Fall Foliage

Fall in southern Ohio is usually quite colorful and is a time that leaf peepers look forward to every year.

This year, not so much. It seemed like the leaves turned late but mostly they just turned brown and fell when the rain moved in.

But we did have a brief period of blue skies and pockets of color like the day I took this covered bridge photo near Lancaster.

The good news is that those pockets of color did seem especially nice next to all that green and brown and we came to appreciate the color more than we normally might if everything was vibrant.

On The Road

Monday Front Royal, VA (10)_edited

On the road is probably my favorite place to be most days. The thing I like best about traveling roads I’ve never been on is encountering a place that simply forces me to pull over and have a look around.

Many times, it’s cute little towns where the residents will tell you there’s nothing to do and where they see nothing special while you’re enchanted by the narrow streets, hanging flowers and odd mix of architectural features.

The trip to Luray Caverns took longer than planned because I found Front Royal, Virginia. It was about 8:30 a.m. on Columbus Day when I rolled up to a traffic light and looked to my left. It was clear that I would always regret not going around the block.

Front Royal is now officially on my list of places to visit again some day. The street I explored that day was home to the courthouse, a train depot turned visitors’ center, and park as well as a variety of storefronts, an ornate old bank and cute little theater. All but deserted because of my poor timing, this town captured my imagination.

I read that they host events in the gazebo in that park and I have fantasies of working in this town and reading a book while enjoying lunch in the park.

Monday Front Royal, VA (37)

It reminded me of a model railroad town. You know the kind? A string of perfect little buildings on tree lined streets. The courthouse lawn had so many trees that you can hardly see the building from the street. Coming from a community where the courthouse lawn was long ago replaced by concrete and retired weapons of war, this is a delightful sight.

I also saw some gorgeous old churches in addition to the usual string of fast food joints and those stores that seem to turn up in every town  –  Dollar General, Family Dollar and Tractor Supply are here but there were several local places that looked interesting. The proximity to Skyline Caverns and Shenandoah National Park would make this a fun long weekend getaway.

We’re coming up on the end of this road trip, friends. I have a few more things to tell you but we’ll be wrapping it up this week. Here’s hoping you have enjoyed reading about the journey enough to check back tomorrow for another story!

Going Underground: Luray Caverns

Monday Lurray Caverns and Garrett County (8).JPG

Before traveling, I always ask friends for recommendations. A few know exactly the kind of places I like and my pal Mike offered up a great recommendation. He suggested Luray Caverns in Luray, Virginia. He’s a man of few words so he just told me to go and didn’t mention why but I trust his judgement so I went.

It was a great suggestion but don’t tell him I said so (I hate for him to get a big head).

Luray is in the Shenandoah Valley, about an hour south of Winchester. The route there cuts through beautiful countryside and small towns with gorgeous views at every turn.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure about going underground on such a beautiful fall day and wasn’t convinced it would be worth the investment. At $28 per adult (discounts for kids and seniors), it’s not the cheapest tour ticket you’ll ever buy but admission also gets you into an automobile museum. Turns out, it was worth the time and money.

The cavern was discovered by three brothers in 1878 and they opened it as a tourist attraction almost immediately after they found and mapped it. It’s been in the same family ever since so they’ve had plenty of time to develop and improve this site. Today, they’ve developed a 1.25 mile underground trail that highlights most of the approximate 80 acre cavern.

The trail takes you through some breathtaking areas and your guide will keep you entertained while teaching you a little about the rocks and history. I’m not all that interested in geology and retained little of what he said but I still enjoyed that part of the tour.

It’s 54 degrees year round but humidity makes it feel like 65. There are a few steep places but the walk is mostly easy.

My favorite place here is called Dream Lake, a spring of water that looks like a mirror. Stalactites (the ones on top) reflect in the water making them look like stalagmites. At it’s deepest point the lake is only twenty inches deep but the illusion is so convincing you can’t tell. The picture above is of Dream Lake. Lovely, isn’t it?

I also liked the Stalacpipe Organ which produces music, using rubber mallets to tap stalactites. The sound is subtle but moving. It’s been there since the late fifties and provides a peak into a different aspect of this cave, beyond just looking at the rocks.

If you enjoy cloud watching, you’ll love looking for shapes in the rock formations here. There’s a lot to see and it looks different from every perspective.

They market this tour for families but I probably wouldn’t take really young kids. There were youngsters on my tour but parents and grandparents struggled to keep the littlest ones focused and quiet. The kids weren’t happy, the caregivers were distracted and the rest of us struggled to hear at times.


However, if you do take little ones, there’s a fudge shop as well as a toy museum you can tour for an extra price.

Some might call this place a tourist trap and I probably wouldn’t argue. They have lots of ways to spend your money beyond the cavern tour. The difference between this place and most tourist traps is that the cavern really is spectacular and they don’t push the other stuff off on you.

Luray Caverns was much different than anything else I saw on this road trip and I think that’s important. Variety is the spice of life so it seems like a good idea to go looking for things to do that you wouldn’t ordinarily choose. You never know when a new interest or hobby will be born!

Want to visit Luray Caverns? Visit their website for information for details!

If you go, be sure to take a pocketful of change. They have a wishing well, pictured above, near the end of the tour where you can toss in your change to benefit local charities. You can bet I threw in a fistful of coin and made a big old wish!




Visiting Manassas

Sunday Fun at Mannasses and Flying Circus (11)

The decision to visit the Flying Circus at Bealeton, Va. during this road trip adventure came with another decision. How to spend Sunday morning prior to the air show?

A quick glance at the map easily answered this question. The Manassas National Battlefield Park was just a little bit out of the way en route from Winchester to the airfield at Bealeton. The park is open dusk to dawn and the visitors’ center opens at 8:30 a.m., timed perfectly for a walk around the battlefield before heading south to see all the cool planes. 

If you’re a Yankee like me, you likely remember this battle from history class as the Battle of Bull Run. And technically, two battles were fought here – the first in July 1861 and the second the following year in August. The 1861 battle was the first major battle of the Civil War and a Confederate victory.

Today, the park encompasses over 5,000 acres just outside of town. There are bridal trails, hiking trails, ranger led programs, a walking tour and driving tour. The visitors’ center has an orientation film, bookstore and rangers who can help you use your time here wisely.

On the battlefield, you’ll see a home – destroyed by the battle and reconstructed to help tell the story. A small family cemetery holds the remains of the elderly woman who was bedridden inside that house. By the end of that first battle, she was dead, her home destroyed and her farmland ravaged by war.

Cannons dot the landscape along with small markers that honor the fallen and interpretive signage that outlines what went on here. A statue of Stonewall Jackson surveys the battlefield from atop his horse.

I walked the battlefield, admired the farmhouse and stood inside the footprint of the tiny home of James Robinson, a free African American man who lived here with his family. The home escaped major damage although Mr. Robinson suffered significant financial losses because of the battles fought here. He claimed more than $2,600 in property either destroyed or taken by Union soldiers. He received less than half his claim. All that’s left of the home today are the foundation stones.

Sunday Mannassess and the road there (83)

This place is mostly peaceful, making it hard to believe these gently rolling hills were once soaked with blood. Both sides suffered significant casualties here – hundreds  died in the first battle alone.

From the area around the farmhouse and cemetery, you can look out over a valley, now cut through by a highway. Sounds of traffic waft up the hill and an occasional siren in the distance reminds you that time marches on and that life continues to move forward even as the past hangs heavy over this land.

I also stood in the shadow of Stonewall Jackson, contemplating the role of Confederate monuments in this country. I had toured his Winchester headquarters just the day before during a visit to Old Town. 

As I walked the empty battlefield, my mind’s eye was incapable of picturing the horrors that went on here and I am grateful that I couldn’t imagine it.

This is the kind of place where you can spend as much or as little time as you like. I was perfectly happy to just walk around a bit and study the visitors’ center materials. There were other places to go that day and I lacked the mental energy to delve deeper into the tragedy this land has seen.

I’m glad that I went but was even happier to have something more carefree to enjoy later in the day. You can read all about that fun afternoon here.

Tomorrow we’ll continue our journey down the road and I promise it will be a happier  story.




The Road To Mannasses

Sunday Mannassess and the road there (10)

On Sunday morning of this road trip adventure, the road took me south to visit the battlefield at Mannassess, Virginia and to watch in wonder the fun, acrobatic flying at a 49 year old flying circus. These are things we will talk about soon.

I headed out early, catching the end of the sunrise from the road and got to really soak in the beauty of this countryside. It was delightful how the terrain opened up to reveal this farm which looked quite small against the mountains and sky. A nearby lane offered a closer look so I turned down that road for a different view then ventured another mile or two in search of what was attached to a bell tower that I saw from afar.

This is what I found.

Sunday Mannassess and the road there (14)

It was worth the drive around the next bend.

I do that a lot, driving just a little further to see what’s around the next curve and often regret if I don’t go chasing the next bend in the road. In fact, when I think back on my road trips, the best memories are rarely the organized stuff I do – the tours and nice meals out. The best memories are always things like finding a pretty barn, a lovely sunrise or a field full of cows. It seems that a full tank of gas is really all I need for a good time.

Although, I did have a fantastic time at the flying circus so that’s where we’ll go tomorrow. Check back to hear all about it!

The Perfect Long Weekend (And Some Free Advice)

Nothing says freedom like a solo road trip. I hit the road Friday afternoon for a trek down to Winchester, Virginia where I made my home until starting the leisurely trip north Monday.

When planning this trip, more than a dozen scenarios were on the table but nothing really excited me. I was studying a map of Virginia when Winchester caught my eye and a vague recollection that Patsy Cline was from here made me pause.

A visit to her museum was one of the highlights of my trip to Nashville this spring and I had to wonder if there were other things to do around Winchester. Turns out this was a silly question. The area is rich in history and natural beauty and there is no shortage of things to do.

In fact, I packed a lot into my long weekend but needed far more time to do everything that looked interesting. I did hit the highlights and saw a lot in places along the way as well.

Sometimes I wish that I had a specific interest- a certain period of time or a field like aviation or rock collecting. It would be nice to be an expert in something.

But that’s not how I’m wired and trips like this make that especially clear.

My activities ranged from Civil War era attractions like Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters and the battlefield at Mannasess to a flying circus, an awesome cavern and the childhood home of Patsy Cline.

The good news about having such a broad range of interests is that there’s always something to learn and a lot of surprises to enjoy.

The highways were useful when I just needed to make time but secondary routes were more fun when the goal was to sit back and enjoy the view. It was about 50/50, a ratio that worked well given the mountainous terrain of West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia.

This trip was memorable despite the fact I’ve been battling a sinus infection for weeks and still wasn’t feeling my best. For this reason, I took it easier and rested more than normal but still finished each day satisfied with all I had done.

This also helped some with the mental fatigue that’s been dogging me for a few months. I didn’t know what time it was most of the weekend and did not care.

Regardless of how fast or slow I move, I have a knack for attracting people who want to talk.

At the flying circus, I was befriended by a 74 year old gent with a soft Virginia drawl and a curiosity about the sign he saw me taking a picture with. He listened with interest as I told him why solo travel is fun. I also explained that it’s a necessity as I’m not prepared to stop going places simply because I don’t have a mate or someone to go along for the ride.

He gave me two pieces of advice:

1. If you want to retire early, live well below your means and lower your expectations. He should know – he retired at age 54.

2. To never lose my sense of adventure and bravery.

I liked him and appreciated the advice.

On the other hand, a younger man in the same conversation said that no wife of his would be out running around by herself like I do.

I smiled and told him it’s a good thing I’m no one’s wife. Jerk.

I’ll stick with the wisdom of the older man, thank you.

Sunday Mannassess and the road there (95)

After leaving Winchester Monday morning, I followed the recommendation of a friend and took a detour to Lurray Caverns about an hour south of Winchester. Then it was a meandering journey to Clarksburg, West Virginia by way of Oakland, Maryland. My use of Hotels.com finally paid off and I cashed in a free night’s stay at Clarksburg before heading home the next day.

This was a perfect long weekend. With no real schedule and no one to please but myself, it was easy to just enjoy the adventure without pressure or worry. There are several stories to share including some unexpected things from along the way. Those usually make for the  best stories, those things you don’t plan.

We’ll get started tomorrow with a visit to the Patsy Cline House!

Headed Home

I’m wrapping up a road trip so that means fresh material is coming soon!

In my world, the best trips include some cool diners….

A little history and nature ….

Great buildings….

And some unexpected details…

I have so much to tell you guys! I can’t wait to download my camera pictures so we can get busy talking about it soon.