Best Laid Plans | West Virginia

Posted by on October 28, 2004
Let me tell you about a recent trip that did not turn out the way we expected, but which did end on a relatively high note.Jim and I decided to drive down to West Virginia to see the beautiful Fall Foliage in another part of the country. I had seen a suggested trip in the most recent Conde Nast Traveler magazine, and thought we could do some variation of that. Combining this with a fall visit to my sister in Maryland seemed like a great mid-week trip.We did have a very nice 24 hours with my sister and brother-in-law, complete with a tasty dinner at a nearby restaurant, where we had enjoyed a meal on a previous trip. You may remember a very popular restaurant in Georgetown called Clyde’s. Well, Clyde’s is still going and in several new incarnations, including the one in Potomac which is done up like a huge Adirondack lodge, with several different rooms, bright young college types for waiters, (who can carry several entrees up each arm) and EXTREMELY good food. Little did we know that it might be our last good meal for a few days.

We set off the next morning for Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and as we waved goodbye to my sister, it started to rain. And it kept on raining. And raining. We motored on over the border into West Virginia just a few miles, and arrived in Shepherdstown just before noon. Still raining. No, make that pouring. Hey, I thought, what’s going on – I thought the hurricane had gone by? We sat in the car for a while, then forced ourselves into our ponchos and hats and umbrellas, and took to the charming streets of Shepherdstown. It proved to be fun despite the weather, but Jim was not here to shop, and luckily I had remembered my sister’s parting words. Look for a restaurant in a yellow brick building that looks like a bank.

Sure enough, there was the The Yellow Brick Bank Restaurant, right before our very eyes. Now, nothing looks great in a driving rain, but we ventured in and were very pleased to be served a more than passable lunch. In fact, Shepherdstown has become part of exurban Washington, DC, so the place was quite sophisticated.

Now that Martha Stewart is incarcerated in Southern West Virginia, I’ve heard many people talk about how rural it is, (read: hillbilly) I now know for sure that that is untrue, even though I cannot give a full report.

We decided to drive down the Interstate highway called Route 81, go way down to Staunton, Virginia, and then wait out the rain in one of the (now) quite good inexpensive inns on all the interstates.

An hour or so down route 81, amidst all the pouring rain, and spray from tractor trailers, I spotted a temporary neon sign on the side of the highway, which read: ATTENTION: MAJOR ACCIDENT 10 MILES AHEAD. DETOUR Our decision to get off the highway at the next exit was swift and sure. As we then drove through rural Virginia, we could actually see some lovely fields and trees and hills, and a couple of pretty houses. After the tractor-trailer interference, even hard rain seemed gentle.

Our new destination, after a little personal mapquest, was Front Royal, a Virginia town at the north end of the famous Skyline Drive. We had stopped there once before many years ago, at a lovely B & B called the Chester Inn. Of course I could not remember that name that day.

Just as we entered Front Royal, I spotted a Hampton Inn. It was 4 PM. We decided to stop for the night, and check out the town, and wait out the dregs of the hurricane.

The Hampton Inn proved to be a good choice. It was quite new. We had a large, comfortable room, which was warm and dry. We learned we had gotten the very last no smoking room, and by the time we came back down to the lobby, two couples were being turned away, as the inn was completely booked. Next door was a gym ($7.00 for non-members, not bad) and a McDonald’s.

We drove around the town, which has little to write home about, except that we did in fact, find the Chester Inn. In fact, a man who looked like the owner we remembered was up on a ladder fixing something, which was the way we met him the last time, about 20 years ago. I can still recommend the Chester Inn, if you are beginning or ending the Skyline Drive. There is not much else in Front Royal, so much so that, after checking out all the doubtful local restaurants, we ended up eating salads at McDonald’s, a first for me.

Next day, the forecast was for morning rain, afternoon rain, and evening showers. This prospect did not augur well for a drive into the mountains. We decided to cut our losses, and take the highway that went from Front Royal to Washington, DC.

I had read that the new National Museum of the American Indian had just opened as part of the Smithsonian, on the Mall in Washington. I thought perhaps we could manage to get a ticket to get in, since it was a weekday, and it was raining.

We managed to rescue this wet trip by getting to the museum at about 11:30, cadging two entrance tickets (free, but timed) from a most pleasant Native American, for 12:15, to give Jim time to park the car.

We spent four hours at the museum, including having native food in the extensive cafeteria. This museum is a major exhibition space for Indian art and material culture as well as a center for educational activities, ceremonies, and performances. There are all sorts of treasures and collections here, finally in one huge building dedicated to the American Indian. It is a truly marvelous vehicle for learning about our Native Americans, and how badly they have fared in our country. It behooves each of us to see this museum, to take our children with us, to delve even more deeply into this long tragic story, and to celebrate the culture that is miraculously still left for us to study.

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