Laura and Lee's Post-Apocalyptic Virginia Venture

October 11-19, 2003
Part 2

Tuesday, October 13 - Monticello, Ash Lawn-Highland

Our nice weather deserted us, and it was a gray overcast morning. We packed some overnight bags and headed off to Charlottesville, where we were planning to spend two nights. It started raining not long after we got on I64, but we made it to the Monticello turnoff ok. (Our timing was good, later on we heard that there had been an accident on I64 near Monticello that had stopped traffic for a couple of hours!)

We had lunch at the Michie Tavern, which served fairly authentic early 19th century fare like fried chicken, green been salad, and biscuits and cornbread. It was very good, especially the stewed tomatoes. (Those were lost on Lee of course, though. :-) ) We originally served ourselves from the buffet, but after that our "tavern wench" brought us seconds of anything else we wanted. She was very sweet and said "thank you, sir", and "thank you, ma'am" like she meant it, rather than just like it was something she was supposed to say. Though I noticed that most people in Virginia were like that. It was very nice!

By the time we finished with lunch the rain had stopped, but it was still overcast and quite foggy. Unfortunately there was no view at all from Monticello, and from 100 yards away you could hardly see the house!

I'm sure everyone knows (or if you don't, you should!) that Monticello was the home of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and our third president. He was really a fascinating man - a statesmen, politician, farmer, writer, inventor, and lawyer. Well, five out of six isn't bad. :-)

We did the house tour, which was pretty interesting, though it was frustrating not to be able to take any pictures. I can understand why it's not allowed, but it was still frustrating. :-) In the house we went through many different rooms, including the dining room, library, and Jefferson's bedroom. In the library there were some drawings from the Lewis and Clark expedition (which is celebrating its 200th anniversary), and lots of books like those Jefferson had, though his library was sold after his death. He was an interesting man, though there were some real contradictions in his life - he wrote "all men are created equal", yet owned 200 slaves.

Once we were out of the house we could take pictures, and we enjoyed going through the tunnel under the house that had lots of workrooms off of it, as well as some stables and privies. (One way that slaves were allowed to earn some actual cash money was by cleaning the privies.)

In the gardens we were surprised to see some plants that we grow in southern California that are much more adapted to life in a warmer climate - like lantana and strawberries. But Monticello has its own little microclimate up there that's more temperate. There was really a huge selection of plants in the kitchen garden, and some very interesting ones, like these hyacinth beans. In the orchard we found a few trees that had fruit on them, and some that even had blossoms! (Maybe they were from the southern hemisphere like that lilac bush in Williamsburg!)

We did the "Mulberry Row" tour, where our guide talked for about 45 minutes about the life of the slaves - or at least what is known. No one kept very good written records that described the slave quarters. They housed a lot of people in pretty small spaces, though. :-( Five of Jefferson's slaves were set free in his will (though Sally Hemings was not one of them), and the rest were sold when his estate went bankrupt. The only thing on Mulberry Row that survives now is the chimney of the joinery.

It was getting late in the afternoon, but we went over to Ash Lawn-Highland, James Monroe's home, anyway. It's only a few miles away from Monticello. Thomas Jefferson was the person who urged Monroe to buy the property - they were good friends.

Some interesting things about James Monroe:

And then there's the whole "Monroe Doctrine" thing, of course - Monroe's statement of foreign policy that said that all the European countries should stay the heck out of the Americas. But of course he stated it much more diplomatically than that. :-)

One interesting thing our guide told us was that none of the founding fathers, except John Adams, had any sons that survived infancy.

It was raining when we finished the tour of the house, but I wanted to see the famous Ash Lawn peacocks. Though I haven't been able to find out if the Monroes actually *had* peacocks or not. :-) They are usually roaming the property, but because of the rain they were already in their pen for the night.

We drove into Charlottesville and finally found our hotel - a Residence Inn - neither the AAA guide nor the web site gave us good directions. But we had a very nice 2 bedroom suite with a gas fireplace in the living room. It was still raining and we were all tired, so we got dinner at the Boston Market in the mall next door, watched NCIS on TV, and called it a night.

Wednesday, October 15 - Crozet and Shenandoah National Park

Crozet Post Office
Crozet Post Office
The skies were clear and the sun was shining when we got up in the morning, though it was pretty windy. Guess they have "high vorticity days" on the east coast, too. :-) After a nice breakfast at the Residence Inn (with make-your-own waffles!) we hit the road...though we missed a turn (they have very confusing road signs!) and had to backtrack.

But eventually we got on the correct highway and headed to Crozet, Virginia, which is where the Mrs. Murphy mysteries by Rita Mae Brown are set. (Pay Dirt is where I first read about Ash Lawn and the peacocks.) I really enjoy the books - it's the cat (with some help from the dog) who solves the mysteries. The dialog between the various animals is quite entertaining, and they get very frustrated that the humans can't understand them. The human heroine is the Postmistress of Crozet and we did manage to find the Post Office, though it is very modern and doesn't look anything like the version in the book. And the post card I mailed to myself from there had a Charlottesville postmark. Oh well. :-)

That reminds me...Louise gave us a tutorial on Virginia pronunciations, and I meant to pass those on:

Got all that? :-)

After that we were off to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive. We stopped at the Tourist Information Center and the people there were very helpful in advising us on potential hikes that we could take. It was still very windy, but they told us the wind had actually died down!

Our first hike was to the top of Blackrock Peak - it was about a mile round trip, and a little bit of it was on the Appalachian Trail. Not much of a "peak" by our standards, but it did have a nice view of the valley. Unfortunately this wasn't a very good year for fall colors both because of Isabel and because they hadn't had the appropriate cold temperatures. We still saw some pretty colors, but a lot of the trees had already lost most of their leaves. I felt like I was in a scene out of Pocahontas with the wind swirling the leaves around..."Can you paint with all the colors of the wind..." :-)

Upper Doyles River Fall
Upper Doyles River Fall
Our second hike was to Upper and Lower Doyles River Falls, which was 3 miles round trip. What they didn't tell us was that it was downhill all the way there, and uphill all the way back. :-) Pretty steep uphill, too. Even so, it didn't take us the 3 hours that the hiker's guide suggested. The waterfalls were pretty - this late in the year we were surprised there was still so much water coming over them.

For lunch we stopped in the Big Loft area - there was a gas station, store, and counter service place there. The food was quite good for concession food.

There was still a lot of Skyline Drive left, but seeing overlooks of trees, and, oh look! more trees! was only so interesting - especially since the brilliant colors just weren't there. Besides, it was about 3:00 by then and we still had to drive back to Charlottesville. We stopped at the University of Virginia and walked around for a while - we saw the rotunda (which I'm sure was visible from Monticello that day!) and poked around the bookstore.

The Residence Inn also served some dinner items - actually that night they were barbecuing chicken and burgers, and since we'd had a late lunch and were not particularly hungry we did that for dinner. Lee and I walked over to the Kroger's in the mall near us and got the makings for ice cream sundaes for dessert. :-) Too bad we didn't do that the night before...we had enough left for another night!

Thursday, October 16 - Apple Picking, Crabtree Falls

Another beautiful day. Somewhere in the tourist information we'd picked up we'd found something about picking your own apples, and since that area was an alternate route back towards Richmond (and Yorktown), we went that way. And didn't get lost getting out of Charlottesville this time!

At the Nelson County Visitor's Bureau a very nice lady told us that yes, there was a place we could pick apples, and advised us on some other sights out that way that we shouldn't miss.

We found Dickie Brothers Orchard after a while, where we picked two good sized bags of Rome and Fuji apples. We were the only people there and the owner was apologetic, saying that he'd lost many apples to rot because it had been such a wet summer - and then Isabel on top of that - but the trees were loaded with fruit and the apples we picked were beautiful and delicious. We saw a number of trees that had toppled over due to some combination of the wet ground, weight of the fruit, and Isabel's winds, but he said that he hoped to be able to put them upright once the fruit was harvested and that they would re-establish themselves. We had picked apples in Julian not quite two weeks earlier and it was interesting to see the contrast - the Julian apples were quite small and the orchard was more of a mom and pop operation, whereas this was obviously a commercial orchard with very large fruit and a big packing shed.

Another interesting thing...the land the orchard is on was a grant to Captain Dickie in 1752. It's been in the family a looooong time!

Lower Crabtree Falls
Lower Crabtree Falls
We backtracked a little bit but then continued up the two lane country road to Crabtree Falls State Park. Crabtree Falls is the tallest waterfall in Virginia. It falls 1200 feet in a series of cascades, and there's a very nice trail that goes up pretty close to the falls, with a lot of nice viewpoints. We only had time to go up a half mile or so - it's two miles to the top. It would be nice to go back and do the whole thing one of these days.

In Amherst we stopped for a special lunch at McDonalds. Ok, so it wasn't fancy but it was quick and efficient. We headed back towards Richmond on highway 60. It was fairly scenic, though we noticed an awful lot of houses seemed to have those plaster deer and/or rabbit figures in the front yard. As we got closer to Richmond the road got very busy with lots of traffic lights - it was a great relief to finally get on the interstate.

Autumn leaves on Crabtree Falls
Autumn leaves along Crabtree Falls Trail
We'd thought we would have time to visit the Jamestown Settlement on our way back but getting around Richmond took longer than we had anticipated, so we just went back to Yorktown. Before we went to Daisy's we stopped at Surrender Field and walked around to stretch our legs.

Barb told us that there's usually lots of deer grazing along the sides in the late afternoon. Again there were no deer...and I'm really starting to think this whole deer thing is the Virginia version of a snipe hunt. :-)

The road clean-up crew had made great progress in removing a lot of the cut-up trees from the side of the roads though they hadn't quite made it to Daisy's yet. We had a very nice pre-made-all-you-have-to-do-is-reheat turkey dinner that Louise's mother had sent, and for dessert Barb and I made apple crisp from some of the apples we'd picked that morning. How's that for fresh? :-)

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Text and photographs copyright © 2003, 2004 by Laura Gilbreath. All rights reserved.

Laura Gilbreath lgil at lgil dot net
Last updated 2/13/04