Sometimes, you just have to get in the car and go somewhere, and sometimes, it needs not to involve food or shopping. This afternoon, my beloved and I intended to take a short drive along Reed Creek in Wythe County, where the sun on the water is a cure for just about everything. And it was lovely, so much so that we turned toward Major Graham’s instead of toward home, and began a rollicking tour of Wythe County that took us to the Loafer’s Rest AWOL Boat Ramp and Fishing Spot, downtown Cripple Creek, the Cripple Creek Mill, Raven Cliff Horse Camp, Speedwell, and the Wytheville incarnation of Joe’s Pizzeria.
If this is all a bit much to follow, let’s slow down. If you would like to retrace our steps, do this:
Go south on Route 100 toward Hillsville, but turn right on Reed Creek Road, which is at the top of the hill just before the road heads down to the bridge over the New. Soon the road will bend to the right and follow Reed Creek from its mouth for a few miles upstream. This used to be a dirt road that spent much of the winter under water, but it’s recently been paved. The water sparkles and dances, and there will be ducks.
You will come out on a dead-end section of service road, so when you see the Interstate in front of you, turn left and follow the service road until you’re forced to turn. This will be Major Grahams Road, and you will turn left.
At the foot of the next hill, slow waaaayyy down, because you have a beautiful little United Methodist Church on your left, and the fantastic ruin of the Graham’s Forge Mill on your right. If you pause on the bridge, (and there’s no traffic, so why not?) you can see the ruins of a small dam upstream. Half of it has been taken down to afford canoers and kayakers several moments of sheer terror and a capsize, should they miss the portage. I digress.
Keep following Major Grahams Road, even though you will be tempted to turn toward the fish hatchery and civilization. Eventually you will be rewarded by the sight of Major Graham’s mansion, an amazing historic home now surrounded by some stuff that is so horrifyingly garish, it has to be seen to be believed. It made me nostalgic for the good old days when my sister’s boyfriend lived next door and the house was lonely and majestic, not stripped of its dignity and used for “ghost tours,” presumably to make money for all the garishness. I digress again.
The road will curl around, pass under I-77, and immediately on your left will be the early home of Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, our beloved pup. We should put up a plaque. When you arrive at U.S. 52, turn left and go back along the river, back under I-77, past the Shot Tower, and turn right onto Lead Mine Road.
Go under I-77 YET AGAIN, and stop at whatever that great big travel plaza is. The line for the restroom will not be bad, but there will be so many members of the Pinecrest Baptist Church from Greenville, South Carolina in the check-out line, you will abandon all hope of refreshment and soldier on toward Austinville.
Before you get there, though, turn left on Loafer’s Rest Road. It will dead end, but not before you arrive at a very nice parking area that advertises a boat ramp and river access for fishing. This is a huge, well, lie. The river is a long way away, and you will hike down a well-marked trail, with nice 4 x 4 posts to prevent erosion . . . and it will end in a tangle of greenbrier and grapevine. Trust us. If there ever was a river access here, and we have to believe there was, it has been so long ago TREES have grown up in the middle of it. Disappointed, we trudged back up the path to read signs posted on a tree by the Virginia Fish and Wildlife service, telling us that we can’t keep muskie under 42 inches long. If we can’t get to the river, of course, we can’t keep ANY size fish, so we got back in the car and went to Austinville.
After crossing the river in Austinville, turn left and marvel, first, at the house with the oddly huge windows. We vote ex-school. Then you’ll come to the local funeral home, which has the organic, slightly alarming look that funeral homes always have, where rooms seem to have been added on whenever there was an emergency. On your left, you will pass a long, low building right up against the road that was once the creepiest general store ever. It now appears to be a private home, and good for it.
Follow Route 619 wherever it goes. It will change names a number of times, and we are not going to keep up with those. Cross VA 94 and keep going. This road will eventually take you to Cripple Creek, a hamlet that contains the Cripple Creek Mill. This entity is for sale, if you happen to have $499,000 to spend on a huge building and a tiny house (1,500 square feet). You will get 1,500 feet of creek frontage, but it also looks like you will get, periodically, several feet of Cripple Creek in your den. I digress.
Turn left to tour Cripple Creek, then come back the way you came and proceed on 619. Eventually you will come to the Raven Cliff Horse Camp on your left. Turn in. The Raven Cliff Horse Camp is so great that you and your spouse will immediately make plans to come back and camp there, even though you don’t have a horse and don’t particularly like to camp. Cripple Creek runs along some, yes, cliffs, and there is a big picnic shelter by the creek, with an uptown sort of outhouse nearby. The campsites are wooded, level, and on the mountainside overlooking the creek. You can hike down to the old Raven Cliff iron furnace and watch some trout fisherman in waders standing in the cold creek. It costs $5 per night to camp there, so bring your friends.
Back on 619, head toward Speedwell, which will be a left turn. At some point, you will be on Saint Peter’s Road; we don’t have any idea why. (We didn’t see him, but we nearly met God when a possibly-impaired driver nearly t-boned us on U.S. 21. It was the single most terrifying moment of my career as a passenger, but we do not think this is a standard part of the program. )
Turn right on U.S. 21 and follow it to Wytheville, where, in the old Belk’s building, you can have a wonderful dinner at Joe’s Pizzeria and gather your strength for the trip home.