Posts Tagged ‘virginia’

What I Look Like When Wearing a Tri-Corn Hat

October 16th, 2009 4 comments

Because you’ve been wondering.

me_tri-corn-hatMost colonials wore similar shades.

I didn’t buy the hat. The one I’m wearing was $36. The plainer ones are $25 and the fancy ones are $65. I also didn’t pay to rent a costume for the day. Yes, I’m very lame. (Yes, this is from Williamsburg.)


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Colonial Williamsburg, Historical Jamestown, Passable Blog Post (Day 87)

October 12th, 2009 3 comments

Maybe I’m over-selling the blog post.

I thought Williamsburg was absurd, fun, totally absurd, and worth a day. It’s wacky to walk around with a bunch of other tourists and then have all these ren-fair types also there talking about the revolution currently underway. I stood in line (for ten minutes!) so I could sit in an originaly, 18th-century house wherein two guys dressed up as British colonels talked about what it was like to currently be under house arrest, how they were being gawked at by locals, and how surprised they were to see the entire Continental Army amassing in town, including that short French fellow. I should have gone to the event called “Loyalist Travail”: a Loyalist doctor and his family are harassed by citizens as they try to slip out of town. I bet that one was rich.

Ah, but it was fun and absurd. Just absurd. I miss it already. It was sad walking back over that bridge into the lousy, freakish 21st century. Age of Enlightenment, *that’s* the epoch for me. Oh well.

All of Virginia and only four cells for felons!

I feel like I need to go back to Williamsburg — I could do it so much better next time around. Again, oh well.

williamsburg_bridgeAs you cross the bridge from the Visitors Center to town, you travel back in time!

williamsburg_underpassSo imagine my surprise when, despite being in 1781, I had to walk under an underpass with cars flying by overhead. I suspected witchcraft.

williamsburg_palace-greenThe Continental Army had arrived Friday night. Seriously. If I’d been there Thursday, these tents wouldn’t have been around. Sunday night, they “marched off to Yorktown”.

williamsburg_governors-palaceThe governor’s palace. I think the governor was on his way back to London, though.

williamsburg_courthouse-coachThe county courthouse. The most common offense was skipping church.

williamsburg_washingtonGeneral Washington surveys the… tourists. If you look lost, he’ll offer to help, but will probably end up just pointing somewhere and saying “that way”.

williamsburg_capitalThe capitol. This is where the House of Burgesses met, when it pleased the governor. And then once they got rid of the governor, it’s where whatever the Va representative government called itself at the time met.


williamsburg_rochambeauThe short French fellow (Rochambeau), I think.

One of the coolest things about the experience is that, if you want to, you can avoid introductory sessions and not read much and instead just walk around town and try to figure out what’s going on, why there are soldiers camped out on the lawn, why there’s a guy dressed up like Washington running around on a horse, why there aren’t (m)any redcoats around. There are also other interesting details you can pick up on if you want to — there was a guy with a team of oxen and a cart with what looked like a coffin in it. He paraded it around for most of the morning, but in the afternoon, he made his delivery — to the jailhouse. Absurd and fun.

The only problem I had with Williamsburg is that it took me a while to figure out what the game was. It’s a cool game, though. I’d like to go there again some day.


As for Jamestown — I’d always wondered why they decided to start their town in a malarial, bug-infested swamp. Now having been there — it’s not only a bug-infested swamp, but it’s a bug-infested swamp with no fresh water sources. Crazy. They founded the colony there because the river was deep enough close to shore that they could tie the ships on to trees. Walking the plankway over the swamp to Fort James, there were clouds of bugs — clouds, like you couldn’t breathe without inhaling bugs. Right: crazy.

There’s not a whole lot to see there (I just went to the Parks Service part — I figured I’d seen a solid display of “living history” at Williamsburg) given that the town was basically abandoned in the 18th century when Williamsburg became the capital. Actually — it’s kind of nice to have this abandoned, broken, archaeological site around and in such proximity to Williamsburg. Two sides of the same coin, interesting contrast, etc.

jamestown_graveyardThe graveyard inside of Ft. James at Jamestown.

jamestown_john-smithJohn Smith, looking longingly back to England.

John Smith seemed like an interesting character. Was a prisoner of war in Russia while serving in the Hungarian army, then escaped prison and returned to Hungary before becoming the guy that sort of led the Jamestown expedition and then colony. Apparently also sort of a jerk, although the display wasn’t very specific about that.


Applications, Sleeping In, and Fixing the Camper Shell (Day 86)

October 12th, 2009 Comments off

Slept in Williamsburg. Sat around in the hotel in Williamsburg trying to get my PhD apps to their next phase. And, between bouts of sitting around, fixed my truck’s camper shell, which had shifted back an inch and a half about 20 states earlier.

IMG00140-20091010-1506The ratchet set was the real hero.

But on the plus side, the canopy doesn’t look all jacked up any more.


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Ol’ Virginny Home(s) (Day 85, Part 2)

October 12th, 2009 Comments off

Yeah, I know, it’s supposed to be Old Kentucky Home, but I’m not probably going to be visiting any old mansions when I’m in Kentuck, ergo this.

I keep going back and forth between thinking I’m doing too much on this trip and thinking I’m not doing enough. Day 85 turned into the latter, so I decided to compensate by driving to dots on the Rand McNally road atlas. The first was Scotchtown, Patrick Henry’s home northwest of Richmond. It was fine. You have to take a tour to go in. I was the only one on the tour when it started — which would have been great, since it probably could have wrapped up in 20 minutes that way and there was nothing in that house that deserved more than 20 minutes of observation. But then some older couple joined in while we were in the dining room and then I had to hear all about where the cabinets were made and discussions of southern Virginia “famous families” that I’d never heard of.

I get the sense that Southern Virginia is like Utah — there are “prominent families” that everyone wants to say they know or are related to. It’s not my favorite part of Utah, either.

patrick-henry_kitchenThe tour guide leads the other tour participants toward the kitchen, where they will be killed and eaten.

patrick-henry_houseThe actual house. When Patrick Henry’s wife went crazy, he made her live in the basement until she died.

Here’s the rest of what I got out of the tour:

  • Patrick Henry had 17 children.
  • He was the first governor of Virginia (I’m not sure in what sense this is true — he was certainly not the colony’s first governor).
  • He didn’t collect much stuff.
  • When the slaves brought food into the house from the kitchen, they were required to whistle the whole way because if they were whistling, then they couldn’t be picking food off the plates and eating it.
  • At one time the house was occupied by a goat-tending hobo whom the neighborhood children feared.
  • He didn’t like to write — he was an orator. Patrick Henry, I mean. Possibly also the hobo — we don’t have any of *his* writings, either.

Of course, I had to go to *Williamsburg* to learn that Patrick gave his Liberty-or-Death speech at a church in Williamsburg. Or was it Richmond? Eh. It was definitely a church.

Then I went to the Shirley plantation, which is south of Richmond on the James River. It was owned by one of Virginia’s prominent families. The tour guide was good-looking, but a little too urbanized and professional to be giving tours of some plantation home. I think she’s under-employed. If I still had jobs to give out at Toshiba, I might’ve inquired as to her math skills. Ah well.

shirley_gateThat’s not the main house on the left there. It’s the kitchen, I think. The main house had bad lighting and wasn’t all that exciting anyway.


Supposedly this is the world’s oldest plantation that has been in continuous operation. It’s owned by the Hill-Carter family. Surely you’ve heard of them. It’s in its eleventh generation of ownership. The current heir lives in the top story. He’s used to having tourists take tours of the main story — that’s how he’s always known the home. When any woman in the family gets proposed to, she’s supposed to test the diamond by cutting something into the living room window. Etc.

It was a great day for being outside. Warm, but not hot, clear skies, gentle breeze. If Virginia were always like that, it’d be a hard place to not want to live, I figure.



National Museum of the Marine Corps and the Great USMC Brand (Day 85)

October 11th, 2009 7 comments

The US Marine Corps is just like Apple in that they are smaller and more agile than their competitors and have a killer brand. And, sort of like Apple, they *are* their brand — it’s not just the sum of logo and tag-line. Everything they do adds to the brand, whether intentionally or not. I mean, the Marine Corps had entire divisions (almost) wiped out in certain World War II battles and instead of burying that fact, they embrace it. It’s pretty amazing that getting killed can create positive associations with your identity.

Went to the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico. My favorite part was this:

usmc-museum_yelling-simulatorJust step right up and…

It’s a drill instructor simulator. You step into the booth and DIs start yelling at you from every direction (well, seemingly — I think it’s only from four directions). The crazy part? You know it’s a simulator and that you’re just in a plastic booth, but your (my?) natural instinct is to do whatever they yell at you to do. I found trying to get my heels closer together, standing up straighter, and, well, worrying about whether or not I was then standing correctly. They kept yelling at me to grab a rifle, but that one was harder. I think I learned more about either myself or human nature in those 60 seconds than I have the whole rest of the trip combined. It was really eye-opening.

Just generally, the cool thing about the museum is, well, (1) that I know more about the Marine Corps than other branches of service so there’s more there that I’m familiar with in the first place, but more especially (2) that they make it really immersive with several “simulations” parked in strategic locations. They’re not high-tech simulators, but it’s enough to let you imagine you’re there if you want to. For instance, there’s a Landing on Iwo Jima simulator. It sort of makes it look like you’re on a Higgins boat and the walls and floor vibrate while you watch a 180-degree movie (actual Iwo D-Day footage) of landing. Then, once you land, some non-com yells at you to move out and the ramp in front of you lowers. (At which point you just sort of walk back into the main part of the museum.)

Also had a Chosin Reservoir simulator, in which they turn the temperature of the room down by 20 degrees (it’s still about 50 degrees warmer than reality, but, you know) and have not-quite-animatronic guys in a diarama get uptight about not having enough ammunition. They had a few other vibrating floors also (I think another landing craft, plus one helicopter), but, basically, they want you to feel like you’re there and that, well, death is imminent. I mean, that *is* sort of the Marine Corps brand, right?

It was cool.

usmc-museum_front-facadeI think they also have some late-mover advantages — the facade is actually *interesting* (whereas the more venerable USAF museum just looks like an airplane hangar — I mean, fittingly enough, but, you know).

usmc-museum_atriumThe main atrium.

usmc-museum_corsairThere are a few airplanes in the museum — maybe 15, but at least two of them are Corsairs. No Hornets, no Phantoms, no Ospreys.

usmc-museum_skyhawkHarrier taking off vertically inside the museum.

The other cool thing about the Marine Corps is that if you’re somewhat famous and say something positive about the Corps, they’ll memorialize you for eternity. Although I was surprised they didn’t have that Reagan quote engraved in the atrium — maybe he’s on the outs since he let Col. North take the rap for Iran-Contra. Oh well. (Apparently, I need to learn how to turn around when entering atriums.)

It was more fun than I thought it would be, entirely un-disappointing.


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Everything I Learned at Monticello (Day 84)

October 10th, 2009 Comments off

It’s a pretty house, I learned that.

monticello_back-lawn-viewIt’s maybe too centered in this photo? Whatever.

  • The c in Monticello is pronounced “ch”.
  • Thomas Jefferson was six-foot-two.
  • He was pretty eccentric — more eccentric than I am even! — and didn’t seem to equivocate much, even when it seemed like he was wrong.
  • It didn’t seem like his slaves were living as luxuriously as I might have thought.
  • He was really good friends with James and Dolly Madison.
  • They moved into one of the out-buildings (one room upstairs, kitchen downstairs) while the main house was still being built.
  • Jefferson defied conventional wisdom by building the house on top of a hill.
  • Most people in rural Virginia during Jefferson’s time had never seen a map before.
  • Ronald Reagan’s library is more impressive than Monticello. Of course, it has the advantage of having been built as a museum rather than a house, but, inasmuch as you can compare a museum to a house, Reagan FTW.
  • The Monticello tour is a little claustrophobic.

I think that’s about it. Or at least, that appears to be all that’s stuck with me over these two long days since I was there.

monticello_garden-longJefferson seems to have planted corn and other crops in his front yard.

Also went to Appomattox Court House on Day 84. It was a little lame. Here’s a picture so you can see how lame it is.

appomattox-court-houseI should probably just stop visiting Civil War sites. The photo itself probably doesn’t come off as all that lame.

And here’s what I learned there:

  • Appomattox Court House was the name of the village where the armistice was signed. It was not signed at the courthouse (pictured above), but at some guy’s house (not pictured).
  • The modern town of Appomattox moved closer to the railroad once the courthouse burned down.
  • The guy’s house that is currently set up at Appomattox Court House is a re-creation. The real one was dismantled and taken to DC, where it disappeared or something without ever having been exhibited as planned.
  • The guy who gives tours through the house is sort of cranky to people who don’t know they have to be led through it by him, even though there’s no indication anywhere that they’re not allowed to just walk into the house like they can every other house at Appomattox Court House.
  • It’s hard to use three words in spelling Appomattox Court House.

I didn’t take the tour. It’s probably a fantastic site if you’re into the Civil War. They also had a guy dressed up as a union soldier who acted like he was stuck in 1865. It probably would have been more convincing if he hadn’t been ethnically Indian (from India). I mean — the illusion’s pretty well broken before he even tries to talk to you about how expensive the tavern is, which makes playing along sort of stressful. He also has all his teeth and lacks powerful body odor, which should probably also have been illusion-breakers.

Looking forward to kayaking around the Outer Banks. I think that’ll help.

Oh, and I also went to Chancellorsville, another Civil War battlefield. I took one photo:

chancellorsville-battlefieldDespite plenty of trees to hide behind, Stonewall Jackson died here.

But it was getting on toward evening, the rangers were closing up shop, and so I pressed on. The campground I slept at that night is probably one of the ones on the western part of the map in Fallout 3. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself. And I think I saw a super mutant while I was there — but, sadly, I found no jet, mutfruit, stealthboys, or railway spikes. They had a shower, though.


Camping in the Blue Ridge

October 10th, 2009 Comments off

Welcome to my world!

blue-ridge_campground-at-nightOtter Creek Campground, night. The orange spots are from the lantern off to the side of the camera.

Camping Sounds from Virginia

Click above to hear what Va sounds like out in the sticks at night. To complete the scene, figure there’s at least one of those insects that looks like a twig crawling on the picnic table and a daddy long-legs frying itself on the inside of your propane lantern (which is the white noise in the audio clip — sorry). And if you’re me, you can’t smell anything because you’re still a little congested.


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Travels through Hillbilly Nation: Blue Ridge Parkway (Day 83)

October 10th, 2009 Comments off

Ways in which Blue Ridge Parkway is different from Shenandoah National Park:

  • It’s not a national park. It’s a road with protected lands on either side of it that is administrated by the National Park Service.
  • It’s hills are 40% steeper than Shenandoah’s.
  • It has lakes and rivers alongside the roadway.
  • It’s further south.
  • There are remnants of a lost civilization along the route.
  • The locals have a much stronger accent.
  • Way-cooler place names (“Peaks of Otter”? You can’t beat that.)
  • It’s 4.5x as long.
  • Better campsites.
  • Lower visitor density.

Camped at the Beaver Creek Campground (so nicely creek-situated and wooded I’d have thought it was administered by the Forest Service) and went to the camp restaurant for food in the morning. Walked inside and the place is almost full with what appear to be locals. The six at the bar are engaged in a vigorous discussion over “red-eye gravy” and their drawls do not seem ironic. And with that, I realize that I’m in The South. Never been to The South before.

Blue Ridge Parkway, IMHO, > Shenandoah National Park by a good ways. The hills are more pronounced and interesting, the running water is a plus and gives you something to take a picture of if you have to, the abandoned hillbilly structures are kind of cool, and, like I said, there are fewer people. I only drove the Virginia part of it, though. I’m saving the state of North Carolina for another day (Day 88 actually).

blue-ridge_otter-lakeDon’t remember the name of it and it’s not on the map, so there.

blue-ridge_peak-of-otterSharp Top, one of the two Peaks of Otter. It’s near Bearwallow Gap. Man. And there was, in fact, an otter in the lake (which is not called Lake of Otter, sadly). (It would make the otter insufferable thinking it had been named for him.)

blue-ridge_abbott-lakeI think it’s called Abbott Lake.

blue-ridge_parkway-curveDismayed by yet another photo of a road with trees on it, the crows flee.

blue-ridge_valley-belowThe valley below — this goes on for 460 miles or whatever.

blue-ridge_fence-roadWhat with the fence and all, it could pass for a Civil War battlefield.

blue-ridge_hillsideAh, fair Appalachia, long may your hills yet roll!

blue-ridge_mabry-millMabry Mill, a “functioning” water mill (it functions in that water turns the wheel).

blue-ridge_flumeIf a flume leaks in the woods and no one’s around, does it actually get anything wet?

Another day down. Blue Ridge Parkway has most of the same problems as Shenandoah — or at least, the one big problem: there’s nothing to do there but look at stuff. The Appalachian Trail runs through both of them, but apparently the AT is just a walk in the woods for not apparent reason — at least until it turns serious up in New Hampshire, I guess.

Based on perceived scenery, the PCT hasta be about 100x the trail the AT is.

Ah, well. I also remind myself frequently that the alternative is sitting in a gray-walled cube, at which point time spent in 2,000-foot mountain ranges without anything to do but drive and look start looking better. OTOH, what about the *opportunity cost*?! I should’ve spent another couple days in New England. Now I’m stuck taking that bitter failure to the grave. Eh — have to take something, I guess.


Shenandoah and the Two-Way View (Day 82)

October 9th, 2009 Comments off

Shenandoah is a National Park made for old people who don’t get out of their cars. There’s nothing to do there besides pull over and look out over the side and see the valley with farms and towns in it. Valleys, sorry. One on each side. They don’t change much.

shenandoah_overlookEvery quarter-mile there’s an overlook. And every overlook has this exact view (in essence).

But at least the old people are genteel. At least the local ones are. And with the photography, I just went with the old standby: leaves. I’m guessing Shenandoah is pretty brilliant by the end of October. Wasn’t as colorful as New England had been a week or two earlier, though. I suppose these things take time.

shenandoah_skyline-drive-leavesAnother couple weeks and Skyline Drive will be on fire (figuratively).

I also sort of went on two hikes. The first was to White Oak Canyon, which my Reader’s Digest book suggests is the park’s scenic highpoint. To me, the highpoint of it was getting 2.3 miles in, seeing the first little waterfall, and having the locals there tell me it wasn’t worth it to keep going, because the rest of the waterfall was going to be even less spectacular. I guess it hasn’t rained much in Va.

But, whatever, there must be hike photos, so:

shenandoah_white-oak-leavesTrailside leaves.

shenandoah_white-oak-turkeysJust after it occurred to me that this would be a pleasant enough place for turkey hunting with Sgt. York, I stumble onto these guys. Gary Cooper, however, did not make an appearance.

shenandoah_white-oak-cascadeThis is more stunning than the waterfall was.

shenandoah_white-oak-bridgeEh. It’s a bridge.

The couple at the waterfall also insisted that I should hike up to Hawk’s Bill Peak, the highest point in the park, so I did. It was a short hike. Here’s evidence it happened:

shenandoah_hawks-billThe compass tells you where the forest is on fire.

And then I headed south and out of the park, never to return again.

shenandoah_yellow-by-roadSomehow the yellow seemed significant at the time.

shenandoah_bobcatJust because you can’t see it doesn’t mean this isn’t a photo of a bobcat.

It really *was* a bobcat.


Virginia Welcomes You (Me) (State #29!)

October 8th, 2009 Comments off

Another prime number — I can sleep easy once again.

welcome_virginiaI think “Virginia” is the bird’s name.

I was a little surprised to be in Virginia. I thought I’d be in West Virginia. But no: just normal Virginia for about five miles. It was pleasant while it lasted. I’d be back soon.


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