Alistair Maclean's Web Site
Old Dominion

Road Trip: 2002

Old Dominion Travels

  • DC
  • Shenandoah National Park
  • Monticello
  • Lynchburg
  • US-1


Washington Memorial Lincoln Memorial Korean War Memorial

This Road Trip started as we entered Washington D.C.. We headed around the Beltway and into the City on I-66, coming over the Arlington Bridge and parking on Constitution Avenue by The Mall. The first stop was to take in the relatively new Korean War memorial. This turned out to be a surprisingly poignant display. As we approached we could see many people wandering around it and a dark polished marble wall, similar at this distance to the Vietnam memorial, but as we closed on it I realised that some of the people were not moving and were, well, suspiciously like full-sized bronze figures. The platoon of soldiers crossing strange territory, dressed in full wet weather fighting gear was full of the grit and grim of that oft-forgotten war. The marble wall, not covered in the names of the thousands that died, but instead in images of some of those who fought there.

We took a quick look at the Lincoln Memorial, but it was clear that this was not tourist season yet in DC, as the Washington Memorial was under repair. We got back to the car just in time - the traffic cops were giving out parking tickets like they were candies. Moral: don't park on Constitution Avenue after 4pm. We escaped to start the next part of our trip.

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah Valley Dusk Monticello

The Appalachian mountains run from Northern Georgia to Maine, and in Virginia and North Carolina you can drive some of them. The Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive (part of the Shenandoah National Park) are some of the prettiest drives you can do on the East Coast - literally hundreds of miles of bends. Built, starting in the Great Depression as a job creation scheme, the last parts were only finished within the last decade.

We stopped overnight in Front Royal a small tourist town that sits at the top end of Skyline Drive. It's a pleasant little town to wander round, there being more to it than the motels and gas stations that you see immediately off the Interstate.

For the true gearhead the speed limit on the Parkway is far too low (blanket 45mph), however I can honestly say that when you throw care to the wind and try and drive fast, there are just so many corners you will be looking at doing a brake job in short order. Driving a big Buick there was no way we were going to pretend at being Mario Andretti. Instead we were greeted by a Parkway almost devoid of visitors (this was a Tuesday in late April - your experience will vary!), sunny skies and what transpired to be excellent visibility (although I needed some convincing of this). During the previous week the East Coast had received unseasonably warm weather, so the trees were mostly out, but it was a soft green and many trees were still only partially in leaf.

We drove about 80 miles down the Parkway and then headed over to Charlottesville on US-250 taking a short lunch break in the town of Crozet. My wife wanted to see the village that is the centerpiece of so many novels by Rita Mae Brown, so we stopped and had pizza. We were generally surprised by the modern apartment block in the center of town, though there are some nice houses. Crozet is not painted in the books as extremely pretty, just quiet, the sort of place a cat can stroll across the roads without fear of instant life lose.

Monticello is on the South Eastern side of Charlottesville, it was Thomas Jefferson's home. If you are in the area it's a must see. Again, being out of tourist season paid handsome dividends in that we were able to take the Dog up to the house (though not through it) on a bus - saving a long uphill walk on a warm day - there was no waiting and there were relatively few tourist type people about. The house tour is always interesting, and Nickels mean so much more afterward.

Next morning we decided to head toward Lynchburg, down US-29. It was a quiet stroll through Virginia. Lynchburg appeared suddenly as the road popped out onto a bridge high over the James River. The town seems to be doing well, looking prosperous even. Then it was our turn to get lost trying to find our way out of Lynchburg. We accidentally ended up on US-501 Business, the old road - the one not shown on our maps. eventually we corrected our mistake, founding a small craft shop where we saw pottery lamps and lamp shades being made. With renewed enthusiasm we headed for Poplar Forest, the octagonal summer retreat of Thomas Jefferson (

While I walked the dog around the grounds, the other travellers/revellers took the tour. It is a very pleasant house, very well preserved, with some excellent grounds. There seems to be lots of archeological digging going on so you can see these people at work in a truly historic setting. I spoke with the webmaster for their web site, who was crossing the grounds. We had a little chat about what she did, and how their web site is being made increasingly into a tool for people to study the period that the house comes from.

Back on the road again, we headed along US-501 for Natural Bridge. This road is a bend-aholics dream! The road flits about with the James River, sometimes running along the valley, sometimes in the hills above it, often crossing from one side to the other. This has lead to a road covered with corners much like those found on the California coast on the Pacific Coast highway. Breaking off 501 onto Virginia 130, going through Glasgow (I was born near a Glasgow and it looked nothing like this one!) to THE tourist trap.

[Mental Reminder: 501 & 130 would make a stunning motorcycle trip road]

I have to be honest and say that Natural Bridge is something well worth taking a stop to see, it is a spectacular sight. We have seen stone arches in Utah (though not The Big One that appears on the license plates) and this one is right up there with them. At something like 175feet from river to arch, it's a tall structure, the highway (US-11) runs right over the top of it, too. We were saying that the highway should be closed to protect such a wonder, but then decided to drive over it anyway - so much for saving nature; Road Trips are, after all, about roads.

Heading south on US-11 (which gets eaten for a short distance by the Interstate) we headed down through Roanoke. The railroad was much in evidence here, locomotives and yards were everywhere. Then we found one of Norfolk-Southern's two regional railroad offices: that explained a lot. Downtown Roanoke looked quite lively, certainly a rejuvenated city center.

One more nights stop over and it was onto the final part of our southbound Virginia visit. We headed south on US-221. This started as a pleasant and quiet two lane road, then went up the side of a large hill to a plateau, which it came down with a similar stretch of road about 30 or 40 miles later. US-221 was an idyllic piece of tarmac, meandering through small agricultural towns, many in sleepy hidden valleys. At Hillsville, we had a (forgive us) McDonalds stop and turned onto US-52 heading due south for the North Carolina stateline.

The Return

North Carolina stops behind us, we blasted back into Virginia on I-85. This is an Interstate that should be shot. It is ugly, boring and even depressing. There is no view from it and the cops can be a bit over zealous at times. However, old US Route 1 parallels the Interstate, and after a short stop in South Hill, we climbed on it. It is a 3 lane highway, the suicide lane in the middle is set for use by one side or the other for relatively short runs. The road is not quite arrow straight, but does make a beeline to Richmond. The fact that it is the OLD route makes it a little special, for just like old Route 66, US-1 has lots of memories along its sides; old villages, now almost deserted; old gas stations converted into houses; old motels that have seen better times. It is a quiet and wonderful drift through a bygone era, when taking the trip from New York to Florida was much more than 24hours on the super slab, it was an adventure in automobile reliability. The village of Dinwiddie, at the northern end of this US-1 section, must have been a very different sort of town when the old road was the major artery - now it's a quaint and quiet county seat.

VIR - Virginia International Raceway - is situated just a few miles south of St. Petersburg on US-1, this is a fabulous new/old racing facility.

We picked up I-85 just south of St. Petersburg and blasted through Richmond on I-95. Then screeched to a halt. There was an accident somewhere ahead. We bailed out onto our old friend US Route 1, and continued north, heading for Fredericksburg. Route 1 changed in character, it was now a four lane (mostly) divided highway, still quite busy in places, occasionally we could glimpse I-95 and its rushing traffic.


Location Rate Rating
Front Royal $42 Bearable
Charlottesville $60 Quite Acceptable
Roanoke (Cave Spring) $70 Luxurious
Fredericksburg $40 Bearable

The Transport

We hired a Buick Le Sabre from Enterprise to do this trip, completing about 2000 miles in 8 days. The car was excellent on the Interstate and on the straighter quiet back roads, however its sporting pretensions are extremely limited. The car is quite heavy, has good brakes and decent acceleration (all the while getting pretty good mileage - about 30mpg), but that weight begins to get in the way of banzai attacks on corners, where the front exhibits a complete lack of precision and will squeal the tyres readily. We never got the boat out of shape or turned around, there is far too much feed back for that, but you know this is no race car.

There was more than adequate storage capacity in the trunk and the passengers had excellent accommodations for extended sleep periods. This particular model had GM's ubiquitous 3.8 Litre V-6 motor, Radio (no CD- tish!), cloth interior and power everything.

© Copyright A. Maclean 2002 -
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