If you're anything like us, you're going a little bit stir crazy waiting for spring to arrive. It's time to get out of town, and we're here to help. On the following pages, you'll find a trio of easy-to-enjoy day trips, including one last chance for children to enjoy the snow at Wintergreen; a drive north to Patsy Cline's hometown of Winchester; and an expedition to view the Natural Chimneys and experience Waynesboro's ongoing renaissance. Best of all, each of them can be done for about $100 (including gas money). For a weekend day away from it all, that's money well spent.
A revitalized Waynesboro, plus a regional park
By Bethany Emerson
Waynesboro has always struck me as a sleepy town too far from the outskirts of Charlottesville but with one claim to fame: a drive-through Starbucks. I recently discovered that it's not only a pit stop for my annual mountain getaways, but also a comfortable destination in its own right, complete with venues in which to taste specialty wines, find a rare book and explore history. Since 2000, Waynesboro's Downtown Development Inc., a nonprofit implementing a revitalization program, has successfully infused the city with fresh life. "We want to have the downtown area be the center core of the city again," says Kimberly Watters, Waynesboro Downtown Development's executive director.
Before meandering through Waynesboro, my sister and I brought a picnic lunch to Natural Chimneys Regional Park (888-430-2267 or uvrpa.org/naturalchimneys.htm ). We enjoyed a quarter-mile hike through the woods on the Overlook Trail, leading to a summit above the 120-foot chimneys (a great spot for photos). The peaceful overlook includes views of the park and, in the distance, Reddish Knob, part of the Allegheny Mountain Range. We chose to take the short hike back to the bottom, but avid hikers can also continue on the path and hike the steep, mile-long Ridge Top Trail.
The picnic tables in front of the Natural Chimneys are the perfect place for lunch, offering striking views of the formations. Park manager William Howard explained that over time (more than 500 million years), what used to be underwater limestone vents eroded and pushed through the rock bed to create the current shapes, including the tallest, The Tower of Babel.
Before you leave, stop by the site of the National Jousting Hall of Fame Tournament and Natural Chimneys Joust, held annually the third weekend in June and August. Also, attached to the Visitor's Center is The National Jousting Hall of Fame ( nationaljousting.com/fame.htm ; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., longer hours May through August). It was closed during my visit, but through a window I glimpsed a gilded set of armor, enticing me to a more thorough examination next time.
After that, we headed to Waynesboro's Main Street (about 50 minutes from Natural Chimneys), stopping at Stone Soup Books (540-943-0084 or stonesoupbooks.net ). This lavender, two-story house was transformed into an inviting readers' haven two years ago, and it offers hard-to-find vintage books, gently used novels, cookbooks and more. My sister bought a cookbook, Wok & Stir-Fry; it was a steal at $5. Stone Soup Books also offers reasonably priced lunches, with soup options changing each day.
Continue down Main Street to the heart of the downtown district, where you'll find the Waynesboro Heritage Museum (540-943-3943 or waynesboroheritagefoundation.com ). Its exhibits tell the story of Waynesboro, beginning with the town's founding in 1797. Be sure to check out the Postcard Gallery, an exhibit that tells the city's history in a collection of more than 75 historic cards. Cross the street to the River City Art & Wine Emporium (407 W. Main St., 540-943-6418), a spot that opened in November 2008, featuring specialty wine and microbrews, as well as gourmet foods. Set in an 1857 building, the shop's partially distressed brick walls are hung with hand-painted antique saws by local artist Ashlee Dobson.
The Artisans Center of Virginia (540-946-3294 or artisancenterofvirginia.org ), just a short drive away, features the work of about 250 artists in a 4,000-square-foot gallery. Items include pottery — a sage-green mirror with etched accents by Holly Hordan from Stanardsville, for example — jewelry, such as bold glass earrings by Richmonder Mary Martin, and one-of-a-kind woven scarves by Wee Weaver Fabrics, run by Midlothian's Jo Fletcher.
If you need a pick-me-up for the trip home, Kline's Dairy Bar (540-942-5282 or klinesdairybar.com ) has you covered, with hand-dipped custard-style ice cream and specialty coffees. My sister and I shared the mint-chocolate-chip ice cream, topped with fudge sauce — it gave me enough steam for the sunset drive to Richmond.
Settle into a booth at South River Grill (540-942-5567 or southrivergrill.com ), a dressy but contemporary restaurant with partial brick walls and a patio for warm-weather dining. This eatery offers a healthy menu made with locally grown ingredients. The highlight of my meal was the zesty SR Crab Dip, served with chunks of focaccia; it's the perfect size for sharing. Each Thursday, South River Grill opens its doors for free wine tasting in the retro Paddock Wine Shop, complete with cheese and select wines.
The Apple of Winchester's Eye
Patsy Cline still a prominent presence in town
By Kate Andrews
South of Winchester is the first reminder of Patsy: Route 522 bears the marker notifying drivers that this is the Patsy Cline Memorial Highway. Then you approach the cemetery where she's buried, Shenandoah Memorial Park (1270 Front Royal Pike, 540-667-2012).
The gravesite is marked by a modest, flat stone bearing her married name, Dick. On the upper-left corner is "Virginia H. (Patsy Cline), 1932-1963," with a sprinkling of pennies beneath. Footprints in the dirt around the grave testify to the enduring popularity of the country singer, who was killed in a plane crash 46 years ago this month.
The wind whipped through the cemetery, stinging my cheeks and letting me know it was time to get in the car, now bound for downtown Winchester.
The apple-blossom capital is worth the two-and-a-half-hour drive from Richmond, if history, wine or Patsy is your thing.
If you're a Patsy fan — full disclosure: I am — you have to work a little for your fix. Her admirers are still trying to raise money for a museum (visit patsycline.com for details), but you can still see landmarks from her life.
Her childhood home (608 S. Kent St.) is privately owned, with a prominent "No Trespassing" sign on the front fence, although it does have a historical marker out front.
I stayed long enough to take a few pictures of the white wood-panel house, adorned with a tin roof. The street looks like it has remained the same for decades, and a truck across from Patsy's house, its bed piled high with rusty appliances, could just as well be from the Great Depression as from today.
Unless you're visiting during the week, you're also limited to window-shopping at Gaunt's Drug Store (1 Valley Ave., 540-662-0383), where Patsy worked as a teenager. It's closed on weekends. A life-size cutout of Cline in the window, in full cowgirl regalia, shows the store's pride in its most famous soda jerk.
Heading north, follow the signs to Old Town Winchester. A pedestrian mall on Loudoun Street offers a good selection of shops and restaurants, from friendly bars (Cork Street Tavern, Brewbaker's Restaurant) to fine cuisine (Village Square Restaurant). In the alley behind the mall is a cool little find, One Block West (540-662-1455 or oneblockwest.com ), which emphasizes local food and Virginia wines.
Exploring the mall, Fabulous Finds (540-678-0180 or shopfabfinds.com ) is a fun place to kill time — it has a stack of 1960s-era Life magazines and intriguing furniture and appliances, including a shiny metal hair dryer for $15. Farther down is Saluté! Wine Market (540-535-2171 or salutewinemarket.com ), with an impressive selection of Virginia, California and international wines at a broad range of price points.
When I visited, the store offered a free tasting of "inaugural" wines, including Graham Beck, the South African (!) brut used to toast President Obama's Nov. 4 victory. Moving east to Cameron Street, parallel to the pedestrian mall, is the joint judicial court, which has an impressive bronze statue in front: Admiral Richard E. Byrd, explorer of the South Pole and a Winchester native, stands proudly in a suit of bear fur, his leg embraced by his faithful dog, Igloo.
Within 30 minutes of Winchester, you'll find a pair of wineries with impressive country views — Veramar (540-955-5510 or veramar.com ) and Bluemont Vineyard. I appreciated Bluemont (540-554-8439 or bluemontvineyard.com ) for its warm and welcoming attitude, which extended even to a crowd of "happy" ladies who arrived at closing time on a winery limo tour. And the view? I could see Washington, D.C., buildings in the distance.
Twilight had come and gone, and sadly, it was time to go home. Oh, well, throw on some Patsy tunes and extend the trip a bit.
The State Arboretum of Virginia (540-837-1758 or virginia.edu/blandy ) is located just outside Winchester, on the 700-acre Blandy Experimental Farm, which includes half the world's pine species, a grove of 300 gingko trees and a native plant trail. I'll be sure to follow my own advice and swing by next time, perhaps for the huge Garden Fair on May 9 and 10.
A day trip to Wintergreen fulfills a parental need
By Chad Anderson
Whenever I hear meteorologists on the news talking with visible relief about how we dodged a bullet when an anticipated snowstorm didn't quite pan out for Richmond, I find myself wondering when their souls died.
Maybe it's because I went to college in Vermont, maybe it's because my wife is a currently home-with-the-kids teacher experiencing school-cancellation flashbacks, but whatever the reason, here's the deal: We dig snow.
We moved to Richmond in 2002, and that first year I experienced something I hadn't enjoyed since high school — a snow day. Two of them, actually. But since then, it's been pretty slim pickings. This has been particularly galling since a new generation of Andersons is now on the scene, ready to inherit their parents' love of snow.
Well, this year my wife and I decided to take matters into our own hands. We reserved an hour at Ridgely's Fun Park, a tot lot of sorts for small children at Wintergreen (800-926-3723 or wintergreenresort.com ), that debuted in 2008. We made the two-hour drive on a February Sunday when temperatures in Richmond were (of course) in the 60s. If Mother Nature wasn't going to cooperate, we were going for the sure thing.
On our trip, that meant man-made snow that was a little on the icy side, but it got the job done. Ridgely's Fun Park is open on weekends and holidays through the second or third week of March (depending on conditions), offering one-hour and two-hour sessions ($10 and $18 per person, respectively, with one adult required for every child under 11). You can purchase your tickets on-site, at "The Dome," but I'd advise making your reservations online ahead of time, to avoid potential disappointment after two hours of buildup on the drive over.
The medium-sized park, set on a small hill, features several attractions, from a tubing carousel and tunnels to snow-sculpting equipment and a warming tepee (which in colder weather features complimentary hot chocolate), but the undeniable highlight is the tubing hill. Is this an extreme tubing experience? Nope. (For that you can try Wintergreen's tubing park — minimum height: 42 inches.) But Ridgely's provided just enough of a thrill for our 4-year-old — especially when we sent him down the hill while spinning — without being too scary for our 2-year-old (or, more truthfully, her sometimes overprotective father). My wife even went down the slope a few times in tandem runs with our children.
The other main attraction, for my daughter at least, was Ridgely the Bear. Clad in red suspenders emblazoned with the Wintergreen logo, he strolled around greeting enthusiastic children with more than a few hugs and plenty of high-fives — about a dozen in my daughter's case.
On our way home, we stopped for lunch in Nellysford at Thai-Mex II (434-361-1400 or thaimexII.com ). As its moniker suggests, this eatery produces Thai and Mexican food. There's no fusion between the two cuisines, just a menu in which tacos and enchiladas share space with pad thai and tom yum. The colorful décor, which leans more toward Thai than Mex, and the fish tank behind our table helped distract our 2-year-old when she started getting a little fussy while waiting for our order. We enjoyed our meal, but it was the family-friendly service that really won me over. Co-owner Dan Herlong served as our affable waiter, and his wife, Ubon, made a genuine fuss over our children when she brought out my drunken noodles. (I upped my tip accordingly.)
When we finally made it home a couple of hours later, both children zonked out for an afternoon nap, a much-appreciated rarity these days. Fun in the snow and the chance to read a book uninterrupted for a while? A bargain at any price.