Blue Ridge Parkway: A Trove of Southern Roots In The Appalachian Mountains

August 11, 2011
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Violet hued clouds hover over the smoky blue ranges of the Appalachian Mountains. Photo credit: Public Domain

The crispness of early morning is much more vivid after rain saturates the land. Clouds linger, the air is lightly touched with a sweet scent, and the coolness revitalizes the soul. Even if raindrops emerge from the sky, this is the one time where the rain is welcomed while gazing from atop, not below, in appreciation and discovery of how the Blue Ridge Parkway acquired its name. Wisps of white and gray clouds settle in the valley as blue dreamy mountains peek through the morning mist.

Along with infinite turnoffs to inhale the serene landscape of mountains, smoky clouds, and dense, spruce-fir, oak-pine, and cove hardwood forests, the culture, past and present, endure. The Blue Ridge Parkway tells a story of profound scenery and the struggles of living in North Carolina and Virginia’s heavy forested mountains. The lure for people to inhabit the mecca of blue mountains is understood when taking in the panoramic landscape.

The contemporary view, in many instances, is the same as the settlers experienced when they first arrived in the Blue Ridge and Black Mountains. Numerous Native American tribes call the region home, including the eastern band of Cherokee Indians of North Carolina, as well as the Tutelo in western Virginia, the Saponi, and Monacan. The fields, prepared by burning undergrowth and trees to grow crops and graze livestock are still visible from the Parkway. The southern portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway is inside the Cherokee Indian Reservation. The Oconalufteee Indian Village offers contemporary stop where visitors learn mask carving, canoe hauling, basket weaving, study the language, and stroll through restored dwellings.

altSome of the oldest communities of pre-history and European colonization are attributed to Blue Ridge. Visible from the Parkway are pioneer structures such as farm buildings, cabins, farmsteads, mills, and churches that offer traces of the early settler culture. Solitude, resourcefulness, and all-out determination through perpetual exertion were necessary for pioneers to homestead in these unforgiving mountains. The first Europeans were Scotch-Irish in descent with Palatine Germans also settling the area.

This mix is the bearer of a unique dialect where Scottish and Elizabethan English intermingle for a distinct Appalachian sound. Wylene P. Dial determines, “The reason our people still speak as they do is that when Scots, English, Germans, and some Irish and Welsh, came into the Appalachian area and settled, they virtually isolated themselves from the mainstream of American life for generations to come because of the hills and mountains. They kept the old speech forms that have long since fallen out of fashion elsewhere.” The mountains and hills persist today and continue to buffer the unique culture that continues to show 16th century influences.

Also distinct is the music originating from the Appalachian culture. The Blue Ridge Parkway celebrates this traditional and old-time music of the mountains at the Blue Ridge Music Center in Virginia. Throughout the summer, concerts help to introduce visitors and congregate locals to the rich heritage of music from the rural communities. Along with European influences, African rhythms are also important contributors to the unique mountain music. Appalachian mountain music is credited with influencing current day bluegrass and country.

altThe downturn in American society in the 1930’s encouraged the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The road was built into the scenery so the views, not the man-made pavement, tunnels, and the Linn Cove Viaduct, are complimented. The Linn Cove Viaduct, a unique response to the environmentally sensitive area of Grandfather Mountain, was the last portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway completed in 1987.

Even today, the Blue Ridge Parkway offers an escape from lights and the immediacy of current society. The 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway is the ultimate trip away from it all because there is no predetermined time to arrive at a specific location. Lines are nonexistent. Travelers explore as leisurely or as swiftly as they please while soaking in the scenery and the historic locales. This timeless experience is why the Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited unit of the National Park System.

“Appalachian Culture and History on the Blue Ridge Parkway” America’s Byways, (April 15, 2008)
“Blue Ridge Parkway” U.S. National Park System, (February 11, 2011)
“Culture of the Blue Ridge Parkway” Blue Ridge Parkway Guide, (2011)  
Dial, Wylene P. “The Dialect of the Appalachian People” West Virginia History, Volume 30, No. 2, pp. 463-71 (January 1969),