Week Eight: Lancaster County, PA and Lorton, VA

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

I’ve always wanted to come to Lancaster and now was my chance.  Ralph was not too thrilled about it; commenting, “What are you going to do; ride around and stare at Amish people?”.   “Well…yes, kinda”, I answered. And that’s pretty much what we did.  We drove around the entire afternoon, commenting on the beautiful countryside and looking for Amish people.  We stayed at the Old Mill Stream Campground located by the Dutch Wonderland (an amusement park for small children).  It was  right in the middle of Lancaster.  As we toured the country roads I noticed several more campgrounds that would have been nice.  I just took the first one I called with an opening.  I knew we wouldn’t be spending much time at the campground so it really didn’t much matter.  It turned out to be a nice campground with a clean laundry, of which we took full advantage.

Amish Country, AKA Pennsylvania Dutch Country is actually German!  Duetche was translated (poorly) to Dutch.

Our first observation  was the Amish are not poor.  The farms had large, beautiful farmhouses, many, many large barns and outbuildings on very large plots of land.  And there are  Amish that use some modern machinery.

There are lots of tourist attractions, which we chose to ignore.  Once again, I turned to Trip Advisor and followed the recommendation of several reviewers  to drive the roads outside of the main tourist area and enjoy the scenery and the small towns along the way.  And “scenic” is definitely an understatement.  Let me see how many adjectives I can think of to describe the Amish area: rolling hills, narrow roads, very green, lovely houses, road side farm stands using the honor system, quaint small towns with names like Bird in Hand, Blue Ball, Intercourse, Strasburg, Soudersburg, Smoketown and Paradise,  horse-drawn carriages and carts on the same roads with cars and trucks, men with long beards and women all dressed in pretty much the same garb.

Typical Scene in Lancaster County

Typical Scene in Lancaster County


Usual Mode of Transportation for the Amish

Usual Mode of Transportation for the Amish

We had a loose plan to find some of the 24 covered bridges in the county.  That was easier said than done!  We ended up finding two before we gave up and starting searching for dinner.

Covered Bridge

Covered Bridge


Park with Covered Bridge

Park with Covered Bridge

We stopped to purchase some fresh picked vegetables.  I bought the largest, whitest, fluffiest cauliflower I’ve ever seen.  I added olive oil and curry powder and roasted it in the oven…yum!

We had  dinner in one of the small towns at a family restaurant.  I had a German meal just like grandma would make: pork, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and buttered beats.  Ralph had a roast beef dinner, and all for under $20!

Pork, Sauerkraut and Mash Potatoes

Pork, Sauerkraut and Mash Potatoes

Ralph had to admit, it was a wonderful day that we both thoroughly enjoyed.  So glad we stopped in Lancaster.

Lorton, Virginia

Moving south another 200 miles we landed in Lorton, VA at a public campground that is an island of solitude in a very busy metropolitan area just south of Washington DC. We didn’t visit DC; we’ve both been there.  I worked in DC with a best friend  for about one year several years ago and saw most of the sites at that time.  This time I was more interested in Civil War sites and Virginia has an abundance of those!

We visited Mason Neck State Park located in  Fairfax County, Virginia. The park is on a peninsula formed by Pohick Bay on the north, Belmont Bay on the south and the Potomac River to the east.

In 1965, the Mason Neck Conservation Committee was formed after two bald eagle nests were spotted at Mason Neck. The committee, concerned about impending development on the peninsula, recommended part of the area to be used as a site for a state park. In August 1967 the commonwealth began purchasing land parcels from The Nature Conservancy with the assistance of matching federal grants. A series of events threatened the sanctity of Mason Neck in the late 1960s and early 1970s. After plans for a proposed beltway through the area were dropped in 1967, an airport, a natural gas pipeline, a landfill and a sewer line were proposed for the area. These proposals met strong opposition from groups such as the Mason Neck Conservation Committee. Plans for the projects were dropped because of the potential negative impact each had on the federally operated Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge and Mason Neck State Park. Mason Neck State Park opened to the public in April 1985.

We went looking one day but didn’t see any eagles and left slightly disappointed.

We camped at Pohick Bay Regional Park and we highly recommend it.  And after camping in the Northeast at $50- $60 a day, The $30 they charged for full hook ups seemed like a downright deal. We stayed three days.

View from our campsite

View from our campsite

Now off to learn about the Civil War.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve said “I wish I had paid more attention in school when I supposed to be learning about all these things.”  All I can say is, “Some of these names sound familiar.”   And Manassas sounded familiar.  When I used my Google brain, I found out that Manassas was the site of the first battle of the Civil War and it was only 45 minutes away!  Off I went…

Manassas National Battlefield Park

On a warm July day in 1861, two armies of a divided nation clashed for the first time on the fields overlooking Bull Run.  Enthusiastic young volunteers in colorful new uniforms, gathered from every part of the country thought that this would be the only battle of the war and surely a short war.  How very wrong they were!  Spectators from the nearby towns came equipped with picnic baskets and wine to watch the battle, anticipating this to be their one and only chance to watch the spectacle. But all thoughts of pageantry was suddenly lost in the smoke, dirt, and death of battle.  Soldiers on both sides were stunned by the violence and destruction they encountered.  At day’s end nearly 900 young men lay lifeless on the field.  Ten hours of heavy fighting  swept away any notion the war’s outcome would be quickly decided. The young men were 90-day volunteers, called from shops and farms, with little knowledge of what war would mean. There were two battles in Manassas at Bull Run.  My visit concentrated on the first.

The Visitor Center runs a 45 minute film  reenacting the first battle with graphic detail.  I was sick to my stomach as I left the theatre.  War SUCKS and young men are the ones who lose their lives.  As I walked the battlefield I became even more sick and depressed as it truly sank in how many American lives were lost during the Civil War.  Visiting the cemeteries was another sobering experience. The soldiers were buried in areas designated by state.  New York in one area, North Carolina in another area, etc.

Here’s what I learned:

  • It was thought that volunteers should come from and fight together, from the same town/village.  It was assumed that would improve the moral of the soldiers.  Yes, maybe…and it would mean that the young male population from that village/town would be wiped out leaving only women, children and old men left to carry on.
  • There was no official uniform for either side.  Men from the same town wore the same uniform.  Therefore, it was nearly impossible to tell from all the uniforms on which side a solider was fighting  The flags were both red, white and blue; therefore when the wind was not blowing hard enough they couldn’t tell which side they were shooting.
  • Stonewall Jackson was wounded by his own troops and died from those wounds.

I also learned there are an endless supply of sites you can tour and  that one visit to a Civil War site was enough for me.

Civil War Cannon

Civil War Cannon


Stonewall Jackson in the background

Stonewall Jackson in the background


Confederate Burial Ground

Confederate Burial Ground


Stone Bridge over Bull Run

Stone Bridge over Bull Run


Judith Henry House

Judith Henry House


Judith Henry - only civilian causality of the first battle

Judith Henry – only civilian causality of the first battle

IMG_2046

Monument to Brooklyn New York Soldiers

Monument to Brooklyn New York Soldiers


Typical 22 year old soldier

Typical 22 year old soldier

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