Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Blue Ridge Parkway — Part 3

It was cold but clear when we resumed our drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway this morning, not far from the town of Boone, NC. I'll start off with your daily foliage update photo:

I've been intrigued by the spectrum of fall foliage along the drive. In some places, the trees have barely turned color at all. In others, they've already lost their leaves entirely. I've mused about the possibilities of microclimates, elevation differences, relative densities of particular species, orientation to the sun on mountainsides, etc. No clue what the answer is.

So far, this has been the most interesting and view-licious part of the parkway. The mountains seem to be higher and the road more exposed. There's also more geology going on to highlight the drama.

For those of you who have been traveling along on this excursion from the beginning, you will see that I've succeeded in my quest to find the bit of road shown in my first post. You will also notice that my photo is not nearly as striking!

I'm disappointed at the quality of photos I've been able to take. I partly blame my basic travel camera, but I can cut it some slack because I think it's very hard to capture the views on a drive-by basis. I suspect the best photos available were shot with very high quality gear, after days of waiting for perfect conditions, and ample enhancement on the computer.

That said, I think my shots are good enough to give you a flavor of the views. In these two, you can see the difference in color between areas only a few miles apart.

Truth be told, the road is getting a little boring. The routine of forest drive, side hill climb, saddle apex, side hill descent, forest drive is feeling like wash, rinse, repeat. We are about 80 miles from the end of the parkway and I will be ready for it to be completed... Stay tuned!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Blue Ridge Parkway — Part 2

Happy and I had a bit of an adventurous night camping out. The wind came up pretty strong, we had intermittent periods of rain and the temperature dropped a lot. When I rousted her from her truck house this morning, she was wearing her "I don't like it" face, but a brisk coffee-walk perked her right up. We packed up and hit the road just as the day started to clear and temps came up from the 40s.

Yesterday I mentioned that many of the "overlooks" are blocked by trees. Here's a perfect example of how it's still a good view, but it could be a lot better with a little pruning!

On the other hand, there are still plenty of spectacular, unobstructed views to be had. Ironically, many of the very best views do not have overlooks available and the best you can do is lift your foot from the gas pedal and take a peek as you drive by.

The hardwood forests continued throughout southern Virginia, but seemed to be well past their peak once into North Carolina. I'm guessing recent weather has taken its toll on them and they've gone from green to bare pretty quickly. The NC evergreens are still going strong, of course, and are markedly more prevalent.

So far I've shown you forest views and overlook views, but there's a third view that is common on the parkway: Open areas across gaps and saddles. This picture isn't very good due to the lighting creeping out my camera shooting through the windshield, but it gives you the gist of it.

We have stopped in Boone, NC, and checked into a motel. The temps are predicted to get down into the low 30s tonight and neither of us really feel like dealing with that. Tomorrow we will continue south down to the Asheville area... Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Blue Ridge Parkway — Part 1

Happy and I were at the north entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway at 9am sharp, right on schedule. The fog was very thick and I thought about waiting for it to burn off, but then figured we would pretty quickly climb above it. I was right and we were soon rewarded with our first excellent view.

Much of the route is a lovely drive through dense hardwood forests. Thicker at lower elevations and thinner at higher ones. There wasn't much traffic and we cruised right along.

There are many turnouts, one every mile or so, throughout the parkway. They are all called "overlooks" despite the fact that many are in the woods and don't look at anything besides trees. Some may once have had views, but the trees in front of them have long since grown up to block the view. According to a park ranger, that's because only the road and a few feet on either side of it actually belong to the park. Everything else belongs to the forest service and they will, as he said, "do whatever they want with it" whether it improves the visitor's experience or not.

Then, of course, there are the overlooks that truly live up to their reputation. We stopped at a number of them, drove slowly through quite a few more, but skipped many just because it could take forever to catch them all. My shots don't do the views justice, but they're worth clicking on for a larger look.

I'm probably a week or so before peak foliage color season, but the many hardwoods were doing their thing and the few softwoods provided nice contrast. All in all, it was a lovely drive all day long.

We've stopped at Rocky Knob, about a third of the way along the parkway, where Happy and I will camp for the night. For us, camping is a minimalist affair, with her sleeping in her backseat truck house and me on a comfy air mattress in the back canopy. I can boil water for coffee and soup. What else does a guy really need?… Stay tuned!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Skyline Drive

The weather yesterday was terrible, with blowing rain that we figured would make the Skyline Drive a miserable experience. Happy and I drove to the visitor's station just inside the north entrance to confirm our conclusion, then spent the day in Front Royal. I did some trip planning/sorting and she got a wet romp in a local dog park, but mostly we just hung out.

The weather was better this morning, but still not great. No rain, but heavily overcast. We thought about waiting another day for better weather, but that would put us into a Saturday which I know from my previous partial drive on the Skyline can be a traffic jam. Sometimes you just need to keep moving, so we loaded up and hit the road.

Climbing up from the north entrance we pretty quickly got into the clouds. It was obvious our scenic views would be few if any, but years of living in the Pacific Northwest have taught me the beauty of a pretty drive on a misty road.

As expected, there were very few other cars on the road. With the mist, it often felt like we had the road to ourselves. I set the speed control at 30mph — 5mph below the park limit — which is a sweet spot for my truck's transmission to cruise in 3rd and comfortably downshift to 2nd when it needs to. (Have I ever mentioned how impressed I am with the drivetrain technology on my 2012 F150?) It's also a more comfortable speed for driving the twisty course and reducing the puke factor.

Throughout the 105 mile route, there are some 75 turnouts, overlooks, waysides, etc. So, there are plenty of opportunities to stop, stretch and enjoy the foliage. We took advantage of several, making our longest stop at Big Meadows, about the halfway point. Happy stuck her nose into everything and made a couple of new doggie friends. I had a so-so bowl of soup and didn't talk to anyone. Go figure.

The sky lightened a bit as the afternoon progressed, giving us at least glimpses of the famous views that were lovely, if not spectacular. Overall, it was a pretty, relaxing and enjoyable ride. I'm glad to have finally driven the whole road.

The Skyline Drive ends where it meets I-64 in Waynesboro, VA. Right across the highway, the road continues as the Blue Ridge Parkway. Happy and I plan to do some camping along its 400+ mile route, so we're going to stay here tomorrow to get supplies and make ready for action... Stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Change Of Plan, New Direction, New Roads

My mom has declared that she's ready to fly solo, so I'm back on the road. When I first planned this road trip, I intended to drive back west via US60. It occurred to me the other day that since I'm all the way on the east coast -- and already in "road mode" -- I should take the opportunity to drive a few roads that have been on my list for a very long time. So, change of plan, new direction, new roads.

First on the list is Skyline Drive and its continuation as the Blue Ridge Parkway south through Virginia and North Carolina. Both roads were mostly constructed as part of New Deal programs and are considered two of the most beautiful roadways in the world. I don't know which section of road is in this picture, but I intend to find out. My timing is perfect for trying to catch the amazing fall colors!

I've got at least two more roads in mind after that, but you'll have to wait until I'm sure they're in the cards before I announce them... Stay tuned!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Happy: States I've Peed In Update!

Hi, it's me, Happy! Giving you an update on states I've peed in. Look at my new map!

I've told the boss we need to make a New England circuit and a trip to the Deep South. He says we might do just that! How am I going to pee in Hawaii?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

US12: No End In Detroit

Happy and I had a leisurely morning. We found a great park for her and a nice little air museum -- Yankee Air Museum -- for me. Her park featured plenty of grass and a tree lined path. My museum featured a small but well displayed collection of aircraft, informative historical information and educational displays for kids.

This afternoon we drove the last few miles of US12 into downtown Detroit. It is obviously a very heavily used urban arterial. Quite a change from the wide open range out west!

It turns out that US12 is now the only US Highway route still serving downtown Detroit, whose street grid was laid out by Augustus B. Woodward, to have a five-way intersection of the roads that would become US12, US10, US16, US112 and US25. With all that heritage, you would think the end and beginning of the route would be well marked. You would be wrong.

Instead, US12 ends not with a bang but a whimper at Cadillac Square, with not so much as a sign of any kind. At least not one that I could find after several reconnaissance circuits and some boots on the ground scouting. So, once again on the Voyages of Macgellan, to seek, to strive, to find, but not to yield. Here's a photo of how 2500 miles of famous road ends:

Despite the signage disappointment, this has been another worthwhile road trip across America. One of these days I'm going to put together a composite map of all my cross-country drives. I'm afraid I would shock myself. For now, I'm calling it a wrap on US12 and heading to Pennsylvania. Depending on how all that goes, I'll make plans for returning to the Pacific Northwest... Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

US12: Michigan Heritage Route

US12 enters Michigan from Indiana, southwest of New Buffalo, as a typical two-lane affair. The addition of roadside tree stands makes it very different from the many miles we've driven before. It's a 55 mph road, frequently punctuated by 30 mph towns, which makes it seem very slow compared to the 75+ mph we've become accustomed to. Nevertheless, it is a nice, easy drive. The weather was overcast and drizzly all day, so no great photos. This one is pretty typical.

In 2004, The Michigan Department of Transportation designated 209 miles of US12 from New Buffalo to Detroit as Historic Heritage Route. Many of the standard signs are thus adorned by additional designation.

"US-12 is among the oldest road corridors east of the Mississippi River and accesses some of the most extensive and significant historic, cultural, scenic and recreational resources in Michigan. It begins in downtown Detroit, just blocks from the Detroit River, and extends through southern Michigan to the Michigan/Indiana border south of New Buffalo.

"It was originally a network of centuries-old trails created by Native Americans. Over the years it has had many names such as Sauk Trail, Chicago Road, and Michigan Avenue." — Pete Hanses, MDOT's Heritage Route manager

Happy and I don't like to stay in downtown metro areas, so we have stopped just short of Detroit. Our plan is to finish the last few miles tomorrow and see if we can find any US12 "End" or "Begin" signs... Stay tuned!

Monday, September 18, 2017

US12: Getting Ready For The Last Leg

After a really good night's sleep, Happy and I went to Starbucks where we both had brief, passionate love affairs. Mine with a dark Komodo Dragon, Happy's with a 6 month old, intact male Chocolate Lab. Mine was really good, but hers looked better. My old girl's still got game with the boys!

After that, we found a very nice nature preserve in Michigan City and enjoyed a lovely walk together.

Not much to report besides that. Some sorting out of gear, raking trash out of the truck, basic getting ready to go for the last leg on US12 to Detroit tomorrow... Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

US12: The Longest Day

Happy and I had a day off in Willmar, MN, yesterday. We found a nice park for her to run around in, but only a closed-on-weekends museum for me. Dogs rule! Otherwise, we hung out, relaxed and went to bed early.

Possibly because of the extra rest but mostly because of noisy neighbors, I was wide awake at 1am. I looked over at Happy and saw she was sitting upright in her bed, looking for guidance. I said "Why not?" and she wagged her tail, so we got up, packed up and hit the road in the dark of night.

US12 east of Willmar, MN, is a two-lane affair that passes through a seemingly endless series of small towns. It was dark and misty out, so I saw very little and you'll see even less. Approaching Minneapolis, US12 turns into I-394 then becomes part of I-94. Shortly after St. Paul, US12 branches off and continues as a rural road.

As it became light, we were able to see many small, tidy, prosperous-looking Wisconsin farms.

We stopped for breakfast shortly after dawn and found that we had already traveled as far as we'd planned to for the day. While pondering what to do, it occurred to me that Sunday might be a good day to get around Chicago. So, we got back on the road and kept moving.

US12 weaves around I-94 all the way to Madison, WI, forming the western beltway of that city. It's not as fast as the interstate, but the variety helped keep me alert. After Madison, US12 becomes a road of its own, cutting diagonally SE to Chicago. It is an alternative to I-94 which heads east to Milwaukee then south along the shore, and I-90 which heads south to Rockford then east.

The route is so significant that it is cosigned as an alternate to the interstate most of the way.

The traffic was heavy despite it being Sunday, but we made reasonable time approaching Chicago. As always, I decided not to drive the surface streets through downtown, opting instead for a quick interstate bypass. Before long we were into Indiana and have stopped in Michigan city, where we planned to be tomorrow night.

The "bad news" is that we drove over 12 hours today. The "good news" is that we've banked ourselves another day off tomorrow! We were in this area a few years ago on US20. As I've posted before, pretty much all the roads "pinch" around the bottom of Lake Michigan. Right now, US12 and US20 are only a mile or so apart, with US14 and US18 thrown into the local mix.

We'll see what tomorrow has to offer in the area, with plans to head for the terminus of US12 in Detroit on Tuesday... Stay tuned!