The first time I ventured onto the Blue Ridge Parkway it was so foggy you couldn't even see the guard rails.

Next time, I got lucky.

The Blue Ridge, rated one of America's most scenic drives, runs for 754 kilometers along the crests of the southern Appalachian Mountains through parts of Virginia and North Carolina.

Like many of America's treasured assets, it was a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project, providing jobs during the Great Depression.

Commercial vehicles are prohibited on this two-lane blacktop. The speed limit is a leisurely 45 mp/h. (72 km/h), but motorists are advised to allow 30 (48 km/h) when estimating travel time.

That's good advice. With frequent stops to take photos and admire the view, covering 100 kilometers took us just over two hours.

Our introduction to the Parkway was Virginia's Explore Park Visitor Center, just east of Roanoke. There's a huge relief map and a stunning video that reveals such off-road attractions as glassblowers and musical instrument makers and adventures such as whitewater rafting.

At 9:45 a.m. we headed south under a cloudless sky. This was the first decent Saturday, we were told, in an unusually wet and cool spring, so heavy traffic wouldn't have been surprising. Instead, the Parkway seemed empty. So empty we could stop on a rare straight stretch for several minutes to photograph wildflowers and humpbacked bridges.

Signs for overlooks alert you to places where you can park and drink in views of two of the Appalachians' components, the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west or the Allegheny Mountains to the east. Rock Castle Gorge lookout at Rocky Knob was a favorite.

I was told the scenery is more dramatic in North Carolina, where the peaks reach upwards of 1,800 meters, roughly 700 meters taller than anything along the Virginia portion of the Parkway.

But I was content to just putter along on a warm, sun-filled day. Orange flame azaleas and white mountain laurels were popping from the shade of roadside embankments and seeing the odd house or small farm was a reminder that in some spots the Parkway is only a few meters wide.

Chateau Morrissette, just off the Parkway, is worth a visit. (Watch for Milepost 171.5, just south of Rocky Knob Visitor Center.) The winery building is impressive - 3,065 square meters and built entirely of salvaged timber, much of it from the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Sampling their products was fun, and lunch a surprise. I teased Chef Vance Buffington about one of the entrees, shrimp and grits, explaining that most Canadians I've met don't much care for grits.

It's their biggest seller, Buffington replied, and he brought a big bowl for us to sample. It proved so tasty that one tentative bite turned into a bit of a pig-out.

Our last stop, century-old Mabry Mill, at Milepost 176.1, is a top photo op. The water-powered grist mill still functions, and volunteer Eugene Webb, a spry 82, kindly offered to run some grain through for us.
Next week: Two "finds'' just off the Parkway.