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The 574-mile route through the Blue Ridge Mountains is one of America’s legendary road trips – every autumn it’s the scene for a drama of change and renewal


Linn Cove Viaduct, in the mountains of North Carolina, is perhaps the crowning glory of the Blue Ridge Parkway

JACK KEROUAC HAS MUCH TO ANSWER FOR. HIS 1957 novel On the Road not only invented the Beat Generation, it set the template for all subsequent US road trips: two lanes of blacktop highway stretching to the horizon, buzzing neon signage, tumbleweed blowing across empty desert tarmac, monstrous trucks with gleaming chrome wheels, Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty hopped up on bennies, their bloodshot eyes fixed on the sunset. Well, the route through the Blue Ridge Mountains is nothing like that.

The two roads that run down the spine of the southern Appalachians, Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway, were built specifcally for sightseers and tourists. They are winding, sedate – the speed limit never exceeds 45 miles an hour – and closed to commercial vehicles. There isn’t a ‘Gas Food Lodging’ sign anywhere in sight, nor a gleam of neon. To find fast food and even gas, you have to leave the route briefy and venture into the back roads of Virginia and North Carolina. Getting your kicks is a possibility, getting lost in the sticks is a virtual certainty.

But the rewards for forgoing roads with higher speeds and corporate amenities are immense. This is a route filled with tales of moonshine, disappearing customs, and the Appalachians’ own take on jazz: old-time music and bluegrass. It’s a back door to an older, vanishing America that predates the automobile and still clings on – just – in its mountain redoubts.

A bear warning sign on the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. Right Old wooden cabins are a regular sight along the backroads of southwestern Virginia
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Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Lonely Planet - October 2015
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