May 142019

Note: Readers tell me they enjoy our travel stories, so this is a repost of a blog from a visit to southern Virginia, where there are so many great places to choose from that you could be on the go every day for a month and still not get to them all.

Two of the best, the Virginia Living Museum and the Mariners’ Museum, both in Newport News. And we quickly realized that half a day each is not enough to do either place justice.

The fascinating Virginia Living Museum introduces visitors to more than 250 living species native to Virginia through exhibits, discovery centers and interactive hands-on exhibits. These include everything from endangered red wolves to loggerhead turtles, jellyfish, many species of birds, and more.

We spent a lot of time exploring the two floors of indoor exhibits, which include an underground gallery with animals that live below the earth’s surface, an aquarium where huge tanks contain everything from sharks to sturgeon, and an observatory. These jellyfish were hard to photograph, but Terry was patient and got the job done.

This big loggerhead, on the other hand, seemed to be a ham for the camera.

Originally from the Pacific Ocean, the venomous lionfish were introduced into Florida waters accidently in the 1990s and can now be found as far north as New York.

Outside, a ¾ mile elevated boardwalk leads visitors through woods and a wetlands area, showcasing animals native to Virginia in naturalized habitats.

Nearly extinct, the red wolf is being saved through captive breeding programs.

The 5,500 square-foot Coastal Plain Aviary is a dramatic walk-through aviary filled with coastal birds such as pelicans, herons, egrets, and ducks.

Less than two miles away, the Mariners’ Museum features over 60,000 square feet of gallery space displaying rare figureheads, handcrafted ship models, artifacts from the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor, an impressive collection of small boats, and more.

We started our tour with the Dinosaurs of the Deep exhibit, which features the skeletons of over 20 huge sea monsters that once lived in ancient seas. Those were some fierce creatures!

Then we spent a lot of time in the USS Monitor Center, which tells the story of the epic 1862 Civil War battle between America’s first ironclad warships, the USS Monitor and the Confederate ironclad ram CSS Virginia, which was built on the hull of the former USS Merrimack, which in turn had been burned by her crew to prevent her from being captured by rebel forces. The two ships fought a two-day battle near here that came to be known as the Battle of Hampton Roads. While the fight was a draw and both ships survived, it marked the end of wooden warships.

While the Monitor went on to fight again, she was lost less than a year later in a storm off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The shipwreck was discovered in 1973 and a long recovery effort was launched. In 2002, the ship’s turret was raised from its watery grave and today is undergoing preservation at the Mariners’ Museum.

Many artifacts from the Monitor are on display at the museum, including this anchor, silverware, a propeller, and several of her guns.

This cannon, called a Dahlgren gun, came from the CSS Virginia. It was struck in the muzzle during the Battle of Hampton Roads, but the brave Confederate crew continued firing it at the enemy.

One gallery at the Mariners’ Museum had an exhibit on shipwreck survivors, with the stories of those who managed to escape sinking vessels only to face peril trying to survive while adrift waiting for rescue. This survival raft could mean the difference between life and death after a disaster at sea.

We were very impressed with the collection of ships’ figureheads on display. These carved wooden decorations were common on the prow of ships from the 16th to 19th centuries. Figureheads ranged from mythical figures to patriotic themes and each one was unique.

Housed in a separate building, the museum’s International Small Craft Center displays nearly 150 small boats from around the world, including everything from custom sailboats to crude handmade dugout canoes.

These are just two of the many fascinating places to visit that we discovered in Virginia, one of our favorite states.

Thought For The Day – I was chasing my dreams, but I tripped over reality and busted my head on the truth.

Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

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