We were flying down the interstates through the edge of Virginia when my roadside attraction Googling revealed “the initials of George Washington” left under a bridge. The basic description was plenty to be intriguing and certainly had my mind wandering in a thousand directions, but what it was exactly was entirely unclear. Eventually, my constant mentions wooed Grandma and Grandpa into stopping for a photo or two.
Signs for Natural Bridge just off the highway were fairly clear and quickly lead us to a white building with a handful of cars in its oversized parking lot. A few older hotels dotted the intersection out front, but – for the most part – we had successfully located the middle of nowhere. Sensing exhaustion, I ran inside for some details.
The bits that you aren’t told when you find this recommendation online with a minimal description is that Natural Bridge sits about three-quarters of a mile off the beaten path. The miniature hike includes about 600 stairs combined with an uneven concrete path that leads you through and back. At the bridge, there’s ample seating which typically accommodates guests for an after-hours religious light show (odd, but you do you, Virginia). You can obviously take advantage to rest from the walk down, but still – there’s a walk. I mentioned that my grandparents probably wouldn’t love that feature. At which time the attendant chirped “oh! I’ll call you a free shuttle!” With that issue easily solved, I paid $8 each for our tickets, gathered at the entrance to catch our ride and found myself starring at the bridge within minutes.
Grandma eventually reminded me that her senior parks pass probably would have worked here – and so continued the saga of never getting to claim her free entries.
Despite all of us being notably tired, we were all reinvigorated by the find. Escaping the truck, being overwhelmed by what nature can do and having a minute to enjoy the nice evening outside was seriously great.
There was still the matter of GW’s initials. I did a brisk walk through the entire attraction – peeking for a sign, an arrow, anything. I half expected the letters to be barely legible and scrawled into the side of a rock based on things I’d read – but never was able to find them in that form. Pictures I Google’s later showed them outlined in the rock…still, I missed them entirely. Walking back toward grandma and grandpa in near-defeat, I looked down instead of up. Surrounded by a strange little stone wall was a glistening silver pin wedged into a gray rock:
Vertical Control Mark
National Geodetic Survey
Excuse me while I lose my ridiculous little mind. Apparently, this little nugget is popular among geocachers. Back in my Garmin days, I probably would have freaked out to pin my GPS on this point – but on this day, I simply took a step over the wall, put my feet next to GW’s marker and snapped a photo standing where he stood. Thus is the magic of the earth to me – in all the vast craziness of the world, you can stand smack in the middle of completely unbelievable stories from history and relive some strange thread of them.
I kept snapping photos as I walked away. Gathering grandma and grandpa to walk back toward our shuttle, I turned and forced them into a series of selfies. We’d driven all day, we’d escaped all that was familiar and we were officially adventuring much too close to bedtime. Climbing back into the truck, we pointed the GPS to the hotel.
“That was awesome,” I reassured them. They agreed.