G is for Grandeur – #atozchallenge

The United States is a vast and diverse country. From sea to shining sea there are sweeping vistas and spectacular scenes of nature.

The grandeur of this country is not seen on the interstate highways, but on the back roads and the gravel roads that have woven the fiber of this country.

Grandeur as seen on a back road in North Dakota – The Enchanted Highway
Mt. Moran in the Grand Tetons as seen from Colter Bay Lodge

I am always awestruck by the superb landscapes that one can witness on the back roads. Some of these landscapes, such as the Grand Canyon and the Rocky Mountains, are known by everybody. But there are so many more spectacles to feast your eyes upon.

When speaking of grandeur, perhaps one of my most favorite locations is Monument Valley in the northwest corner of Arizona and the southwest corner of Utah. Located within the Navajo Indian reservation, this amazing natural wonder has been the backdrop for many movies and television commercials. And one can only stand in a location or another and must turn their head from left to right to catch the full glory of this spectacular wonder of nature.

Visiting Monument Valley with my family in 1993
Coal Mine Canyon in Arizona
Sumoflam at Coal Mine Canyon in Arizona in 1990
Coal Mine Canyon in Arizona, ca. 1983

Not too far from there and also on the Navajo Reservation is a much lesser known, but in another way very spectacular sight. Called Coal Mine Canyon, it is a hidden gem off of a two lane highway east of Tuba City, AZ.

Coal Mine Canyon is filled with a variety of HooDoos…ghost like rock formations that can form eerie shadows and spooky formations at night.  The view goes on for miles into Blue Canyon.  In any other state, this might be a National Park or Monument.  It is just one more canyon in Arizona.

Sitting high up on Mt. Evans in Colorado in 1990 looking down at a crystal lake,

Head north into Colorado and take a ride up to Mount Evans north of Denver. Nearly 13,000 feet up, it offers up an amazing view of the mountains and lakes below.

The Beartooth Range in northern Wyoming.
At Beartooth Level — looking at the mountains from the top of the world

Not to be outdone in the words of grandeur, is the scenic highway that traverses the Bear Tooth Range along the Montana and Wyoming border. I have only been there once and it was in the very early spring on the first day the road was open. There were still piles of snow on both sides of the road. But the expanse of the mountains left me in awe.

 

An antelope and her calves run through the grasslands near Craig, CO
SD 63, a gravel road, runs through northern South Dakota’s grasslands and badlands

But grandeur is not just mountains or spectacular geologic formations. I can drive through the plains of North Dakota or South Dakota and experience miles and miles of grasslands.

I have driven through these great plains in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska. To some, the drive through these vast grasslands might be considered boring. To me, the vast expanse of grasslands is stunning.

The Oyate Trail highway in southern South Dakota
Wide Open Spaces near Scottsbluff, Nebraska
Mountains and grasslands near Glacier National Park and Bynum, Montana
Expansive views across Wyoming
Sandhill Cranes fly over high plains near Dell, MT
Expansive corn fields in central Missouri
Atlantic Sunrise in Maine

Then there is the grandeur of the oceans. I have been blessed to have been able to see the Pacific Ocean from the northern parts of Washington and Oregon all the way to the coast in Southern California. I have also seen the Atlantic Ocean from points in Maine all the way south to Florida. The amazing sunrises and sunsets over the water provide unspeakable grandeur and a glorious feeling.

Like the oceans, the Gulf of Mexico offers similar sights. Nothing like witnessing the spectacle flocks of pelicans flying in sync overhead.

Christmas sunrise near Ocean City, Maryland with a dolphin swimming by
Waves crash on the Pacific Ocean in the northwestern-most point in the continental US near Neah Bay, WA
Brown pelicans fly in synchronized formation over the Gulf of Mexico near Galveston, TX
A hoodoo at Hell’s Half Acre in Wyoming

The most gratifying part of experiencing grandeur for me is that every back road and numbered highway offers a peek at splendid views. One needs only crest to the top of a hill and laid out before your eyes are wonderful scenes like that of Hells Canyon in Oregon, or in Hell’s Half Acre in the middle of Wyoming. Drive along a two Lane highway in the eastern United States in the fall and you get to the top of the hill and see nothing but spectacular fall colors as far as the eye can see.

 

Hell’s Half Acre in Wyoming
Hells Canyon in northeast Oregon is actually wider and deeper than the Grand Canyon
View of Cincinnati, OH

But the grandeur is not just in nature. From a different perspective, the views of the skyline of a big city offers its own brand you were. Whether enjoying the skyline of Manhattan from across the river in Hoboken, NJ to witnessing the scene of riverine cities such as Pittsburgh or Cincinnati from the top of a hill, one gets a sense of how small they really are.

Three of my grandchildren look out at the lights of New York City from Sinatra Park in Hoboken, NJ
A panoramic shot of Pittsburgh from Mt. Washington
Seattle as seen from a boat in the Puget Sound
Massive bald cypress forests in Caddo Lake in NE Texas

I am grateful to live in these United States and my heart is filled with joy that I have been able to travel many a back road and experience the grandeur of this country.

With each new road comes a new experience. I still have yet to personally experience the special nature of Yosemite National Park or the giant sequoia trees of Northern California. But I have seen the vast expanses filled with volcanoes in Hawaii or the old volcano cones in New Mexico and Arizona.

Grand Tetons as seen from Driggs, Idaho
Humongous field of sunflowers in Central Kentucky. This too offers a feeling of grandeur

I have driven the long highway over Lake Ponchatrain in Louisiana and over the amazing Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. These man-made spectacles still offer a sense of grandeur.

The river into Juneau, Alaska as seen from a mountain top near Juneau
Fall colors as seen from a highway near Damascus, VA in 2016
Fall colors in horse farm country on a small road near Lexington, KY
Grand scene of the Badlands National Park
Visiting White Sands, NM in 2013
Bison relax in a wide field with antelope grazing in the background. Taken form the road in Yellowstone National Park
Sawtooth Mountains as seen from Stanley, ID
Two Medicine River canyon in Montana
Rock City in Central Montana
Fall colors from the Virginia Creeper Trail in Virginia
The grandeur of nature with sunbeams shining over a lake in Kentucky

So, get out on the road and experience this country for yourself.

(14)

The Year in Travel: 2016 from A to Z

The year 2016 was not a banner year for travel for me as there were no super long  cross country trips taken like I had done form 2012-2015. However, over the course of the year we did take a number of smaller trips and a couple of fairly long trips. I visited 11 states during the year and made it to some places where I hadn’t been for nearly 30 years. Even made it into towns from A (Abingdon, VA) to Z (Zanesville, OH) and one with an X too (Xenia, OH)!!

Here is a map that includes many of the places:

Abingdon, VA – Eastern terminus of the Virginia Creeper Trail
Zanesville, Ohio home of the Y Bridge
Julianne and David at Xenia Station on the Little Miami Scenic Trail

During the course of the year we visited a few major cities including Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Washington DC, Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth area. We also visited Nashville and Memphis in Tennessee.

Panoramic View of Pittsburgh from atop Mt. Washington
Julianne and Laura at the North Bend Rail Trail HQ in Cairo, WV

A good portion of my travel in 2016 was related to rails to trails bike trails that my wife Julianne had desired to ride. We visited some lovely bike trails in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia. While Julianne rode, I would take the back roads and meet her along the trails. This was until I got my own bicycle on my birthday in October.

All of us at Whitetop Station at the beginning of the 10 mile downhill Virginia Creeper Bike Trail near Damascus, VA
Flying to Houston from Cincinnati

We took one flight during the year which was to Houston to celebrate a calling for my son in church and to visit our grandsons. In late October, we also drove to Fort Worth, Texas for the funeral of my father. Not as joyous a trip, but we did visit a few locations along the way for fun.

Visiting my youngest grandchild Sam in Houston
Sumoflam and the FREE Stamp in Cleveland

Our trips to Cleveland and Pittsburgh were predominantly because Julian sister Laura had moved from Idaho to the Pittsburgh area. So she met Julianne on a couple of the bike ride trips. She and Julianne also attended a conference at the Kirtland Temple and while they were there, I visited my family in Little Italy in Cleveland and also took some tours around the city with my sister Tina and her husband Jim.

Riding with Tina and Jim around Cleveland
Sumoflam at the Kirtland Temple
Monongahela Incline in Pittsburgh

Then we visited Laura in Pittsburgh, we got to see a number of wonderful things in Pittsburgh including the Monongahela Incline, hey unique rail type system that pulled us up to the top of Mt. Washington where we had spectacular views of the city of Pittsburgh and the three rivers down below.

Bridges across Pittsburgh
Classic Neon of famed Dumser’s Drive-In in Ocean City, MD

The year ended on a high note as we took a long trip to Ocean City, MD where we stayed with Julianne’s sister and her husband Richard and their daughter for about a week on the beach. It was a wonderful trip! It was during this trip that we also visited Washington DC and the large LDS Washington DC Temple with all of its amazing Christmas lights. I also made my way up to Bethany Beach and Rehoboth Beach in Delaware, both of which I had not visited since the 1980s.

Welcome to Delaware…first time since 1986
Washington DC Temple at Christmas
The Washington Monument and the US Capitol in Washington DC
Old Paradise Cafe sign in Ocean City. What is a beach resort town without a flamingo or two?
I think I counted about 12 themed mini golf places on the main drag in Ocean City, including dragons, pirates and dinosaurs.
Township of Moon, PA (I have also been to Earth, TX, Mars, PA, Jupiter, FL and even Vulcan, AB

Of course, whenever we take road trips I always try to find the unique and the unusual whenever possible. And most of our trips were not immune from my searching to do so. On our trips visited such wonderful places as Friendly, WV, Prosperity, PA, Novelty, OH, Happy, KY, Eighty Four, PA and a few other unique named towns as indicated in photos below.  I even located a Yellow Brick Road in Ohio and a Bliss Happens Lane in Maryland!

Made it to Hope, AR, just before the 2016 elections. Hope is the home of former President Bill Clinton.
Meeting a Friendly guy outside the Friendly, WV Post Office
Happy Happy Happy…yes, there is a Happy, KY
I found Novelty in Ohio…
…and found Prosperity in PA
There is a Yellow Brick Road in Ohio
A Sugar and Water corner is in Chillicothe, OH
No Name Street in Millersburg, OH
Lost? Try going the Udder Way, This is in Yellow Springs, OH at Young’s Dairy
And I found where Bliss Happens in Maryland
Reuben Sandwich and Sweet Potato Fries at In the Country in Damascus, VA

During the year we often ate at places that were focused on bicyclists and motorbike enthusiasts. One such location was in Oregonia, OH. It was way out of the way to get to. Then there was the place on the Virginia Creeper Trail which was almost impossible to get to my car but was built specifically for the bicyclists coming down the Virginia Creeper Trail.

In the Country Bakery and Eatery on the outskirts of Damascus
At Damascus Old Mill Inn in Damascus
The Little River Cafe in Oregonia, OH is most easily reached by bike. It is literally on the side of the trail. The road to Oregonia is way out of the way.
Elliston Place Diner in Nashville

In August, we got to visit Nashville and hang with my good friend and musician Antsy McClain. He took us around with a few other “field trippers” and showed us some of the sites of Nashville including music Row, some music dives and some good places to eat including the oldest diner in Nashville. We also have the unique chance to sit in a recording studio with Antsy and sing back up vocals on one of his songs!

Hanging with Antsy McClain at a dive in Nashville
Had lunch at Flatrock Coffee in Nashville. Great food and a large collection of one of a kind Antsy McClain art on coffee cups
Antsy McClain art on Coffee Cups — one of dozens of original pieces on display at Flatrock Coffee in Nashville
The Antsy Backup gang at the recording studio in Nashville
Sanders Cafe in Corbin, KY. Birthplace of the KFC Special Recipe

During the course of the year, I also took a few “staycation” trips within Kentucky. This included one on the bike trail with Julianne, but also to Ravenna,  where I visited hey famed café called the Wigwam. I also took a fun trip with my grandchildren and my daughter Marissa down to Cumberland Falls and then on into Corbin to visit the Harlan Sanders museum and restaurant which is where the recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken got it start. During the fall I took a solo trip up into Red River Gorge to get pictures of the fall colors. I was about a week too late to get most of them, but that was because we were in south eastern Virginia on the Creeper Trail to see the beautiful colors down there.

Birthplace of KFC
Visiting Cumberland Falls with my daughter and her kids.
The Colonel and Me at Sanders Cafe
The fall colors as seen from the Virginia Creeper Trail near Damascus, VA
Visiting Kentucky’s Red River Gorge in November
Colorful trees and leaves line a small road in Red River Gorge
Story of Superman at Joe Shuster’s former home

Some of the other more unique places that I got to see over the past year would include the “Birthplace of Superman,” which was in Cleveland, as well as the house where the movie “A Christmas Story”  was filmed. Also while in Ohio, I visited the world’s largest geodesic dome in Novelty, OH. That was fascinating.

Of course, I can’t neglect to mention the visit to Little Italy to see my birthplace and family.  I ate fine Italian cuisine at Mama Santa’s and had a great time seeing other sites there. Its the best Little Italy in the US!

Cleveland Water Tower
Murray Hill Rd….where I was born. Little Italy
Sumoflam with Mama Santa’s owner Papa Tio
The Wendy’s Original $150,000 Crystal Cheeseburger created by Waterford Crystal

During the year I also visited two fast food restaurants that had included museums in them. The Wendy’s restaurant in Dublin, OH had a whole section built in there with the history of Wendy’s and a large statue of Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas. In Canonsburg, PA, there is a McDonald’s restaurant that includes dedications and memorabilia of Perry Como and Bobby Vinton, both of whom grew up in Canonsburg.

Home of Wendy’s
“Where’s the Beef?” memorabilia from the famed advertising campaign in the Wendy’s Museum in Dublin, OH
Sumoflam with Dave Thomas statue in Dublin, OH
Bobby Vinton Statue in the Canonsburg, PA McDonald’s
Bobby Vinton Stage items on display in Canonsburg McDonald’s

It was fun for me to visit Xenia, OH and see the murals and the architecture and then also travel around some of the other areas nearby with Julianne and her sister and/or our grandchildren who rode  their bikes along some of the bike trails including the Little Miami Scenic Trail.

We visited the Little Miami Scenic Trail twice and each time had a great time.

Julianne, Marissa and the kids on the Little Miami Scenic Trail near Beatty Station, OH
We stopped at Young’s Dairy for some fresh ice cream on this hot day
One of Peter Toth’s 50+ Whispering Giants…this one in Ocean City, MD

Overall, I have to say it was a wonderful year. I saw dolphins swimming at sunrise on Christmas morning in the Atlantic Ocean in Maryland. We got to visit some of our great national historical sites in Washington DC. On many of the trips, it was fun to travel with the grandchildren and see the delight in their eyes they saw big waterfalls, giant statues and other interesting places.

Christmas morning sunrise in Ocean City , MD and greeted by a dolphin in the foreground.
Delaware Seashore Bridge
Another Peter Toth Whispering Giant in Bethany Beach, DE
Sumoflam at the Wigwam Drive-In in Ravenna, KY

On a final note, I have to say that we did visit a few interesting places to eat. A great taco place in Houston, and, as I mentioned before, the Wigwam in Ravenna, KY.  Also of note were the Crabcake Factory in Ocean City, MD and a Japanese place with a unique name Saketumi, in Rehoboth Beach, DE.

Japanese food at the Saketumi Asian Bistro in Rehoboth Beach, DE
Enjoyed a nice Amish Buffet in Ronks, PA on the way back from Maryland

As I start a new position in new venture 2017, I look forward to traveling. The new company (PrecisionHawk) is in Raleigh, NC and so I will be taking a trip there in early January. Who knows what other delights I will find in 2017.

Following are a few other random shots from my trips in 2016:

Sumoflam with Nancy Starvaggi Schaffer, showing off the AMAZING homemade sausage and pasta from Mama Santa’s Restaurant in Cleveland, OH
We visited Texas in October. This was in Texarkana, TX
A shot with Elvis in Memphis
A large mural of a train welcomes visitors to Ravenna, KY
The Washington Court House in Washington Court House, OH was one of many unique buildings I got to visit in 2016
Cleveland Fire Memorial
Assawoman Dr. in Ocean City, MD
Visited Moon, PA in 2016. Visited Earth, TX in 2011. Earth vs Moon Police!
World’s largest Geodesic Dome in Novelty, OH
Many Unique Restaurants could be found in Ocean City and up in Delaware…
Fun with my wife at Chagrin Falls in Ohio
Bristol, Tennessee and Virginia – taken when we visited the Virginia Creeper Bike Trail
An old Mail Pouch barn in Brinkhaven, OH
Of course, you can always come across unique shop names, like this one in Houston
Killbuck Depot on the Holmes County Trail in Ohio
A Pal’s Sudden Service building. Lots of fun and it looks like the food is great too.
The Got Muchies Truck in Royalton, KY. Too funny for words
Had to add this sign…this place was one of our true 2016 highlights!
The 370 foot long Bridge of Dreams over the Mohican River near Brinkhaven.
Damascus calls itself Trail Town USA for a reason. The Appalachian Trail, the Virginia Creeper Trail and others come to a crossroads here.
Korean War Memorial in Zanesville, OH… hundreds of real helmets
Welcome to 84 Country – Eighty Four , PA
Sumoflam at Chagrin Falls Popcorn Shop in Ohio
Holmes County Trail is in the middle of Amish Country. The Bike Trail is shared with Amish Buggies
Hiker painting on a restroom wall in Damascus

 

(42)

A visit to Damascus, Virginia

Welcome to Damascus
Welcome to Damascus

Last weekend we made a trip to Damascus, VA with the goal of Julianne and our daughter Marissa riding their bikes on the Virginia Creeper Trail, one of many wonderful Rails to Trails bike trails that can be found in this part of the country.

 

Virginia CreeperI will have a different post about the Virginia Creeper Trail as part of my Bike Trail Series, but I wanted to post an article about the non-bike portion of our trip to Damascus, Abingdon, and Bristol, VA.  Besides the bike trail, there is so much more to see and do on a  road trip down to this part of Appalachia.

We began our trip by leaving early in the morning on Saturday to drive to Damascus via the towns of Hazard and Whitesburg in Kentucky on US Highways 23 and 119. Once into Virginia, we passed through the small towns of Pound and Wise.

Fog in the Mountains of SE Kentucky near Whitesburg
Fog in the Mountains of SE Kentucky near Whitesburg
Fog in the Mountains south of Hazard, KY. The vegetation is covered with kudzu
Fog in the Mountains south of Hazard, KY. The vegetation is covered with kudzu
Beautiful Highway heading into Virginia
Beautiful Highway heading into Virginia at Pound Gap

The entire drive that morning was beautiful as we passed through the mountains of Kentucky and Virginia. The mountains were laced with fog and low clouds in this beautiful part of Appalachia.  Many of the plants and telephone lines were covered with the invasive Kudzu (also known as Japanese Arrowroot) plant…though obnoxious, it does have its own eerie beauty.

Pound Gap Historical Sign on the Virginia Border
Pound Gap Historical Sign on the Virginia Border
Welcome to Virginia
Welcome to Virginia
Saw this on Business 23 as we entered into Pound, VA. Tried to find a town named Donkey in VA, but couldn't find anything. Oh well...you have a photo of the sign
Saw this on Business 23 as we entered into Pound, VA. Tried to find a town named Donkey in VA, but couldn’t find anything. Oh well…you have a photo of the sign
Pound, VA
Pound, VA

Our first actual stop on the road was right as we entered the town of Pound. As we come down the hill there is a large mural painted on the side of a wall by the highway. As always, I stopped to grab a photo to add to my growing collection of wall murals from around the US and Canada. We then drove through the little village of Pound to see if there was anything interesting, which there wasn’t.  But, these small little towns always have a charm about them.

Pound Mural in Pound, VA
Pound Mural in Pound, VA – 105 feet wide and 25 feet tall painted by Kingsport, TN Tattoo Artist Ben Rigg and Simon Henry. Represents some history of the residents of the area.
The Crooked Road - Virginia Heritage Music Trail
The Crooked Road – Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail

Along US 23 after getting into Virginia, we came across signs that said we were on “The Crooked Road.”  The Crooked Road is Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, a driving route through the Appalachian Mountains from the Blue Ridge to the Coalfields region, following U.S. Route 58, but also with parts on U.S. Route 23.

The road winds through over 333 miles of scenic terrain in southwest Virginia, including 19 counties, four cities, and 54 towns.  Famed Bluegrass musicians such as Ralph Stanley, Joe Wilson, the Carter Family Fold and others, all hailed from this area.

Crooked Road Historical Sign near the Virginia Border with Kentucky
Crooked Road Historical Sign near the Virginia Border with Kentucky
Welcome to Whitetop, VA
Welcome to Whitetop, VA

From Pound we made our way into Wise, VA on US 23 and just continued on the road to Damascus.  Our trip eventually took us into Abingdon and then on to Damascus. From there we then went up US Highway 58 to Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and near the top of Whitetop Mountain where there is a station called Whitetop Station where the bike trail begins (actually begins about a mile away in North Carolina).

Whitetop Station
Whitetop Station
Dropped off my wife and daughter at Whitetop Station.
Dropped off my wife and daughter at Whitetop Station.
Green Cove Station in Virginia
Green Cove Station in Virginia

It was a beautiful drive up there and they departed on their ride down the hill. Whitetop Station is about 3500′ in altitude and Damascus is at 1952′, so in a 17 mile stretch they would drop about 1600 feet. (I’ll cover that in a separate Bike Trail Post)  After dropping them off, I drove a few mile back to Green Cove Station, which is another stop along the Virginia Creeper Trail.  It was packed with bikers, but is also a very scenic part of the route.

Virginia Creeper Trail shirts for sale at Whitetop Station
Virginia Creeper Trail shirts for sale at Whitetop Station

Both Whitetop and Green Cove have snacks, drinks and also sell some t-shirts and hats, proceeds of which go to benefit the Creeper Trail Association that maintains the trail.

The stations also carry a few tools and some spare tires, etc., that have been donated by other riders.

Certainly worth a brief visit to see their offerings if you are up that way.

A pastoral scene from near the Green Cove Station on the Virginia Creeper Trail
A pastoral scene from near the Green Cove Station on the Virginia Creeper Trail
Unique sign posting on a church in Green Cove -- it is election season 2016
Unique sign posting on a church in Green Cove — it is election season 2016

This area near Green Cove is dotted with Christmas Tree farms and is a lusciously pastoral environment for both the bikers and those tat are driving the back roads. The scene above is indicative (and you can see the Christmas tree grove on the left side).

IMG_6760rev

At the Cross Roads of the Virginia Creeper and Appalachian Trails
At the Cross Roads of the Virginia Creeper and Appalachian Trails

From Green Cove I headed back down to the town of Damascus and drove around. Damascus touts itself as “Trail Town USA.” The reason for this is because many trails seem to converge into this town, most specifically the Appalachian Trail which is America’s most famous hiking trail and then the Virginia Creeper Bike Trail, which is one of the more well-known bike trails. There are apparently a few other trails that come through the area.

A hiker on the Appalachian Trail walks the trail into Damascus
A hiker on the Appalachian Trail walks the trail into Damascus
There is a constant stream of bikers on the Creeper Trail
There is a constant stream of bikers on the Creeper Trail
Damascus calls itself Trail Town USA for a reason. The Appalachian Trail, the Virginia Creeper Trail and others come to a crossroads here.
Damascus calls itself Trail Town USA for a reason. The Appalachian Trail, the Virginia Creeper Trail and others come to a crossroads here.

SunDog

Inside SunDog Outfitters in Damascus, one of many shops catering to the biking and hiking crowd
Inside Sundog Outfitters in Damascus, one of many shops catering to the biking and hiking crowd

The entire town is set up to handle this “trail traffic.” There are outdoor shops, a number of bike shops that sell and rent bikes, there are outfitters that provide the things needed for hiking and camping such as tents and sleeping bags. Many of the eateries in town also cater to this type of crowd, thus giving the town a very relaxed and very friendly atmosphere.  Sundog Outfitters was a great place for this and also has a large bike repair area with most of the items needed.  We know as we had to get a repair done  there during our visit.

A variety of t-shirts and other amenities at SunDog Outfitters
A variety of t-shirts and other amenities at SunDog Outfitters
Hiker painting on a restroom wall in Damascus
Hiker painting on a restroom wall in Damascus

Another thing I liked about the town was the murals. I am always looking for interesting murals and wall paintings. There are 4 or 5 murals including the Trail Town USA mural (shown above) which features a large compass and a life size mural poster of the Appalachian Trail with a pioneer on it.  The Town Park features some interesting murals on the Restroom Walls…one of them I took has become one of my more popular Instagram photos. Following are a couple more I came across.

A nice representation of an old hiker on the Appalachian Trail
A nice representation of an old hiker on the Appalachian Trail
A barber shop mural with the Appalachian Trail logo
A barber shop mural with the Appalachian Trail logo on the Barber Pole
A mural of mountain scenery on the side of a building in Damascus
A mural of mountain scenery on the side of a building in Damascus
One of a number of murals on the side of building along the trail
One of a number of murals on the side of building along the trail
The Inn on Creeper Way - one of many B&B places on the Creeper Trail in Damascus
The Inn on Creeper Way – one of many B&B places on the Creeper Trail in Damascus (see their site HERE)

Unfortunately, as I noted above, Julianne’s bike broke down along the first few miles of the trail and she and Marissa ended up being stranded.  They made their way to the Upbeet Cafe and the Creeper Trail Cafe, located along the trail on Taylor Valley Road, but really way out of the way for a car from Damascus.  Map is below.

CreeperTrailCafeMap
Map of road to get from Damascus to the Creeper Trail Cafe and Upbeet Cafe
Upbeet Cafe
Upbeet Cafe Sign – near Taylors Valley, VA
The Creeper Trail Cafe is along the trail in Taylors Valley...about 20 minutes from Damascus through Tennessee and then back into Virginia.
The Creeper Trail Cafe is along the trail in Taylors Valley…about 20 minutes from Damascus through Tennessee and then back into Virginia.

Actually, the Upbeet Cafe, where Julianne was stranded, is further north up VA 725.  Fortunately, a good Samaritan took her in a truck from the Upbeet to the famed Creeper Trail Cafe where I was able to find her and get the bike loaded.

As a result of the downed bike and the time required to drive to Taylors Valley and back to Damascus, we decided to call it a day and go again on the next day.  So, we drove back into Damascus, got the bike repaired at SunDog and then found our way to a place to eat.

At Damascus Old Mill Inn
At Damascus Old Mill Inn
Mural in Damascus advertising the Old Mill Inn
Mural in Damascus advertising the Old Mill Inn

I am always about eating at local places when on the road and had researched to find that the Old Mill Inn in Damascus was THE place to eat in town.  There are many other eateries, but this one is along the river and overlooks a scenic waterfall.

The view from our table
The view from our table

The thing about this unique eatery is that the menu is upscale and the dining experience is nice, but they cater to the casually dressed bikers and hikers. We were given great treatment by Kara Maguire, who is related to the owners.  And we got a special treat when the Head Chef, John King, came out personally to serve us our unique and tasty dishes.  All this while we sat at a table overlooking the waterfall behind the mill.

A unique duck in the river by Old Mill Inn
A unique Muscovy duck in the river by Old Mill Inn
Head Chef John King presents our dishes at the Old Mill Restaurant.
Head Chef John King presents our dishes at the Old Mill Restaurant.

The atmosphere was casual, but the dining experience was upscale. They first brought us some Asian inspired tacos as an appetizer. These were so good that they disappeared before I could even get a photo!  For dinner, Julianne got a vegan dish called Beet Risotto that included some root vegetables that had been steamed and spiced and were laid on top of the risotto. It was very tasty. I picked up a nice pulled-pork three cheese sandwich with their homemade “Mill Slaw.”  Marissa had a chicken curry sandwich which was also quite amazing.

Julianne had a Beet Risotto with spiced root vegetables. It was delectable
Julianne had a Beet Risotto with spiced root vegetables. It was delectable
David had a Reuben sandwich with three cheeses and their homemade "Mill Slaw". Their tomato dipping sauce was to die for
David had a Pulled Pork with three cheeses and their homemade “Mill Slaw”. Their tomato dipping sauce was to die for

After dinner, we  spent the night in Bristol, Virginia. I had earned a free night through my Choice Hotels points and stayed at Quality Inn and Suites.  It was a nice restful evening as prepared to get up early the next morning to return to Whitetop.

US Hwy 58 in Virginia, near Damascus
US Hwy 58 in Virginia, near Damascus

Our drive up to Whitetop Station on Sunday was phenomenal! Along the roadway there were many places where we saw sunbeams coming through the trees, such as the photos that I have included below.  Reminded me of a reference to Paul the Apostle in Acts 9:3 in the New Testament that says: “And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven.” Indeed, on US 58 near Damascus, we too enjoyed the lights from Heaven on that Sabbath morning.

The Ligfhts from Heaven on US 58 near Damascus
The Lights from Heaven on US 58 near Damascus, VA
More Lights from Heaven on US 58 near Damascus
More Lights from Heaven on US 58 near Damascus, VA
More Lights from Heaven as seen on US 58 near Damascus
More Lights from Heaven as seen on US 58 near Damascus, VA
Stopped at one of the bridges on the way back to Damascus
Stopped at one of the bridges on the way back to Damascus

After dropping them off on the trail,  I made my way back down the road and visited a couple of the bridges and then went on to Damascus and did more driving around town to find old buildings, little bed-and-breakfast places and ultimately a place for us to eat dinner.

At one of the steel bridges on the Virginia Creeper Trail
At one of the steel bridges on the Virginia Creeper Trail
Shuttle Shack - one of many business offering shuttles of bikes to the top of the mountain
Shuttle Shack – one of many business offering shuttles of bikes to the top of the mountain
In the Country Bakery and Eatery on the outskirts of Damascus
In the Country Bakery and Eatery on the outskirts of Damascus

On Sunday we stopped for lunch at a place along the trail called In the Country Bakery and Eatery. There are actually many places along the trail, some of which are actually a challenge to get to via automobile but have been built specifically to handle trail traffic. I

At In the Country Cafe
At In the Country Cafe

already mentioned the Upbeet Cafe and Creeper Cafe above. But on this day we stopped at In the Country which sit on the outskirts of Damascus. They offer sandwiches, baked goods and home made fudge. Their food was reasonable and they had indoor and outdoor seating with a view of the trail across US 58.

Bike Parking at In the Country - a popular place on the trail
Bike Parking at In the Country – a popular place on the trail
Reuben Sandwich and Sweet Potato Fries at In the Country
Reuben Sandwich and Sweet Potato Fries at In the Country
A Nice Salad Offering at In the Country
A Nice Salad Offering at In the Country
Off the Beaten Path Ice Cream in Damascus
Off the Beaten Path Ice Cream in Damascus

On the same site they have a great ice cream place called Off the Beaten Path Ice Cream Shoppe.  It so happened that July 17 was National Ice Cream Day so we all indulged in ice cream.

They offered about 20 different flavors and also had some sherbets so it was perfect for a very warm day.

Ice Cream
Ice Cream
Ice Cream offerings at Off the Beaten Path
Ice Cream offerings at Off the Beaten Path
Ice Cream Chart in Off the Beaten Path... LOL
Ice Cream Chart in Off the Beaten Path… LOL
Celebrating National Ice Cream Day with a nice ice cream cone at Off the Beaten Path
Celebrating National Ice Cream Day with a nice ice cream cone at Off the Beaten Path
Julianne and Marissa on the trail to Abingdon, VA
Julianne and Marissa on the trail to Abingdon, VA

After lunch and a little relaxing Julianne and Marissa took off for the remaining 13 or 14 miles of their trip to Abingdon, Virginia on the Creeper Trail. I too made my way to Abingdon via US Highway 58 and took a couple of detours to get photos of the trail with them riding on it.  I also found a couple of nice bridge shots along the way.

Apparently, the last few miles of the trail to Abingdon have a grueling gradual uphill climb, but not nearly the altitude change.  Indeed, Damascus sits at 1952′ while Abingdon is at 2087′, which means about a 100′ rise.  However, there was still some downhill from Damascus apparently.

Trestle #4 near Abingdon, VA - one of 47 trestles on the 32 mile trail
Trestle #4 near Abingdon, VA – one of 47 trestles on the 32 mile trail
For obvious reasons....no parking
For obvious reasons….no parking
This old Pepsi machine sits along the side of the Creeper Trail west of Damascus. Don't think it works anymore -- HA
This old Pepsi machine sits along the side of the Creeper Trail west of Damascus. Don’t think it works anymore — HA
An old house with License Plate Siding. This was seen along the trail
An old house with License Plate Siding. This was seen along the trail
Bridge Number 4 near Watauga Rd. close to Abingdon
Bridge Number 4 near Watauga Rd. close to Abingdon
Welcome to Abingdon, VA
Welcome to Abingdon, VA

I got to Abingdon much earlier than they did and was able to drive around the little town, which also caters to the biking crowd and to the hiking crowd.  I discovered a movie complex with great wall art so had to grab a couple of shots.  Always like fun Wall Art.

Main Street, including the large courthouse, in Abingdon, VA
Main Street, including the large courthouse, in Abingdon, VA
Street corner in Abingdon, VA
Street corner in Abingdon, VA
Wall Art at the Abingdon Cinemall
Wall Art at the Abingdon Cinemall
More art at Abingdon Cinemall
More art at Abingdon Cinemall
Virginia Creeper Welcome Center - Abingdon, VA
Virginia Creeper Welcome Center – Abingdon, VA

Abingdon has a Virginia Creeper Welcome Center at the end of the trail and it includes many old relics from the railroad and also has the last train engine to ride along that railroad from the 1980s. The final bridge, bridge number one, is the end of the trail and in that vicinity there are other little things to see.

The Old Engine of the Creeper - last train to run the rails in the 1980s
The Old Engine of the Creeper – last train to run the rails in the 1980s
Sumoflam with Virginia Creeper engine in Abingdon
Sumoflam with Virginia Creeper engine in Abingdon
Signage at the Abingdon Trailhead - Bridge Number 1
Signage at the Abingdon Trailhead – Bridge Number 1
Julianne and Marissa at the end of the trail in Abingdon
Julianne and Marissa at the end of the trail in Abingdon – after 37 miles

DSC_6819After we loaded the bikes, we departed for Kentucky via Bristol, VA where we had spent the night previously. Bristol, VA is one of those unique towns that actually is split into two states. The drive along State Street will feature flags of the United States and Virginia on one side of the highway and flags of Tennessee and the United States on the other side. There are theaters, and number of murals in the town and the fairly well known large archway that welcomes people to Bristol.

Welcome to Bristol. I took this from the Tennessee side of the road.
Welcome to Bristol. I took this from the Tennessee side of the road.
The Tennessee side of State Street in Bristol, VA
The Tennessee side of State Street in Bristol, VA
Part of a large mural in Bristol
Part of a large mural in Bristol
State Street in Bristol -- left side is Tennessee, right side is Virginia, yellow line is state border
State Street in Bristol — left side is Tennessee, right side is Virginia, yellow line is state border
Old Wall Advertisement in Bristol
Old Wall Advertisement in Bristol
Enter sign at Pal's Sudden Service
Enter sign at Pal’s Sudden Service

While driving through town we came across a fast food place called Pal’s Sudden Service.  We didn’t stop there to eat (we were already full), but I loved the unique building design — totally quirky.  And I really got a kick out of their  road sign — Exercise Daily.   The building only has drive thru windows and no other windows. But the giant hot dog and hamburger can’t be missed!  They apparently are located mainly in east Tennessee and southwest Virginia, with 28 shops dotting this region.  The company got its start in Kingsport, TN, where the original Pal’s still sits with its giant Burger Holding Muffler Man statue (looks like I need another trip!)

A Pal's Sudden Service building. Lots of fun and it looks like the food is great too.
A Pal’s Sudden Service building. Lots of fun and it looks like the food is great too.
After eating Pal's food make sure to Exercise Daily. Couldn't help but chuckle
After eating Pal’s food make sure to Exercise Daily. Couldn’t help but chuckle
Cumberland Gap Tunnel where Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee meet
Cumberland Gap Tunnel where Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee meet

Our Drive back to Lexington from Bristol took us through Cumberland Gap and we were able to take the famed Cumberland Gap Tunnel which brought us into the town of Middlesboro.

Originally completed in October 1996, the tunnels each carry two-lanes of traffic.  Each tunnel was bored through 4100-feet of solid rock. At the tallest point, the tunnels are 30-feet high. Cross passages, located every 300-feet, connect the two tunnels and are equipped with fire extinguishers and phones for emergency use.

Exiting the Cumberland Gap tunnel into Kentucky
Exiting the Cumberland Gap tunnel into Kentucky

Since the mountain releases approximately 450 gallons of water every minute, thick PVC liner around the tunnels ensures that the bores stay dry. Air quality is monitored constantly by electronic sensors, and ventilation fans are located every 600-feet to keep air circulating in the tunnel. Variable message board signs are located in the Cumberland Gap vicinity to warn drivers of impending hazardous traffic and weather conditions or to direct traffic flow. AM and FM radio stations can be overridden with emergency messages as well.

Welcome to Middlesboro, KY
Welcome to Middlesboro, KY

The town of Middlesboro, KY is one a few towns in the United States or perhaps even the world, that is built completely within the confines of a meteor crater. We stopped there for dinner at a Mexican restaurant and enjoyed some fairly good food. From there we zipped back up through Barbourville and Corbin and then back into Lexington.

Sunflower taken at the end of Virginia Creeper Trail in Abingdon, VA
Sunflower taken at the end of Virginia Creeper Trail in Abingdon, VA

It was a quick two day trip, but it was very fun and the scenery was amazing. The mountains of Appalachia especially in southeast Kentucky southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee are very beautiful. We look forward to taking another trip to the area in October when the colors should all be changed.   Needless to say, the summer brings its own variety of colors in the wildflowers, some of which I captured in digital form…another plus to a trip like this!

Flowers as seen along the Virginia Creeper Trail
Flowers as seen along the Virginia Creeper Trail
A field of Chicory wildflowers Virginia/Kentucky border
A field of Chicory wildflowers Virginia/Kentucky border
Bee on a Chicory Bloom
Bee on a Chicory Bloom
A pink hibiscus growing near a cafe in Damascus, VA
A pink hibiscus growing near a cafe in Damascus, VA

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