After our day trip to Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, I am more convinced than ever that the best way to learn about history is to visit the places where it actually happened. It’s one thing to read about historical events, maybe memorize some dates and names so you can pass the test, but it’s another thing altogether to actually see those places with your own eyes.
Our journey around Harpers Ferry started at the national park visitor center. We pulled in around noon on a Sunday to find a long line of cars waiting to get in and a large, but almost full parking lot. Fortunately, we snagged one of the pull-through spots designated for RVs and buses before they filled up with small cars.
After a quick lunch, we followed the 1.5-mile footpath into town. There are also free shuttles that will take you into town, but since it was a nice day we elected to walk. It was an easy stroll and a section of the path followed alongside the Shenandoah Canal where boatmen once pulled their cargo boats down the waterway to avoid the dangerous rapids on the larger river.
Much of Harpers Ferry is part of the national historic park. The lower downtown main street is filled with restored 19th-century buildings that now house a variety of free museums. It’s a great place to walk around and learn more about the varied history of the area. From John Brown’s raid and the Civil War battles to the establishment of Storer College where W.E.B. DuBois led the first meeting of the Niagra Movement, there is almost too much history here to comprehend the pivotal role this tiny town played in shaping the country as we know it today.
Harpers Ferry is situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. It is also where the states of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia meet. This unique geographic location not only made it a natural strategic area during the Civil war, but it also became a transportation hub with railroads and canals providing vital routes in all directions.
Today, the rivers, railroads, and canals turned bike paths make this a popular area for outdoor recreation. In fact, the Appalachian Trail runs right through the middle of town. While not the exact midpoint of the trail, for many it is considered the psychological midpoint and a great place to rest and stock up on food. With only one day to visit, we didn’t have time to hike or bike on any of the trails but it’s now been added to our list of places to re-visit someday.
We made it back to the Airstream about an hour before dark (which, on this last day of daylight savings time was shockingly early) and drove a few miles down the road to the Hollywood Casino & Charles Town Races. Not because we wanted to pull some slots or bet on the horse races, but because we needed a convenient place to spend the night. The two closest RV parks were both around $70/night and for a short stay, we couldn’t justify the price.
As far as parking lots go, this was one of the better ones. It was mostly level, mostly quiet, and mostly empty for all of our stay. We had a few RV and semi-truck neighbors but the lot was big enough that we were able to park off to the side away from the others.
Over the next month, we will be trying to strike a balance of living, working, and driving until we find warmth. Leaving the northeast this late in the season means that we can’t follow our natural rhythm of staying in one place for the workweek and then traveling one weekend day. If we did that we would still be in Tennessee come December. And while we like Tennessee, we also prefer not to freeze. So, in an effort to get where we want to be, there will be some weekday after work driving and a few weekends where we do nothing but drive. Which for us, means spending some nights in parking lots.
After two nights at the casino, we drove about 120 miles to a Walmart in Staunton, VA. There are a lot of Walmarts along the I-81 corridor in VA, but not many allow overnight parking and the ones that do are pretty popular with RVs. We pulled in around 7:30 and nestled ourselves in among about a dozen other RVs. Most left first thing in the morning and by noon it was just us and the usual Walmart shoppers. After it cleared out we moved over to the edge of the lot next to a grassy hillside and finished up the workday.
That afternoon we had a long, 225-mile drive to the Bass Pro Shop just over the border in Tennessee. This type of after-work travel is not sustainable over a long period of time, but for a few days, we don’t mind it. The Bass Pro Shop parking lot had seven pull-through spots for RVs and semis. It was late when we arrived and thankfully there were only two semis and no other RVs in the lot. After a quick walk around the store to stretch our legs, we settled in for a quiet, although somewhat unlevel, night.
The next day, instead of staying in the parking lot, we took off early and made the short drive to Warrior Shield SP where we had reservations for the next few nights. We had to get over there before the workday started and it was too early to access our site, so we parked in the large swimming pool parking lot for most of the day.
It was still just another parking lot, but moving over there early allowed us to avoid driving in the rain, and at the end of the day we only had to travel five minutes to our site. For those who are keeping track, we spent four nights in parking lots and drove from Harpers Ferry, WV to Tennessee all while sticking to a 40-hour workweek. Like I said, not a good long term travel plan, but for now, we’re just happy to be back on the road!