4/10/18 – 4/13/18 Natural Bridge KOA, Natural Bridge, Virginia

Site #1; W/E/S/CATV; Wifi-slow but consistent; Verizon cellular very good.

Great park close to I-81, but far enough to not hear it. Even better, the park abuts the Virginia Safari Park. At the corner on SR 11 is a trailer-friendly Shell gas station. Within 2 miles is The Pink Cadillac Diner (a 50's themed diner with good food), and Layne's Country Store with apples, gifts, wine and a pile of local salt cured hams resting on a table. Less than 10 miles north is the town of Lexington with a rich history, being the home of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

Campground.

We really liked this campground and couldn't understand why the majority of guests were one night transients. On the day we arrived maybe 20 RV's followed us within the next couple hours. By mid morning the next day, they were all gone. This park with just over 100 sites, had just 4 of us one morning.

The site was gravel and level enough laterally (close enough) that we didn't need any blocks. Being on the side of a hill, our dinette (back window) looked out toward a field on another hill, which hid the safari park on the other side. Occasionally we could faintly hear the call of the peacock, which is quite loud in the park.

The bath/wash house was clean and handy. The washers/dryers were like new and worked fine.

Nearby.

Virginia Safari Park.

This is a fun visit, though it can a little intimidating at first. A few words from the experienced may help.

You pull up to a gatehouse to pay. $21.95 ($20.95 for seniors) per person, plus $4.50 per bucket of food. We were given no verbal instructions after that except to read a pamphlet that gave safety messages and warnings about staying in the car and not rolling your windows up and down.

Coming in the park, you are greeted by a menagerie of animals who are not shy. My eyes locked in on the horns.

We bought 2 buckets of food. My plan going in was to drive and photograph Sandy as she fed the animals. I thought 2 buckets were good because we had heard about people dropping buckets from aggressive animals and I wanted Sandy to have an extra one just in case. Still, we weren't prepared for how many, how aggressive, or most importantly, how big and strong some of the animals were.

Sandy and her Emu friend who threw food everywhere.

As we were nearing the gate we could see gobs of llamas, but as we passed through we saw other assorted large horned animals and many many goats and things, all of which saw us as well and started making a bee line for us. Getting closer I could see an outstretched hand drop a bucket from an from a car window – animals scrambling to clean it up. Now, I had a visual warning as well – yet it did me no good.

This wasn't the only llama who walked to the front of the truck stopping us, before coming up to the window. Pretty smart.

Our truck is quite high and we literally couldn't reach our buckets down low enough for the smaller goats. And anyway, we were kept busy by the llamas who were like wolves coordinating their attack. One would walk in front of the truck, stopping us, and then trot to our windows. They quickly realized that Sandy's window was open and mine was not, though they would come to my window too begging me to open it.

We were laughing the whole time – especially Sandy – who was holding her bucket in two hands inside the truck while one llama at a time would stick their heads in and eat. Still they were strong and Sandy struggled to control the bucket as she talked to each one. An assortment of large beasts took turns at Sandy's window as I tried to move slowly ahead – more to give others a turn. First a one-horned eland, then a yak, and a hilarious emu. A video I took shows Sandy laughing and reprimanding the emu as she pecked violently into the bucket throwing back her head to led the pellets go down. She seemed unable to gather or chew food.

Sorry. Too short to get to the bucket.

Typical Llama giving us eyes for food.

This looked like too much fun and I had to give it a try. Thank goodness another car came in behind us taking away a lot of the turmoil so that we were just past the initial gauntlet. I fed a llama and immediately this huge eland came straddling straight for me. Males can be 5 feet tall and weigh up to 2,077 pounds. I lowered the bucket outside the window.

He did not reach inside the bucket as did the animals feeding from Sandy. He bit into the bucket and pulled his 500 pound head backwards. I was holding the bucket with one hand as I tried to photograph with my DSLR with the other. I held on for a good two seconds before I could feel the skin being pulled off my fingers and decided to release my grip. He paid absolutely no attention to my verbal accusations. Most insulting to me was that I had no food to back up Sandy and we were about 100 yards in on a 3 mile loop road.

The eland sees my window open.

Looks gentle enough.

Seconds after he ripped the bucket from my hand.

But even the eland got out of the way for this Watusi to finish off my bucket.

Within moments of this happening I saw what I thought was a Texas longhorn but good have been a watusi with a huge wingspan of horns. I rolled up my window and drove slowly, but steadily forward to discourage him. There was no room for his head inside our windows without him scratching (or puncturing) the truck. Subsequently we did the same maneuver when the buffalo came by. Our encounter with a buffalo at Yellowstone has me respectful of these powerful animals.

Whatever he was I stayed clear. Sorry no food for you.

There were also elk at the park, but for the most part the males kept away. One with small horns came to Sandy's window, but we were out of food at that time so the windows were up anyway. Sandy fed a very hairy Scotch Highland cow and also cautioned a Sable (a curved horned African antelope), whose horns were too big for it to fit his head in the window. He could just reach his chin up to the window. There were also many deer and I'm sure I'm missing some.

As you drive through the park, the road gets hillier, and you see many types of deer, elk, and bison, and fewer llamas, though they are throughout the park. The zebras seemed to be the only animals in pens. I assume they are too aggressive.

In hindsight, I would do the trip again. I would definitely recommend at least one more bucket than you expect to use. My biggest advice is to resist temptation and drive through the first 100 yards or so without opening your windows. There will still be plenty of animals to feed and see – you won't miss anyone, with the exception of cattle that you probably don't want near your car anyway. We did hear after of a visitor who had a longhorn tear up the side of their car.

The Safari Park doesn't stop there. After returning to the visitors center we parked and went to the walking section of the park called Safari Village. This was much more relaxing and fun as well. Every zoo we go to there is always something different to see. Here we saw two large gray wolves who were actually black, and we saw two bengal tigers – one yellow and one white. Both species were new to us and both were impressive in their respective sizes. The white tiger growled several

The petting area.

Squirrel Monkey.

spider monkey

times while the yellow one was walking around. The white one was lying down, but would not keep his/her eyes of the other one. The growls were apparently to keep its space.

al little girl with a honey stick in the budge cage

Also interesting were the spider monkeys and the cute squirrel monkeys (my favorites at the park – we watched them mimic and follow each other for several minutes), and the giraffes. There is an elevated platform that brings you eye level to them should they choose to walk up a hill. One did to get to the salt lick which was just out of our reach from the platform. It was so peaceful standing on this platform looking out at the giraffes, but also out at a good portion of the park. We watched ostriches in a pen nearby fanning their wings for example. As the afternoon was fading we just relaxed at this point for many minutes.

The big picture. The view of the Shenandoah valley fro the park.

Pink Cadillac Diner

I have to say one thing about this diner. I wasn't feeling that hungry so was looking for a light option like one of their all day breakfast skillets, but when I told the waitress that I was also contemplating the Cubano she told me “Hey, you can get breakfast anywhere, the Cubano is really good.” Well then. While traditionally with ham and roast pork, they make theirs with pulled pork and their own thin shaved prime rib. As the prime rib seems to be their specialty, they serve it in alternate forms, I went for it. Wow! I was shocked how good that was. Just a hint of smokey flavor from the pork, really good beef and then the pickle just juiced it up nice. You gotta get one if you stop here.

Layne's Country Store is a true country store with all sorts of odds and ends. I grabbed an apple out of a basket out front, Sandy and I both chose a local wine. The Joy from CrossKeys Vineyard in Mt Crawford Virginia was near excellent. I really liked it.

Walking to the back of the store they had a table covered in at least 20 large unwrapped hams covered in pepper. There were a few vacuum sealed slices and I asked the proprietor if I should wash or soak them. He gave some advice on soaking or boiling some of the salt out if desired then pan frying. He gets the hams locally where they are salt-cured for months. They are then coated in pepper which is a traditional way of keeping bugs and rodents away. Just something they've always done. He uses a band saw to slice some up which accounts for the thick slices. We bought a package with two large slices for less than $10.

Lexington, Virginia

Love the neon sign in downtown Lexington.

This was another shocker of an entertaining place to visit. We had just happened to camp within 10 miles of this beautiful and historic city. Pretty much everything we saw and learned was news to us. We stopped at a helpful visitors center who recommended the carriage ride across the street. We thought this a great idea having such a good experience in Charleston. We were the only ones aboard and enjoyed the relaxed chatting with the young lady driver/guide.

It is the home of Washington and Lee University. George Washington saved the school from bankruptcy with an endowment of 100 shares of James River Canal Company stock – worth $20,000 at the time. The gift is still bearing dividends supporting the students!

In 1865, less than six months after his surrender at Appomattox Court House, General Robert E. Lee rode his horse Traveler down Main Street to assume his role as president of what was then Washington College. Lee didn't want the job, but his wife persuaded him to take it for the steady income. He won one battle. He refused to teach, realizing that he was a better administrator than teacher, and started a new precedent.

So while in Lexington we were able to walk the grounds of this beautiful University, whose main buildings sit atop a hill overlooking the town. Lee had an office in the bottom floor of a chapel that he had built in 1867 which is below the green in front of the University.

Washington and Lee University.

The University on left, and Lee's Chapel on right.

View to the center of Lexington from the university green.

Lee's Chapel is open to tour (donations appreciated - $5 suggested). The first floor chapel has portraits of Lee and Washington on either side of the altar. The Washington portrait is a famous one done by Charles Wilson Peale. Behind the altar is an alcove housing a statue of Lee commissioned by his wife at the time of his death. She asked that he look like he was sleeping. The Chapel's volunteer said that the statue was made from a single piece of Vermont marble shipped for the work. He said with a chuckle that others in the room mimicked, that the people back then were not happy that Yankee marble was being used. I get the feeling it is still a sore spot.

Lee's Chapel.

Chapel Interior.

The statue was initially meant to serve as a top for the tomb of Lee which was going to be upstairs in the Chapel. However, later large room was created on the floor below the statue that was to serve as the Lee family tomb. The names of several family members can be seen now including Lee, his wife, his parents, and 7 children and other descendants. Existing descendants may still be interred here if they wish – after they die.

What is now the tomb, sits just across the hall from what was Lee's office. This was remarkable in that it is said to be just as he left it. Photographs and a painting done at the time he used it shows the same furniture as is there now including (I noted), a little basket sitting by the table.

Lee as a Lieutenant in 1838. Understandable called the handsomest military officer ever.

Paining of Lee in his Chapel office.

Lee's office in the museum. Compare to the photo above.

The Lee family crypt.

We must also note that Lee must have really loved his horse. Traveler was buried just outside the Chapel's side door.

Lee's house is on Washington Street which abuts the University grounds. It is now a private residence, but the stable doors are still left open – a decree mandated by Lee's wife – so that Travelers ghost can roam freely. The house was built to accommodate Mrs. Lee who was confined to a wheelchair due to arthritis, including a wide porch.

Lee's house.

Lee's house - the stable doors are always left open for Lee's horse - even though the house is now privately owned!

Church that Lee and Stonewall Jackson attended next to Lee's house.

The carriage ride took us by all these places including the homes on Lee Avenue, Jackson Avenue and White Street where my favorite house stood - a unique Cottage Gothic Style house called The Manse. Now getting the background, we walked back to many of these sites to take photos, visit the Chapel, and go into the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery.

Our carriage driver told us that the hills of Richmond were so steep in the 1800's that horse and carriages had a hard time so they actually lowered the tops of the hills. This meant that some of the houses that were built earlier had their doors above street level like the house shown below. This one was special in that the owner was often drunk and would fall out his front door. He sued the town several times. Funny thing is - he was the town's constable. Eventually they settled with him making him unable to sue any more.

The brick ends at the original street level. This is the door the countable would fall out.

In some places ledge was incorporated into the foundation of the house as seen here on the left.

You see, Stonewall Jackson lived in Lexington too. His house is right next to the visitor's center, but was closed for renovations. Jackson, his wife and 5 slaves lived here from 1859 to 1861 when he departed for the war. After his death in 1863, his wife kept the house in the family until 1906 when the United Daughters of the Confederacy purchased it and developed it, where it served as a hospital – the only hospital in Rockbridge County – for the next 47 years! In 1954 the house was purchased and opened as a museum.

The Cemetery holds two governors, veterans of the revolutionary war and 296 Confederate veterans. The center though holds the Edward Valentine statue of General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson and his family, including one who was lost at sea in war.

So, while I selected Natural Bridge KOA for it's driving distance as a travel stop, we were very happy with out stay and wished we could spend more time. In fact, we never saw the natural bridge at Natural Bridge State Park! Next time.

Stonewall Jackson's house.

A rest area in Virginia.Truck sandwich.

Extra. I thought this was one of several fascinating monuments in the Jackson Cemetery. Showing two sides of the same monument. Must have been an interesting guy.

On to Greenbrier SP Maryland – with no water hookups!

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About Us

We are Sandy and Bill embarking on a journey we thought of for years, but pipe dream? Nope. We are doing it - while we are able to. While it is hard for us to leave our family, we feel we need to do this now. 

 

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