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Monday, July 31, 2006


Here’s a great way to celebrate any special occasion. Rent a cabin in the mountains, fill it with people you cherish, and let the games begin!

For Rob’s 60th birthday, we rented a cabin high in the mountains overlooking the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. The cabin was rightfully named Mountain Top, and the view was spectacular. On the deck sat a hot tub and behind us links to hiking rails. Our kids came up from Blacksburg, VA and down from DC. The combination of place and people made this big birthday one to remember.

We were located just north of Luray, VA, and Luray Caverns was a must see stop. Rob and I have been there several times, Michael and Allison never, and Don and Leslie when they were little. That entire area of Virginia is loaded with caverns that were explored and developed for the sole purpose of luring tourists. Each advertises a special attraction or theme.

Luray Cavern’s particular attraction is a pipe organ that uses the stalactites and stalagmites as pipes. Yes, a musician spent years finding the exact formation for each pipe’s note, and the result is remarkable.

The organ is in a big open cavern deep within the earth. Weddings occur there, and I could see the different connections among the rock formations. “Most impressive,” as they say in Star Wars. Nothing in the cavern proved disappointing to any of us. The tour involves walking, and remember to bring your AAA card for a discount.

We were also near Front Royal, a gateway to beautiful Skyline Drive, a splendid 105 mile long roadway twisting its way along the crest of the magnificent Shenandoah Mountains and treating us to views that steal the breath away. Make sure to stop at Front Royal’s Visitor Center for maps of the area: walking tour maps, battlefield maps, and hiking maps geared to every level of difficulty. You’ll also enjoy some great discussions with the knowledgeable staff and in passing, observe a quaint, historic Virginia town.
Skyline Drive evenually becomes the Blue Ridge Parkway and takes you from the Shenandoah Mountains to the Smokies.
You can also get very whimsical and go to the Shenandoah River, sing the song and think of the movie starring Jimmy Stewart. Rent a canoe or swim.

As always in Virginia there are Civil War battlefields. VMI’s museum at the New Market Battlefield commemorates the services of Virginia Military Institute teenagers who left the classroom to enter battle. It's a great bit of history, and you can do a self-guided walking tour.

While all the activities present many possible ways to spend the time, the real beauty of a mountain cabin is in not leaving it too often. Peace and serenity are what you come for. The companionship in a quiet, stressless environment is where the value lies.

We were so high in the mountains that the soaring buzzards were below us. We were so remote that after our first night there were bear droppings around Michael’s car because he and Leslie had left McDonald’s wrappers in there overnight! We were, in fact, so high that the steepness of the road (perhaps giving this gravel bed the benefit of the doubt) coupled with a driving rain the night we arrived presented challenges to Allison’s car. But sitting in the living room, log on the fire, and playing Trivial Pursuit with the people we love most was priceless. It’s not often enough that we get a chance to simply enjoy—each other and nature.

There are several ways to find cabins to rent. It takes a bit of time and a bit of faith, but it’s worth it. For years we rented a cabin on Schroon Lake in New York’s Adirondack Mts. I looked in a travel brochure and rented site unseen. The owners happened to live near my dentist, and when I drove by their home, I thought they probably keep their rental community nice. Pretty na├»ve, but I was right. We rented with them for years—until they sold the upstate property. So request state travel agency brochures, look in guides such as Frommer’s, and Google cabin rentals in the desired state. Keep your fingers crossed. You’ll get a host of possibilities.

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