9
October

Fort Valley: The Alternative Scenic Drive

 

posted by Neil Myers

Fort Valley, and the George Washington National Forest that completely surrounds it, offer a beautiful alternative to the Shenandoah National Park and its Skyline Drive.  We often send our guests at The Inn at Vaucluse Spring to nearby Fort Valley when they are looking for “the road less travelled”.

Fort Valley is a proverbial “hidden valley”, cradled between the two ridges that make up the northern two-thirds of the Massanutten Range, which is located entirely within Virginia’s northern Shenandoah Valley.  There are only two main roads.  Route 678 (Fort Valley Road) runs roughly north/south the length of the valley.  Route 675 runs roughly east/west, crossing the Valley on the southern end.  You can leave the Valley by following 675 west through Edinburg Gap down into the town of Edinburg or follow 675 southeast into Luray.

Our recommendation is to enter Fort Valley from the north.  From route 55 midway between Strasburg and Front Royal, turn south at Waterlick onto route 678 (Fort Valley Road).  This road winds along Passage Creek between the bases of Signal Knob on the west and Buzzard Rock on the east.  Signal Knob offers great hiking.  Follow the link above to Hiking Upward’s description.  The orange blazed section of the Signal Knob trail is part of the Massanutten trail, a 71-mile loop that circles the valley along the ridge lines, not unlike the way the Appalachian Trail follows the crest of the Blue Ridge through the National Park.  Not exactly a day-hike!

While visiting Fort Valley, we definitely recommend visiting the Woodstock Tower.  At Detrick, about 15 miles into the valley, turn right onto route 758 (Woodstock Tower Road).  After a couple of miles, this will become a gravel road.  After another couple of miles on the gravel road you come to an unmarked T – turn left (you will still be on 758).  About a mile after the T you will come to the parking area for Woodstock Tower which is just a short hike away along the ridgeline.  For those of us used to hiking in the Shenandoah National Park on trails meticulously maintained by the PATC, this little trail may be a shock of trash and graffiti.  Get over it and do it anyway!  You won’t be sorry.

Looking west from Woodstock Tower

The views from the tower are outstanding.  To the west you will “overlook” the Seven Bends of the Shenandoah River where it lazily winds back and forth on itself.  Disclaimer:  with the leaves still on the trees, you will be doing good if you see more than one bend, but on a clear day I’m sure you can see West Virginia.  The trucks on I-81 look like teeny-tiny toys.  Looking to the east, you will see the Blue Ridge (and the national park) through a gap in the Massanutten Mountain.  So close and yet so far!

Looking east from Woodstock Tower

From the tower, we recommend you continue west on route 758 down the western face of the mountain into the town of Woodstock.  There will be a series of switch-backs, no guard rails, so just take your time.  Woodstock is a bustling little town with shops to explore and places to eat.  From there you can head back north to the inn along route 11, exploring the little towns on the way.

Alternatively, you can come retrace your route back down into Fort Valley from the tower and continue south on 678 to Fort Valley Ranch to go horseback riding (advance reservations recommended).  Or, continue on 678 to 758 on out of the valley to Luray to visit the Caverns.  In any event, you will have visited an unspoiled slice of Virginia that you would be happy to return to whether or not the national park is open.  Enjoy!

no comments

6
September

Apple Harvest Time in the Shenandoah Valley

posted by Neil Myers

No visit to the Valley in September or October is complete without an expedition in search of apples.  It’s the perfect excuse to travel the back roads and see some countryside.  Having lived here since 1995, we are happy to recommend our favorite spots to get apples.  Each orchard has its own personality but all have one thing in common:  they are all family businesses, as in fourth or fifth generation orchardists.  Not something you see very often.

Rinker OrchardRinker Orchards is a classic pick-your-own (PYO) operation.  Started in 1972, one of the first in Virginia, they are now seeing the return of a third generation of apple pickers.  We have guests at the inn who remember coming out as children with their families every fall to pick at Rinkers.  There are large bins of pre-picked apples, but picking from the tree really takes no longer that picking from the bin.  You can probably get all the apples you want from just a few trees, so it’s not like you are wandering around the whole orchard.  Things to know:

  • PYO is available Friday through Monday only.
  • The minimum purchase is a bushel, although it’s fine to mix together different types of apples.
  • Apple butter will be made on site by the Stephens City Lion’s Club on September 14, 21, and 28.  Just personal opinion, but Neil says this is the best of the local apple butters.
  • Rinkers is maybe best known now for their cider, available at the orchard but also at other markets, including the local Martins Food Store.  Made only from fresh fruit and flash pasteurized, we serve it at the inn until the supply vanishes, along about New Years.

 

Marker-Miller Orchard is a PYO operation that has grown into a destination all its own.  There are 20 varieties of apples, 12 of which you can pick from the trees yourself.  There’s a full bakery onsite, producing lots of treats including their famous cider donuts.  The mountain view from the front porch rockers is the best of the local orchards and there is a wide variety of local products for sale.  Things to know:

  • The market is open daily in September and October.
  • Their Fall Farm Festival in September 28 and 29, featuring live music from 1 to 3.
  • Their Apple Harvest Festival is October 12 and 13.

 

Richard’s Fruit Market has a nice assortment of already picked apples, and mixing the different types is encouraged.  You’re quite likely to meet at least a couple of generations of Richards while visiting.  Listen to their banter, and get a little peep into life in the Valley while you are at it.  The apples are sorted and graded right there at the market, and there’s almost always a small collection of “freak” apples or vegetables that have caught someone’s eye.  A little off the subject of apples, Neil is a huge fan of their home-canned jars of Tomato Mix, which is the perfect starter for a quick midweek meal at home.  Exactly what you would can if you had the time to do it yourself.  Things to know:

  • The market is open daily.
  • Their Apple Festival is Saturday October 19.
  • Richards is host to the Virginia State Gourd Festival November 2 and 3 (don’t giggle – there are fascinating things to be seen, and purchased).

 

 

Woodbine Farm Market in Lebanon Church offers 16 varieties of apples including at least two heritage varieties not found at the other markets – Spitzenberg and Ash Mead Kernal.  The drive from the inn down Middle Road is lovely, and if you will be heading west on Route 55 to go hiking or touring in West Virginia, you can pick up some great pork or chicken barbeque there as well as a tasty dessert for a picnic.  We’re definitely going back in October to try the Spitzenbergs.  Open daily.

Long before Fresh-and-Local became a “trend”, these Shenandoah Valley families were out making the best of our sweet limestone soil by planting orchards.  We’ve developed a great affection for them and respect for their hard work.  We hope you’ll enjoy visiting them.

no comments

6
June

American Impressionism Comes to Winchester

posted by Neil Myers

American Impressionism:  The Lure of the Artists’ Colony, on exhibit at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester, Virginia, now through August 4, 2013, follows the Golden Age of American impressionism through several artists’ colonies from the 1880s through the 1940s.  Paintings are grouped by artist colony, from Cos Cob and Old Lyme in Connecticut to Taos, New Mexico and several in California.

Winchester is the first stop for this travelling exhibit from the collection of Pennsylvania’s Reading Public Museum.  As quoted on the Winchester museum’s website, “‘The exhibition provides a rare opportunity to see such a wide variety of approaches to impressionism in America,’ said Scott Schweigert, The Reading Public Museum’s Curator of Art and Civilization.   ‘I think visitors will be delightfully surprised by the tremendous scope and depth of the Museum’s collection in this area.’”

"Winter in the Valley"My favorite may well have been the Edward Willis Redfield (of the New Hope, Pennsylvania Colony) rendition of Winter in the Valley, maybe because it reminds me of Jeff Chumley’s painting of the shuttered Vaucluse in the snow all those many years ago.  It was a pleasure to be able to sit quietly for a few moments and enter into another world.

New visitors to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley will want to see its permanent collections for a great introduction to the Shenandoah Valley, its people, history and decorative arts.  Although the historic Glen Burnie house is currently closed for renovation, a visit to the museum’s Founder’s Gallery exhibit, Moveable Feasts:  Entertaining at Glen Burnie, gives a glimpse into the world of Glen Burnie’s last owner and his partner.  The exhibit takes a light hearted look at everything from brunch on the patio (with tame quail and a squirrel) to formal-dress cocktails in the Pink Pavilion (with the guests wearing Planet-of-the-Apes type masks).  The gardens and grounds are also open for touring and well worth a visit.

 

no comments