Down south, approaching the border with NC, is a region of hills and mountains,
the world's oldest river (or second oldest, anyway), and famous mountain
blue grass music. Small towns fit between the hills and small roads weave
through the valleys.
Three towns are worth a visit-all are within ten miles of one another.
Galax is a center for blue grass and fiddle museum. The town hosts several
competitions during the year, and pick-up music might be heard weekend
nights in local hangouts. The town initially was known as Cairo and then
Bonaparte. Finally, Galax was settled upon, in honor to the galax plant
(with evergreen leaves and spikes of small white flowers) harvested near-by
for use in floral arrangements. Many of the early buildings remain in
the downtown, providing a nice combination of wood and brick facades,
but much of the commerce has shifted to strip malls and such surrounding
Up the road is Fries, along the New River-said to be the oldest river
in the world. Once an active textile producing town, today Fries struggles
to find viable economic avenues for its citizens-a situation shared by
other small communities in this region.
Ivanhoe was a small farming community until iron ore and later zinc
were discovered and mined. Although the mine and processing plant are
closed, the land below the town is still owned by an out-of-state company
which is not keen to invest in community enterprises or services. The
Ivanhoe Civic League was created in the 1980s to provide all citizens
greater control over their own lives and their community. The League says,
"We feel we are poor in material wealth, but very rich in cultural enhancements."
Visitors can buy a certificate for a square foot of land and thereby support
local initiatives, can stroll down the road to the New River, and can
wander the small roads that link Ivanhoe to the outside world.
PS. Bluegrass music is enjoyed every Friday night at Floyd Country Store,
in Floyd, VA-about 20 miles northeast of Galax
Bill Rau is the author of "America's Capitals: Towns and
Cities Known as World Capitals." The book is published by Side Roads
which specializes in travel guides on lesser visited parts of the U.S.
Kelly Graham supplied the photos for this article. Pictured here, he's
at Hungry Mother State Park to the North of Galax beside the lake with
his K-1100RS. Kelly recommends Route 16 that travels north and south as
a must ride. It's well known for it's twisties that pass the State Park.