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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Sumoflam

Travelographer Extraordinaire. I Enjoy the Ride by traveling and seeing the world around me. We are so busy speeding down the freeways of life that we miss out on the back roads and all the wonderful little stories that every place offers. So, I try to take the less beaten paths and see the real world. Father of five, grandfather of 9 and happily married to my sweetheart for nearly 35 years. Fluent in Japanese. Happy and well traveled. See details at http://www.sumoflam.biz/SumoflamBio.htm

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