A fall trip to Virginia offers scenic views, rich history and more

Art Weber

        The Blue Ridge Mountains represented a barrier to early Americans looking to seek new lands away from the Atlantic Coast and beyond northern Virginia.
        Today, it would be a mistake to allow those mountains to be a barrier to travelling eastward. There’s so much to discover on the other side, in the shadow of the Blue Ridge.
        If you love history, it’s hard to take a step without running into the estates of some of our nation’s first presidents, fascinating vestiges of colonial times, and reminders of a land trammeled and bloodstained by the back and forth of great Civil War armies.
        On the Blue Ridge, at Chester Gap, is the headwaters of the Rappahannock River, which played an important role throughout our history on its way to Chesapeake Bay. From Chester, the river loses 1,720 feet in elevation as it flows 95 miles southeastward through mostly rural and forested lands, past quaint towns heavy with tourist attractions and accommodations, past Fredericksburg and on to Chesapeake Bay. The waterway is interrupted by whitewater, Class I and II rapids – and a stretch that’s considered Class III – making it a favorite for canoeists and kayakers.
        Some 50 miles before it reaches the bay, it widens into a rich estuary famous for its oysters. Some say they’re the best oysters on the eastern seaboard.
        The Rappahannock Oyster Company describes them as “deep cupped and mineral rich, with an understated saltiness that lets the oyster’s natural flavor come though, our Rappahannocks offer up a sweet, buttery, full-bodied taste with a refreshingly clean, crisp finish.”
        The Rappahannock has left an indelible mark on our country’s history, a story that extends back thousands of years before our colonial days to the indigenous people who called it home. With the colonists came the smattering of quaint towns that still carry the rich flavor of those days – places to get out of the car and explore on foot, enjoying shops and restaurants, museums and galleries.
        The American Revolution touched these lands, but the Civil War roughed them up good.
        The Rappahannock was a strategic line drawn in the proverbial sand, with Union and Confederate troops taking turns crossing the river and pushing the enemy back from its banks, only to be pushed back across the river again. The river was a natural barrier, a challenge with few safe crossings.
        Fredericksburg, the largest town on the Rappahannock, anchored one of the most active regions of the Civil War. The area is home to the battlefields of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. The park includes the hallowed lands that witnessed the battles of Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse. All are among the most significant battles of the war, conflict that pitted General Ulysses S. Grant with General Robert E. Lee.
        Not far away, also preserved as a National Historic Site, is the village of Appomattox Courthouse, where Grant and Lee signed the papers that put an end to it all. There you can stand in the well-preserved room where the painful war ended and feel the emotion that surely permeated it on the day Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia.
        Above the region, up on the Blue Ridge, is Shenandoah National Park. Skyline Drive follows the crest of the ridge through the park for 105 miles. At its southern end, it segues to the Blue Ridge Parkway and continues another 469 miles to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
        There’s so much to like about Shenandoah and northern Virginia. Learn more by starting with www.Virginia.org.


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