Our agenda for today was unencumbered by appointments or forethought so we started the day by cogitating over coffee. We realized or remembered that our campground reservations for the future month or so were fragmented such that we had some immediate and some far-in-the-future reservations but there were gaping holes in between.
Of course, we started attacking the problem and quickly realized that we had again foolishly selected a Sunday for this task. Nobody in the campground business answers phones on Sundays and many of the Thousand Trails reservation websites are mystifying to operate properly, particularly for your narrator – a complete Luddite. We are Elite Members of TT (which means we paid a lot for the membership) but the websites seemingly derive some kind of cyber ecstasy from torturing recently impoverished members by cleverly arranging the site so it will automatically send you to all the features of the site except the one you need.
We had some partial success but there is still some work needed to firm up our accommodations schedule. In the midst of today’s mindless wanderings through electronic reservation systems, the weather put on an extravaganza. It was a bright clear morning. By 10:00, there were a few wispy clouds. By about 1:00, we noted it was getting noticeably darker outside and by 2:00 there was some preliminary thunder grumbles before the sky opened up and shat upon us. The wind went from about 5 mph to about 60 mph in 3 minutes during the heaviest squall lines of vision-obscuring rain mixed with a bit of small hail. The entire thunderstorm was here and gone in about 15 minutes. The weather here can be impressive, especially to those of us from drought-plagued states. After I ignorantly convinced myself the trailer wouldn’t fly away (it weighs six tons) it was great to watch.
It is our last day in Virginia on this trip. Although their interstate highways are…uhhh…interesting, the rest of Virginia has been just exceptional. While we were here this spring, we have encountered historical sites from 1607 through the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and seemingly coming right up to about the 1930s. The people we have met have been very hospitable and friendly. The rural areas from the coast all the way to the Appalachians have breathtaking scenery much of which can be easily seen from paved roads. The weather has been interesting since I am from California where there is no weather. Weather here changes quickly compared to the location of my residence in San Diego; the effect of two or three completely different types of weather on the same day is fascinating. I will miss this place until I return.
The task of the day today was to visit Shenandoah Caverns near Mt. Jackson, VA, so we left Front Royal on I-66 west until we turned onto I-81 south to the Caverns. I initially thought I may have been premature condemning all the interstate highways as substandard in Virginia but we merely needed to travel far enough to ascertain that I-81 also has a rotten road surface. Nevertheless, it was not crowded and we were able to pass about 30 miles down the road without concerns other than avoiding road hazards like potholes and faults running down the center of the lanes.
The Caverns cost $23 a head which doesn’t seem too bad until you remember that Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico costs $10 for 3 days of access. You start the exploration by dropping about 70 feet into the caverns by a medieval elevator with a capacity of about 7 people without getting too cozy. The tours consist of about 25 people so it takes some standing around until they are able to deliver a full complement of folks to the tour start point. Once everybody made it to the start point, we were greeted by Olivia, our guide. She was nice enough but had one of those voices that makes you want to ignore her so I didn’t quite catch all the info she was trying to give. Nevertheless, the tour takes you through several different areas or rooms of the Caverns which are very interesting but all of them with plainly visible lighting fixtures & Romex electrical conductors which detracts from the experience. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that Romex is not rated for exposure to the environment and their lighting system was, therefore, not code-compliant if Virginia has adopted the National Electrical Code.
The Caverns tour is pretty short. If we didn’t have to wait on dawdlers and gimps, like me, the whole thing could have been wrapped up in about 25 minutes. It is all very pretty – I was just expecting a bit more.
From the Caverns, we drove east on Hwy 211 across the section of the Shenandoah Valley west of the Massanutten. As we ascended the Massanutten we ran into a highly localized thundershower that gave Charlotte’s wipers a run for their money, overwhelming them for short sections such that the road became almost invisible. We drove through the shower at about 20 mph until we emerged on the other side of it into clear weather. Weird.
The Massanutten is heavily timbered with hardwood trees, all of them just as happy and green as could be. We climbed through a pass at about 2200 feet still going east and then descended into the portion of the Shenandoah Valley that runs east of the Massanutten. We ultimately arrived in Sperryville, which is a neat little place with nice old houses mostly made from brick or stone masonry although we did spot some wood buildings which were also old and nice and quite tidy.
Departing bustling Sperryville, we headed north on Hwy 522 which is not a Virginia interstate highway and, therefore, perfectly sound with wide lanes, wide shoulders, clear lane and fog-line markings and exceptional paving. Partway back to our campsite, we randomly turned right onto Long Mountain Road which was a single-lane farm road running east and we decided to see how far we could go on it. Initially, there was simple but adequate paving which got a bit slimmer as we continued. Soon enough, the paving quit in favor of a well-graded gravel road but we continued because the scenery was so terrific. There are well-maintained farms (I guess – in the west we would call them ranches because there are no crops other than grass) with very healthy-looking livestock, predominately cows and horses. The farms are separated by wide clumps of hardwood forest. The now-gravel road continued and we did run by some muddy and potholed sections and some inclines with drainage gulleys that wandered freely from the ditch but, as a whole, the road was perfectly adequate for Charlotte’s enormous size. Charlotte is a 4 ton 2 wheel drive king-cab Ford F-250 turbo-diesel pickup truck that is only about 22 feet long.
We were probably about 4 miles onto the gravel when we encountered a Virginia plaster contractor stopped in the middle of the dirt road in a forested section due to a broken trailer hitch that had inconveniently separated his pickup truck from his plaster mixer. We sneaked between his road-clogging problem and the ditch and pulled up to ask if he needed assistance and to quiz him on the road ahead. He declined our assistance and happily explained that the road did indeed continue and we could make a big circle back to the highway if we merely followed his directions. I had my doubts about my ability to follow them but we foolishly continued down the road. As we moseyed toward someplace we encountered a bunny calmly eating in the road and reluctant to move and also a snake (which I probably erroneously identify as an eastern king snake) calmly sunning himself in the middle of the road. As we approached, first the snake looked like a mirage. As we got closer it looked more like a dead black snake. Once I put Charlotte’s enormous front paw next to the snake, he turned to look at the offending tire. He wasn’t dead.
We snapped a few pix of him while we could before he did a leisurely squiggle and disappeared under the truck. We didn’t want to get out and we didn’t want to squish him so we put Charlotte in park and gave each other stupid looks. After a bit, the snake came out the passenger side and continued into the roadside grass. We put Charlotte back in D and continued on until we found out we had not been as dumb as we thought and came back out at Hwy 22 albeit in a different place than where we went in.
After re-emerging from our little back country expedition, we diverted from our suspiciously empty agenda and skulked down a few other little side roads in search of nothing in particular, which we found in abundance if you exclude gorgeous countryside. We finally made it home to the Barbarian Invader.
Hubba-hubba! Today we hopped in Charlotte the truck and cruised up onto the Skyline Drive which is the road that runs on top of the Blue Ridge in Shenandoah National Park from Front Royal to Waynesboro, VA. We got on the Drive at milepost 1 in Front Royal and exited westbound on Hwy 211 at about milepost 62. From there we continued west until we turned north on Hwy 340 back to Front Royal and our cozy spot in the Barbarian Invader.
This road is essentially the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway which we have been following since we were in Asheville back in mid-April. The Blue Ridge Parkway / Skyline Drive may be one of the most spectacular sections of road in the world although the speed limit maximum is 45 mph, which suits us just fine. From the Drive, if you look to the east you see the landscape of central and eastern Virginia descending toward Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic. If you gaze toward the west, you look down into the Shenandoah Valley and over to the Massanutten, a huge ridge that divides the Shenandoah Valley into eastern and western halves. There is very little here that isn’t pretty.
The portion of today’s ride on the Drive started at an elevation of about 900 feet and ascended to just under 3700 feet before we left the ridge. The scenery, other than the exquisite views east and west, consists of dense hardwood forest with a few grass meadows sprinkled in and we passed from clear conditions to short stints where we were in the dense fog because we had driven into the clouds hovering around the tallest sections of Blue Ridge. There is a steep drop down into the Shenandoah Valley where you leave the dense forest and transition into nice, tidy farms with emerald grass meadows divided by undeveloped sections of lowland forest. This part of the world must get plenty of rain because everything is some shade of vibrant green. If it was always springtime, I could easily be perfectly happy living here.
5/28/15 Oh boy! Today was another travel day so we departed Small Country RV in Louisa, VA, and drove north and a bit west to the Skyline Ranch Resort in Front Royal, VA, which is at the north entrance to Shenandoah National Park. The Garmin selected a route that sent us down a variety of gorgeous, skinny, serpentine roads, some of which had pretty substantial uphill sections on them. One of the roads took us past Montpelier, where James Madison used to live but we zipped by at about 40 mph so we didn’t see much of anything there. The roads are quite scenic but very narrow in this part of the world and they offer few places to pull out for traffic which may be caught behind us. Virginia is not a state for novice or easily-frightened RV drivers, particularly those of us who elect to stay off the interstate highways which are lumpy.
The speed limits are fairly low on the roads we traveled today which is fortunate because it allowed us to enjoy the scenery. Unfortunately, the conditions noted above also resulted in some pretty substantial traffic queues behind us that I had no option to deal with other than ignoring the poor, miserable, slow-moving tailgaters that had only the Barbarian Invader’s bumper to look at. Fortunately, the low speed limits also allowed me to keep our 8 foot wide, 51 foot long, articulated, 10 ton vacation home from veering into the oncoming lanes and terrifying the innocent motorists fortunate enough to be traveling the other way. We did have a cop follow us for about 10 miles but I was able to keep the truck and fifth wheel trailer in one lane (mostly) and there was no danger of us exceeding the speed limit since I was unable to go fast enough and still keep from running off the road into some plantation.
Skyline Ranch is a nice park with full hookups and, since I got a membership to Resort Parks International with my Thousand Trails membership, the cost per night is only $10. The park has wi-fi for $3 a day, a pool, a stocked fishing pond, a hot tub (although I am too old and ugly to ever let anybody see me in one), horseback riding, a laundry, something called a “Soo Line Caboose” and advertise that they have something called “Holey Board,” which may or may not be something left from the Inquisition. We believe it is the same thing or game that they referred to as “Corn Hole” in Lynchburg. Whether it is Holey Board or Corn Hole, I’m not sure I would be too interested.
We popped over to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s little pad, near Charlottesville, VA, today. The visit started with the normal visit to the facility visitor center which is pretty spectacular since it is very impressive heavy-timber framed structures. At this place they quickly separated us from $25 a head to ride a shuttle up to the house, a tour of the downstairs portion of the place and unlimited wandering about in the basement and the grounds.
Jefferson himself designed the structure and the guy must have been a genius although he was also OCD and wrote everything down. He has extensive records of where everything was acquired and for how much, where plants were placed in the gardens, how many slaves he had and how much they cost and copies of every letter he wrote. He had a device he created that would write a copy of whatever he wrote to facilitate his anal-retentive tendencies.
The house itself is quite impressive and from the exterior looks pretty close to the depiction you see on the back of contemporary nickels. There is a clock mechanism over the front door that showed the time to folks inside the house displaying hours, minutes and seconds and showed the time to folks outside (slaves) in hours only. It is powered by falling weights that look like cannonballs but there might have been a bit of a design flaw. The weights fall a certain distance per day but the room wall height is insufficient to allow for a week of timekeeping so Tom cut holes in the foyer floor to allow the weights to descend into the basement in order to avoid winding the clocks more than once per week. There are clocks all over the house, all of which required weekly winding. Most of them seem to be running today so they must be well-built. There are records from Tom and others living at the time indicating he wound all the clocks once a week, although he may not have done much else since he had 200+ slaves and was busy being anal about listing everything.
There is a bunch of original and some re-created furniture throughout the house that is very impressive but uncomfortable looking. They wouldn’t let me lay down on Tom’s bed because it is 225 years old but I can tell you that if you got up on one side of the bed you would be in his study and if you got up on the other side you would be in his bedroom. The bed would also be short for me because Mr. Jefferson designed the bed for someone 74.5 inches tall (it is 75 inches long) and I’m a bit too tall. He had the only room with a private bath. There are other bathrooms in the building with an interior plumbing system which exited a lot closer to where the slaves lived than to where Tom slept. Still, most of the old houses we have visited in Virginia have outhouses so Monticello, at least in a sewer plumbing sense, was way ahead of it’s time.
We also wandered around in the gardens which are very beautiful and exceptionally well-tended. Of course they have every plant identified, just like in Jefferson’s time. The trees are all quite mature and cast big shady spots which was delightful since it was 92 degrees and the humidity seemed to leave everyone soggy. From the gardens you can wander down to Jefferson’s grave which is marked with an obelisk that is not quite as big as the Washington Monument but shaped about the same.
Tom was quite a whiz. He wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Amendment which separated church from state and ultimately became the first amendment to the Constitution in addition to establishing the University of Virginia. He was also a bit strange since he made a substantial stink about all men be created equal while holding some 200 slaves on his estate.
In any event, Monticello is a great place to visit and I certainly believe I got my $25 worth of experience. The house is spectacular, the tour was informative and given by a very knowledgeable docent, the gardens are beautiful and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation does a great job maintaining the joint. The only suggestion I could make is that if you are traveling to this great site, don’t take the interstate.
Today we packed away all our stuff and bugged out from Lynchburg TT headed for a non-TT campground called Small Country near Louisa, VA. We started out from Lynchburg on County 615 which took us to VA-24 to VA-29 and ultimately to I-64 where we were again treated to the benefits of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s magnificent road maintenance program. I-64 has similar surface characteristics to I-95, namely, the road surface is liberally pockmarked by randomly located ravines, craters, faults, crevasses and gouges that have all been completely ignored by maintenance staff probably since the interstate system was created during the Eisenhower administration back in the ’50s.
However, almost without fail we have had top-notch roads when driving on Virginia state highways and a preponderance of the county roads or city streets we have traversed. It must be a Virginia thing.
The drive northeast on VA-29 is extraordinarily beautiful. We drove this same road going southwest on May 22 but for some reason (perhaps because we were going the other way) it seems like a whole new series of vistas. Virginia countryside is worth driving through just for the scenery. Just try to refrain from using the interstate highways which are also scenic but the road surfaces require your undivided attention if you want to avoid substantial alignment and tire wear issues.
The Small Country RV park is quite nice. We were assigned a pull-through site near the store that is great from a shopping standpoint but a bit too centrally located for our taste. There are an abundance of other sites that I am sure would have met our desires but I stupidly requested a pull-through spot when I made the reservation a few weeks ago so I only need to look in the mirror to see who was responsible. Small Country also has a pool, a lake, playgrounds for kids, wi-fi and CATV if you want to pay a bit more. The access from I-64 is a bit circuitous but there is gorgeous scenery all the way so that was okay with us. Lots of birds can be heard singing in the trees.
Here in Gladys, VA, it seems we have discovered a demented bird that has developed an unnatural attraction for the rear window of the Invader. A gorgeous, bright red cardinal perches on small twigs right behind out trailer, makes a variety of nifty bird noises and then flies at and smashes his face on our rear window. He started this behavior at about 6:30 this morning, increasing the frequency of his face-smashing until he was making about 10 or 15 face-plants per minute, seemingly with no ill effects.
In an effort to stop him from suicide by plate glass window, Peggy created a watercolor painting of what appeared to be the upper head of an owl with a lower section that was a grinning killer clown from space. This masterpiece was attached to the rear window right where the cardinal could easily spot it but it had an effect that, if anything, created even more frequent bird splats. The cardinal’s nice little tweeting noises took on a malicious tone during his efforts to eradicate the owl/clown from his anvil using his head as the sledgehammer.
Our next strategy was to take all the fresh, green twigs outside our window and securely wrap them around the Invader’s roof access ladder, seemingly eliminating the idiot cardinal’s perches from which he was launching his attacks. This technique was not particularly effective as the cardinal now merely limited his attacks on our glazing to one concentrated area.
Further efforts were plainly required to stop the cardinal’s poor behavior. Peggy then hung a large, patterned tablecloth over the interior of the window in an effort to eliminate reflections which seemed to drive the cardinal bonkers. However, the tablecloth technique only resulted in a brief lull in the now-invisible thumping of the bird’s head on our beloved home.
Next was a slightly more high-tech method to stop the self abuse by the pesky avian. I took out my 1,000,000 volt stun gun and fired it near the area of the cardinal’s misbehavior. Although it got the attention of some nearby human neighbors, it was totally ineffective at curtailing the bird’s self-destructive habits.
Our final technique was to leave all of our killer clown illustrations, twisted foliage, tablecloth and stun gun applications in place and listen to the dull thumps outside the trailer as the bird continues his fun with seemingly inexhaustible energy.
We started out this morning saying “poor little guy” and “Oh, I hope he doesn’t hurt himself” which, regrettably degenerated through the day to “the stupid bugger just won’t quit” and finally we acquiesced to resigned silence regularly interrupted by dull thumping noises, some of them with alarming frequency and determination as the persistent red bastard continued his head-banging on our trailer’s durable exterior.
As morning transitioned into early afternoon, we changed our preventative technique. Peggy placed some birdseed outside the trailer in an effort to get the stupid red bird to eat instead of performing face-plants. This method was also ineffective as the bird now took short breaks from his head-butting of our trailer to eat the seed, all the while making angry bird noises before resuming the masochistic head-smashing with newly fueled vigor.
We can now consider writing a sequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic except we will name it “The Bird.”
Today we drove east to Appomattox Courthouse where Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant with his vastly larger Army of the Potomac. There is some weirdness going on here that is hard to understand unless you actually go to the site. There is a courthouse in Appomattox Courthouse but it is not where the Civil War ended. Actually, all the festivities occurred at the McLean House not too far from the courthouse that sits in the center of the tiny township of Appomattox Courthouse. This whole area is a Federal Historical Park and it is revealing to see where the end of this horrible, bloody conflict ultimately came to an end. Seven days later, Abraham Lincoln was shot in Ford’s Theater in D.C.
We left the historical park after wandering around some through the remaining buildings and continued on to the town of Appomattox which was the site of some clashes as Grant tried to stop Lee and his army from going south after their retreat from Richmond but has little else to do with the war. There was one little skirmish here where the Confederacy lost some 7700 guys in a matter of hours.
In the town of Appomattox,we did find a restaurant, Granny Bee’s, that was recommended by the girl working the gate at our campground so we decided to give it a try. Peg had baked ham special and I had the chicken livers which came with very savory onion rings and really tasty baked apples. Everything we got on our plates was terrific and the total, including drinks, was less than $20. I wish we could find a restaurant like this in every town we visit.
After pigging out at Granny Bee’s, we continued south on County 47 through Pamplin, Madisonville and Cullen before turning west on County 40 and tiny-ass road 605 to Gladys where we took a chance on a back road and, surprisingly, ended up a block from our campground. We parked Charlotte and scurried into the trailer to enjoy the benefits of air conditioning. It is getting hot in this part of Virginia; maybe 86 or 88 degrees F.
Today Peg and I got to return to the Blue Ridge Parkway, which may be one of the best roads for sightseeing in the whole world. We started out the day buying diesel in Rustburg, VA, which we don’t seem to be able to call anything other than Rustbucket. It is actually a nice little town. We got on VA-24 which took us west to the outskirts of Roanoke where we turned northeast on the Parkway. The trip on VA-24 from Rustburg to Roanoke is a spectacular drive through hardwood forests, giant meadows with knee-deep grass and tidy farmhouses and barns before you get to the Parkway. Once on the Parkway, as has been the case every other time we have been on this road, the scenery was stunning and to make things better, the skies were very clear. From the higher elevations of the Parkway, you can gaze north out over the Great Valley which is a depression between the Blue Ridge and the Appalachians extending from New York to North Carolina. Looking south, you can look down over rolling hills that seem to extend all the way to Richmond. This part of Virginia is breathtakingly beautiful and I can heartily recommend at least some time on the Blue Ridge Parkway and in surrounding areas.
We left the Blue Ridge Parkway and turned southeast on County 130 to VA-29 south where we ran across a place called Jed’s Fried Chicken and, seeing as the owner shares my name, we purchased some fried chicken and baked beans, both of which turned out to be extremely tasty. We also took a spin through the town of Lynchburg where we observed a great variety of beautiful antebellum houses, big masonry churches and some very old rather large classic brick buildings in town. Lynchburg is laid out downtown in such a way that the numbered streets all run up & down very steep streets. Probably because they are so steep, some of the former streets have been converted to walks and stairs leading from the residential part of town at the top of the town down to the lower commercial part of town on the James River. Some parts of the town look abandoned but the buildings are still pretty neat.
From Lynchburg we went back to Rustbucket where we stocked up on groceries at the local Food Lion before heading back to the Barbarian Invader for drinks.
Early morning awakening resulted in our being able to leave the Prince William Forest Park area for another magnificent ride on the paving-challenged I-95 southbound by 9:30 AM, which is quite early for us elderly types. Fortunately, we only were required to appreciate I-95 southbound for about 20 miles or 45 minutes until we reached VA-3 for a bit of eastbound action. The rural roads seem to be paved by individuals with substantially more talent than those that have performed the substandard work on the interstate system and we were able to hustle across Virginia to our destination near Lynchburg, VA in a bit over 4 hours averaging almost 40 miles per hour the entire way.
This drive across the middle of VA is very scenic and we finally arrived in the Lynchburg TT park after traveling through Lynchburg, a rural town called Rustburg or Rustbucket and finally on to Gladys, VA, which is shown on some, but not all, maps in microscopic print which correlates to the size of the local population. The Lynchburg park is nice, with pretty big camping spots and plenty of shade. It is nice to be out of the city again and Peg and I celebrated by drinking some good beer shortly after arrival and set-up.
The part of the park where we are camped is pretty full, probably because it is Memorial Day weekend. I will report on how staying in the park turns out in my next transmission.