I finally had good weather today, and decided to make the drive to Mt. Mitchell State Park, which lurks around milepost 354 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The last time I was there was in 2007, right before I left for Japan, so I figured now was as good a time as any to head back and see what things were like.
In case you didn’t know, Mt. Mitchell is the tallest peak east of the Mississippi River in the U.S. When the weather is cooperative, the views are great.
First things first, though– getting there. I always go via Elk Mountain Scenic Highway, which is one of my favorite roads in North Carolina. The road starts in North Asheville, and it’s windy, curvy, and feels just a little dangerous. It dumps you out on the Blue Ridge Parkway after about 20 minutes or so.
About 15 minutes down the road, there’s a place where a lot of people pull off to the side on the right where you can gaze out over some of the valleys. But if you’re not careful, it’s really easy to fall off of the mountaintop and wind up a stain on the valley floor. It’s not an “official” overlook, it’s just some place where everyone goes to look at the mountains. So it’s usually kind of messy and covered with graffiti left by high school kids, as well as some leftover beer cans and other hazards.
In spite of all of that, it’s worth stopping for a few minutes on the way to the Parkway. Just be very careful where you step.
With road work on a 16-mile stretch of the parkway from mile marker 375 to mile marker 359, the usual 45 mile an hour speed limit was cut down to 35. To top it off, the road itself is in sorry shape in places, so I really didn’t want to push my luck. I’m talking “surface of the moon” potholes here. It was even less fun coming back from Mt. Mitchell, because that’s all downhill.
The weirdest bit had to be the random stoplights on the parkway, used to control traffic through a single-lane construction zone. It was brutal. I wound up sitting there for about 10 minutes on each side, just waiting for it to turn green. Not much traffic went by either way. I’m not sure how it works, to be honest, but a lot of the time I bet it was just red on both sides, while its dark silicon heart laughed at us.
I finally got to the summit of Mt. Mitchell after about an hour or so total of driving.
They replaced the gravel path to the summit with some sort of asphalt with a pattern cut into it. I’m sure it has better traction now, but it looks bland. I miss the charm of the old gravel path.
They also tore down the shabby old observation tower and replaced it with an open air ramp that ends in a big circular platform thing that’s very shiny.
The clouds were in great form, with giant thunderheads and rain clouds forming all around us. I got some good photos, in spite of the fact that I didn’t have the right filter on my camera. I really need to drop the money for a good graduated neutral density filter for the new lens. It makes a huge difference with landscape shots.
I’m glad I managed to wait out the weather up here. It took almost a week, but it was totally worth it.