Traveling the back roads from Staunton to Blacksburg offers a slice of America

By Lynn R. Mitchell

1Thursday 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.

2On 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.

3Running through some light rain showers as a front moved through, we could see fog on the mountains across I-81.

4The 250-plus-year-old Buchanan, established as a James River crossing, is one of the many historic towns along Rt. 11.

5Just outside of town is this historic sign, located between Rt. 11 and the James River, commemorating the importance of the area as a river crossing.

6The Great Valley Road, the James River, and then the railroad opened up this area of Virginia.

7Historic 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….

8Blacksburg 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.

9Meeting 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.

11This is Main Street traveling west with the mountains and national forest in the distance.

12This pic doesn’t do justice to the gorgeous flowers.

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14Another of the many restaurants along Main Street. In late afternoon we said our goodbyes and began following the back roads back to Staunton.

15From 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.”

16Rural Virginia … breathtaking scenery with vistas in all directions.

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19We followed Rt. 624 to Rt. 311 where we turned right and continued for a few miles before turning off on Rt. 779.

20Along Rt. 311 we passed the Homeplace Family Style Restaurant that was already busy when we passed. The back parking lot was full … apparently it was Pulled Pork Night.

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22From 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.

23Mountains, clouds, wildflowers, trees, farmhouse … borrowing West Virginia’s theme, it was almost heaven.

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28Tinker Mountain along Rt. 779. The Appalachian Trail is somewhere up there.

29This is Catawba Creek Road. America lives on back roads and that’s why this is the perfect kind of road for us.

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31At 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.

32We crossed over the interstate and, at the T-intersection stop sign, turned left onto Rt. 11 north toward Staunton.

33Backtracking 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.

34Back through the historic main street lined with American flags.

35Off 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.

36Abandoned 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….

37Back through Natural Bridge, my third time passing through in a week. I haven’t been there in a few years … next time I need to stop and explore.

38It was late in the day so Natural Bridge’s parking lot was almost empty. The Blue Ridge Mountains with the Blue Ridge Parkway are in the background.

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40The 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.

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42Route 11 Business goes through downtown Lexington, an historic Shenandoah Valley town that is home to Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and Washington and Lee (W&L).

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44VMI’s football field.

45Looking east toward the Blue Ridge Mountains from Rt. 11 as it crosses I-64.

46Rt. 11 … bucolic drive in Rockbridge County …

47… and Augusta County. We arrived home just before dark after another day of roaming the back roads of Virginia.

Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell
July 30, 2015

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