Wednesday, August 1, 2012

City Girl In The Sticks

My honey and I have had opposing goals this summer.  He is a man who enjoys camping and seeing nature up close and personal.  I am a girl who occasionally enjoys the beach and dipping my toes in the surf.  I've been trying to get him to go to the beach with me and he's been trying to get me to go camping with him.  He was the first to succeed...sort of.

We were supposed to spend the second weekend in July in Altoona, Pennsylvania at a going away part for my brother's best friend (and my brother from another mother).  This is a man who lived in my parents' house when he was a teenager because things were tough at his house.  His dad kicked him out of the house and my parents gladly took him into their home.  He lived with us for his last two years of high school.  My mother was the one who got called up to the school for a parent-teacher conference because he was sleeping through his trigonometry class and the one who held onto his letterman's jacket for safe keeping while he was in boot camp.  Now, even when he is deployed overseas, my mom is the one he calls on Christmas morning and sends flowers to on Mother's Day.  He truly is like a brother to me.  We have the same parents and we grew up in the same house.  He is getting ready to be stationed in Korea, so we were all going up to surprise him.  However, plans changed when his wife and father argued over the time and location of the party.  What can I say?  Not everyone gets along with their in-laws.

This left us with a free weekend and it left my honey with a firm belief that he should be heading out of town.  After all, he had already gotten approval for time off work.  No point in spending that time hanging around the house, right?  So my honey suggested that we go to Luray Caverns.  It was just far enough away to feel like we were really getting out of town, but close enough that we didn't need more than three days away to get there, see the sights, and get back.

So, I looked into hotels and attractions in the area.  I looked for things to see and do along the way there and back.  Finally, I came up with a plan that I felt would keep us entertained and active for the whole weekend. 

Stonewall Jackson memorial at Manassas
We would drive out to Manassas and see the battlefields from the First and Second Battles of Bull Run, so my honey could get his history fix.  Then, we would drive through Shenandoah National Park, down the lovely Skyline Drive, to Luray, Virginia and their deep, dark caverns.  From there, we would stay overnight in New Market, Virginia, home of another Civil War battlefield, see whatever there was to see there and then head down through central Virginia to get me a history fix of my own at Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello.  My honey and I are both American history buffs, but we love different periods in U.S. history.  He is fascinated by the Civil War era, while I have extensively studied the colonial and Revolutionary War periods.  We would complete the square by coming back through Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, home of more Civil War battlefields.

That was the plan, but things didn't end up going quite that way.  The weather was the first factor that was working against us.  It was cloudy when we left the house, drizzling by the time we got to Manassas, and foggy by the time we hit the Appalachian trail in Shenandoah National Park.  So much for the breathe-taking view along Skyline Drive!

Our view from one of the very foggy Skyline Drive overlooks.
I don't see any mountains. Do you?
Something they don't tell you about Shenandoah National Park, or most of central Virginia for that matter, is that there are no cell phone towers in the park.  If your car breaks down or you get a flat tire, you are out of luck until a hiker or a park ranger finds you.  You can't call for help!  For most of the trip we were in a cell phone blackout, which some of you may remember that I don't enjoy.  If possible, my dislike of being incommunicado has grown even more since I got a smart phone.  Now, I am not only used to getting calls and texts.  I have come to expect being able to check my e-mail and facebook page, too.

We made it to Luray, but decided to get some dinner and head to the hotel rather than tackle the caverns right away.  The hotel was supposedly ten miles outside of Luray and it may have been ten miles as the crow flies, but it was closer to fifteen miles away along some of the most sharply sloped and curved mountain passes by car.  We were both looking forward to getting to the hotel so we could stretch our legs and relax poolside, but the weather forced us indoors and indoors wasn't pretty. 

This photo was taken from our doorway.
Life Lesson:  If the hotel is relatively close to a tourist attraction, but far cheaper than other hotels in the area, there is a good reason it is cheaper. 

The wallpaper in this hotel was peeling off the walls and bubbling in the restroom from obvious water damage.  It was a sad little hotel room.  Even the king size bed wasn't much of a mood booster because it was so uncomfortable.  But, the absolute worst part came when it started to pour outside and a fault in the hotel's gutter system produced a waterfall right outside our hotel room door.  I found it impossible to sleep with Niagra Falls just a few feet away. 

Luckily, my honey found other ways to fill my time. ;)

Apparently, I've become jaded because this didn't impress me. 
(The horrible photography is all my own.)
The next day we went to Luray Caverns, which I had visited as a child.  You know how everything seems smaller when you go back to your elementary school as an adult.  That's what Luray Caverns was like for me this time around.  My honey was oooh-ing and ahh-ing over all the different stalagtite and stalagmite formations, but it just didn't seem as impressive to me as my childhood memory of the place.  We saw the dream lake (where the pool of water on the floor reflects the ceiling perfectly) and the translucent stalagtites (which look like a bath towel and a strip of bacon) and the sunny side up stalagmites (which look like eggs sunny side up).  It was a natural wonder all right.  It just didn't knock my socks off. 

Next stop, the New Market battlefield.  This one really irritated my honey.  There were two battle field museums, which we found confusing.  It seems that one museum is associated with the state park and contains the actual battle field, but in front of it is an amatuer museum (a fake, if you will).  Since you come across the fake museum first, that is where we went and it was awful.  It had almost nothing to do with Civil War history, instead seeming to contain a few fossils, a few Native American artifacts, and the world's largest cap gun collection.  My honey was mad after we left that "museum" because he had paid $18 for us to look at some movie posters and a cap gun collection.  Neither of us really had our hearts in it by the time we made it to the actual battlefield and state park.  Oh well, live and learn.

We visited Monticello the next day and then had a change of plans.  Instead of visiting two more Civil War battlefields on the way home (the fake museum really put us off history for the remainder of the trip), we would drive the entire length of Skyline Drive from the southern Shenandoah National Park entrance at Thornton Gap all the way to the northern entrance at Front Royal.  Best decision we made during the whole trip!

All my honey had talked about during our foggy drive down Skyline Drive two days earlier was how Shenandoah National Park had the country's highest concentration of black bear and he really hoped we'd see one.  We didn't see one.  WE SAW FIVE!

"BEAR!!!" became a familiar cry on our return trip.
above: One of the five bears we saw while driving up Skyline Drive.

Trip saved, honey happy.  Yay for the North American black bear!


  1. So glad you were able to bear your sole hear.

  2. There is something funky going on with your spelling there, I think.  I have plenty more bear pictures to share if you'd like to see more! :)