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5 Offbeat Roadside Attractions in Shenandoah Valley

A spectacle of parade floats. All photographs by Brennen Jensen.

To see the rest of our Explore the Shenandoah package, including scenic drives, panoramic hikes, and cool caverns, click here.

From fiberglass dinosaurs to Stonewall Jackson’s stuffed horse to Patsy Cline’s ice-cream scoop, Shenandoah is home to some particularly American attractions.

Patsy Cline Historic House

Patsy Cline’s piano.

Stardom for Cline began in 1957 when she sang “Walkin’ After Midnight” on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts—the American Idol of its day. You hear this recording at the Patsy Cline Historic House, which, like the Winchester-born country songstress it’s named for, began humbly: as an ante-bellum log cabin later covered in clapboards and plaster. Patsy spent several pre-fame years here, and period pieces include a white upright piano of the sort she played. Also on view are an ice-cream scoop she used in her soda-jerk days and copies of jaunty cowgirl outfits her mother sewed. And how’s this for humble? To save on heat, Patsy shared a bedroom with her mother, sister, and brother—the last cordoned off by a flimsy sheet. 608 S. Kent St., Winchester; 540-662-5555.

Virginia Military Institute Museum

Little Sorrel.

Dubbed the “West Point of the South,” venerable VMI has birthed some of the nation’s leading military men and, since 1997, women. Its two-story museum tells a proud story. But never mind General Patton’s helmet and the endless cases of firearms—a key attraction is Stonewall Jackson’s stuffed warhorse, Little Sorrel. The undersize gelding was born a Yankee but became a Rebel steed. 415 Letcher Ave., Lexington; 540-464-7232.

Camera Heritage Museum

Thousands of cameras spill across this storefront facility where curator David Schwartz explains the history of image capture, from daguerreotypes to digital. You literally step over a camera that Leni Riefenstahl used for her Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will to view one the Japanese used at Pearl Harbor. Historic wood-and-brass cameras abound, but you’ll also find a plastic Kodak like the one you wielded as a kid. The nonprofit is fundraising for a larger home and hopes to become a Smithsonian affiliate. 1 W. Beverley St., Staunton; 540-886-8535.

Dinosaur Kingdom II

Sorrowful fiddle music plays as the camera pans across a photo of a Civil War soldier. Then a Tyrannosaurus enters. No, this film isn’t by Ken Burns but by Mark Cline—the “Barnum of the Blue Ridge”—a showman and fiberglass fabricator who also made some of the creatures for Dinosaur Land in White Post. The intro “documentary” explains “the Battle of Saur Hill,” wherein Union forces discover living dinosaurs they try to weaponize. Giant-beast boot camp doesn’t go well, as |a subsequent stroll through Cline’s warped kingdom shows all manner of life-size dinos beating up on the boys in blue. Your giggling will drown out the piped-in reptile roars. 5784 S. Lee Hwy., Natural Bridge; 540-464-2253.

American Celebration on Parade

If you’ve seen parade floats only on TV or from within a roadside scrum, here’s a chance to get up close. Parked cheek-by-jowl is a collection of floats from presidential inaugurals and other celebrations. It’s a retina-challenging visual cacophony. Colossal polar bears, ducks, elephants—giant giants such as a Rose Parade genie whose arms are 47 feet across. You’ll also see how the poor drivers in the bowels of the beasts couldn’t see at all and relied on radio guidance. 261 Caverns Rd., Quicksburg; 540-477-4300.

This article appears in the October 2017 issue of Washingtonian.