Virginia's Travel Blog
Virginia’s Music Heritage
Tuesday, July 22, 2014, 11:46:30 AM | Casey
At its core, music is all about emotion and storytelling. As Vince Gill puts it, “I just think it’s important to know your history. Period.” And the history of country music starts with the 1927 Bristol Sessions – “the Big Bang of Country Music,” if you will.
Dolly Parton recording for “Orthophonic Joy: The 1927 Bristol Sessions Revisited”
Orthophonic Joy: The 1927 Bristol Sessions Revisited is a project that brings well known veterans of country and bluegrass together with rising stars to deliver, in fact, orthophonic joy. That is, reproduced authentic sounds that deliver feelings of great pleasure and happiness.
The project of 16 re-recorded Bristol Sessions songs will be released in October, nicely dovetailing with the August 1 opening of the brand new Smithsonian Institution-affiliated Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol.
Recording artists include Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Marty Stuart, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers and Ashley Monroe. The project is produced by multi-Grammy Award-winner Carl Jackson.
>> About Orthophonic Joy: The 1927 Bristol Sessions Revisited
Virginia’s musical legacy is as deep and wide as its rivers and valleys. In Southwest Virginia, the Carter Family and the Stonemans were two of the acts who helped popularize the rise of mountain music and were among the first to penetrate American households on radio and records.
Dr. Ralph Stanley. Photo by CameronDavidson@CameronDavidson.com.
Ralph Stanley (pictured right), from Clintwood, helped bring Bluegrass and Old Time music into the mainstream. His lengthy and distinguished career received widespread acclaim with the release of the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, featuring his songs O, Death and Angel Band. And while Man of Constant Sorrow, the unintentional O Brother theme song, wasn’t penned by Stanley, he resurrected the old ballad in 1951 when he recorded it with his brother Carter for Columbia Records. No one knows for sure exactly where the song originated.
The music of Southwest Virginia is more accessible than ever thanks in part to The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. The Crooked Road links together dozens of venues where live music can be heard each week. Heritage sites such as the Ralph Stanley Museum, the Blue Ridge Music Center and Heartwood help tell the stories of the music and musicians.
Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion
Music festivals draw tens of thousands of fans from around the world. The Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion fills the downtown area of the vibrant city with stages indoors and out. FloydFest is an eclectic celebration of music of nearly every description and is held adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Wayne C. Henderson Music Festival honors one of America’s top acoustic guitar makers and this year features Vince Gill as its headliner.
Divergent veins of music run throughout Virginia, producing famous names in a variety of genres. Legendary singers Ella Fitzgerald and Pearl Bailey both hailed from Newport News. Country Music Hall of Fame member Patsy Cline was born in Winchester. Las Vegas legend Wayne Newton was born in Norfolk, and country music superstar Roy Clark is from the small town of Meherrin. Williamsburg is home to native son Bruce Hornsby.
Dave Matthews grew up in Charlottesville and owns one of Virginia’s top wineries nearby. Pharrell Williams of Virginia Beach has made the world “Happy” with his smash single. He and his musical partner, Chad Hugo, from nearby Portsmouth, comprise The Neptunes and as performers and producers are one of the dominant forces in modern popular music.
Truly, Virginia’s music reverberates around the world today with new sounds and influences, yet still finds a home among the hills of Appalachia.
© Casey for Virginia's Travel Blog, 2014
Five Refreshing Summer Lake Getaways
Monday, July 21, 2014, 3:27:57 PM | Casey
Virginia’s lakes are excellent summer destinations for families, couples, friends, reunions … you name it! Take a few-day getaway to enjoy everything lakes have to offer. Tuck away into a private cove in a rental home, hit the water on jet skis, or swing the hours away in a waterside hammock. It’s your playground, find your fun!
1. Forty-eight hours fly by when you’re having fun at Virginia’s second largest lake, Smith Mountain Lake. With 500 miles of shoreline, SML has many access points from the three counties that share it. Here’s just an example of a way to while away a weekend.
Bridgewater Marina, Moneta
Check into “Rustic Cottage” in Moneta. Sitting up on a bank, the view of the deep water cove is fantastic. Amenities include a paddle boat, swimming pool, ping pong, and more. Four bedrooms. Located between lake markers R26 and R27.
If you’re bringing the whole family or just want to stay in luxury, check out the Wind Family Compound in Moneta. At 7,000 square feet, “spacious” is an understatement. Amenities include two master suites, two docks, 320′ of waterfront, game room, two kitchens, large playroom, huge screened porch, and tons more. Located near lake marker R19.
If camping is more your speed, pull in your RV, pitch your tent, or rent an on-sight park model at one of these lakeside camping retreats:
2. Virginia’s largest lake is Kerr Lake, stretching from Scottsburg to Boydton and down into North Carolina, and includes three counties in each state. Fifty thousand acres of fresh water and more than 800 miles of shoreline make it an outdoor enthusiasts paradise. Fishermen especially love Kerr Lake, and In-Fisherman magazine has hailed it as the number one Crappie fishing lake. In fact, numerous fishing tournaments are held at Kerr Lake annually.
Choose your stay. Camp or set up cabin at Occoneechee or Staunton River state parks, Longwood Campground in Clarksville, or North Bend Campground in Boydton.
Cooper’s Landing Inn, Clarksville
Want to step up your stay a notch or two? The Clarksville area (Virginia’s only lakefront town) has options!
- Cooper’s Landing Inn is a beautiful bed and breakfast with its own restaurant, Traveler’s Tavern, on site. Enjoy their pool and hot tub while the innkeepers act as your concierge for explorations.
- Blue Heron Lodge is a vacation rental home located on a quiet cove across the lake from Occoneechee State Park. Sleeps 12.
Get out and about!
There are numerous wildlife management areas bordering Kerr Lake. If you love wildlife photography or birding, this is a great destination for you.
3. Lake Anna is Virginia’s third largest lake with 200 miles of shoreline and 13,000 acres of water, yet it remains fairly private.
Kindred Spirits, Spotsylvania
You won’t want to leave “Kindred Spirits” once you check in. Located in a quiet deep water cove, this home sits on nearly two acres and has 250′ of waterfront for you to enjoy. A boat slip, jet ski lift, and fantastic water views are just a few of the great features this vacation home offers.
Would you rather camp? You’ll find Christopher Run Campground in Mineral to be a fine choice with 200 campsites and a variety of cabins available. Lake Anna State Park in Spotsylvania is a gem for camping, too.
4. Lake Gaston straddles the Virginia/North Carolina border and covers 20,000 acres with 350 miles of shoreline.
You’ll love the waterfront camp sites at Lake Gaston Americamps in Bracey. Cabin rentals are available, too.
5. Lake Moomaw is tucked away in the Alleghany Mountains in Covington. It’s 2,530 acres are abundant with a variety of fish species while the wildlife around it are plentiful, too. The 43 miles of shoreline are wooded and undeveloped. True outdoorsmen will find the peace they long for when they choose a camping location on this lake.
- Bolar Mountain Recreation Area offers waterside campsites, a sandy beach area, boat ramp, boat rentals, and 11 miles of hiking trails. Access this camp area from Warm Springs.
- Greenwood Point is a 3.3-mile hike in (no road access), or you can paddle your way directly to the campground shore. Only five campsites are available here; first come, first served.
If the lake doesn’t keep you occupied, venture out to see a few gems …
- Falling Spring – A scenic waterfall south of Lake Moomaw on Hot Springs Road (Route 220).
- Humpback Bridge – The only single span 100′ wooden arched covered bridge in Virginia.
Enjoy these lakes and more!
Virginia is for Lovers.
© Casey for Virginia's Travel Blog, 2014
Request a travel guide.
Hang On Tight! Ten Rock Climbing, Bouldering and Rappelling Spots
Thursday, July 17, 2014, 3:29:41 PM | Stefanie
Hanging off the edge of a rock isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, nor is it for the faint of heart. For those who dare, Virginia has rock climbing, bouldering and rappelling adventures galore. And if you’re up for the challenge with a little less risk, there are also indoor centers that pack on the rush of adrenaline and excitement all the same. Here are 10 indoor and outdoor spots to check out.
So where are your favorite places?
Peak Experiences Indoor Rock Climbing Center – Richmond
Peak Experiences is one of the largest indoor rock climbing facilities in the U.S. Climbers of all skill levels are challenged by more than 125 top-rope routes, lead-climbing, and bouldering. The climbing wall landscape is continually transforming to keep climbers engaged and challenged upon every visit! The center offers various camps and classes, including the Passages Adventure Camp, which teaches young people to foster lifelong outdoor skills in a fun and challenging environment. The main focus is to help each camper build leadership skills, develop teamwork and improve their confidence and self-esteem. Climbing lessons are available, as well as suspension training and fitness classes.
Sportrock Climbing Center – Sterling
Sportrock Climbing Center boasts many amenities for anyone who is in the market for some rock climbing fun. Its three main focuses are improvement, connection and recreation. So whether you’re a novice working up to a more skilled level, or just want to come in and have some fun, the routes are set up by certified professionals, who switch up tracks every 6-8 weeks. The facility also offers a class called Fast Forward, which is designed to build connections and maybe make some friendships along the way!
Rise Up Climbing
Rise Up Climbing – Lynchburg
Rise Up has more than 6,000 square feet of climbable surface, with 20 lead and top-rope climbing stations, and more than 1,000 square feet of top-out bouldering. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran climber with specific training goals or just looking to have a little fun, Rise Up Climbing is the place. Have kids with you? No problem. Rise Up specializes in youth programming. And if you’re coming to the center having never been off the ground, again, no problem. Rise Up’s basic skills class can have you off the ground and having fun in 30 minutes or less.
Crimper’s Climbing Gym – Christianburg
Crimper’s indoor climbing facility offers several types of climbing styles: a 70 ft. wide and 16 ft. high bouldering area equipped with 16 in. padded flooring; a 23 ft. top-rope section with 7 top-rope stations; and a 30 ft. lead climbing section, termed the Gravity Well. Crimper’s offers classes for certification in top-roped and lead climbing, as well as classes to specifically help the climber learn, practice and improve their climbing skills under the guidance of an experienced instructor. Crimper’s offers beginner and intermediate-level technique classes, strength-building classes, and hangboard workout sessions. In addition, they also offer personal coaching and training.
Virginia Beach Rock Gym – Virginia Beach
Virginia Beach Rock Gym is the only indoor climbing gym in the Hampton Roads area, with a 32 ft. main climbing wall. The Rappel Tower is a great place to learn and practice the important skills of safe rappelling, top belaying, ascending, and basic self-rescue. Featuring versatile overhead cable anchors, the tower is the “classroom” for many of their advanced classes. An access panel in the floor allows one to practice free hanging rappels. The interior of the tower contains the Crack House, a fully textured climbing area featuring various sizes of cracks and layback flakes. The Boulders are an excellent place to work on technique or endurance without having to get high off of the ground. The Boulders feature a wide range of angles and terrain with lots of holds. There are color-coded problems of various difficulties or you can make up your own problems. Either way you’re sure to become a better, stronger climber.
Shenandoah National Park
Old Rag Mountain – Shenandoah National Park
Old Rag Mountain, located west of Washington D.C. and its suburbs in Shenandoah National Park in Northern Virginia, is, despite its proximity to a major metropolitan area, an off-the-beaten-path climbing area that offers great face and crack climbing on granite crags, cliffs, and slabs. The 3,268-foot-high mountain, a popular hiking destination, is dotted with rocky outcrops and is the only major granite climbing area in the mid-Atlantic region. Old Rag Mountain, with more than 100 established routes, offers lots of varied climbing including crack climbs, delicate slab routes and thin bolt-protected face climbs. It is best known for its excellent crack climbing, some of the best on the East Coast.
Outdoor Adventure Experiences – Dayton
Outdoor Adventure Experiences offers nearly every kind of outdoor sporting activity any visitor could want; including rock climbing and bouldering. Located in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, the facility offers affordable training and adventures for climbers of all skill levels.
Grayson Highlands State Park
Grayson Highlands State Park – Mouth of Wilson
Near Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain, Virginia’s two highest mountains, lies Grayson Highlands State Park, where you’ll enjoy scenic views of alpine-like peaks of more than 5,000 feet. Whitetop Mountain boasts great bouldering areas, where they are concentrated with a relatively short approach. Mount Rogers, the highest peak in Virginia, offers boulders that are some of the best climbing spots around. As you reach further up the mountain, the boulders become above tree line, making for some of the best 360 views in Virginia.
Hidden Rocks – Harrisonburg
Featuring 40 ft. sandstone cliffs just inside the George Washington National Forest in Rockingham County, Hidden Rocks boasts well-shaded top-ropes and leads, as well as bouldering.
McAfee’s Knob – Catawba
Mcafee’s Knob is one of Virginia’s premiere bouldering areas. The knob is also one of the most breathtaking hiking destinations in Virginia, and holds the reputation as having the most photographed point on the Appalachian Trail (which you use to get to the bouldering). The climbing is comprised of free standing and channeled sandstone blocks and labyrinths, and holds vary from kind to aggressive. The developed bouldering is all on quality stone and will provide an almost 270-degree panorama of the Catawba Valley and North Mountain to the West, Tinker Cliffs to the North, and the Roanoke Valley to the East.
© Stefanie for Virginia's Travel Blog, 2014
Scenic Motorcycle Drives to Try Out
Thursday, July 17, 2014, 8:41:42 AM | Stefanie
There are more than 2,500 miles designated as scenic byways in Virginia. The regions highlighted here offer a very small sample of the wonderful variety you’ll find on these scenic and historic roads across the Commonwealth.
So where is your favorite place to ride?
SKYLINE DRIVE IN SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK
Skyline Drive is a National Scenic Byway that runs 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, starting in the northern neck of the Shenandoah Valley at Front Royal to Waynesboro, where it meets the Blue Ridge Parkway. Fall is the most popular time to travel along Skyline Drive, with its colorful foliage from late September to mid-November. But spring offers the most colorful wildflowers along the drive, as well as blooming azaleas and Mt. Laurel. The drive time is approximately three hours.
The 23-mile Colonial Parkway connects important historical sites within Virginia’s Historic Triangle. Free of commercial development, the Parkway is designed to provide an experience – that of motoring through more than 400 years of American colonial history. There is more than six historic sites and attractions to visit along the way.
Blue Ridge Parkway
BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
Known as “America’s Favorite Drive,” the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway meanders from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. The parkway follows the Appalachian Mountain chain and provides some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, ranging from 650 to 6,000 feet in elevation. Scenic overlooks, historic structures, walking trails and waterfalls are just some of the highlights along the parkway. Stops include Peaks of Otter and historic towns like Charlottesville, Lexington and Roanoke.
GEORGE WASHINGTON MEMORIAL PARKWAY
Just across the Potomac River from downtown Washington, D.C., is a Northern Virginia oasis in the heart of the nation’s capital – the George Washington Memorial Parkway. It offers walking and biking trails set amid lush vegetation and a rolling landscape. Take the pedestrian bridge to Theodore Roosevelt Island, an 88-acre memorial to our 26th president.
Kentucky & Virginia share a rugged mountainous border of jagged peaks rising more than 4,135 feet into the horizon. Pine and Black Mountains create this phenomenal land mass through the Heart of Appalachia region, enticing you to experience the curvy backroads that form these unique travel routes. Traverse through valleys and peaks, forest land, and rolling farms through distinct towns and lots of curves. Many of the Appalachian Backroads’ trails intertwine with rivers and streams that our early pioneer settlers followed hundreds of years ago. The touring and travel is well suited (and chosen for) to motorcyclists. Check out Benge’s Revenge—it’s not for sissies!
Back of the Dragon
BACK OF THE DRAGON
Experience the unmatched beauty and motorcycle riding enjoyment provided by Virginia Route 16, the two-lane ribbon over the three mountains between Tazewell and Marion. Back of the Dragon features and sponsors several events throughout the year, including the Women’s Motorcycle Rally, which will take place July 24-27 at Hungry Mother State Park.
Scenic Route 39 carries you up steep mountains and along deep gorges. You’ll come upon the Virginia Horse Center and Goshen Pass, then you can enter the George Washington National Forest and pretty soon, you’ve entered the town of Warm Springs. As you continue on Route 39 toward the West Virginia border, you’ll pass the Hidden Valley and Blowing Springs recreation areas, with opportunities for camping, hiking and fishing.
VIRGINIA CIVIL WAR TRAILS
Virginia has more important Civil War battlefields and sites than any other state. The Virginia Civil War Trails consist of 260 stops in five interconnected campaign driving tours marked with trailblazing signs. Many stops are located on or near Virginia’s scenic roads.
NELSON SCENIC LOOP
Attention history buffs, naturalists, architectural hounds, hikers, and wine aficionados! The Nelson Scenic Loop—comprised of four scenic byways—is a 50-mile auto and bike tour that features Nelson County’s bounty of natural, cultural, and historic attractions. Encompassing the Blue Ridge Parkway, Patrick Henry Highway, Beech Grove Road and Crabtree Falls Highway, the Nelson Scenic Loop traverses both the verdant foothills of the Piedmont as well as the summits of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Along the loop, you can encounter the landscape that was shaped by the clash of two planter cultures, the Scotch-Irish and Anglicans, who left a legacy of diverse farming practices, architecture, and local craft. There are a number of registered national historic landmarks along the way.
Take a rides through Capital Country, connecting the state and Confederate Capital of Richmond with the colonial Capital of Williamsburg. This byways tour starts with a visit to the Capitol Building in Richmond, or with St. John’s Church. You can stop by Civil War sites within the Richmond National Battlefield Park, then drive by the historic plantations along Route 5. The Byway ends in Colonial Williamsburg where you can park your bike and travel centuries back in time to the first days of our new democracy.
A typical byway drive in Southwest Virginia would be Route 52 north out of Wytheville. As you weave through Big Walker Mountain Byway, stop at the Big Walker Mountain Lookout for a breathtaking view. Then follow Route 42 southwest to Route 16. Going south will take you to Mount Rogers. North on Route 16 takes you toward Tazewell and Burke’s Garden.
© Stefanie for Virginia's Travel Blog, 2014
Enjoy Local Shopping in Virginia’s Historical Districts
Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 9:19:58 AM | Stefanie
It’s hard to believe that summer is more than halfway over. But don’t fret! Now is the perfect time to score some great deals on everything from clothing to furniture. And with that also comes the unveiling of fall’s newest lineups. We’re not in primetime season yet, so there are deals out there to get a leg up on the latest trends. As we wallow through this transitional phase, take advantage of all the unique shopping districts around the Commonwealth.
And don’t forget, TAX-FREE shopping weekend is Aug. 1-3!
Known as the Mile of Style, Carytown offers everything you need to eat, shop, and play. Its sidewalks are lined with unique boutiques, restaurants, specialty shops, spas and more. Enjoy the eclectic collection of award-winning, locally-owned businesses. Spend the day in the area voted “Best Shopping Neighborhood in Virginia” by the readers of Southern Living magazine. While you’re here, visit Carytown landmarks, including Cary Court, the oldest outdoor shopping center on the East Coast and catch a film at the Byrd Theatre, Richmond’s movie palace since 1928. Carytown hosts many festivals throughout the year, including the Watermelon Festival, Chalk up the Town, Craft Beer Festival, Food & Wine Festival, Carytown Fashion Show and more, of course!
Old Town Alexandria
The go-to D.C. destination for boutique shopping is Old Town Alexandria, with The Wall Street Journal praising, “The King Street area has some of the best stores and galleries in the region.” Nearly 80 percent of the restaurants and retailers in the King Street corridor are independently owned, including the chic shops of the Old Town Boutique District, while nearby, Del Ray’s Mount Vernon Avenue is another haven for eclectic, locally owned storefronts. Fashionistas flock to Alexandria for high end shoes and unique clothing finds, while home décor shops and antique galleries burst with statement pieces. Delight in tasty treats from olive oils to award-winning hot chocolates, pick up pet friendly goodies, or peruse handmade jewelry at the Torpedo Factory Art Center. While you’re there, take in the sites and attractions of George Washington’s hometown and more.
The Pink Scottie in Historic Petersburg
Old Towne Petersburg
A devastating fire in 1815 wiped out the old towne of Petersburg, a collection of wooden warehouses and homes along the Appomattox River. Today, Old Towne is a district of antique galleries, boutiques, craft shops, restaurants, cafes and a mix of renovated residences. With cobblestone streets and national landmarks throughout, take in a truly unique shopping experience.
Historic Roanoke City Market
The Historic Roanoke City Market is the oldest such market in continuous use in Virginia, dating back to the 1800s. While you’re picking up from fresh, local produce, the Historic Market building also offers fantastic shopping opportunities. The entire Market District includes unique shopping, galleries, boutiques, restaurants, antique shops, museum shops and plenty more to discover.
Shopping in Smithfield
Smithfield’s Historic District, lined with Colonial, Federal and Victorian homes, offers antique collectors and shoppers a plethora of options. The Antiques Emporium, Heritage Antiques, Laura and Lucy’s, Olde House Antiques, Mansion House Art & Antique Gallery, and Wharf Hill Antiques offer everything from toys to treasures, furniture to fixtures, and memorabilia to music.
Hugh Mercery Apothecary Shop in Historic Fredericksburg
Historic Downtown Fredericksburg
Set foot into some of the most interesting periods in America’s past with a stroll among more than 350 original 18th and 19th century buildings in Fredericksburg’s 40-block National Historic District. While here, visitors can also step into over 100 shops, chef-owned restaurants and boutiques, concentrated in the downtown area and along a four-block “antique row” near the river.
Leesburg Historic District
Leesburg’s Historic District provides a charming backdrop for shopping, dining, walking tours, visiting art galleries and buying those one of a kind items or the stylish ‘must have’ accessories… handbags, jewelry, clothing and more. Antiques and home furnishing stores are plentiful. The streets are lined with brick sidewalks, authentic, historic architecture and wonderful flowering trees and flower baskets. Discover the charm and the great buys.
Shockoe Slip, Richmond
Shockoe Slip’s neighborhood has become a prime example of urban restoration and historic preservation. What was once the only trading area in Richmond is now the city’s most fashionable shopping and dining district. The Slip’s restored warehouses and taverns house a unique assortment of exclusive apparel stores, galleries, restaurants and hotels.
Capo’s Music Store in Downtown Abingdon
Abingdon Historic District
© Stefanie for Virginia's Travel Blog, 2014
Specialty shops, boutiques, art galleries and more line the streets of historic downtown Abingdon. Spend a day wandering the cobblestone sidewalks and discover historic landmarks like the State Theatre of Virginia, all the while browsing unique antique shops, music stores, the Abingdon Olive Oil Co. and more.