The 5th day of our USA road trip was essentially a travel day between Washington DC and Luray, with a couple of activities thrown in (as it is only about a 2 hr 15 min drive from one hotel to the other). Upon arrival in Luray it was the Best Western Intown Luray hotel which we stayed in (watch the ramp as you drive in or out of the main route in as it is quite steep with a dip in the road before hand so it bumps your under-carriage a little)… From the perspective of an English person (thanks to American TV), this is what you expect a small town motel to be like… Hotel rooms which open out to the car park on 2 floors, all lined up in a row, and a reception & restaurant at the front.
All in all the Best Western in Luray is an OK hotel – it is clean at the very least and has decent facilities in the room, as well as serving an incredible breakfast! Another plus for this hotel is its location. It’s a little bit out of the town but to be honest Luray isn’t exactly huge so it only took 15 minutes or so to walk in to town for dinner and a little more on the way back as it was up hill that way! We ate at the Artisans Grill by the way which was absolutely delicious – just like you expect true American cuisine to be, however I have sadly just seen that this restaurant has closed, which is a real shame!
Day 5 AM – Washington DC
We spent the morning with one thing on our minds – seeing our first ever giant panda! This can be done (along with a large variety of other species including elephants, crocodiles, orangutans, lions and much more) at the Smithsonian National Zoo. This is a free of charge to visit zoo however this does mean that it gets really busy, so you need to get there nice and early. We arrived at around 10:00 am as we got stuck in traffic and a little lost, by which time parking was already incredibly limited. Parking by the way is something which needs to be paid for, but it’s really not too badly priced.
The zoo itself, considering it is free, is really nicely done – especially the big exhibits such as the pandas. You can see that a lot of thought has gone in to the enclosure as well as the theming around it, and that really no expense has been spared. You can easily spend the vast majority of a whole day here, and we spent a good hour or so enjoying the beautiful pandas, which are an absolute joy to photograph. We were actually lucky enough that they even had babies but they were up a tree the whole time so we only ever got to see the odd glimpse of a foot here and there!
The food at the zoo, as you would expect from a day out isn’t overly cheap so we ate on the road to Luray to grab some lunch… Especially as we were also in a bit of a rush to get going to our final destination for that day.
The drive is fairly easy and a nice portion of it is through rural roads which was god, as we had so far only experienced inner city and motorway driving. This was also the first time that we encountered any road kill – but sadly the poor skunk had been hit just seconds before we got there and as we drove past our car instantly filled with the stink of this beautiful looking but terrible smelling animal… So that’s a warning you can take with you!
Day 5 PM – Luray
Luray is not a particularly big place and its main tourist attraction are the caves, however sadly we arrived too late to be able to take advantage of this fact. Instead we decided that we would go to the Luray Zoo as we only had a little amount of time before even that shut, and wanted to go to the Walmart afterwards anyway.
It is a very small zoo, and the price reflects that as it is fairly low… However I am still not convinced that the price is justifiable.
The first thing you see is the reptile collection, which has a huge number of venomous snakes. Now I am a huge fan of reptiles so this area (even though the enclosures were perhaps a little plain – more in a pet shop than zoo style) was pretty impressive, and the animals all looked in great condition. I got the feeling that the reptiles were the real passion for the owners and that maybe this is how they started. The mammals on the other hand were a different story.
I do get that this is a “rescue zoo” where the animals have been given a home after being illegally held or mistreated, however as you walk around the bare primate and small tiger (I’m talking about both the enclosure and the animal in this case), you can’t help but think whether they actually have the resources available to be able to rescue this number of animals. There is room at the park and I am sure that if they stopped taking animals in for a while that they could make a huge number of improvements to the enclosures at the park which were in their construction and style (particularly the capuchin enclosure) at best described as outdated.
We didn’t spend much time here at all as it’s not a hugely enjoyable zoo to walk around, and it would be really nice to see a few improvements made here… I know that they want to give these animals which have come from a ad background a better future (you can see this), but I do just question whether they are able to afford to do so for that number of animals at this moment in time.
Our final stop for the day was the Walmart across the road to get some lunch supplies for the next day, which was set to be pretty much a full day of driving, and I am sad to say that this was our most enjoyable activity we did in Luray… It’s a beautiful town but I wouldn’t have wanted to spend much more time there, and if anything I would recommend that if you are doing the same route as us, perhaps stay in Front Royal, which we actually drove past on this day to get to Luray and would need to drive back to the following day to get to the entrance of the Skyline Drive. We booked our hotels as a package through Tours USA (selling and ATI tour) and as such some of the hotels weren’t quite right for the route we took on this USA road trip.