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July 16, 2001  (Cumberland, Virginia)  < Previous News  |  Next News >



Road Rage in Roanoke

After staying in the nice Motel 6 on the outskirts of Roanoke -- and getting politely kicked out late Sunday morning because I'd misread the checkout time (oops!) -- I drove into Roanoke to get some gas.  It seems that every now and then while driving across the country, I have a "Duel"-like experience with a semi-truck, and as it turned out, today would be that day.


For those of you too young to remember, "Duel" was Steven Spielberg's 1971 directorial debut, a haunting made-for-TV movie that starred Dennis Weaver as a guy who drove across an empty highway in the West while being perpetually tormented, for unknown reasons, by a truck driver who's face you never see.  I only watched "Duel" once, and that was back in 1971 when it was first released, but the memory of it has stuck with me vividly after all these years.  This was probably the first movie ever made about "road rage," a term and affliction which unfortunately have become commonplace in this country.  Incidentally, Steven Spielberg and I actually went to the same high school in San Jose, California (though we were several years apart and I never met him).  That's about as close to a celebrity as I've ever come, I'm afraid.


As I was getting onto the nearly-empty freeway heading into Roanoke and trying to merge into the right lane, a truck that was barreling down the freeway at 65 m.p.h. refused to let me in.  I don't know why: maybe it was my colorful Oregon plates (remember getting keyed in Austin?), my import pickup, or the "Wisconsin" sticker on the back of my truck.  Whatever it was, this guy was incredibly rude.  As the end of my merge lane was quickly drawing near, I pulled in front of the trucker, who greeted me with a bellowing 120-decibel blast from his horn. 


He wouldn't let up, either, and tailed me closely into downtown Roanoke, finally passing me -- and giving me the finger -- after I pulled off at a Chevron.  Yep, it was all my fault because I actually had the gall to get onto his freeway.  Obviously, some people shouldn't be allowed to drive... or have children.  Anyway, I shrugged it off and, after grabbing some donuts in the mini-mart, I felt much better.  For some reason, donuts always have a soothing effect on me.


The Blue Ridge Parkway

I left Roanoke after fueling up and headed up onto the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway about mid-day.  The Parkway is an incredible two-lane road that runs north-south along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains for 469 miles from Front Royal, Virginia to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, averaging between 3,000 and 4,000 feet in elevation.  Like the Natchez Trace Parkway (see News: June 29, 2001), which is also maintained by the National Park Service, there are no commercial facilities allowed on the Parkway and trucks are prohibited -- even my trucker friend in Roanoke.  


Here's a short version of the classic American folk song, Shenandoah.

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For the next several hours, I drove north on the Blue Ridge Parkway, pulling off every now then to soak in the incredible vistas, either looking east down onto the Virginia piedmont or west down into the Shenandoah Valley.  That's the same Shenandoah that I used to play (albeit rather poorly) on my Hohner harmonica.


I pulled in that afternoon to Shenandoah National Park, which straddles the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The beautiful campground here was, amazingly enough, only about half-full and I spent a very pleasant evening there while cooking up my favorite dinner: bratwurst and beans.  Unfortunately, the black flies came out in force the next morning, so after doing a load of wash at the NPS laundromat, I headed back out to the Blue Ridge Parkway and ate a quick breakfast of donuts and Diet Pepsi at a pullout while overlooking the gorgeous Shenandoah Valley.  No, the donuts weren't Krispy Kremes but they were still pretty darn good... and very sticky.




Above left:  Here's my truck entering the Blue Ridge Parkway in western Virginia.  

Above center:  Looking east from the Parkway into the John-Boy Walton country of central Virginia.

Above right:  And on the other side of the crest, this is looking west into the Shenandoah Valley. 



Above left:  View along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Above center:  Looks like fun, huh?

Above right:  A National Park Service farmstead along the Blue Ridge Parkway, complete with two goats at the cabin entrance... kind of like Wal-Mart Greeters, I guess.  I thought the guy in the overalls was just some hick but, as I discovered, he's actually the Parkway Superintendent (and a nice guy).



Above left:  Entering Shenandoah National Park.

Above center:  Camping at Loft Mountain campground, Shenandoah National Park, on the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Note the extension cord from my truck to my laptop computer.  I have an AC/DC inverter that plugs into my cigarette lighter to charge my laptop and digital camera batteries.  Normally, though, I charge up my batteries during the day when I'm driving.

Above right:  The most amazing coincidence during all of my travels happened when I entered Shenandoah in 1985.  The Park Ranger at the entrance booth turned out to be Cary Wilson, a former student of mine at the University of Wisconsin, whom I hadn't seen in a couple of years.  In fact, Cary told me that I was his inspiration for applying with the National Park Service, because I'd worked as a ranger in Colorado.


My Visit to Schuyler, Virginia (The REAL Walton's Mountain)

If you watched television during the 1970s, the name "Blue Ridge Mountains" might ring a bell because it was the setting for The Waltons, one of the most popular shows of that decade.  The Waltons was a fictional show but it was based on the life of author Earl Hamner, who grew up during the Great Depression in the town of Schuyler (pronounced "Sky-ler"), Virginia.  Hamner wrote a book about his upbringing called Spencer's Mountain which, in 1963, was made into a movie starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara as Clay and Olivia Spencer, and James MacArthur as their son, Clay-Boy, the model for Earl Hamner himself.



Above:  The Waltons (left to right):

Front:  Elizabeth, John, Olivia, John-Boy, and Mary Ellen.  Rear:  Jason, Grandma, Ben, Jim Bob.  Grandpa and Erin aren't shown.


Hamner later wrote another book with a similar theme and setting called The Homecoming, which was based on an actual event in his family one year at Christmas during the Depression.  The Homecoming was made into a CBS TV movie in 1971, but since the name "The Spencers" was copyrighted, Earl Hamner decided to call the family "The Waltons."  The Homecoming aired on December 19, 1971 and was a huge ratings success, so CBS decided to turn it into a TV series, which debuted on September 14, 1972.  The CBS executives couldn't have picked a worse time slot for the show, though, because The Waltons squared off against two extremely popular shows: The Mod Squad on ABC and the #1 rated program in the country, The Flip Wilson Show over on NBC. 


During its first few weeks, and despite acclaim, The Waltons wallowed near the bottom of the TV ratings.  It seemed that the show, stressing homespun themes, was doomed from the start being stacked up against glitzy competition, and no one in the Waltons cast expected to stick around very long.  To help rescue the show, CBS mounted a PR campaign, which was how I first heard about it.  


Well, it worked because, through the ads and word-of-mouth, not only did I start watching it every Thursday night at 8 p.m., but so did millions of other Americans.  The show received a lot of critical acclaim, as well, with both Richard Thomas (John-Boy) and Michael Learned (Olivia) winning Best Actor Emmys that first year, along with Ellen Corby, who played the crusty Grandma, the first of 19 Emmys the show would eventually win.  The show's family-oriented message was a welcome relief during that time of political upheaval, with the Vietnam war and the Watergate scandal dominating the news. 


Here's The Waltons theme song.

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The first few years of the The Waltons, when Ellen Corby and Will Geer (a.k.a., "You old fool") were both alive and well, were definitely the best.  After about five years, things started to fall apart and the show began going downhill.  Mary Ellen got married, Ellen Corby had a stroke, John-Boy headed off to New York, and Will Geer died.  The show became pretty pathetic towards the end, especially with Livvy shuffled off to a sanitarium and a reconstituted John-Boy working in New York City (does anyone remember the second John-Boy?)  The final episode aired in 1981, although The Waltons probably should've said goodnight to America a few years earlier.  Nevertheless, the show has since thrived in syndication while endearing a whole new generation of viewers.



Above:  The Walton house.


I'd visited Schuyler once before, back in 1985, but there were no signs or interpretive facilities then so I didn't know which was the actual Walton (oops, I mean Hamner) house.  I guess The Waltons have quite a following, though, because in the early 1990s the old Schuyler High School was converted into the "Walton's Museum." 


It's easy to get lost amidst Schuyler's winding, hilly roads but the museum is pretty easy to find, located a few yards from the Hamner house, which is owned by the youngest Hamner child (the "Jim-Bob" character in the show), and just down the road from what was Ike Godsey's store.  I paid my $5 admission fee to a pretty blond teenage girl at the door who kindly directed me to a back room, where a video describing the making of The Waltons, narrated by Earl Hamner, had just begun.  There were about 20 other Waltons fans in the museum, and after we watched the video, we all got a nice guided tour.  Altogether, I spent an enjoyable hour at the museum looking at all kinds of memorabilia that only a true Waltons fan would appreciate, including signed photographs, the original radio that was on the show, and a replica of the Baldwin sisters "recipe machine."


During my visit to Schuyler, I tried to imagine what life must have been like for the Hamner family while living here during the Depression.  No, there's no such thing as "Walton's Mountain" and there never was.  However, as I discovered, the very real town of Schuyler had its own special charm, and for that I was glad.



Above left:  The high school that Earl Hamner attended (class of 1940) is now the Walton's Mountain Museum.  It costs $5 to get in and if you're a Waltons fan like me, it's well worth it.

Above center:  Here's the Walton (er, Hamner) house in Schuyler, Virginia.  Earl Hamner's brother James ("Jim-Bob" from the show) still lives here.  He was probably inside watching "The Waltons."

Above right:  I took this picture of "Ike Godsey's Store," known in real-life as the S&H Grocery Store, during my last visit to Schuyler in 1985.  Unfortunately, it burned down a few years later, although a new grocery store has sprung up in its place.



Magnificent Monticello

The other major stop that day was at Monticello, the former home of the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson.  I had read a fair bit about Jefferson and even visited nearby Charlottesville once, but had never been to Monticello (pronounced "monta-chello").   How could Jefferson afford to build this elaborate mansion on a hilltop?  He made his money the old-fashioned way... he inherited it from his Dad.


I pulled into the Monticello parking lot late in the afternoon and paid my entrance fee in the well-organized admissions building, then hopped on a shuttle bus, which took me up to the hilltop.  After our small group disembarked, a guide here give us a 20-minute tour inside Monticello.  The only thing disappointing about the mansion was that I wasn't allowed to take pictures of the interior, so I can't show you what it looks like inside, but it's filled with all sorts of Jeffersonian inventions and innovations.  After the tour, we were free to wander around the grounds for as long as we liked... or I guess I could've even taken another house tour, which I thought about doing.   Monticello is a fascinating place, and after walking through it, I felt for the first time like I really understood Jefferson.  



Above:  Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), the third President of the United States.


After the tour, I popped into the gift shop, which wasn't nearly as tacky as I'd feared.  My Dad is a big fan of Thomas Jefferson, so I wandered around the shop for 20 minutes debating whether to get him the Thomas Jefferson golf balls, a Lewis and Clark t-shirt, or a Jefferson refrigerator magnet.  I figured that you can lose golf balls -- or at least, I can -- so I got a magnet for my Dad and the t-shirt for myself.  Interestingly enough, I didn't see anything in the gift shop with Sally Hemings' name on it, not even a key chain.  


Jefferson's unbounded sense of curiosity and eclectic interests have always intrigued me.  Along with serving as President, he was the author of the Declaration of Independence at the ripe age of 33 and founded the University of Virginia, which is in nearby Charlottesville, the construction of which he often observed with a telescope from his porch at Monticello.  


In one of the most amazing coincidences of American history, two of America's Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, both died on July 4,1826, exactly 50 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed.  These two men not only were close friends but they were also the ones most responsible for the creation of the Declaration of Independence -- Adams had the concept and Jefferson put it into writing.  Adams, in Massachusetts, died in the late afternoon of that day and his last words were, "Thomas Jefferson survives," not realizing that Jefferson, in Virginia, had passed away a few hours earlier.


Even though I had heard wonderful things about Monticello and had high expectations, I was still really impressed.  Yep, Thomas Jefferson was a pretty amazing guy (even more amazing than John-Boy Walton), and Monticello is a place that I'd heartily recommend seeing to anyone visiting Virginia. 



Above left:  Here's our tour group about to go inside Monticello.  Jefferson was a planter -- first tobacco, then wheat and other crops -- and started building Monticello in 1768.  He finished it about 40 years later -- yep, a typical house remodeling job...

Above center:  Monticello's modest back yard. 

Above left:  Passageway under Monticello where Jefferson's slaves lived, including his favorite, Sally Hemings. 



Above left:  Looks like the back of a nickel, doesn't it?  

Above center:  Jefferson planted numerous crops and grew extensive gardens on the grounds, which are still maintained.

Above right:  Thomas Jefferson's grave. 



Next News

July 18, 2001  (Denton, Maryland)



Previous News

July 14, 2001  (Roanoke, Virginia)

July 9, 2001  (Sevierville, Tennessee)

July 8, 2001  (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

June 30, 2001  (Hohenwald, Tennessee)

June 29, 2001  (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington) 


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Home > Travels (2001-02) > U.S. Trip > July 16, 2001