2018 – Sightseeing Wytheville, VA and area

Our stay in the Wytheville, VA area was a brief one but we enjoyed looking around the area. We took a short drive to nearby Austinville, VA. This community has a strong Texas connection because it is the birthplace of Stephen F. Austin, the “Father of Texas.” There’s a small park there: the Stephen F. Austin Memorial Park. Austin led the group of families to Texas forming what is known as the “First 300” and he had a major role in Texas becoming a Republic.

Also near Austinville along I77 is Shot Tower Historical State Park. The park itself is small and tours are made by appointment only. According to records it was the first factory to mass produce shot on American soil. The tower is 75 feet tall with a shaft beneath it adding another 75 feet to the structure. Melted lead was pulled to the top of the tower using block and tackle. It was then poured through giant sieves. As it fell it cooled, forming musket “shot.” A tunnel at the bottom of the shaft connected to the nearby river and water from the river cushioned the newly formed lead balls as they fell into a large pot. The musket balls were retrieved by workmen from the bottom, dried and polished either on site or at a nearby town. It operated from 1807-1839.

This area is lush and green from all the rain this summer. We drove one of the many scenic byways, enjoying the forest and winding roads all the way up to the top of Big Walker Mountain, just north of Wytheville. There we looked around a long time tourist attraction, the BW Country Store. It is full of handcrafted items, tourist stuff, and tasty looking food items like jams, salsas, fudge, ice cream and more. On the weekends, the store hosts music performances. There’s a lookout tower but we chose to not go up this one. Really, tower or not, the views were spectacular: we could see for miles down the valleys on either side of the peak of the mountain. It was a great afternoon drive.

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2018 – Shenandoah Valley Campground – Verona, VA


We only intended on spending three nights at Shenandoah Valley Campground, Verona, VA. It turned out that our stay was shortened by a day. The campground is reasonably near I81, nestled in the Middle River valley. The campground is all about that river, which is a gentle stream, perfect for tubing most of the time. Then, near the popular tenting area is the real gem of the campground: a beautiful waterfall dropping in from the higher ground opposite the campground. Again, our stay was brief and in the week following heavy rains from what was Hurricane Florence. With the river running high (and it was flooding the campground in the days prior to our arrival), the waterfall was stunning.

There is a camping area on the plateau above the large camping area on the river; that’s where we stayed. Really, we were glad to be a bit higher, knowing that the river was pretty full and that more rain was forecast. My thinking was that even if the river overflowed its banks again we would be high enough to be clear of any danger. After the Hurricane Florence related flooding the campground staff worked many hours putting fresh gravel down throughout the large water-front area of the campground which is all gravel – roads and campsites.

This is a destination campground with a large, heated pool and several hot tubs located indoors. There’s also a nice fishing lake and a couple of playgrounds. The kids have a blast bike riding, fishing, tubing, swimming, and feeding the many mostly-tame rabbits.

WiFi is slow and only available in the campground store.  My Verizon signal was poor to zero.  I got a satellite signal but not many people would.  Having a homestyle dish on a tripod let me set up in the only sweet spot, just peeking over the trees to the south of us.  The sites themselves are pretty tight with neighbors very close in on both sides.

As I said, our stay was supposed to be three nights but after a night of rain on Saturday night a staff member knocked on our door telling us that the entire campground was being evicted by the sheriff’s office. The issue wasn’t flooding in the campground. Rather, it was the county road leading to the campground that was in danger of going underwater. We were told that we needed to be out within the hour.

So, we skipped breakfast and gave up on attending church and began preparing to move. It usually takes us a bit less than an hour to be ready to pull out. In this case, we were ready to go in around 40 minutes. The road out was fine, but there is one section that dips down right beside the river for a 100 yards or so. Water was lapping against the pavement as we came through.

For us, it was more of an inconvenience than anything else and we just moved down the highway to our next scheduled stop. I do feel sorry for the campground especially in light of all the work they did to get open again following the flooding.

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Lynchburg, Appomattox, and area

I have heard so much about Liberty University I wanted to see it for myself and of course see its library and possibly do a blog entry about it in my Great Library Ideas blog.  The young man in the Visitors center was very friendly and helpful.  We walked to the DeMoss building that houses the current library in the bottom floor. The campus is beautiful and covers many acres. As we walked we noticed how clean cut the students were.  Several smiled and spoke as we passed.  The Lynchburg transit runs through campus and provides the students easy access to the various areas of the large campus.  The campus is about to get a beautiful new library so, while the old library continues to function I decided to pass on doing a blog about it. Two things that got our attention were the giant “LU” logo which takes up much of the side of the mountain above the campus and the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Center next to it.  The Snowflex is a snowless ski slope where students can go for the view, to ski, snowboard, or tube year around.  I think Liberty University is worth a visit if you happen to be in the area.

On Friday we decided to go to Thomas Jefferson’s Popular Forest. He started building this place in 1806 as a retreat from his very pubic life.  It was privately owned by people outside the Jefferson family from early 1800s until it was acquired by a non-profit group in the early 1980s. The grounds are quiet and restful and tour was very informative.  We gained a different perspective on Thomas Jefferson and his life.

There’s a lot to see in this area that we hope to visit on a future trip to this area.

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Campground Review: Lynchburg Thousand Trails, Gladys, VA

We’ve enjoyed checking out the mini-golf course here, although the “fairways” are pretty littered from the trees.  The biggest feature for me has been the wonderful trail around the pretty lake.  I’ve walked it everyday and I think its the nicest feature of this campground.  The adult lodge has a deck overlooking the lake and Jackie and I have taken our coffee down to the deck a few times.  We’ve also sat out and enjoyed the sky at night.  The sparsely populated park, the distance from the lights of town, some clear skies, and some cool lights have made for terrific star gazing.  We’ve been able to see the Milky Way, lots of satellites, and even a few shooting stars.

There are several interesting places to visit in the area.  Jackie will do a post on Appomattox, Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, and the like.  These places are all within 45 minutes of the campground.

We’ve enjoyed the full hookup site (30 amp electric) and excellent 4G cell data.  We are on C-Loop, apparently preferred by the seasonal residents.  However, the other side of the park looks just as nice and is closer to the pool and main activity center.

I can’t tell you what this park is like during the summer.  My guess is that its busy with lots of stuff going on.  I can tell you that here in the first week of “off season” that it’s been quiet and beautiful — a good peaceful, relaxing week.

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Campground Review – Chesapeake Bay Thousand Trails – Gloucester, VA

When you come to Chesapeake Bay Thousand Trails be sure to visit the camp store and get an ice cream.  Warning…you only want one “scoop.”  The serving is huge and two of you might just want to split a single scoop!

If you are a member of Thousand Trails and looking for a place to camp in the Tidewater Region, look no farther: this is it!

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Colonial Williamsburg – Yorktown, VA and area

 The other highlight of our time here was a visit to Yorktown.  We began our visit at the Yorktown National Park Visitor center where we watched and introductory film that helped us understand the driving tour.  We were surprised to see how close the two armies actually were as they prepared for to do battle.  The fact that Washington was able to march his forces, build the redoubts and do battle show determination and stamina on the part of the Colonials.  Of course, having the French fleet hold off the British Navy was a turning point, contributing to Cornwallis’ inability to retreat across the York River to Gloucester.

During the driving tour we saw the restored Moore House where the terms for the surrender of Yorktown were worked out.  It’s a lovely home originally on 500 acres with a view of the York River.

Finishing our trip we rode the free trolley from the NPS visitors center to Yorktown and walked along Water Street by the River then took the trolley back.

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Skyline Drive, Front Royal, Udvar-Hazey Air and Space Museum

Our day at Shenandoah National Park driving Skyline Drive was a fun day trip.  We drove down a state highway south around 60 miles and then entered the park to travel the two lane twisting Skyline Drive back to Front Royal. The views are amazing all the way along. There are many pull offs where one can absorb the views and take lots of photographs.  There are welcome areas with restaurants with gift shops along the way but we opted to pack a lunch and eat at one of the overlooks.  We were lucky enough to see a few deer and actually saw a black bear.  By the time we could get turned around in hopes of getting a better look the bear had moved back into the trees. Scott just loved the drive and I agree that it is a great way to spend a day.

Being in this historic area I had to visit a little of the Civil War History.  There’s a full driving tour but we chose to see a very small portion. We saw the cottage of Belle Boyd who was a Confederate spy, Williams Chapel CME which was finished in 1845, and the home of a young woman named Lucy Buck who daughter of a prosperous planter and kept a diary throughout the Civil War.  We also visited Prospect Hill Cemetery where in 1882 the remains of 276 soldiers of the former Confederacy are interred. Ninety of the soldiers are identified and buried in a circle and the others are buried in a common grave in the center where an 18 foot high monument is erected above them.  The cemetery is a sobering reminder of the tragedy of war.

Our stay in this area has been quite enjoyable stay and we recommend it for both it’s scenery and it’s history.

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Campground Review: Skyline Ranch Resort – Front Royal, VA

Our journey down interstate 81 included miles driven in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia.  That sounds impressive but really, it was only a 3 hour or so trip.  The drive was an easy one without any traffic to speak of and no big hills to pull.  By early afternoon we had arrived at Skyline Ranch Resort near Front Royal, Virginia.

There are several nice features here: a nice activity center, a big pool, a nifty mini-golf course, a min-chapel that hosts regular church services, and several activities scheduled for the weekend.  We’re literally 10 minutes from Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park and about an hour from Washington DC.  There’s strong WiFi but it’s $3 a day.  I’ve opted to stay on my Verizon hotspot even though it’s a weak 3G.

If I return here I think I’ll lobby more strongly for a site with a bit of shade, 50 amps or not.  I’ll also mention that several reviews of this place reported stinky water. (update: according to a comment from the campground the water system has now been upgraded)  We haven’t found that however my external water filter is now very dirty and needing to be changed after just a few nights here.

With the unexpected fees, the field parking spot, and the dirty water balanced by nice amenities and a pretty good location, I’d give this place a score of 6 or 7 out of 10.

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