Thursday – We had breakfast in the hotel, gassed up, and were on our way south by 10:30 am. The trip was pretty uneventful except for some minor traffic slow-downs. I drove so that Butch could navigate. We arrived in Newport News and had a quick lunch before heading to the Mariner’s Museum. Our main interest there was Butch’s long time fascination with the Civil War Ironclad ship, the Monitor. The museum has the turret recovered from the ocean along with the canons, the propeller, a lantern and a variety of other small artifacts.
They have also recreated the ship in an outside exhibit. Butch was excited to show us the features he likes and glad to see the efforts to save this treasure. The museum also had other naval exhibits and many models of ships from all eras. There were many wooden models that had the tiniest details included.
We stayed in Hampton which is a few miles closer to Virginia Beach. After we checked in to our hotel, we made a quick trip to Target to buy a few beach items that we forgot. Flip flops for Rachel and Butch, beach towels, and little buckets for any shells we are lucky enough to find.
Too tired (and really not very hungry) for dinner, we stayed in to read and relax.
Friday- We got up early and had the complimentary breakfast again. Our plan for the day was a visit to the Virginia Aquarium & Science Center in Virginia Beach. I had also found a Dolphin Boat tour on-line that was featured at the museum. We wanted to arrive right at opening time to be sure to get spots on one of the cruises. We had an easy trip down and when we bought our tickets, reserved spots on the 10:30 cruise, the first one of the day.
We explored the museum in the meantime and really enjoyed the sea turtle and the shark exhibits. There were also many other fish and other creatures in huge aquariums for us to see. We were pretty much able to see nearly everything before the boat tour.
The cruise took us out to the Atlantic through a salt marshy backwater. It was pretty choppy at first but we had taken Dramamine to be on the safe side and none of us were bothered. We LOVED being on the boat! It was a gorgeous day and the breeze from the moving boat kept us comfortable.
Katie was our guide and she pointed out different types of birds, sights on shore, and of course sea life. We didn’t see any Dolphins right away but did see lots of manta rays. Some were as big as tires and others were small juveniles. Rachel and I saw a school of 10-12 little ones about the size of salad plates swimming along together.
Finally Dolphins were sighted and the captain slowed the boat so we could all see. We saw several sets of 2-4 juveniles swimming together and several sets of mothers with juveniles. We didn’t see any really big ones according to Katie. The time passed very fast and we were very excited each time someone sighted new creatures. On our way back we just traveled fast but it was fun to just ride along.
When we got back to the museum, we drove to the second building which was about a mile away. It focused on the rivers and salt marshes of the area. They had a big tank with river otters which were fun to watch. We also liked the sea horses and the crabs.
After the museum, we drove across the Chesapeake Bay on a combination of long bridges and tunnels. Our destination was Cape Charles which my guidebook said was a nice out of the way spot without too many people. We wanted to eat some great fresh seafood and maybe find a beach for Rachel to dip her feet into the ocean. We didn’t realize that there was a $15 toll each way! We did find a great restaurant called the Shanty that attracted the locals with good fresh seafood.
They listed each local fisherman and farmer that they bought from on a large chalkboard inside the restaurant as their claim to freshness. Butch and I got the blue crab cake sandwich and Rachel got a shrimp basket. Both meals were delicious.
We were too full to go the beach after we had eaten so decided to go back to Hampton where we were staying and go to Buckroe Beach in town. Here’s where our troubles started… We discovered there was an accident on the big bridge that led from Virginia Beach to Hampton with no easy way around it. The traffic snarl probably added a whole hour or maybe more onto our trip back. Then we took a couple of wrong turns and had a hard time finding our way to the beach. We ended up stumbling onto the right street and finding it that way. The beach was really nice though and Rachel and I were able to sit in the surf which was nice and warm.
Butch, however, hated his experience and likened it to “gutter day” which in our family is right at the top of the “extremely trying” scale. First, he had to wear flip flops, which he hates. Then, he had to climb up and over a small cement wall between the grass and the sand. Next, he had to walk in sand in flip flops! Finally he had to do the whole process in reverse to get back to the car. He even had to hang onto a wooden fence to get back over the cement wall. Definitely “Gutter day!”
We returned to the hotel glad to take showers and turn in.
Saturday – We decided to go to Jamestown Settlement instead of Williamsburg, mostly because of the heat and humidity. None of us could think about a half day in the baking sun. We were glad we did. We were held up by an accident on I64 that delayed us quite a bit. When we got to Jamestown we found a gorgeous visitor’s center and museum built in the Prairie Style.
The displays inside were great and then we headed outside to see a Powhatan Village, replica ships of the time, and a model fort. The recreated areas were great because inside each room or wigwam, you could touch or pick up anything on display. There were lots of helpful guides dressed in costumes to answer questions or tell stuff. We really liked this place.
Next, we left for Monticello. It was a drive of over two hours and again, we ran into accident delays. I wouldn’t want to live in these areas and have to put up with this congestion on a regular basis. We arrived at about 3:30 and walked from the far parking lot uphill to the visitor’s center. Since we couldn’t predict what time we would arrive, we couldn’t reserve timed tickets ahead of time. When we got to the ticket booth there were only 3 tickets left for the last tour beginning at 6:10. We decided not to take them since we would have to wait over two hours. Instead, we saw a video about Jefferson, and visited some exhibits in the center. We were disappointed to not see the house but we just couldn’t face sitting around in the heat to wait so long.
We checked into our hotel to find that our reservation was for August 2nd instead of the 1st. They were able to make the switch to a room with two queen beds. The quirky part was, it was on the second floor and the only way to get to it was to go outside the hotel and climb the stairs with our luggage. The room was nice enough though. We found a restaurant and went out to dinner since we had had nothing but a few snacks since breakfast.
We turned in early in hopes of an early start in the morning. Sunday would be our longest day of driving and we would be starting home!
Sunday – woke up early as planned and were on the road by 8:00 am. The desk clerk in our hotel advised us to make sure we had a full tank of gas before entering Shenendoah National Park so that’s what we did. The park is a long skinny section of the Blue Ridge mountains. Skyline Drive goes in one end of the park and out the other with two access points in between. We decided to drive the middle third only, because the driving speed is 35 mph. We thought we could handle that slow stretch and still make it to Columbus, OH before dark. The scenery started getting very pretty even before we entered but was absolutely beautiful at every turn inside. Rachel was busy taking panoramas and doing a wonderful job if I might say.
When I was in high school, our American Heritage class had taken a trip to Washington and our bus had gone through the park back then. I was so impressed by the beauty of the place that I was excited to have Butch and Rachel see it too. I was a little worried that my memories were rosier than reality but they both liked it as much as I did. We stopped at most of the overlooks and at least drove through the rest of them. The mountains in this area are older and softer than the Rockies. They are, of course, much smaller and are completely covered with trees. The views are incredibly green in the foreground with the mountains farthest away looking blue. There were lots of wild flowers along the roadsides and the temperatures were in the cool 60’s and 70’s which was a welcome break for us. There were also lots of butterflies everywhere we stopped…more than we see in Iowa, by far.
There was a visitor’s center/gift shop in the park about half way through our drive. They had a nice little exhibit about establishing the area as a National Park in the 30’s along with the roles played by the CCC and the WPA. Rachel bought some really cool postcards that were copies of posters of national parks created by artists during the depression. We all loved the rugged style and the striking colors of the art work.
Just as we were leaving the park, we had the most thrilling surprise when we saw a small black bear right by the side of the road. He was so still that we all thought at first that he wasn’t real, but as we drove up beside him he was startled and turned back into the woods. It all happened too fast for a picture but we felt incredibly lucky to see such a wild creature up close.
Our GPS route to Columbus took us on lots of what I would consider back roads. We saw more mountain and back country scenery as the day went along. We stopped for lunch at a Popeyes Chicken place. Which was…Meh!
As we drove we listened to to more of the audio book which was about a detective named Bernie and his partner (who is a dog) named Chet. We listened to the first book in the series on the way out and started the second book today as we started back. It sounds like a hokey premise but the books are actually done pretty well. Chet is the narrator so the story is told through a slightly quirky perspective. The author obviously knows and loves dogs and uses Chet to inject some humor and humility to the interactions between the people in the story.
As we got close to Columbus, we stopped in a town called Millersport to visit the grave of another one of Butch’s ancestors, Mathias Miller, a third great grandfather who founded the town. Butch took a few pictures of his and his wife’s grave. Tomorrow we will do a little more genealogy work before continuing our trip home.
Monday – We woke up to a rainy day which scotched the plan to take more genealogy pictures in Columbus. None of us could see slogging around in cemeteries in the rain. That meant that we got an earlier start than we had thought. We had a relatively uneventful drive with no problems or traffic delays. More Chet and Bernie to keep us entertained!
When we got to Iowa City at about 5:00, the whole family was glad to have Rachel home again. I think she was glad to be home too. After a short visit, we were on the road again toward Cedar Rapids and the end of our vacation.