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Visit the Natural Bridge with an 8-month old baby



Get Outta My Nest! - The Appalachians and Natural Bridge

Natural wonder or highway?
When the "Bridge Of God" came up on my itinerary, it sounded like a cool enough place to visit. Little did I know that getting there was going to be such an experience! With bad tires and weak struts in our car, we bounced along down highway 81. Not knowing exactly what to expect, but ready to get out of the car and start hiking, we followed the signs to Natural Bridge, which is another name for Bridge of God.

Natural Bridge is in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, which is part of the Appalachian Mountain system. This was the first time I'd ever been to the Appalachian Mountains and it was quite an experience. I've been hiking through several different areas, including glaciers in Alaska, but going to the Appalachians made me realize that each of these places has its own gifts to offer.

The Monacan Indians, a hunter/gatherer tribe that lived along the East Coast in what is now Virginia, gave the Bridge of God its name. It's a name that is rightfully deserved... This 215 foot, natural rock bridge spans across the beautiful Cedar Creek. The magnificent bridge is a limestone arch formed by water erosion over millions of years. The beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains run across one side of the bridge span. It truly is amazing, and I can only imagine how awed by its vast natural structure the Monacans must have been. However, upon arriving at the town that touted itself as a home base for the Bridge of God, I was amazed by something other than the bridge.

Having survived the bumpy ride along Highway 81, we pulled into a little town that obviously welcomed many tourists throughout the year. There was a huge building with a gift shop, pool, hotel, game room, and even a shuttle bus down to the actual bridge. Shuttle bus? Into the wilderness? Something seemed just a little off. I was struck by how much the area had been commercialized. The name of the site was Natural Bridge, but it was far from natural. As we walked into the building with fancy floors, feeling a little bit like we had just walked into some posh resort, we asked ourselves "Are we in the right spot?"

Realizing that, indeed, we were at the Bridge of God, fancy reception area and all, we walked up to the desk and paid an admission fee of $8. I assumed we would be hiking a rocky, rough trail down to see the bridge in all its natural beauty. Boy, was I wrong. The pathway down to the bridge was made of paved steps, with lights along the sides. Where was the red carpet? I almost felt like I was going to the Grammy's, not the Bridge of God.

Lighted steps or not, the bridge itself truly is a gorgeous, natural sight. But by that time, unfortunately, I wasn't thinking about its beauty. Rather, my thoughts were dominated by the destruction that I imagined to have taken place in order to create this "natural" environment. See, I am a seasonal commercial fisherman who has always been environmentally aware. More than that, I've also been involved in my fair share of environmental activism. I'd rather hike down a long trail or climb up the side of the hillside to the bridge than take a shuttle or some fancy, lighted steps to see an object of natural beauty. It just seems to be defeating the purpose.

But wait! What's that I was hearing? If you can believe it, these folks actually have music piped down into the valley! I suppose it's to add to the scene, but it really didn't do the trick for me. To tell you the truth, I was really quite disgusted with the whole scene. Don't get me wrong - at first glance, without truly thinking about or analyzing it, it was a very beautiful scene. But as soon as I thought about it, though, I realized this land which was once Indian land and a place of truly natural beauty had been transformed into a tourist trap, with lots of man made materials. Hello!?! It's called "Natural Bridge." Somewhere, somehow, someone must have overlooked the word "Natural" in their construction of hotels, gift shops, concrete, lighted steps and the piped-in stereo system.

Just testing the waters
Feeling a little awkward, I tried to escape this "man-made nature," and crept away from the main path. I laid down on a rock, and listened to Cedar Creek flow downstream and go underneath the bridge. As I closed my eyes, I imagined what this area must have been like before man came and changed it. I could see it in my head - birds chirping, animals roaming, clean air...nothing but this awesome, natural structure and the animal and plant life that thrived in this valley. I could envision the amazing sight of an eagle soaring overhead. I opened my eyes up to the scene that lay before me now, and realized the immense changes that have taken place here. Imagine being a bird and having your nest cut down so that a bunch of people could come in to gawk at what was once your quiet little home. Despite the beauty that still prevailed, almost in spite of the ugliness that had been built around it, I wanted to get out of there.

We left the Natural Bridge and started on our way to D.C to get the car fixed. As I looked over the rolling Appalachian Mountains, the sun was setting, casting fiery shades of red and orange across the horizon. There was the natural, untouched beauty that I had been craving all day! The Appalachian Mountains stretch from Northern Georgia to Canada. It's difficult to realize how big the chain is, because it's split up into different parts. For example, the Smokey Mountains, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah Valley, and Prince William Forest, are all part of this vast mountain chain. These hills have seen the deaths of thousands of Indians who fought to keep it as their own. They were also witness to countless Civil War fights. If the hills and the forest could talk, they would have so many stories to tell.

This was truly a thought provoking stop on our journey. The Bridge of God, unfortunately, seems to have been transformed into more of a "Sidewalk of Man." Traveling through this area made me realize, yet again, the importance of working to preserve and respect our natural environments. I encourage you to do the same. Truly, we must think of ourselves as eagles, and work to keep everyone else from messing up our nests.


Please email me at: nick@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

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Daphne - Death Valley sans air conditioning and big hair in Las Vegas
Neda - Twisters, cyclones, and tornadoes, oh my! Chasing wacky weather in Toto-land
Stephanie - The future looks brighter for the proud Navajo and Shoshone nations
Teddy - Plumbing the depths of Yellowstone Park
Team - Pangaea? Isn't that some kind of weird pasta?
Team - Rockin' and rollin' down to the core!