Last week, we were in Virginia visiting family and decided to take a day trip to see the Luray Caverns near the Shenandoah National Park. I have always wanted to see a cavern and Lurary Caverns is known for its beauty and grandeur being the fourth largest cavern in the United States.
One of my favorite ways to explore a new place is by taking a road trip through the countryside. I’ve been to Virginia over a dozen times and am always amazed by its greenery. Rolling country roads zigzagging through lush green pastures and woodland seem to bring me back to an older, easier way of life. The deeper you get into rural Virginia, the more interesting the drive gets. Old farmhouses and Baptist churches from centuries ago dot the landscape. Pastures of horses and cows and a sprinkling of pig pens remind you that you are far from home. Vineyards and orchards grace the landscape tempting drivers to pull off the road and pick a bag of fresh peaches or taste some local wines. The country roads of Virginia seem to take you home to a different way of life. Simplier. Calmer. And carefree.
Along the shores of Eastern Virginia lies the York River, a 34-mile long estuary of brackish water that empties into the Chesapeake Bay. At the largest point near the entrance to the Bay, the York River stretches nearly 2.5 miles across bringing in Navy warships, sailboats and a large variety of marine life that thrive in the unique coast waters.
My sister and her family live on the York River and I always love visiting them in the summer time. The views of the river from her home are gorgeous and the sweet smell of salt water and flowering trees always makes me feel like I’m on vacation.
Yesterday while we were on the pier, we saw dolphins feeding off in the distance so we jumped on my brother-in-laws boat and followed the pod while they splashed around the boat. At one point, a dolphin came so close to our boat, I could have reached in the water and touched it. My six-year-old daughter screamed with joy and said “Mama, this is so much better than the Zoo!”. Ospreys who migrate all the way from South America and come to build their nests along the York River, soared around us and dove for fish.
Here are some photos I took that show the beauty of this part of the world, often known most for its history in the US Civil War, and a launching off point to see Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown.
Today we are off to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia for some fresh cool air and more exploration. Stay tuned….
Yesterday was a beautiful spring day here in Virginia. The sun was bright, the birds were singing and everything was returning to life once again. We couldn’t think of a better way to spend the day than to do a two family picnic and hike along the Shenandoah National Park.
I have been in Virginia for less than 48 hours yet it has been enough time for me to go absolutely crazy enjoying the rebirth of nature and the flowers abound. I am concerned that I have become a tad bit obsessive but the spring flowers here are so spectacular that I can hardly stand it. So here it is. An entire post on the sensational flowers I saw today in a garden in Colonial Williamsburg. Hope you enjoy!
“But I got a great deal else from the experience. I learned to pitch a tent and sleep beneath the stars. For a brief, proud period I was slender and fit. I gained a profound respect for the wilderness and nature and the benign dark power of woods. I understand now, in a way I never did before, the colossal scale of the world. I found patience and fortitude that I didn’t know I had. I discovered an America that millions of people scarcely know exists. I made a friend. I came home.”
― Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
I can’t think of a better way to spend a beautiful fall day than to be outside enjoying the splendid fall colors. Fall is my uttermost favorite time of year. I love the incredible tapestry of colors that brighten even the dullest, cloudiest of days. The scarlet reds to the pumpkins oranges and the brilliant yellows are nature’s biggest delight. The air is invigorating and fresh and I feel incredibly alive doing what I love best: Being outside and taking it all in.
My husband’s family lives in the town of Warrenton which is located about 45 miles southwest Of Washington DC. We have been visiting Warrenton for years now yet have never made it to the Shenandoah National Park. With fall in full swing and the colors almost at their prime, today was the day for our autumn drive through stunning Shenandoah National Park.
We headed west on 211 for a lovely half an hour drive through the lush, verdant countryside. We drove through rolling hills, passing by farms, vineyards and orchards with the distant shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the spectacular Shenandoah Valley in the background. The colors did not disappoint nor did the low level of traffic. It was a weekday thankfully thus we were able to drive at a leisurely pace and avoid the bumper to bumper traffic that rolls through the scenic drive throughout the weekend.
We reached Sperryville, a small town on the outskirts of the Thornton Gap entrance to the park, where we saw stand after stand selling local products. The stalls were lined with buckets of red, yellow and green apples as well as round, plump orange pumpkins in any size or shape your heart desired.
As we approached the park, the foliage became thicker and the golden yellows and oranges of the trees were peaceful and serene. I longed to get out of the car and go for a hike, my most favorite pastime in the mountains. But of course that was an unrealistic dream as we were with our two young kids who would never had made it past an hour.
We reached the entrance to Shenandoah National Park and headed right in to our first of many stops at one of the 75 overlooks along the 105 mile stretch of the scenic Skyline Drive which curves around the entire length of the Shenandoah National Park.
The overlook was stunning even with the not so perfect cloudy day. I closed my eyes, breathed in a huge breath of fresh, clean air and relaxed. It was beautiful. I can only imagine how brilliant it would be on a bright sunny days. I’m certain that the leaves would shine like gold.
We continued on our drive for another half hour stopping along the way to take photos. There are over 500 different hiking trails throughout the park which connects to the grand-daddy of all American hikes, the mighty Appalachian Trail (which passes through 14 states!). Our journey through the park reminded me of Bill Byrson’s famous book “A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail” (if you haven’t read it, it is a great read).
Photo of my husband Paul and I at one of the many outlooks in lovely Shenandoah National Park. It is getting colder now, as the temperature dropped from 60 to 42 degrees F here. We are at about 3,100 feet.
I love to take pictures of trees. For some reason, they truly appeal to me whether it be a blooming, flowering tree in the height of Spring, a tall Douglas Fir reaching to the sky or this plain old skeleton of a dead tree left over from years and years of life.
I also like this picture of the small rural farms, orchards and vineyards dotting the landscape below.
We arrived at our destination, the Skyland Pass just in the nick of time for lunch. There is a beautiful, historical lodge located there that has a nice restaurant inside serving hot meals and offering its guests a sweeping view of the fall foliage over the Shenandoah Valley.
The restaurant opened for lunch at noon and we had a short wait for a table. Had we arrived any later, we would have had at least a thirty minute wait which would not have been well received by our hungry children. Carloads and busloads of people were arriving as we paid our bill and headed back to town. I can only imagine what it is like during the weekend when all the people from DC head out to see the colors! I’m sure it would be a crowded, annoying experience! Nothing like the relaxing scenic ride we experienced today.
Although Skyline Drive continues and meanders on throughout the breathtakingly beautiful Shenandoah Valley for another sixty-five miles, at 35 mph it would have taken us hours and our kids, who were behaving nicely in the back of the car, would have gotten really restless. (I must admit that they were watching “Rio” on the DVD player! I know bad mom, but sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do!).
Finally, we were home, me feeling a bit carsick, yet happy with our visit. It certainly was worth the drive! Not only did we find some beauty and solitude to fill us up with joy, we also just so happened to get our holiday card picture!
I hope to go again when the kids get older and actually do some hiking. There are plenty of places to stay in rustic cabins or either by tent. The only thing with camping is that you’d better watch out for the bears! I’ll never forget reading this quote in Bill Bryson’s book:
“Black bears rarely attack. But here’s the thing. Sometimes they do. All bears are agile, cunning and immensely strong, and they are always hungry. If they want to kill you and eat you, they can, and pretty much whenever they want. That doesn’t happen often, but – and here is the absolutely salient point – once would be enough.”
― Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
My sister Jen has lived in Southern Virginia for over ten years and I have visited her annually since her move. Her home in Gloucester Point is only a short twenty minutes from Williamsburg yet I had never visited perhaps Virginia’s most historic, number one historic place: Colonial Williamsburg.
Of course I’d heard of it before and wanted to check it out but the time never seemed right. Once kids came along, the thought of going to a huge tourist destination like Colonial Williamsburg seemed out of the question. I could only imagine the meltdowns, tantrums and boredom on my young children’s face. I’d have to wait until they were older.
A timely article in the Washington Post made me change my mind. The article, called “Williamsburg: Actors bring to life the nuanced tangle of history, heroism and daily living” intrigued me and light a spark of fresh interest in my mind. The article discusses the use of reenactments to teach people about the past. There are revolutionaries, slaves, wig makers, blacksmiths and even a real working plantation. What a better place to learn about history than a real live “living” museum?
Of course I’d heard about Colonial Williamsburg before yet didn’t fully understand what it was until I went there. Per Wikipedia:
“Colonial Williamsburg is the private foundation representing the historic district of the city of Williamsburg, Virginia, USA. The district includes buildings dating from 1699 to 1780 which made colonial Virginia’s capital”.
Colonial Williamsburg was opened in 1930 by the project’s founder, Reverend W.A.R. Goodwin with the help of the Rockefellers in effort for the public to have a living museum in which “the future could learn from the past. The major goal of the Restoration was to re-create the physical colonial environment and to facilitate education about the origins of the idea of America, which was conceived during the decades before the American Revolution”.
My sister and I had no idea if four young children ages three to six would be able to do Colonial Williamsburg and actually have fun. We knew it would be crowded and there would be a fair amount of walking. Yet we were ready for the challenge!
We left her house at 9 am thinking everything would go smoothly. The kids were packed in the car, we had snacks and water, and had already purchased discounted tickets online. All we had to do was redeem the tickets which would only take us a few minutes, right.
That was the first mistake we made. We drove to the overcrowded visitor center where my sister waited in a painfully long and disorganized line for almost an hour before we got the tickets. I waited with the four hyper getting near naughtiness kids. Thankfully there weren’t any major meltdowns…yet.
The visitor center is located about ten minutes away from the actual entrance to Colonial Williamsburg. Thus we had to load everyone back up in the car, drive again and find a parking spot which was fairly easy since most people must park at the visitor center and take a shuttle bus.
An hour and a half after we started, we finally arrived at the entrance to Colonial Williamsburg to see a small, relatively unknown ticket counter with no line, where we could have redeemed our tickets, avoiding an hour of extra hassle and waste of time. Oh well. Next time we’ll know.
By that point it was already past twelve and knowing we had four hungry kids on our hands, we had to make a beeline to the nearest place to eat. Being in a touristy place, there were not many affordable options. We had to settle for the quickest, easiest place which of course wasn’t healthy and was way overpriced. I paid $26 for two kids hot-dogs, chips, lemonade and a kid’s size BBQ pork sandwich for me. It wasn’t great but it did the job until we were attacked by bees! Our lunch was a stressful, quick affair as we swatted at bees, did the dance to get away from them without getting stung and scarfed down our food as quick as possible so we could get out of there. Oh well.
Finally, by almost one o’clock we were there, fed, and ready to see the sights! I was concerned that the kids were going to loose interest at any moment given the bad start to the day but to my delight they embraced every minute from then on. The actors at Colonial Williamsburg were the key ingredient. They kept the kids interested and engaged in every building we entered. There was always something new to learn and something to see. The kids even received a kid-friendly map that showed all the sights for kids and allowed them to get a punch in each place they visited. After three punches, they received a free souvenier which they loved. Then, it all became a game for them (being a parent, I’ve learned that having some kind of game at a museum or historic site is key to keeping a child’s interest in being there).
Here are some of the highlights of the places we visited:
Next stop: The colonial garden where we saw all the plants and vegetables grown and learned about how the colonists watered their plants (below a photo of my daughter learning how to operate the watering bottle):
The historic courthouse:
Cool historic buildings along the Duke of Gloucester Street. Here is a brew pub:
A stop in the Bindery where the printer prepares newspapers, books, and more on his fully-operational colonial press. Apparently kids as young as thirteen would come here to start an apprenticeship which was one of the better jobs in a town that had no school.
Next we stopped at the wig maker where I was asked if I was looking to be fitted for a wig! In Colonial times, the very wealthy and affluent people which made up only 5% of the population wore wigs to show their status.
We continued our walk down towards the Public Gaol (prison) where I knew the kids would enjoy checking out the old cells. Back in Colonial times, the jail owner lived and ran the jail, with his entire family of 14 children living within the small jailhouse. The children would have to walk past the creepy cells every night on their way to bed. I wouldn’t think they got a lot of sleep with the prisoners nearby! (Note: I did not get a good picture of the jailhouse as the lighting was poor).
After our creepy visit to the gaol, we reached the last place we had time and energy for, the historic Governor’s Palace and grounds. Here is a picture of the majestic entrance to the Governor’s Palace where the governor lived and you can do 35-minute tours of the full-restored home. With young, restless kids we passed on the tour and instead opted for the gardens out back which have a huge maze made out of fragrant hedges.
At the end of our stay, I think we worn them all out!
After a long afternoon of walking and exploring life in Colonial times, it was time to head back and get our tired children home. All in all, the day visit was much better than I had anticipated and my almost seven-year-old son said he loved it with a big grin and thumbs up sign. Next time we visit, we will definitely return. There is so much more to see and it truly is fascinating.
If you go:
– I highly recommend skipping the visitor center altogether and going directly to downtown Williamsburg where you can easily park and walk over to the small ticket window to buy your pass and get your map for the day. It will save you a lot of time and hassle.
– I would either pack a lunch or eat outside of Colonial Williamsburg on the main square. There are tons of restaurants and sandwich shops which are much nicer and cheaper than inside Colonial Williamsburg. The main square is only a block away.
-Plan to arrive early in the morning, right when it opens to avoid crowds. Going during the week is your best bet and not during high season if you can help it. It was still relatively crowded for a mid-October day yet we were still able to get into every place we wanted to and not be pushed out by crowds.
-If you have children, you can rent colonial costumes at the visitor center so they can dress up for the day. There is also a horse and carriage ride and tour and a Kid’s Corner and orientation walk. (We didn’t do any of these things but would consider it next time we go).
-Definitely bring a stroller for young kids and wear good walking shoes!
-Finally, make sure you get a punch kid’s map to keep them busy and interested. Without the map, I bet my kids would have lasted not even an hour.
Photo above of the kids in front of their beloved minivan Airport taxi. We don’t have a minivan yet they LOVE them. So whenever the maroon colored Airport taxi arrives outside of our house, they are thrilled.
It was a LONG LONG day. It always is when traveling with kids. I can fly for 24 hours and survive it. Yet when it comes to traveling by myself with the kids it simply wears me out. I don’t have just myself to look after but two additional young beings that are constantly needing something. It is exhausting.
A few days before we left, the typical cold came on. My son developed his annual case of croup last Sunday in which he wound up at Children’s Hospital ER at 1 am. It is always scary when he gets croup because he can hardly breathe and it is frightening as a parent watching the child you love struggle to breathe. By now we know the drill. We get him dressed ASAP, get the car running, throw on clothes and take him the ten minute drive to the hospital where he gets some medication and resumes breathing normally. After the croup, he is left with a terrible hacking cough that keeps us all awake for nights and usually is passed on to me. No matter how hard I try to not get sick, I find is impossible and usually wind up sicker than a dog before every major trip. Oh well. One of the “pleasures” of being around kids!
I didn’t sleep a wink the night before our flight. I never sleep well before a morning flight. There is always so much last minute packing to do for the kids. I also had my coughing son sleeping on the floor next to my bed. By 6:30 am, I was already awake with a stuffy nose and tired. I was able to pack everything up, finish a post, make sandwiches and get us all ready for the arrival of our lovely cab.
The flight was uneventful except for the crazy, roller coaster landing. It was extremely windy in DC thus our landing into Reagan National was like being on a fighter jet. My stomach lurched and the kids screamed in delight. No matter how many hundreds of times I’ve flown, I still get jittery in extremely turbulent landings.
We landed and got off the plane. I was alone with the kids thus the three of us had to lug our huge suitcase, two car seats, and Dora and Star Wars mini backpacks to the car rental shuttle. My back nearly broke! It is never easy carrying all that stuff.
The shuttle dropped us off at the Enterprise Rental office where we picked up our bright, cherry red Chevy Impala. No offense to those who have one, but it has the worst most uncomfortable seats I’ve ever sat on. I had to stuff pillows and shirts behind my back to keep it from throbbing.
(Unfortunately I’ve had a bad upper back and neck since I was 13 and have recently resumed physical therapy to try to manage the pain and continue being a somewhat normal human being!).
I jumped on 95 South and was instantly reminded that I was on the East coast. The speed limit was 60 but everyone was driving 85. I forgot about the crazy, aggressive driving out here. (Minnesotans are more passive aggressive. Plus they generally drive pretty darn slow which drives me crazy).
Stress hit me as I was nearly run over while adjusting my seat and trying to get my kid’s DVD players started. I held my breathe so I wouldn’t have a near panic attack after almost missed my turn. Of course I didn’t have a map so the last thing I wanted to do was get lost.
It was smooth sailing at 80 mph out of DC to 95 South until I saw the sign that said “Caution: Accident 5 miles ahead”. Oh no. The sea of red headlights were endless and I was in stop and go traffic for the next half an hour. Things were not going too well.
I called my sister who gave me directions on a back road. I got off 95 and headed towards 17 South, a country road that would bring me right to my sister’s home in Gloucester Point, Virginia. Unfortunately once again, I missed the turn and wound up driving on some even smaller country road the wrong direction. I was surrounded by fields of gold, old white Baptist churches and nothing. It was much more relaxing and quieter than 95 but we were in the middle of no where!
A half an hour later, I finally found a side road that brought us back to 17 South. We had gone at least thirty minutes out of the way and I was beyond exhausted. This was going to end up being an eight hour day.
The kids had to go to the bathroom and were of course starving. But we were in the middle of rural, country Virginia and there was nothing, and I mean nothing in sight. We were surrounded by deep forests on bumpy, country roads. No bathrooms. No gas stations. No signs of civilization whatsoever. We could pull over along the road. But that wouldn’t fly.
Finally, like an oasis in a desert we found a tiny little roadside gas station. It was definitely a thirdeye moment. They sold fried chicken livers to go! But they did have ice cream and a small outhouse with sort-of running water. Relief. Yet we still had another hour and a half to go.
Finally, when I was at my wits end we pulled into Gloucester Point, eight hours after leaving our home in Minnesota. I was tired, cranky and grumpy. Yet, the wine was waiting as was my sister and her family.