A Slow Journey To Nowhere

Old Tractor
Some of the most picturesque farmland in the country can be found along Virginia’s Route 50. [Click photos for larger versions]
Horse farms and polo grounds dot the Virginia countryside along Route 50.
Horse farms and polo grounds dot the Virginia countryside along Route 50.
Red Barn
Beautiful, old barns have been restored all along the picturesque town of Middleburg.
Bird House
An old birdhouse adds to the charm of one of the rustic yards in the town of Middleburg.
Bails of Hay
Bails of hay dot the fields along Route 50.
Covered Driveway
Long, covered driveways are extremely popular with the folks who live along Route 50.

I think our parents were up to something when they hauled the entire family into their vintage cars for the purpose of doing a little road tripping. And as rare as it sounds today, the habit of going out for a family ride in those old cars was one of the things some of us remember fondly from our youth. No agenda, no plans, and no particular destination in mind. Cruising around to check out what was happening in town had its own rewards. It was pure automobile zen. Right turns, left turns, slow down here and speed up over there, an unchoreographed dance where everyone’s performance became the stuff of family legends.

This sort of nostalgia is what led me recently to get in my car and hit the road, so to speak. All I knew was that I would drive down Virginia’s Route 50 for as long as I felt like it and that at some point I would perform a Forrest Gump-like turnaround and come back home. So along I went, music playing on the radio, windows down, and no destination. With my camera sitting next to me, I did tell myself that I would stop at whatever site caught my attention, even if it took all day to complete my journey. I knew this would be a problem because Route 50 is one of the most scenic country roads you’ll encounter anywhere in the US. But here was a unique opportunity to try out some of that “slow travel” concept that the Europeans have mastered so well over the years. Would it really be possible to do away with all notions of time while driving into the sunset of our minds? Well, the short answer seems to be no, but if it’s impossible to do away with that old torturer time, it is definitely possible to ignore it for a while.

Route 50 may just be the perfect place for this. And while I’ve written about this area before, the sheer beauty of this American landmark makes it the place you keep coming back to, over and over again. Hard to think of a better place in the area for a road trip, although admittedly, Route 211 past the town of Warrenton comes close. BBQ’s and horse farms are big in the area, as well as quaint, little towns where you can find everything from Amish patio furniture to Alpaca socks. But it’s the landscape that will make you forget all notions of time for a while. The green meadows just seem to go on forever until they reach the distant Blue Ridge Mountains, while happy horses graze on grass so green that it looks as if it has been painted recently. It is easy to loose yourself in this scenery and the delicate touch of a morning breeze. Who knows, perhaps it is possible to make time stand still after all, even if for that brief moment when nothing else mattered but what was in front our my eyes.

 

The Grounds Of Mount Vernon

An old water pump sits between the stables and the main house.
An old water pump sits between the stables and the main house. [Click to enlarge photos]
The arched walkway connecting the main house to the kitchen building.
The arched walkway connecting the main house to the kitchen building.
The quiet Potomac River riverbank near the estate's wharf.
The quiet Potomac River riverbank near the estate’s wharf.
The Washhouse and Coach House are visible from the well-tended garden.
The Washhouse and Coach House are visible from the well-tended garden.
Dirt road leading to the stables along the east side of the gardens.
Dirt road leading to the stables along the east side of the gardens.
The stables are a reminder of the era when most transportation was provided by working animals.
The stables are a reminder of the era when most transportation was provided by working animals.

It is said that Mount Vernon is one of the country’s most beautiful estates, but after a short walk around the grounds of this incredible property, I can’t help but think that this observation is a gross understatement. That is, of course, provided you can allow your eyes and imagination to see beyond the massive amounts of tourists (not to mention high schoolers loudly taunting the animals on the property) that descend on the place like locus the moment the weather warms up a bit. You just have to blank that out and let yourself be transported to the period when our First President and his family roamed the grounds of this quiet haven along the mighty Potomac River.  If you do that, then you’ll get a better picture of what life must have been like in such a beautiful place.

I had been to Mount Vernon briefly before, but during my first visit I didn’t have the opportunity to walk around the extensive grounds of the estate. The Mansion itself was impossible to visit at this time, as the line for those waiting to enter was about a quarter mile long. No worries, though, because the grounds themselves deserve a visit in their own right. In the quiet solitude of those expansive grounds, I could understand why this place held such fascination for the great General.  In fact, after having reluctantly agreed to serve a second term as President (and adamantly refusing to serve a third), he couldn’t wait to get back to his property. I can see why.  Places like this, and the lifestyle they surely afforded the First President, must have been the direct opposite of what President Washington had to endure in the city. Fast forward a couple of hundred years, and with the exception of some well-deserved maintenance and the imposing Museum/Education Center, the place looks pretty much the same as it did when the Washington family lived there. George Washington, the master surveyor, certainly knew how to pick a place. Then again, no one could ever doubt the great man’s many talents.