Feeling the call of our coal miner heritages, Bev and I loaded the kids into her van and headed for Amelia, Virginia and the Morefield Mine. Six kids, two adults, one van. Memorial Day weekend traffic, headed in the same direction as everyone going to Virginia Beach. Oh yes. Sometimes, it seems, we just don’t think things through. In our defense, the mine is closing after next weekend and we’d been wanting to go since we just missed it closing for the season last fall. Now the owners have sold the mine and it will shut down at least until fall. So it was now or (possibly) never. We thought at first that it would be fun to camp Friday night and go to the mine Saturday morning. That was just that not-thinking thing again, though. Bev had a moment of clarity and pointed out that we’d had two solid weeks of rain and cold and maybe we didn’t want to try to set up camp in the dark, cold, and rain to just get up and break camp the next morning. She had a point. I looked around Amelia and came up with an Econo Lodge motel and something called Buddy’s Restaurant and Inn (and you KNOW that if I didn’t have someone else’s kids along that’s what I’d go with. Maybe it even had metal motel chairs outside! ). Steve travels a lot and so knows how to do things and told us to try Priceline. I chose 2 1/2 stars, Richmond, and said I’d pay 50 bucks a night. Never dreamed it would go through. That was just my opening bid. But it did! And we got two rooms at the Hyatt Place Innsbrook. We called to see if they had a pool and they did not have an indoor pool. I feared, at first, that it would be kind of run down and we’d get a smoking room. But no! It was a really, really nice place. In fact, we were kind of sad we didn’t get more use out of it. So hooray for Priceline and hooray for Hyatt Place!

It was especially lovely that it was a nice place b/c our trip down was a bit grueling. Once we realized we were headed toward beaches at 5:30 on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend (I mean really. What were we THINKING?), we decided to take the back roads. It couldn’t be that much longer, could it? Yes. The answer is yes, it can. The drive to Culpepper was nice, light traffic, pretty surroundings, but it was 7:30 when we stopped for dinner. The kids were half starved and our waiter was…probably a very nice boy, but perhaps better suited to something back-of-house. It was really odd to be in a restaurant with a smoking section. We’re spoiled here in Maryland. Yay us, boo Virginia. While we were waiting on the food, we played “What’s Missing?” in which one person hides something from the table while all the other players close their eyes. After about three rounds, I turned to Bev and said, “Wow, we must look really devout.” Next time I opened my eyes I gave it the “Great, and the food STILL isn’t here.

God wasn’t all that amused by me because as we left, what had been a vaguely upset stomach progressed to seriously painful gas. We popped over to a RiteAid so that I could get some Gas-X (oh yes, you needed to know every detail) and I asked the clerks within how best one might get to Richmond from there. They told us to go get on 95, which would surely be cleared by now (nearly 9 o’clock) and besides, the road we were on was “dark and windy and all full a deer this time a year.” So another 90 minutes of me gently moaning and Bev coughing herself into stomach muscle pain and Lily sobbing “I want a comfortable bed!” and the other kids saying “Are we almost there?” (having learned that “are we there yet?” gets a “yeah, get out.”), and we found it. Oh, and in case you’ve never ridden with either of us, Bev and I have the worst sense of direction. Getting out of our own town involved turning around twice. So be assured that we passed the hotel up before we found it. Even with an address.

We got to our rooms and collapsed into bed. Julianna was snoring before the other two kids had even reclined fully. Every hour, Ben’s watch went beep! , followed one minute later by Julianna’s watch. Lily woke every few hours, throwing a fit because her arm was asleep. Lucky arm. Molly came to wake us at 8, which had seemed totally reasonable the night before but seemed downright cruel after that night of “sleep.” We went down to the hotel breakfast. I tried to clear away our dishes as the place was packed and we couldn’t tell if there was bus service. I carried the stack and one of the employees said “over there,” gesturing to a doorway. There I found the manager, scraping and stacking into a bus pan. I joined in and he slapped my hand. “Give me that! I can tell you’re a mother.” “These aren’t even from my table,” I told him, “I just needed to tidy.” He laughed, but he didn’t even know how funny that really was.

After investigating what looked like a carnival in a nearby parking lot (it was the end of some kind of Run for Autism [which, really, should be a run from ], I’d place a bet that it was church-related b/c who else would be all festive at 9 am?), we headed for the mine. We passed it, of course, and circled back. I swear it was like we were trying to shake a tail with all the doubling back and sudden veers into driveways. We arrived to find that it was the busiest day in the current owners’ history. And they’d had it since ’97, I think. Waiting in line to pay, we found that the people behind us were from Maryland, also. “Did you camp?” she asked. We told her that we’d been about to, but got a room in Richmond instead. “Ugh,” she said, it’s a terrible campsite. It’s meant for RVs and we have a tent. It’s so rocky you have to wear shoes even in the tent. We arrived late and had to set up in the dark…” We made cooing sounds of sympathy, but what we were thinking was “WOO-HAH! We rule!” It was totally worth the wait in line for that dose of smug. We were so pleased we didn’t even have to tell her that our room was only 20 dollars more than her rocky campsite. She tried to get further sympathy by telling us she and her friend had 5 kids between them, but we were unbowed. Even given that one of theirs was a toddler. They had neither Molly nor Ben, so we were not impressed.

The long line gave us plenty of time to take in all the 700 club stickers and “pray for Jerusalem” posters and wonder just what that notebook we signed in on was going to get us. Finally we got to go hit the dirt. You don’t actually go into a mine, of course, so twice a day a big truck dumps a load of dirt from the mine. There’s quite a large area for digging and cool rocks are all over, so even though there were a LOT of people there, it didn’t feel crowded. The first thing we noticed was that there were huge flakes of mica everywhere and little bits were just part of the dirt, so the very ground was as sparkly as a fairy pony’s paddock. This shot doesn’t fully capture it, but it was just insanely glittery:

glittery dirt

We found a shady spot and had a seat. At first we were selectively digging down and pulling out rocks, but realized we’d never know if we were passing up small nice stones, so just scooped great piles of rocky dirt into our buckets. Lily, hard at work:

I know there's a pony in here somewhere

Each kid had a Home Depot apron and big orange bucket:

Julianna can dig it, y'all

Once it was almost too full to carry, we’d stagger over to the sluice. Because it was so crowded, we had to wait for a screen, but the atmosphere was cheery and it was fun to see what others had found. Once we scored some screens, we sat down to wash off our finds and select the nice stuff.

Sluice newton

Primarily, what we pulled out was amazonite, a really pretty blue-green stone.

my amazonite, at home

There was also a lot of quartz, and amethyst was often embedded in that. I got a pretty nice chunk of amethyst, it’s to the right of the other quartz:

smokey quartz and amethyst

I found a crystal spike, which was cool, but my favorite finds were the garnets. They aren’t big, but if you sit on “Garnet Hill”–which, rather than high-end linens and Eileen Fisher, has actual garnets–you can just pluck them off the surface of the dirt. It really felt like a treasure hunt. I have no idea what I’ll do with these little guys, but I like them:

wee garnets

After we washed that first bucketfull, we noticed that everyone was being herded out of a section of the dig. They were about to dump a new load. Having almost everyone in one area made it clear just how crowded it was. When that load fell, the crowd rushed it like it was the wedding dress sale at Filene’s. Needless to say, we wanted no part of this:

Wait!  I dropped a contact lens!

Seemed like a good time for lunch.

roadside picnics rock

That’s Blair, Julianna, Lily, Brooke, Bev, Molly, and Ben. I do love a roadside picnic. They take me back. Sandwiches warmed by the heat of the car, the faint taste of the WetOnes used to wash your hands…ahh.

Next to our table, we had this thing:

I'll hold it down, you get the net!

It appears to be a furnace powered…

the furnace

traffic light?

turn green already

I mean, I’m no Al Gore, but that seems like a really inefficient use of power.

After lunch, we dug a bit more, but really the fight was out of us at that point. A couple of hours and we were ready to call it quits. A few pictures on the petrified wood in front of the gift shop:

me and the gang

the squids

And back on the road. We were filthy, of course, so we stopped at a truck stop to change. Steve and I have had a long-running joke/observation that, in a Chinese restaurant, the nastier the bathroom the better the food. One or the other of us would come out of the loo and proclaim “This food is gonna be great!” or “I’m not sure we should eat here.” Let me tell you, one look at the bathroom at the truck stop and I was ready to demand the clerk cook me some kung pao. Because it was going to be world class. It was missing only blood spatters to suggest that the cops should be called. We’d have known where to find them–as we were leaving the mine, a police car drove in, calling over the loud speaker “LISA ELIZABETH MILLER! YOU HAVE PARKED ON THE STATE ROAD AND YOU MUST MOVE YOUR CAR. OR I WILL MOVE IT FOR YOU! LISA ELIZABETH MILLER!” Seriously, how horrible must it be to have the State Cops show up, calling you on the loudspeaker, using your bad girl name? Yowsa.

The trip home was a full hour shorter, not even counting the food stop. We went straight up 95 (with only one wrong turn!), stopping outside Fredericksburg to eat at a Pizza Hut. This time we played “I’m going on a picnic” and incurred no wrath. I always forget how greasy and nasty that pizza is. gah. Given that they were packed together for two days, the kids did very well. Bev only had to threaten Molly once and I only had to snarl at Ben once, so whee! It was a lot of schlepping, but it was fun. I’d do it again, but I’d take that one more night in the nice hotel. And I might even drive over to the campground to mock.

If you want to know more about this sort of adventure, check out this article.