July 3: A flowery, historical, viewful long drive

Middlesboro, Kentucky, where I spent last night, is just outside of my eighteenth (I think) national park of the trip (I’ve sorta lost count, and this is a guess from looking at my road atlas). Anyway, Cumberland Gap National Historic Park is right up my alley. It’s one of the main passes that the early settlers passed through on their way from the 13 original states to go west and explore. Daniel Boone was not the first white man to pass through Cumberland Gap, but he was one of the early people to do so.

The Gap, I was amused to find out, was named after the Duke of Cumberland. The same guy who led the forces that beat the heck out of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites at Culloden, which battlefield I visited twenty years ago last month.

A morning glory in the garden outside of the visitor center.
A morning glory in the garden outside of the visitor center.
A log cabin perched in the middle of the huge mowed lawn outside of the visitor center.
A log cabin perched in the middle of the huge mowed lawn outside of the visitor center.

The visitor center was interesting, and also had a lovely garden out front. Also a lot of lawn. I’ve seen more mown grass since I arrived in Kentucky than I think I’ve ever seen before. I’ve passed hundreds of houses, big and small, with huge rolling lawns surrounding them. It’s bizarre. Bluegrass, I guess, although I always thought that was referring to what the thoroughbreds ate.

The other high point, and I mean that literally, was a six-mile corkscrew drive up to Pinnacle Point, which tops out at about 1500 feet above the gap below. You can see three states (Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia) from up there. Today’s been pretty darned humid, so you can see the haze, or smoke, that gives the Great Smokies, a hundred miles or so to the southeast, their name, as well. It’s not real smoke. It’s what happens when you have millions of deciduous trees transpirating all at the same time.

A rhododendron -- in July! -- along the road up to Pinnacle Point.
A rhododendron — in July! — along the road up to Pinnacle Point.
This was up at Pinnacle Point.  It's a quote from Frederick Jackson Turner, the guy who decided the frontier period was over in 1890.
This was up at Pinnacle Point. It’s a quote from Frederick Jackson Turner, the guy who decided the frontier period was over in 1890.
A view from Pinnacle Point, looking down at the Gap.
A view from Pinnacle Point, looking down at the Gap.
Another view from Pinnacle Point.  That's the small town of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, below.
Another view from Pinnacle Point. That’s the small town of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, below.
Trumpet vine, or what I've been thinking of as the bad hair day vine, alongside the road to Pinnacle Point.  Near my mother's old house in Texas, there's a huge trumpet vine growing up a power pole.  It loses its leaves in the winter, and just looks awful.  One day my sister was driving by it, and there was a sign tacked to the pole reading, "bad hair day."  So that's what we've called it ever since.
Trumpet vine, or what I’ve been thinking of as the bad hair day vine, alongside the road to Pinnacle Point. Near my mother’s old house in Texas, there’s a huge trumpet vine growing up a power pole. It loses its leaves in the winter, and just looks awful. One day my sister was driving by it, and there was a sign tacked to the pole reading, “bad hair day.” So that’s what we’ve called it ever since.

More flowers along the road, too. And I did manage to keep Merlin from rear-ending himself on the hairpin turns [g].

The rest of the day was seeing how far I could get heading towards Fayetteville and my friends Morgan and Kaz, because it’s about 360 miles total, and I want to get there tomorrow, which is the Fourth. I made it across the far northeastern corner of Tennessee to North Carolina, where I crossed the border just north of the Smokies (which I visited and was not all that impressed with on my last Long Trip, which is why I didn’t revisit them), and down through Asheville and across the southern part of North Carolina almost all the way to Charlotte. I’m in the town of Gastonia tonight, having crossed the French Broad River, the Broad River, and the 1st Broad River on my way. The name Gastonia sounds like it ought to be in France, too.

Coming down out of the mountains to Asheville, there's a viewpoint with a veterans' memorial.  This is the view from there.
Coming down out of the mountains to Asheville, there’s a viewpoint with a veterans’ memorial. This is the view from there.
I was always under the impression that Bruce Wayne lived in Gotham City, but maybe he's got a vacation cave near Asheville?
I was always under the impression that Bruce Wayne lived in Gotham City, but maybe he’s got a vacation cave near Asheville?

Over 200 miles today, which means I only have about 150 miles to get to where I’m going tomorrow. Not too shabby. I did drive about 100 of those miles on the Interstate, though, both for time’s sake and because for most of it there really wasn’t a viable alternative [sigh]. I hate the Interstate.

I am truly in the South (a bit farther than I expected to be, but that's okay).  Crepe myrtle outside of my motel here in Gastonia.
I am truly in the South (a bit farther than I expected to be, but that’s okay). Crepe myrtle outside of my motel here in Gastonia.

Oh, and I should mention that this is the first time on this trip that I’ve intersected my last Long Trip, seventeen years ago.  I drove the Blue Ridge Parkway on that trip, which passes through Asheville, and, on my way down to Atlanta, actually drove a chunk of the same Interstate that I drove today.  I knew I’d end up doing that at some point, but I never was sure where it would be.  Now I know!  Actually I’ll be going up the East Coast the same way I went down it on that trip, but I’m going to do my best (except for Washington, DC, which I also spent time in on that trip) to go on new roads, and not the ones I’ve already been on.