Background Music: "Sweet Virginia" by The Rolling Stones

We are currently hiding in our trailer, afraid to go outside lest we be approached by our extremely nice, very sweet, elderly neighbor who is worse at knowing when to stop talking than anyone we’ve ever met. This morning it took us a little over half an hour to slowly make our way from the front door of our trailer- where he saw us, waved, and walked over to tell us about his morning- to the inside of our truck, ten feet away, where he was still following along and chatting us up. We know more about his life, family, health and general views on the world than we’ve learned about some of the people we’ve known for years. The thing is, he’s really very nice, but if we’re not careful, we’ll be sitting outside with the bugs, listening to his stories into the wee hours of the night. We know because the people who were camped next to us did it last night. They left this morning- very early.

We’re camped in Gladys, VA- just a few miles outside of Lynchburg. Many famous, historic people have lived or passed through this area. General Lee surrendered his troops to General Grant near here, ending the civil war. Before those events took place, Thomas Jefferson made two homes in this part of Virginia: the famous Monticello, and the lesser known Poplar Forest. We visited both.

Monticello is just as it appears on the nickel- silver and flat. No, no. It’s round and it’s made of brick, but it looks like it does on the nickel. It’s extremely pretty up on the mountain at Monticello, and you can imagine how it would have been for Jefferson, in his retirement years, to stroll though his flower laden gardens, lounge on his large patios, and recline in his stately home…with the dozen or so children and grandchildren that also lived there. And this is why Jefferson designed a second home for himself several miles away at Poplar Forest.

According to the tour guide, not many people knew about Jefferson’s home at Poplar Forest because Jefferson didn’t want any visitors there. This was his private retreat- so private, in fact, that several owners later, in the 1980’s, it was put on the market as a regular private residence and was about to be demolished so that a housing development could go up. Luckily, a preservation society took notice and bought the property. Now the home is being painstakingly restored to its original early 1800’s design. Jefferson’s designs were simple, elegant and brilliant. His architecture shows his inventive nature and 200 years later, he’s still an inspiration.

In addition to Monticello and Poplar Forest, Jefferson owned other property in the area that he did not develop. The Natural Bridge is located on property Jefferson previously owned. The Natural Bridge is a 215 foot tall limestone arch that was carved over a millennia by what is now called Cedar Creek. In 1774 Jefferson bought The Bridge from King George III for about $2.40.  Today you're allowed to enter the property and view this natural wonder for only $12.00 per person.  Talk about a return on investment!  The private company who owns Natural Arch advertises it as “One of the seven natural wonders of the world”. We thought: wow- that’s pretty amazing to be among things like the Grand Canyon, Victoria Falls, The Galapagos Islands and The Great Barrier Reef. Natural Bridge, Natural Bridge- hmm, that doesn’t ring a bell, though. “Kinda fishy- but it all goes to charity anyway, right?” That’s what Travis asked jokingly when the lady was ringing up our tickets. She just smiled sheepishly and blushed. We did a search on-line and didn’t find Natural Bridge even in the top seventy-seven of natural wonders. It turns out the list of the world’s seven varies broadly and you can pretty much say anything is on it. So hold on to that piece of info, in case you ever find anything in your backyard that you think people might pay to see. The Natural Bridge was pretty neat, though, even if it isn’t in the top seven, or seventy-seven.

Today we decided to take a break from touring, which brings us back to our current predicament- trapped in a trailer. It’s a nice day outside, and we may try to make a break for it- run for the truck so that we can drive down to the lake. Marley’s a little slow down the steps though, so we hope he’s able to join us. We tell him, “You gotta run, little buddy- no stopping to smell stuff!” But we imagine ourselves running for the truck and having to scream, “Leave him, it’s not worth it!” Of course, we’re just kidding! We’d never leave Marley like that. He doesn’t like the neighbor and growls at him every time he sees him. Yes, he growls at our sweet old neighbor who even offered to give Marley some of the well water he brought from home, because the water here is so cloudy. But Marley hates long chats. It cuts into his nap time.

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