Exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway

One of the perks to living in the Martinsville-Henry County area is that we are less than an hour away from the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We take Highway 58 from Martinsville west through the communities of Patrick Springs, Stuart, and Meadows of Dan to get to the Parkway.   It doesn’t take long before the Blue Ridge looms up on the horizon and it is always a beautiful trip just getting to the Parkway itself.  So far, we have only explored the section of the Parkway that runs north to Roanoke, passing by the community Floyd, which was voted one of the South’s best small towns by Southern Living in 2016.

We always make a stop in Meadows of Dan first.  Meadows of Dan is a small but extremely beautiful town whose business district sits right at the on ramp to the Parkway.  There are several restaurants here and a few little shops.  Nancy’s Candy Company can reunite even the most cynical adult with their inner child.  They have lots of freshly made fudge and truffles and just about anything that can be dipped in chocolate has been.  Poor Farmers’ Market is a must-stop and there is nothing that you could need on the road that they don’t have.  There is a sandwich shop and ice cream counter in the back.  There are three large rooms filled with jellies and jams and cast iron cookware.  Books by local authors, t-shirts, hats, and hoodies are piled up on display cases.  Even the gliders and settees out on the porch are for sale. There is fresh produce out front and the small room as you enter is a traditional convenience store with fried pies and soda pops.

We recently discovered a restaurant just east of Meadows of Dan called The Crooked Road Cafe.  This stretch of 58 is also part of what is known as “The Crooked Road”, a stretch along which you’ll consistently find authentic bluegrass music. The cafe is known for its pizza and gyros but also features live music, shares the site with a historic grist mill that you can tour for free, and has an adorable back patio that sits alongside the headwaters of the Dan River.  It’s hard to believe that the river here, which looks like little more than a creek, will become a large river by the time it gets to Danville.  The cabin in the background is a vacation rental called “A Blue Ridge Haven”.

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There are two main stops along the Parkway between Meadows of Dan and Roanoke.  The first is Mabry Mill, a national park featuring a historic grist mill still in operation, a historic Appalachian cabin, a restaurant, a gift shop, wooded trails, and live music on Sunday afternoons.  According to the NPS website, Mabry Mill is one of the most photographed sites on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The  mill, as well as all of the Parkway here, is dotted with rhododendron, which bloom large purple flowers around April or May.

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The speed limit along the Parkway is 45 miles an hour and drops down to 25 when you get close to event venues like Mabry Mill or Floyd Fest, an annual music concert held in July that last several days and draws some big names.  The Parkway is well-patrolled and the speed limit is strictly enforced.

All along the Parkway, there are turn offs for viewing the valleys that run alongside the Mountains.  The first after Mabry Mill is the Rocky Knob Recreational area, which is more than just your average outlook, having hiking trails and campgrounds.

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Most of the outlooks are little more than a parking lot with a tremendous view and a placard explaining what you are seeing.  Even in winter, though, these stops can be worthwhile because you can see so much more without all of the foliage and contemplate what life must have been like here before the American Revolution. The Parkway often closes for inclement weather during the winter though.

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After Mabry Mill and Rocky Knob, you’ll run into the town of Floyd.  We’ve learned over time that you shouldn’t just stop in at random stores.  You should allow yourself several hours and try to get into each one.  What happened to us is we would check out a different store each time and were sorry to have not known about it before.  For instance, you absolutely must visit the Floyd Country Store.  We didn’t go in there until our second trip up.  The Floyd Country Store is like the centerpiece of Floyd and has food and live music as well as the sundries you’d expect.  If you haven’t been there, you haven’t been to Floyd. It was a couple more trips before we figured out that The Republic of Floyd is a craft beer store.  We are now enormous fans.

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The Hotel Floyd is a boutique hotel just off of the downtown scene, separated by an old cemetery that’s worth a look as well.  Each room is decorated themed on a different business in the area so each room is entirely unique.  The ones we stayed in were gorgeous.  It doesn’t look like there’s a bad room in the inn.

Word to the wise, there are at least two businesses that you have to look for because they are slightly off the beaten track.  One is a bakery called The Grateful Bread that is easy to miss  because it’s down the hill behind Dogtown Roadhouse (a popular restaurant on the main drag). It’s not big but the baked goods are fresh and tasty and the proprietor, when we went, was super friendly. The other business is an antiques store called Finders Keepers. When you get to the intersection in the middle of town (by the hardware store), turn east.  It’s just a little bit down the road.

Honestly, you can spend a whole day in Floyd.  And that’s not even mentioning Chateau Morrisette Winery.  Floyd is often our only destination on the Parkway.  We go up there for a few hours and we are home by dark.

 

Moving to Martinsville-Henry County

Hopefully, this post answers the question of “why?” and “why here?”

It is my hope to share some glimpses of our area here and there. Primarily, this blog is a creative release for me but it would also be nice for someone to sing some praises for this area. It deserves it.

We moved to Henry County in the spring of 2014 from McKinney, Texas.  Now, I loved McKinney and I still love McKinney but it had just become too popular.  It was voted the best place in the country to live in 2014 by Money Magazine. I could walk from my home in the Historic District and pass by the McKinney Equine Patrol out on patrol or Happy Trails Carriage Rides out with a load of tourists on my way to the downtown square where there were shops and restaurants and wine bars surrounding the old courthouse that had become a performing arts center.  What’s not to love?

People here all seemed mystified as to why would leave Texas to move to Henry County.  They didn’t even know how wonderful McKinney was (is).  There is just a pervading sense of “anywhere’s a better place to be” here.  While McKinney was wonderful, Henry County (and the independent city of Martinsville that sits in the middle of it) has a great deal to offer.  Somehow, a lot of the locals just don’t see it.

In fact, we are both amazed that this whole area seems to have been entirely overlooked despite some extremely obvious advantages:

  • All Four Seasons, including a leaf change – Texas is just incredibly hot.  We got out before the weather truly became what I call “biblical” -floods washing away trains, cattle, and roads followed by droughts that make the black clay crack and shift.  The climate here is perfect for anyone who wants all four seasons and the winters are not significantly different from Texas except that, where Texas gets ice, Virginia gets snow (at least, most of the time).  Summers are hot by Virginian standards but it seems rare that it breaks 100 degrees while that is fairly common in Texas during the latter half of the summer (from August into October).
  • Economy – this may seem counterintuitive to the locals but the same economy that’s been devastated by NAFTA means that everything is cheaper … much cheaper.  Real estate, groceries, restaurants …  In our experience (with certain exceptions), the cost of living in Martinsville-Henry County seems to be about half of what it was in Dallas.  Granted, there aren’t any jobs to speak of but if you are on a fixed income or a telecommuter, this is great.
  • Proximity to “Big City” Life – There really has been no sacrifice in terms of stores and culture.  Martinsville has a good museum that is connected in some way to the Smithsonian.  The Piedmont Arts Center has constant art exhibitions.  The Patrick Henry Community College has an active performing troupe that offers several musicals throughout the year and there is live music everywhere. The Harvester Performance Center in Rocky Mount (Franklin County), about thirty minutes north brings in big name entertainers to an intimate setting (Amos Lee, Keb Mo, Colin Hay, just to name the ones that I’ve been interested in).  Roanoke, sometimes called “Festival City” because they have something going on every single weekend, is only about an hour north.  Greensboro, NC, is only about 30 minutes to the south.  Danville, our immediate neighbor to the east has a lot of the chain stores for shopping and going out, plus an active river walk restoration project.
  • Jobs are not that far away – If you have a degree and the wherewithal to commute, the lack of local jobs is not a problem.  Greensboro and Roanoke are both large(ish) cities and there are plenty of jobs available.  Of course, as more and more people are being able to telecommute, work can be as close as rolling out of bed; making for the perfect combination … life in a sleepy hamlet of friendly people and outstanding beauty while not having to worry about how to make the car payment. If your entire life goal is to amass as much money as possible, this may not be the place for you.  If you are looking for a good quality of life, this just may be ideal
  • Healthcare – Since we’ve moved my mother to Henry County in 2016, I’ve had to acknowledge the whole healthcare concern.  So far, we have had a little trouble finding a GP but I haven’t truly made a concerted effort.  We may need to drive down to Greensboro which would be annoying but it would also give us an excuse to get some shopping and sightseeing in occasionally. However, the big picture stuff is covered.  Martinsville has a hospital and I’ve heard good things about it.  More importantly, there are two fantastic hospitals not far away, just in case the worst happens.  Wake Forest Baptist, about an hour away, and Duke University Medical Center, about two hours away, are both highly ranked on the list of best hospitals in the US (for cancer).  Wake Forest is ranked #17 in 2016  and Duke ranks #27.  UNC, at #32, isn’t far either. This is actually a trade-up for Mother as the local leading hospital in Dallas, UT Southwestern, ranks at #50.

Hopefully, this post answers the question of “why?” and “why here?”

It is my hope to share some glimpses of our area here and there.  Primarily, this blog is a creative release for me but it would also be nice for someone to sing some praises for this area. It deserves it.