Sep 24 2010

With all that Virginia has to offer, we always go to Dinosaur Land.

When you live in the suburban Washington, D.C. area, basically meaning Maryland and Virginia, and you start to look for dentists that have a mercury free practice, as you surely will someday if you have mercury fillings in your mouth, you’ll end up in Ft. Royal, Virginia at the Dental office of Dr. Craig A. Zunka, but that’s another story. At the same time, if you were driving to Front Royal in 2002 with children in the car, you’d end up at Dinosaur Land and eating ice cream at the Royal Dairy, and that’s this story.

When I go on “Back Road Auto Trips,” which are my favorite, I am always trying to subconsciously recreate the outings of my childhood in the 1950s before the Interstate highway system. I long for the trips with my grandmother and her friends who all had pocketbooks with colorful handkerchiefs and rolls of peppermint Life Savers and who doted on me as I tried not to roll around in the car’s big back seat before the days of seat belts. One way or another, no matter where we were headed, we’d be sure to stop for an ice cream cone so, every trip I go on to this day, I am always in search of old fashioned soda fountains with Formica counters and polished chrome.

The beauty of a 1950s road side restaurant menu.

Imagine my delight when a trip to the dentist, not usually something to which one looks forward, became my favorite place to go and that was the day we discovered that Front Royal, Virginia was home to the Royal Dairy. It was the kind of place you’d “just happen to stop by” when you were out for a ride with your grandparents. You know, the kind of place with the big menu encased in thick plastic with brown leather binding that had the center open inside for the changing of the “Daily Specials.” The burger and fries kind of place where the hamburgers were free formed by hand and the lettuce and tomato slice garnish sat next to a pickle spear.

Well, those of you born before McDonald’s will know what I mean and appreciate the trips to old ice cream parlors and malt shops such as the Royal Dairy.

The Royal Dairy could dish up ice cream in any flavor with any topping.

Alas! A deep sadness came over me when I looked up the Royal Dairy to get their link and encourage you to go. After sixty years in business, the Royal Dairy closed in 2006. No more malteds for the kids at Randolph Macon and no more ice cream for us when we travel to Front Royal. I suppose that’s progress and the customers of the new Korean Sushi restaurant are happy to have such an option, but somehow, it’s just not the same.  Do you have a traditional ice cream shop where you live that I could put in my sights? I’d love to know where it is! Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

As you can see, I love to travel back in time and remember things as they were.  If you really want to time travel, as far back as the age of the dinosaurs, then our next stop, Dinosaur Land, is for you. What a great place for the little ones who love dinosaurs and will get excited about great, big dinosaur recreations located on a pleasant walk through a Virginia woods. Of course, you have to love tourist attractions and I do because they are another part of my longed-for past. I’m big on the culture of roadside America, that special time when cars became more dependable and families headed off to sight see in their station wagon.

Dinosaur Land is a big hit with kids discovering their “inner dino.”

If you want a pretty ride through the Virginia countryside with a great destination at the end, try Dinosaur Land out for size. Everyone is friendly and the gift shop has much of interest, including a section for Civil War buffs. If this seems like fun to you, here is a link for more information.

And here is a map of our part of the country in case you need to get your bearings:

The red star is Dinosaur Land, just outside of Front Royal, VA.

When we travel to Virginia, we use a guidebook that lists attractions that are “off the beaten path.” You’ll find Dinosaur Land on page 155, if this type of visit appeals to you. Here’s “our” book:

If this book seems like it would fit your interests, it can be previewed by hovering your mouse over this link:

Virginia Off the Beaten Path, 10th: A Guide to Unique Places (Off the Beaten Path Series)

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