469 Miles: Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway

469 Miles: Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway

Many of the hiking trails in the Parkway feature beautiful views, such as in this photo of Crabtree Falls (Ken Lane).   There’s a reason the Blue Ridge Parkway is America’s most visited National Park Service site. The 469-mile road does more than connect the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. It is both a fascinating display of the nation’s history and a gorgeous landscape to explore. It is renowned for its beauty and for its peaceful natural atmosphere—even though it is a popular vacation spot, the park is large enough that it feels secluded and peaceful. One of the reasons the Blue Ridge Parkway attracts so many visitors is its universal appeal; it really does have something for everyone. Because of the variety of options for experiencing the parkway—you can camp or stay in a rustic hotel; hike, bike, or just stay in the car; and visit the entire parkway or just a small stretch—it is a perfect vacation for people of all ages and activity levels. It is one continuous road with no offshoots, other than exits to leave the park. Along the sides of the road are mile markers, which correspond with guidebooks to help visitors identify where the trails, overlooks, and campsites are. History The parkway was originally conceived in 1933 by US senator Henry Byrd. Franklin Delano Roosevelt saw the potential of Byrd’s idea, and the Civilian Conservation Corps began construction of the parkway two years later in North Carolina. Most of the parkway was completed in 1966; however, it took an additional 21 years for...
After the Storm

After the Storm

St. Maarten after Hurricane Irma. (Climate Centre)   Natural disasters can be crippling for tourism-dependent economies, but healing is possible. After bathing in their swimming pool, which was full of debris, Ben and Elizabeth Zenger handed their car keys to a stranger and took one last picture in front of their battered home. Hurricane Irma had shattered the paradise of St. Maarten, where the couple and their daughter, Maggie, were living for medical school. The Zengers were miraculously protected during the storm, but they lost all of their belongings and were forced to relocate. Ben and the other medical students will continue their schooling elsewhere and will not return to St. Maarten. St. Maarten is a 16-square-mile Dutch territory on an island in the Caribbean. St. Maarten’s official tourism website (www.vacationstmaarten.com) describes the destination as a “magical place,” a place “where European sophistication and raw island passion have fallen in love.” Sadly, the Category 5 hurricane left this magical place ruined and, in some areas, almost uninhabitable. When the Zengers left their island home, they did not have an opportunity to say goodbye to friends. They and other United States citizens—including Elizabeth’s sister and brother-in-law, who were visiting when Hurricane Irma hit—were flown off the island as quickly as possible following the storm. The St. Maarten international airport was damaged in the hurricane, so military transport planes took these citizens back to the United States. As the Zengers left, Elizabeth posted a plea on Instagram for everyone to pray for the people of St. Maarten and continue to show them love as they try to recover from this tragedy....

Cave of Stars

If you visit New Zealand, put down the delicious local chocolate (I know it’s hard), plan to visit Hobbiton another day, resist jumping out of the car to pet the endless droves of fluffy sheep, and head to Waitomo Caves for a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience—black water rafting through a glowworm cave. Black water rafting was an exhilarating, unearthly experience, one that definitively topped the list of my favorite New Zealand activities. The caves sit two and a half hours south of Auckland and boast some of the Pacific’s most gorgeous glowworm caves. For 30 years now, the Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. has been guiding people through the caves’ subterranean labyrinth. When we arrived at the rafting company’s headquarters, employees directed us to changing rooms, where we squeezed into wet suits that would help attenuate the bite of the icy mountain water that runs through the caves. The employees issued each of us a pair of waterproof boots, a helmet, a headlamp, and our own donut-shaped black rubber tube, and then we hopped into a bus with our two guides and four other rafters and zipped off to the cave entrance. After hunching through the entrance, we began trekking through ankle-high water, the daylight quickly fading into utter blackness. We flipped on our headlamps. The river that runs through the caves alternated between stretches of deeper water (which we tubed through) and shallow shoals (which we hiked through). One of the more intense moments arrived when the cave ceiling dropped to less than a foot above the three-foot-deep water. For several seconds we had to get on hands and...
Time Capsule Town

Time Capsule Town

If you open the flower altar book in St. Leonard’s Church in Downham, England, you’ll find Lord and Lady Clitheroe have signed up to provide flowers on the first of every month. You’ll also find that the couple provides and cares for the whole village, since they own it all (think Downton Abbey). The Clitheroes have possessed Downham for generations, and every lord in recent memory has enforced the same rule: no visible electric wires, satellite dishes, or distracting signs allowed. This rule keeps the northern England town looking like it did a century ago. Stone cottages, the oldest dating back to the late sixteenth century, overshadow flower gardens and narrow streets. Heys Brook flows staunchly under an arched bridge; the chapel sits across from the inn, not too far from the ice cream shop (which also offers fresh milk, pies, and sandwiches); the chapel and Downham Hall, the Clitheroe manor, overlook them all. Pastures offer a scenic walk through the countryside, so long as visitors obey the “countryside code”: a plea that properties and gates be left the way they were found so the animals don’t get loose. Downham’s charm and eighteenth-century appearance make it the perfect setting for historical films; Whistle Down the Wind (1961) and the BBC’s Born and Bred (2002) featured scenes filmed in Downham. The village is also a favorite spot for weddings due to its idyllic views and quaint atmosphere. However, the area isn’t all romance; from the church cemetery, you can see Pendle Hill, legendarily associated with witchcraft and the 1612 Pendle Witch Trials. If you’re thinking of moving to Downham, it’s...
Little Tour on the Prairie

Little Tour on the Prairie

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the beloved Little House series that generations of children have read and continue to read. Laura recorded her family’s trek across the mid-western United States, and many of the towns she lived in with
her family have built museums and replicated houses in honor of them. This article will take you on a tour of the most popular sites, where you will see many log cabins and learn more about pioneer life. Whether you stick with a virtual tour or visit the sites in person, you will discover the sacrifices that pioneers made for their posterity, creating a new appreciation for hard work and love. Pepin, Wisconsin Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in Pepin, Wisconsin, and a replica of the “little house in the big woods” was built on the same land where Laura’s original house stood. Many readers will remember this town as the site where young Laura visited her grandparents and cousins for Christmas and gathered sap to make maple syrup. Today, there is a museum and gift shop where fans of the books can visit and buy pioneer memorabilia. The site of the replica log cabin includes picnic tables and restrooms outside, so on your visit you can stop here to eat lunch and walk around the well-kept grounds of the cabin. Independence, Kansas After leaving Wisconsin, the Ingallses first stopped in Independence, Kansas. In your modern-day journey it would take you a little over nine hours by car from Pepin, Wisconsin, to reach Independence, Kansas. Fans of the novels might remember that in Kansas the family first meets Mr. Edwards, who teaches...
Forest Bathing

Forest Bathing

A shot taken toward the top of Mount Odaigahara in Japan. (coniferconifer)   Every time I come home from my latest family trip, I feel like I need a vacation from my vacation. After flying for hours, driving from place to place, seeing the sights, and eating—and spending—a little too much, I return home without having relaxed as much as I had hoped. So I was intrigued when I heard about forest bathing. It’s not what you might think; it doesn’t actually involve bathing in the middle of a shady grove. Forest bathing is the English term for “shinrin-yoku,” a practice Japanese people invented in the 1980s as an approach to healing. All it involves is walking peacefully through a forest and allowing yourself to take in the natural atmosphere around you. Scientific studies claim that the practice has therapeutic benefits for the body and soul. Forest bathing could offer you the perfect respite during your next busy getaway (or after your next hectic day at the office). How to Do It We’ve all watched the sun set, driven through mountain canyons, gazed at trickling streams, or otherwise admired the beauty of nature. But forest bathing is more than just admiring—it’s about becoming one with the forest around you, and it requires engaging all your senses. Walk slowly. Inhale the earthy scents. Observe every color, the light and the shadows. Feel the damp air on your skin. Listen to the twigs crunching beneath your feet. The method is similar to other meditative practices: free your mind, breathe, and be aware. You can wander the forest on your own (if...