The answers to the questions posed at the end of Part 13 are: (1) Yes,
(2) Hannibal, (3) Asheville Mini owner, and (4) All stayed at the Grove Park
Inn. Read on for more details.
We left EG and me all but coasting into Asheville just off the Blue Ridge
Parkway desperately looking for a gas station and seeing a sign indicating
Asheville was 5 more miles. I turned the corner, and there was a gas station!
Sort of makes up for driving up Mount Mitchell to see the sights and only
With a full fuel tank I headed towards Asheville to find the Biltmore
Estate. All you need is a grandfather named Cornelius Vanderbilt who made his
money in railroads and you too can build a mansion on 8,000 acres. George
Washington Vanderbilt opened this little hideaway on Christmas Day in 1895;
although, the house had been started in 1888. It takes a while to build a
250-room mansion in the middle of 75 acres of formal gardens. Fortunately,
Olmsted (the park designer for many US cities) talked old George out of
destroying the entire 8,000 acres (by making it into French style chateau
grounds). Most of the acreage has been preserved as it was, or close to it.
Eventually, I found my way to the Estate and, after hesitating about
paying the exorbitant fee of $32, bought a ticket. Before leaving the
ticketing area to drive to the parking lot, I called Neal Weinmann to see
when we could meet. Neal is a Mini owner in the area and we'd arranged to
meet, talk Minis, tour Asheville, talk Minis, and go out to dinner, at which
time we'd probably talk about Minis. Neal would be ready about the time I
could finish the Estate tour.
Off I went to drive to the Mansion. Much too far to walk! It was a
pleasant wandering drive through nice scenery. Then you park. Then you walk.
Then you are suitably impressed with the sight that greets you when you walk
through the gates and look to your right down a huge expanse of lawn. Now
that's a house! Of course, not all is perfect. The few cars allowed in that
area parked along one drive spoil the picture a bit, but, worse, the row of
semi-trailers parked along the other drive really looked out of place. It
turned out that some scenes from the upcoming movie, "Hannibal" were being
filmed in the house. The trailers were support for the movie. Even a couple
of the rooms were blocked off and in one section of the house we were
politely reminded to be "Quiet on the set," because live filming was taking
place as we toured.
Just your average little hideaway. But where's the
I rented a Walkman for $5 (for a $32 admission fee I would have expected
to be given a Walkman) and did the self-guided tour. OK. I'll admit to being
impressed. The interior is just as impressive as the exterior and the house
was fitted with the most modern labor saving devices -- labor saving for the
servants, of course. And also, of course, they still lived in small rooms in
the basement. Besides the usual, the house has a workout room, a huge indoor
pool and a bowling alley. Don't tell me these people didn't know how to live!
I wasn't asked to take part in the film (evidently, Hannibal didn't need
a Wolseley 1000 getaway car) so when I finished the house tour I left and
drove off by the nice gardens and through the many acres before I found my
way back to reality. One could spend hours wandering the gardens and visiting
the winery, but I had more important things to do.
The next stop was to meet Neal at his place of work where I arrived in
time to give him an excuse to leave a little early. A copy of the recent "USA
Today" article was hanging on the wall. I couldn't resist autographing it.
Bet that will wow his coworkers! Well, OK, probably not.
I followed Neal home where I was introduced to his wife Sharon and son
Phil and a friendly cat that had obviously just had a good roll in the mud.
(A daughter was AWOL.)
Scattered around the outside of the garage were various MGBs that had
seen better days and there were a few more inside the garage as well. More
important, there was a nice blue Mini. Some of you may recognize it as the
former Flower Power Mini of Joyce Priest, even though it is now without the
Blue meets EG. The tippy-toe stance is
because of new cones or Blue is
just happy to see EG! "Not tonight. I'm
tired. I've now driven 2090 miles from Miami."
I noticed the license plate on the car right away and Neal explained it
dated back to a previous car and the days when we labored under the 55 mph
national speed limit. Neal's other plate (something like No 2 55 - sorry,
don't remember it exactly) was taken back by North Carolina as improper) so
he replaced it with this one.
A political statement that North
Carolina could put up with.
Neal's first Mini (in body shell form) was tucked away in the garage, and
will probably be on the road someday. (Don't we all have at least one like
After the obligatory, posed photo the three of us were joined by Neal's wife
and we headed off for dinner (guess what the main topic of conversation was)
and then a quick tour of the area.
Neal with future Mini driver, son
Asheville is a nice town situated in a nice area of the country. There
are two rivers (Swannanoa and the French Broad - no jokes, please) and it is
smack dab in the middle of the Great Smokey and Blue Ridge Mountains. Thomas
Wolfe called Asheville home and the area attracted many famous people;
especially, when the Grove Park Inn was opened in 1913. It seems everybody
who was anybody showed up there at one time or another (including the people
mentioned at the end of Part 13) to luxuriate in this palace of a hotel. But
don't take "palace" the wrong way. The style is not Upper Class Snob. The
hotel is made from hand-hewn rock cut from nearby Sunset Mountain and hauled
by tractor-train to the site. Although a bit hedonistic (and expensive) for
me it is very impressive. We wondered about a bit and made the proper
"impressed" noises and marveled at the method of construction as shown in the
many old photographs tucked away in back halls. Go visit. It is worth the
stop. And if you ever win the Lottery, go and stay a few days.
The next morning, Tuesday the 22nd, it was off back to the Blue Ridge
Parkway to finish the amazing 469-mile drive. Neal lead me back to the
entrance where I'd left the Parkway the previous afternoon and followed me
for a while until he had to turn off and head for work. Lights flashed, a
wave, and off I went sorry to be leaving the hospitality and the area behind.
The Blue Ridge Parkway continues on for another spectacular 140 miles or
so and ends near the town of Cherokee on the Cherokee Indian Reservation and
near the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are no
gas stations in the Park so I stopped in Cherokee to fill up.
Before heading off through the Great Smokies, I stopped at the
Oconaluftee Visitors' Center to pick up one of the excellent Official Map and
Guides. The National Park Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior
publish these and I found them very helpful having collected them from other
stops along the way. When I pulled into the parking lot I found a photo
opportunity I couldn't pass up.
A PT Cruiser parked next to EG, who
had been doing a little cruising herself!
The PT Cruiser was all tricked out 50s style with flames, wide
whitewalls, dice hanging from the mirror, etc.. I parked EG, got out, stepped
back a ways and took a photo. Before I could get back to the car, people were
coming from all over the parking lot to look over the two unusual cars, so I
just stayed back a ways and listened to the comments. People would walk
around them both, then go back to their cars for the cameras. When they
returned the most often took picture was of EG!
Although not a huge park by some standards this 53-mile by 18-mile area
is named for the smoke-like haze that seems to hang about it much of the
time. The haze is, or was, naturally formed by the mountain range but has
been added to over the years as industrialization developed in the east. And
although small by other standards, most of the biggest mountains in the
eastern US are located here with 16 peaks over 6,000 feet and the main ridge
not dropping below 5,000 for 36 miles. It is also one of the oldest exposed
land areas in the world.
The southern half of this east-west stretching park is in North Carolina
and the northern in Tennessee, and it is bisected north/south by highway 441.
The highway comes out of the park in the north at Gatlinburg, but I'd heard
it is a bit on the commercial side, and, since I wanted to prolong the drive
in the park, I headed off west from 441 before the end of the Park on Little
River Road until highway 73. The drive is well worth the time. Nice roads and
nice scenery; although, having just been spoiled by the Blue Ridge, its
impact wasn't as great as if I'd started in the Smokies. The roads were not
as well planned as the Blue Ridge, either. Blue Ridge roads always seemed to
have constant radius turns with no surprises in their design. Several times I
ran into decreasing radius turns in the Smokies. OK, if you're following the
suggested speed limits. Dangerous if you are not.
No "Welcome" but crossing into Tennessee
Middle of the Great Smokey
After driving 441 and the Little River Road (which looks on the map like
a tracing from an earthquake on a seismograph) I picked up 73 to take me out
of the park and on through Townsend and Maryville. From there I followed the
boring 129 to the 140 to Interstate 75 just west of Knoxville where I found a
motel for the night and called a Knoxville Mini owner for the start of more
EG continued to perform well with the exceptions of the minor annoyances
of warm running at idle and the fan noise when first started up in the
morning. Well, I grumble a bit in the early morning, too.