Southern Swing, Part 4

Welcome to the heavy-driving portion of our trip.  Please keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times.  Por favor mantenganse alejado de las puertas.

Saturday started off in relaxed fashion, as my aunt held a mini-Easter Egg hunt for the kids around her yard.  I moved quickly to hide the eggs so we could do the hunt and then get moving on our drive.  I can’t tell you how excited I was to get lots of chocolate candy to keep in the hot, stuffy van on a long road trip.  The kids loved it, of course, and Sarah impressed me by finding the one I had concealed in the bird feeder.

Scotty shows off his bounty.

We packed up the van and got ready to leave.  As I climbed in to start the van, I noticed a red light blinking on the dashboard.  Hmmm…wonder what that is.  I started the van, and the car alarm immediately started blasting the horn.  For some reason, the security system hadn’t disabled itself when I had unlocked the van.  I tried pushing the alarm button on the remote, turning the car on and off, unlocking the doors again…nothing worked.  For a full two minutes, we serenaded the neighbors, our car alarm echoing through the valley.  My uncle came out and made a motion to turn the ignition with his hands, his look clearly saying, “Hey, moron, turn the car off.”  “I already tried that!”, I said.  The kids giggled at me from the back seat through the entire ordeal.  Finally, we turned it off,  locked the doors, then unlocked them again.  That seemed to re-set the system.  Oy.

Finally, we set out and entered the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Have you noticed we like to take pictures of signs to mark our journey?

Blue Ridge Mountains, 20-Minute Cliff overlook

This is a 457-mile two-lane road that connects Shenandoah National Park with Great Smoky Mountains National Park, traversing the Blue Ridge Mountains the whole way.  Our plan had been to drive the first 100 miles or so to Roanoake before jumping over to the interstate to get to my Uncle Bill’s house in Abingdon, VA.

The drive was very similar to Shenandoah: 35 mph, lots of twists and turns and random guardrails with deadly drops unprotected.  We also saw a couple of “overlooks” where huge trees blocked any chance at a view.  Not sure what the point was there.  We saw yet another one of these and started to drive on past, when we noticed a big waterfall up the slope.  Aha!  So that’s why that parking lot was there.  I successfully performed a 27-point turn and pulled into the lot.

I'm a sucker for waterfalls.

Lunch was at the bridge over the James River.  We’d gone about 85 miles on the BRP at this point and everyone felt like they’d had enough mountain driving for the day.  So, we had our PBJ and cheese balls and took a walk.  They had a cool little pedestrian bridge under the main road bridge that led to the river’s shores and a restored lock from a canal.  Great little spot for a break.

Crossing the James River

Old-time canal lock

I just like this picture.

After jumping on I-81, we drove 2.5 hours to my uncle’s place.  You don’t realize how big Virginia really is until you have to drive to Abingdon, way down in the SW corner of the state.  Here, we met up with my parents and relatives to celebrate Easter with a nice dinner, a church service in the morning, and of course, a huge bonfire.

My uncle likes to save his Christmas tree, get it nice and dry, and then burn it to mark the beginning of spring.  Here’s the fire before we put the tree in…


And after.  That tree had been sitting for 3 months, and it went up fast.  We’re talking a Biblical pillar of fire here.  If that doesn’t scream “Awesome!” to you, then I really can’t help you.


Contrary to reports, the other homes, trees and yards in the picture were not harmed.

Sunday was the Easter service (Julie made me pack a coat and tie for this–ugh!) and then 5.5 hours of driving down to Columbia, SC.  DVD showings for the day included Wall-E and 101 Dalmatians.  We drove into Tennessee first.

State Line #3

I drove past Trennr’s office in Johnson City.  Given that it was Easter Sunday, I figured he had better things to do than try and catch me passing through, but I did unleash my best wave in his direction.  Trennr reported later that the sheer seismic force of this wave knocked Chuck off of his keyboard in his office.  We passed through North Carolina and South Carolina in short order.

State Line #4

State Line #5. Can't get enough of these pictures, can you?

I was following my dad the whole way.  His speed ranged from about 48-75 mph, which made following him…well, let’s say “difficult”.  But we survived and pulled into our hotel right around dinner time.  It was located on “Harbison Blvd.”  Dave couldn’t believe that nobody in South Carolina could spell our name correctly.

One final story.  At dinner that night, I was fooling around with my iPod on the wireless connection, and said to the table, “Wow…the Eagles traded McNabb to the Redskins.”  My dad looked at me like I had sprouted antennae.  I let the family twist a little before I revealed that I was just kidding.  After all, nobody would be stupid enough to trade a franchise QB to a division rival.

Two hours later, the news popped up on ESPN: Eagles Trade McNabb To Redskins.  My jaw dropped, and I knocked on my dad’s door to tell him.  “Yeah, right…” he said.  I had to get him to turn on the TV to confirm it.  True story.

Coming Up Next: A day on hallowed ground…Augusta National Golf Club.  Followed by dinner in Nowhere, SC.

Today in Disney History

Walt Disney World:  April 30, 1969
During a press conference at the Ramada Inn on Highway 50 in Ocoee, Florida (a suburb on the outskirts of Orlando), Donn B. Tatum (then-president of new Walt Disney World Co. subsidiary) details the more than 3 years of planning for a “Destination Vacation”.  By now it has been two years since special legislation had been passed to allow Disney to build its Florida project, and now the company has rented out the entire Ramada Inn for Walt Disney World’s official first press event. A large circus tent outside the hotel is filled with models and artist renderings of Walt Disney World for this three-day gala. Among the Disney officials in attendance is Walt’s brother, Roy O. Disney, and Disney publicist Charlie Ridgway. A 16-mm 17 minute film titled “Walt Disney World – Phase 1″  is shown at the Parkwood Cinema Theater, showing the master plan and concept art for a “Magic Kingdom” theme park as well as the nearby hotels and amenities.  Though the new park is modeled after the company’s flagship, Disneyland, in Anaheim, CA with many of the the familiar lands and attractions made popular during that park’s first 14 years of operation, the company’s planners and executives decide against making a carbon copy for the east coast.  Various lands and attractions would remain unique to California, while new lands and attractions would become unique to Florida, thereby generating and retaining interest in both destinations by as many people as possible.  The project is slated to open to the public in the fall of 1971.

Today in Disney History

Disneyland:  April 29, 1957 – Actress Shirley Temple takes part in the dedication of the Sleeping Beauty Castle walk-through attraction, that for the very first time opens up the interior of the castle to guests, with a myriad of charming dioramas depicting the story of Sleeping Beauty.

Walt Disney World: April 29, 1994 – The first phase of Walt Disney World’s new line of value-grade accomodations opens, the All-Star Sports Resort.  A haven for sports fans, the resort would eventually consist of 5 themed areas (10 buildings in all) each bordered by a giant sports icon.


Today in Disney History

Walt Disney World:  April 28, 1997 – “King Stefan’s Banquet Hall”, located inside Walt Disney World’s Cinderella’s Castle is officially renamed “Cinderella’s Royal Table”

Disneyland:  April 28, 2006 – Disney’s California Adventure premieres the first ever “California Food & Wine Weekends”, based on the great success of the annual Food & Wine Festival at Epcot each fall. 

Another reminder that being a Dad is just Awesome!

This past weekend was another wonderful example for me, just why being a Dad is simply awesome.  I got to go and spend a couple of nights in the woods, rain (& lots o’ mud) with my boys, and the rest of the Scouts & leaders who were there at our Spring Camporee.  I had such a great time.  They had such a great time.  And to top it all off, Harrison, my eldest, was added to the roll of the Order of the Arrow (OA) which is the National Honor Society for the Boy Scouts.  I was so very proud to be able to be there to witness his being “called out” and celebrate with him afterwards.  The election took place back on February 8th (the Boy Scouts of America’s 100th Anniversary) and he was so hoping he’d be elected this time around, especially considering the special significance of that date.  So was I.  But they don’t tell anyone in advance the results of the election until the Callout ceremony during the Spring Camporee.  I was on pins and needles when they were working their way through the J’s & K’s… then the L’s, and sure enough, they called his name.  I was so very proud!  

For those of you who  don’t have sons old enough to participate in the program, or weren’t Scouts yourself (as I wasn’t – I was a Cub Scout, but never a Boy Scout), the OA is a special honor for those young men who are a part of it.  They have to first achieve the rank of First Class, meet various requirements, and then be elected by their peers.  Not everyone makes it, so it’s pretty cool that he did.  THEN, after they are called out, they have to go through their “Ordeal” – which is a special weekend event just for the newest O.A. members.  I’m not an adult  member of the OA yet (I fell short of the required camping nights by 3 – but there’s always next year), so I can’t go to the Ordeal myself, but I’m very, very excited for him. 

The theme for the Camporee was a medieval one, so Harrison’s Patrol called themselves the “Monks of Arimathea” and Matthew’s Patrol called themselves the “Black Knights”.  Monty Python flies again!  The Monks then went around camp between activities whacking themselves on the forehead with their wooden boards chanting  “Pie Jesu domine,  dona eis requiem” – they had so many of the adults just cracking up!  It was awesome!

Southern Swing, Part 3

I'll give you 3 guesses where we went next.

After our gourmet meal, it was time to hit Skyline Drive.  While the total length of the drive in the park is around 100 miles, we would only be doing about 70 or so.  The trees were just beginning to sprout buds, so we didn’t get to see as much color as we were hoping–much of the forest still looked dormant.  On the plus side, this meant we’d be getting more views of the Shenandoah Valley than normal.

Looking towards Eastern Virginia

The road is a 2-lane road that winds up and down mountainsides, with pull-offs every so often affording scenic views of the Shenandoah Valley and the Appalachian Mountains to the west, and the Virginia lowlands to the east.  Being a road engineer, I enjoyed seeing how they built the road into the sides of the slopes, trying to give maximum views while impacting the forest as little as possible.  I couldn’t quite figure out the guardrail criteria, though.  They would have miles of rock wall running parallel to the road, and then hit a sharp curve right around a steep drop-off, with no barrier whatsoever.  Maybe this is the National Park Service’s version of a thrill ride.

"Stony Man" Mountain

Max speed was about 35 mph (oddly about the same as the Washington Beltway), so we wound slowly through the park for a couple of hours, stopping every so often for pictures.  Right about the time the kids started asking if we were there yet, we pulled into the parking lot for the hike to Dark Hollow Falls.

The guidebooks listed this as a “moderate” 1.5-mile hike that followed a stream to the falls, which drop about 75′ and Thomas Jefferson himself once made the trip to view.  What we got was a hike that was nearly as steep as the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon, just with more water nearby.  Maybe I’m just out of shape (likely), but this trail was “moderate” in the same way the electric chair is a “moderate” punishment.  The problem we faced was the same: what goes down must eventually come back up.  Still, we wanted to see the waterfall.

The kids, before they realized they'd have to climb back up.

No problems going downhill.

About 2/3 of the way down, we stopped by a little pool where the stream was wider and flatter.  An Asian family stopped here as well.  They were chattering away in their native language and didn’t appear to speak much English.  I knelt down with Sarah and we started picking out smooth, flat stones.  I started teaching her how to skip them across the water.  I looked over, and the other dad was doing the same with his son.  I guess some things are universal.

After a brief rest, we continued down the way and found the falls.

I'm wondering who gets the assignment to carve this.

Dark Hollow Falls

This might be our Christmas card, if you don't mind Scotty not paying attention and Dave looking constipated.

No doubt about it, the falls were worth the hike.  With this being the beginning of spring, the snow-melt runoff was at its peak, and the water was gushing. Great spot to sit, rest, and enjoy creation.

After taking several dozen pictures, we started the hike back up. Scotty took about 3 steps and then declared he was too tired, and needed to be carried. I responded with loving, encouraging tones that, roughly translated, meant, “Suck it up, kid.” Naturally, whining eventually won out and I picked him up to carry him up the steeper parts of the trail. I made him walk on the flatter parts, which he wasn’t happy about. But this was hard work. It would have been hard enough hiking up by myself, but this kid was adding 40 lbs. of dead weight. I don’t know if you can tell from the pictures, but his head is huge. It’s off the growth charts in the doctor’s office. It’s like a bowling ball attached at the neck. Try hiking uphill with that sometime.

Thankfully, the other two kids didn’t complain (much), and after frequent breaks, we finally reached the parking lot. Extra cheese balls for everybody!

The Blue Ridge Mountains. The ridge is...well, blue.

We made one more stop at the visitor center to stamp our National Park Passport (sort of like the Epcot passports). Then, we continued on, enjoying the drives and the views. Not so much the kids’ antics. Dave began messing around with a bottle of red Gatorade, figuring out how to blow into it to make noise. Eventually, this resulted in him dumping Gatorade all over the floor of the back seat. We stopped at the next pull-off and frantically began wiping everything with a paper towel. Dave thought this would be a good time to start climbing into the back of the van and sit on our luggage. With Dave, you don’t always ask “Why?”, you just kind of shake your head in bewilderment and move on.

Dave, just before "The Gatorade Incident".

We pulled into my relatives’ driveway around 7:30 that evening and were treated to pizza and ice cream (hey, we earned it with that hike). This was topped off with a dip in their hot tub, and the following brief conversation with Big Dave:

“You like the hot tub, Dave?”
“Oh, yeah. It’s the best part of the vacation.”

Great. Glad we spent so much time at the other places. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.

The highlight of the trip, according to some.

Coming Up Next: I gloss over 2 days of mostly driving where not much of interest happened. You won’t want to miss it!