Highways to heavenly sights nearby Driving: Spectacular scenery and offbeat attractions await you along the highways and byways of Maryland and neighboring states.

October 05, 1997|By Joanne E. Morvay | Joanne E. Morvay,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When I was growing up, on Sunday mornings in the fall, my family would come home from church, change clothes and pile back in the car.

Before most people had finished reading their morning paper, we'd be heading off to the great outdoors.

My father would quietly nose his silver Mercury Cougar through what seemed like a suburban wasteland at that time of day, the streets and strip malls eerily empty at 8 a.m.

The farther we got from Rockville, the more relaxed Dad became. We were never quite sure where we were going on those early morning jaunts or if he even had a destination in mind.

But as concrete and asphalt gave way to stands of trees and vast farm fields, we no longer had to ask.

Living in Montgomery County, we had equal access to the scenic beauty of Maryland and Virginia. Sometimes we went to the Catoctin Mountains in Thurmont. Other times we headed south for Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah Valley.

We'd meander on the twisting, winding roads, watching the trees flash by in a riot of scarlet, brown and gold. Dad would point out plants and animals barely discernible to the untrained eye -- deer, pheasant, the occasional fox.

And the man who once asked on a family vacation if I could wait 170 more miles to go to the bathroom because he didn't need to stop for gas yet, would pull in frequently at scenic overlooks and urge us out of the car to share in Mother Nature's glory.

After a leisurely lunch al fresco, we'd head off on a hike or drive to another scenic area of the park. Sometimes we'd stop at a festival -- one of hundreds of families trying to put off thoughts of Monday for just a few more hours.

Most times, the drive itself was enough distraction from the daily routine to sufficiently lift our spirits. Even when we were teen-agers and no longer enthused about socializing with our parents, we rarely complained about Dad's Sunday junkets. After all, they only occurred for about eight weeks in autumn.

Today, work, hobbies and other activities have gotten us out of the habit of taking Sunday autumn drives. But every once in a while, my husband and I manage to slip away -- to nearby Gettysburg in Adams County, Pa., or to meet my parents for a quick overnight stay in West Virginia's picturesque Canaan Valley.

The stress of our lives seems to lift with every mile. And driving our cares away has got to be more cost-effective in the long run than a lot of other ways of reducing tension.

These drives are a combination of personal experience and information provided by tourism officials in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Some offer quite detailed information. Others are general suggestions designed to let you discover the beauty around every bend for yourself.

A sampling of stops and coming events is included. But remember it is the journey itself that is the destination.

Maryland

Fall color in Western Maryland usually peaks by mid-October, according to Mindy Schneeberger, of the state's Office of Tourism Development. Interstates 68 and 70, U.S. Route 40 and alternate Route 40 all offer scenic highway views -- and access to rural roads that provide an even closer look at autumn's beauty.

As the fall colors move east into nearby Central Maryland, here are some tours you might consider:

* Carroll County Tour: Follow Interstate 695 to 795 north toward Westminster. Take the 140 exit for Westminster. Follow 140 through Carroll County to state Route 97 north. The rolling hills make for pretty views and an exciting drive.

Take a left on Pleasant Valley Road for a scenic side trip. The road twists and turns past farms and streams before ending up in the tiny burg of Pleasant Valley. You can return the way you came or follow Pleasant Valley Road out to state Route 140. Take a left to head toward Westminster or a right to go to Taneytown.

If you opt not to head to Pleasant Valley, follow Route 97 to the historic Union Mills Homestead, a working gristmill and restored home open on weekends through the fall. After visiting, head north once more to Silver Run and then on to Littlestown, Pa.

In Littlestown, turn left on state Route 194 and follow it down through Pennsylvania for a brief time until you're back in Maryland. At the square in Taneytown, turn left. You're back on Route 140. Follow it down to the traffic circle and go all the way around to stay on 140 toward Westminster. This will lead you past the fruit-packing plant at Baugher's Orchard, which sells cider, fresh-baked pies, the fruits of fall and craft items.

Or take the turn exactly opposite where you enter the circle and follow the Old Taneytown Road down to Westminster. This was the only way to get to Westminster until the 1960s. Antiques shops in Frizzellburg are among the interesting stops. Kids will squeal over the dairy cattle in many pastures.

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