October is arguably the best month on the East Coast.
In Virginia, the fall colors reach their peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Shenandoah National Park is the most popular destination, but there are other equally stunning segments of the chain.
Walking around Old Towne Alexandria is one of my favorite pastimes when I make the two-hour drive up I95 from Richmond to the DC suburbs. Being joined by my daughter makes it even more special.
Two weeks ago I decided to travel Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park rather than take I-95. The $15 entry fee to the park was a fair price to pay for one of the most scenic drives on the Eastern Seaboard.
The fall foliage was about a week or so past its peak above 2,000 feet (much of the drive is between 2,000 – 3,000 feet in elevation), but the views were nevertheless impressive. The road was recently repaved, making my normal LA commuting route of Beverly Glen a cowpath by comparison.
The main tourist center in the park is at Big Meadows, which is about equidistant from the north and south entrances. The Big Meadows Lodge does not match the grand style of the Ahwahnee in Yosemite, but offers a subdued coziness of its own. The main lounge and the dining room look out over the Shenandoah Valley to the west and offer views of spectacular sunsets.
My time was short, but I managed to work in a 1.5 mile hike along the Discovery Trail, the entrance to which is directly across the Loft Mountain Wayside facility. It briefly overlaps the Appalachian Trail and leads to a rocky outcropping from where you can look down on Skyline Drive, a few hundred feet below.
The following weekend I visited Leesburg and some of the surrounding farmland. Leesburg is less than an hour from DC.
I recommend taking the scenic route – the George Washington Parkway to Georgetown Pike, which runs into Route 7. From there, it is about fifteen miles to the historic town.
My last trip to the region was two years ago. I wrote about it in this blog.
The visitor center has maps showing the location of many wineries within a short drive. Coupons for free tastings are also available.
Snow had fallen the day before – the same storm that created so much havoc in the Northeast. Fields with a northern exposure still had a couple of inches on the ground.
I had time to visit two wineries. In general, I found the reds preferable, unusual for me since I normally lean towards dry white varieties. The chardonnays were a bit too dry for me.
Waterford is a small town on the outskirts of Leesburg. It was founded by Quakers in 1733. The town is designated as a National Historic Landscape. It is easy to understand why. Many of the buildings date back to at least the Civil War and the main street is no wider than it was in those days.
Just over 150 years ago, the Battle of Balls Bluff was fought. The capture of Leesburg was the objective of the Union Army, hoping to threaten the Confederate position at Manassas, the site of the first major battle of the Civil War just three months before.
If Leesburg fell, it would almost force the Confederates to abandon Manassas.
Typical of the battles in the early months of the war, largely untrained forces fought it out.
The battle was a disaster for the Union, but a small-scale one. Only about 1,700 men on each side were involved. The casualty rate was high for the federal troops. Almost one-half were killed wounded or captured. Many drowned in the Potomac while retreating.
US Senator Edward Baker of Oregon commanded a regiment for the North and was killed in the fighting. He was a close friend of President Lincoln. Mount Baker in Oregon was named in his honor.
I’m off to Virginia Beach this weekend to visit with friends and watch the Richmond Spiders play Old Dominion University.
On the way back, I plan on stopping off at Williamsburg and Jamestown, if time permits.