You soon notice after leaving the art-loving, railroad-oriented city of Roanoke that I-81 begins climbing into the mountains as it heads into the Southwest Highlands, Virginia's increasingly narrow "tail" hemmed in by West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina. You don't come down on the other side of the mountains, however, for I-81 will deposit you instead in the Great Valley of Virginia, whose floor averages 2,000 feet in altitude. Just as they delineate the Shenandoah Valley, the Blue Ridge Mountains form the eastern boundary of the Southwest Highlands. And just as the Skyline Drive follows the crest of those mountains east of the Shenandoah, here it's the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I should say the parkway follows the mountains, not their crest, for while peaks above 4,000 feet are rare in the Shenandoah National Park, here they regularly exceed that altitude, with Mount Rogers reaching 5,729 feet, the highest point in Virginia.

Mount Rogers National Recreation Area rivals the Shenandoah National Park with 300 miles of hiking and riding trails, including a stretch of the Appalachian Trail. On its edges, the Virginia Creeper and New River trails take hikers and bikers along old railroad beds.

The region's history includes Daniel Boone following the Wilderness Road through the mountains, plateaus, and hollows to Cumberland Gap and on into Kentucky. Gorgeous Abingdon and other small towns still have log cabins from those frontier days.

The Highlanders have preserved their traditional arts, crafts, and renowned mountain music. Abingdon hosts both Virginia's official state theater and the Virginia Highlands Festival, one of America's top annual arts-and-crafts shows. The famous Carter family makes mountain music at tiny Maces Spring, and fiddlers from around the world gather every August for their old-time convention at Galax.

Whether you love history, drama, music, arts, crafts, the great outdoors, or all of the above, I am sure you will be enchanted with Virginia's beautiful Southwest Highlands.