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Dominion Blog

Real World Fall Adventures in Northern Virginia

Posted by Bob Houston on Sep 15, 2023 11:06:37 AM

We need not go far for bad news about how the online world impacts our children. From the 2020 film The Social Dilemma to recent news stories like British Ruling Pins Blame on Social Media for Teenager's Suicide (NYT), the negative consequences of the virtual abyss are increasingly apparent. A great synopsis of the effects on Generation Z (defined roughly as those born between 1997 and 2012) was posted on the Church & Culture Blog last year: What the Online World Is Doing To Us (C&C Blog). One takeaway is that GenZers, or "zoomers," spend an average of nine hours a day in front of a screen, not including schoolwork. Screentime increased dramatically during COVID-19, and that has not changed with the end of the pandemic. In March, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory warning of social media dangers to teens’ mental health. Dr. Leonard Sax, who spoke at a Dominion-sponsored conference a few years ago, argues the Surgeon General did not go far enough. Finally, if experts don’t interest you, actor Matthew McConaughey has some decent advice.

A wonderful aspect of the Dominion community is how families encourage their children to be resilient and different, pushing against what have become sedentary social norms, whether through athletics, music, theater and the arts, reading, hobbies, healthy friendships and real-world social events, time in the natural world, or exploration and travel. Dominion’s principals have emphasized this in communications and at back-to-school nights. Additionally, despite the traffic and cost of living in the DC area, this area offers much in the way of family fun and personal growth. 

With all this in mind, here are a few ideas for fall adventures:

The Battle of Cedar Creek Reenactment, held October 21-22, is one of the largest Civil War reenactments anywhere and is recommended for two reasons: 1) It is near Strasburg, VA, so very accessible, only an hour west of Fairfax, and 2) The land is held in a private foundation, so it is one of the few reenactments held on the actual battlefield. Most Civil War battlefields are national or state parks, which do not allow such activities. While Cedar Creek may be a lesser-known action, it was significant because the Union victory there in 1864 ended any hope of a final Confederate offensive against Washington. More importantly, historians believe it contributed significantly to President Lincoln's reelection over General George McClellan just three weeks later. Had the war-weary population chosen Democrat McClellan over Republican Lincoln, the Civil War might have concluded differently, but what a tribute to our Republic that we still held an election in the midst of an internal conflict that would kill 600,000 - 800,000 of our countrymen.

The Adventure Theater at historic Glen Echo Park, just over the American Legion Bridge in Maryland, is a children’s theater offering You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown in September and October, and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe in November and December.

Turning to science, the next Astronomy For Everyone night at Sky Meadows State Park (45-minute drive) is this Saturday, September 16, and continues monthly through December. Sky Meadows was recently designated an “international dark sky park.” The astronomy nights begin with a short children's "Junior Astronomer" program, followed by a NASA presentation. Once dark enough, the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club provides a night sky tour and allows guests to look through its members' telescopes. The 9/16 astronomy night occurs after a new moon, so the sky should be dark enough to see lots of cool things.

Sky Meadows Park also has some nice hiking trails of varying lengths and 18th/19th-century historical sites if you arrive earlier. It is a great place for a hike at a decent elevation if you don’t want to drive all the way to the mountains.

The DC area has a plethora of museums. But, perhaps because it is so new - with a 2020 opening in the middle of a pandemic - the National Museum of the United States Army at Ft. Belvoir can be off the radar. It depicts the Army's history from the revolutionary period to today using various media and is well worth a few hours. So as not to play favorites, the National Museum of the Marine Corps is fantastic too, just a little more of a trip to Quantico.

Like airplanes? The Flying Circus Airshow in Bealeton, a few miles south of Warrenton, runs every Sunday afternoon from May through October. It is a comedic barnstorming show of the type popularized in the interwar period - one of the last such shows still operating in the United States - with biplanes, stunts, wing walkers, and skydivers. Airplane rides also are available for purchase after the show. The Bealeton area is beautiful in the fall. An aviation bonus, though of the more modern variety: Gravelly Point Park. This Arlington location is one of the best in the country for commercial airplane spotting and watching. Air traffic in and out of Reagan National passes a mere 100-200 feet over your head.

Throughout the area, apple and pumpkin picking options abound.

Skyline Drive, one of the country's premier destinations for fall colors, is an easy day trip. Numerous overlooks and walks/hikes for all skill levels are accessible from the road. Check the Shenandoah National Park site for updates on the leaves, remembering the colors will peak at higher altitudes before they do here. Nobody would 'ever' suggest playing hooky from school or work on a weekday, but be aware that fall weekends can be very crowded in the park. If you go on a weekend, best to get an early start.

Colvin Run Mill, just off Route 7 in Great Falls, is one of those historic sites the guidebooks often forget. The fall is full of events and demonstrations at the mill - blacksmithing, grinding, cider making, wood carving, harvest day, and more.

The Museum of the Bible has current special exhibitions exploring “Scripture and Science,” Through Gates of Splendor: The Elisabeth Elliot Story, and A Journey of Faith: Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome.  In December, Keith and Krystyn Getty will be at the World Stage Theater for Sing! An Irish Christmas (tickets going fast.)  Prince Caspian opens there in March.

The brand new Capitol One Hall at Tysons offers a variety of entertainment and recreation, including The Screwtape Letters stage show this weekend and country star (and U.S. Army veteran) Craig Morgan later this month.

Last but not least, Cox Farms Fall Festival, a staple of Dominion field trips in years past, opens this weekend and runs until early November.

A great resource for local events is Northern Virginia Magazine.

Other ideas?  Leave a comment below and join the conversation! 


Topics: Family Fun