The Best Job In The World Got Even Better

2013 MINI Cooper S

Visiting and reviewing inns, restaurants, and attractions in the Blue Ridge Mountains is a rough job, but I guess someone’s got to do it (ha!). Now it’s going to be even more fun, tooling the highways and byways in our Chili-Red Mini Cooper!

Almost New 2013 Chili Red MINI Cooper S

“Back of the Dragon” in Southwest Virginia

Views from the Back of the Dragon, VA Rt. 16

Virginia’s “Back of the Dragon” has some terrific views as it crosses over three mountain ranges and beautiful, green valleys with rolling hills and farms. The Back of the Dragon connects Marion, Va., with Tazewell, Va., 32 miles north on Virginia Route 16.

Back of the Dragon 55 mph Speed Limits

Another nice thing about the Back of the Dragon is the lack of traffic. I rode it during the week, and in over 30 miles I only saw three cars and one motorcycle.

Back of the Dragon Speeds

Best of all, the speed limit is higher, often 55 mph (I believe the speed limit is 35 mph on the entire 11-mile stretch of the Tail of the Dragon in North Carolina, with tons of sports cars and motorcycles running it everyday. For more information about the Back of the Dragon, click here. For an interactive Google map of the Back of the Dragon click here.

Back of the Dragon Limits Truck Traffic

If you ride the Back of the Dragon from the north and need a place to stay, you might try the General Francis Marion Hotel in Marion, Virginia. It looked nice from the outside, but I was traveling north so I didn’t stay there. Check the Hotel’s website and TripAdvisor for additional information.

General Francis Marion Hotel, Marion, VA

I arrived in Marion at lunch time and stopped at the Wooden Pickle for lunch. The restaurant is a clean, nice looking place that’s probably more lively on the weekends. My chicken salad wrap was delicious. I chose fruit over French fries for a change, and enjoyed it very much.

Chicken Wrap at Wooden Pickle Restaurant, Marion, VA

My overnight destination was the Crab Orchard Museum and Pioneer Park in Tazewell, Virginia. It provides an interesting history lesson on Tazewell County and the Clinch River Valley of Virginia. Here are a few pictures of the museum and park…

Pictures Outside Crab Orchard Museum

Pictures Inside Crab Orchard Museum

It was raining and overcast the next day so I only visited a couple of other places in Tazewell County. One was the fascinating and beautiful Burke’s Garden, which is an 8-mile-long valley at 3,000 ft. elevation surrounded by Clinch Mountain. Click on the Google satellite image below of Burke’s Garden for an interactive Google Map to Burke’s Garden…

Google Satellite Image of Burkes Garden

Burke’s Garden has a very interesting history, especially for those who like Asheville’s Biltmore Estate. The legend is that Burke’s Garden was the Vanderbilt’s first choice for building their home, but the original owners wouldn’t sell their property. Read more about the history of Burke’s Garden here. If you search for Google Images of Burke’s Garden you’ll find some amazing aerial photos that reveal its “crater-like” geography.

Afterward I headed over to the Pocahontas Exhibition Coal Mine. That was another education in the history of our country and how hard others have worked for the rest of us…

Photos Inside the Pocahontas Exhibition Coal Mine

I must thank Tazewell County Tourism Coordinator David Woodard for his hospitality during my trip. When I told him I was coming to ride the Back of the Dragon, he made arrangements for me to stay at the Cottage at the Crab Orchard Museum (if you need a place to stay, this 2-bedroom Cottage is a great value), and David escorted me on a tour of his beautiful county. If you haven’t been to Tazewell County, Virginia, add it to your list of “must see” places. It truly has some of the most beautiful scenery in all of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Bactrian Camel and LLama Farm in Burkes Garden Virginia

One more thing: The group tour at Lost World Ranch let’s you get up close to Bactrian (rare, two hump) camels on a farm in Burke’s Garden. Call 276-472-2347 for reservations.

Cherohala Sunrise Photograph by Aaron Morgan

Cherohala Sunrise Photo by Aaron Morgan

Professional photographer Aaron Morgan contributed some great photographs for the 2014 edition of our hard-back Blue Ridge Travel Guide, including the photo above of a sunrise along the Cherohala Skyway. For additional information about Aaron Morgan and his fine art photography, visit his web site here.

The Cherohala Skyway connects Robbinsville, NC, (near the infamous Tail of the Dragon), with Tellico Plains, TN, through the Nantahala and Cherokee National Forests. It opened in 1996 and has been designated a National Scenic Byway. The 43-mile road cost over $100-million to construct and has elevations ranging from 900 feet above sea level at the Tellico River in Tennessee to over 5,400 feet at the Tennessee-North Carolina state line. For additional information about the Cherohala Skyway click here. For an interactive Google map of the Cherohala Skyway click here.

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