Where: Natural Bridge, Va.

Why: Cool antiques, hot buffalo wings, scary monsters and Mother Nature at her finest.

How Far: About 180 miles, or three hours, from Fairfax.

You don't need to jet to Colorado to witness a spectacular slice of nature firsthand: Just a few hours from the District sits the Natural Bridge, a massive gray-rock formation (estimated to be 100 million years old, give or take a few million) that's over 200 feet tall and 90 feet wide -- dimensions to humble even the most cynical city slicker. Traffic runs atop the bridge, but you can take a self-guided walking tour to check out the structure's sides and bottom up close. You'll find two waterfalls (Cedar Falls and Lace Falls), the Saltpeter Cave, a "hidden river" (visible from only certain areas) and underground caverns that descend 350 feet into the earth. (Don't delay: The caverns close for the season Dec. 1.)

Nearby sits a wonder of the man-made variety: a nine-room chamber of horrors called Professor Cline's Haunted Monster Museum. Each year through Oct. 31, Cline & Co. offer a spooky tour called "Halloscream," which boasts a pitch-black maze, a seance room and an eerie "Freak-Out Forest." For no charge, you can have yourself placed in a casket and lowered into the ground as part of an attraction called -- surprise, surprise -- "Buried Alive." (It's $3 if you want them to dig you back up, though.)

On your trek to the bridge, you'll pass through over a dozen rural towns and long stretches of tree-lined highway. Check out the 19th-century coverlets at the Delaplane Store & Antique Center, established in 1972 and housed in a picturesque building built in 1852. In Middletown, the 187-seat space used by the Actors Equity Wayside Theatre has character -- and drama -- of its own: In the 1920s and '30s it was a jail. In Woodstock, you can stop at Chappalino's Pizza and Pasta for a plate of buffalo "death wings" (which rank one notch above the "911 wings" for sheer spiciness). And if weather permits, head for the James River Basin Canoe Livery in Lexington, where you can rent a canoe or kayak and go rollin' down the James, Maury or Jackson rivers. Just be careful not to tip over -- it may not have any monsters, but that chilly water is still scary stuff.

Tony Sclafani

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