It is a glorious day on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We are headed to Mt. Mitchell, at 6,684 feet the highest point east of the Mississippi and more than 4,500 feet higher than Asheville, N.C., our starting point. The leaves are just starting to show fall color at the place where we join the parkway. The branches arch gracefully over the road, enclosing us in green with a few splashes of yellow and red, and blue sky above.
We stop at the Folk Art Center, which is jammed with the work of regional artists – pottery, painting, drawings, baskets, woodwork, glass, art quilts, jewelry. I want to buy the place out. Fortunately, the call of the road is louder, if only slightly.
As we climb, we see more color. A hillside is quilted in dozens of shades of orange and gold. A lake glitters below us, and in the distance, a succession of ridge lines fades away from us in hazy shades of blue and gray. Exposed granite towers above the road, water seeping through the rock glinting in the sun.
Gradually evergreen trees begin appearing among the maple and oak, growing in number as we near the summit, until they take over. There are lot of dead trees, some killed by acid rain, others by an aphid-like insect that attacks hemlocks. This is all explained on signs around the visitors center atop Mt. Mitchell, which is a North Carolina state park.
We climb up to a platform at the highest point and look north and west across the ridges toward Tennessee. Since it’s a clear day, maybe we’re seeing Tennessee – there’s no way of knowing, but I like to think we are.
A short distance back down the road, we stop for lunch, then go out back where the restaurant has a deck overlooking the mountains. We take one last look at the magnificent vistas, then head back down the parkway through the tunnels of trees.