Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 5: Lexington to Christiansburg

We started off Day Five of our Route 11 road trip in Lexington. There happened to be a Farmer's Market downtown, and we took time to look at all the offerings.

Just a few blocks away was a quiet residential section, with large, gracious houses. The sidewalks weren't concrete, but rather brick -- and very old brick at that.

Here's two of the residences along the street. The others were equally attractive.

From Lexington, the next major stop down Route 11 was Natural Bridge. This rock formation was surveyed by George Washington, and with the advent of the automobile and tourism, has attracted a steady stream of visitors. And as with other tourist attractions, a whole subculture of subsidiary businesses has grown up around it.

Natural Bridge

In many places along the route there are traces of these old roadside attractions. One of the best i the Pink Cadillac Diner. This is a no-nonsense old-fashioned diner with a '50's motif. We've eaten there several times, both at their old and their current location. Good thing I stood as far away as I did to get the shot below. Up close, you can see that the car is rapidly biodegrading, both inside and out.

As we approached Natural Bridge, the attractions became kitschier - - but then, if something like "Foamhenge" can get people to pull over and spend money, why mess with a winning formula? The Natural Bridge Zoo is a good example. We didn't go in, but just being in the parking lot to take the  photo below as enough. Loudspeakers mounted in trees kept up a steady barrage of authentic jungle sounds.

We passed on the tiger photo-op.

At first glance, there didn't seem to be much to the town of Buchanan (which is pronounced BUCK-anan). But then we saw the footbridge.

Like Route 11 going into town, the bridge spans the James River. We took some time to cross it, and enjoy being suspended over the moving waters of the James. The original bridge pillar was constructed in the 1850's. The suspension bridge was added in the 1930's (but seemed to be reasonably sturdy).

One thing I had noticed once we started our trip. As we drove southward into the Valley, the mountains and hills became more pronounced. The road itself didn't necessarily become hillier, but steep slopes and close-by mountains fast became the norm for scenery.

The view from main street Buchanan. That
mountain's not far away.


A GP9 locomotive at the Virginia
Museum of Transportation.
Buchanan is on the outskirts of Roanoke. For most people living in other parts of Virginia, the Commonwealth ends in the Star City (Roanoke's nickname). In the 1700's the city was a major hub for the wagon routes, so it's natural to think that's were things stop. But it's more than just a major city. It's also the entrance to Southwest Virginia.

We've been to Roanoke many times, and often enjoyed their thriving city market on the downtown square. But we had never been to the Virginia Museum of Transportation. Roanoke is a major hub for the Norfolk & Western Railroad, and the area around the old downtown train station is a perfect place to store and display vintage locomotives.

The museum is indeed a transportation rather than a railroad museum. There are good-sized exhibits on automobiles, buses, and one under construction for airplanes. All with the focus of transportation in the Commonwealth.

The DC Transit PCC streetcar. Could this be one
I rode a half century ago?

I had some mixed emotions when I saw the PCC streetcar. It was an old D.C. Transit streetcar, in serious need of repair. As with many of the museum's acquisitions, it had been rescued from the scrap pile, but nothing could be done to it until the museum could afford to restore it.

Streetcars were a common sight in Washington, DC when I was very young. They were phased out in favor of buses in 1962. My father took me on the very last ride of the very last streetcar. As I looked at this relic, I wondered if it was the same one Dad and I rode on over a half-century ago.


We made it as far as Christiansburg. When we travel Route 81, going over Christiansburg Mountain is sort of the sign that we're entering (or leaving) Southwest Virginia. The climb was even more difficult on Route 11, but we made it in time.

Christiansburg may seem like another picturesque mountain town, but its history is a little more interesting than most. The town, incorporated in 1792, was at one time the home of both Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. And according to local legend, Dr. Pepper, a local doctor is the namesake for the cola (we'll visit the birthplace of another soda tomorrow).

#route 11

Route 11 Road Trip -- The Plan

Route 11 Road Trip -- Day 1: Winchester

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 2: Winchester to Harrisonburg

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 3: Harrisonburg to Lexington

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 4: Lexington

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 6: Christiansburg to Abingdon

Route 11 Road Trip: Day 7 Abingdon to Bristol

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