Natural Bridge, VA (800) 533-1410

It took the rising historian in our family to convince me that a trip to Natural Bridge was essential to the study of Thomas Jefferson. How can one read about this famous Americanís boyhood without feeling the need to actually see the natural wonder Jefferson found so marvelous? Though I had avoided Natural Bridge in the past because of the commercialism of it all, it turned out to be a wonderful place. One trick to missing the onslaught of signs along Interstate 81 is to go into Natural Bridge via the Blue Ridge Parkway. It definitely takes longer, partly because of the slower speed limits. But mostly it takes longer because of all the fun places to stop along the way. The drive along the Parkway is gorgeous.

I sprung for the tickets allowing admission to the Wax Museum, Cave, and Bridge. At $15.00 for adults and $7.50 for each child, I feel we got our moneyís worth. To tour the Bridge alone is $8.00 for adults and $4.00 for children. The carload of kids I took still canít decide what their favorite part was. In all, we spent eight and a half hours doing those three attractions. Since we went, Natural Bridge has announced they will offer a discount to homeschoolers. For substantial savings call Geraldine Wilmer at (540) 291-2121 and ask to make a reservation under the homeschool discount - I could have saved $15.50 with our group of six.

The cave was great. Compared to a recent trip to Luray Caverns, the only things missing was the stalactite organ and a too large crowd. The great part about Natural Bridgeís Cave was that our small group had a guide all to ourselves and she was into lizards and bats. The Cave had the usual features and stories. What made it special was a good guide on a slow day. It pays to call the 800 number ahead of time and learn when large groups are expected...and be sure not to schedule at the same time.

O.K., I frankly had my doubts about the Wax Museum too. I remembered Wax Museums I saw when I was a kid - they were the kind that didnít do much for me. This Wax Museum was incredible. It was interactive. It was historic. And it was empty. As in the cave, we were the only ones there, which allowed us to take our time and enjoy every single display (often more than once.)

Natural Bridge was a short hike away. How we could have lived so close to one of the seven natural wonders of the world and avoided it is beyond me. It was massive and amazing to the kids. After a leisurely examination of the Bridge, we hiked a short way further to the small waterfalls. The trail along the way was actually more fun for us than the falls. We hit the wildflower and tadpole season.

It surprised me that the kids stayed entertained for so long. I was even more surprised when all five insisted that they wanted to stay for the night program at the Bridge (admission is included in the three way ticket). It doesnít begin until after dark (9:00 p.m.) which means a late night but, it was powerful. Through incredible lights, music, and readings from the Bible, it tells the story of the Creation. The experience is unforgettable.

Natural Bridge is located near Lexington, 45 minutes from Roanoke. The town of Lexington has lots of other interesting sights for history buffs - the Lexington Visitor Center is a good place to begin. They have a free information packet you can order by calling (540) 463-3777.

I canít end this column without recommending the book that started our interest in seeing Natural Bridge. It was Thomas Jefferson: Third President of the United States written by Helen A. Monsell (ISBN:0689713479) in the Childhood of Famous Americans series. This series is written for kids in the 8-12 year old range, and it covers the childhoods of many of the famous people we may study. It certainly inspires further research, which in this case turned out to be a lot of fun.

Mary Wilson...

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