By Lynn R. Mitchell
Thursday road trip! With SWAC Daughter and her husband now living less than two hours from Staunton, it was time for a day trip to meander the back roads and take the kids to lunch. With maps and a cooler in the car (the places we go aren’t GPS-friendly), we headed out to begin our trip to the land of Virginia Tech and expansive mountain vistas. It was time for a road trip to Blacksburg. Following Rt. 11, we traveled from Augusta County into Rockbridge where we passed through Natural Bridge and its scenic Blue Ridge Mountain backdrop.
On the back roads it’s easy to pull over and read historical signs with information about those who settled the area, nearby landmarks, and other events from the past. This sign is a reminder that the Shenandoah Valley was once the western frontier of the New World with outlying forts that protected settlers in this once-wild land.
The 250-plus-year-old Buchanan, established as a James River crossing, is one of the many historic towns along Rt. 11.
Historic Troutville is on Rt. 11 just north of Roanoke. We drove to the intersection of Rt. 11 and Rt. 220 at Roanoke with truck stops and fast food eateries where we took a left and drove east until we reached Rt. 460. At that point, we turned right and headed south on Rt. 460, winding our way through Vinton and Roanoke, and at Salem we hopped on I-81 south to Rt. 460 west at Blacksburg. Noon was approaching and we had lunch plans….
Blacksburg offers a small town flavor in a college town with Virginia Tech’s huge school-year population and quieter summer population. Warm weather flowers bloom in brilliant hues while cascading from hanging baskets on light posts around town and in medians on city streets. Everything in downtown Blacksburg is within easy walking distance — restaurants, businesses, Frosty Parrot, the college campus.
Meeting up with the kids, we went to Lefty’s Main Street Grille for lunch. The place was packed with patrons, both inside and out, and no wonder with the varied offerings on the menu. We can vouch for the quesadilla (jack cheese, black bean and corn salsa, minced onions, crispy tortilla), grilled chicken sandwich (SWAC SIL’s favorite), onion rings, and Philly Cheese Steak. Lefty’s will soon move a short distance east on Rt. 460 to a larger, new building next to the mall at the IMAX Cinema complex.
From North Main Street (Rt. 460), we took Mt. Tabor Road (Rt. 624) along Catawba Mountain in Montgomery and Roanoke Counties. To our east was Fort Lewis Mountain. This picture was of what I called “back road country art.”
From Rt. 311 just past the Homeplace Restaurant, we turned left onto Catawba Creek Road (Rt. 779), a meandering narrow road that followed Catawba Creek along Catawba Mountain, up and down through rolling mountainous terrain.
At the Roanoke end of Rt. 779 was the Roanoke Cement Plant. Shortly after passing this, we reached Rt. 220 where we turned right, then an immediate right onto the remaining short section of Rt. 779 in Daleville.
Backtracking our route, it is sometimes surprising what can be seen driving the opposite direction. As we reentered Buchanan, we watched for route numbers on the left that would be our next back road adventure through the Tinker Mountain-Catawba Mountain area traveling to Blacksburg. Buchanan marks the end of the Roanoke Valley to the south and is the gateway to the Shenandoah Valley to the north.
Off Route 11 was Rocky Road with the Alpine Public Boating Access area. We drove down the road for a ways but the sun was getting low in the sky and we didn’t have time to explore so we put it on the list of places to check out in the future.
Abandoned houses, barns, buildings intrigue me. Who lived there? Why are they now abandoned? This house could have been the site where many children were raised over the years, perhaps crops were raised in fields grubbed out from the rocky mountain hillside. Perhaps there were gatherings with neighboring farmers where the men stood around talking about the weather, the women sat discussing the latest birth or upcoming social or children … perhaps a deceased family member laid in state in the parlor before burial. There is so much history in these old structures….
The Pink Cadillac Diner on Rt. 11 a few miles north of Natural Bridge is a nostalgia-themed eatery featuring American comfort food, 1950s decor, and a pink cadillac parked outside. Formally located in southern Augusta County in Greenville, it now sits adjacent to I-81 in Rockbridge County.
Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell
July 30, 2015