Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Wanderlust Wednesday: Natural Bridge Park and Historic Hotel

Where: Natural Bridge, Virginia
When: Summer 2014

When my friend invited me to her wedding in Natural Bridge, after the initial excitement of going to a wedding and seeing if I had that weekend free, I also thought "Wait, where is this?" 

Since 2012, I have lived in Northern Virginia and rarely have I adventured further into the state. Virginia is pretty big compared to the small area of Northern Virginia and it feels like a completely different world. Northern Virginia is filled with the fast paced employees of Washington, DC. There's the sense of political expertise and plenty of fancy cars. Starbucks are on every corner and people are all about socializing at posh coffee shops and bars. There's even a video that pretty accurately describes the area (although it specifically focuses on Arlington). But the rest of Virginia? The rest of Virginia is something I'm much more familiar with and I find I'm more comfortable. Rolling hills, farmlands, and a driving distance to reach the nearest clothing store. So, once I googled where Natural Bridge was, I was ready to go. 

The first fault of our trip was that we left just at sunset after a full day of work and visiting with friends who were moving. It was a long drive made longer due to how tired we were and yet, it was nice, because the hot summer sun had set and we were able to enjoy the slightly-cooler nighttime temps. With bathroom, gas and food stops, it took us three hours to get to Natural Bridge and by that time we were exhausted.

And yet, I suspect there will always be an "and yet" with this post, we were introduced to Natural Bridge the moment we stepped out of my car, tired, red-eyed (at least I was from falling asleep with my contacts in), and only dimly outlined by the low lights of the front steps to the Natural Bridge Historic Hotel. 

The full moon hung in the sky with wisps of clouds scattered around it, creating an eerie blue glow to the world and highlighting the mountains in the distance and low-lying mist. 

Then we heard it.

Far off in the darkness, an angry moo. There were obviously farms nearby.

But off we went to get our room and startle the receptionist who stared at my bloody red eyes long enough to clue me in that something was wrong. I found out once we were in the elevator and saw just how bloodshot my eyes had become from the drive. Oops. 

The hotel is a large, old building and with no WiFi that reaches anywhere past the main lobby. Cell reception is also nil as you are, quite literally, in the middle of no where. This was a problem for us only in that friends where trying to reach me to ask for directions or places to change (as they were driving in for the wedding then leaving) and I had no idea that they were attempting to get ahold of me until two days later after we had left. This may be a problem for some, but I did enjoy the radio silence from the outside world. Also, as a note, we were informed by the staff that they intended to do some remodeling during the winter to upgrade their WiFi capabilities, but I would still double-check if you are unable to take a break from the internet during your stay!

Our room was spacious with a number of old pieces of furniture. Even the TV was quite old, but still in working order. We had two full-sized beds and managed to squeeze into one (the beau and I). One of my favorite features is that there were two sinks. One inside the bathroom and one outside. This way when the beau was getting ready in the bathroom, I had my own sink and mirror to use. 

It was relatively quiet and I didn't hear much noise from other rooms or the hallway. We were so exhausted, I don't know if we would have been capable of hearing much! By the next morning we woke up ready and eager for the day.

The hotel serves brunch and special dinners. While we missed the dinners, we hit up the brunch and oh my goodness. I have never had a better scone than the scones I ate at the Natural Bridge Hotel. You guys, they were to die for. I am salivating just writing about it. I took extra scones with me when we were done with brunch because they were that good. Just... delicious. So delicious. I would order the scones from them and have them shipped to my house if at all possible. And you know how good they were? So good that I didn't even think to take a photo of them because I was too busy stuffing my face. 

Honestly, I believe the rest of the breakfast was great but I don't remember any of the details about it other than it having been eaten because I spent so much time devouring scones.

Afterward, we got ready for the wedding and made our way to the infamous Natural Bridge!

Natural Bridge has a great deal of history. Not only is it absolutely beautiful and overwhelming when you're in the presence of it, but it has a lot of American history tied to it. The Monacan tribe held it as a sacred site and believed it had ties to a victory from the Powhatan tribe long before Europeans began investigating the area. George Washington visited the bridge and surveyed it, and later on Thomas Jefferson purchased the land. Jefferson made it a place to retreat to for vacations and his descendants had the lodgings grow in size to accommodate more visitors. There is now a push to make the park and hotel a state park and vacation destination. I certainly feel this landscape should have the attention it deserves and the protection from being labeled a state park.

But that's not all! This is a bookish place and has made its way into the hearts of many. Not only are there some really beautiful paintings of the bridge, but the bridge is mentioned in Herman Melville's Moby Dick:

But soon the fore part of him slowly rose from the water; for an instant his whole marbleized body formed a high arch, like Virginia's Natural Bridge, and warningly waving his bannered flukes in the air, the grand god revealed himself, sounded, and went out of sight.

The wedding, as are most weddings at the park, took place under the bridge with the guests seated on the hill/walkway leading up into the woods. For the wedding itself, they made a side path for visitors to pass through without interrupting the wedding, but most visitors paused and watched the wedding from the side.

The wedding reception was at the hotel and a ton of fun. The establishment was great, the hotel staff pleasant, and it was a great time. We bid most of the wedding guests adieu toward the end of the night as the world grew dim again, then headed to the Red Fox Tavern (on site of the hotel) to have after-wedding drinks with friends.

Looking to the mountains where the phantom cow lives.

The Red Fox Tavern was a lot of fun. The atmosphere is quite literally what I would expect of a tavern. Deep browns, comfy chairs, and drinks to go around. It closed a little too early for my liking but I found I was more tired than I had expected and off we went to sleep. I had dreams of the following morning's would-be scones (but they weren't served and I was heartbroken).

After saying goodbye to our friends and checking out of the hotel, the beau and I headed back to the park so that we could investigate it more -- this time without heels and dress clothes. The day began gray and muggy and turned into a blistering hot day which is common for Virginia summers.

The pathway to the bridge.

It should be noted that while there is a stream running along pretty much all of the pathways that you can take, there aren't many chances to get water or use a bathroom. There's a lot of tree cover to keep you mostly out of the sunshine, but that doesn't matter when the temperatures climb up to uncomfortable heights. I have a tendency to faint in the heat as my body doesn't know how to function when it's constantly in muggy, hot weather. We, somehow, remembered to bring a few bottles of water with us (we hadn't planned to originally because the pathway isn't too long nor rigorous) but ended up going through all the water quickly as I grew faint. 

So what I'm saying is, if it's going to be hot, plan a little better than I did.

Cedar Creek

Still, the sites were beautiful. The bridge is out of this world and the stream beds are beautiful with a blue-green, clear water. At the end of the path is Lace Falls which weren't very lacey when we visited due to the hot weather and low rain totals from the summer.

Lace Falls

Now, if you plan to walk these paths, not only do I urge you to come prepared (water, snacks, whatever else) but wear appropriate shoes! The pathway is bumpy and rough to walk on. When we were at the bridge for the wedding, we were all teetering around in heels and wishing we had opted for flats. It's a lot of uneven surfaces. Also? Make sure your camera or phone is charged so that you can get as many photos as you can! I ended up missing out on more because my battery was near death.

Having grown up in the Catskill Mountains, I love the woods. I adore tree cover and rolling hills. I find peace in nature and I found peace here. We were far away from the world, despite being surrounded by other tourists, and it was lovely. Had we not plans to get home and ready for the work week, or possibly a better wardrobe for hiking about, I would have liked to stay longer.