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The ancient New River pauses on its northward flow to form this pretty view in Pulaski County.
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Historic Carroll County Courthouse.
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Chateau Morrisette Vineyard and Winery
Relax and enjoy fine wine, food and a fantastic view from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
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The ancient New River pauses on its northward flow to form this pretty view in Pulaski County.
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The view from Draper Mountain. Heroine Mary Draper Ingles walked this valley on her 800-mile odyssey in 1755.
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The campuses of Virginia Tech and Radford University come alive with color.
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It's known for rural beauty and artful crafts.
The spectacular fall foliage ranges from the Blue Ridge Parkway to Galax, home to the world’s largest and best-known bluegrass festival; from the rugged terrain and wild ponies of Grayson Highlands State Park and Mount Rogers National Recreation Area to Hillsville and its famous yearly flea market. In short, breathtaking beauty and mountain culture abound in the highlands of Southwest Virginia.
Southwest Virginia’s Blue Ridge Highlands is a region with a rich heritage that includes not only historic personages such as Daniel Boone and Booker T. Washington, but also claims kinship with the dinosaurs. At Saltville in Smyth County the remains of mastodons and other mammoth creatures provide a glimpse back to the area’s distant prehistoric past.
Lured by important waterways such as the New River – considered the second oldest river in the world – and the region’s majestic mountains, Native Americans were also frequent inhabitants of these lands. Finding here an abundance of wildlife and other resources, the Iroquois and southern tribes including the Catawbas and Cherokees used the area as a thoroughfare for trade and hunting. Today, archaeological sites excavated at Bastian and Crab Orchard tell their story.
By the late 1780s, the Great Wagon Road (roughly following the path of today’s U.S. 11/I-81 corridor) had become the main thoroughfare stretching from Philadelphia to the Carolinas. A western extension following a route blazed by the infamous pioneer Daniel Boone and known as the Wilderness Road (what is today’s U.S. 460) soon reached the Cumberland Gap and opened up the fertile regions of eastern Kentucky and Tennessee. This important route precipitated a migration of people and commerce to and from the Blue Ridge Highlands that would continue unabated for the next 100 years.
Whether you choose to enjoy the sights and sounds of Southwest Virginia’s Blue Ridge Highlands from the vantage point of I-81, U.S. 11, U.S. 460, the Blue Ridge Parkway or even the Appalachian Trail, after a long day’s journey, as you stand at any one of the region’s many scenic overlooks, you will get a sense of what pioneer Daniel Boone experienced on his visit here circa 1770:
“Just at the close of day the gentle gales retired and left the place to the disposal of a profound calm. Not a breeze shook the most tremulous leaf. I had gained the summit of a commanding ridge and, looking around with astonishing delight, beheld the ample plains, the beauteous tracts below, [while] at a vast distance I beheld the mountains lift their venerable brows and penetrate the clouds…”
From the Blue Ridge Parkway
The southern stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia gracefully traverses the high country of Franklin, Floyd and Patrick counties, and skirts the rolling hills of Carroll and Grayson counties, before reaching the mountains of Western North Carolina. Each mile of scenic parkway offers a variety of experiences, from the traditional life in the mountain plateaus of Floyd and Patrick counties to the wine country of Chateau Morrisette, where modern-day cultivators produce fine wine for the world market.
Other parkway pleasures include such historic sites as Mabry Mill (milepost 176.1), great hikes like the rugged Rock Castle Gorge Trail at Rocky Knob (milepost 167.1), and spectacular views from any one of the parkway’s many overlooks.
Built by mountain resident and sometimes coal miner Edwin B. Mabry in 1910, this combination gristmill, sawmill and wheelwright shop quickly became a commercial focal point for the nearby community of the Meadows of Dan (milepost 177.7).
But Edwin Mabry himself could not have foreseen how his handiwork would become a monument to the lifeways of he and his fellow residents of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Recognized by parkway planners for its historic significance and interpretive potential, Mabry Mill was restored by the National Park Service and is today one of the most visited and photographed sites on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Mabry Mill Restaurant has been known to attract hungry travelers from nearby communities who often make the day trip just to dine on the lodge’s famous buckwheat cakes, grits and country ham.
Sunday afternoons throughout the season are also a special time at Mabry Mill, as locals and parkway passersby gather their blankets and lawn chairs around the “sugaring tree” to hear seasoned old-timers perform their favorite bluegrass and mountain music.
Directions: Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 176.1.
Address: 266 Mabry Mill Road SE, Meadows of Dan, VA 24120. 540/952-2947 or www.nps.gov.
Chateau Morrisette Winery
Chateau Morrisette, founded by William, Nancy and David Morrisette, was born of a love of the Virginia mountains and a passion for fine wines. They planted their first acre of vines in 1978 and by 1982 had produced their first 2,000 gallons of commercial wines. Today, Chateau Morrisette produces more than 100,000 gallons of wine annually.
The winery’s timberframe structure provides the perfect setting for a lesson in winemaking. Visitors can sample the vineyard’s pride and joy, such as the rich, dry, full flavor of their Chardonnay or fruity dessert wines like the Sweet Mountain Laurel.
The vineyard’s restaurant is also a high-altitude experience, especially for those who wish to savor their favorite Chateau Morrisette vintage with their choice of fine foods. The menu here includes appetizers such as sautéed goat cheese medallions with a salad of organic baby Swiss chard, arugula, red onions and cherry tomatoes, complemented with a balsamic and olive oil dressing. Entrées include such delicacies as pan-seared red snapper, roasted Black Angus strip loin and seared breast of duck.
The vineyard’s Black Dog Jazz Concert Series runs from May through October and features some of the area’s best-known jazz musicians.
Directions: Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 171.5.
Address: P.O. Box 766, Meadows of Dan, VA 24120. 540/593-2865 or www.chateaumorrisette.com.
Doe Run Lodge
There are few places of lodging located directly on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and none offers more in the way of spectacular views and resort amenities than Doe Run Lodge. Located on Groundhog Mountain at milepost 189 near Fancy Gap, Doe Run’s alpine lodge, cliffside chalets and poolside villas offer large fireplaces complete with firewood, spacious kitchens, as well as patios that provide a spectacular view above the treetops and down across a broad blue valley into North Carolina. Most clearly visible in the distance is Pilot Mountain, a landmark made famous by the old “Andy Griffith Show” and the townsfolk of Mayberry.
Doe Run Lodge’s High Country Restaurant is a great way to start and end the day. The menu here exceeds the expectations of most resorts, with daily offerings of fresh seafood, steak and local specialties presented with all the flair of the world’s creative chefs. A fabulous wine cellar, full-service bar, floor-to-ceiling windows and a spacious patio all complement the romantic dining experience.
If business is your pleasure, the Doe Run Lodge has a clubroom and several conference areas that can accommodate groups of as many as 125 persons. Seasonal amenities include swimming, tennis, golf, hiking and shopping in communities nearby.
Directions: Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 189.
Address: P.O. Box 280, Fancy Gap, VA 24328. 1-800-325-6189. www.doerunlodge.com.
Mayberry Trading Post
Built in 1892, the Mayberry Trading Post is perhaps one of the most culturally indigenous sites on the Blue Ridge Parkway. One of the last vestiges of a community that still includes the Mayberry Presbyterian Church built in 1924, the trading post and mountain surroundings provide yet another glimpse into the lifeways of the people of the Blue Ridge region. Here you will find locally made jams and jellies and hand-quilted items, as well as other examples of indigenous craftwork including cornhusk dolls and mountain dulcimers. The store fixtures are original for the most part and evoke the feeling of stepping back to a simpler time.
What makes the Mayberry Trading Post unique, however, is not the building, but the people who man the counter, occupy the bench outside the door or partake of a game of checkers around the store’s antique pot-bellied stove. These elderly natives of the area still remember what it was like in the old days before the parkway. And their stories are part of the priceless stock that brings the history of the Blue Ridge region to life.
Directions: Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 180.
Address: Patrick County Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 577, Meadows of Dan, VA 24120. 540/694-6012. www.co.patrick.va.us.
Floyd Country Store
Home of the Friday Night Jamboree, the historic Floyd Country Store (formerly Cockram’s) welcomes the world into its tiny corner of the world each week with an old-time country music extravaganza that has been running for as long as anyone can remember. Each Friday night between 6:30 p.m. and midnight the folding chairs are lined up, the dance floor cleared and the stage readied for the night’s featured performers, as well as anyone else who wants to play the music they love.
Meanwhile, outside on the street, performers both young and old gather in loose-knit groups in front of the old barbershop, in the car lot or across the street at Mama Lazzardo’s Pizzaria to tune up and share old-time favorites. The cast of characters includes everything from the cowboy hats and string ties of the traditionalists to the leather and chains of the psychograss crowd.
Floyd Country Store’s Friday Night Jamboree has all the makings of an old-time radio show, and all are welcome to join in the fun.
Directions: Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 165/Va. 8.
Address: 206 S. Locust St., Floyd, VA 24091. 540/745-4563.
Traveling Via I-81 and U.S. 11
Running roughly parallel to each other, the superhighway (I-81) and this one-time wagon road (U.S. 11) offer the visitor a chance to breeze through the beautiful countryside in air-conditioned comfort, while enjoying the chance for frequent stops at any one of the region’s historic sites. The Fort Chiswell, Marion and Abingdon exits each provide a piece of a puzzle that collectively tells of Southwest Virginia’s colorful history.
Mountain Lake Hotel
Mountain Lake has been providing respite since the early 19th century, when grazing cattle quenched their thirst on these waters.
Today, Mountain Lake Hotel enjoys a reputation that continues to attract a crowd. Accommodations include the hotel’s well-appointed 50 rooms, the 16-room Chestnut Lodge, and 13 turn-of-the-century cottages. Mountain Lake’s award-winning restaurant boasts both hearty and heart-healthy signature dishes, many freshly prepared from locally grown ingredients.
The stone hotel and its quaint historic cabins played an important supporting role in the famed film of the ’80s – “Dirty Dancing.” But this secluded spot of considerable beauty offers much more than just a backdrop of great fall scenery.
With 2,600 acres of the region’s finest mountain hardwood forests at its back door, Mountain Lake offers such outdoor fare as hiking trails, mountain biking trails, kayaking, fishing, boating and swimming, as well as educational programs, all overseen by Mountain Lake’s full-time recreation staff.
The delicate balance between recreation and education here is carefully maintained through the stewardship of the Wilderness Conservancy at Mountain Lake, a nonprofit organization established by the Mary Moody Northen Endowment. Northen, a noted philanthropist, had fond memories of her many visits to Mountain Lake and wanted to preserve those memories for the enjoyment of others. The Valley View Cabin, where Northen spent many precious summers, has recently been refurbished and is once again available for occupancy.
Directions: From I-81 take exit 118 at Christiansburg, take U.S. 460 bypass west. Beyond Newport take Va. 700.
Address: 115 Hotel Circle, Mountain Lake, VA 24136. 1-800-346-3334 or 540/626-7172. www.mtnlakehotel.com.
Abingdon – The Barter Theatre
When the Barter Theatre opened at the Abingdon Opera House in the middle of the Great Depression in 1933, the advertised admission price for its debut performance of “After Tomorrow” was 35 cents or the equivalent in produce. The first ticket was purchased with a small pig that squealed so loud it was tied up outside to attract customers. The local barber offered haircuts to the cast, while others offered corn, cakes and home-canned pickles and preserves as payment.
The show was a big hit, and soon the Barter Theatre was attracting some of the biggest names in the business who were also willing to play for “peanuts.” Playwrights Clare Booth Luce, Noel Coward and Tennessee Williams were among the many who accepted Virginia hams in lieu of royalty fees.
The popularity and reputation of the Barter Theatre quickly spread far and wide. In 1946, it was designated the State Theater of Virginia, the first theater to be so named. In 1948, it received a Tony Award in recognition of the Barter Theatre’s concept as a forerunner in the regional theater movement. It was a concept that would help launch the careers of such Hollywood luminaries as Ernest Borgnine, Hume Cronyn, Gregory Peck and Patricia Neal.
Today, the Barter Theatre is the crown jewel of historic Abingdon and continues to offer great theater performances to sell-out crowds.
Directions: Exit 19 from I-81.
Address: 133 W. Main St., P.O. Box 867, Abingdon, VA 24212. 540/628-3991. www.bartertheater.com.
Birthplace of Country Music Museum
The year was 1927, and music was becoming a popular commodity. In the mountains of Southwest Virginia, old-time country musicians like the Fiddlin’ Powers family from Scott County and Ernest Stoneman of Galax were making their reputations known. Still, most had to go to places like New York and New Jersey to find recording studios. Record producer Ralph Peer had a better idea – bring the studio to the mountains.
Peer set up shop on the second floor of the Taylor-Christina Hat Company warehouse in Bristol and placed ads in the newspaper seeking local talent. Success came quickly.
The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Carter and Ralph Stanley, and many others got their start in Bristol.
In October of 1998, Congress recognized Bristol as The Birthplace of Country Music. Today, a nonprofit group has established a museum at the Bristol Mall, where country music lovers can view photos, documents and other memorabilia from the early days of country music.
Directions: Exit 1 off I-81.
Address: Bristol Mall/500 Gate City Hwy., Bristol, VA 24201. 276/645-0035. www.birthplaceofcountrymusic.org.
Blue Ridge Institute & Museum
The museum, in addition to rotating exhibits on everything from vintage, locally made musical instruments to antique farm implements, includes a working German-American farmstead. Visitors to the farm can speak with costumed interpreters about the architecture, gardens and livestock, as well as learn what it was like to live as a local farmer in 19th-century Franklin County, Va.
The institute’s yearly Blue Ridge Folklife Festival, held the fourth Saturday each October, is an event that brings out students of folk culture from around the world and features such forgotten skills as log skidding, plowing with draft horses and other farm-related chores.
Directions: From I-81 take I-581/U.S. 220 south (at Roanoke) to Va. 40 at Ferrum.
Address: Ferrum College, P.O. Box 1000, Ferrum, VA 24088. 540/365-4416. www.blueridgeinstitute.org.
Experience the Region’s History: Wilderness Road Regional Museum
This historic 1810 farmstead includes a museum and bookstore, as well as many outbuildings on the grounds. Exhibits tell the story of early travel on the Great Wagon and Wilderness roads.
Directions: Exit 98 off I-81. Follow brown signs.
Address: Box 373, Newbern, VA 24126. 540/674-4835. www.rootsweb.com/~vanrhs/wrrm.
Museum of the Middle Appalachians
From the discovery of dinosaurs and Native American villages to a history of supplying salt for the Confederacy, no small community has contributed more to the region’s history than Saltville. The museum here displays prehistoric artifacts from a mastodon dig to other interesting items.
Directions: Exit 35 off I-81 to Va. 91 north. Right on Va. 42 to Saltville.
Address: P.O. Box 910, Saltville, VA 24370. 540/496-3633.
Parks & Recreational Areas
The Blue Ridge Highlands of Southwest Virginia, with such natural assets as the New River, Jefferson National Forest, Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and the Appalachian Trail (to name but a few) is a magnet for outdoor adventure. Here you’ll find no shortage of hiking and camping opportunities, great flyfishing or whitewater rafting thrills.
Grayson Highlands/Mount Rogers National Recreation Area
Grayson Highlands State Park and the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area share a population of 120 wild ponies that were introduced to the area in 1974 to maintain the barrens in the higher elevations. The two parks offer rugged mountain beauty at its best, with direct access to the Appalachian Trail.
The AT is the best way to reach Mount Rogers, Virginia’s highest mountain peak at an elevation of 5,729 feet and a region reflecting many of the attributes of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Directions: Exit 45 off I-81 to Va. 16 south. Follow signs.
Address: 829 Grayson Highlands Lane, Mouth of Wilson, VA 24363. 540/579-7092. www.dcr.state.va.us.
New River Trail State Park
A 57-mile-long state park that follows an abandoned railroad right-of-way, the New River Trail State Park meanders through Grayson, Carroll, Wythe and Pulaski counties and parallels the historic New River.
Part of Virginia’s Rails to Trails program, the parkland was donated by the Norfolk Southern Railroad in 1986 and is a complement to other area parks including Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area, Shot Tower Historical State Park, Claytor Lake State Park and Grayson Highlands State Park.
Designated by the state legislature as Virginia’s Millennium Legacy Trail, the 765-acre linear park tells the story of Virginia’s railroad heritage and includes such dramatic features as two tunnels 135 feet and 193 feet long – as well as three major bridges: the Hiwassee at 951 feet, the Ivanhoe at 670 feet, the Fries Junction bridge at 1,089 feet long, as well as 30 smaller bridges and trestles.
The park’s two campgrounds – Millrace and Cliffview – are 20 miles apart and offer primitive tent sites. New River Trail State Park also offers one of the most unique services for the physically handicapped. A three-wheeled electric vehicle with a range of 25 miles gives easy access to most of the parks features. The park also offers senior van trips each spring and fall, which enable participants to travel most of the trail in a one-day trip.
Shot Tower State Park
This 254-acre preserve located along the New River Trail is home to one of the last known remaining shot towers in the world.
Overlooking the New River, the shot tower was built more than 150 years ago and was used to make ammunition for the firearms of the region’s early settlers.
Lead from the nearby Austinville Mines was melted down in a kettle at the top of the 75-foot tower. Slowly poured through a sieve, droplets of the molten metal fell through the length of the tower, as well as an additional 75-foot length of shaft below the main structure, into a waiting vat of water. The cooled metal formed into a perfectly round shot.
Directions: Take exit 80 from I-81 to Va. 94 south.
Address: 176 Orphanage Dr., Foster Falls, VA 24360. 540/699-6778. www.dcr.state.va.us.
Virginia Creeper Trail
The 33.4-mile-long Virginia Creeper Trail connects Abingdon with the North Carolina line. It started out as a Native American footpath and was later used by European pioneers, including Daniel Boone. By 1907 the Virginia-Carolina Railroad would follow much the same route. With a trunk line extended into the timber-rich mountains of North Carolina, the line regularly hauled timber and iron ore. It also slowly ascended many steep grades. Hence the line was given the name Virginia Creeper.
The 15.9 miles of trail between mile 17.5 and the North Carolina line pass through rugged and picturesque countryside, earning the Creeper the distinction as one of the most beautiful trails on the East Coast.
Directions: Exit 17 off I-81 at Abingdon.
Address: Mount Rogers, Route 1, Box 303, Marion, VA 24354. 276/783-5196.
Hungry Mother State Park
The unusual name of this park, one of Virginia’s most well-equipped, is owed to a local legend. When Native Americans destroyed several settlements on the New River at a location just south of the present-day park, Molly Marley and her young daughter were among the survivors captured. Eventually escaping captivity, Marley and her child wandered for days through the dense forest, existing solely on berries. Exhausted and hungry, Molly Marley finally collapsed, while her daughter made her way downstream in search of help. Making contact with rescuers, the young girl’s only words were “hungry mother.” The search party arrived at the foot of a nearby mountain only to find Molly Marley dead. Today, the mountain is known to locals as Molly’s Knob and the stream nearby as Hungry Mother Creek.
From such a tale of starvation, Hungry Mother State Park has come to be known to travelers today as a land of plenty when it comes to park amenities. For the adventurous who enjoy the crackle of a campfire, the park has 43 campsites. The 11 tent sites offer secluded settings and a fire ring for cooking. The park’s 32 additional campsites offer a variety of hook-ups such as electric (20- and 30-amp current) and water. Most can accommodate RVs up to 35 feet long.
Hungry Mother State Park’s 20 rustic cabins offer a variety of comforts, as well as views. There are one-room log efficiencies that sleep two, as well as others that sleep four and six. The Hungry Mother Lodge, a recently renovated log structure built by the CCC in the 1930s, sleeps a maximum of 15.
Hungry Mother’s day facilities provide accommodation for groups of all sizes. Three picnic shelters offer amenities such as electrical outlets, large fireplaces, Texas-size grills and community tables that will seat up to 80 people.
In addition to boating, swimming, fishing and other recreational activities, Hungry Mother State Park’s Environmental Education Center is a great place to learn about the ecology of the region, as the park staff regularly conducts programs that include canoe tours, nature hikes, night hikes and evening programs.
Directions: Exit 45 off I-81 to Va.16 north.
Address: 2854 Park Blvd., Marion, VA 24354-9323. 276/781-7400. www.dcr.state.va.us.