COVER- Some off the beaten path roadtrips
When life was tougher: Humpback Rocks farm museum
Here's the good thing about the Great Depression: It gave us the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive, easy access to the Blue Ridge Mountains in Charlottesville's backyard. This summer, seize any pretext to take the short 30-minute drive west on I-64 for hours of free fun on the Parkway (Skyline Drive charges $15 to enjoy its similar views), a trip that will make you so grateful you weren't born on a subsistence mountain farm in the 1800s that today's economic woes pale in comparison.
The Humpback Rocks Visitor Center and farm museum at milepost 5.8 transports you to another, much harder era without flush toilets.
See what it was really like to live in a one-room cabin in the 1890s, and imagine that with a family of 10. Savor cooking over an open hearth in July. Wonder how you'd survive on the garden planted with beans and corn that you'd eat for the winter. Check out the pigpen with its bear-proof design, and contemplate slaughtering your own bacon.
Sundays are the big day at the farm museum with old-time and bluegrass music, and demonstrations of spinning, weaving, or plowing. Children are allowed to gather eggs from the free-range chickens running loose, but, alas, the demos don't include how to pluck and fry one.
Head on through the kissing gate for the 1.25-mile climb up Humpback Rocks, a hike that's rated strenuous but it takes you to glorious views on top of the world and will wear those younguns out.
Information on the Humpback Visitors Center and farm museum is tucked away on the National Parks Service website.
My Sherando: Car camp with kids 45 minutes away.
Serious car campers already know about Sherando Lake on the Waynesboro end of the massive George Washington National Forest. The two-lake park comes to us courtesy the Civilian Conservation Corps, for which we're profoundly grateful now that we need a cheap and easy getaway.
The larger 22-acre Sherando Lake has an inviting beach and offers swimming, canoeing, and fishing. There's no lifeguard, which means you can drown, but on the other hand, there's no one to admonish you for horseplay. Please don't drown swimming over to the island, which has claimed at least one victim in recent years.
Experienced car campers will arrive early to score one of the 65 sites, which are pretty much full every weekend during the summer and cost between $15 and $20. And for holiday weekends, arrive on Thursday. Reservations are available only for the group camp sites, which can handle up to 125 people.
Daytrippers can enjoy the swimming/fishing/hiking without the hassle of camping for $8 for a carload, $4 if you're by yourself. Grill up burgers at one of the more than 70 picnic tables.
A lot of locals have discovered the hiking/biking trails, some of which can be accessed from the Parkway, like the rigorous 7-mile Torry Ridge trail that offers spectacular views, the lower-key, 2.5-mile White Rock Gap trail, and the gorge-gazing 2.5-mile White Rock Falls Trail with a waterfall and wading pool.
It's so easy to get away from civilization here, we have to wonder why we don't do it more often, especially when amenities like flush toilets and hot showers are close at hand.
Take the Lyndhurst exit off I-64. Sherando Lake information is on the U.S. Forest Service website, which is easier to navigate than the Parkway site and has a good map of the trails.
All aboard! Caboose on the loose in Greene
Camping. It's not for everyone. There's the packing for one night like you'll be gone for a year. There are the giant(!) bugs, the frustrating tent-set-up, the inevitably leaky air mattress, the lumpy ground and the sometimes slimy bathrooms. But Heavenly Acres, an 80-acre campground 30 minutes from Charlottesville in Greene County, has something that no other local campground offers, something alluring enough to entice lovers of 500-thread count sheets, electricity, and clean private bathrooms to leave the comfort of their stick-built dwellings and willingly spend the night in the woods. That something? Cabooses.
Along with 15 tent sites and two standard camping cabins at Heavenly Acres are three classic train cabooses, restored by owner Gary Schneider to include sleeping for two- to four, a tiny galley kitchen with stove, microwave, refrigerator and sink, and a private bath and shower. Most thrilling for young guests: two bunk-style beds built into the cupola inside the caboose and accessible by ladder. A double bed or futon in the back is less exciting (but perhaps more comfortable). Outside, young caboose campers will clamber like monkeys over the exterior of the ladder-covered cabooses. A generous deck, grill, and fire pit round out the caboose offerings.
In addition to the cabooses, Heavenly Acres has a small swimming pool with classic '70s blue slide, a game room, hiking and biking trails and a fishing pond stocked with wide mouth bass, channel catfish, and hybrid bluegill. The campground is approximately two miles from Downtown Stanardsville with its grocery store, post office, and several restaurants. Caboose rentals are $90-$115 per night. AAA and some other discounts apply.
Directions: Take 29N to Ruckersville. Turn left on Route 33 toward Stanardsville. Turn right on Route 230.Heavenly Acres Campground is two miles up on the right. www.heavenlyacres.net. 434-985-6601
By a neck: Fork Union Drive-In
Describing the experience of the Fork Union Drive-In in strictly factual terms might ensure that no one would ever go: "You'll drive nearly an hour only to remain in your car or sit outside on the ground. The sound and picture quality are quite poor. The films you'll see will have already opened at newer theaters much closer to your house."
And yet, such a description misses the point completely. A trip to the Fork Union Drive-In is a bonding experience for families or new loves. It's a road trip back in time, nostalgic even for those too young to remember when drive-in theaters were a standard weekend activity. It is an archetypal American experience, a symbol of a simpler time.
The grassy field of the Fork Union Drive-In serves multiple duties: it's a parking lot, a picnic spot, a football and frisbee field. Children cavort below the massive screen catching fireflies or playing tag. Young couples neck in cars. Old couples neck in cars.
The sun sets just before the first screening– usually a family-friendly flick, followed immediately by more mature fare. The summer air smells especially sweet.
Perhaps in keeping with its old-timey feel, the owners of have not embraced modern technology as a way to keep their customers abreast of schedule or plans. They maintain neither voice-mail nor website. But a group dedicated to the place on social networking site Facebook promises the theater will be open this summer and that the schedule will "soon" be announced.
And just like in the old days, when a handshake was all it took to seal a deal, the Hook is trusting that Fork Union Drive-In will indeed open this year as it has each summer for more than 35 years. We'll pass the schedule on to readers through our movie website, cvillemovies.com.
Directions: The theater is located just one mile south of Fork Union off US 15 on Route 612.
Heavy petting: Going enclosed in Afton
Since when is bigger better when it comes to petting zoos? While Maymont in Richmond offers miles of walking trails, its fences keep the human petters separate from the animal pettees. That's not the case at Mountainside Petting Farm, which opened off of Route 151 in Afton last year.
Here, the animals– including pygmy goats, wallabies, English baby doll sheep, and turkeys– are free to roam together inside a very large enclosure. Zoo owner Barbara Funke provides visitors, who enter the enclosure, with snacks of pumpkin and popcorn to feed the convivial animals.
Every animal has access to custom built shelters where they can retreat to as they wish, and sometimes different species choose to room together.
Funke started out offering refuge to abused animals while she lived in Michigan, but when her menagerie grew, she and her husband packed up and moved to this 40-acre farm in Nelson County. She quickly won zoning approval for the zoo, which she opened as a way to subsidize the animals' care. She's busting myths too. For instance, anyone who thinks that all camels are nasty, spitting creatures will be instantly set straight by Chloe, the irresistable "kissing camel."
And did you know that a wallaby– a marsupial like a kangaroo– can have multiple "joeys" of different ages in its pouch? That may be the case at Mountainside this year, where one joey is just beginning to poke its head out and another may still be inside nursing.
The zoo is open weekends only from April to early December, and is closed if the temperature tops 90 degrees. Pony rides for visitors under 75 pounds are available by reservation, and families who want to immerse themselves in farm life can even take a mini-vacation and rent a cabin on the property.
Directions: Take I-64 to Crozet, exit 107. Turn left on and head west on 250. Take a left on 151S, and go seven miles to a right on Blundell Hollow Rd (Rte 633); Look for a red barn and windmill on your left, just past Sunnyside Lane. www.mountainsidepettingfarm.com. $5 adults. Children under 2, seniors over 65, veterans and military personnel free. 434-361-0203
What a ball: Meadows Farms Golf Course
Imagine a miniature golf course on steroids, with one hole that looks like a baseball field, a 25-foot waterfall at the edge of a green, and hole so long it takes six shots to make par. That would be Meadows Farms Golf Course in Locust Grove, just outside of Fredericksburg, and just 45 minutes from Charlottesville.
The 180-acre course, which features 27 holes, is home to the longest hole in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, a 841-yard par six. But don't worry, the design gives every kind of golfer, from the duffer to the pro, an option on how to play it.
You'll also find an elevated green surrounded by a massive waterfall. Golfers must drive their carts through a tunnel under the falling water, just like an amusement park, to find the green. Another green sits in center field in a real baseball park, and players tee off just behind home plate. There's even an island green, à la the The Player's Championship, to test one's nerves. There's some history to enjoy, too, as the course is surrounded by Civil War battlefields– including a view of a Civil War hospital from the course. There's really no other golfing experience like it in Virginia.
It's reasonably priced, too, just $39 for all 27 holes Monday through Thursday, and $42 Friday through Sunday.
Directions: Just take Route 20 North to Locust Grove, about 40 miles, and take a left on Flat Run Road and go about 3 miles. 4300 Flat Run Road. 540-854-9890. www.meadowsfarms.com.
Yankee go home: Salem Red Sox play ball
Just last year, Virginia members of the Red Sox Nation got to feel a little closer to Boston. After 13-years as the Salem Avalanche (and over 30 years as the Salem Rebels, Pirates, Redbirds, and Buccaneers), a Class High-A team in the Carolina League just outside of Roanoke (affiliated with the Houston Astros and later the Colorado Rockies ), the Avalanche joined the Sox farm system and were re-named the Salem Red Sox.
Actually, it was a return to the teams roots, as they were the Roanoke Red Sox from 1943 to 1953. Also, Sox knuckle-baller Tim Wakefield got his start with the Avalanche, as did Moises Alou of the Mets and Matt Holiday of the Oakland Athletics.
Home games are played at Lewis-Gale Field at Salem Memorial Ballpark, a 4,968 seat facility that opened in opened in 1995. And like all minor league parks, there's a host of fun promotions throughout the season to keep fans entertained, including kids eating free on Sundays, Friday family nights with live music, Mondays when tickets and concessions are just a $1, bingo Tuesdays, and special fireworks nights.
And get this– box seats are only $9 throughout the season, and parking is free! The Salem Sox also play home games until the first week of September, so there's plenty of time to catch a game–and maybe see a future Big League Red Sox star in the making!
Directions: Take I-81 South to Salem exit 141, Route 419 towards Salem. Follow 419 through two traffic lights (passing Lakeside Shopping Plaza on right). Bear to the right on to Texas Street (Alt. 460/11). Follow about 1/4 of a mile to ballpark on the left (next to football stadium and Salem Civic Center). 540-389-3333. minorleaguebaseball.com.
Track history: Virginia Transportation Museum
After catching a Salem Red Sox game, why not head over to the Virginia Museum of Transportation. Located in Roanoke's historic freight station, the museum boasts a collection of diesel, electric, and steam-powered locomotives, including a 1943 A-1218 steam locomotive (built right in Roanoke), which produces 4,400 horsepower using a 12-cylinder engine, and can reach speeds of 70mph. The museum also includes a collection of special cars and cabooses.
There is also a collection of great cars from every decade of the last century, including a 1904 curved-dash Oldsmobile, a 1948 Packard Limousine, and a 1963 Studebaker Lark Taxi. There are also ongoing exhibits showing how Virginians got around through the decades, including old carriages, trucks, and a special exhibit displaying the transportation history of African Americans. Inside, there's a huge model train display that can be viewed from two different floors, ongoing hands-on exhibits, and a experimental fixed-wing airplane and gyrocopter.
The Museum is open daily from 10am to 5pm and admission is $8.
Directions: Take I-64 toward Staunton. Merge onto I-84 toward Lexington/Ronaoke. Go about 78 miles. Take exit 143 toward the airport. Take exit 5 toward downtown Roanoke. Turn right on Salem Avenue SE. Turn right on 3rd Street SW. Turn left on to Norfolk Avenue SW. 303 Norfolk Avenue. 540-342-5670. www.vmt.org
Little Calf Mountain: Get kids moo-ving
Introducing kids to the joys of hiking presents myriad challenges including the fussing and regurgitation that can ensue just driving to the hiking place.
Which is what makes hiking Little Calf such a treat. It's only five miles north of the Rockfish Gap entrance station. And while it's gentle enough for the youngest walkers, it offers views as good as some of the most strenuous hikes along the Skyline Drive.
Best of all, the nice volunteers with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club keep the trail clear and may be the ones who keep chopping down the vicious thorns that keep trying to take over the football-field sized clearing that is your destination after only a half a mile of walking.
There incredible 360-degree views of such divergent sites as the communications tower-bedecked Bear Den Mountain and urban Waynesboro as well as more pristine peaks to the northwest. Besides the green eye-candy, the clearing provides ample room to toss a football while other folks can watch hawks, fly a kite, or cook up some stew.
Directions: Take 64 West to the Skyline Drive exit atop Afton Mountain. Park in the spot marked Beagle Gap on the east (right) side of the Skyline drive. $15/vehicle or $30/annual car pass. 540-999-3500 ext.3430
General fun: Valley League action in Waynesboro
With the UVA baseball team's season winding down, and the closest minor league team a little more than an hour away from Charlottesville, what does a baseball-starved fan have to do to take himself out to the old ballgame? Well, it's one, two, three miles or so to the other side of the Blue Ridge Mountains to catch a Waynesboro Generals game. (Okay, it's a little more than three miles.)
Part of the 12-team Valley League, the Generals have a roster featuring Division I college players from all over the country seeking to keep their skills sharp in the off-season and maybe even catch the eye of the professional scouts who occasionally populate the bleachers. You might even catch a rising star on his way to the Major Leagues. Among the Generals' alumni are Boston Red Sox third baseman and 2004 World Series MVP Mike Lowell as well as Detroit Tigers phenom Brandon Inge.
The Generals play 22 home games this summer at Waynesboro High School's Kate Collins Field, starting June 5 against the Rockbridge Rapids. The full schedule is available at waynesborogenerals.com. Tickets are just $5 for adults, $3 for kids under 12.
In Stock: Dust flies at Eastside Speedway
Sure, the big event for auto racing in these parts is always the semi-annual NASCAR Nextel Cup race at Richmond International Raceway. That still leaves 15 weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day to fill with roaring engines and burning rubber. Well, if you can't wait for the main event in Richmond, or you just can't stomach the sky-high ticket prices, check out the dirt track racing at Waynesboro's Eastside Speedway every Saturday night.
Harkening back to the earliest days of stock car racing, amateur weekend warriors tinker with their souped up "street stocks" and "grocery getters" all week long in the hopes of taking the checkered flag at the 2/5-of-a-mile track. Family members of drivers and crew members get into the spirit of things, too, some turning out with matching t-shirts and team signs.
Admission is $10 per person, but well worth it considering there are usually around a half-dozen races that go on from 6pm until well into the night. Kids 10 and under get in free! Be advised, these engines gets loud, so bring earplugs. eastsidespeedway.com 540-943-9336
Beer goggles: See brewers brew in Crozet and Afton
Virginia may be gaining a national reputation among wine lovers, but two local microbreweries are making themselves known in the world of beer and open their doors daily to let visitors in on the making of the summery suds.
Starr Hill Brewery may have become as ubiquitous as Mr. Jefferson in this town, but you can still get an intimate look at their brewing operations at the old ConAgra plant on Three Notch'd Road in Crozet. Every Saturday, they offer half-hour tours at 1pm and 3pm, with tastings going from noon until 5pm.
If you want to make a brewery-hopping day of it, you could also check out Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton. Not only can you see the beer being made, but you can also check out the on-site farm from which Blue Mountain harvests its hops, as well as the restaurant and bar, which occasionally features live music.
And for the trifecta of local lager, there's Devil's Backbone Brewery in the Nelson County town of Roseland. Having just begun brewing operations last October, they're the new kid on the microbrewery block, but they've made up ground fast, already offering six permanent varieties, plus rotating seasonal brews. They, too, boast live music, and a restaurant open for lunch and dinner. There's no formal brewery tour schedule, but if you show up and want to see the beer-making process, they tell the Hook they'd be happy to show you around the brewery.
Starr Hill Brewery 823-4671
Blue Mountain Brewery and Hops Farm 540-456-8020
Devil's Backbone Brewery 434-361-1001
The print version of this story gave faulty directions to Fork Union Drive-In. It has been corrected online.–ed#