Natural Bridge is in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, which is part of the Appalachian Mountain system. This was the first time I'd ever been to the Appalachian Mountains and it was quite an experience. I've been hiking through several different areas, including glaciers in Alaska, but going to the Appalachians made me realize that each of these places has its own gifts to offer.
Having survived the bumpy ride along Highway 81, we pulled into a little town that obviously welcomed many tourists throughout the year. There was a huge building with a gift shop, pool, hotel, game room, and even a shuttle bus down to the actual bridge. Shuttle bus? Into the wilderness? Something seemed just a little off. I was struck by how much the area had been commercialized. The name of the site was Natural Bridge, but it was far from natural. As we walked into the building with fancy floors, feeling a little bit like we had just walked into some posh resort, we asked ourselves "Are we in the right spot?"
Realizing that, indeed, we were at the Bridge of God, fancy reception area and all, we walked up to the desk and paid an admission fee of $8. I assumed we would be hiking a rocky, rough trail down to see the bridge in all its natural beauty. Boy, was I wrong. The pathway down to the bridge was made of paved steps, with lights along the sides. Where was the red carpet? I almost felt like I was going to the Grammy's, not the Bridge of God.
Lighted steps or not, the bridge itself truly is a gorgeous, natural sight. But by that time, unfortunately, I wasn't thinking about its beauty. Rather, my thoughts were dominated by the destruction that I imagined to have taken place in order to create this "natural" environment. See, I am a seasonal commercial fisherman who has always been environmentally aware. More than that, I've also been involved in my fair share of environmental activism. I'd rather hike down a long trail or climb up the side of the hillside to the bridge than take a shuttle or some fancy, lighted steps to see an object of natural beauty. It just seems to be defeating the purpose.
But wait! What's that I was hearing? If you can believe it, these folks actually have music piped down into the valley! I suppose it's to add to the scene, but it really didn't do the trick for me. To tell you the truth, I was really quite disgusted with the whole scene. Don't get me wrong - at first glance, without truly thinking about or analyzing it, it was a very beautiful scene. But as soon as I thought about it, though, I realized this land which was once Indian land and a place of truly natural beauty had been transformed into a tourist trap, with lots of man made materials. Hello!?! It's called "Natural Bridge." Somewhere, somehow, someone must have overlooked the word "Natural" in their construction of hotels, gift shops, concrete, lighted steps and the piped-in stereo system.
We left the Natural Bridge and started on our way to D.C to get the car fixed. As I looked over the rolling Appalachian Mountains, the sun was setting, casting fiery shades of red and orange across the horizon. There was the natural, untouched beauty that I had been craving all day! The Appalachian Mountains stretch from Northern Georgia to Canada. It's difficult to realize how big the chain is, because it's split up into different parts. For example, the Smokey Mountains, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah Valley, and Prince William Forest, are all part of this vast mountain chain. These hills have seen the deaths of thousands of Indians who fought to keep it as their own. They were also witness to countless Civil War fights. If the hills and the forest could talk, they would have so many stories to tell.
This was truly a thought provoking stop on our journey. The Bridge of God, unfortunately, seems to have been transformed into more of a "Sidewalk of Man." Traveling through this area made me realize, yet again, the importance of working to preserve and respect our natural environments. I encourage you to do the same. Truly, we must think of ourselves as eagles, and work to keep everyone else from messing up our nests.
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