, and that’s just not true. It also leads to this belief that nature is this serene, safe place, devoid of danger, and that’s not true, either. Nature can harm and can be harmed, it is strong yet delicate, it is diverse yet encompassing. Nature is so much more than just treetops and mountains visible from a roadside turn-off. It is trees and moss and roots and rocks and newts and squirrels and flowers and worms and all those other things not visible from behind a windshield.

So next time your driving along some scenic road, pull over, get off your butts, and walk the woods!

Courtesy of National Park ServiceI’ll talk about Shenandoah & the Smokeys later on, but here are a few non-National Park System sights I visited along the Blue Ridge Parkway:

  • Eastern Virginia has a lot of cave attractions, most are west of the Parkway. I visited Luray Caverns in New Market, Virginia. It was OK, rather touristy, but has some nice formations.
  • Charlottesville, Virginia is a great small town. It’s both the home of Thomas Jefferson and Dave Matthews. You can visit the former’s home (Monticello). I don’t think the latter would appreciate an uninvited visitor, however. 😉
  • Montpelier, the home of our 4th President, and the man creditted with writing much of the Constitution, James Madison, is in nearby Orange, Virginia.
  • The Natural Bridge is further south in, oddly enough, Natural Bridge, Virginia. It is said George Washington himself carved his initials into the stone, they’re clearly visible from the walkway.
  • The National D-Day Memorial is just off the Parkway in Bedford, Virginia. I didn’t care for it, however. Far too grandiose in my mind. I’ll comment on this in later posts, but I like simple memorials & monuments, not something that belongs on a Franklin Mint collectible. I did take a few unspectacular pics when I was there in spring of ’07.
  • Roanoke, Virginia has a surprisingly hip downtown area with some good restaurants & interesting shops. No brewpubs, though. 😦
  • Asheville, North Carolina is another nice little town. The famed manse, the Biltmore Estates, are nearby. I hear they’re a “must see”, which is, of course, why I didn’t visit them. 😛

Courtesy of National Park Service[Sadly, I didn’t own a camera when I toured the Blue Ridge Parkway. All pictures on this post courtesy of the National Park Service]

Links:

Blue Ridge Parkway

Luray Caverns

Monticello

Montpelier

Natural Bridge

National D-Day Memorial

Google map to the Blue Ridge Parkway

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