ROAD TRIP DAY 43: LONG AND WINDING ROAD TO MONTICELLO

When driving from Luray to Charlottesville, taking the long and winding road is the only way to go to enjoy the beauty of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Skyline drive, which runs north-south through Shenandoah National Park, covers 105 miles of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We drove the remaining two-thirds of the length of the road today.

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The sky was blue after last night’s thunderstorm, so we got an early start to take in the views at overlooks along the way. The Appalachian Trail runs through Shenandoah National Park as well, so we hiked a tiny portion of the trail.

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Since I hadn’t researched the park in detail (I only knew it was a highly recommended must-see scenic drive), I had no idea there were accomodations available other than campgrounds. Skyland Resort and Big Meadows Lodge are both located in the park, though, and offer accomodations we would have loved to have stayed at rather than at the motel in Luray. We saw the interior of one of Big Meadow’s cabins while it was being cleaned, and it was quaint and cozy, yet roomy. Both the resort and lodge have restaurants, evening entertainment, and plenty of great hiking opportunities to keep busy during the day. Skyland Resort even offers guided horseback rides.

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This was the view at the end of one of the short hikes from Skyland:


707.JPGA trio of deer were helping themselves to the grass alongside the cabins, and they weren’t the least bothered by me as I slowly got closer to watch. I was no more than 20 feet away, and I’m sure I could have gotten even closer.

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At Sun City Peachtree, we have to be much more stealth to keep deer from running off. If we move while we are watching from the window inside our house it will spook them!

The entire drive through Shenandoah National Park was gorgeous and so thoroughly enjoyable, today. We were fortunate to have nice weather, and I enjoyed driving the long and winding road.

After wrapping up our cruise along Skyline Drive, we made our way to tour Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville.

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Monticello was designed by Jefferson, a self-taught architect, and the tour of his home was very interesting.

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Not only was Thomas Jefferson an architect– he also founded and designed the University of Virginia– Jefferson was also quite an innovator, inventor, and horticulturist; in addition to being a statesman and author of the Declaration of Independence. Those are the impressive facts about the president who is the face on the $2 bill.

There are also very disturbing facts about Thomas Jefferson that make me wonder how on earth his picture wound up on that very bill in the first place.

Did you know that the man who wrote such inspiring words as “all men are created equal” and have a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” actually owned 600 slaves throughout his life? THIS from the man who promoted religious tolerance and freedom? I didn’t know this, thanks to my very basic education in U.S. history, but I wanted to scream, “HYPOCRITE!!!”

Another fact missing from my education about our third president was that Jefferson accumulated a great deal of debt, and was $107,000 in debt when he died. Strike two! (I will leave “Strike three!” to your imagination…”)

As it turns out, Monticello was built on land inherited from his father, run by slaves, and financed with other people’s money. The house is 11,000 square feet and originally sat on 5,000 acres; however, some of that land had to be sold off to pay down that $107,000 debt after Jefferson died.

The remainder of what turned out to be a blazing-hot day was spent strolling and having dinner at Charlottesville’s historic downtown pedestrian mall.

ROAD TRIP DAY 39: HISTORIC HARPERS FERRY

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I was so confused. Within a five minute span (at most!) we were in three states– one of them twice! We drove from Frederick, Maryland to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, West Virginia; however, I kept seeing “Welcome to…” signs! “Welcome to West Virginia” one sign read. A couple of minutes later, another greeted us with “Welcome to Virginia”. Before we knew it, we were back in West Virginia with another sign greeting us once again. Whewww!

Situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers where the states of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia meet, Harpers Ferry is located roughly at the half-way point of the Appalachian Trail. It is named after Robert Harper who established a ferry service (Get it? Harper’s ferry?) in 1761.

Thomas Jefferson visited Harpers Ferry in 1783 and stood on these rocks (see below) to take in the view of the rivers. Jefferson called the site “perhaps one of the the most stupendous scenes in nature,” and also said it was “worth a voyage across the Atlantic” to see. This is now known as Jefferson Rock Overlook, and pillars have been inserted to stabilize the rock formations:

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In later years during the Civil War, Harpers Ferry changed hands eight times between 1861 and 1865. Suffice it to say the history of Harpers Ferry could (and does) fill volumes of books.

Some of this history was shared with us by Creighton Waters, an incredibly knowledgeable park ranger. By pure luck, we happened to stumble upon him and his tour when we arrived at the visitor center at 10:55 and noticed an 11:00 “From the Top Down” tour getting ready to depart. As it turned out, the 90-minute tour is conducted just once per day, three days each week. Wow, were we lucky!

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The tour departed from the top of Harpers Ferry where the views took in Maryland and the Potomac River to the left, and Virginia with its Shenandoah River to the right. By the conclusion of the tour, we were in Lower Harpers Ferry at the river’s confluence.

In between, in addition to taking in the views from Jefferson Rock Overlook, we visited this very historic cemetary dating back to the 1700’s where Robert Harper was buried:

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This is what remains of a church dating back to the 1850’s:

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Adding a little humor to the tour, we learned the history of the sign that is still visible on the side of the rock face of Maryland Heights across the river. See the square above and to the left of the train tunnel? It used to read, “Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder,” and the painted sign dates back to 1903. It was the last thing train passengers saw before entering a long, pitch-black tunnel, so the marketing geniuses at Mennen thought it would leave a lasting imprint on their minds, and make them run out to buy some of their product upon disembarkation.

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Walking across the bridge, we took in the views and noticed those tubers below who had floated down the Shenandoah River from Virginia. Meanwhile, out of the picture frame there were two other tubers who had floated down the Potomac in Maryland. They met up in the middle while we watched from West Virginia.

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By the time we had reached the other side of the bridge, the sky grew dark and threatening, and it started to sprinkle just enough to warn us to take cover. So much for continuing our “hike” on the Appalachian Trail. We returned to explore the historic pre-Civil War- era buildings of Lower Harpers Ferry, instead, and ducked in to enjoy a Hershey’s Ice Cream (no relation to Milton S. Hershey of Hershey’s Chocolate, and the company dates back to 1894).

Now, that is good ice cream! “Moose Tracks” was LOADED with goodies, and the ice cream was creamy and delicious. YUM!

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Tonight, we are staying in Winchester and will explore more of the Shenandoah Valley tomorrow. Hopefully, it won’t rain like it did today!