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 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!