Sensing that autumn was upon us, Tom and I had the bright idea of driving into the Shenandoah Mountains to see the fall colors. We see them outside our windows here in Arlington, so how much more dazzling would they be aflame in the mountains? (One doesn’t of course, talk about flaming mountains on West Coast.)

Packing up Sydney, we stopped for some coffee and croissants in the neighborhood and hit Hwy 50 West…with hundreds of other cars. What we thought was just weekend traffic turned out to be, in large part, people with the exact plan we had. “O Shenandoah, I long to see you!”

After two and a half hours of relentless traffic, weekend construction mayhem, and sitting stalled waiting to turn onto Skyline Drive, not even in the mountains yet, we called a retreat. Surely, there were trees elsewhere, and it didn’t even look like high colors yet (sour grapes much?), so we pulled a U-ey and cut through the small town jammed with other leaf-peepers and sought out a small country highway to travel.

It’s been our habit forever to get off the beaten path, and once again we realized why that is always worth doing. Driving among the farms and the colorful glens in the sunlight from the crystal sky, we reveled being in Virginia. Toto, we’re not in Louisiana anymore.

Making turns by whim, we suddenly found ourselves in the charming town of Washington, Virginia, known as Little Washington to distinguish it from its namesake some 70 miles away in DC. The population in Little Washington today is said to be 135, most of whom must be involved in governing the town and serving its tourists.

The town was originally surveyed by a newly minted surveyor in 1749, the seventeen-year-old George Washington, as a five-block by two-block plot. It was officially established as a township by the Virginia Assembly in 1796. There are now 28 Washingtons in the United States, but this is the first, the original, of all of them. Today, it is still five blocks by two blocks, most of which are devoted to tourism.

In the middle of the town, through a lovely arch of pickets and flowers, you find the town green and gardens, complete with a grand chicken coop, sheep, goats, and two llamas.

The community garden is thriving with all manner of vegetables, and the residential gardens were still ablaze with vibrant color. We strolled along the bark path, reveling in the blaring silence of the hills around us, and took half an hour to sit in the beckoning Adirondack chairs and enjoy the peaceful bliss.

It’s true, we could have spent the day in our car, streaming in a parade of like-minded color-lovers, but how much more enjoyable to stop unexpectedly and discover one of the thousands of surprises that await us along the byroads of Virginia?

Today, I ordered a map and book of the Civil War, and a Rand-McNally Road Atlas…both of which will enhance our off-the-beaten path pointless rambles in the upcoming months. (Plus, we’ll be able to chart where we have driven in the past six years, or since the beginning of our married life, if we can remember back that far!)

Tomorrow, we head for Gettysburg…