Monday, August 1, 2016

Chapter 35 - Luray to Fort Chiswell, VA

July 31st, Day 58: Today is Sunday. Sundays are normally quiet days. Most people have the day off from work. They stay at home, maybe mow the lawn. Do some chores. Not this Sunday however. Everyone including truckers from all over the country were driving on Interstate 81. Unbelievable that this highway was so crowded. The scenery was beautiful with mountains all around us but it was hard to enjoy the scenery what with having to concentrate on the road. In our four hour drive we stopped at rest areas three times before finally arriving at our campsite at noon. Even the rest areas were mobbed.

We selected a campground near Fort Chiswell in southwestern Virginia simply because we wanted to limit our drive to around four hours. There was nothing special about Fort Chiswell that we were aware of, so our debate as we drove south was whether to spend one or two nights. When we arrived we discovered that when I made the reservation I had requested two nights and they so charged our credit card for two nights. Well, it is a pretty area so I think ( hope) that we will enjoy driving on some of their "back" roads.  We both agreed however, that whatever we do, it will be tomorrow. The late afternoon temperatures were nice so we enjoyed relaxing outdoors under our shade tree. This RV park is really very pleasing and surprisingly we have over 40 cable TV stations and a workable WiFi system. Just like home but we are in Fort Chiswell. Incidentally, we discovered that the remains of Old Fort Chiswell are long gone so we will cross that tourist attraction off our list of things to visit tomorrow.

Aug 1st, Day 59: Last night the temperature was fairly cool and we slept well. During breakfast I checked online the elevation of Fort Chiswell and discovered that we were at 2,200 feet above sea level which might help explain the cooler temperatures. We also woke up to an increasingly dense fog. The photograph to the left was taken by Kathy at almost the same location as the photograph above but at 6 am in the morning. She also took several photos of cows grazing on a nearby hill that we could easily see from our trailer but the dim light made the cows difficult to recognize in the photo. When the skies started to brighten we discovered that the cows had moved.

Today we are going to drive what our Wythe County tourist map refers to as a "Scenic Byway." The skies were almost cloudless when we departed from our campground and within minutes we recognized that the narrow two lane highway was indeed offering us some beautiful scenery. Our first stop was at the Fort Chiswell Mansion built between 1839 and 1840. We knew that the mansion was closed on Mondays but we thought we could at least drive up to the mansion and take a few photos. Unfortunately the road leading up to the mansion was blocked off.  Nevertheless we did take a photo from a distance which included, much to our pleasure, these cows in the foreground. In this part of southwestern Virginia, cows are everywhere.
Our next stop along the Scenic Byway was at the West Wind Farm Vineyard and Winery. As early as it was, we knew that the winery was closed but we thought it might be fun to see what a vineyard in Virginia might look like. Both the vineyard and the winery building were small and nothing special but we did love this old home that was on the site and was mostly in ruins. We wondered why someone had not renovated the home although the cost of the work was obviously a factor in discouraging renovation.

Our next stop was probably one of the prettier places that we visited this morning, the New River Trail State Park. When we told the woman at the gate that all we were going to do was drive around the park and take a few photos she declined to collect a fee from us which we thought was really nice and quite unusual. Admittedly we did feel a little guilty when we left, as our drive through the park with photo stops took us more than 1/2 hour and the fee had we paid it, was only $4.00.

The major attraction of the park are the trails along the New River which run a distance of 57-miles in total. Obviously we did not drive on the trails. The park does include a primitive camping site (no trailers), access to the river for boating (mostly kayaks and canoes as there are some rapids), and fishing, and lots of picnic tables. The scenery was beautiful which we hope shows in this photograph of the New River.

Also in this same park which we were told in part many years ago used to be a village, was the remains of an old iron furnace built in 1881 which is now called the Foster Falls Furnace. The furnace apparently was run by water power from the nearby New River. It remained in operation until 1916 when a flood destroyed the railroad bridge used by trains to bring the raw iron ore to the furnace. The old village that surrounded and manned the furnace was wiped out when the furnace was closed.

Not far from the state park was another state park known as the Shot Tower Historic State Park. The construction of this tower was completed in 1807 and it was used to melt iron to make shot of all sizes (bullets to cannon balls).  Standing in the foreground in the photo of Shot Tower is the original operator of the tower, Col. Charles Baker (1710-1766) who quite to our surprise welcomed us to his place of business.

A little further down our scenic bypass we found the Raven Cliff Campground and Picnic area which sits alongside the Cripple Creek. For those of you old enough to remember the bluegrass musical group, the Foggy Mountain Boys founded by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, and popular in the 1960s, it is said that one of their popular  recordings, "Cripple Creek", was written about this creek. Anyway, the creek was rapidly flowing and crystal clear and said to be full of trout, but their little picnic area shown in this photograph was completely empty. I hummed the song "Cripple Creek" as I walked around.  Good memories of when I used to play the guitar with a group of old friends.

There were many, many wonderful views along this scenic byway but honestly one of our major problems is that the old highway was also loaded with newer and sometimes very ugly houses and even mobile homes that completely ruined the scenic views. It is foolish to have expected that the area remain void of houses but I guess as roaming tourists we had our hopes. Nevertheless, that said, we had a wonderful drive this morning and we are delighted that we chose to stop for two days at Fort Chiswell.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon and evening as always relaxing and enjoying the scenery in our campground. Tomorrow we are again headed southwest, this time to a campground located between the cities of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg in the great state of Tennessee.

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