Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Parkway, Some Knobs and Rocks, and a New Twisty Road

I have ridden the Blue Ridge Parkway from its closest point, where it intersects NC-215 toward the north many times.  The furthest north I have been on the bike, near milepost 292 outside Blowing Rock, NC was when I went to the Rally to Ridgecrest in 2011.  Other posts about the Parkway include this one and this one.  The scenery along this section of the Parkway is nicest, the road is in good condition, and it makes for an enjoyable time out. 

I have not ridden to the south on the Parkway (the direction is actually more northwest than south on this part of the road) as often, so I set out to change that by notching up a trip.  A look at the map reminded me of a place I have been a couple of times before, and I opened my scope a little to see if there were other places to go that I haven't been to.  I was successful on the latter, so come with me on this slightly longer-than-usual-for-me ride. 

I start out on familiar roads, US-178 from Pickens South Carolina to Rosman North Carolina.  This includes that sweeping-curve stretch, from Pushpin A on the map below to about 1/3 of the way to Pushpin B, that is fun to ride with little difficulty.  Today, there is not much traffic, as I have begun my ride early -- about 8:00 in the morning -- so it is clear sailing.

View Larger Map

This road, north of SC-11 at Rocky Bottom, has been closed for several months while they were fixing a slide that took out part of the road.  That work is complete now, so I go right through.  At this early hour, the sun is low and it is hard for the eyes to adjust as you go from light to shady spots, especially when looking to the rising sun in the east.  The trees have also begun to shed their leaves in places, and they lay on the pavement disguising any gravel and other nasty road features.  As a result, I am not too speedy through here.

I get into some fog at Rosman, and it raises fears that the day will not be clear after all, though the weather guessers said that is not to be the case.  A few miles north of Rosman, the fog dissipates, and is not a problem all the rest of the day.  In fact, by its end, the entire day will have been clear with occasional clouds.  In short, a beautiful time to be out. 

NC-215 from Rosman north was repaved a couple of years ago, so it makes for a smooth ride.  (If it weren't for those fallen leaves all over the place.) There is a scattering of gravel on the road in places including, as usual, on the right-hander just after this bridge, here

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As I proceed to the higher elevations it gets a little cooler, so I am glad I wore some long underwear and a fleece shirt under my riding suit.  And the heated grips take the chill off of my hands.  In a few short weeks, it will be time to put on the Hippo Hands again.  Boo.  But here is my method of keeping warm despite the weather.  You can ride almost year around in these parts, so I just gear up as necessary.  In fact, there is an on-line forum for the intrepid motorcycle rider who endures the heat and/or the cold

The closest entrance point to the Blue Ridge Parkway is a little over 50 miles from home, so it takes just an hour or so to get there.  The entrance is typical of many, with a stone-faced overpass and a nearby entrance ramp.

The Parkway south is smooth and there is little traffic.  I pull over onto some of the overlooks along the way, and find great panoramas unfolding at almost every turn.  There is the slight change of color in the leaves already, and there are clouds in some of the valleys in the distance.  I traveled through one of those clouds at Rosman (it is called fog when you are in it, by the way -- a little science lesson). 

One of those panoramas is at the Courthouse Valley overlook at milepost 423.5: 

Click to see a larger view.
Not much further, there is the Cowee Mountains overlook at the 430.7 mark:

I stay a while at each one to drink in the scenery. God must have used a mighty fine paintbrush to give me these views today. 

Next up is the highest point on the Parkway, at the 431 milepost.  The elevation here is 6,053 feet above sea level.  Home is at 1,079 feet, so I have climbed about 5000 feet, not counting the ups and downs along the way.  I don't snap the usual photo in front of the sign because there are some other riders doing it.  This older photo will have to do, taken on a trip to the Wheels Through Time motorcycle museum in Waynesville North Carolina: 

I reach the second of my titular points, sooner than I thought I would.  I glance at my trip odometer, and see that it is only 85 miles from home, at the 451.2 milepost.  "Why haven't I come here more often if it is that close?" I ask myself. 

What is this place that I should have been visiting more often?  Waterrock Knob.  You can find it at Pushpin B on the map at the top of the posting. Click on the link below the map to move around and enlarge it so you can see the details better. 

It is uphill from the unusual divided lanes at this point on the Parkway, and just before the main parking lot is a little overlook for Browning Knob.  It is named for R. Gerry Browning, a Location and Claims Engineer and Parkway consultant who secured its right of way through here.  There is a good view of the road I came in on from here as well, in the background. 

The parking lot for Waterrock has only a few cars, and a couple of bikes.  I park, and make my way to the comfort station -- a block outhouse, basically.  It is locked, thanks to Obama's government shutdown caused by his stubbornness in not cutting the budget permanently.  I am not certain that locking an outhouse is going to save much money.  Instead, it raises my anger toward this man who is bent on destroying the American economy, and, indeed, our way of life. 

So I prepare to make other arrangements. 

I note that about half of the people I see have pained expressions on their faces as though they desperately need a solution to a pressing problem, and the other half have looks of blissful relief on their faces having found an alternate arrangement already.  

After that, I can view the scenery with a little less stress.  ...and, boy, there is plenty of scenery visible here. 

This is the panorama toward the west: 

It is only another 18 miles from here to the southern terminus of the Parkway, near Cherokee, NC.   Surprisingly, I have not ridden there yet.  Maybe next time. 

And here is the view to the east: 

Beautiful, both.

If you climb to the top of Waterrock Knob, you can see even further.  Here is a picture taken a couple of years ago from the top: 

You can see the parking lot in the center, and the Parkway winding from the left from whence I came today, and wrapping around the right, heading toward the camera, and on to Cherokee. 

I mount up and wander back about seven miles the way I came, to the exit from the Parkway at the Great Smokey Mountain Expressway, US-23 and US-74.  This four-lane road is an expedient way to get where you are going, but not very interesting to ride.  I run down about 9-1/2 miles toward Sylva, then cut over onto NC-107. 

Now take a look at the map of my return trip, so you can follow along: 

View Larger Map

Right near Sylva is the start of a few roads I have not ridden before.

As I motor along, I spot a sign for Judaculla Rock, at Pushpin C, a place I have had in my database of  places to visit in future.  [Bucky, keeps a database of stuff like that?  ...Must be an engineer, or something.]

Why, yes, I am an engineer by training, now that you mention it. 

I didn't know I was going to pass near this rock today.  I turn off on Caney Fork Road, and go about three miles to the end of a side road that veers to the left.  There, I find a flat soapstone rock maybe sixteen feet across upon which Indians carved various features between around 500 and 1200 A.D. 

From the above website:
Judaculla Rock is North Carolina’s best known and largest example of an American Indian petroglyphs site. In the modern and generic sense, it is a public attraction and a point of interest, and is commonly identified as a boulder covered with ancient and mysterious engravings....

Judaculla is the anglicized pronunciation of Tsul Kalu,...a legendary giant.... Judaculla was a human-like giant with supernatural powers, who traveled between This World and the Underworld....
View from the parking area.  The rock is in the center of the curved observation platform. 

The carved face of the rock:. 

For this 1930s photo, the cryptic markings were filled with chalk. Since this valuable picture was made, the rock has continued to erode, making serious study increasingly difficult.
photo courtesy Jerry Parker, former owner of the land on which the rock sits. 

This little guy is sunning himself on one of the stone pillars, but keeping a wary eye on me.

Quite photogenic, he is. 

Shortly after I leave, I cut over onto NC-281, also known as Canada Road.  This route is said to be better for twisties and with less traffic than the parallel NC-107.  I find that to be true. 107 is a good road, mind you, but this one is better -- and I have not been on it before. The surface is generally good. 

The scenery unfolds among a continuing series of turns.  Occasionally, I can see a lake in the distance or some other great scenery, but mostly I am watching the road for its next contortion.  I'll bet there are a lot of riders who would use this as a racetrack challenge.  

I come around a tight right-hand bend and immediately before me is the T. Fields Dam holding back Wolf Creek Lake.  The dam is a not-very-attractive structure with a concrete spillway, and there is almost no room on either side of the road to walk, so be careful.  I stop in the gravel pulloff and look around. 

The stone-faced earthen dam.
The concrete spillway, also showing the narrow space between the road and the railing. 
Looking downstream from the dam spillway.  The water is an eerie green color. 
View of Wolf Creek Lake.
I spot this sign from the parking area, warning you that the water below the dam can rise rapidly, depending on the spillover volume.  The sign clearly states the danger.  

Someone cleverly defaced the sign so it conveys another message, quite effectively, I might say. 

Canada Road continues on for several miles, and there are some fun twisty sections along the way -- not much traffic, not many driveways, and not many crossroads. Watch out for a hairpin or two. 

The road comes near Silversteen Road, a neat twisty ride I couldn't get enough of back in November, 2011.  I don't take that way, as my backside is getting a little fatigued from the seat time today. 

281 joins US-65 for a short distance, then turns south again and passes Gorges State Park.  This is a road with mostly sweepers, but with two or three tighter turns.  I am moving right along, for me, and I am holding good lines through the curves.  I am enjoying the road quite a lot.  It passes Whitewater Falls, a place I have visited many times before, that is quite picturesque, the falls dropping 411 feet. 

There appears to be a problem, however, as I pass the falls entrance.  There are cars parked along the highway for some distance in both directions.  I slow down, and then see the reason.  Obama again -- there is a yellow tape across the entrance: The falls is administered by the U.S. Forest Service

See the tape on the left behind the SUV? 

 This is what Obama doesn't want us to see today:

Too bad.  Now, I have only seen a park ranger here once before, so it is not as though the park is highly patrolled.  Anyway, those people parked along the road have to hike into their park, and their cars, trucks and motorcycles create a potential hazard on the edges of the highway.  I wonder: What would happen if the yellow tape somehow happened to get broken?  [Naughty, naughty thought, Bucky.]
Just so you know, I don't yield to my temptation, and go on about my ride. 

The road becomes SC-130 just south of Whitewater Falls, right near the Duke Power Bad Creek Pumped Storage Facility (where there is a nice overlook and where the gravel Musterground Road starts).  130 is loaded with sweeping curves on almost all of the ten miles to SC-11.  I carry a good speed through here as well, and reach that intersection in jig time. Watch for a few places where the top layer of pavement has spalled off. 

The route home is easy roads, and I am enjoying the hum of the engine and the wind coming at me. By the time I reach home, I have covered about 212 miles, on a beautiful clear day. 

Other Good Places Near the Route I Took:

  • A Sportbike Route by Wayne Busch of Smoky Mountain Motorcycle Rider blog.
  • A route including Charlies Creek Road, Ellijay Road, Becky Mountain Road, and Explorer Road.  [175 mi, 5 hours]
  • Dolphin Rock, about here, just beyond the dam I crossed.
    Dolphin Rock taken by bcool of Carolina Riders Forum



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