God bless America for spending $130 million to build a road dedicated to leisure motoring. That's right, commercial vehicles are banned from the Blue Ridge Parkway that sweeps and swoops for 469 breathtaking miles over the Appalachian Mountains. Constructed between 1935 and 1987 and often called America's favorite drive, the parkway drops to 649 feet in Virginia, reaches 6047 feet in North Carolina, and is stippled with such pleasing names as Yankee Horse Ridge, Bearwallow Gap, Purgatory Overlook, Devil's Backbone, Daniel Boone's Trace, and Little Switzerland.
The road is flanked by beautiful trees and flowering shrubs-tulip, dogwood, birch, hemlock, flame azalea, rhododendron-but scenic overlooks provide mind-blowing views into deep valleys and over wooded mountains that delight today's travelers as much as they challenged the pioneers years ago. Those tough, colorful days are recalled in Virginia's Explore Park (www.explorepark.org), where buildings and characters in clothes from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries give a vivid impression of what life was like for early settlers in this great wilderness.
Sixty miles south is the picturesque water-powered mill built by Ed Mabry in 1910. If you're lucky, your visit may coincide with traditional activities such as the blacksmith working in his forge while mountain maidens make sorghum and delicious apple butter.
Virginia is beautiful, but the southward drive gets better and better beyond Asheville, North Carolina, amid scenery that helped inspire Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel.
The 45-mph speed limit may seem absurdly low for such a beautifully engineered and lovingly maintained road with long, seductive curves, but even the keenest driver soon adjusts to the pace. That's because nobody uses the Blue Ridge Parkway to get anywhere in a hurry. As its far-sighted planners intended all those years ago, this is a road to be sipped like a fine wine, not gulped down like a thirst-quenching beer.