A blog dedicated to the pursuit of all roads in the United States except Interstates

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Eastern Continental Divide, Blacksburg VA

Many people do not realize that there is a continental divide in the East. Like the better known one in the West, it separates large watersheds. This sign is adjacent to the eastbound lanes of U.S. Route 460, about five miles west of Blacksburg, Virginia. It is in the Jefferson National Forest immediately west of the Pandapas Pond Day Use Area. This recreation area has trails for hikers, mountain bike riders and equestrians.

Behind the sign is the watershed of Poverty Creek, which flows into the New River, then the Kanawha, then the Ohio, then the Mississippi and finally, the Gulf of Mexico.

Behind the photographer and on the opposite side of the highway, Craig Creek rises. It flows into the Roanoke River, which empties into Albemarle Sound, a bay of the Atlantic Ocean in North Carolina.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, Robbinsville NC

This is a memorial plaque to Joyce Kilmer, famous for the poem "Trees." The name is a pseudonym, and in fact Joyce Kilmer was a man. He died in action during World War I in France.

The plaque is in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, seventeen miles from Robbinsville, North Carolina. Though popular, the site is well off the beaten track. You leave Robbinsville on US 129, follow the signs and turn left on a Forest Service road to the parking lot.

The plaque is in the center of a figure-8 trail. The hike around both loops is about two miles, and it's an easy hike on gentle grades. The back side of the loop passes some enormous trees in one of the last virgin forests in the East.

The memorial forest is part of the Nantahala National Forest. From the parking lot, other trails lead into a challenging wilderness.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Evergreen Motor Court, Bristol VA

I haven't posted in a couple of weeks. I bought a new computer, and setting it up has been very time-consuming. But look at this neon sign! And the name of the place: "motor court." Not "motel," nor any of the cute terms that are used by expensive chains. This motor court is on US Route 11, just north of Bristol VA. I stayed here in late October on my way to western North Carolina. My total bill was exactly $30.00, after using a coupon. And they had wireless Internet!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Winding Stairs, Nantahala Gorge, Western NC

Here are two scenes from the Winding Stairs in western North Carolina. To make things confusing, there are two places with Winding Stairs in their name. This is not near Winding Stair Gap on US 64 and the Appalachian Trail.

This Winding Stairs is a narrow gravel road that begins in the bottom of the Nantahala Gorge on US Routes 19 and 74. It climbs out of the gorge through some incredible scenery. The fall colors were beautiful when I drove up this road on October 31, 2009. The view above is looking back down into the Nantahala Gorge about halfway up the mountain.

The view below explains why this road is called Winding Stairs. The road that you see far down the mountain is the same one that I was standing on to take the picture. You don't want to drive fast on this road. As you can see, there are no guard rails, and it can be a very loooong way down.

The road goes around a man-made lake near the top of the mountain and joins a paved road that will take you back down to 19/74.

This is a spectacular but very obscure scenic drive in western North Carolina.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Christiansburg Wayside, Routes 460/11 VA

Before interstate highways were built in Virginia, the state opeated a system of "waysides" on most of the primary highways. These were similar to the rest areas that you find on Interstates today. I remember seeing a few of them as a child. Most of them no longer have restrooms, but they still have picnic tables. This is the Christiansburg Wayside on US Routes 460 and 11 just north of the town of Christiansburg. It's perched at the top of Christiansburg Mountain, and hence on top of the Eastern Continental Divide. Interstate 81 takes ten miles to ascend Christiansburg Mountain. 460/11 makes the climb in about one mile. It's steep, but I've seen steeper hills.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hidden Shangri-La in Southwestern Virginia

Burke's Garden is not a place you'd stumble on by accident. It's a beautiful, isolated agricultural valley 3000 feet above sea level. The closest other town is Tazewell VA. There is one road, VA secondary 623, that accesses the area. Coming from the south, it can be harrowing. Above, see the road you're standing on as it winds down the mountain.

Burke's Garden is flat but ringed by mountains on all sides. Below are three scenes on the valley floor.

The easiest way to reach Burke's Garden is from Virginia Route 61. About five miles from the town of Tazewell, turn south on secondary 623. This road bisects the valley, becomes a gravel road, and winds over Garden Mountain to end at Virginia 42.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

State Park Reveals Its Commercial Tourist Attraction Past

This is a view of Caesar's Head at Caesar's Head State Park, South Carolina. Someone thought that rock looked like old Julius or Augustus. The park may be found on winding, twisting US 276 north of Greenville.

 The state park was once a privately operated roadside tourist attraction. There is telltale evidence of that heritage in the two photos below. In the left photo is one of those coin-operated telescopes that you found at any attraction in the mountains. I never knew what I was looking at through one of those things.

The photo to the right shows a cleft in the rock with a sign reading "Devil's Kitchen." Commercial tourist attractions liked to give cute names like that to various rock formations. The best examples of this are at Chimney Rock and Rock City.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Spring from Pipe near Glen Lyn VA

I discovered this little oddity the other day while driving along a gravel road in Giles County, Virginia. I have no idea how the spring got there; it was in a patch of underbrush next to the road. There was no house or other building in the immediate vicinity.

I found it on East River Mountain Road, a few miles from the town of Glen Lyn. The road starts on US Route 460 between the Exxon station and the power plant. It winds around on the side of a mountain before dropping back down to Lurich Road next to a one-lane railroad underpass.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Wind Rock, Jefferson National Forest VA

You have to really love back roads to even know about this place. It's called Wind Rock, and it's deep in the Jefferson National Forest in Giles County, Virginia. Take US 460 west of Blacksburg almost to Pembroke. Turn right on VA secondary 613 and follow it all the way up to Mountain Lake Hotel, made famous by "Dirty Dancing." 613 turns left and quickly becomes a gravel road. Just before the road starts going down again, there's an open area to the left where you can park. Look for the white blazes of the Appalachian Trail and walk to the right of the road (trail-wise north). The rock is about a quarter of a mile up the AT, to your left. It's uphill, but the path is smooth.

Except for one house that probably isn't showing up on the photo, there is absolutely no sign of human habitation visible from Wind Rock. Nearly all of it is in the Jefferson National Forest.

A note on route numbers: Virginia secondary highways are numbered in the 600s and 700s. These numbers repeat themselves in each county, so if you see another Route 613, it isn't the same one unless you're still in Giles County.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Roadside Fans Yahoo Group

Check out this Yahoo Group:


The main topic of discussion is diners, but other aspects of highway travel are talked about too.

You need a Yahoo user-ID and password to join.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ice Cream Stand on WV Route 12

I found this ice cream stand on West Virginia Route 12 yesterday. It was closed but still interesting. If you're driving the interstate, you're fortunate if you see a Dairy Queen. WV 12 is a beautiful road that goes from US 219 at Peterstown to Route 3 on the Greenbrier River, about twelve miles before Hinton.

Monday, October 5, 2009

What Do Chickens Have To Do With Furniture?

Good question. My guess is that the building used to house a restaurant, and when the furniture store took over, they thought the chicken was cool and kept it.

This oddity may be found in Rich Creek VA, a stone’s throw from the WV border, less than three miles up US 219 from where it begins (or ends) at US 460. 219 winds its way north for 535 miles to end at Lackawanna NY, near Buffalo. Look at this index of US Routes; it gives a description and brief history of each one.

It would take a loooong time to get to Buffalo on US 219. Elkins WV is about 140 miles north of Rich Creek, and there’s no way you’d make it in less than four hours. That road twists and turns through the mountains, and does more of the same beyond Elkins. It has a fair amount of traffic, so it’s difficult to pass anybody

The chicken reminds me of a commercial tourist attraction called Dinosaur Gardens Prehistoric Zoo, about halfway up the Lower Peninsula of Michigan on US 23. It has two themes mixed together: dinosaurs and Christian religious statuary. Never could figure that one out. I remember going there in the early sixties on a family vacation, when it was called simply "Domke's Gardens."

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Byway That's A Bypass

Here are two views of one of the roads I take to avoid Interstate 81. Note the complete lack of traffic. I had ample time to turn around and take the second picture before a car showed up. This road, which I take north out of Pearisburg, has three numbers: VA secondary 635, WV 17, and VA secondary 600. (the road passes through Monroe County WV for about 13 miles. That section is bumpy and not maintained well). The lower end of it is a beautiful drive along Big Stony Creek. Much of it is in the Jefferson National Forest. It reaches a T intersection with VA 311. I take a jog to the left for less than half a mile, then turn north again on VA 18.

Every time I drive Route 18, I vow to correctly count the number of bridges across Potts Creek. Every time I get a different answer. It’s somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen. 18 leads me to the old industrial town of Covington. There’s still a big paper mill there, but not much else, except for some fast food and a couple of motels.

From Covington, it’s back to civilization on Interstate 64. However, I consider that stretch of 64 to be an “honorary back road,” as there’s very little traffic on it. More than likely, I’m out of time by this point, so I have to make a beeline for I-81 at Lexington VA.

However, if there’s time, I’ll take VA 42 instead. That’s a beautiful drive through Goshen and Craigsville, and on to Staunton. It parallels the old main line of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. If it’s a Sunday, Wednesday or Friday, and the right time of day, I may see Amtrak’s “Cardinal” train. I’ve ridden it along here many times too. Both road and railroad pass through an agricultural valley and reach Staunton. If I’m going on north, I can get back on I-81. If I do, I’ve missed the heavy traffic around Roanoke by taking my long bypass to the west. I’d say it adds an hour and a half to my trip. If I have time, I’ll take it, if I don’t, I’ll bite the bullet and take I-81.

Or I can stay on Virginia 42 or the parallel US 11. Both routes go due north, parallel to 81.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Blue Highways: A Better Way

So you're driving down the interstate. You're going 70 and just keeping up with traffic. Everybody is six feet behind the car ahead of him. Then a big tractor-trailer practically kisses your rear bumper. It starts to rain. The big rig whizzes by you, sprays water on your windshield, and practically blinds you. The state hasn't painted the lane lines since Ronald Reagan was president, and you can barely see where you're supposed to be. There's a fender bender ahead some place, and traffic slows down to 20mph. Everybody's just got to look at the accident, right?  Construction closes one lane. Down to 20 again for the merge. By now, you're wishing you'd never started this trip, and you'd much rather be at home watching TV. There's got to be something better than this, right? There is. It's called blue highways.

This term is derived from map legends. On many maps, the most important roads are red lines, the lesser highways are blue lines. The term gained prominence after William Least Heat Moon wrote a book called "Blue Highways" in 1982. Moon was at loose ends after losing both his job and his marriage. He set his van up for camping and took off on a 13,000-mile journey around the United States. He must have had enough money saved to be able to do this for three months.

The book was a best-seller, but a lot of people haven't gotten the message (and actually, I hope they never do). I just described Interstate 81 in Virginia above. That road is a horror show, and I do my best to avoid it. I-81 replaced US 11 as the primary route through western Virginia. However, Route 11 is alive and well, running parallel to 81 and sometimes right next to it. I've encountered bumper to bumper traffic on I-81, switched over to Route 11, and, in five minutes, had the road to myself. I've had moments driving Route 11 when I didn't see another vehicle ahead of me or behind me. In open country, I can cruise along at 60 on Route 11.

I am starting this blog to show you how much better a car trip is using secondary roads. I realize that often, time is a factor, and one has to use the interstates. I end up driving I-81 too, if I've got a deadline. But being retired, I often  don't. Someday, I'd like to drive ocean to ocean without a single mile on an interstate highway.