Stonewall’s Valley


It’s with a certain amount of trepidation that I write a ride report about Virginia. After all, many of the most active club members live in Virginia and routinely ride through virtually every corner of the State. By comparison, I’ve only motorcycled through small parts of it. Fools rush in, however, so here we go…

I got underway at 7:00 AM on Saturday, July 12, and headed for Front Royal. My goal was to follow Ride #13, “Stonewall’s Valley,” from Motorcycle Journeys through the Appalachians by Dale Coyner. It’s a 125-mile journey that starts and ends in Front Royal, with visits to Fort Valley, New Market, and the Skyline Drive. Dale indicates that the Shenandoah Valley was so fought over and so ably defended by Stonewall Jackson during the Civil War, that it became known as Stonewall’s Valley. Here’s the General himself:

Before arriving at Front Royal, I made a slight side trip through White Post. There, I found quaint old service stations…

…dramatic churches…

…a sense of humor…

…stately mansions…

…and my purpose for visiting the town: White Post Restorations. This company is one of the most highly regarded antique and classic car restoration businesses in the country. Not unexpectedly, this early in the morning, they were closed–but their facilities looked impressive.

Back on 340, I soon arrived at the outskirts of Front Royal. One of my goals for the trip was to find the confluence of the North and South Forks of the Shenandoah River. On my first attempt, along Riverton Road, I ended up on the property of a private business and had to turn around. On my second attempt, I took the not-so-aptly named Queens Highway–a dirt road that runs alongside some railroad tracks in between the two forks of the river. This time, I ended up on a private resort property and again had to turn around. I decided to make a third and final attempt on my way back if time permitted.

Heading towards Fort Valley, I couldn’t resist taking this private drive to get a picture of the crumbling log cabin at the end. Fortunately, no one was around to chase me away. (If this had been West Virginia, someone would have been living here!)

Fort Valley follows Passage Creek in between two arms of the Massanutten Mountains, and it was gorgeous. There was a mix of new, old, and so-old-they’re-falling-down houses, various farms, and a couple of very small towns. Traffic was light and made up mostly of other apparent readers of Dale’s book (i.e., motorcyclists).

A number of signs indicated that the creek was stocked with trout for one’s fishing enjoyment.

The Trinity Brethren Church was built in 1904…

…whilst this dwelling, which I believe was actively being lived in, wasn’t so much built as Haphazardly Accumulated.

No, this isn’t another view of the Trinity Brethren Church; it’s the Dry Run Christian Church.

On a whim, I followed a sign warning of a low-capacity bridge and ended up on St. David’s Church Road, with (yet another) GS-parked-on-a-bridge picture:

There are so many tranquil, beautiful spots, whether it’s a quiet stream or a peaceful meadow. It makes you just want to sit and enjoy the atmosphere and the lack of hustle-bustle. I may have to start taking a lawn chair with me on these trips.

More Appalachians readers.

Hmmm. I think this farm pond could use just a little more hustle-bustle…

Eventually, I reached Luray, picked up 211, and motored off to New Market. Negotiating New Market Gap through the Massanuttens was a real pleasure, as the road was smooth, sinuous, and free of gravel. But then, all you Virginians already knew that.

I arrived in New Market at 11:45 and, as recommended by Dale Coyner, I headed straight for the Southern Kitchen Restaurant for lunch. It’s a 1950s style restaurant, complete with period booths and music, and it also features world-famous peanut soup. I didn’t know what to expect, but I quickly discovered that it was dang good!

Before tackling the New Market Battlefield, I thought I’d see if I could find the ruins of the Manor Mill, which, at one time, stood on Manor Mill Lane next to the North Fork of the Shenandoah. Well, once again I ended up in the middle of someone’s farm. I couldn’t find any mill ruins, but I did spot this Scenic Dwelling:

I arrived at the battlefield just in time for the guided tour. Here, the guide is explaining the significance of BMW motorcycles during the Civil War. (Actually, he gave a most interesting account of the three days of the battle. He also helpfully led us from one shady spot to another, since it was over 90 degrees in the shade. And he didn’t complain once about wearing full period-authentic Confederate garb and carrying a Springfield rifle.) (I know, I know; Springfields were Union weapons. He explained that it had been captured when the Union retreated…)

The Battle of New Market is noteworthy, among other reasons, because it was the only time that American cadets were used in battle. Three VMI cadets were killed by a cannonball blast a few yards ahead in this picture. Roughly one-fourth of all of the 240 students were injured during their brave charge to the Bushong Farm and then beyond, attacking the Union troops and batteries at the top of the ridge. Much farther in the distance, The Knob sits proudly at 2,600 feet elevation.

The smaller house to the left was built by the Bushongs in 1818, and the larger one followed in 1825. The family hid in the basement of the main house as the battle raged on all sides. The houses and barns served as hospitals following the battle.

Visitors are encouraged to enter and tour all of the farm buildings. In the distance is the “Field of Lost Shoes”–so named because it was a field of mud during the battle, and most of the cadets lost their boots as they charged across it and up the ridge. They successfully drove the Union soldiers into retreat and captured one of the cannons in the process.

A few shots inside the farm buildings, including the attic of one. By the way, don’t try to go from the basement of the farmhouse up the narrow steps to the upstairs. If you do, you’ll discover (i) that it’s dark, (ii) that the door at the top is locked, and (iii) that the distance from the steps to the ceiling above is only about 5 feet. Should you happen to be 6’6″, like Yr Fthfl Srvnt, then you’ll look like Quasimodo as you try to turn around and get back down the steps!

The Hall of Valor Museum at the visitor center is well worth a careful look and has excellent displays, artifacts, and storyboards.

The battlefield tour was so interesting that I spent much longer there than I’d intended. With the day drawing on, it was time to hustle over to Thornton Gap and to pick up the Skyline Drive back to Front Royal. Along the way, I (of course) made time for a picture of this abandoned farmhouse:

It goes without saying that the Skyline Drive offered gorgeous views (despite the extreme haze on the day I visited). Moreover, I practically had the place to myself. There was very little traffic, most of it was fellow motorcyclists, and I was often the only person at the scenic overlooks. Speaking of which, there were many, of course, and once in a while Interesting Flora and Fauna would suddenly appear…

It’s a good thing my wife seldom reads these reports!

Meanwhile, back in Front Royal, I didn’t have time to make the third attempt to find the Shenandoah confluence–but I decided to try anyway! I remembered seeing more railroad tracks in the satellite view of Google Maps, and I thought it might be possible to follow Depot Road and then the train tracks to the confluence:

I found the two railroad bridges without difficulty (and only having to ignore a couple of minor No Trespassing signs). Note the rather unforgiving railway intersection in the second picture.

After crossing all of the sets of tracks, I spotted this dirt path that looked like it might lead down to the river…

…and followed it, of course! Sure enough, it ended right at the confluence of the North and South Forks.

After a few more pictures, including this one of the underside of the easternmost railroad bridge, it was time to get back on 340 and head for home.

I arrived home at 7:15 PM, having put in a round trip of about 350 miles. I was extremely hot, obnoxiously sweaty, completely worn out–and I couldn’t stop grinning. It was a great tour, and I’d do it all again tomorrow! Thanks to Dale Coyner for having laid out such an enjoyable route.

Rick F.


Written by Rick

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