Virginia Back Roads Adventures

 Back Roads of Virginia Adventures – 2009


Day 1

     Welcome to Virginia!  Starting off in Hagerstown, MD, we made the trip into Virginia, using the back road of Rt. 11 in less than 2 hours, even stopping for pictures.  Did you know that Rt. 11 is the first paved road in the US?  Our first stop in Virginia was Winchester, one of Virginia's many historic small towns.  The pedestrian mall along Loudoun Street was lined with shops, restaurants, and pubs.  Trees and flowers made it even more inviting. 


     Murphy's Beverage Company proffers many fine Virginia wines as well as various micro brews.   We were looking for a particular type of beer, Moretti Dark, for our daughter, and although she didn't have it, Charley called The Country Store to see if it was in stock.  It was, and the result of a quick trip there was that we came away with not one, but two, six packs as a surprise.


      After window shopping, people watching, and a pleasant walk, we stopped for lunch at Brewbakers, a fine pub offering specialty beers and tasty food.  We both ordered the Key West Tilapia, the special of the day, and a micro brew.  The fish was light, flaky, and flavorful, with a lemon butter sauce.  Troeg's Amber Ale was a good complement, light and flavorful, and a little hoppy.   Our total before tip was $26.


      The older buildings in town have a distinct architecture that is delightful.  Winchester, in the heart of apple country, is the setting for the Apple Blossom Festival in the spring.

     When do you think the first "motor inn” in the US was built?  Following Rt. 11 we found our way to the oldest "motor inn” in America.  Founded in the 1700s, it is now several buildings.  Belle Grove Plantation is just off Rt. 11.  Built in the 1797s, it has either original or recreated manor house, ice house, dairy buildings, barn, herb garden, and the slave cemetery.


     North Mountain Winery is at the end of an unpaved road, at the top of a hill.  Krista was behind the counter, and explained the wines as we tasted them.  Limited wines were $2 a taste or $5 for three.  The other wines were free to taste.  We sampled a total of 10, and were impressed enough by three to buy.  Wines included claret, cabernet, and merlot.   Krista, the owner of the vineyards, is knowledgeable and charming.  We left knowing more about wine than when we went in.   Wine prices ranged from $12.95 to $26.95.

     All along the road, we saw homes that were beautiful reminders of a bygone era.  Most of the villages and towns we passed through were settled in the mid 1700s.  There are various battlefields, forts, historic sites, and museums focusing on historical periods ranging from colonial to the Civil War.

      The end of the afternoon saw us arriving in Shenandoah National Park, for three days of camping and exploring the Shenandoah Valley – only $20 per night.    There are central restrooms with electricity, a shower building, phones, firewood, ice, and laundry.   No site has electricity.   Handicapped-accessible sites are available.   A classic campfire supper of hot dogs, potato salad, roasted corn on the cob, and baked beans ended the day on a happy note!

HINT:  Wireless internet is only available at Skyland's lobby and dining room, and there is a nominal cost.



Day 2

     The morning was glorious!  The sky was blue, and the air warm. We cooked our breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee on the camp stove.  Fresh peaches bought at a farm market were "dessert!”  Several deer wandered by, including a handsome 6 point buck and a mom with her fawn.  Our neighbor told us that a mother black bear and her two cubs had been prowling around some sites away earlier.  We were sorry to have missed seeing them, since they were at a distance and not close!

     An hour long, pleasant drive brought us to New Market, a little town rich in history.  One exciting thing was seeing a mother bear and her cub race across the road in front of us!   Our first stop was the Chamber of Commerce to ask for suggestions.   HINT:  The Chamber of Commerce or Visitor Center is a rich and easy resource for what to see and do, and where eat and stay.  The representative, Sharon Smith, suggested the historic walking tour, which we will take tomorrow.  Today we sauntered through town, viewing the houses and shops, and looking into one or two.  One house we saw was built before the American Revolution, with bricks that were also used to pave the path in front of the house.  The bricks are all original!  We took a picnic lunch to the New Market Battlefield Park, enjoying the sunshine and brightly colored trees.  The Hall of Valor is just steps away from the picnic area.  It is a two-tiered building with exhibits, a movie, gift shop, and art gallery.  We discovered information about the tragic battle and about the Civil War in general.  In May, 1864, 257 cadets from the Virginia Military Academy (VMI) were taken from class, and brought to the battle.  Although they were not supposed to fight, they were put in the front lines.  Ten of them lost their lives, a fact we think is amazing, since these were students between the ages of 15 and 19!  Today their original headstones line the walk to the Hall of Valor entrance.  The names are inscribed in the stained glass window in the museum.  A marker in St. Matthew's Lutheran Cemetery honors them as well.  The Bushong Farm, where much of the fighting transpired, has been recreated.  The Bushong family took refuge in the basement.  The day of the battle was very rainy, and soldiers lost their shoes in the fields, hence it is sometimes called "The Battle of Lost Shoes.”  Admission to the museum is $10 each.


      The trip back to Shenandoah Park, and our site at Big Meadows, was easy and agreeable, sighting many deer along the way.  We drove back through the town of Luray, a very good place to stop for gas or supplies before heading back to the park.  Just outside of Luray, we spotted several interesting sites.  One was a war memorial in a front yard, honoring WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq fallen.  It featured a soldier's black silhouette amid white crosses.  Another was a family plot at the side of the road.  Another was a stone monument to those who settled Massanhutten in the 1700's.  All were on Rt. 211.

     Supper, cooked over the open grill, was beef cubes, pepper medley, and potato slices.  Food cooked over the fire always tastes so good!  We had our usual guests, the deer families.  The evening was warm and the sunset pretty.


Day 3

     This morning was rainy, rainy, rainy.  We were forced into Plan B, breakfast in town.  Uncle Bucks in Luray was a good pick!  It's on Main St.  Owners are father and son Danny and Bucky Greer, who used to raise horses.  The décor reflects that, with prints of horses and saddles on the walls.  MaryJo's breakfast was a lean pork chop, apples, grits, eggs, biscuit and coffee.  Greg's was Eggs Benedict with breakfast potatoes and coffee.  All was mouth-watering!  Total before tip was $18. 20.  Breakfast items ranged from around $6 to $8 and included steak and eggs and biscuits and gravy.  Service was good, and servers greeted several people by name.

     The historic walking tour in New Market was on our schedule next.  We were in the company of just two other people, the Blacks from Indiana.  Dr. Betty Karol Wilson lead the tour, costumed as a proper Southern lady of 1864.  What a superb tour!  Entertaining and educational, she kept all of us interested, despite the chill and damp.  This tour was "Boys, Bugles, and Skirts,” but other days have other themes.  Our tour focused on the women of New Market, on both the Union and Confederate sides.  Real life stores derived from journals, letters, eye witness tales, and family histories, craft a fascinating lesson about everyday life and heroic deeds during the Civil War in the small town of New Market.  One particularly poignant moment came in the St. Matthew's Cemetery, where many of the Southern soldiers of the battle are buried, when Dr. Wilson sang "I'm a Poor Wayfaring Stranger.”  The tour's 90 minutes go too quickly.  There are places to rest on tour, but Dr. Wilson claims she has the fastest feet in town, so be prepared to move.  We'll be back for another tour!

   The walking made us hungry, so we tried Southern Kitchen, operating for 50 years.  Greg had Pulled BBQ Pork Sandwich with a side of cole slaw, while MaryJo had the Hot Turkey Sandwich.  We each had a cup of peanut soup, a classic Southern dish.   All were very good, as was the service.   Other items on the menu included fried chicken, short ribs of beef, oyster stew, and peanut butter and jelly sandwich, ranging from $2.75 to $14.95.  The head cook has been with them for 50 years!

    Looking for a barn star to take home, we were told to see if there were any at The Shops of Mauzy, several miles up the road, near the entrance to I – 81 on Rt. 11.  What a find!  The main building is a stage coach stop.  Next to it is the old General Store, and behind are the jail, ice house, and combination schoolhouse-summer kitchen.  There are crafts, antiques, and all manner of eclectic collectibles everywhere.  We were free to wander around while the two owners manned the main building.  Mauzy, if you are wondering, is the cat!  We were told that she is not especially friendly, so do not try to pet!  I did find my stars, so we left happy!

   One final adventure, the Luray Zoo, waited.  On Rt. 211 in Luray, across from Wal-Mart, the Luray Zoo is a rescue zoo.   It takes in unwanted and abused exotic animals.   They live there for the rest of their lives. What a wonderful way to help our planet!   The owner, Mark Kilby, spoke about his animals with respect and affection.  Animals include many types of snakes, birds, and mammals such as lemurs, yaks, fox, cougar, and goats.  There is a petting zoo.  One little goat climbed through the fence and trotted after us, then climbed up on the food dispenser and tried to eat!  A parrot kept whistling at us.  It was a fun experience.  Admission was $10 per person, allowing re entry anytime during the day.


     Arriving back at camp, we found the weather still cool and wet.  A quick supper of the remainder of the hot dogs, cole slaw, and beans, and we were ready to retire to the tent.  Sometimes the weather just won't co operate!  Reading or having a game to play will make the time amusing.  


Day 4

     Again, the weather would not co operate.  Breakfast at camp wasn't an option, with the rain falling and the temperature in the high 40's.  Big Meadows Wayside gave us a hot, delicious breakfast.   MaryJo had the Healthy Hiker – egg whites, turkey bacon, potato, and choice of bread.  Greg chose the bacon, eggs, and potatoes.  We both had lots of coffee.  Total was $20 before tip.  After breaking down camp, we were ready to see Endless Caverns.

     Just outside of New Market, Endless Caverns was discovered by two young brothers in 1879.  They thought they were under the family's vegetable garden, mistaking stalactites for carrots and turnips!  Our guide, James, was highly entertaining!  His whimsy had us laughing.  On weddings in the caverns:  "I don't want to start my marriage on the rocks.”  One rock is hollow iron ore, creating a ringing sound when slapped.  James couldn't decide, he told us, if it was hard rock or heavy metal music.  The caverns are not highly commercial.  The tour before us had two people, and we had only eight.  The formations are naturally beautiful, without colored lights that tend to gild the lily.  We spotted several bats clinging to the ceilings and walls.  James gives them names such as Rudy and Thaddeus.  The Ballroom was used during prohibition to serve alcohol at parties.  The Blue Room has bright blue coloring in some areas due to manganese deposits.  Fairyland looks like castles and towers, and seems to go on and on.  It's all beautiful!   Admission is $16 per person.

   We drove south until we reached Salem, about 250 miles, and stopped at a Comfort Suites.  Tomorrow our time in Virginia will end.  Tomorrow night will see us in North Carolina.

   Our concluding pastime in VA was driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway for a short time, and stopping in Floyd, VA for lunch.  The Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic drive with several overlooks.  We enjoyed the mountain views, the farms, and the woods.  The speed limit is 45 mph so we could see what we were passing.  Floyd is one of Virginia's historic small towns.  We had lunch at the Blue Ridge Restaurant, where it seemed many customers had just come from church.  We chose a chicken salad sandwich and a tuna salad, both of which came with chips. Two iced teas were the drink of choice.  Our waitress was friendly and helpful.  She told me, "Next time, just ask for the lettuce and tomato to be right on the sandwich” when she saw me putting it all together. Total bill before tip was just under $19.

     From there, we continued on, driving into Tennessee before finding ourselves in the North Carolina Mountains and our cabin in the woods.  And that leads into a funny tale that might have ended badly.  When we reached our cabin, the key wasn't anywhere to be found.  We searched, in the dark, in vain.  We had groceries in the car that were getting warm!  Back we went to the pay phone at Tuskeegee Motel, because neither cell phone had a signal. After getting quarters for the phone from the clerk, we were able to call the friend who rented us the cabin.  He was surprised we were there!  Due to miscommunication, he thought we had changed our minds!  We thought we would have to spend the night at the motel and didn't know what we would do with all the food.  Fortunately, a friend of his who lived nearby was able to drive over with the keys.  Disaster averted!  Less than an hour later we were cozy in our cabin having a very late dinner!

  Exploring Shenandoah Valley, Part 1

  Exploring Shenandoah Valley, Part2

  Touring Historic New Market