Saturday, September 22, 2007

To Cumberland Via Shenandoah, Old Chapel, Harper's Ferry, & Antietam

I set out from Waynesboro, Virginia just before 8 this morning. Less than 5 minutes later I found myself on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. The drive, running 104 peacefully meandering miles atop the Blue Ridge Mountains, has a posted speed limit of 35, so it is definitely not the route to take if one is in a hurry to reach Front Royal (the northern gateway to the park). For the first hour or so, I had the park to myself and was intrigued each time I would stop at an overlook at the noise of the forest - I am quite positive I heard that tree fall, thus dispelling the myth (yes, it did make a sound). Various birds warming up their vocal chords for what already sounded like a busy day - including one with the distinct warble of Ethel Merman in her prime. Acorns falling from trees, distant rustles of an uncertain origin and the unusual sound of hearing the wind creep up on you from below were just a few of the auditory pleasures afforded. The scenery itself was, naturally, grand. With breathtaking vistas at every turn (one older gentleman had to reach directly for the oxygen after 3 distinctly impressive stops), the staff are required to be CPR certified. Of particular note was the endless supply of turkeys in the park; bobbing their heads as they absentmindedly crossed the road it reminded me that though Benjamin Franklin was a genius of a man, his wish for the turkey to be the national bird (rather than the bold, graceful eagle) was misguided at best.

In between larger stops, I called upon the Old Chapel, whose structure dates from 1790, south of Berryville, Virginia. It was attended but such notables as Lord Fairfax and, as with almost anywhere in Virginia, members of the ever present Byrd family. Here's a thought: it appears that in 18 and 19th Century Virginia it was entirely possible to blindfold yourself and lob a stone in any direction and plausibly hit at least two Byrds.

From here, it was on to Harper's Ferry - a site visited by a number of important people over the last 250 years (Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis, Robert E. Lee, etc.). Its location, at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers (where West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland meet - or at least wave to each other from respective river banks) was quite impressive, as was the preserved downtown in which you cannot park (for this, we have the National Park Service, who amongst other duties, realizes that early 19th Century buildings and 21st Century cars make for strange bedfellows).

The final stop for the day was Antietam National Battlefield. Antietam holds the grisly distinction of being the deadliest day in American history, with over 22,000 casualties (over 3,000 of these were deaths). The date was September 17, 1862. To give some idea of the intensity of the fighting and the visual aftermath that was the battle, consider the following quote by Major General John Hooker (Union) regarding a particular area of the battle known as The Cornfield, which is said to have changed hands over 15 times: "...every stalk of corn in the northern and greater part of the field was cut as closely as could have been done with a knife, and the [Confederates] slain lay in rows precisely as they had stood in their ranks a few moments before". By this time, the romanticism of war was fully vanquished in the hearts and minds of soldiers and civilians alike. It is truly difficult to stand in these places and imagine, in any real or meaningful way, the destruction that took place only 150 years prior.

I now sit in my room at the Red Roof Inn, located in Lavale, Maryland. The most expensive evening so far (topping out just shy of $80 with tax), I have to say that I am satisfied as I was not expecting the Red Roof to be nearly as classy as this one is. My only complaint is it seems the room directly above mine was rented, without any input from me, to a couple members of the World Wrestling Federation who are either practicing or participating in Smackdown 2007: Red Roof Inn. It is certainly possible that I have this all wrong and it is simply an ongoing drop-height test of Acme anvils; Anvils: 1, My Patience: 0.

The Stats:
Driving Hours: 6
Driving Miles 250+

What was Heard:
Bruce Catton's The Civil War, Discs 4-6
The Beatles' Love

1 comment:

Dad said...

Sorry I didn't get to talk to you yesterday it's been very busy at work. Sounds like you're having a good time. Send us some picures when you get a chance.