The rural countryside of Virginia was abuzz Thursday afternoon as a motorcade of black SUVs with a police escort snaked its way through the back roads of the Commonwealth, carrying First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters on a day trip to visit historical attractions.
Just back from a luxurious vacation in Spain, the Obamas continued their summer fun with a visit to the small town of Luray, stopping for a cheeseburger lunch at a local restaurant before touring the world-famous Luray Caverns.
After the caverns, the motorcade headed south and over the Blue Ridge Mountains to Monticello, the home of Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, located outside Charlottesville. The popular tourist attraction had been closed to visitors earlier in the day in preparation of the Obamas' arrival. According to news reports, the visit was a short one with the motorcade exiting the grounds a little after 5:00. A stop was made in Charlottesville for ice cream before hitting the road back to the White House.
Both Luray Caverns and Monticello are approximately two hours from Washington, DC.
To visit both tourist destinations, located about 90 minutes apart, in one afternoon had to mean brief visits to each. One could easily spend half a day just touring Luray Caverns, exploring its underground walkways and caves, and checking out the museum and other attractions.
The same could be said of Monticello. Touring the home and absorbing the history takes a while. Add to that strolling the beautiful grounds of the small mountain overlooking Charlottesville, learning the importance of the vegetable gardens and orchards during colonial times, reading about the various uses of the out buildings, and then visiting the family cemetery where Jefferson is buried.
The getaway to Virginia came at a time when the First Family is under ever-increasing criticism for their extensive traveling and vacationing even as the country is experiencing financial woes and Americans are stressed with many out of work.
All the traveling and extravagance appears to be putting a dent in Michelle Obama's popularity, according to The Washington Examiner's chief political correspondent Byron York, who writes today:
After a widely admired start in the White House, first lady Michelle Obama's popularity is falling and, if the current downward trend in her approval ratings continues, could touch lows not seen since the scandal-tainted days of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
In the new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 50 percent of those surveyed say they have a positive opinion of Mrs. Obama. That's down from 64 percent in April 2009 and 55 percent in January of this year. The first lady's positive rating is barely ahead of her husband's personal approval figure, which stands at 46 percent in the new poll.
Amid all the traveling and the drop in approval ratings, the Washington Examiner's Mark Hemmingway notes that the Obamas will be heading out once again on August 19 for a ten-day vacation to Martha's Vineyard, their fifth since the first of July. U.S. News reported, “The first family has set plans to board Air Force One for a frilly vacation, a 10-day return trip to exclusive Martha’s Vineyard where they are expected to stay at the 28-acre oceanfront Blue Heron Farm that rents for up to $50,000 a week.”
The summer of misery for many is the summer of vacations for the Obamas.