A long-time friend, dating back many decades, once quipped that “family vacation” is an oxymoron.  Whether one agrees with this assessment or not, managing hours of travel with young children can be a challenge.

A long-planned visit with family in Washington, D.C. had the fortuitous timing to include a road trip to view the total solar eclipse.  It was, for me and millions of others, an awe-inspiring event, one that will not happen again in the continental U.S. for another 20 years.

Fallingwater, PA

This was the right kind of family vacation and road trip, the kind that included multiple stops along the way to experience new sights and landscapes.  Our final destination was Ashtabula, Ohio, on the shore of Lake Erie.  My son-in-law and I played the game of “what states have you been to” along the way.  I had been to more than half of the fifty states, and was able to add two new ones on this trip.  My daughter sat behind us entertaining my grandson, their almost two-year old toddler.  Keeping a toddler happy in the car for hours is not easy, but she was largely successful.

The countryside of Maryland and eastern Pennsylvania included rolling green hills and forests filled with trees with bare branches.  Emerging buds, however, signaled the end of winter.  Lovely, well-groomed farmhouses and barns, many with matching silos, and extensive grounds populated with cows, horses, goats, chickens, and more, dotted the roadside.

We took a lunch break in Cumberland, Maryland, a historic small town, population under 20,000.  Not too many places were open on a Sunday, but the Corner Café and Tavern hit the spot.  This hospitable place had a bit of everything – breakfast and lunch fare and a charming and efficient staff member who also prepared the food, and served dually as barista and bartender. 

My grandson was more than ready to explore, taking a toddler walk with his mom.  Time did not allow for exploring the scenic railway or the many historic buildings and churches in Cumberland, but it is a charming town, well worth a visit.

Next stop was Fallingwater, a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935 for the Edgar J, Kaufmann family.  Fallingwater is a National Historic Landmark and inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2019.  Wright designed it as a vacation home for the Edgar J. Kaufmann family, owners of Pittsburgh’s largest department store. Funding for its preservation is provided by private donors and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

The house, with its straight, clean lines, and ample outdoor spaces, is built over water, using reinforced concrete, gravel, and stonemasonry.  Due to decades of water incursion and deterioration, much of the material has been replaced over the years, with the addition of steel rods for reinforcement. Toddlers are not allowed inside the house at Fallingwater, but the estate includes 5,100 acres of land, including a nature trail, which made for a lovely walk.  Our toddler, who loved looking at the water and touching it where it spilled over paths, hiked much of the trail alongside the river to where freight trains pass through.

Pittsburgh, PA was our final destination for the day.  Pittsburgh is not what I thought it was, a hub of manufacturing and steel production.  It is, rather, a small, picturesque city, population 303,000 (the greater Pittsburgh area includes over 2.3 million people).  Key industries include advanced construction, technology, including climate tech, robotics, and AI, and health care.  There are parks and museums, and lots of space for a toddler to run in.  Our hotel featured a restaurant, bar, and game room.

Pittsburgh, PA

The drive the following morning featured more rolling hills, with the farms noticeably larger and more upscale.  Horses and vineyards came into focus as we traveled west, eventually reaching Ashtabula.  Crowds were already gathering on the beach of Lake Erie, but we reached a neighborhood spot with a grassy overlook of the lake. 

Our nearest neighbors on the grass were a couple from North Carolina, toting their cat in a carrier, now exploring the grass on a leash.  A young man lay nearby on his back, his two calm dogs by his side.  We spread out a blanket, indulged in some snacks, keeping our solar glasses at the ready as the eclipse was already taking place.  Looking up at the sky, the view of the moon moving across the sun was picture perfect. 

I read one account from a group who viewed the eclipse in silence, totally awe-struck.  That did not happen in most places, including Ashtabula.  At the point of total eclipse, the crowds cheered and clapped their approval, one gigantic whoop breaking the stillness.  We have all seen stunning photos of the eclipse, but seeing it in person was a completely different experience.  It was the stuff of myths and magic. 

I asked the fellow with the dogs how they reacted to the event.  “They were more interested in the cat,” he said with a shrug.  Afterwards, people in the surrounding homes stayed in their lawn chairs, continuing to share the day with friends and neighbors, but visitors packed up quickly.  Traffic was heavy on departure. 

Lake Erie, Ashtabula, OH

After another night in Pittsburgh, our last stop was Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia.  This too is a charming town, but by necessity, our visit was short.  After a walk along the Shenandoah Canal, heavily populated with snapping turtles, we reached the center of town, admiring the historic buildings and reproductions of the old shops, including a bookstore.  And then it was time to head back to National Airport in D.C. 

The best part of family vacation, despite the beautiful scenery and historic locations, was spending time with and enjoying family.  As one friend of mine noted, “But the best part is that those kids like/love gramma enough to take her along.”  Indeed.  And that is not an oxymoron.

Solar eclipse, Ashtabula, OH

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. What a wonderful journey for you and your family. What a fantastic grandma you are!

    1. Thanks, Michelle. It was a wonderful trip!

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