Saturday, May 10, 2008

Here at Home: Natural Chimneys

We are so fortunate to live in an area which, for many city-dwellers, is a vacation destination. When we came back from Europe last May, we were stunned by how, well, ugly Harrisonburg is. If you stand in the parking lot behind our church and look northwest at the downtown, it's just such a mishmosh of scattershot attempts at historic preservation, agri-business utilitarian structures, and 60's/70's urban renewal crap, too many parking lots, and the huge satellite dishes on top of the TV3 building. Yuck. We have to remind ourselves that European cities are beautiful but unspoiled natural areas are almost unheard of. What we have here in Virginia are (comparably) un-inspiring cities but breathtaking scenic beauty once you hit the road.

Last Sunday we took JieJie and MeiMei to a popular spot in this area: Natural Chimneys, a lovely spot not far from Bridgewater, not to be confused with Natural Bridge in the Lexington area. Natural Chimneys gets its name from some chimney-shaped rock formations, which are surrounded by a beautiful open green area on three sides. In June and August, they hold JOUSTING championships here. Definitely something to put on the to-do list, though it may have to be next year, because this June we'll be on our big European Adventure and in August I'm too averse to getting eaten alive by mosquitoes to venture too far afield.

We know a lot of families who like to introduce kids to camping at Natural Chimneys, and I can see why. It's hardly the sort of place where your little one can accidentally get eaten by a bear or trip off a cliff. It's not all that wooded, so you can keep track of kids. There's a pool, playground, and 2.5 miles of trails for walking or learning to ride your bike. The girls were happy just running around, picking wildflowers and birdwatching. We were only gone for the afternoon, but it felt like a getaway. And it was beautiful. I'm hopeful that over time, the efforts of groups like Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance will help the city get rid of or camouflage what's ugly about this town, and build a city with its own kind of beauty. For now, when I can't stand the urban mishmosh any longer, I lift mine eyes unto the hills.

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