10:45 a.m. The book's directions to Washington's Ferry Farm outside Fredericksburg are not quite accurate, so we get turned around for maybe five minutes before figuring out the correct route to Washington's boyhood home, where he supposedly cut down that famous cherry tree. The estate is also closed, but we park at the entrance and make our way to the trails that lead down to the river. Bluebird boxes line the fields, and Carolina wrens call to one another. Church bells peal from across the water, and we wish we had brought a picnic lunch.
11:50 a.m. We drive about 13 miles southwest on six different country roads, past new gated luxury housing developments to the 934-acre Pettigrew Wildlife Management Area. An information board lists the hunting seasons for bear, bobcat, Canada geese, deer, dove, fox, groundhog, opossum, quail, rabbit, raccoon, skunk, gray squirrel, turkey and woodcock, and the trapping seasons for beaver, bobcat, fox, mink, muskrat, opossum, otter, raccoon and weasel. I never realized all those animals lived in Virginia. As we hike through the nearby fields and forest, we spy empty shell casings from a 12-gauge shotgun. Suddenly, two bald eagles appear overhead, and we are in the midst of a group of kinglets and warblers. I'm glad the sign said "No Sunday hunting."
(Julia Ewan -- The Washington Post)
12:20 p.m. At Horne's Restaurant, a combination gas station, gift shop, convenience store and eatery, we pass on the "famous quail with two eggs" and order a late breakfast of decent coffee, sunny-side-up eggs and blueberry pancakes. Mesmerized by the hundreds, maybe thousands, of tchotchkes that fill every spare corner of the place and the Harley-Davidson motorcycle riders who keep wandering in, we drink a second cup of java before heading out.
1:05 p.m. Following the river, we drive on U.S. 301 to the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge. As we turn off onto Caroline Street in Port Royal, we are in a neighborhood that looks like a real-life Colonial Williamsburg, each historic home sporting a hand-carved sign with dates like 1750 and 1770. A few moments later the road dead-ends, and we get out of the car and enter fields that run to the river. A groundhog pops out its head and dives back into its hole, and a turkey vulture with a blood-red head sits in a tree, spreading its black wings to gather the warming sun. An immature bald eagle eyes us warily and takes off across the river when we get too close. The only sound is the rustling of dozens of sparrows in the unmowed, dry hay.
1:40 p.m. As directed, we get back on U.S. 301 south, drive straight through the Fort A.P. Hill Military Reservation and then hit a snag. The book says to turn left on SR 2 north, but north is a right turn. We instead follow the book's map, turn right and head correctly north to the Meadowview Biological Research Station, a nonprofit outfit devoted to preserving and propagating insectivorous pitcher plants. We haven't called ahead for an appointment, so we stop only to look over the nearby marshlands, where a half-dozen painted turtles sit, their necks hyperextended, sunning themselves on logs and embankments.
2:10 p.m. Heading north now, we initially overshoot the nearly hidden pullout to Guinea Flats, which is basically a small parking lot on the Poni River. A pair of fishermen are casting from a small boat, and we wish we had kayaks to launch. On the way out, we reluctantly decide against visiting the nearby Stonewall Jackson Shrine National Monument (Jackson died here shortly after the Battle of Chancellorsville) -- we've been gone for nearly six hours.
3:15 p.m. We pull into our driveway relaxed and refreshed, even though we've driven 161 miles. I keep thinking about how easy it is to get sucked into a lifetime of work and chores. But this day has hinted of miles of hiking trails and dozens of historic sites yet to be explored. After all, we can always pick up the dry-cleaning on the way to work Monday. And the kids can handle the dog and the laundry.
THE BOOKS: Virginia's "Discover Our Wild Side: Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail" books cover three regions: coastal, mountain and central Piedmont. The 100-page coastal book, which covers the area east of I-95, has 18 driving loops from South Chesapeake to Great Falls. The 200-page mountain book, which covers the area west of U.S. Route 29, has 34 driving loops from the southwestern tip of Virginia to Front Royal. The central Piedmont book, which will not be published until September, will cover 13 driving loops in the midsection of the state.
Each book is easy to read, with detailed maps, directions, site information and admission fees. Lovely art of birds, frogs, salamanders and other wildlife by artist Carl C. "Spike" Knuth and interesting wildlife tips and facts -- for example, bears weigh less than a half-pound at birth -- are scattered throughout the spiral-bound volumes. The books are free. To order, call the Virginia Tourism Corp., 866-VABIRDS (866-822-4737). TIPS:
If you would prefer viewing the information on the Web, go to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries' site at www.dgif.state.va.us/wildlife/vbwt/index.asp. The site also includes more detailed descriptions for some locations, such as the types of birds you may find.
The directions in the books are usually accurate (we never got really lost), but there are glitches. Corrections to the directions are being made online as they are discovered, and state officials recommend that you check online for the latest information. Throw a good map of Virginia into the car just in case. And pack a picnic lunch.