Took the long way home from visiting my mother at her assisted living facility Wednesday, winding down through parts of Southwestern Virginia and West Virginia, crossing over Big Walker Mountain on U.S. 52.
A ride over Big Walker requires a stop at the BW Country Store and forking over five bucks for the long climb up the lookout tower, built more than 60 years ago. The observation deck sits 100 feet above the store and they say you can see five states from the top.
Tower owner Roy Kime’s father built the steel tower in 1953 and it has survived fires, bad weather and the building of I-77, which routed traffic off winding U.S. 52 and away from the longtime attraction but Kime keeps going.
On a lazy Wednesday afternoon, two other motorcyclists stopped at the store for some of Kime’s coffee and some jalapeno jam on crackers but the other two riders stayed on the ground as I climbed up the steps. The observation deck tops out at 3,405 feet and swayed gently in the wind as I took in the view from all directions and shot many photos.
The view was — in a word — stunning.
At the base of the tower, a swinging bridge used to connect the tower to the back of the old store and restaurant, destroyed by a fire in 2003. Kime built a new store and continues to soldier on to those who prefer the scenic beauty of the drive over Big Walker on U.S. 52 rather than the I-77 route that goes under the mountain in a tunnel.
Those who value time over quality of travel miss a lot when they stay on the Interstates. They don’t see attractions like the Big Walker Lookout Tower on U.S. 52 or Foamhenge on U.S. 11 near Natural Bridge. Attractions like these survive even as most of the traveling public pass them by on the four-lane roads.
That’s too bad. I put 23,800 plus miles on my Harley over the last 12 months and nearly all of those miles were on winding two-lane roads in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina.
When Amy and I travel by car we prefer to take the back roads and stay off the Interstates. That way, we find great places to eat and little roadside attractions.
Stops like the Big Walker tower are part of the bonuses of traveling off the beaten path.