See the sights on the way to Florida

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - Bill Ret­tew Small Talk

Al­most as soon as tem­per­a­tures drop and the winds pick up in Ch­ester County, we be­gin to think of es­cap­ing.

Many of us will make the long drive to Florida. Some talk of driv­ing straight through and reach­ing the Sun­shine State in less than 20 hours.

What’s the rush? Alas, there’s more be­tween here and there than rest stops, gas sta­tions and fast food joints.

I usu­ally take the “back way” through Har­ris­burg, along I-81, trav­el­ing amongst the beau­ti­ful moun­tains of Vir­ginia. This route is about 100 miles longer, but I prom­ise, by trav­el­ing along the Shenan­doah Val­ley, you’ll not get stuck in Bal­ti­more and Wash­ing­ton traf­fic.

What fol­lows is a list of stops along the way to break up the trip. Some, like South of the Bor­der, are lo­cated at an exit, while oth­ers, in­clud­ing Kitty Hawk will add many miles to the odome­ter.

High­lights along the back way:

• Staunton, Va.: Take a quick cruise around town. A beau­ti­ful lit­tle place left mostly un­touched by the Civil War. Much dis­tinc­tive 19th­cen­tury ar­chi­tec­ture re­mains. Site of Woodrow Wil­son’s birth­place, early home and his pres­i­den­tial li­brary and mu­seum.

• Lu­ray Cav­erns: Take a guided tour deep un­der­ground. Catch a con­cert on the Sta­lacpipe Or­gan, pos­si­bly the world’s largest mu­si­cal in­stru­ment. Ham­mers strike cave out­crop­pings to pro­duce beau­ti­ful mu­sic.

• Shenan­doah Na­tional Park and the Blue Ridge Park­way: The park­way par­al­lels the in­ter­state. The road bobs and weaves along high moun­tain ridges for 469 miles. Try de­tour­ing from fourlane I-81 to two-lane road­way for 50, 100 or more miles and then cut back to the ma­jor high­way. There is an ad­mis­sion fee for Shenan­doah Na­tional Park to the north but on the scenic high­way to the south it’s free.

• Columbia, S.C.: Take ei­ther a free self-guided or guided tour of the state capi­tol. They don’t fix ev­ery­thing here or gloss it over with stucco. It’s hard to miss six can­non ball holes on the build­ing’s ex­te­rior from the Civil War, which are marked with tough to miss stars. The guide will also point out some stat­ues never re­paired af­ter they were dam­aged.

• Mount Airy, N.C.: The town where Andy Grif­fith grew up and formed many of his ideas for May­berry RFD. You can ride in a vin­tage po­lice car like Bar­ney did, with a cutout of Andy, or eat a pork chop sand­wich at Snappy’s.

• Char­lotte, N.C.: A big city with a nice small­town vibe. The city hosts many mu­se­ums, in­clud­ing the Har­vey B. Gantt Cen­ter for African-Amer­i­can Arts. The façade star­tles, while re­sem­bling tex­tile pat­terns cre­ated by West African weavers. Stop at least long enough to sam­ple some south­ern fried chicken.

• Con­ga­ree Na­tional Park: Much of the park reg­u­larly floods, nour­ish­ing some the largest trees you’ll ever see. A board­walk trail net­work keeps you high and dry at the largest in­tact tract of old­growth bot­tom land forest in North Amer­ica. It’s easy walk­ing here in the low­lands since there are no hills. No ad­mis­sion fee.

• Cotton Fields: Cotton grows along two-lane roads south­east of Con­ga­ree and Columbia. Ma­chines now do much of the work but it’s still pretty to take an au­tumn or early win­ter drive along ru­ral roads while view­ing huge SUV-sized cotton balls wrapped for ship­ping. With ex­cess cotton blow­ing ev­ery­where, the road­side can look a lot like the day af­ter a snow­fall in Ch­ester County.

Sights along the more con­ven­tional drive along I-95:

• South of the Bor­der,

S.C.: With all those bill­boards, South of the Bor­der, or what’s fondly re­ferred to as good ole SOB, is a mag­net for both kids and adults. A 97-foot tall mas­cot named “Pe­dro” tow­ers over the com­plex. You can even grab a shop­ping cart in a su­per­mar­ket-sized fire­works store.

• Kitty Hawk, N.C.: Although it’s a long side trip,

who can pass on at least once jump­ing at the ex­act spot where the Wright Broth­ers first flew?

• Charlestown, S.C. and Sa­van­nah, Ga.: Beau­ti­ful south­ern towns packed with charm, his­tory and great eats. No need to leave the car; 22 squares or pocket parks sur­rounded by gor­geous homes are ar­ranged in an easy to nav­i­gate grid pat­tern in Sa­van­nah.

• Oke­feno­kee Swamp and Suwan­nee River, Ga.: An­other side trip that’s a bit out of the way. They don’t usu­ally make swamps in pop­u­la­tion cen­ters. You only end up here if you choose to come. Rent a small mo­tor­boat in the swamp, walk on a board­walk or visit the river made fa­mous by Stephen Foster, although he never vis­ited.

• Pull over at the first Florida rest stop af­ter cross­ing the bor­der: Free or­ange and grape­fruit

juice on tap is served. Don’t be shy, it’s al­right to ask for sec­onds.

• Day­tona Beach, Fla.: It’s your chance to drive on the beach. Don’t run over the sun­bathers; fol­low the marked lanes. There are even sandy park­ing lots.

• St. Augustine, Fla.: The old­est city in the U.S. You can search for the Foun­tain of Youth, visit an his­toric stone fort or shop ‘til you drop amongst touristy gift shops and at­trac­tions.

I shouldn’t use tired old clichés, but I’ll write it any­way. There’s no need to rush. Florida will still be there a cou­ple hours later.

Slow down and smell the roses - the jour­ney is the des­ti­na­tion.


Take the Blue Ridge Park­way through Vir­ginia on the way to Florida.


Although it’s only a card­board cutout, May­berry RFD ex­ists in Mount Airy, N.C.

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