US ROAD TRIP 2018Bite-sized USA.
“It may not have been as epic in scale as what’s gone before it, necessitating the omission of the word ‘epic’ from the road trip title, but this stateside jaunt was epic for other reasons, least of all the company. US Road Trip 2018 was a bite-sized US family affair.”
Image || Day 4. On a wooded section of the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. October 2, 2018.
US Road Trip 2018 Introduction
Here we go again. We hadn’t initially planned a 2018 US Road Trip, hadn’t planned on adding to the 16,634 odometer miles clocked over the course of the 69 days of our recent Epic US Road Trips in 2016 & 2017. But this little US filler was different. It was kinda the same, but still different – the same in that we largely covered familiar ground, different in that we weren’t alone. It may not have been as epic in scale as what’s gone before it, necessitating the omission of the word ‘epic’ from the road trip title, but this stateside jaunt was epic for other reasons, least of all the company. US Road Trip 2018 was a bite-sized US family affair.
– Lonely Planet
dMb's Country Overview - USA
United States of America
Region – North America (dMb tag: North America). Capital – Washington DC. Population – 326 million Americans (the world’s third-most populous country). Official Language – None (at federal level) although American English is the national language. Currency – USD, US Dollar ($). GDP (nominal) per capita – US$59,000. Political System – Federal presidential constitutional republic. UN Member? – Yes (founding member admitted November 1945 & one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council). G20 Member? – Yes. Size – 9,830,000 km² (the world’s third-largest country by land area – after Russia & China – is fractionally smaller than the continent of Europe). Topography – Extremely diverse. Climate – Ditto. Brief History & Today – Populated for at least 15 millennia, Europeans first arrived in North America in the 16th Century with the country as we know today emerging from the so-called Thirteen Colonies, the 13 colonies of the North American East Coast settled by the British between 1607 & 1732. The end of the American Revolutionary War in 1783 saw the US becoming the first country to gain independence from a European power, not to mention the eventual ushering in of the seminal US Constitution. Having banished the Brits, less than a century later the Americans felt the need to fight among themselves with the antislavery Yankees of the North prevailing over the slave advocating Confederate States of Dixie, the South, in the bloody US Civil War (1861-1865). Aggressive expansion continued, migration across the Great Plains into the West leading to conflict with Plains Indians, native inhabitants who lost so much to the white man’s expansionist needs. Although World War I confirmed the country’s status as a global military power, the country was to emerge from World War II as the world’s first (& today only) global superpower. Still a worldwide champion – for good or bad – of the very same democratic principles the country was founded on, today the US remains a global trendsetter and a leading political, cultural and scientific force internationally. UNESCO World Heritage sites – 23. Tourism Catchphrase/Slogans – All Within Your Reach. Famous For – Lots of things, good & bad, but mainly for influence & for being a pop cultural behemoth & trendsetter; most worldwide fads, everything from music to media to fashion, originate in the US. Highlight – A road trip just about anywhere. Options are endless on the world’s longest & biggest road network. US Titbits – The word America is attributed to German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller who produced a world map in 1507 on which he named the lands of the Western Hemisphere ‘America’ after the Italian explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci… the 50 states, federal district, 5 self-governing territories & various possessions of the US are spread across 9 time zones, the country’s extreme diversity in geography, climate and wildlife making it both one of the world’s 17 megadiverse countries (the US has the most ecoregions out of any country in the world) and easily the world’s best road-trippin’ destination… the world’s largest importer and second-largest exporter of goods, the US is an economic juggernaut whose economy, the world’s largest, accounts for approximately a quarter of global GDP (over 30% of the world’s wealth resides in the US even though it accounts for a little over 4% of the world’s population)… the US is the only country to have landed a man on the moon & was the first country to develop nuclear weapons (although it is infamously the only nation to have used them in warfare) – its spending on military alone accounts for a whole one-third of global military spending… the US is one of only 3 countries in the world not to use the metric system as the official system of measurement (the other two being Liberia & Myanmar, a.k.a. Burma).
– Lonely Planet USA, 6th edition
The current American flag flying atop the viewing deck of the Brasstown Bald Visitors Center in Hiawassee, northern Georgia. September 22, 2016.The country’s greatest symbol, the 50 stars & 13 stripes of the US flag – a.k.a. the Stars & Stripes, Old Glory or the Star-Spangled Banner – represent, respectively, the 50 states of the Union and the original 13 British colonies that became the first US states. The original 13-star version was adopted in 1777, a year after the US Declaration of Independence. The current 50-star version has been the official US flag since Independence Day 1960 – change was needed when Hawaii, the 50th state & thus 50th star, was added to the Union in 1959. It was designed in 1958 as a school project by 17-year-old Robert Heft. He got a B-.
Visits – First visit June 1998. Numerous visits since.
US Road Trip 2018 In Numbers
National Park Visited
National Scenic Byway & All-American Roads Driven
US Road Trip 2018 Day-by-Day Overview
DAY 01 253 miles (407 km) || New York Stewart International Airport to Lancaster, Pennsylvania
DAY 02 161 miles (259 km) || Lancaster to Washington D.C.
DAY 03 86 miles (138 km) || Washington D.C. to Front Royal, Virginia
DAY 04 263 miles (423 km) || Front Royal to Williamsburg, Virginia
DAY 05 165 miles (266 km) || Williamsburg to Nags Head, Outer Banks, North Carolina
DAYS 06-08 165 miles (266 km) || Nags Head, Outer Banks, North Carolina
DAY 09 230 miles (370 km) || Nags Head to Ocean City, Maryland
DAY 10 324 miles (521 km) || Ocean City to New York Stewart International Airport
Day 1 || September 29 2018
Route || New York Stewart International Airport to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 253 (407)
Today’s Highlight || The Historic Dingman’s Ferry Bridge
We packed a lot into 24+ hours of day 1 activity, an early-to-rise-late-to-fall day if ever there was one. A transatlantic flight followed by a 253-mile (407 kilometre) adventure that included another New Jersey failure; an historic toll bridge; three states & two state lines; (only) one missed turn; & one epic tailback, the kind of jam the US east does rather well. It was good to be back.
A Historic Bridge & An Epic Tailback
We hadn’t planned on being distracted en route from Stewart International Airport to our overnight location of Lancaster in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Amish Country. But road trips have a habit of distracting. Cue one historic bridge & one epic tailback.
Day 2 || September 30 2018
Route || Lancaster, Pennsylvania to Washington D.C.
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 161 (259)
Today’s Highlight || The National Mall, Washington D.C.
It was a Sunday so it was no surprise that The Amish of Pennsylvania’s Amish Country were quiet: the Bird-in-Hand Farmer’s Market was closed; there were very few of the distinctive black Amish horse-drawn buggies sharing the roads; and there were no families working the land to such photogenic effect as we captured last year. But that’s OK because a quiet Amish Country, where we started the day, meant more time for Washington D.C., where we finished it. The sun was out, the heat was on, the sky was blue & the city’s blindingly-white neoclassical marble monuments resplendent. Dare I say it, but Washington D.C. may just have dazzled even more today than it did on this exact same Sunday one year ago.
Just like we did one year ago, when I blogged detailed insights about D.C. and its famed monuments to democracy on my fist visit to the city since 2003, we started this year’s D.C. adventure by parking in the vicinity of the United States Capitol and heading west from there up the National Mall. It was a beautiful day, a day made for strolling.
Day 3 || October 1 2018
Route || Washington D.C. to Front Royal, Virginia
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 86 (138)
Today’s Highlight || National Museum of Natural History
It’s – wow – 2 decades (1998) since I last set foot inside the educational walls of a world-renowned Washington D.C. Smithsonian museum. There are more than a few to choose from – in the D.C. region alone, the Smithsonian Institution, a globally prestigious research unit established in 1846 “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge” and administered today by the US Government, oversees 17 (free) world-class museums, galleries, gardens & even a zoo (2 more Smithsonian museums in New York City help make the Smithsonian the largest museum complex on earth). The National Air and Space Museum, one of 11 Smithsonian museums & galleries located on the National Mall between the Washington monument & the United States Capitol, pulls the biggest crowds (it’s the most popular museum in the US, the third most visited on earth & the museum I visited back in 1998), but today we paid a visit to the no-less-fascinating innards of the National Museum of Natural History. It was the highlight of another awesomely photogenic day in Washington D.C.
We, and just like we did on Day 5 last year, crossed the Potomac River and paid a visit to Arlington National Cemetery in neighbouring Virginia before leaving the D.C. region. And even though we visited the cemetery’s JFK Gravesite and Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial on last year’s visit, we still had some unfinished business with America’s most sacred shrine.
– As reproduced from a display in the Visitors Center of Arlington National Cemetery
A few more pictures captured on a gorgeous evening in Arlington National Cemetery.
United States Marine Corps War Memorial
Unfinished business here, too. I vividly remember walking the 2-mile distance from the National Mall to the United States Marine Corps War Memorial in 1998. Closed this time last year as part of a extensive $5 million refurbishment, the first since its erection in 1956, I was happy to find it open today (and to be able to drive to it), our final stop before leaving the D.C. region for the cooler Appalachian hills of western Virginia.
Day 4 || October 2 2018
Route || Front Royal to Williamsburg, Virginia
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 263 (423)
Today’s Highlight || The Skyline Drive of Shenandoah National Park
Our plan to drive the scenic Skyline Drive of Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park on Day 29 of our 2016 US road trip was thwarted, foggy conditions meaning we didn’t have to venture too far beyond the park’s southern Rockfish Gap entrance station before fully grasping the hopelessness of the situation. Two-plus years on and it would seem now that that 2016 meteorological intervention was well intended, saving the park and its famous drive to enable them to enjoyed as the family outing they were to be today.
– Lonely Planet USA, 6th Edition, commenting on the Shenandoah Valley & Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park
Size: 199,173 acres/806 km². Founded: 1935. Annual Visitors: 1.3 million. A classic road trip lies within the boundaries of this park. Skyline Drive runs like a 105-mile spine along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. With 75 scenic overlooks and a leisurely speed limit, traveling end to end takes three to four hours. The roadsides bloom with a seasonal progression of wildflowers — from early trillium through azaleas and mountain laurel to black-eyed Susans and goldenrods. The Wilderness Society listed Shenandoah among its best parks for fall color. The annual Fall Foliage Bike Festival coincides with that display. Although the park can be driven in a day, accommodations and dining are available for those who linger to explore the paths, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Overnight options include the 1939 Big Meadows Lodge, a stone and wormy-chestnut structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Before the area was designated as a park, homeowners here kept farms, orchards and grazing animals. Traces of former residents include garden-patch daffodils and more than 100 family cemeteries, some still maintained by descendants. One site of note is Rapidan Camp, the summer retreat of President Herbert Hoover. Here, 70 miles from the White House on 164 wooded acres, the president, first lady and friends relaxed and held meetings. The guest book of the 13-cabin compound includes such names as Lindbergh, Ford and Edison. In 1935, the compound became part of the park; its three remaining buildings are open for ranger-led tours. Today, summer visitors may catch a view of a more ethereal variety. “Fog lies like a soft white blanket on the Shenandoah Valley and the Piedmont, while the mountaintop is clear,” visitskylinedrive.org says. “If conditions are right, you can look down on a ‘fog ocean,’ with the lower peaks rising above it like islands.”
From The Washington Post – The Essential guide to all 59 U.S. national parks.
– President Franklin Roosevelt during Shenandoah’s Dedication in 1935
Shenandoah National Park & Skyline Drive
Formed from a patchwork of over 1,000 privately owned tracts of forest, fields, orchards and home sites, Shenandoah National Park was officially dedicated in 1935 to bring the western national park experience to the urban east. Expanded in 1976 under the 1964 Wilderness Act by 80,000 acres of land formally used for farming or industry, today the park is a 200,000-acre wilderness area of ‘recreation & re-creation’ only 75 miles west of Washington D.C. & within a few hours’ drive of millions. Aside from its famous National Scenic Byway-listed drive, the park boasts over 500 miles of trails, over 100 miles of which form part of the famed Appalachian Trail, a 2,000-mile trail stretching from Maine to Georgia.
– Southern Appalachian National Park Committee Report, 1931
– Reproduced from an early National Park Service brochure
Day 5 || October 3 2018
Route || Williamsburg, Virginia to Nags Head, Outer Banks, North Carolina
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 165 (266)
Today’s Highlight || Outer Banks, The Return
It was early on this morning when we found ourselves back on the restored bygone-era streets of Colonial Williamsburg. Too early, it would seem. There were a few members of staff already in place resplendent in period garb, early into their latest shift to sell a reenactment of 18th-century British America, each one a character on the set of the astonishing 300-acre open-air assemblage of restored or re-created period buildings that is the world’s largest living-history museum, the result of one of the largest restoration projects in US history (a project that began in 1927). But there was a noticeable paucity of livestock – no oxen pulling carts, no chickens ambling free, no horses waiting to pull carriages for the amusement of the tourists who, save for us, had yet to arrive.
– The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the non-profit entity that manages Colonial Williamsburg
So, and in a repeat of last year (when I blogged extensively on the Colonial Williamsburg experience), we took a few pictures while walking from Merchants Square east up Duke of Gloucester Street to the Capitol Building and back again, passing the slew of faithfully reproduced houses, taverns, shops, inns, workshops & outbuildings of Williamsburg, the old colonial capital where the flames of the American Revolution were fanned. We then hit the road for the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It – Colonial Williamsburg – was all very familiar, and all very familiarly photogenic, not that familiarity does anything to detract from the uniqueness of this amazing place.
– ColonialWilliamsburg.com commenting on their Colonial Williamsburg Courthouse
Days 6-8 || October 4-6 2018
Route || Nags Head, Outer Banks, North Carolina
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 165 (266)
It felt good to stay put for a few days. It was even better to do so back on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, a.k.a OBX, an exposed string of narrow low-lying sandbar islands (from north to south, Bodie Island, Roanoke Island, Hatteras Island & Ocracoke Island) running for 200 miles (320 kilometres) and sheltering the US mainland in the west from the vast & blustery expanse of the Atlantic Ocean in the east.
Bluegrass Island, The Return
Sun (& sunrises), sea, sand &, emm, bluegrass. No, of course it’s not your typical Outer Banks combo, but it’s the bluegrass that makes the Outer Banks special for us. It’s mountain music by the sea.
A few more captures from Bluegrass Island, The 2018 Edition.
Outer Banks National Scenic Byway & Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Beyond the obvious (the beach, the seafood & the general swashbuckling maritime vibe), there’s plenty to see & do here on the Outer Banks, not to mention some heavy-hitting pioneering history – the world’s very first successful controlled flight of a powered heavier-than-air vehicle in 1903 is commemorated today at the Wright Brothers National Memorial, while the mystery of the 1580’s Lost Colony, Europe’s very first attempt to established a settlement in the New World and still to this day one of America’s greatest unsolved mysteries, is explored at Roanoke Island’s Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. While finding time between bluegrass sets, we like to feel we did the Outer Banks pretty well last year (including the aforementioned must-sees), but there were still some holdovers from the 2017 OBX to-do list, top of which on the 2018 list was the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, a 50-mile (80 kilometre) drive south of Nags Head via North Carolina Highway 12, a.k.a. Outer Banks National Scenic Byway.
While we didn’t need the assistance of boats to get to our destination (that’s a consideration for travel even further south and would be a totally separate adventure in its own right), things really do thin out as you head south, including the already delicate terra firma – sand encroaches on the 2-lane route and there’s water within touching distance on both sides, or far below when crossing the impressive 2.7-mile (4.3 kilometre) span of the 1963 Herbert C Bonner Bridge across Oregon Inlet from Bodie Island to Hatteras Island (construction of a new, $250 million Bonner Bridge is ongoing and scheduled for completion in 2019). Eventually one arrives at the base of the towering Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the sand-choked Hatteras Island community of Buxton. Located near the southern tip of the island, the lighthouse is only some 13 miles shy of the end of the road and the ferry dock to neighbouring Ocracoke Island.
Day 9 || October 7 2018
Route || Nags Head to Ocean City, Maryland
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 230 (370)
Today’s Highlight || The Chesapeake Bay Bridge–Tunnel
The inevitable retreat. Today was the first day of a 2-day drive north – always north – back whence we came, to New York Stewart International Airport. There was plenty of ground covered today on a day when ground needed to be covered. At least we took a somewhat interesting route in getting to Ocean City, Maryland by crossing two state lines, including the geographical North/South divide, and over/though a rather big bridge/tunnel combo.
It’s a 60-mile drive north of Nags Head to the state line with Virginia, the reverse of our southbound exploits of Day 5, and a further 30-plus miles from there to the edge of Chesapeake Bay. We’ve been here before.
Chesapeake Bay & The Chesapeake Bay Bridge–Tunnel
At over 11,500 km², Chesapeake Bay is not only the dominant geographical feature around these parts but also the largest estuary in North America. Needless to say water rules around here and it’s never too far away. Given its massive footprint, the Bay is spanned only twice by bridges – once up north, via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, & once down south, via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge–Tunnel. We drove across the 4.3-mile (7 kilometre) Chesapeake Bay Bridge when crossing the bay from Maryland’s rural Eastern Shore to its more urban Western Shore on Day 5 of Epic US Road Trip 2017. And as memorable a road-trippin’ experience as that was, it paled in comparison to today’s bay crossing via the epic Chesapeake Bay Bridge–Tunnel spanning the very mouth of bay where it opens out to the Atlantic.
– dangerousroads.org commenting on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge–Tunnel
Delmarva, Take II
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge–Tunnel deposited us back onto the Delmarva Peninsula, the finger of land shared by the states of Maryland, Virginia & Delaware, Delmarva being an acronym for the three states that occupy it. It didn’t take us long to cover the 75 miles (121 kilometres) required to cross, from east to west, the peninsula last year, but, and allowing for a pit stop in Ocean City, Maryland, it took us a while longer to cover the 200 miles (322 kilometres) required to traverse it south to north this time around. A 65-mile (105 kilomtere) drive up the peninsula’s US Route 13 brought us to the end of our time in Virginia at the Virginia/Maryland state line. It was also to signal the end of our time in the South, so says the unmissable sign at Dixieland.
It was only 40 miles (64 kilometres) from the Virginia/Maryland state line to Ocean City, a hugely popular resort development build on a narrow Atlantic-facing sand bar, Fenwick Island. The final location of the wider road trip, it was also the trip’s first new location. And as a pit stop heading north, OC did a great job of entertaining us for the evening.
Maryland (MD) || It’s not AC, which is a good start. A much less crass and much more agreeable version of New Jersey’s Atlantic City, OC, founded in 1875, is Maryland’s very own boardwalk-boasting seasonal Atlantic Ocean family-friendly resort town; pulling in some 8 million visitors a year makes it one of the US East Coast’s largest seasonal vacation hubs, and there’s not a casino to be had for love nor money.
Ocean City – East Coast OC
Although efforts to establish a resort on the narrow Atlantic-facing barrier spit/island of Fenwick stretch back to the 1830s, this place has been attracting beach vacationers since the late 1860s when the first beachfront cottages and boarding houses appeared. Known as “The Ladies’ Resort to the Ocean” prior to 1875, when the city’s first major hotel, the Atlantic Hotel, was built, rapid 20th-century expansion, especially in the post WWII years and again in the 1970s with the construction of thousands of high-rise condominium units, has morphed the city into what it is today, that being a seasonal resort town with a year-round population of some 7,000, a number that swells to nearly 350,000 during busy summer weekends.
Day 10 || October 8 2018
Route || Ocean City to New York Stewart International Airport
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 324 (521)
Today’s Highlight || Early morning Ocean City
This day was far & away the busiest day of all on the road. It needed to be, and it was always going to be. But before we succeeded in bringing the trip to an end 320-plus miles north of here in New York state, there was a need to get some presentable pictures from Ocean City. And OC duly obliged by being much more photogenic early on this day than it was late on the previous evening.
– ococean.com, the official site of Ocean City claiming that ‘the fun never ends’ in OCMD
The rolling Atlantic surf does its worst, meaning the city of OC is fighting a constant battle against beach erosion, periodic multi-million dollar out-of-season beach restoration projects a necessity in order to save OC’s most valuable asset. The beach is broad (there’s plenty of room for all the holidaymakers who flock here) and must be crossed in order to get to where the Atlantic waves roll in around the pilings of yet another city landmark, The OC Fishing Pier.
The OC Love
I liked OC. We didn’t spend long here, but we still gave it sufficient opportunity to rub me up the wrong way à la Atlantic City. Yes, of course there’s the usual oceanfront resort tackiness – Ripley’s Believe it or Not! is here, enough said – but OC didn’t have the AC effect (and nor does it have its casinos, its filthy sea gulls or its overbearing neon, noise & kitsch), and that was good enough for me. I even bought an souvenir OC t-shirt, mine for $7 in one of the many tourist-orientated Nothing-Over-$5 stores lining the OC Boardwalk. Go figure.