Road Trip: Gettysburg

Monument to Gouverneur Warren

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There’s a McDonalds at the edge of the Gettysburg battlefield, visible from the high water mark of the Confederacy, where Pickett’s charge crashed against Union troops on Cemetery Ridge. The rebels got this far but none further, their invasion of the North coming to an end.

And, past the green fields, golden arches, a reminder that this momentous battle took place on some very familiar territory. It didn’t happen in history books, it happened across a Mid-Atlantic landscape of farms and towns that General Lee would recognize today.

The battlefield sprawls over a vast territory – hills, forests, corn fields, peach orchards – and is cut into pie slices by roads that converge upon the town of Gettysburg. Turnpikes drew the Confederates from the west and Federals from the east, pulled into a three-day slug fest of cannon and rifle.

It’s fitting that a road tour is the best way to experience Gettysburg. After visiting a very modern museum that puts the battle in its Civil War context, the auto tour takes you to the action, leading you in chronological order around the battlefield, from the first skirmishes on the edge of town to the bloody struggles for the high ground. The way is dotted with historic landmarks erected by the states to honor their sacred dead.

Being there gives you a three-dimensional perspective to the battle. Standing on Little Round Top, you can see, as Brigadier General Gouverneur Kemble Warren did, that this was the key spot that dominated that battlefield, a steep and virtually unassailable hill on the Union left flank. His prompt action in fortifying the hill saved the Union army from defeat.

The auto tour leads you back to the town of Gettysburg, roads radiating out from it like spokes on a wheel, returning you to an imperfect America, McDonalds and all, still striving to live up to the words of Lincoln:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. 

I Hate South of the Border

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Ever wonder what America would look like if the South had won the Civil War?

It would look a lot like South of the Border, the kitschy roadside attraction at the North Carolina-South Carolina border. A beloved landmark on I-95 for some, it’s an abomination for others (like me), its towering sombrero tower filling me with horror as it emerges on the horizon.

If Gettysburg had gone a different way, all of America would look like this – tacky, cheap and vaguely racist.

Sherman led his March to the Sea through South Carolina, famously offering Savannah, the birthplace of secession, as a gift to President Lincoln. General Sherman believed not just in defeating Southern armies, but destroying the Southern way of life by burning plantations and freeing slaves.

He didn’t do enough. More than a century later, vestiges of the Confederacy and its animating principles linger in city squares and the hearts of Trump supporters.

I long for a new Sherman to raze South of the Border. Consider it the ultimate highway beautification project. Let this vomit of technicolor along the interstate be replaced, even if it’s just with a simple welcome center, a recognition that South Carolina is just like every other state in the union.

Day Trip: Little Washington

Little Washington

Teenagers. Useless, am I right?

Unless you’re a 17-year-old George Washington who surveyed a town in the Blue Ridge foothills, a town that would eventually be named after him.

It’s Washington, VA, commonly known as Little Washington to differentiate it from nearby Washington, DC. Set amid vineyards and rolling green hills, it’s a quaint village that’s home to the five-star Inn at Little Washington. The inn itself is several buildings on both sides of the street that date back to the arrival of George Washington in 1749.

Behind the inn, there’s a short walking path that circles a field full of photogenic farm animals, from goats to a pair of llamas.

The village’s neat grid was laid out by the Founding Father himself. Little Washington is a historic landmark that has been carefully preserved, enabling you to imagine yourself in the George Washington’s day.

One of the attractions of this DC day trip is the drive from the city. After you escape I-66, the scenery grows hillier and greener as advance toward the mountains until you end up on a gentle two-lane road coasting into a town bursting with tulips.

Located just 70 miles from Washington, DC, this other Washington – Little Washington – is a quiet respite from the busy city.

Check out the photos from this nice day trip, taken with my rocking little Canon G9 X. Love this little camera.

This post has been sponsored by Enterprise CarShare.

Waynesville is the Next Asheville

crossing Main Street in Waynesville
Main Street in Waynesville, NC

The world has discovered Asheville, anointing it the next Portlandia.

It’s easy to see why. This beautiful city ringed by mountains is surrounded by natural beauty and filled with breweries and a vibrant local food scene. Plus, it’s artsy, with dreadlocked kids playing drums downtown, a great indie bookstore and a literary history that includes Thomas Wolfe and F. Scott Fitzgerald. And it possesses an easy Southern charm, where you can tube down the French Broad River with several hundred friends while enjoying a cold beer.

I’ve been visiting the area for twenty years, ever since friends of mine moved from Florida to the mountains. (If you live in Florida, you retire to western NC for something different.) I’ve seen Asheville develop from a sleepy downtown lined with empty art deco buildings to a booming mountain town with a half a dozen new hotels under construction.

But now that Northerners have found this once sleepy town and decreed that it is hip, the search has begun for the “next Asheville.” Roanoke has a good case to make. It has everything Asheville has – a nice farmer’s market and a historic downtown set amid the mountains. However, it still feels a little industrial. A little too real.

The Washington Post tried to convince readers that Sylva was the next Asheville. I remembered it as the town with the paper plant on the way to Western Carolina University, where my friends went to school. It smelled. And it still smells, a lingering sulphur scent on certain days. Though it does have a beautiful view from the courthouse.

outside Panacea Coffee in Waynesville
Frog Level in Waynesville, NC

What’s the next Asheville? I’d bet on Waynesville, which has developed from a semi-dry mountain burg (there used to be only one bar on Main Street and it only served beer) to a busy county seat that’s home to several breweries, a Mast General Store and a hipster coffee house called Panacea. The coffee place is located in the delightfully named “Frog Level” down along the creek and the railroad tracks.

But what I like about Waynesville is that it still feels like a real place. It’s not just cutesy shops. The largest town west of Asheville, it’s where the mountain folk come to shop. And not just at Wal-Mart. Main Street is home to City Hall, the courthouse, the local newspaper, restaurants, art galleries, a bookstore and more. It’s the place where you’ll see your friends and neighbors.

From Waynesville, you can take NC-276 up into Pisgah National Forest, a lovely winding road that passes Looking Glass Falls and other waterfalls as it makes its way over the mountains. NC-215 offers a similar serpentine route. Or hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway, located just out of town, and take a day trip to Smoky Mountains National Park.

So, if you’re looking for the next Asheville, you need to go just a little west. Thirty minutes outside the city, and over another range of mountains, you’ll find it. Waynesville. It’s a little colder. A little foggier. But it has everything to be the next Asheville – except tourists.