Sunday, August 8, 2010

Route 55 - Misty Mountain Hop - Western Virginia

I suppose the fact I live in Maryland and am still in the midst of a love affair with the state of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Western Maryland, means I just don't spend enough time in Virginia. Oh sure, you can find me in Middleburg any given weekend but I always think of this part of Va. as a having a one trick wonder destination - Skyline Drive. Don't get me wrong, but I'd rather have a road less traveled. Besides, hiking Skyline means you're either trying not to run faster than your legs want on the descent, or having to scamper your way back up - a lot of work.

Last weekend, unencumbered by the kids, I loaded the jeep with all the gear I needed and covered a portion of Virginia I now need to visit more often. I had driven to and through this part of the state many times - usually making my way to West Va. Again, my intention was to dive into West Virginia on Route 55 and hit Seneca Rock and Dolly Sods. (look them both up - will cover those sites soon).

I decided to get off of 66 onto 55 somewhere west of Manassas. 55 runs parallel to 66 but has so much more character and different rhythm. What did this mean for my timetable? Diaster - I never made the WV state line but I became so enamoured of the road and the visual treats it didn't matter! That's the real idea about hitting the road in my fashion. I let it guide me. I saw Front Royal as the early tourists would have - all the vintage motels with intact signage made me think of Route 66 as I rolled through town on 55. If you're after that vibe, head out this way!

Next in line was Strasburg - I had never bothered to drive around this town either. My highlight here was finding a vintage hotel sign downtown, which I followed and found the hotel is still running - some 140 years plus. I continued west out of town, the WV border just 18 miles away when I saw a sign indicating a turn for Elizabeth Furnace. The best furnace vestige I've seen yet is in Lanaconing Maryland, so I wanted to see what this one was about. Suddenly I found myself driving into the George Washington National Forest, along a shaded mountain stream, with rocky outcroppings casting late afternoon shadows. This was simply called the Elizabeth Furnace part of the park (never did find the furnace itself). I decided to try the climb up towards the summit of Lookout Mountain - used by the Confederates in the Civil War to monitor Union troop movements. With the sun rapidly going down, I made my way back down the switchback to the waiting Jeep.

Take this road, you'll appreciate the contours of the land, better understand settlement patterns and enjoy the vintage roadside architecture, either as ruins or still hanging on (hotsheet motels will always be around I suppose). You'll see stately manors, horses in the fore, with misty purple green mountains seemingly moving behind them. By deciding to take old Route 55, I cut off any chance of getting into West Virginia that evening but I was able to rediscover one of the the best "road trip" roads that the visitor or resident of Washington can get out and enjoy.

1 comment:

  1. I love route 55. You're absolutely right. It doesn't feel like you're even going through the same country, compared to 66.