Bridge, bullets, bats and a cavern.

The next days trip was pure transportation. We were just going north, to our next overnight stay in Raleigh, North Carolina. We took Interstate 95, from Santee to Benson, NC and then I-40 to Raleigh.

In Raleigh, we quickly found our hotel and got our room. Our rooms was in opposite ends of the hotel, and Dorte and I got a room in the "wrong" end. This part of the hotel looked more like an abandoned military hospital than a hotel. Dull, green-painted walls with dull gray carpeting, and no windows in the hall, but the room was OK. The kids had a room which exited to a outside gallery and all the rest of our company were in the same part of the hotel. After checking in, we went out on an expedition to an outlet in order to get a swimsuit for Dorte, and this time we suceeded, so we hurried back to the hotel to inaugurate it. The only problem was that a lot of young boys and girls were staying in the hotel and they all seemed to be in the pool when we returned. Anyway we managed to take a swim before dinner that night.

After dinner everyone wanted to relax at their rooms except Dorte and I, who would rather go down town to enjoy some night life. We drove toward the city center, but without seeing anything. Indeed, we didn't see a single living soul in the streets except for people in cars, and suddenly we were out of town again, so we continued a little further and then turned around. We took another route back through the town center, but with the same kind of luck. Although it was Saturday night nothing seemed to be open. We therefore chose to return to the hotel but bought a couple of beers at a gas station, which we drank before we went to bed.


Next morning the whole party met in the hotel's "breakfast room" to enjoy the included breakfast. It turned out that breakfast consisted of coffee, juice, sandwich bread with jam, muffins, fruit and juice. Or rather this was what should have been on the buffet. Unfortuately somebody got to it before we did, because there was no juice, coffee or toast. All that was left were four muffins, and some not to good looking apples. We chose to have our breakfast along the way and found a Denny's close to the hotel.


After breakfast we took U.S. Route 40 a few miles north to Durham, then changed to U.S. 501 to Danville, Virginia. From there we took even smaller roads to Lynchburg, also in Virginia. It was Sunday and it was time for church, and it showed. The roads were almost empty, but the parking lots outside the churches where filled to the brim. The few cars we met were clearly locals, and I assume that they believed everybody knew their habits as noboody gave any kind of sign before turning either left or right, and cars came rushing out of side roads without stopping etc., so I assume that they trusted that everyone in the area knew that they were driving this particular route every Sunday at that time. "The winner" was a car that rushed out from a driveway in front of us on the right hand. I had to jump on the brakes to avoid a collission. After that he drove calmly, extremely calmly on the narrow roads, where it was impossible to pass him. His speed was rarely more than 20 miles per hour, and despite the fact that we repeatedly changed direction, he never once useed his turn signal on the 8 miles that we were behind him. Beside from that everything went well, and we saw an area of the state that we would not have seen if we had stuck to the freeway.

When we got to Lynchburg I would have traveled west to the Blue Ridge Mountains near the town of Montvale in Bedford County to take on treasure hunting.

"I have deposited in the county of Bedford, about four miles from Buford's, in an excavation or vault, six feet below the surface of the ground, the following articles, belonging jointly to the parties whose names are given in number "3," herewith:

 

The first deposit consisted of one thousand and fourteen pounds of gold, and three thousand eight hundred and twelve pounds of silver, deposited November, 1819. The second was made December, 1821, and consisted of nineteen hundred and seven pounds of gold, and twelve hundred and eighty-eight pounds of silver; also jewels, obtained in St. Louis in exchange for silver to save transportation, and valued at $13,000

 

The above is securely packed in iron pots, with iron covers. The vault is roughly lined with stone, and the vessels rest on solid stone, and are covered with others. Paper number "1" describes the exact locality of the vault so that no difficulty will be had in finding it.

This text comes from the famous or infamous Beale papers, written in code, and the above text is the only part that has been dechipered. The remaining to pieces of paper with coded numbers are still not resolved. Paper 1 is the most interesting, because it would tell exactly where the treasure is buried. The "Buford's" of the letter is the village, which today is called Montvale, approx. 40 miles west of Lynchburg. Countless people have been looking for the treasure without luck. As many claim that this is a hoax, and that there has never been a burried trasure, and a few is asserting that they themselves have found the treasure while others thinks that it has been found and removed many years ago. Anyway I didn't get the chance to go looking,  because the rest of the family would rather see the rock formation Natural Bridge in Rockbridge County somewhat further north in the Blue Ridge.

Natural Bridge is located on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, not far from the Blue Ridge Parkway. "The Bridge" is a natural rock bridge, created by the Cedar Creek, which over millennia has eroded the soft rock of the mountain away leaving only the hard parts. The bridge is considered to be one of the world's natural wonders. From the ticket office it was possible to walk down to the bridge (there was a stairway with 137 steps) or you could take a bus. Else, Carl and the four young people that were with us that day (Tim, Tina, Jill and Lasse) took the bus, while Dorte and I walked down.

When we came to the foot of the stairs, we studied a sign stating that the bridge had developed through 200,000 millions of years of erosion! 200 million is probably more likely, but maybe this bridge is older than the rest of the universe! The actual bridge spans about 90 feet and and is between 50 and 100 feet wide. The bridge is crossed by present day U. S. Route 11.

In the 1740s the area belonged to the English crown (the Native Americans that lived in the area had not been asked), and the Governor of Virginia arranged an expedition in 1749, that aimed to find a way across the Blue Ridge. Leader of the expedition was Colonel Peter Jefferson and one of the participants was a young George Washington. 23 feet up on the cliff's side under the bridge, the initials GW have been found scratched into the rock, and some believe that it is Washington's initials, thus making him USA's first known graffiti artist. In 1774 one of Colonel Jefferson's relatives, Thomas Jefferson, who later was to become the third president of the United States, bought the area of the English king for 20 shillings. Had King George known that just three years later Jefferson would be one of the ringleaders behind the USA's secession from England, it is uncertain wether  he would have sold for that price :-)

Before the whites came to the aera it was inbhabited by Monocans and they have their own story about the bridge.

"Once the peaceful Monocan Indians, were chased by the warlike Shawnee and Powhatan Indians. During the flight the Monocans discovered a wide canyon in front of them. They fell on their knees and with bowed heads, they called out to The Great Spirit for help. When again they raised their heads the Great Spirit had created the the gigantic stone bridge. The Monocans fled across the bridge and escaped their enemies. Since they hold the bridge sacred. "

On summer evenings "The Drama of Creation", a sound and light show is enacted at the bridge. We were so lucky only to visit at daytime so we were spared the show. During the American Revolution, the revolutionaries made a different and more practical use of the bridge. The soldiers threw lumps of molten lead down from the bridge. Gravity caused these lumps to become spherical, and when they hit the cold water in the river under the bridge they stiffened in this form, after which they could be retrieved and used as rifle bullets.

From the bridge you can take a one mile long walk in the valley behind the bridge, so we did. The path leads through a rather beautiful area with many interesting trees and shrubs. Among others, there were many hickory trees.  A little way along the path, we came to a hole in the ground. It was a cave that was formely used as a saltpetre mine. During the war against England in 1812 to 1814 the Americans extracted saltpetre from the bat manure, that covered the floor of the cavern. Saltpetre was used to manufacture gunpowder for the Americans. So this was the second time that the valley served military production. Also during the American Civil War nitrate was excavated, but only in relatively limited amounts. Bats are slow to produce fertilizer in large quantities, even if there are many of them.

Across the valley from the mine is "The Lost River", a small underground stream. The workers of the saltpetre mine could hear water trickling, and in 1812 some workers decided to blow their way into the river. Through the relatively small hole you can still see and hear the river. The workers would like to know where the river came from and where it led to, so they tried to pour color into the water, but they never found neither source nor outlet.  At the far end of the valley is a waterfall where Cedar Creek "rolls" down the rock face, but when we visited it was just a slow flow of water.


When we had seen enough we returned to the cafeteria, where the kids and the in-laws took the bus back up, while Dorte and I used the the stairs. Back in our cars we crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains and drove into the Shenandoah Valley. Here we took I-81 north until we turned east back over the mountains. On our way across the Blue Ridge Mountains, we made a brief stop to enjoy the view. It was on this occasion that my father in law, Carl, who enjoyed the view over a large valley with only few houses, said the words that now have "become a saying in our family. "Her rutter de med pladsen". This is impossible to translate but literally it means something like: "They waste a lot of space for those few houses." Since then we use the saying every time we come across an open space with a few houses somewhere in the world.  Carl has also made a few other comments, that has become family sayings, but more about that later.

From the mountains we drove down to Charlottesville. Here we found our hotel which was far more exciting than what we came from i Raleigh. Among other things, there was a heart-shaped swimming pool, where we found the rest of the family. As soon as we got our room, we went in the pool as well. After swimming for a while, we dressed and went for dinner - in two separate directions as Jens and his family wanted chicken wings, and we did not. Fortunately we found a another place, for the next day that part of the family had a serious case of stomach troubles.



The next day we went to Washington DC. Jens and Annette decided that they would take the shortest route because the stomach problems. Else and Carl followed them while we chose to go back to the mountains and follow the Shenandoah Skyline Drive further north before turning east.


After eating breakfast we found a shopping mall, where we could buy a sticking plaster for blisters, and some stamps for the postcards, we were goin to send home. Then we turned west towards the mountains to find the Skyline Drive.

Shenandoah Skyline Drive is a toll road, but the price was only $ 5 for a seven day access pass. The road starts near Charlottesville in the south and ends at Front Royal in the north, and runs up in the Blue Ridge Mountains high above the valley below. It was in the valley, in the town of Woodstock in 1776 that pastor Peter Muehlenberg delivered a famous sermon of the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. The chapter begins with "To everything there is a season ...". When he got to verse 8, which states "a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace" he did not continue as expected, but instead said: .. "and this is a time for war." Then he took his vestments, and revealed that underneath he was wearing  a uniform of a colonel in the 8th Virginia Infantry. Before the revoluţion was over, he was a Major General in the Revolutionary army, and he ended his days as tax collector in Philadelphia. So sad, what war can lead to! During the Civil War it was especially Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson who earned his fame in the valley, and later Phil Sheridan as well.

As we drove along Skyline Drive we enjoyed the scenery and the wildlife. But we also enjoyed Tim, who entertained us with various Runrig songs that he had learned by heart. For some peculiar reason both of our children sing quite well, while both Dorte and I sings just as well as a hoarse crow. 

When we saw a sign for Luray Caverns we decided to visit the place. The caverns are the largest in the Shenandoah Valley with 5 miles of paths, of which the tour covers 1.5 mile. The caves includes virtually all known variants of stalactites and stalagmites in many shapes and with many different colors. The caverns also houses large and small lakes, including a small lake where stalactites from the ceiling are mirrored, so you think that there is also growing stalagmites from the bottom of the lake.

 

In one of the caves, known as the Cathedral, you find "The Great Stalagpipe Organ". It is an organ without pipes. Instead tones are created by small hammers striking specially selected stalactites, hereby making different tones. During tours the organ is played automatically, while on other occasions is played manually via a keyboard like any other organ. When we were there we had to make do with an automated version of "Oh Shenandoah". The temperature in the cave is 53 degrees year round and the day we visited it was around 80 outside, so it actually felt quite cold inside the caves.

 

When the visit was over, we drove back to Skyline Drive and continued north. When Dorte was in the area two years earlier, she had noticed a sign at a rest area, that told the story of Tom Dooley, and close by was an trading post,that she wanted to visit again. So we kept a close look on all rest areas, but we found no sign - and no trading post. It turned out later that Dorte had remembered wrong. It was not on Skyline Drive, she and Carl had seen the sign and shop, but on the Blue Ridge Parkway and not in Virginia, but in North Carolina, so we didn't find it at that occasion.

From Front Royal we went straight to our hotel in Georgetown. In the afternoon Dorte and I went for a walk while the kids enjoyed themselves in the room. When we came back we wanted dinner, but none of us felt like going out again, so we simply ordered four burgers from room service. And that completede that day.

 

- Return to First Visit -
- Return to Travel Stories -