We’d barely finished our “Easter eggs Benedict” and put away the chocolate wrappers littering the den area rug when the 5 of us loaded up in my car to head up I-85 north for a Spring Break road trip of national parks in Virginia and the Carolinas.
We were still in Gwinnett County, GA when we hit our first patch of traffic, but from what I saw on FaceBook, driving north from Atlanta instead of south toward the Gulf was an infinitely better experience (it was fine the rest of the way). We listened to “A Wrinkle in Time” during the drive, and we arrived at our AirBnB (a nicely finished basement) in Lynchburg, VA about 9pm.
Monday morning, we had some excellent coffee and breakfast at The Muse Coffee Company before pulling into Appomattox Court House National Historic Park about 10am. Growing up outside Nashville, Tennessee, my family and friends were very interested in the Civil War, so much so that after I read “The Killer Angels” in school and then saw its film version, “Gettysburg,” a few years later, our family took a vacation in which we visited the the Bull Run, Antietam, and Gettysburg battlefields. But, I’d never seen where the war ended. It was not in a courthouse –it was in the McLeans’ parlor (the town was Appomattox Court House). And funny enough, the McLeans had moved to the tiny town where their home was used for Lee and Grant’s meeting to end the war because he’d moved away from Manassas, VA after the 1861 Battle at Bull Run to get away from the fighting, which effectively meant the war began in his front yard and ended in his parlor. One of their daughters left her doll in the parlor just before the generals gathered to sign the terms of surrender, so it witnessed the monumental event.
The children got another junior ranger badge + patch (I think they’re pushing 50 of these now), and we all 5 enjoyed learning more about the war and how it ended. Pretty much all national park properties have a short film to watch that introduces the location and the artifacts visitors will later see; most are pretty good. The one at Appomattox was excellent. It had an overarching theme of grace and reconciliation to it, highlighting the wisdom Lincoln employed in refusing to vilify or humiliate the defeated Confederacy at the end of 4 very bloody and costly years of war. It moved me to tears.
After we explored the various buildings on the property, we headed to Shenandoah National Park, entering the southern Rockfish Gap entrance and driving 50 miles along Skyline Drive to the Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center, pulling over at several overlooks along the way. I imagine this drive is breathtaking when the Fall colors cover the mountains, with the Springtime blooms being nearly as good. While many trees and flowers are blooming in GA already, such is not the case in this part of VA, so we were hoping the added visibility bare trees would give us would facilitate seeing some wildlife. We saw a hawk and several squirrels up close, but not the black bears we had strongly hoped to see.
After walking through the visitor center and getting another set of junior ranger badges, however, I did spot a pair of deer walking along the edge of the trees that we enjoyed watching for a few seconds from the car.
Before leaving the park, we pulled over to hike the Dark Hollow Falls trail, the location’s most iconic hiking trail and well worth the time and exertion to see this:
That evening, we headed east to Richmond, stopping for dinner at the place we loved when passing through in July 2014: Bottoms Up Pizza. This time we had enough sense to not over-order, given that 1 slice is the size of 4 slices at a “normal” pizza joint.
Our AirBnB was a loft in an urban area of Richmond that is clearly owned by a Millennial, as the beds had no top sheets. But it was a good place to rest for the night before we explored Richmond the next morning. Next up: 3 more junior ranger badges!