Published Sept/Oct 2005

Above: The gardens at America’s largest private home, the Biltmore Estate, are inspiring any time of year. The estate is in Ashville, N.C. Biltmore Estate photo

Below: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known to the Cherokee nation as the place of blue smoke. Asheville CVB photo

Before You Go
For more information, contact:

• Blue Ridge Parkway, (828) 298-0398 or www.nps.gov/blri;

• Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, 1-800-NATURAL (800-628-8725) or www.arkansas.com;

• Louisiana Office of Tourism, 1-800-926-0425 or www.louisianatravel.com;

• Mississippi Development Authority, 1-866-733-6477 or www.visitmississippi.org.

Stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks and TourBook guides. View a list of offices.

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Stunning color, noteworthy attractions and historic sites make these southern fall drives the best of the bunch.
By Barbara Jane Sponaugle

Majestic leaves of red, gold and purple mingle with the evergreen of pine. The road curves into a path leading one on a spectacular mountain journey. A deer leaps across the road followed by two fawns. A mother bear saunters by the roadside with a baby cub close behind. A drive through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park might reveal many splendid sights to autumnal adventurers.

Throughout the South, similar scenic journeys can be found amid the Ozark Mountains, in the cotton country of Louisiana, along the Natchez Trace Parkway and on several other interesting routes. Pack up the car–and extra film–to capture autumn’s fleeting glory.

The place of blue smoke

The Cherokee Indians referred to the Great Smoky Mountains as “shaconage,” the place of blue smoke. A blue haze hangs over this mountain area, and clouds seem to float almost to earth, creating an ethereal appearance.

The Blue Ridge Parkway–observing its 70th anniversary in September–is considered to be one of the nation’s most scenic highways. The south end of the parkway winds through Asheville, N.C., and into the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The historic town of Asheville was made famous by author Thomas Wolfe in his first well-known novel “Look Homeward, Angel.” You can view his home, the Thomas Wolfe Memorial State Historic Site (52 N. Market), on your visit.

In contrast to this boarding house is the Biltmore Estate (1 Approach Road) created by tycoon George Vanderbilt. The 250-room French château is America’s largest private home. Fall wraps a brilliant array of color around this 8,000-acre estate.

Drive west of the Biltmore Estate to Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee, N.C. It’s an authentic replica of a 250-year-old Cherokee village located on U.S. Highway 441 north at the border of the national park.

Cherokee people demonstrate basket weaving, pottery making, stringing beads and more. Observe the timeworn methods of chipping flint into arrowheads, carving wooden spoons, combs and bowls and pounding Indian corn into meal. It’s a historic step back into time. Don’t miss the outdoor mountainside theater performance, “Unto These Hills,” the moving story of the Cherokee nation.

Newfound Gap Road connects Cherokee, N.C., and Gatlinburg, Tenn., a resort town nestled deep in the Smoky Mountains. The city sits in a hollow with the mountains surrounding it. Overhead are chair lifts that move around the village and up the mountainside.

Among the Gatlinburg attractions to visit is Christus Gardens (510 River Road), with paintings, life-size dioramas and exhibits that depict the life of Jesus Christ. Fall color is splendid on the site.

At Dolly Parton’s Dollywood (1020 Dollywood Lane) in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., there’s a variety of music, entertainment, rides and family fun. The theme park, now in its 20th year, is divided into various sections, including Showstreet, Jukebox Junction and Dollywood Boulevard. Visit the park for the Music and Harvest Celebration, held Sept. 23–Oct. 29.

Arkansas in autumn

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has named Eureka Springs, Ark., one of its “Dozen Distinctive Destinations.” Victorian homes hug cliffs. Block after block of one-of-a-kind shops line the downtown area. Trolley and carriage rides are popular ways to see the city and fall color surrounding it.

Thousands of visitors attend the Great Passion Play (935 Passion Play Road), an outdoor drama, each year.
In October, leaves turn vibrant, and there are fall festivals and craft fairs to attend.

Arkansas Scenic 7, the state’s first scenic byway, traverses the north-south length of the state from Bull Shoals Lake at the Missouri border to Louisiana. Spectacular views are offered as it passes through the Ozark and Ouachita mountains. Numerous travel authorities have named it one of the 10 most scenic byways in the country. Its beauty is unsurpassed as the highway climbs and dips across some of Arkansas’s most dramatic scenery.

Special beauty is seen from Harrison through Russellville/Dardanelle to Hot Springs and Arkadelphia. You’ll find many opportunities to enjoy the countryside at viewpoints, gift and craft shops and restaurants.

The Buffalo National River, Lake Dardanelle, the Arkansas River and DeGray Lake Resort State Park lie along the route.

Leafing out in Louisiana

Spectacular fall foliage can be found in the northern part of Louisiana. The corridor along Interstate 20 is a lovely drive. Hardwood and pine dominate the hilly terrain in this area, creating a beautiful mix of fall color.

The cities of Shreveport, Ruston and Monroe provide overnight lodging. Many state parks are in this vicinity. Shreveport has an antique auto museum. Ruston contains a quaint downtown for shoppers. Monroe features a great antique village.

The Bienville Trace Scenic Byway is centered at the cities of Monroe/West Monroe. This scenic byway will provide sights of rivers and bayous. This is the heart of Louisiana’s cotton country, and visitors will be among friendly people and restaurants offering delicious home cooking.

Another fall drive worth taking would be north of Shreveport-Bossier City along state Highway 2 on the Northwest Louisiana Scenic Byway. See antebellum architecture in Homer and historic buildings in Bernice. Visit Lake Clairborne and Lake Bistineau State Parks or Earl Williamson Park on Caddo Lake.

Mississippi’s colorful miles

The scenic Natchez Trace Parkway is known for the unspoiled natural beauty. It stretches 444 miles diagonally across the state from Natchez to Nashville, Tenn. This ancient trail was first used by Native Americans and later by early settlers.

The non-commercialized road winds through lush forests and into the historical past of Mississippi. In Natchez, tour magnificent antebellum homes. Autumn pilgrimage will be Oct. 22–Nov. 5, when historic homes and gardens will be on tour. See Natchez-Under-The-Hill, where saloons of yesterday are replaced with colorful shops, quaint restaurants, and a casino.

Further north on this scenic parkway, discover portions of the original Natchez Trace. Continue on to Tupelo and the parkway’s headquarters and visitors center, which includes a good museum.

Another possibility for a pretty fall drive is state Route 7 from Michigan City–just over the Tennessee-Mississippi border–south to Holly Springs, the headquarters for the Mississippi Audubon Society. Or take the Holly Springs Driving Tour and see historic homes, churches and other points of interests.

Continue south to the city of Oxford and visit Rowan Oak, home of author William Faulkner and historic Ole Miss (Univer-sity of Missis-sippi). You may even catch the Rebels during a home game this fall.

Route 7 connects with Interstate 55 just north of Grenada, allowing a stop at Grenada Lake and Hugh White State Park.

Fall comes but once a year and what a marvel it is to bear.

Barbara Jane Sponaugle is a new contributor from Mineral City, Ohio.

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