Appomattox Court House: Beginning Peace and Reunion

A national historical park reveals the consequences of a divided country and the importance of reconciliation

On April 9, 1865, in the small Virginia village of Appomattox Court House, Gen. Robert E. Lee, leader of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, surrendered his army to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. It was the beginning of the end of the “war between the states” which tore the country apart for more than four years. During the conflict, at least 620,000 Americans died, more than in all of the country’s wars before and since. Another million were wounded.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Appomattox Court House located east of Lynchburg was little more than a cluster of buildings that spread across the Virginia Piedmont region. Like some other county seats at that time it was named after its courthouse.

The National Park Service has put together an impressive facility that includes indoor displays as well as a re-created town full of original buildings. The town appears very similar to what it looked like in 1865. The property pays tribute to both sides in the final days of the conflict.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the center of the town is the rebuilt courthouse (the original burned down in 1892) which serves as the visitor’s center. A 15-minute film shown upstairs in the courthouse explains the final days of the war from both the Confederate and Union points of view.

War’s End in Sight

Historians remind us that Lee was not the only Confederate general leading troops and he did not represent the entire Confederacy when he surrendered. It wasn’t until May 5, 1865 that Confederate President Jefferson Davis dissolved his government. The official declaration that the war was won by the Union came more than a year later in August 1866.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But by late March 1865, Grant had put Lee’s army already plagued by desertion at a great disadvantage. Grant had cut off railroad lines that supplied food. The Battle of Five Forks which some call the Waterloo of the Confederacy was fought near Petersburg, Virginia, on April 1, 1865. Lee’s army was defeated and nearly a third of his men captured. After abandoning Petersburg, Lee’s men retreated to Amelia Court House where they hoped to meet a Confederate supply train. But no train arrived. By that point, the men had not eaten for 36 hours.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Battle of Sailor’s Creek on April 6 cost Lee another 7,700 men. Lee headed west to another supply train stop outside Appomattox Court House. But the train had been captured by Union forces led by Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan and Maj. Gen. George Custer.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yet another battle took place that evening near this site. Lee saw his supply lines cut off from the south, the James River to his north, and an army of starving men. He sent Grant a message requesting a meeting in the small village of Appomattox Court House.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Meeting

On the second floor of the courthouse, a copy of a famous painting by Tom Lovell depicts the meeting between the two generals that took place at the McLean House just a short walk down the gravel road. In the home’s parlor on April 9, 1865, Lee and Grant met to discuss and sign surrender terms for the Army of Northern Virginia.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On that day, Lee arrived at the McLean home shortly after 1:00 p.m.; Grant followed 30 minutes later. Once they were in the parlor, Grant and Lee sat across from each other. Today, visitors can see authentic reproductions of the two small tables and chairs that sit about 10 feet apart.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was decided that the terms of the surrender should be put in writing. Grant wrote out his terms in pencil and handed the paper to Lee for review. After reading the document, Lee made a few minor requests. Grant agreed to the changes. The final draft was put to ink and duplicates were made for each side. Once completed, each man signed the documents. Afterward, they shook hands and Lee left. The meeting lasted approximately an hour and a half.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A formal surrender ceremony, the stacking of the arms, took place on April 12. That gave the Union army time to print more than 28,000 parole passes that were distributed to the Confederate soldiers. Lee was concerned that his army would reject the surrender and engage in guerrilla warfare. As part of Grant’s terms, passes were printed to allow the men to return home, free from detention.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On that day, the Confederate soldiers walked up the hill between two lines of Union soldiers to lay down their arms for the last time. The place where guns were stacked, in front of what was then the Peers house was called “Surrender Triangle.”

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Park

On April 10, 1940, Appomattox Court House National Historical Monument was created by Park Service opened the McLean House to the public. The entire site which encompasses approximately 1,800 acres became a national historical park in 1954.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An interesting fact is that homeowner Wilmer McLean became wealthy as a sugar smuggler during the war selling the commodity to the Confederates. All of his gain was in Confederate currency; when the war ended, McLean lost everything.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Several other historic buildings on the expansive park grounds can be seen via a self-guided walking tour. Overall, more than two dozen structures have been restored and 31 others are awaiting restoration.

Inside the restored 1819 Clover Hill Tavern, you see a replica of the printing press used to create the parole passes for the Confederate soldiers. Built in 1819, it’s the oldest original structure in the museum.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park is 25 miles east of Lynchburg, Virginia. Parking and admission are free. RV parking is available (no overnight parking). The visitor’s center is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Worth Pondering…

The war is over — the rebels are our countrymen again.

―Ulysses S. Grant, after stopping his men from cheering Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse

Ride the Sky along Skyline Drive

Located in Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive is one of the most scenic drives in the world

The historic 105-mile Skyline Drive, a National Scenic Byway, traverses Shenandoah National Park, a beautiful, historic national treasure. The mountain top highway winds its way north-south through Shenandoah’s nearly 200,000 acres along the spine of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. There are 75 scenic overlooks that offer stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the rolling piedmont to the east. While you are gazing out at the views, keep a close eye on the road too, as deer, black bear, wild turkey, and a host of other woodland animals call Shenandoah home and regularly cross Skyline Drive in their daily travels.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you travel along Skyline Drive you will notice mileposts on the west side (right side if you are traveling south) of the road. These posts help you find your way through the park and help you locate areas of interest. The mileposts begin with 0.0 at Front Royal and continue to 105 at the southern end of the park. The speed limit is 35 mph. It takes about three hours to travel the entire length of the park on a clear day. Clearance for Marys Rock Tunnel (just south of Thornton Gap entrance from Route 211) is 12 feet 8 inches.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall is the most popular time to travel along Skyline Drive with its colorful foliage from late September to mid-November. But spring offers the most colorful wildflowers along the drive, as well as blooming azaleas and mountain laurel.

The Park has three districts, each with its own characteristics—North, Central, and South. Explore each district. Try new places and discover new wonders!

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Front Royal to Thornton Gap

Driving Distance: 31.5 miles

This most northerly section, winding through the park’s North District rises from the town of Front Royal. Climb to historic Dickey Ridge Visitor Center (MP 4.6), once a dining hall with a stellar view. After orienting, consider walking the Fox Hollow Interpretive Trail. Next, stop at Hogback Overlook (MP 20.8), the longest overlook in the park. Views stretch wide to match the overlook. Walk to Piney River Falls from Milepost 22.1.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Overnight at Mathews Arm Campground (MP 22.2) and enjoy numerous hikes directly from your campsite. Grab some ice cream during the warm season from Elkwallow Wayside (MP 24) or enjoy your own meal at the adjacent picnic area. Don’t miss the view from Thornton Hollow Overlook (MP 27.6) before rolling into Thornton Gap.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thornton Gap to Swift Run Gap

Driving distance: 34 miles

The Central District from Thornton Gap to Swift Run Gap is the land of superlatives—highest park elevation, highest point on Skyline Drive, most land mass, two lodges, two campgrounds, historic cabins, trails galore, and two visitor centers. Some would argue the best views, too. Start your view-fest from both road and trail by hiking to Mary’s Rock from Meadow Spring parking area (MP 33.5).  Mary’s Rock has 360-degree vistas from an outcrop and is a favorite lookout in the park. Pinnacles Overlook (MP 35.1) presents auto-accessible views and a nearby picnic area.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Consider an overnight at Skyland Lodge (MP 41.7) and combining it with a hike to Stony Man, highest spot on the Appalachian Trail in the park. Speaking of high points, it is a ritual to head to Hawksbill, the park’s highest peak, from milepost 46.7. At the peak you will find an embedded directional indicator, pointing out all the sights you will see from this lofty height.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The next must-stop is Big Meadows (MP 51) where deer are often spotted. Big Meadows includes a lodge, campground, visitor center, dining, and picnicking facilities. Explore the displays here; this visitor center is a great place to stop and learn about the park. Big Meadows Campground is the park’s highest at 3,500 feet. Load up with goodies at the camp store or hit the lodge dining hall. Nearby waterfall walks include Dark Hollow Falls, Rose River Falls, and Lewis Spring Falls.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit the site of the first presidential retreat from Milam Gap (MP 52.8), Rapidan Camp where Herbert Hoover trout fished and entertained world leaders. Agile teens and adults will have fun navigating the boulders of the Bearfence Mountain Rock Scramble (MP 56.4). Enjoy great views, too. Consider renting a cabin or pitching your tent at smallish Lewis Mountain Campground (MP 57.5). It offers a more serene experience than does Big Meadows Campground. Finally, visit 83-foot South River Falls from the South River Picnic Area (MP 62.8).

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Swift Run Gap to Rockfish Gap

Driving Distance 40 miles

The South District holds claim to the longest and most quiet section of Skyline Drive. It is also long on wilderness and less on developed facilities. Known for its extensive rock formations, talus slopes, and outcrops, the South District reveals the most untamed side of the park highlighted by the trails of the Big Run area. Interestingly, despite being very rocky the area also has the park’s biggest stream in Big Run, plus other aquatic destinations such as Doyles River and Moormans River. The primary developed area is at Loft Mountain with a camp store and the largest campground in the park. Dundo Picnic Area and group camp is the only other developed facility in the South District.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Overlooks are plentiful from this segment of Skyline Drive. Heading south from Swift Run Gap you can see the geologically revealing peaks from the Rocky Mount Overlook (MP 71.2) where boulder fields, known as talus slopes, are exposed. Another geological show is revealed at Rockytop Overlook (MP 78.1). At the Loft Mountain area (MP 79.5) you can obtain supplies, books, and souvenirs at the camp store. A side road takes you to Loft Mountain Campground that also offers showers. 

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy three major waterfalls on one loop hike from Browns Gap (MP 83.0)—two on Doyles River and one on Jones Run. Browns Gap is also a jumping off point for exploring the wilds of Big Run with cool clear pools for a summertime dip. The park narrows heading south, limiting opportunities. However, a short walk to Chimney Rock from Riprap parking area (MP 90.0) will put an exclamation point on your Skyline Drive experience. 

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

If you drive to, say, Shenandoah National Park, or the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll get some appreciation for the scale and beauty of the outdoors. When you walk into it, then you see it in a completely different way. You discover it in a much slower, more majestic sort of way.

—Bill Bryson

Ultimate Guide to East Coast Destinations for a Road Trip

If you haven’t considered the possibility of an epic east coast road trip, we’re here as your guide

Getting on a plane can seem daunting, but taking a road trip beyond the four walls of your home is quite embraced, as long as it’s socially-distanced. If you want to take a weekend trip or an extended road trip, read on for your guide to East Coast destinations that are ideal for a summer or autumn road trip, ordered from North to South.

Remember to travel with caution, follow good health practices, and behave responsibly when outdoors or around other people. As always, be safe, have fun, and enjoy!  

New Hampshire

Lake Winnipesaukee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Hampshire is bursting with a variety of landscapes to choose from. If you’re looking to get outdoors and stay active, New Hampshire is your state. Lake Winnipesaukee is the sixth-largest in the country. The lake’s beaches are perfect for relaxing in the sun or for the more active, swimming and sailing are a few of the water sports you can take advantage of on Lake Winnipesaukee in the summer.

White Mountains National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arguably one of the most popular destinations in all of New Hampshire, White Mountain National Forest is home to endless hiking trails, wild species, and views galore. Whether you visit in the spring, summer, fall, or winter, it is worth the few hours of driving. Be sure to bring your camera and stop at the ranger station before beginning an excursion because they will fill you in on all of the things to keep an eye out for on your trek.

Massachusetts

Freedom Trail, Boston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Massachusetts is a state that many yearn to visit in the summer. With every type of scenery from picturesque islands—think Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket­—boasting sailboats to a city with an old, cobblestone street vibe, you can do and see it all in Massachusetts.

Old Ironside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It would be remiss to visit Massachusetts without at least dropping in on the bustling city of Boston. Boston is a city with old-time charm and a lot of history. As you walk through the town you encounter cobblestone streets, old buildings, and the waterfront of the harbor. Be sure not to miss iconic stops like Fenway Park, Faneuil Hall Marketplace, USS Constitution (Old Ironside), and Boston Public Garden for gorgeous park views. For the history buffs out there, pick up a map of the Freedom Trail for a self-guided history lesson.

Hyannis Harbor, Cape Cod © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before leaving this incredible city, we’d be remiss if we didn’t recommend more incredible New England breweries based in Boston. Of course, the well-known Samuel Adams Brewery is a must-see. If you’re in the mood for incredible craft beers and deliciously fluffy pretzels (made from the actual hops of the beer) then Harpoon Brewery is for you.

Rhode Island

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Founded in 1639, Newport, Rhode Island is considered to be the shining gem in the coastal crown of New England. A haven for religious dissenters, a critical Colonial Era port city, a thriving artists’ colony, a summer playground for America’s barons of industry during the Gilded Age, and home to the U.S. Naval War College, Newport is a destination like none other.

International Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Possibly best known for its timeless mansions, the Cliff Walk is a must-see upon entering Newport. Beautiful estates like the Breakers, Rosecliff, The Elms, and more are available for walking tours. You can purchase tickets for one or multiple estates at the Breakers upon arrival and you can walk or drive amongst each one. Along the Cliff Walk, you will also pass the beautiful Salve Regina University.

Upstate New York

Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Upstate New York is like a whole new world from the concrete jungle that we know as New York City. Full of quaint small towns with boutiques and beautiful scenery, Upstate New York is not a destination to be missed.

Village of Lake George © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saratoga is most notably known for the Saratoga Race Course. Although races may not be happening during this time, consider simply making the trip to walk around the massive grounds or perhaps wait until horse racing is back in action to visit. During the summer, the Saratoga Farmers’ Market is in full swing, making for the perfect summer activity. And of course, the sweeping hills of New York contain many well-known wineries and Saratoga is no exception.

Saratoga National Historic Park reenactment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saratoga National Historical Park has a number of attractions and activities that happen throughout the year. Visit the site of the historic Battle of Saratoga, take tours at the Schuyler House, check out the Saratoga Monument, walk through Victory Woods, and explore the battlefield. Before you go, check the park’s official website for alerts. As always, be safe, have fun, and enjoy!  

Corning Museum of Glass © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Corning Museum of Art is celebrating 50 years and as many museums allow back visitors, they’re doing so with extra safety precautions and in a unique way. The museum, which showcases a first-hand look at glassblowing and 3,500 year-old glass on exhibit, is now scheduling online virtual reservations. Guests will be temperature checked when they walk in, masks are required for both guests and even the glassblowers who run the workshops and capacity is limited to allow social distancing. Normally, there’s a make your own glass workshop but they’ve had to adapt—there’s now individualized packages for the materials for families to get involved.

Pennsylvania

Lancaster County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pennsylvania is known for its popular cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh that contain a ton of historical value and things to do. However, the Keystone State is quite large so where you end up may depend on how far you’re willing to travel and what you want to see and do.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gettysburg National Military Park is a must-see for any fall excursion, providing the perfect, scenic backdrop for visitors experiencing this historic battlefield. Explore the sights and sounds of battlefield reenactments, monuments, memorials, and true history. Gettysburg offers guests a part of the nation’s past all year and provides optimal trekking treasures in the fall.

Virginia

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia’s Historic Triangle is full of living history and fun for the whole family. Located in Coastal Virginia between the James and York rivers—Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg together are named the Historic Triangle for their historical significance and close proximity.

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area includes five historic sites and attractions from the first English settlement at Jamestown, to the end of the Revolutionary War at Yorktown, and the founding of a new nation at Williamsburg. The sites are easy to visit when traveling along the scenic Colonial Parkway and many offer discounted tickets and packages when you visit more than one.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While Williamsburg is great for all ages if you have younger kids you really can’t go wrong here. This town is an extremely interactive way to engage your little ones in the rich history of America. Williamsburg served as the capital of the Colony and Commonwealth of Virginia from 1699 to 1780 and acted as the center of political events leading to the American Revolution. You will be transported back in time through “townspeople” willing to tell their stories and include you in interactive experiences that tell a tale of Williamsburg long ago.

Worth Pondering…

We know that in September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer’s wreckage. We will welcome summer’s ghost.

—Henry Rollins

Historic Triangle: 400 Years & Counting

Virginia’s Historic Triangle is full of living history and fun for the whole family

Traveling through America the past is often hidden, masked by strip malls and suburban sprawl. However, restoration and reconstruction projects are occurring in cities and towns across the nation to preserve our past for future generations.

The Historic Triangle is formed by Historic Jamestowne, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown Battlefield, three cities that were instrumental in America’s development, freedom, and democracy.

Historic Jamestowne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On May 14, 1607, the ships sent by the Virginia Company of London, the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, landed at Jamestown Island with 104 passengers—all men and boys. They began building America’s first permanent English settlement, predating Plymouth in Massachusetts by 13 years.

Historic Jamestowne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Decimated by disease, famine, and Indian attacks, less than half of them survived the first year. However, with more settlers arriving every year and the establishment of their first cash crop, the tiny settlement began to flourish.

Historic Jamestown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Through living history, a film, and gallery exhibits, the aspirations of these pioneers and the hardships they faced are depicted at Jamestown Settlement. Located about a mile from the original site, Jamestown Settlement is 10 minutes from Williamsburg, Jamestown’s successor as capital of the Virginia colony.

Historic Jamestown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your visit to Jamestown Settlement begins with an introductory film that presents an overview of Jamestown’s origins in England and the early years of the colony. Exhibition galleries chronicle the nation’s pre-17th-century beginnings in Virginia in the context of its Powhatan Indian, English, and western central African cultures.

Leaving the indoor exhibits, visitors arrive at the Powhatan Indian village where costumed interpreters discuss and demonstrate the Powhatan way of life. From the Indian village, a path leads to a pier where the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discover are docked. Visitors can talk with costumed interpreters about the four-and-a-half month voyage from England.

Historic Jamestown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Triangular Fort James is a recreation of the one constructed by the Jamestown colonist on their arrival in 1607. Inside the wooden stockade are wattle-and-daub structures and thatched roofs representing Jamestown’s earliest buildings including dwellings, a church, a storehouse, and an armory.

More settlements followed and it was in Williamsburg that the seeds of revolution were sown by the intellectual and independent thinkers who flocked to the city.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Become a resident of a city on the verge of war—or in the midst of it—as you explore the government buildings, shops, homes, gardens, and taverns of Williamsburg. Encounter townspeople on their own soil as they live through a time of change and uncertainty. Buzzing with political discussion and dispute, the city comes alive. Enter the residents’ homes or learn about their workplaces; see where they sleep, where they eat, and where they socialize.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of the buildings, like the Courthouse, Magazine, and Wetherburn’s Tavern, have stood in Williamsburg since the 18th century. Others, like the Capitol and Governor’s Palace, have been reconstructed on their original foundations. Some of the buildings are used as private residences and offices. Flags out front indicate areas open to guests.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The port city of Yorktown forms the third point of the Historic Triangle, famous for its decisive battle and end to the Revolutionary War.

Yorktown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you stroll through historic Yorktown, let the past envelop you as you immerse yourself in 300 years of history. Here you can experience many 18th century homes, visit the location where the surrender terms for the Battle of Yorktown were negotiated or the home of the Virginia militia with its walls still bearing the scars of cannonballs fired upon the village in 1781. Explore the battlefields, fortifications, and historic buildings where American independence was won.

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Americans won their independence here during the last major battle of the American Revolutionary War on October 19, 1781, when British troops surrendered to General George Washington and his French allies.

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Yorktown Battlefield is joined by the scenic Colonial Parkway to Colonial Williamsburg and Historic Jamestown and is located just 12 miles east of Williamsburg.

Worth Pondering…

On the whole, I find nothing anywhere else…which Virginia need envy.

—Thomas Jefferson

Shenandoah National Park: Daughter of the Stars

Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park presents the majesty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley, and the heart of the Appalachian Trail

Stretching more than a hundred miles along the Blue Ridge Mountains of western Virginia, Shenandoah National Park offers a patchwork quilt of wilderness and pastoral landscapes underpinned by stories from more than 300 years of history. Located between the Shenandoah Valley in the west and the Piedmont region in the east, the park is an expanse of wooden hollows and breezy summits, waterfalls and mountain streams, more than 500 miles of hiking trails, and nearly 80,000 acres of designated wilderness.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The name “Shenandoah” is an American Indian word meaning “Daughter of the Stars.” Natives used the area for hunting and shelter. Miners and loggers used it to harvest valuable resources. Soldiers used it as a fighting ground. Shenandoah is the name of a river, mountain, valley, county, and much more, so, the origin of the National Park name is unclear. Daughter of the Stars! That’s beautiful!

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Five hundred miles of trails consisting of 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail, lead visitors to waterfalls, panoramic views, protected wilderness, and preserved human history in the Shenandoah Valley. A park full of recreational opportunities for the entire family, Shenandoah is worth repeat visits.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What makes Shenandoah so special? First, consider panoramic views from overlooks scattered on lofty Skyline Drive, a National Scenic Byway that runs 105 miles down the length of the 300-square-mile sanctuary. Additionally, beyond Skyline Drive lies another Shenandoah where bears roam the hollows and brook trout ply the tumbling streams. Trail side flowers color the woods. Quartz, granite, and greenstone outcrops jut above the diverse forest allowing far-flung views of the Blue Ridge and surrounding Shenandoah Valley. It is this beauty near and far that create the unforgettable Shenandoah experience.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Scenic Byway rides along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and through the heart of Shenandoah National Park. Skyline Drive draws over 1.2 million visitors every year and is famous for bursting into a landscape of rainbow-colored foliage every autumn.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall is the most popular time to travel along Skyline Drive with its colorful foliage from late September to mid-November. But spring offers the most colorful wildflowers along the drive, as well as blooming azaleas and mountain laurel.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are four entrances to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park, located at:

  1. Front Royal, accessible via I-66 and U.S. 340
  2. Thornton Gap, accessible via U.S. 211
  3. Swift Run Gap, accessible via U.S. 33
  4. Rockfish Gap, accessible via I-64 and U.S. 250
Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the 105-mile stretch which climbs to 3,680 feet above sea level, you’ll have the opportunity to pull off the road at 75 scenic overlooks and take part in an array of recreational activities—from hiking, horseback riding, and rock climbing.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stops along the way bring you to trailheads where you can explore the forests, waterfalls, rocky areas, and hopefully have a wildlife sighting. It’s a pretty amazing place in terms of wildlife—there are black bears, deer, woodpeckers, owls, raccoons, skunk, fox, coyotes and wild turkeys, just to name a few of the types of animals you might run into out there. 

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A climb to the top of Old Rag Mountain is Shenandoah’s most popular and most dangerous hike. It certainly isn’t for everyone. But those who are ready to take on the challenge will find themselves in the clouds. Be sure that you are physically able to complete this hike. The circuit hike is about 9 miles. There is a significant elevation change (2,415 feet) and a strenuous rock scramble that requires good upper body strength. Allow 7-8 hours and sometimes longer depending on how many people are out there—a line up to pass through scrambles is par for the course. The best time to enjoy Old Rag is during the week when there are significantly fewer people. 

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park has an entrance fee of $30, payable at one of the four major entrance stations. The fee is good for 7 consecutive days, even if you leave the park.

Worth Pondering…

If you drive to, say, Shenandoah National Park, or the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll get some appreciation for the scale and beauty of the outdoors. When you walk into it, then you see it in a completely different way. You discover it in a much slower, more majestic sort of way.

—Bill Bryson

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park: The War Is Over

The stories of Appomattox Court House go far beyond the final significant battles of the Civil War

The Appomattox Court House National Historical Park commemorates the heroic acts which took place in April of 1865 in this, the original village, to bring about the end of the Civil War. Walk the old country lanes where Robert E. Lee, Commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia, surrendered his men to Ulysses Grant, General-in-Chief of all United States forces, on April 9, 1865. Imagine the events that signaled the end of the Southern States’ attempt to create a separate nation.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park encompasses approximately 1,800 acres of rolling hills in rural central Virginia. The site includes the McLean home—where Lee made his formal surrender—and the village of Appomattox Court House, the former county seat for Appomattox County.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thanks to the fact that it was all but deserted after the Civil War, it looks a lot like it must have when Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The walking tour allows you to see all buildings which are original to the site, and have been restored to their original condition. The highlight of the Park is the McLean house where Generals Lee and Grant crafted and signed the terms of surrender, bringing an end to the bloodiest chapter of U.S. history.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many people think that the meeting between the two generals took place in the courthouse, which is now the park’s Visitor Center, but the historic rendezvous really happened in the parlor of the McLean house nearby. The reason for the confusion is that the town’s name was Appomattox Court House. If you spell courthouse as two words, it means the town. Many county seats in this area had Court House as part of their names, and some still do, like Amelia Court House. But if you spell courthouse as one word, then you’re talking about the building.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Approximately 9,000 men under Gordon and Fitzhugh Lee deployed in the fields west of the village before dawn and waited. The attack, launched before 8:00 a.m. and led by General Bryan Grimes of North Carolina, was initially successful. 

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The outnumbered Union cavalry fell back, temporarily opening the road. But it was not to be.  Union infantry began arriving from the west and south, completing Lee’s encirclement.  Meanwhile, Longstreet’s troops were being pressed from the rear near New Hope Church, three miles to the east. General Ulysses S. Grant’s goal of cutting off and destroying Lee’s army was close at hand.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bowing to the inevitable, Lee ordered his troops to retreat through the village and back across the Appomattox River. Small pockets of resistance continued until flags of truce were sent out from the Confederate lines between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m. Rather than destroy his army and sacrifice the lives of his soldiers to no purpose, Lee decided to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although not the end of the war, the surrender of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia set the stage for its conclusion. Through the lenient terms, Confederate troops were paroled and allowed to return to their homes while Union soldiers were ordered to refrain from overt celebration or taunting. 

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These measures served as a blueprint for the surrender of the remaining Confederate forces throughout the South. Although a formal peace treaty was never signed by the combatants, the submission of the Confederate armies ended the war and began the long and difficult road toward reunification.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting Appomattox Court House National Historical Park is largely a self-guiding experience. For this reason it is recommended that you begin your tour at the visitor center and get a map of the park. The visitor center is in the reconstructed courthouse building. 

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although the park consists of nearly 1700 acres, most visitors focus on the old village. Using your cell phone you can learn more about nine specific sites around the park. There are four cell phone sites in the old village and five sites beyond the village core. These sites can teach about the military activities that occurred here in 1865 and about the people and county that played host to these events.

Visitors will not be charged an admission fee to visit the park.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The war is over — the rebels are our countrymen again.

―Ulysses S. Grant, after stopping his men from cheering Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse

Urbana: Historic Port Town with Old-fashioned Flavor

Turn off the main road or cruise up the Rappahannock River from the Chesapeake Bay to the the charming and friendly historic Colonial port town of Urbanna

Framed by a protected cove on Urbanna Creek off Rappahannock River, the charming, historic Colonial port town of Urbanna is a Tidewater Virginia gem. With the open waters of Chesapeake Bay a few nautical miles away, Urbanna has more boats than people, according to locals.

Urbanna © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Urbanna’s marinas, boutique shops, restaurants, galleries, and trove of 18th century historic buildings are all within an easy stroll through town, making for an enchanting visit and stay.

Urbanna © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1649, Ralph Wormeley patented 3,200 acres on Rosegill Creek and the Rappahannock River. Landowners like Wormeley established plantations on Virginia’s navigable rivers, which they used as private ports, shipping tobacco directly to market without the inconvenience and expense of going through an official port of entry. 

Urbanna © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 1680 Acts of Assembly at Jamestown changed all that by ordering local officials to create 20, 50-acre port towns in Virginia for 10,000 pounds of tobacco each, through which all trade would take place. A small part of Ralph Wormeley’s Rosegill that would, in 1705, be named Burgh of Urbanna, “City of Anne”, was one of them. The town was named in honor of England’s Queen Anne. 

Urbanna © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rosegill Plantation consists of an impressive range of 18th century buildings: a washhouse, the dwelling house, the kitchen, and a storage house. The buildings standing today stylistically dated 1730-1750, a significant example of colonial plantation architecture. The extensive nature of the original complex makes Rosegill one of the oldest and most historic estates in America.

Urbanna © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seven buildings in town have been in continuous use since the colonial period. Four of them are on the National Register of Historic Places. All are located in Urbanna’s historic district.

Urbanna © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The James Mills Scottish Factor Store (also known as the Old Tobacco Warehouse), which now serves as the town’s Museum and Visitors’ Center, is where planters exchanged tobacco for immediate cash and credit to purchase imported goods for sale. The building, itself, is a valuable piece of history, being the only Scottish Factor Store (circa 1765?) left standing in North America. The Mitchell Map, proudly displayed inside, is also a valuable rarity. This is the first edition, 3rd impression of the map called “The most important map in the U.S,” published and printed in 1755.

Urbanna © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next door is the Gressitt House, where Urbanna’s Harbormaster once lived. Across the street is Little Sandwich, believed to have been the port town’s Customs House.

Urbanna Oyster Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Up the hill you’ll find Middlesex County’s original courthouse. It’s one of only 11 colonial courthouses still standing in Virginia today.

Other very special places can be found all around the Town. Cottage Row, a collection of quaint two story cottages built for supervisors of Urbanna Manufacturing Company are located on Taylor Avenue.

Urbanna Oyster Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the downtown area you will find Bristow’s Store, which first open its doors in 1876. Right down the street is Marshall’s Drug Store where you can sit at the old fashioned soda fountain, right out of the 1950s. Not far from the drug store is Haywood’s Variety Store. Built in 1875, merchants in this location have operated under the name Haywood’s Store since 1911.

Urbanna Oyster Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the international sailing vessels of the colonial tobacco trade yielded to Chesapeake Bay schooners, then steamboats, then the pleasure boats of today, one thing remained constant—Urbanna’s history and fortunes are one with the Bay.

During the Urbanna Cup Regatta in spring, captains of all ages and skills gather at the Town Marina to race wooden 8-foot Cocktail Class Runabouts.

Urbanna Oyster Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When leaves change color and the air is crisp, it’s time for the Urbanna Oyster Festival—Virginia’s official Oyster Festival. The event draws over 75,000 visitors to town the first weekend in November (62nd Annual; November 1-2, 2019).

Urbanna Oyster Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The family fun features oyster-inspired art, the centerpiece parade with beauty queens and their courts from around Virginia, the hotly contested Oyster Shucking Contest, a juried art show, a holiday house tour, concerts in the park, street parades, boat parades, fireworks, and a monthly farmer’s market.

Urbanna Oyster Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Come see what drew Ralph Wormeley to the verdant plateau overlooking Urbanna Creek in 1649, where the famed plantation Rosegill became one of the great houses of Virginia. And where Urbanna would become one of the great, picturesque towns of Virginia!

Worth Pondering…

He was a bold man who first ate an oyster.

—Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)

Blue Ridge Parkway: America’s Favorite Drive

Stretching for 469 miles of pure, breathtaking beauty, the Blue Ridge Parkway winds its way through the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains

A meandering road snaking for 469 miles along the crest of Blue Ridge Mountains from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway provides access to more than 100 trailheads and over 300 miles of trails. It passes through a range of habitats that support more plant species than any other park in the country: over 4,000 species of plants, 2,000 kinds of fungi, 500 types of mosses and lichens, and the most varieties of salamanders anywhere in the world.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The nation’s first and longest rural parkway began as a 1930s depression-era public works project. Taking over 52 years complete, it was designed to simulate a park-like environment, blending natural surroundings and panoramic views with farms, streams, forests, and local culture.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Blue Ridge Parkway follows the Appalachian Mountain chain, twisting and turning through the beautiful mountains. From Shenandoah National Park, the scenic drive travels along the Blue Ridge Mountains for 355 miles. Then, for the remaining 114 miles, it skirts the southern end of the Black Mountains, weaves through the Craggies, the Pisgahs, and the Balsams before finally ending in the Great Smokies.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enticing nature lovers, the Blue Ridge Parkway spans more than 70,000 acres of forest and includes 14 vegetation types, 1,600 vascular plant species, and 130 species of trees.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Taking a break along the way, visitors can stop at a visitor center and learn more about the area from the many exhibit and restored historical structures. The drive is long, but there are more than 100 trails along the Parkway for travelers to stretch their legs. In addition to hiking, the parkway also offers bird-watching opportunities, horseback riding, ranger guided walks, and nine campgrounds, on top of ample opportunity to photograph America’s Favorite Drive.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The magnificent views and historic attractions are too numerous to enjoy in just one trip which may be why the region attracts so many repeat visitors. It doesn’t matter whether you start from the north or south or anywhere in between—just don’t be surprised if you wander in and out of the parkway during your explorations.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll need over a week on the Blue Ridge to adequately absorb all that surrounds you. With more than 260 overlooks, each stop provides one dramatic scene after another.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road is narrow winding in some sections and tunnels have height restrictions, RVs of all sizes have been traveling the parkway for years. Of course, your everyday explorations will be best enjoyed using your dinghy; we based our coach in RV parks along the way, moving several times as we traveled south. The many entrances to the parkway allow you to enter or exit easily.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Entering the Blue Ridge Parkway at Rockfish Gap (milepost 0), our first stop was the visitor center at Humpback Rocks (milepost 5.8) where we gathered information and talked with the ranger on duty.

You’ll find a visitor center and campground with 24  RV sites at Otter Creek (milepost 60.8).

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the Peaks of Otter (milepost 85.6), another visitor center provides more park information. There, we also explored the Johnson Farm, restored to 1920s appearance.

Mabry Mill, Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mabry Mill (milepost 176.1) is one of the parkway’s best-loved attractions. Surrounded by outdoor interpretive displays, a millpond smooth as glass reflects the old mill. The slowly turning waterwheel spills a small cascade of water into the pond while, inside the mill, park interpreters give demonstration on the workings of the gristmill.

Moses H, Cone Memorial Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The North Carolina section of the parkway starts at Milepost 216.9, outside of Cumberland Knob.

Moses H. Cone Memorial Park (milepost 294), preserves the country estate of Moses H. Cone, textile magnate, conservationist, and philanthropist of the Gilded Age. Its centerpiece is Flat Top Manor, a gleaming white 20-room, 13,000 square foot mansion built in 1901 in the grand Colonial Revival style. The Manor is now the home of the Parkway Craft Center.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Linn Cove Viaduct (milepost 304) hugs the face of Grandfather Mountain and is recognized internationally as an engineering marvel. This was the last section of the Parkway to be completed and a model of the construction technique highlights a visit to the Linn Cove Visitor Center.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A slight detour at milepost 355.4, via State Route 128, led us to the highest point east of the Mississippi River. At 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell offers incredible views of color-washed lower elevations.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Blue Ridge Parkway has six exits in the Asheville area. So there’s no excuse not to stop off in that charming city on your summer vacation and tour Biltmore Estate, the country’s largest private home.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The parkway south of Asheville to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known for its range of elevation. From about 2,500 feet, it gradually rises to 6,047 feet at the parkway’s highest point, Richland Balsam Gap, milepost 431, and then descends to just over 2,000 feet, all through the undeveloped beauty of national forest.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Excuse me…but is this Heaven?