From Emerald Village to Bakersville, you pass by numerous old mines, shut down long ago. Most of the mines are completely overgrown and hard to recognize. Watch for piles of feldspar (the white rocks) and mica (the glittering flakes). This usually indicates a muck pile, also known as mine waste.
Our route also passes through several small communities that have interesting histories. In Kona, at the confluence of the North and South Toe rivers, the early-nineteenth-century George Silver House stands in a valley below the road. In a bit of grotesque history, George’s daughter-in-law, Frankie, murdered her husband in their nearby home and became the first woman hanged in the state in 1833. A less emotionally harrowing side trip along the narrow dirt road in Lunday takes you to the picturesque Lunday Footbridge spanning the North Toe River.
The Sink Hole Mine in Bandana is among the oldest mines in the state. Historians believe that Native Americans worked the mine before the arrival of the Europeans. Mica, the primary mineral mined at Sink Hole, is unique in the mineral kingdom. It is transparent and forms in sheets that are easily separated and ground. It is also flexible and resistant to heat. These qualities made mica ideal for use in windows for early cabins and wood stoves, electrical insulation, dry lubricants, paint additives, and even decorative glitter. Today, mica serves mainly as an additive in drywall joint compound.
Suspension footbridges are fairly common in remote areas of the mountain region. This bridge crosses the North Toe River in the community of Lunday.
A backcountry campsite sits atop Round Bald in the Roan Mountain Highlands. The Appalachian Trail traverses the mountain’s summit.
Try to plan your driving trip for the third week in June. That is the typical peak blooming period for the Catawba rhododendron and flame azalea that grow on the balds of the Roan Mountain Highlands. In a good year, the shrubs put on a floral display unmatched anywhere in the mountains. Even in a poor year, the blossoms make the trip well worthwhile. A good leg stretcher is the path through the Rhododendron Gardens between Roan High Knob and Roan High Bluff. The trail features a handicap-accessible viewing deck overlooking the densely growing rhododendron. Those who want more of a workout can hike the Appalachian Trail north from Carvers Gap. The first mile takes you over the top of Round Bald with its spectacular 360-degree views and then to Jane Bald, where a side trail climbs to the summit of Grassy Ridge, which offers even better views. Catawba rhododendron and flame azalea grow abundantly all along the trail.