Carolina: Cruising Past 70: Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, Part 3 (Peaks of Otter, Poplar Forest, Natural Bridge, Stonewall Jackson’s Home, and Virginia Military Institute)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, Part 3 (Peaks of Otter, Poplar Forest, Natural Bridge, Stonewall Jackson’s Home, and Virginia Military Institute)

Day Two of our Virginia drive was as lovely as Day One.  First we went to the Peaks of Otter: Sharp Top, Flat Top, and .  These peaks are . They were a short drive from Roanoke.  However, we were terribly disappointed that we could not hike up Sharp Top!  It would have taken around 3 hours.  So we satisfied ourselves with nice pictures from the Peaks of Otter Lodge.  Besides, Bill’s real interest for the day was the next stop, Poplar Forest, also a short drive from the Peaks on VA 43. 

Bill especially wanted so much to complete his picture of the great man, Thomas Jefferson.  We had seen Monticello two years before when we visited my sister Julie and niece Erika in Falls Church.  We are both in awe of the man’s genius.  It was in the gift shop there where Bill found a special silver ring for me, a replica of what the British ambassador gave Jefferson’s daughter when he was Minister to France.  The ring reads, ‘J’aime et j’espere’…I love and I hope. 

The Forest is the retreat home for Jefferson.  He designed it from the Italian villa influences he got from his European sojourn.  It was inherited by his wife from her parents and by him when she died from the birth of their second child.  He finished building it during his second presidency after which he retired to it.  It is octagonal in shape and completely balanced in design.  And, as he often said, that was where he found peace in his writings and his thoughts. Like Monticello, it is a delight to behold!

(Here is a view of the Peaks of Otter as Jefferson saw them, minus the highway)

Natural Bridge, on the other hand, is not mad-made, it is a natural wonder.  For the last 500 million years, it has been a continuing work of art by Cedar Rapids.  The bridge was carved out from the giant rocks as the stream flowed through. US 11 sits on top of the natural bridge so we can now say, ‘We drove on top of the Natural Bridge’.

Furthermore, the letters ‘GW’ are inscribed on the rocks about 23 feet from the stream’s surface at the middle below the bridge. It is said that Washington and other presidents marveled at it and Jefferson purchased it from the British. Finally, all around the grounds are 1,600 year-old trees that have died and are in the process of becoming petrified. It was worth the hefty price we paid for entry.

 The owners of the attraction have so commercialized the place, it is unbelievable!  The fee included a tour through an old and low quality wax museum and factory and a practically empty Toy Museum. The unusually large gift shop and the two restaurants were also practically empty.  But just like paying for a buffet, we tried to get more than our money’s worth. So we went through every single one of them.

Because of this we arrived in Lexington, Virginia way past 5 PM.  We missed the open hours of the only home Stonewall Jackson owned.  He was the Confederate general who was accidentally killed by one of his men. They say that had he not died, the Confederacy would have won! I do not know whether the origin of the word ‘stonewalling’ can be found from his military tactics and strategy.

We were so disappointed that we could not get in but, as we walked around, we found an alley to the back and we were able to take some decent photos.  Then we decided to look for the Virginia Military Institute which Jackson was supposed to have founded.  Sure enough, just a few miles away, stands the venerable institution with his statue in front of the main building.  The architecture of the buildings is unlike any we have seen of colleges and universities.  They stood proudly like a militarily sound castle.

When we finished, it was already past 6 PM and our GPS said we would be back at the Green Mountain RV Park in four hours!  It was a tiring, long day but definitely very enjoyable.   The next morning I couldn’t help but take pictures of the campsite we have come to call home for the past three weeks.  We had a big patio for entertaining and the park had a 9-hole golf course.  It was the first time we had one so we bought our very own golf clubs! The park also had a golf cart parade and a great big shindig during Memorial Day.

And Lenoir, North Carolina was also a great host for us.  The Caldwell County Public Library let us borrow all the books, magazines, and DVDs we wanted.  And the city of Lenoir, North Carolina allowed us to use the Aquatic and Fitness Center! Every Friday evening we also got to dance at the free Concert at the Park.  Finally, we will always remember it as the home from which we made six days of discovery driving through the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway!  You have to plan to make this trip, too!

Next Stops: Great Smoky Mountain Natinal Park, Cherokee, North Carolina, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Knoxville, Tennessee