Skyline Drive – It’s Cool….Literally!

Skyline Drive – It’s Cool….Literally!

With the heat of July upon us we decided to take a drive west to Virginia’s beautiful Skyline Drive with stops at our favorite places along the way. Plans for the development of the road date back to 1924 when a national park was planned in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and the main feature was to be a “sky-line drive” providing views of the surrounding land. President Herbert Hoover, who had a summer home at Rapidan Camp, called for the construction of the road. Groundbreaking for Skyline Drive took place in 1931. The first section, which originally was to run from Rapidan Camp to Skyland, was extended between Swift Run Gap and Thornton Gap and opened in 1934. Skyline Drive was extended north to Front Royal in 1936 and south to Jarman Gap in 1939. The road between Jarman Gap and Rockfish Gap was built as part of the Blue Ridge Parkway in 1939 and was incorporated into Skyline Drive in 1961. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) played a large part in constructing Skyline Drive. Improvements have been made to the roadway since it was built as they were repaving sections when we were there. Skyline Drive was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997, became a National Scenic Byway in 2005, and was designated a national Historic Landmark in 2008.

We left Alexandria in 90+ degree heat and two hours later we entered Skyline Drive at Thornton Gap and began to drive up the mountain. In a short time we were over 3,000 feet and the temperature outside dropped to 72 degrees.

We turned the AC off and opened the windows. Unfortunately it was a hazy day so the bright green of the hillsides were a muted green but still majestic. Once on Skyline Drive the speed limit drops to 35 mph which is very reasonable. You didn’t drive here to rush through the mountains. Not only are there scenic overlooks of the Shenandoah Valley to the west but to the east you will view Virginia’s Piedmont region with farms, pastures and smaller mountains. At some of the overlooks are rock formations for photos or climbing on, and wild flowers and shrubs invite butterflies and bees to join you. We traveled north for about 50 minutes and then headed back south towards Thornton Gap to see the other side.

The overlooks are not the only sights worth exploring. The rock formations on the interior roadside show how plants, over time, take root and can split the rocks. Throughout the year there is an assortment of seasonal fauna and flowers blooming and with luck you might see a bear crossing the road…hence 35 mph. (I have twice over the years).

After about a mile on the southern route, you will come to a tunnel that cuts through part of the ridge. When I was a kid I remember going for this drive as a family and I was just excited now as I was then. It is pretty cool. From one of the overlooks the sign says that the mountain in the distance to the east is Old Rag, a very popular mountain to hike. I will show it in my pictures so correct me if I am wrong. We drove a little farther to Skyland which has food, refreshments and lodging. We decided it was time for a beer break. Skyland had lots of masked visitors and people were paying attention to distancing and the morale of the employees in the tavern was upbeat. It was a nice change.

Before you get to the climb to Thornton Gap you will leave the beautiful little town of Sperryville. This is one of our favorite little rural towns. For such a small place it has a lot to offer. The Arts are alive and well in Sperryville with artist/curator Jackie Bailey Labovitz’ Cottage Curator gallery.

Jackie Bailey Labovitz with her Blue-Eyed Grass photograph. Photo credit: Luke Christopher

She specializes in assisting residential clients with the purchase and placement of her own art as well as artworks by other local, regional and nationally recognized artists. There are some beautiful pieces in this cleverly appointed space. It is a must stop on your adventure. Along the artistic vein, we finally stopped in to check out the Antique Tables Made Daily shop! We have been driving by this place for years and comment on the name every time but never checked it out.

There’s a first time for everything. This shop is a one man show performed by Tom Van Fange. He builds custom furniture from local timber with a concentration on tables. We will profile him in a future issue because he has a good story, but if you are on the hunt for a custom table now, this is a must stop.

Dining in Sperryville is a challenge these days with the effects of the pandemic so I suggest that you make a plan for food before you leave home. You can pick up picnic items at the Sperryville Corner Store or pick up really good burgers, fries and shakes at Burgers & Things. Headmasters Pub wasn’t open when we were there but might be by the time this issue comes out. You can get a sit down breakfast or lunch and/or travel eats at Sperryville Trading Café and Market on the way out of town. Our favorite breakfast place, Before and After, is offering carry out only.

We had made arrangements to meet Rick Wasmund, owner of Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville. (Check out their ad in this issue). He had not yet arrived from his other distillery in Williamsburg so we opted for a couple of fingers of whiskey and I pulled out a cigar. The Thornton River runs behind the building and is a perfect spot to relax and unwind. Lani chose the popular peach wood smoked rye while I stayed with the original single malt whiskey. Life is good! Rick arrived shortly and he offered to make a nice pasta dinner for us at the distillery. A quick run to the Corner Store for two beautiful bottles of red wine ($41) and we were set.

If you plan to take a trip out toward Skyline Drive I would recommend to make it two days and middle of the week is better…fewer cars and less people and room choices are better. For a place to stay check out The Loft in Little Washington or 29 Main in Sperryville. There are other options as well but we recommend these two.

On our way home toward I-66 we made a quick stop in Huntley, VA and Rappahannock Cellars Winery to visit with Allan Delmare, the main force behind Dida’s Distillery at the winery. Rappahannock Cellars celebrates 20 years of serving their award-winning wines and Dida’s is fast making a name for themselves in the brandy, gin and vodka craft spirits game – all of which are made from their own grapes. A very unique process. “Pressed, not Mashed”! It is a great place to buy a bottle or two of a unique product and the conversation is indeed interesting.

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