The sunlight is beginning to dim, but we have at least two hours left of daylight. We make it to Natural Bridge with just enough time.
The town of Natural Bridge is a lovely little mountain town with rolling hills and winding roads. And one main feature. An expanse of rock with a giant hole in it.
We pull into the parking lot between an unremarkable large building and a stately brick building on a hill – the Natural Bridge Hotel, naturally. It looks like an old boarding school with a mysterious history. But there’s no time to craft imaginary tales, daylight is fading.
Through this nondescript building is our entry to this natural wonder. Inside is a vast tourist mall. It looks like a dimly lit Kmart that is about to go out of business. One flat expanse filled with t-shirts, shot glasses, postcards and various other souvenirs. Around the periphery are knock off fast food stalls, ala food court style, and a few chipped formica tables. On the left, close to the entrance is a line for tickets. We get in it.
I am always happy to pay to get into state and national parks, supporting their continued love and upkeep. This place is no exception, I just wish some of the funds would be earmarked for an updated entry.
With our tickets in hand we descend a long, wide, bare staircase reminiscent of steps that might lead into a huge church basement. These, however, lead us to an exit, which leads us to more stairs. We are on the path to see the natural bridge. No one takes our tickets.
The path continues wind down with a combination of steps and landings and long gradual declines. It’s verdant here, lots of trees and thick flora, and in a moment a creek comes into view. The path turns to the right to hug the gently babbling shallow river and suddenly it comes into view. The natural bridge.
It’s magnificent. It is a beautiful natural wonder that someone has built a tourist trade around. I suppose it was bound to happen. There are rows and rows of chairs lined up as if the bridge is going to perform. A few are occupied with the tired, the mesmerized and the breast-feeding. Most of us, and there aren’t that many at this hour, are walking leisurely with our necks craned skyward.
Cars drive across it. We’re told at one time you could walk across, but the ground is too unstable for feet. But cars are okay? Thought provoking.
We pass beneath the bridge and continue on the path. The river follows along on our left. To our right a beautiful, old stone wall helps to keep the earth from spilling all over us. There are names and dates in the rock dating back to the 1800s. Little birdhouses are tucked into the woods. The path widens and narrows and widens again. The river is crossable, mostly a creek, there are plenty of rocks rising above the surface just begging to be used. I resist. Mostly.
This path ends at a waterfall. It’s small but pretty, mostly just a few wet rocks. Near the waterfall some sort of re-enactment camp is set up with Native American structures, a small village of sorts. The folding tables and chairs remind us that we have not traveled back in time.
It’s getting darker, time to head back. As we approach the bridge we take a long pause to take it all in. It truly is a natural wonder. I imagine our little creek was once a mighty river that cut through the rock, sanding its sides smooth. Over time the water receded never to fully return, leaving behind this impressive outdoor cathedral.
There’s not much more to do and it’s getting harder to see so we thank the bridge for remaining throughout time (always thank nature for being there, especially if it has been a hospitable host) and head back to the plaza to exit.
We are headed to Harrisonburg. This is the home of the university my father wanted me to attend; James Madison. I, however, felt a bigger distance between home and school was called for. And Madison was nowhere near a beach.
A friend from high school is living here now and highly recommend we stop by to visit her quaint little town so we put it in the plans. This is the “Back-Road-Tiny-Town-Tour” after all.
Remember how I said we were too free-spirited to book our hotel rooms in advance? We were just gonna trust the Universe to provide us with comfy beds, hot showers and wi-fi? Remember how I said I wasn’t such a great in town driver in places I’d never been?
Now imagine all of that in the dark and add to it parents weekend, a football game and traffic.
We were greeted by a carnival of flashing lights. I thought perhaps a DUI checkpoint, an accident maybe. It was traffic control. The game had just let out and cars and people were everywhere.
Once again I drove around in circles, first trying to find and identify the downtown area, then trying to get out of the downtown area, then trying to find a hotel, any hotel with an available room.
We stopped at all the big chains, ran in and were denied. I hopped on hotels.com to check availability and pricing. No luck. We called a bed and breakfast in the middle of town. They had a room. We didn’t have the energy to fight back through the crowds to try to find it. We pulled into a restaurant parking lot to regroup.
We could keep going north and find a place at the next exit. There didn’t seem to be anything for over an hour. We could go back south. That just felt like defeat. We could try to find the bed and breakfast. What to do. Then as if in slow motion we both looked up through the windshield and flashing before us as if God himself had turned it on was a Motel 6 sign.
No. No. I can’t.
Can we? Just then we saw a group of people who looked a lot like us leave the restaurant and walk back to their rooms at the motel.
Maybe. Probably last-minute parents also placing their trust in the Universe.
There was a room. We took it. It was a bed. All in all it wasn’t too bad. The bed was comfortable. The room was spare but clean. There was no toilet seat upon which to rest my clothes while I showered, but there was a plunger next to it. That we had to use.
It was nearly 10 and we hadn’t eaten and not eating was not an option.
Larry’s first choice, always, is pizza. Lady luck provided us with a lovely little Italian restaurant across the street that specialized in all things pizza. I had a glass of wine. It came in a tiny airplane bottle. This was living.
If you’re going to stay in a Motel 6 it’s best to be absolutely exhausted. We were.
Thanks Universe. Next time I’ll be a little more specific.