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Route 66, part VII:
Virginia to Washington, D.C.


Experiencing the beauty, culture and history of Virginia

Crossing the Virginia border, just east of White Sulphur Springs, Interstate 64 begins a steep descent into the Shenandoah River Valley (Actually, the river is a bit north of here.). This descent is very scenic with old mining towns clinging to the hillsides.

Once on flatter land, take Highway 11 south into charming Lexington, well worth several hours of exploration.

After the War between the States, Lexington functioned as an Athens of the South. The great southern general Robert E. Lee spent his last years here as president of Washington and Lee University. And, the renowned military university, the Virginia Military Institute, flourished in Lexington. Be sure to visit both campuses, which are near the centre of town.

Recently, the Virginia Military Institute became the focus of national controversy, when the Federal Government sued it to admit women. VIT, not being the type of place that gives up honoured traditions easily, resisted. Old school Southern gentlemen, regardless of age, do not cotton to their women leading troops into combat.

On this battlefield, VIT suffered from one glaring weakness, its funding by Virginia and Federal taxpayers. No Virginia subsidized military school of equal quality welcomed women. Therefore, VIT, facing the loss of financial support, surrendered to the federal judiciary.

VIT gave in too easily to Yankee political correctness, some believe. Florence King, the South Carolina humorist writing in the National Review (26 October 1998), said, "Instead of giving in on the coed ruling, [Joseph Bunting, VIT Commandant] should have ordered the cadets to tear the place down, brick by brick, stone by stone, and sow every acre with salt; then he should have wrapped himself in the Confederate flag and put a bullet through his head. I love grand gestures."

Here we have an idealized description of a proper behaviour of a southern gentleman!

Traditions have fallen before at VIT, and Dr. Voyaguer believes VIT will survive this latest battle. Some years ago, VIT integrated, and one of the great sights of VIT is witnessing all those cadets of African descent entering and leaving Stonewall Jackson Hall. General Jackson, of course, was one of the great Confederate heroes of the Civil War, whose courage and sharpness of military mind is reverenced by all at VIT.

From Lexington, take U.S. Highway 60 eastbound a short distance to beyond Buena Vista.

Turn north onto the Blue Ridge Parkway.


Blue Ridge Parkway, Charlottesville, and Shanandoah National Park

The Blue Ridge Parkway, the first national scenic drive, constructed during the Great Depression, runs along the first ridge of the Appalachian Mountains between Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. This is one beautiful road.

Plan on going no more than 25 - 30 miles per hour. This is no freeway. And, plan to stop often to walk and to admire the views. If you spot a blackberry malt or blackberry snake available at one of the parkway concessionaires, grab it. In fact, consume anything--ice cream, pies, whatever--made with the awesome local blackberries in it.

Regardless of our blackberry consumption, by the time we reach I-64 again, near Waynesboro, we may be hungry--we should force ourselves to be hungry--so now is time to detour to one of Dr. Voyageur's favourite restaurants. So, turn left, westbound, on I-64.

Continue westbound on I-64 to Interstate 81 interchange in Staunton, a classic Virginia farm to market town with several well-known schools.

Go north on I-81 a short distance; exit to westbound on Virginia Highway 250; turn on to westbound on Virginia Highway 254.

After a short distance, still in Staunton, turn left onto Rowe Road to 486 Rowe Road, the home of the Rowe Family Restaurant (telphone 540 886-1833 to confirm opening times), home to some of the finest southern cooking anywhere.

Go for it! Go for it! Go for it! Everything Dr. Voyageur and various friends have tried here is delicious. The family owners are totally committed to serving the best southern food at moderate prices.

For an affectionate and humorous look at everyday Southern cooking, check out "White Trash Cooking", by Ernest Mickler. Also, read Dr. Voyageur's descriptions of great southern menu items in his list of foods to eat while travelling in Canada and the U.S.

Satiated, return east on I-64 to one of America's most historic cities, Charlottesville, Virginia.

Two must sees in Charlottesville. First, just south of downtown, the core buildings of the University of Virginia campus, designed by Thomas Jefferson, are still used today. Be sure to walk around the old campus. And, second, Monticello, Jefferson's home, sits just south of the city itself.

Jefferson, most famous for being the primary writer of the Declaration of Independence and for being the U.S. president who purchased much of what is now the midwestern United States from France, was an American Michelangelo. Dr. Voyageur does not imply that Jefferson could draw or sculpt with the genius of the Italian master. He means that Jefferson had Michelangelo's wide-ranging creativity. In Jefferson's home, everywhere one turns, that creativity is on display. Plan to spend several hours.

Travelling directly from Charlottesville to Washington, D.C., means travelling through miles of ever increasing suburbia and traffic, so we will take another detour.

From Charlottesville, head north on U.S. Highway 29.

Turn west on U.S. Highway 33 to Shenandoah National Park.

Shenandoah, another park origanized during the Great Depression, is as lush and green as we can imagine. Like the Blue Ridge Parkway to its south, Shenandoah offers views in all directions (sometimes marred a bit by smog these days), and, unlike the Blue Ridge Parkway, Shenandoah is wide enough to offer continuous isolation from commercial farming activities as we drive through the park.

However, almost no visitors know that Shenandoah is almost completely artificial. That's right. Man made. A flux wilderness, so to speak. Dr. Voyaguer jokes not.

How can this be, you say? This park is a wilderness with trees everywhere!

True, God grew the trees, but nearly none were here when the park was first developed. This is land that had been cleared for failed subsistence farming. Much topsoil had eroded from these steep slopes, and restoring the land to its current pristine condition took years. Hard to believe when we see the park today. Enjoy.

Turn north on Skyline Drive, the main road through the park. Like the Blue Ridge Parkway, this is not a fast highway.

If traffic is not too heavy (if, for example, you are not travelling on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday during the summer), continue on Skyline Drive until the park exit at Front Royal. Then take U.S. highways 340 and 522 northbound.

If the traffic is too heavy or you are running out of time, exit Skyline Drive onto westbound U.S. Highway 211, which takes you down the mountain to U.S. Highway 340. Turn north on U.S. 340, a pleasant country road, which joins U.S. 522 northbound at Front Royal.


Crossing into West Virginia again

Instead of taking the overcrowded and tedious Interstate 66 freeway directly into Washington, we, like General Lee heading to Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, will attempt a flanking movement.

Lee almost succeeded in cutting off Washington, D.C., the U.S. capital, and Baltimore, a critical port, from the rest of the loyal states, which might have ended the war in the South's favour. Success would have destroyed the morale of the northern forces and might have led to a compromise end of the war. Lee's truly heroic army failed, but Dr. Voyageur and his loyal cadre of brave students (Anyone who reads this much print on the Internet is really brave) will have success in reaching their goal, Washington. Mark his words!

If you wish an excellent description of the Battle of Gettysburg, perhaps the pivotal battle of the war, read Winston Churchill's History of the English-speaking Peoples available at better libraries. Dr. Voyageur highly recommends this series, which is largely out of print.

North of Front Royal, highways 340 and 522 split. Stay on 340 northbound.

Crossing into West Virginia again, our battalion reaches Harpers Ferry and the Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, a centre of pre-Civil War munitions making and thus military activity. Near here, at Antietam, occurred the bloodiest battle of the war.

During the War between the States, the massive military might on both sides, including the most destructive weapons used to date in war, led to heretofore unknown carnage. Dr. Voyageur attests that he can still feel the sombre vibes of the 1862 Antietam conflict in Harpers Ferry area.

Prior to the war, the U.S. to a large extent, except for some cloth factories in New England, was an bucolic backwater, not a major world power. By the end of the war, the U.S. had the largest standing army in the World. As a consequence, Great Britain decided to change its opposition to its former colonies and build closer ties with a potent potential ally, a policy that bore fruit as Germany unified and grew stronger.

Harpers Ferry, within easy striking distance of Washington, D.C., held a vital strategic position, and thus was the goal of various military campaigns. This town has been preserved as a national historic park, and it is interesting to explore. Its position above the Potomac River is quite picturesque. You can buy good meals from several small cafes or gather picnic items to dine overlooking the river.


Heading toward Washington, D.C.

Continuing north and northeast on U.S. Highway 340, we reach Frederick, Maryland.

Here, drive east on Interstate 70 toward Baltimore.

After several minutes, go south on Interstate 270 toward Washington and its northern suburbs. Although usually fast, this highway is best not taken during weekday morning rush hours.

As we near Washington, we want to get on "Spur 270", marked "Virginia", which leads into Interstate 495 southbound, which is also marked "Virginia". Study a map prior to driving, so doing this and the following will not seem complicated.

Soon, after the River Road interchange, we veer off from Interstate 495 onto the Cabin John Parkway. In other words, in this case we do not follow the signs marked "Virginia".

The Cabin John Parkway leads us into the southbound Clara Barton Parkway, which runs along the Potomac River, toward Washington. Ms. Barton founded the Red Cross, and her nicely landscaped parkway will lead us directly into the vibrant Georgetown area of Washington, which is just west of centre city.

At the point where the Cabin John and Clara Barton parkways join, above the river, on the opposite shore, sits the the Central Intelligence Agency. You cannot see the CIA headquarters through the trees? What did you expect!

Between the Clara Barton Parkway and the Potomac runs the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, part of a very elongated national historic park. Inland from here, construction on this major attempt to open up the American frontier to trade halted with the development of railways.

For the last leg of your trip, go to Part VIII: Washington, D.C. to New York City.

Go to >> Route 66, part I: Introduction
Go to >> Part II: Santa Monica to Las Vegas
Go to >> Part III: Las Vegas to Albuquerque
Go to >> Part IV: Albuquerque to the Mississippi River
Go to >> Part V: Mississippi River to Virginia
Go to >> Part VI: Understanding the War Between the States
Go to >> Part VII: Virginia to Washington, D.C.
Go to >> Part VIII: Washington, D.C. to New York City
Go to >> Part IX: Planning your Route 66 trip

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