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:


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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 42: LOUNGING IN LURAY

Due to a day lacking in content, this post will also be lacking in content. It was just one of those days.

We initially had no intention of spending two nights in Luray; however, rooms in Charlottesville for tonight were either sold out or MUCH too expensive. I don’t know if it’s a big event happening there this weekend or just Father’s Day, but somethin’ is definitely up.

Here at the motel in Luray, a family reunion has consumed most of the rooms. Rather than dining out, they brought their own food with them, and have picnics on the motel grounds, instead. The coolers our neighbors brought seem to be attracting flies, so one of the men has been passing time by systematically eliminatng them with a fly swatter. With beer in one hand and the swatter in the other, I’m watching out the window while he keeps count outloud with every kill. “31…32… Oooh, a double! 47 and 48!”

At the moment of this writing (6:30 PM, June 20), I’m unplugged from the wall outlet, because we are in the midst of a thunderstorm– the other reason I am writing this in our room at 6:30 PM. Knowing the storm was coming, we had an early dinner and returned to hunker down. It seems as if our reunion group is waiting until the storm passes to have their picnic. “57… SWAT- 58…”

The day started out ok, though, and we took another drive through Shenandoah National Park along Skyline Drive. It was quite hazy, so I only shot a couple of photos:

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Meanwhile, the following are a few I shot yesterday and saved for today’s post:

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“61… 62…” It seems as if the remaining flies have a reprieve as Mr. Fly Swatter is now contently sitting in his lawn chair awaiting for dinner to begin. I’m rather disappointed, because I had planned on going out to congratulate him on his 100th kill. Oh well, I just hope those are raisins in that carrot salad on the picnic table.

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The rustic cabin we had hoped to stay in, however, the nightly rate was too steep.  We opted instead for the Trip Advisor-recommended motel across the street.  Except for the flies, it was just fine.

ROAD TRIP DAY 41: SHENANDOAH VALLEY, ABOVE AND BELOW

When given the choice of driving to a destination, we would much rather take the scenic route and enjoy the journey along the way. Today was a great case in point. Trudy (our GPS) would have preferred we travel south along Interstate 81; however, if we had done so, we would have missed one of the most beautiful National Scenic Byways, Skyline Drive.

At 105 miles long, we only traveled on a portion of the drive before exiting Shenandoah National Park to see Luray Caverns. The drive runs north and south along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is the only public road through the park. Its a beautiful way to take in the scenic views of the Shenandoah Valley by utilizing the numerous lookout vantage points along the way.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t ideal for scenic photography, and the visibility was limited, so we mostly pulled off the road at overlooks to just enjoy what we could see. Take a look at this panoramic shot, and just imagine what this would look like on a clear spring day or during the fall when the leaves are changing colors:

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Luray was our next (and final) destination after descending the mountain ridges to explore the caverns below.

Best known for its Great Stalacpipe Organ, created there by Leland Sprinkle in 1957, the Luray Caverns are incredibly beautiful, and far more photogenic than Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.

Towards the end of our one-hour tour (uh, make that 1:20, because we hung back and joined the tour behind ours), we got to hear a hymn from the organ.

An entry in Wikipedia describes the organ as, “…a lithophone made from solenoid fired strikers that tap stalactites of various sizes to produce tones similar to those of xylophones, tuning forks, or bells.”

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Look carefully for the organ.  You can see it up close in the next photo.

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This is one of the strikers that produces just one note of the organ

The tone sounded ethereal and unlike anything I had ever heard. Bruce and I both thought of our friends at Griffin Choral Arts– especially Steve Mulder, Bill Pasch, Cathy Willis, and Richard Chewning. We know they would have flipped over the worlds largest instrument that spans over 3 acres, including all its strikers.

Here are more scenes from inside Luray Caverns:

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Just look at how large these formations are compared to the people touring the caverns!

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The formations in the top half of the photo are reflected in the water below.

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