MISSION: To visit every state and territory in the U.S. For my mission a visit is greater than a stop over; I wish to explore the natural and cultural environments of these areas. Each of these locations has a story to tell, and I want to find it.

As of February 2018 I have visited all 50 states (and Puerto Rico and 2 island in the US Virgin Islands) at least once.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Vacation in Your Own State

How much do you know about Woodrow Wilson?  For someone that did not major in history, I thought I knew a lot.  As a card carrying Jersey girl, I know him as a NJ Governor and president of Princeton University that became the only US President for the great Garden State.  I know that he pushed a very progressive agenda for the the time (well, progressive for working conditions).  I know that he hated war and kept the US out of WWI for as long as possible, and when it was over he developed the idea and construct for the League of Nations (to which the Senate never ratified but for which he won the Nobel Peace prize).  Wilson was a champion of child labor laws, workplace health, labor, anti-trust and the farmer.  He was conflicted on the woman's suffrage movement, coming around to support it only in his second term.  And I know he did little for civil rights.   I must say thanks to all of my fabulous history teachers in junior high and high school that installed all that knowledge.  But for all of this knowledge, why did I not realize that Woodrow Wilson's birthplace and presidential library was only 2 1/2 hours from DC in Staunton, VA?  What a great surprise.

The tour of the home and museum armed me with so many more Wilson facts. The very first thing I learned that Woodrow was not his first name... it was, in fact, his mother's maiden name.  He changed it in law school because he did not want the nickname Tommy following him.  Law school was not his last academic stop; he received his doctorate in history from Johns Hopkins (and as of today, he remains the only US President with a doctorate degree). I learned that his father was a minister with a deep southern routed history in the Civil War; that history and his stories certainly impacted Pres Wilson's views on war and explain his unwillingness to join WWI.  Despite his southern views on women's roles in society, his second wife is believed to have managed his presidency following his third stroke. (fun fact about his second wife - also a widow and related to Pocahontas!)   He created the federal reserve system that is credited with saving banking and the government's financial credibility... and to honor that, he was placed on the $100,000 bill (that is no longer made.)

I originally planned this quick weekend in the Blue Ridge Mountains to attend the Sugar Maple  festival.  Sadly, I missed the festival - I was away in Seattle and read my calendar incorrectly.  Instead of cancelling, I went to the Highlands anyway, hoping that I could at least soak up some of the flavor (haha).  The Sugar Tree Country Store in McDowell was closest to Staunton and the perfect place to pick up some authentic VA Maple Syrup.  Syrup, jam, barbecue sauce, tea, candy coated pecans - all great purchases from the local agri-business.  The store owner was more than happy to talk about the store's wares, and when I told him that I missed the festival (and had looked forward to learning about the process), he walked me through the facility.  On that tour, I learned about tapping the maples during the "perfect" weather window to have the sugar water run.  I saw firsthand the damage that wildlife did to the lines each year, chewing through the hoses.  He showed me a cut of tree to demonstrate  the depth of the spicket and how the tree heals itself with the nutrient rich sugar water.  Once the water is carted back to the farm, it is processed through a reverse osmosis contraption to speed evaporation.  Since it takes roughly 40 gallons of sugar water to make one gallon of syrup, this initial speedy evaporation reduces the volume for the broilers to boil off the rest.  After all that steaming and thickening, the liquid moves through the filters to get out the maple grit.  Finally, following all of that work, the syrup is graded from light to dark amber.  It was a fine lesson in tree tapping and syrup making... and with that and my purchases I headed back to Staunton.

Downtown Staunton is the epitome of that old bustling town of yesteryear.  With fabulous architecture and
stone masonry, main business street perfectly shows that this was a bustling town at the crossroads of the
railroads.  A local historian was quick to boast that back in the day, 85 businesses operated successfully on that main street.  The town is filled with the giant Victorian homes from those past business owners.  And with its fabulous city park lining the river, the town makes for a picturesque get-away.

Downtown today is still busy.  Filled with restaurants, cafes, artists co-ops and antiquing havens, there is something for everyone there.  I was immediately attracted to the artist made jewelry store, Pretty Pretty, filled with colorful and unique baubles for a variety of tastes. Filled with beads, minerals and other shiny trinkets, I found a wonderfully unique long necklace in spring colors that reminded me of the eventual flower bloom... I gave the piece a new home!   The gourmet chocolate from the choculatier, Cocoa Mills,  is highly recommended (amazing truffles); the smells of the shop are enough to make even the strongest willed salivate.   The shop gives you a kick a energy to continue through all the shops on the
street.  Walking around the main street took me past the camera museum and shop; it is a sad day when Staunton has a place to take the cameras yet in the DC area, they are a dying breed.  A great shoe boutique, Design @ Nine, packed a lot of style into a small space and made me wish for smaller feet... a kids clothing store called Grandma's Bait that made wish I knew my youngest niece's size... a garden and home accessory shop that screamed for a yard instead of a condo balcony...Every shop had friendly owners that greeted you with warmth and enthusiasm - exactly what you would expect in a small tourist town.  And exactly what I miss from similar boutiques in other locales.

The grand daddy of Staunton cultural sites in the American Shakespeare Theatre Friars Club.  At least six locals suggested it when I asked about things to see in town.    Sadly I had not bought tickets nor had appropriate clothing for the theatre.  Other "hot" spots around town included the local brewery, the park and of course the Woodrow Wilson house... all in all, it was a quick and worthwhile visit to Staunton - a gem in Virginia.


  1. Nice pictures, I plan on exploring the area when I head there on vacation in a few months. Can you suggest any other fun places to go in Virginia, or a place to take some good pictures?

  2. Virginia is a big state and there is a lot to choose from. Do you know where you are going in the state yet? If you like nature photography, in a few months Shenandoah National Park will be gorgeous - you can get great landscapes with the vistas and great macros with the blooming vegetation. There is a great chance of a wildlife sightings. While out there, you should drive on Skyline Drive and take a stop at Luray Caverns for some serious cave formations. Closer to DC, if you like to photograph water features, I would highly recommend Great Falls where the Potomac is forced through a gorge - people love the class 5 rapids and to rock climb (and there are some great hikes)! If you are into history and or local culture, I would recommend visiting the Williamsburg area - see that, but make sure to get to Yorktown and Jamestown. If you get to the shore area, pelicans are a regular sight over the water and at the right time of day, you can spot dolphin frolicking in the waves. Closer to DC - I would recommend you take some time and walk King Street in Alexandria, visit Arlington National Cemetery, and take a trip out to Leesburg (again if you like that historic main street feel). You can't visit the DC area without a trip to beautiful Mount Vernon (and the gardens make for great photos). A hidden gem in Northern Virginia is at Bull Run Park (a county park) where you can see blue bells in numbers unfounded almost anywhere else. And if you are a fan of Thomas Jefferson and want to visit UVA, make the trip to Charlottesville and Monticello; the grounds are stunning and the surrounding area gives you plenty to do. All this says nothing about the Civil War history in the state - Richmond, Fredricksburg, Manassas. And this is really just a sampling. Like I said, it will depend on where you want to go... hope this helps!