Monday, May 25, 2015

It's a three day holiday weekend, so one guess what that means to me....yep, adventure time!  I've been itching for a good, short road trip - especially since my recovery from knee surgery has been giving me a bad case of cabin fever.  I keep a very long list of things I want to see on a cloud file, and I decided that it's time to take a loop around my home state of Virginia to check some of these things off.  To tackle the creation of a driving route, I dropped most of the Virginia points of interest from my list on a Google Map, then delved into some deeper research for the oddball and historic places. Three of my favorite sites that collect this kind of information are:

The end result was a loop that included three homes of founding fathers (which I will put in a separate post), two odd reminders of the Civil War, part of the gorgeous Blue Ridge Parkway, a taste of bluegrass country, and some very nice tacky tourist sites up the I-81 corridor.  Daily drive time was around 5 hours.

Here are my Memorial Weekend Virginia Road Trip points of interest!

Chancellorsville Civil War Battlefield

This battlefield is one of several in the Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania area that saw intense fighting in April and May 1963.  This cannon stands on the land next to the Chancellor Home, a private residence occupied by a widow and her children that was burned during the battle.

Grave of General Stonewall Jackson's Left Arm, Wilderness Battlefield, Chancellorsville VA

While out with a small scouting group, General Stonewall Jackson was shot by a sentry in his own Confederate Army, with two bullets shattering his left arm and forcing doctors to amputate.  Since Jackson was so revered as a General, it seemed undignified to throw his arm out of the surgery window.  Instead, it was given a Christian burial.  General Jackson died eight days later of pneumonia. The arm burial plot is located on the property of Ellwood Manor on the preserved land of the Wilderness Battlefield.

Giant Rollerskate, 12099 Marsh Road, Bealton VA

Hmmm...stopped just because it's a giant rollerskate.

The Graffiti House, 19484 Brandy Road, Brandy Station VA

During the winter of 1863-84, the Union Army of the Potomac made camp along the Orange and Alexandria railroad supply line.  This home, now known as the Graffiti House, was used as a field hospital for both sides prior to the winter of 1863.  The first known graffiti, made with charcoal, was done by a soldier coming back from the Second Battle of Manassas/Bull Run.  During the encampment of the Army of the Potomac, the home was used as command headquarters.  The graffiti includes signatures and drawings from soldiers on both sides, covering the walls of three upstairs rooms.

Old Montpelier Train Station, Orange VA

En route to James Madison's Montpelier, you can't miss this historic train station.  It reminded me of the one we saw while doing our Anne of Green Gables themed Canadian roadtrip - without the segregated bathrooms, of course.

Mabry Mill, Meadows of Dan VA

This mill is apparently one of the most photographed mills in the U.S.  I have made a note to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway in the fall to come and see this mill surrounded by the orange, yellow, and red autumn leaves.

Floyd Country Store, Floyd VA

Floyd, Virginia is a southern town in Virginia that is known as being a destination for bluegrass fans. At the Floyd Country Store, they have a traditional Friday Night Jamboree where locals and visitors alike gather to enjoy local bands for a $5 admission price.  If you are lucky, like me, you may stumble on a local jam session on a sunny Sunday afternoon too!  Floyd is also the home of Chantilly Farm, where large music concerts and festivals are held.

Muffler Man, 3110 Williamson Rd., Roanoke VA

When I drove Route 66, I made it my mission to find all of the old muffler men along the way. These giants were made by International Fiberglass in the 1960s and 1970s. Each one has a similar shape and size, but differ in the outfit or the object being held in the hands pointed in opposite directions. So less of a muffler man as they are commonly called, but officially called a "brand man" by the manufacturer. This muffler man, a Bunyan model, looks like he got into a bar fight!

Mill Mountain Star, Roanoke VA

This neon star is the world's largest freestanding, illuminated star. The star and scaffolding was built as part of the Christmas festivities in 1949. A photo taken a little later after twilight is at the beginning of this post, in case you missed it.

Natural Bridge, VA

Natural Bridge is just what the name implies, a rock bridge carved over centuries by water (Cedar Creek) passing under the rock. It is believed that George Washington personally surveyed the land for Lord Fairfax in the 1750s. Later, Thomas Jefferson purchased the land and made it his Presidential retreat. Today, it is still a natural beauty - albeit a very overpriced one. Adult admission is $20 ($18 with AAA discount). With that admission, you can choose to take the 130+ stairs down to the river walkway or a shuttle bus. The bridge is the first thing you will see on the path. If you take the dirt and gravel path another 3/4 mile, you will reach a gentle waterfall that glides along a rock slide.

Foamhenge, Natural Bridge VA

Built by local fiberglass artist Mark Cline as a joke for April Fools Day in 2004, this is a to scale replica of England's stonehenge, but made out of styrofoam.  When driving north from Natural Bridge, you will see a white wood fence with a metal gate over a dirt drive (it's on Google Maps too).  There are obvious turnouts from previous cars parking.  Climb over the fence (it's maybe 5 feet tall and easy to climb) then walk up the hill and to the left.  There is a sign pointing you in the right direction.

North of Foamhenge is Cline's Enchanted Castle Studios where he builds his giant figures for pranks, amusement parks, and local businesses.

Cyborg Muffler Man, 1400 Sycamore Ave., Buena Vista VA

If this were an official muffler man, I would have to say it is my favorite.  Alas, it appears to be just the muffler man head and left arm that have been transformed into this robot cyborg being controlled by an alien.  On the way to the cyborg, you may notice this amazing Welcome Sign:

Giant Stonewall Jackson, Route 11, Lexington VA

This giant Stonewall Jackson was a hard find. I had gone on the Devils Backbone Brewery property looking for a road or something to get me to the northeast corner. Turning back to get on Route 11 North, I spied the statue finally coming out of a line of trees on the other side of the brewery. Unfortunately, there was no place to stop and take a better photo except this one from the moving car.

Luray Caverns, Luray VA (I-81 Exit 264)

Despite the natural beauty of the stalactite and stalagmite limestone formations, you could not pay me to go back to Luray Caverns.  At the steep admission price of $26 for adults and $14 for children 6 and older, it is surprisingly one of the biggest tourist attractions in the region.  And on this holiday weekend there was a line, once you purchased your ticket, to just be allowed to climb the stairs down into the caves.  When inside, it was super crowded with unpredictable crowd movement because everyone was stopping for photos (shaking my fist now at the inventor of the selfie stick!!).

If I had to choose my favorite parts of this experience, they were the reflection pools.  The water was glass smooth and created a perfect symmetry for the stalactites "dripping" from the ceiling.  I actually thought the reflection pools were more breathtaking than the extremely large cavern rock formations along other parts of the underground pathway.

Giant Johnny Appleseed, New Market VA

This silly giant is in front of the Johnny Appleseed Restaurant located at 162 W. Old Cross Road in New Market.

Giant Cootie, Shenandoah Caverns (I-81 Exit 269)

There are other reasons to visit the Shenandoah Caverns - more stalactites/stalagmites, a museum dedicated to parades, etc. - but to me the only reason is to see this giant version of the popular Cootie game of my childhood!

So that's it! Three days of driving and so many great oddities! Before I wrap this up, I wanted to mention one of my favorite car entertainment options. In the past few years, I have been using podcasts as an alternative for longer road trips, or even on the way to work to be honest. I have found two absolute gems that I look forward to every week because they consistently make me laugh while also appealing to my desire to learn new things and expand/display my trivial knowledge storage bank.

The first podcast is Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me!

And the second favorite is Ask Me Another

Both are produced for NPR and can be downloaded on a variety of media, my preference being through iTunes.

Thanks for reading!

Posted on Monday, May 25, 2015 by Julie

1 comment

Thursday, May 14, 2015

I'm frustrated that I feel like I haven't read anything lately that I couldn't put down.  Sure, I've read some enjoyable books, but none I would gush over to my friends.  I suppose, the fact that I am at least reading is a positive in itself, right?  Anyway, here are some of the lazy weekend books I've found entertaining recently.

Lazy Weekend

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars is unmistakably a young adult book, but it is worth it for the twist.  The book centers on a young girl from a wealthy family that summers together on a private island.  One summer, she suffers a mental breakdown and is found almost drowned on the beach.  She spends the next few summers away from the island, away from her cousins/friends - the "liars."  And it is during this time, she feels like her best friends grow apart from her, so she is determined to confront them the next summer.  Instead, she must deal the returning memories, buried by amnesia, of that night she turned up on the beach.  

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

This book has popped up on many must read lists.  While it was good, I wouldn't say it was THAT good.  It was kind of in the vein of Gone Girl, a psychological thriller, because the main character has deep behavioral issues that challenge her credibility when it comes to witnessing a murder.  Also, like Gone Girl, it has a bit of a weak ending.  But I challenge anyone to say they figured out the mystery and knew the killer all along!  Since I am one of the minority that hated Gone Girl, I would say that The Girl on the Train is better.  So, with that line of reasoning, if you liked Gone Girl, pick yourself up a copy!

I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe

Set in the Civil War, this story is about a love so strong it drives a wife to follow her husband to war, disguised as a man, to ensure she can be with and fight along side her husband to make sure he is safe. This book is inspired by real accounts from the letters home of women fighting as men in the war and is a great depiction of the conditions of war and challenges faced by women in the 1860s.

Posted on Thursday, May 14, 2015 by Julie

1 comment

Monday, May 11, 2015

With the convenience of air travel theses days, I feel like my generation and younger generations are neglecting one of the more stimulating and educational ways to find travel and adventure - the road trip.  I'm not talking about a day trip, though I really enjoy those, rather I'm talking about a good week or more long of tearing up the pavement, passing semi-trucks, and stopping at random, cheesy attractions along the way.  As I've been at home recovering from my knee surgery last week, I've been thinking a lot about some of my long road trips over the years.  Why do I think it's important to hit the road?  What are the great things and what are the big annoyances?  Plus, I've gone through my photo files and pulled a small collection of roadside treasures, likely the first of several, that maybe will inspire you to take a car journey of your own in the near future!

What I like about roadtrips:
  • Discovery and adventure: I feel it is so important to get out and see things first hand, especially when it comes to my home country.  How many Americans reading this can say that you understand the underwhelming experience of actually seeing Mt. Rushmore?  You thought it would be a lot bigger, right?  After college, I drove back to the west coast along a route that followed part of the Oregon Trail.  I saw the actual ruts of the wagon trains, worn down in the rocks, and saw names of those migrating people carved on rocks.  Speaking of rock carving, did you know that in Montana, there is a rock where William Clark, of Lewis and Clark expedition fame, carved his name?  It's called Pompey's Pillar, and it is only an hour away from where General Custer had his "last stand" at Little Bighorn.  
  • Finding inspiration for future tripsIt's way too often the case that I just don't have time to stop everywhere I want to stop.  Or that I see something visiting a city, like the starting point of Route 66 sign in Chicago, that gets me excited for a new road trip!
  • AAA Triptiks and Guidebooks:  I am a big dork about AAA material.  The Guidebooks are amazingly detailed.  When I drove across the country my last year of college with my dad, we made it a rule that the passenger had to read all the details about a state once we crossed over a state line.  The old Triptiks, or route map flipbooks, were much better for providing descriptions of towns along the way, compared to the new printout or online version.  We found crazy things to see just off the highway, like a sod hut or a museum with the ceremonial spike that connected the east and west portions of the Transcontinental Railroad (it's in Utah, by the way).  And it was because of AAA material that I have the random trivial fact about Abraham Lincoln's boyhood home in Indiana: the replica based off of the foundation of his home is actually a foot longer than the foundation despite the two being next to each other.  Hmm...did someone forget to measure first?
  • The beautiful geology of the U.S.:  This is something you can only understand in person.  I still, to this day, always think that a river must be nearby if I'm going downhill because of the history of the way the land was made over time.  If you want to have your geologic mind blown, you can't miss the Southwest quartile of the U.S. - especially Colorado, Utah, and Arizona.  I also love a state like Oregon, where you can travel east from coastal shore, through the forested coastal range into a lush river valley, over the Cascade range with its gorgeous mountains and volcanoes, and end up in the high desert.  I just nerded out on your again!
  • Roadside attractions:  I think you can use your imagination on this one.  They can get pretty weird and fun! Or look at some examples below.
  • Easy to travel with the pooch:  More and more hotels are becoming pet friendly.  One of my favorites, because the chain does not charge a fee, is La Quinta.  This can come at a price sometimes, though, of cleanliness.  Of course, paying a fee doesn't guarantee pet rooms are cleaned properly either.  My dog got fleas at one of the fee hotels I stayed at in California - not sure which one but I know it was a nicer hotel or appeared to be.  You can find other pet friendly lodging options at or  I've even taken the pup to Canada without hassle, just a copy of his rabies certificate.
  • Funny or ridiculous advertisement the one below for example.  A shop to find a bra or swimsuit and get a mastectomy??  Huh?

Of course, there are always pitfalls of road trips.  What I don't like about roadtrips (which is mostly related to bad driving situations):

  • Trucks passing on a two lane highway and causing traffic and speed continuity issues that can be dangerous.
  • Driving in rain and snow, here's a worse scenario, driving in the rain or snow behind a semi-truck (spray, unpredictability, etc.).  Hello Colorado's I-70!!
  • "Speed monitor" drivers in the fast lane....please the rule is only go left to pass!  I don't get why it is so hard to understand this concept.  It is crystal clear in Europe.  In fact, it is actually dangerous to stay in the fast lane in Europe because so many drivers still will want to pass you even if you are 20 mph over the limit.
  • Unaware drivers
  • Not removing snow from the top of a car and creating a flying snow trail
  • Too much fast food - it gets old after awhile.

OK, let's get back to the fun stuff.  As I mentioned before, here are some of my favorite roadside attractions (and distractions for the really oddball stuff).  Hopefully, one or more inspire you to get behind the wheel and drive off on your own adventure!

Jack Rabbit Trading Post (Arizona I-40 exit 269, southside)

 Twin Arrows (Arizona I-40 exit 219, southside)

 Stewart's Petrified Wood (Arizona I-40 exit 303, northside)

 Leaning Tower (Texas I-40 exit 116, northside)

Fremont Troll,  Seattle WA

Cabazon Dinosaurs (I-10, California exit 106)

Paul Bunyan, Redwood Forest (Trees of Life), Klamath CA

Drive-Thru Redwood Tree, Leggett CA

Giant Stuffed Sea Otter Dressed as Harry "Otter", Monterey CA

Peanuts Statues in Santa Rosa, California - the last hometown of Charles M. Schulz (Hwy 101)

Posted on Monday, May 11, 2015 by Julie


Friday, May 8, 2015

There are some days where I feel like the luckiest person to be living in Washington D.C., and today was one of these days - the 70th anniversary of V-E Day, or Victory over Europe Day.  It was on this day, May 8th, 1945, when the Allies of World War II formally accepted the surrender of the Nazis, thus ending the war in Europe.  Despite the ongoing battles still raging in the Pacific Theater, V-E Day was celebrated around the world.  And today, 70 years later, it was celebrated again on the National Mall with an organized flyover of 19 varieties of WWII warbirds.

The event was staged with specific aircraft formations to honor the various, sequential events of WWII.  With air traffic halted at Ronald Reagan airport between noon and 1pm, the vintage planes took off from airfields in Manassas and Culpepper, Virginia to head to the Mall.  The first group to make the journey down the Potomac and the left turn at the Lincoln Memorial were the trainer planes: Boeing Stearman PT-17s, North American AT-6s, Beech AT-11s, and Piper L-4 Grasshoppers.

The next formations commemorated Pearl Harbor and the Doolittle Raids, and included P-40 Warhawks and B-25 bombers.

More formations of planes from the Pacific Theater followed to demonstrate the Battle of Midway (Grumman F4F Wildcats, Douglas SBD Dauntlesses, and a Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boat), Guadalcanal (more F4F Wildcats), and the plane model that shot down Admiral Yamamoto and was dubbed the "fork-tailed devil" by the Germans (Lockheed P-38 Lightning).

The formation that I was most looking forward to was the one honoring the Ploesti Raids in Romania,because it included a B-24 Liberator and its escort planes, P-51 Mustangs.  The Liberator is my favorite of all WWII warbirds.  I've written before about my Grandfather, who was a B-24 pilot based out if Italy where these bombing campaigns initiated. I've also actually flown in a similar B-24 Liberator to the Diamond Lil that flew over D.C. today, the Witchcraft.

Wrapping up the formations were groups that included planes from Big Week bombing attacks in Germany, D-Day, Leyte Gulf, Battle of the Bulge, Iwo Jima, and the final air offensive over Japan.  The planes that flew in these formations were the B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, a Douglas C-47 Skytrain that dropped paratroopers in Normandy, a Grumman TBM Avenger similar to the one flown by President George H.W. Bush, Curtiss SB2C Helldivers, a Douglas A-26 Invader,  Vought F4U Corsairs, and the carriers of the two atomic bombs - Fat Man and Little Boy - to Japan, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress.  The flyover was amazing to witness, and even more impressive than these magnificent machines that changed the course of history was the large number of people - young and old - who came to the National Mall or watched from the windows of their offices or found a spot along the river to stop and look up all for the purpose of honoring those who sacrificed their lives so we can live with the freedoms we have today.  Thank you WWII Allied Veterans from around the world!

Posted on Friday, May 08, 2015 by Julie

1 comment