We thought the trip from Pennsylvania to the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in southwestern Virginia would be about 5 hours. It took almost seven hours due to I 81 being closed down southbound for an accident and roads leading to the Grindstone campground being very curvy. Our friends, Kathy and Joe were already there in the site next door. It’s a beautiful wooded National Forest campground with two camping loops. The mountains and trees prevent cell and internet service here. This would be our first experience with being incommunicado. We’d be here for 13 days. For 10 of those days it either rained all day or we had thundershowers. The Mount Rogers National Recreation Area lies in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Mount Rogers is the highest point in Virginia. The second highest is Whitetop Mountain which was about 3 miles from our campground. We drove the dirt road up to the top of Whitetop every day to give Opal some off leash time and to enjoy the view. One morning it was very foggy and gave the area an other worldly feel. Temperatures in the area were 10-20 degrees less than the lowlands and offered a welcome break from the heat.
The nearest town was Damascus about 9 miles away. Occasionally we could get cell coverage at Whitetop but this was the closest internet. We did a lot of just driving around the area on back roads because it was so pretty. One afternoon the four of us stopped in Damascus to have lunch. We stopped at a local fast food store. It was 2PM. We were told that they only had one chicken wing left. We had a good laugh visualizing four of us sharing a wing! Then we went across the street to a BBQ place that looked like it was the basement of a house. The sign pointing to the entry was marked ENTERANCE. There were no tables or places to sit so we took our food outside to the picnic table. Damascus seems to have one main attraction, the Virginia Creeper Trail. That’s a well known bike rail trail of about 35 miles. There must be at least eight bike rental/shuttle companies in Damascus. We found a local ice cream store for dessert. After looking at a cross section of the trail, I knew I couldn’t handle the decent with my coaster brake bike. So we postponed that for another time and moved getting a new bike for me to the top of the “after the house sells” list. However, Steve, Opal and I did hike about 2-3 miles along the trail another day. It is beautiful.
I titled this post the Crooked Road because the main highway through this area, Hwy 58, is called just that, for obvious reasons. It’s also known as the Virginia Music Trail. The road runs between Galax and Abingdon. There are many venues along the way to enjoy both professional bluegrass and local mountain music. We went to Galax and I picked up an armful of brochures. One brochure listed all of the towns along Hwy 58 that had regularly scheduled local jams. I’d hoped to see the weekly performances at the Rex Theatre in Galax but we never made it back there. OK so do I get to say “When we come back, now?” We chose to go to the town of Fries (pronounced like freeze) which is an old mill town on the New River. Fries is supposed to have more musicians per capita than any other town. We just drove until we saw several cars parked and asked if this was where the music was. The jam is free but donations are appreciated. It was well worth it. There were about 12 musicians in a circle with bass, guitar, violin, mandolin and autoharp. Anyone can bring their instrument and join in or sing. The one teenager in the group was a grandson of another musician who had come down from Michigan to learn to play mountain music. He had a guitar and a ukelele. Other locals danced. Some did line dancing while other flat stepped. Steve and I even took a turn at learning the two-step. We hadn’t brought cameras so I used my iPhone. I even took some videos. As I’m writing this, I just learned how to download from the phone and move the videos into my movies folder. Am I getting geeky or what? So now We’ll upgrade the blog and I’ll try to share some of these with you.
Since the rain curtailed outdoor activities on many days we looked to local museums and prowled the small towns in the area. We went to the Museum of Middle Appalachia in Saltville. This is a local museum dedicated to the history and natural resources of the Saltville area. As the name indicates it was a major salt mining area as well as aluminum and magnesium. (On a later trip to Martinsville, VA and the Virginia Natural History Museum we’d see fossils collected from Saltville) We found the museum very interesting. I’d never heard of the flood that devastated this area. It reminded me of the Johnstown Flood but on a smaller scale as the cause was poor choices by man (in this case industry) combined with ignoring warning signs that led to the disaster. After a period of economic decline Saltville is seeing new development in their natural resources and the salt mining has been reopened. We also spent time in Hillsville at their museum which highlights a crime that occurred at the Courthouse. The Hillsville Massacre happened when a breakout from the courthouse during a trial left several men dead. The story was picked up by a New York reporter and became one of the first widely circulated crime stories across the nation.
We spent a day in Abingdon and visited the Barter Theatre and the new artisan’s gallery at Heartwood. Since our third anniversary was on july 17th, we decided to celebrate with dinner at the Martha Washington Inn and a play. The Inn is across the street from the theatre. It was a private residence then a college before being restored and opened as a luxury hotel and restaurant. The food was excellent. The play was a one man show called “Over the President’s Shoulder” and was the story of a White House butler who was training to be a concert singer but had to forego his career during the depression. He served Hoover, FDR, Truman (his favorite) and Eisenhower. Having enjoyed the mini-series Backstairs at the White House, we weren’t disappointed in the play. We’d dressed for the occasion. Before leaving the campground we’d spoken with the gate attendant about access after hours. The gate normally is locked at 10pm. He assured us the gate would be left open with the lock placed as if to look as if it were locked. We arrived to find the gate locked! So the car was left outside and we began walking the quarter mile back to the campground. No flashlight in the car and no lights after passing the gatehouse. It was pitch black. I was in a long skirt and heels. The only thing we had to light the way was my cell phone and that would only stay lit for 15 seconds at a time. We were laughing and I’m sure anyone who saw or heard us thought we were drunk.
Steve and I spent one clear day bike riding on the new Salt bike trail. We hadn’t expected it to be continuously downhill so hadn’t arranged a shuttle. The 3.5 miles down were fun. The return trip with my clunker of a bike not so much fun! Another day we drove to Grayson Highlands State Park. Before we could hike to see the wild horses it began to rain. Even though the weather wasn’t the best we enjoyed the scenery and found some picturesque wildflowers.
On the Blue Ridge Parkway is the Blue Ridge Music Center. This is a museum explaining the roots and history of mountain music. They also have daily live music performances. The day we visited a group of four musicians were playing. One had a bass made out of a washtub. In the audience of a dozen or so was a local woman who pulled out a set of spoons and played along with the band.
With our intermittent communications we were pleasantly surprised one day to have an e-mail from our Realtor with a new counter offer from the folks who had put in the very low bid. This time, although not what we wanted, it was within negotiation range. We went back and forth several times and finally came to an agreement. Our house was back under contract!!
We loved our time here and would come back any time. Now we head back to NC for a busy time dealing with the house.