By Bob Tagert
For those of you who read us on a regular basis know that each month I write a Road Trip article as I venture away from Alexandria and explore what this region has to offer. As is my custom, each January I recap the places visited last year, so climb on board and see where went.
Tucker County, V
In February of 2015 I wrote about a three-hour trip to the highlands of West Virginia…Tucker County. Located in Tucker County is Canaan Valley, one of the premier winter destinations where recreation and relaxation options are plentiful. Downhill skiers and snowboarders of all levels will love the 43 slopes and trails of Canaan and Timberline mountains. Canaan Valley has a vertical drop of 850 feet and more than 180 inches of average annual snowfall. The resort also offers cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice-skating and snow tubing at the new tubing park. Although this time of year it is all about the winter activities, Canaan Valley is a four-season destination and a showpiece for the State of West Virginia and the West Virginia State Park system. Last year the state had just finished remodeling and adding on to their 32 million dollar, 160-room lodge complex.
For those hearty souls who like to cross-country ski, there is White Grass. Originally built as the Weiss Knob Ski Area in 1959, today former Alexandrian Chip Chase and his staff maintain over 60 km of trails.
Twelve miles from Canaan you can find Blackwater Falls State Park in Davis, WV. Blackwater Falls is named for the Blackwater River whose amber-colored waters plunge five stories then twist and tumble through an eight-mile long gorge. The black water is a result of tannic acid from fallen hemlock and spruce needles. The falls are one of the most photographed sites in West Virginia.
In March I wrote about Little Washington and Sperryville in Rappahannock County, Virginia. Although the town of Sperryville is small in size it certainly makes up for it with the energy and creative nature of the locals. Sherri Fickel and Kevin Kraditor, owners of Hopkins Ordinary B & B, took Kevin’s hobby of making beer to a commercial level last year when they opened the Ale Works at the B & B. The beers are made with local barley that is malted by their neighbors at Copper Fox Distillery and feature local and seasonal ingredients whenever possible, such as hops, honey, fruit and herbs.
Running through the middle of town is the Thornton River, which passes near Hopkins Ordinary and then flows under the bridge and passes behind Copper Fox Distillery. Owned and operated by master distiller Rick Wasmund, Copper Fox opened in 2005. Housed in an old apple warehouse, Wasmund has combined old world charm with modern distilling techniques. Copper Fox uses Virginia barley grown specifically for the distillery. Copper Fox is only one of two distilleries in the U.S. that hand malts their barley. Today Copper Fox is malting barley for a handful of breweries and hopes to add more to the list.
If you are an antiques type of person, across the lot from the distillery you will find Copper Fox Antiques.”30,000 square feet of antiques, gently used furniture, architectural salvage and collectibles all under one roof.
About five miles from Sperryville, down route 211, is the town of Little Washington. It is actually named Washington, Virginia and was the first of 28 towns with that name in the United States. It is nicknamed Little Washington to avoid any confusion because of the proximity to Washington, D.C.
Recently Alexandrian Jackie Bogle Meuse has opened the Little Washington Spa and Wellness center in Little Washington. Also Alexandrians Mark Allen and John McCaslin have recently purchased Tula’s off Main restaurant in town. Take a drive in the country for some good food and a facial or massage.
The Maritime Republic of Eastport
We all know about Annapolis, Maryland. Great restaurants, unique shops, the Naval Academy, and sailboats everywhere…after all, Annapolis is considered America’s sailing capital. Spa Creek is one of the borders of Annapolis ad on the other side is the community of Eastport. A bustling part of Annapolis today, 20 years ago the Eastport area was more of an after thought. There were only a couple of watering holes with Davis Pub and Marmadukes being the most popular. Today Marmadukes has been replaced by Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse while Davis Pub remains true to its’ roots. Also in Eastport you will find the Chart House and Blackwall Hitch. There is also a Chart House here in old Town and the second Blackwall Hitch opened its doors here this past summer.
Eastport is famous for its “Slaughter Across the Water”, an annual tug of war pitting Eastport groups against the folks across Spa Creek. The MRE (Maritime Republic of Eastport) began the annual burning of the socks to celebrate the spring equinox in March that signals the beginning of sailing season in earnest.
Sussex County, Delaware
In May we wrote about Sussex County, Delaware, but more specifically the beaches of Southern Delaware. The beautiful beaches of Southern Delaware were separated from the Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia area by the Chesapeake Bay for a long time…but that all changed in 1952.
The first span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was completed in 1952, opening up the Atlantic beaches to D.C. and Northern Virginia. At the time, the bridge was the world’s longest continuous over water steel structure. The parallel bridge was opened in 1973. What was once nearly impossible to reach is now just a little over three hours away by car.
In the late 60’s and early 70’s the building boom along the shore began in earnest. Washingtonians, looking for that summer retreat, were buying up beach homes as soon as they were built. You can see these beach communities today as you drive north along Highway One from Fenwick Island to Lewes and Cape Henlopen State park. With the proliferation of the housing market, the population began to swell in the summer months and towns such as Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island became more and more year-round settlements.
While Lewes and Bethany (the Quiet Resort) are more laid back, Rehoboth and Dewey can rock the night away. There are numerous eateries and a pizza parlor on just about every street corner. Some of these places have been here since the early 70’s like the Summer House Restaurant in Rehoboth. There is also the Frog Pond, Henlopen Oyster House, Dogfish Head Pub, and the popular Blue Moon for dining and entertainment.
Charm City, Baltimore, Maryland
In June we visited the three waterfront communities of the Inner Harbor, Fells Point and Canton. Like Old Town Alexandria, these are water front communities, but unlike Old Town the community’s main street runs parallel to the Patapsco River instead of perpendicular to the water. My first encounter with Fell’s Point was in the early 90’s when I crewed on the sailing vessel Patricia Divine, a two-masted steel schooner. We were in Baltimore to participate in the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race. Like Old Town, Fell’s Point is a seaport town where old warehouses have been converted in to shops and restaurants. Since the 90’s the town has continued to grow, but has kept its’ salty charm.
Some of my favorite pubs are The Cats Eye and The Horse You Came In On. The HYCIO pub is rumored to have been on of Edgar Allen Poe’s favorite watering holes. Story has it that his ghost resides at the pub. When I first visited the Horse in the 90’s they still had the wooden bars in place that separated the servers from the rowdy customers. The bars were removed years ago, but the place still has that rugged charm. Other great places include Bertha’s Mussels, The Admiral Fell Inn, Woody’s Rum Bar and The Waterfront Hotel.
With the success of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor in the 1970’s and 80’s, Baltimore became a worldwide tourist destination and model of urban planning and development. Today there are museums at the Inner harbor as well as the National Aquarium, which receives over 1.5 million visitors a year. Within walking distance is Oriole Park at Camden Yards, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore Convention Center, Babe Ruth’s birthplace and museum. Baltimore’s own tall ship, the Pride of Baltimore II, a top sail schooner, calls the Inner Harbor home port and can be seen there when she is not on goodwill tours.
In July I wrote about our long road trip out west…5,420 miles in 15 days. I had never seen the Grand Canyon so that became our road trip by way of Lexington, Kentucky; Utah; Grand Junction, Colorado; Lingle, Wyoming; and Denver, Colorado.
Our first stop was Lexington, Kentucky – a little less than 600 miles away. We had the good fortune to stay with our friends Clayton and Ashely Embly and their 8-year-old daughter Savannah. We got a great look at Keenland and the stallions of Claibourne farms. We next headed for the Grand Canyon via Amarillo, Texas. We drove through parts of Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. We even drove a few miles on Old Route 66 in Arizona.
The Grand Canyon was spectacular although a bit hazy because of forest fires in California. The dry heat was very pleasant as I perspire a lot. The quick evaporation kept me cool until I realized that I was dehydrated. From Arizona we drove through monument canyon in Utah to Colorado. We stayed with friends in Grand Junction and had a great time for a few days. There were 102 degree temps in town and after a 40 minute drive to the top of Grand Mesa we were in 72-degree temps. The snow still lay on the ground. This made for some very pleasant kayaking.
We then drove to Wyoming crossing through Rocky Mountain National Park and the Continental Divide. Climbing 10,000 feet we went from 100 degrees to 58 degrees and a foot of snow. As we approached Lingle we stopped at a bar along the highway to use the restroom. Of course the facilities were reserved for customers so we were forced to have a cocktail. Each drink cost $3.00. Sure wished we had more time to stay, but it was getting dark. After spending close to a week with some relatives we then headed to Denver for one night and then drove back to Virginia. It was always a dream to drive across the country and I am thrilled as to how easy it was. I would highly recommend that you take the adventure. Now I have my sights on the Big Horn Mountains in northern Wyoming and the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Broomes Island, Maryland
After driving those 5,420 miles last month, I decided to stay close to home for August The middle of summer is a great time to head to the upper Patuxent River and enjoy food, drink, company and the scenery at Broomes Island. The drive down Broomes Island Road will take you by vegetable stands and a very upscale kayak and canoe launch. Before you run out of road you will come to Oyster House Road where you will find Stoney’s at Broomes Island. This is the Flagship restaurant of the Stoney’s restaurant group.
The restaurant can be reached by car or boat on Island Creek. During the warm weather months, I sail there and tie up along the seawall. The restaurant sits along side the creek with 180-degree water views of the creek and the Patuxent River. There is outdoor dining as well as a floating dining dock and their famous Tiki Bar. Although the Broomes Island store is closed for the winter, the fabulous crab cakes and their great food can be had year round at Stoney’s Kingfisher in Solomons and Stoney’s at Clarkes Landing in St. Mary’s County.
Leonardtown, Maryland and McIntosh Run
September found me paddling McIntoh Run in Leonardtown, Maryland in St. Mary’s County. The McIntosh Run watershed is currently one of the most ecologically intact watersheds remaining in Maryland. Containing large blocks of contiguous forest, it provides habitat for many different species of wildlife. The cool water, which flows freely from upstream, offers a good habitat for restocking and seining yellow perch.
The paddle itself is fairly easy, beginning at the launch ramp and gradually increasing in width as we neared Breton Bay. The run is affected by the tide running up Breton Bay from the Potomac River. If you begin your journey at low tide there are a few shallow spots where you have to get out of the kayak and drag it to deeper water. Soon the water deepens and you can concentrate on the wildlife and flora.
As you quietly drift around the bend in the water it is not uncommon to see a Great Blue Heron perched on a fallen tree or standing in the shallows searching for a small fish. In addition to the many Blue Heron you can see Bald Eagles, White Egrets, muskrat dens, turtles and maybe even a water snake sunning itself.
Buck’s Peak, Luray, Virginia
In October we took a trip with a few friends across Thornton Gap on Skyline drive to a beautiful cabin three miles down the mountain toward the town of Luray. A Buck’s Peak is a beautiful four bedroom frame house with massive vaulted ceilings that is halfway up the mountainside. Sitting in a clearing at the end of a winding mountain road, the wrap around porch has views up the mountainside as it climbs skyward and back to the northeast towards the valley.
The best thing about the retreat is that it is big enough that there was really no need to get away…we already had. But then again, we are all 60 somethings and the 90 minute drive from Alexandria was enough to make you want to stay put. However, if you are looking for some more adventure, you can find it on either side of the mountain. The town of Luray is only about 6 miles west. Here you can find inexpensive gasoline, shops and a number of nice restaurants and bars.
The spectacular Luray Caverns are open year round and if you have never been, you must go. On the other side of the mountain is Sperryville and Little Washington, which is also in this article.
Nanticoke Heritage Byway
You have already read about Sussex County in Delaware in this article. In November we went to the towns of Bridgeville, Laurel and Seaford along the Nanticoke Heritage Byway. The Nanticoke Heritage Byway moves through scenic farmlands, wooded areas and historic towns. From the Nanticoke Wildlife area to Trap Pond State Park, there are many recreational opportunities for hiking, biking and boating.
The Byway extends from Bridgeville to the exit for Route 20 on US 13, passing through Seaford, Bethel and Laurel. The Byway also crosses its’ namesake, the beautiful Nanticoke River, at the historic Woodland Ferry. The three towns are all located on what was once a major inland shipping route and were all important centers for trade and for shipbuilding into the mid-19th century. That lasted through the Colonial Period and up until the railroad arrived in 1856.
Old Town, Alexandria
As is my habit, in December my road trip is always about my hometown of Old Town, Alexandria. In the past year a lot has taken place along our waterfront. Some of the Old warehouses have been torn down and a five- story hotel is now under construction. The hotel will have retail as well as a restaurant. Soon construction will start on the new Old Dominion Boat Club facility and the city will assume control of the existing boat club. There will also be more development along the waterfront. Just this last summer the Blackwall Hitch Restaurant opened in the old food court building.
For those who don’t know, Old Town extends 18 blocks from the Potomac River to the King Street Metro stop. There is a free trolley that stops about every two blocks if needed. It is a great and inexpensive way to see all of the many restaurants and shops in Old Town. Old Town has a lot of history, parks and the iconic Torpedo Factory Art Center. Come visit us!