Highlights from a few "recent" day trips
Now that school has resumed for many people (way too early, I think) it's a good time for a "what I did on my summer vacation" exercise. And so I present a brief summary of various day trips that Jacqueline and I have taken to various places in the region over the past nine months or so. (There have been no long-distance or overseas trips to report on this year, and the last blog post I did about travel was on October 6, 2017: "Washington weekend in review.") Last weekend, as described in the final section below, we went to the small towns of Brownsburg and Goshen in Rockbridge County, about 25-30 miles south of here. But the following summary will proceed in chronological order, beginning with our trip to Lexington last November. The other big highlights for this year are Charlottesville (March and April) and Washington, D.C. (including Arlington), in May.
This is another case of me trying to get caught up with various website chores lately. Part of what took so much time for this particular task (travel photos) was figuring out a smooth transition to incorporating higher-resolution photos on my Chronological photo gallery page. Since last year I have begun posting higher-resolution photos: 1200 x 800 pixels, rather than 600 x 400 pixels as I had been doing since 2008 or so. (That's when I got my first high-quality digital camera.)
Nov. 26, 2017: Lexington
On the last Sunday last November, Jacqueline and I drove down to the quaint and historic small city of Lexington, our first visit there in at least a decade. Given that it's only about 45 miles away, I'm surprised we don't go there more often. It happened to be Thanksgiving weekend, so the town was devoid of students and thus very quiet. Our first stop was at Grace Episcopal Church, which had been renamed from "Robert E. Lee Memorial Church" in August, just three months before we visited. (See religionnews.com.) After a fine lunch at Macado's Restaurant, we strolled along the streets of downtown Lexington. The brick sidewalks have a number of embedded engraved stones which bear the names of famous alumni of VMI, such as General George S. Patton. We stopped briefly at Stonewall Jackson House, which is near the Red Hen Restaurant, which gained national notoriety last month (July) after President Trump's press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was refused service there.
Next we explored the Washington and Lee University (WLU) campus, which was one of our primary destinations. Our first stop was Lee Chapel, where Lee's body is interred, and we were very impressed by the history of the building and the institution. Lee customarily sat in the front pew on the left, we learned. The chapel is not used for regular religious services any more, however. Directly across from the chapel, perched along a long slope, is the defining structure of the University, Washington Hall. In back of it is the main quad, surrounded by classic brick buildings of a similar architectural style. But space is limited, as a steep slope further west descends into a wooded ravine, on the other side of which some of the athletic facilities are located. We then passed the James Graham Clyburn Library, which reminded me of Clemons Library at the University of Virginia, since both are relatively modern and built on steep slopes such that the ground level on one side is at least three floors below that of the other side.
Immediately to the north of WLU is Virginia Military Institute (WMI), renowned as the "West Point" of the South. There the architectural style is likewise distinctive: tan-colored fortress-like structures with parapets all along the rooftops. It's not just for show, as the cadets of VMI did indeed defend their institution from invading Yankee forces in June 1864, but were soon overcome. VMI buildings were burned by the conquering Union Army. I tried to find out whether the VMI museum and visitor center was open, but there was no one to ask. (We should have inquired at the southern gate where we entered.) I was fascinated by the arrangement of the buildings around the central field where the cadets train, and took lots of photos. This apparently raised suspicion, as we were questioned by security officers, just to make sure. Finally, we drove over to the football stadium to take some more photos, and were soon on our way home. We stopped for a quick libation at Devil's Backbone Brewing, located a few miles north of town, the first time we had been there. Passing through a historical site at Church Hill, a few miles farther to the north along Route 11, we learned that it was the birthplace of Sam Houston, leader of the Texas independence movement. Nearby was the former site of Liberty Hall Academy, which was founded in 1777 and was the origin of Washington College and (eventually) Washington and Lee University. In sum, it was a very enjoyable and educational day for us.
March 23: Highland County
We didn't get out much during the winter months, other than a drive up to the Weyers Cave area on January 23 (when I took a great closeup photo of an American Kestrel), and January 24, when we went to the JMU Arboretum in Harrisonburg. In fact, we missed this year's Highland County Maple Festival, which we try to attend almost every year, but we at least made it to Highland County one week later, on March 23. It was a bright and sunny day, just after one of the big storms we had, and all that white made for some dazzling photos. Unfortunately, there were no craft vendors at all in Monterey, and several of the stores we had hoped to browse were closed that day. So, after buying some bottles of hard cider at the Big Fish Cidery, we drove north toward the town of Blue Grass, crossed into West Virginia for a few miles and then returned to the Old Dominion, stopping at the McDowell Battlefield for a few minutes before proceeding home to Staunton.
March 26: Charlottesville
Three days later we drove to Charlottesville to buy tickets for the Don Felder - REO Speedwagon - Styx triple concert on April 4; see my July 19 blog post. Then we went over to nearby Davenport Field (home of the UVA Cavaliers baseball team), where I took some photos of the recently-enlarged grandstand. It was another sunny day, perfect for photos! Then we spent about an hour at the Ivy Creek Nature Area on the north side of town. We used to go hiking along the steep trails there when we lived in Charlottesville in the 1990s. Next we headed downtown to see the controversial Robert E. Lee statue, which had been covered in black for a few months but was uncovered that day. The plastic fences and warning signs around the statue were clear signs that vandalism and/or violence was a real possibility. After more window shopping and sightseeing, we returned home.
May 26: Our Nation's Capital
On May 26 we drove up to Northern Virginia to see Jacqueline's brother Roberto, who was visiting the United States for the very first time! Along with her sister Gloria's family, we did some sightseeing in and around Washington. On the Virginia side of the Potomac River, we spent a couple hours at Arlington National Cemetery. It was Memorial Day weekend, and I was afraid that traffic would be intolerable, but it wasn't nearly as bad as I had expected. We saw the Kennedy gravesites (JFK, RFK, & EMK) but were unable to get into the Lee Mansion because of construction activity there. We did quite a bit of walking through sections of the cemetery that I had not previously visited.
In Washington, I saw the National Museum of African-American History for the first time since construction on it was completed last year. Then we drove along Constitution Avenue past the Federal Triangle buildings, and took a slight detour so that I could see (and photograph) Capital One Arena, the home of the Washington Capitals hockey team. They had just advanced to the Stanley Cup NHL finals, and a week or so later, they emerged triumphant and the whole city of Washington went nuts in the championship celebration. In the Eastern Market area, we saw the Marine Barracks and had dinner at a Mexican-Salvadoran restaurant called "Las Placitas," and went back home. Finally, we drove past Nationals Park, which was festooned with banners heralding the upcoming MLB All Star Game, and nearby Audi Field, which was then in the final stages of construction. It hosted the inaugural match of the D.C. United soccer team last month.
June 10: Manassas battlefield
Two weeks later (June 10), we returned to Northern Virginia and I took my brother-in-law Roberto (and niece Shary) on a visit to the Manassas battlefield. Roberto is fascinated by the American Civil War, but unfortunately the visitor center there had no books in Spanish for sale, merely a one-page typewritten summary of what happened in the two battles that took place there. Nevertheless, Roberto really enjoyed seeing it for himself and imagining the clashing armies. In light of all the recent heated partisan fury over the proper way to remember the Civil War, the battlefield assumed greater significance.
Aug. 4: Brownsburg and Goshen
Finally, last Saturday we drove south and west of Staunton, pausing in Middlebrook and other scenic spots along the way. A mile or so before the town Brownsburg, I was surprised to see a large brick building with a cemetery in back, and learned after stopping that it is the New Providence Presbyterian Church, founded in 1746. The attached three-story building in back is devoted to religious education but is not, as I originally surmised, the site of Brownsburg Academy, which the church built in town during the 1830s. In Brownsburg itself, we took a look at the historic homes and visited the museum which featuring quilts, household items, and artisan products from the 19th Century. The lady there was very friendly.
From Brownsburg we headed west, and I was thinking about finding the location of the set of the 2005 movie War of the Worlds (in which I was cast as an extra!), but the roads were confusing and I decided it was more important to get to the other primary destination, which was the incredibly scenic Goshen Pass. The Maury River cuts through a mountain ridge, and with all the recent rains, the water that day was unusually high. I stopped there during a birding venture last summer, but otherwise we had not been there in almost fifteen years! I convinced Jacqueline that it would be a good picnic spot for the near future, but we were hungry and decided to go straight to the town of Goshen, where we had a nice lunch at a local restaurant. Then we headed northeast, bought some fresh tomatoes and other veggies at a produce stand in the town of Craigsville. (The canteloupe is incredibly tasty!) Finally, we stopped for a few minutes at Augusta Springs, which is one of the renowned birding locations in this area, but not much was happening, so we went home.
The next day (August 5) we went for a vigorous hike along the Shenandoah Mountain trail, the same place where I had led an Augusta Bird Club field trip on May 26. There weren't many scenic photo ops, but I did take one of all the trees being cut near Braley Pond to make way for the pending Atlantic Coast Pipeline. I posted it on the Chronological (2018) photo gallery, along with many more photos that are available for your enjoyment and/or edification. And now I'm officially up to date with recent travelogues ... another one from three years ago will be posted soon!