Drive Down the Blue Ridge Parkway
A father-daughter duo takes on the mountains and mansions along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.
In my family, Dad was the travel planner, and vacations meant escaping Manhattan for the open road—with him at the wheel, Mom at his side, and me sandwiched between my younger sisters in the backseat. Dad, an oldest child himself, likes to remind me that "we eldests have to stick together," and that includes traveling. About 10 years ago, he and I made a pact to ride the length of the Trans-Siberian Railway someday, but Siberia will have to wait. Today is Father's Day, and we're embarking on our first dad-daughter trip: tackling the Blue Ridge Mountains in the western tip of North Carolina. As the early-morning mist dissipates, bluegrass plays on the stereo and, at last, I'm driving.
There's already a crowd sprawled on the patio ofSunny Point Café, in the funky town of Asheville, when we pull up at 10 a.m. We help ourselves to mugs of coffee and add our name to the waiting list. A server reads out "George W. Bush," and a crunchy couple gets up to peals of laughter. Once we're seated, I choose the MGB, a "mighty good breakfast" of spicy sausage patties, scrambled eggs, a biscuit, and organic chipotle cheese grits. Dad has his work cut out for him, too, with a pile of cornmeal hotcakes served with blackberry butter. Surveying the scene, he quips, "It's dreads meet yups."
We see Asheville's creative side in full force in the River Arts District. This weekend happens to be the biannual studio stroll, and we wander into Phil Mechanic Studios during a glassblowing demo. Dad inadvertently takes the exit reading hippies use side door, and I snap a photo of him flashing a peace sign. At a gallery called Clayspace, I ask him to take my picture by a wood-fired ceramic vase that's taller than I am. As Dad fumbles with my camera, I swipe it away and ask a scruffy guy to capture the shot, and he obliges—it turns out he's the giant vessel's creator, Eric Knoche.
Fathers get into theBiltmoreestate free today, so Dad and I cut our studio stroll short in the interest of saving $50—a per-person admission fee as staggering as the Vanderbilts' 8,000-acre country retreat. We're wowed by the 250-room house, and especially by the banquet hall with its 70-foot ceiling, 16th-century tapestries, and pipe organ. In the courtyard café, root beer floats recharge us for the gardens, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also codesigned Central Park. We end our visit with a tasting at the winery; our favorite is a crisp zinfandel.
It's dark when we get to the early-20th-centuryRed Rocker Innin the town of Black Mountain. Some guests are playing board games in the parlor, which looks appealing to me, but Dad won't rest until we've had our first bite of North Carolina barbecue. Doug Bowman, the innkeeper, points us toPhil's Bar-B-Que Pit. The place clearly doesn't take sides in the state's raging barbecue debate, as tables have bottles of both vinegar- and tomato-based sauces. Our order of so-so ribs and hand-chopped pork leaves us yearning for more fire.
Red Rocker Inn
136 N. Dougherty St., Black Mountain, 888/669-5991, redrockerinn.com, from $105
Sunny Point Café
626 Haywood Rd., Asheville, 828/252-0055, MGB $7.25
Phil's Bar-B-Que Pit
701 N.C. Hwy. 9, Black Mountain, 828/669-3606, pork plate $7
1 Approach Rd., Asheville, 800/411-3812, biltmore.com, from $35, depending on the season
Jack of the Wood
95 Patton Ave., Asheville, 828/252-5445, jackofthewood.com
While I order a fair-trade latte atDripolator Coffeehouse, Dad spies New Mexico and Mississippi license plates, bringing our count—a road-trip tradition—to 25 states. We pick up Route 74 East, which runs parallel to the boulder-filled Rocky Broad River, and pass towering, shaggy trees that remind me of the ents fromThe Lord of the Rings.
Our first stop isChimney Rock Park, whose namesake 315-foot-tall granite monolith juts out of the mountainside. An elevator built inside the rock zooms us to the top, and we admire the view of the emerald countryside and Lake Lure. Narrow wood stairs stretch across a chasm to a still higher lookout point. One of the less desirable qualities I inherited from Dad is a fear of heights. I stand frozen at the base of the steps. Up goes someone in flip-flops, then some toddlers; down comes a grandma who's helped back into a wheelchair. That does it—clutching the railing as my heart races, I charge up. At the top, I give a tree a hug of relief.
On lower ground, Dad and I hike to Hickory Nut Falls. Much of Daniel Day-Lewis'sThe Last of the Mohicanswas filmed in this hickory, oak, and maple forest. At the calls of two birds, Dad, a birder, breaks out binoculars, but the creatures prove elusive. Ready for the next challenge—canoeing—we speed toLake Lure, where Dirty Dancing was filmed. It's nearly closing time, so the friendly teens at the canoe stand give us the rental for free, and we paddle around the tree-ringed lake for an hour.