Blue Ridge Parkway – September 17, 2017

John Muir’s best-known quote is, “The mountains are calling and I must go.”  Living in close proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains–and with easy access to both the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway–we answer that call frequently!

We left late in the afternoon and didn’t really have time to do a long drive, so we opted to go on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Reids Gap, then come back home via the Rockfish Valley.  It’s a very familiar route, but one we always enjoy!  (Link to an interactive map is here.)

Some people go to the mountains to see wildlife, but this is what we saw on the other side of our driveway as we were leaving. 😉

Once we got on the Parkway, we stopped at the Rockfish Valley overlook.  The clouds were pretty impressive, especially the big one in the center.  We didn’t know it at the time, but it was going to be a cloud kind of day. 🙂

  

Zooming in with our cameras, we could see the Sentara Afton Family Medicine building on Rt. 151, and a bit of the Hebron Baptist Church Cemetery.

 

There were lots of milkweed plants and pods at the overlook.  The pods weren’t quite ready to burst open to release their seeds and fluff, but a number of milkweed bugs were feasting on the juices.

We continued driving south on the Parkway, enjoying the views of the Shenandoah Valley, along with glimpses of changing leaves.  Summer is certainly winding down….

  

  

  

  

We stopped at the Humpback Rocks Picnic Area (milepost 8.5), and feeling somewhat adventurous, we decided to walk up the short trail to the overlook. Unlike the long, steep climb up to Humpback Rocks, this is an easy trail, only about 1/4 of a mile long.

  

  

At the overlook:

  

  

An Eastern Wood Pewee paused long enough for me to get a quick picture.

On the far side of the Shenandoah Valley are the Allegheny Mountains.

Starting back down the trail, we saw asters and tree spirits. 🙂

  

  

A section of the 2190-mile long Appalachian Trail crosses through this area, and we paused to take a quick picture on one of the trail markers when we got back to the parking area.  Running from Maine to Georgia, the Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world, with over 3 million visitors each year.

As we continued south on the Parkway, beams of light were shining through the clouds into the Shenandoah Valley to our west.

  

Equally pretty were views to the east. These pictures were taken at the Three Ridges overlook.

  

Just before turning off the Parkway at Reids Gap, we saw another cluster of asters by the side of the road….

  

Route 664 (Beech Grove Road) twists and turns its way down the mountain into the Rockfish Valley.  This picture was taken near the entrance to the Wintergreen Resort.

Once we reached the valley–and really for the rest of the trip home–we marveled at the clouds, and at the interplay of light, shadows, and colors.  Such a beautiful day….

  

  

  

I started this post with the quote by John Muir (1838-1913).  Muir’s work is as urgently relevant today as it was during his lifetime.  He was an advocate for the preservation and protection of wilderness areas, and among his many accomplishments, he and his supporters founded the Sierra Club.  Its mission?

“To explore, enjoy and protect the planet. To practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and to use all lawful means to carry out those objectives.”

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Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch & Shenandoah Valley Back Roads – September 9, 2017

We had a lot to do around the house, but it was one of those beautiful, sharp-focused, low-humidity late summer days when it was simply too pretty to be inside.  I was interested in checking out a fabric warehouse just south of Harrisonburg, Virginia (with the idea of possibly finding fabric for some upcoming projects at school), but as with most of our day trips, the journey is as important (and as much fun) as the destination.

Before we set out on this impromptu adventure, I learned that an open house associated with the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch on Afton Mountain was happening.   Members of the Wildlife Center were going to be there with some of their resident hawks, plus there would be exhibits by various wildlife and birding groups.  It sounded like a good first stop–and it was!

The Wildlife Center had brought a Kestrel and a Broad-Winged Hawk.  What gorgeous birds!!

  

  

  

Wayne isn’t holding the Kestrel (with a short little arm), but from this angle it almost looks like he is. 😉

  

If you go to this page of the Wildlife Center’s website, you can read about Edie (the Kestrel) and Grayson (the Broad-winged Hawk) and learn how they came to be education animals for the Center.

  

The exhibits were interesting, too.

  

  

When we drove down the mountain to Waynesboro, we turned north on Rt. 340 towards Grottoes.

  

And once we reached Grottoes, we turned west on Rt. 256.

  

The expression, “Make hay while the sun shines” was being played out in many, many fields in the Shenandoah Valley.

  

When Rt. 256 intersected with “The Valley Road” (Route 11), we turned north and drove through Mount Crawford.

  

Next, we went took 257 West towards Bridgewater College.  Things change–a lot!–in 35+ years, but it was nice to pull into the parking lot behind Dillon Hall.  I spent 4 years at Bridgewater, the last couple of them in the corner room on the first floor. 🙂

From Bridgewater, we turned north again, this time on Rt. 42.  And yes, that’s a sign that cautions drivers to be on the lookout for horses and buggies.

While we didn’t see any horses on this trip, Dayton, VA is still home to a number of Amish and Mennonite families.

Whenever we’re in this part of the Shenandoah Valley, we always stop by the Dayton Market–and on previous trips we have seen buggies parked in a special area in the parking lot!

  

I’d venture to say that some of the Amish/Mennonite families were shopping here earlier in the day. 😉

After stocking up on some herbs and spices–and lunch at Hanks–we made our way back to Rt. 11 via another scenic cross-through (Huffman Drive).

We found the fabric warehouse across from the Rockingham County Fairgrounds, but unfortunately I didn’t find the types of material I was looking for.  The store is a super resource for people doing upholstery and draperies, but there aren’t as many choices for apparel or purse fabrics.

After visiting Shenandoah Heritage Market (another collection of shops, similar to the Dayton Market), we started for home.  We drove back down Route 11–through Mount Crawford and also through Mount Sidney.  Ah, if these old homes and businesses could talk, given all the history they’ve witnessed….

  

Just before Verona, we chose another “road less traveled” and went east on Rt. 612.  Driving east or west, it’s one of our favorites.

  

  

  

We stopped at the Crimora Park, just to spend a little time by the South River on this delightful day.

  

As always, Wayne enjoyed photographing the colors, reflections, and patterns in the water–capturing and documenting a brief moment in time and space….

  

And as we often do, we paused to “bless the waters” of the river…

  

Ripples of peace, love, and healing.

  

Like most of the rivers in Virginia, the South River has been contaminated by industrial and/or agricultural pollutants.

  

While the DuPont company will pay $50 million in a settlement (news article from 2016 here), residents of Waynesboro question what–if any–help will be offered to their community (news article from 2017 here).

The environmental impact of this (and other) damage to Virginia’s waterways is an ongoing concern.  In addition to changing the songs of birds and in some cases even their color (click here to read an article in National Geographic), the effects of mercury contamination are moving up in the food chain.

Why do I mention this?  Well, partly because we consciously choose to honor, affirm, enjoy, and share the everyday wonders that we see, despite–and sometimes because of–the ugly truths that sometime lie just below the surface. (And on this particular day, we were also well aware of the fires, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, solar flares, and health challenges that so very many people around the world are facing.)

Through purposeful, focused intent–as well as through our actions–we try to contribute, at least in some small way, to positive change.

The need for clean air, clean water, viable seeds, and healthy soil is something we have in common with every other person on the planet–regardless of nationality, ethnicity, politics, or geography.   If everyone were to get outside, get involved, and genuinely care about the natural world, perhaps by working together we could ensure that the scenario portrayed in the cartoon below by Tom Toro would never become our reality…. (You can click on the picture for a larger view.)

With all of these thoughts on our minds, we left Crimora Park, drove back down Rt. 340 to Waynesboro, and then east on Rt. 250.  Instead of following it all the way down to the flat land, we detoured on Rt. 6 and twisted and turned our way down Afton Mountain on another favorite back road.

  

  

After driving through the little community of Avon, we made the turn onto Batesville Road, enjoying an even slower pace through forests and fields on the unpaved road.

  

  

Yes, there were still things on the “to-do” list when we got home, but hey, things do (eventually) get done.  We are always, always thankful for opportunities to explore, experience, and celebrate a beautiful day.

You can follow our route through this interactive map.

 

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Simple Wonders are Everywhere…. September 3, 2017

I only told a couple of people, but I hadn’t seen the “Mama Cat” for nearly 3 weeks.  After happily greeting me every morning, one day she wasn’t there.  And she wasn’t there the next day or the next; she’d simply disappeared.  I tried not to go to “worst case” scenarios, but I know her world as a feral (or at least as a semi-feral) is a dangerous one….

So the first wonderful wonder of the day was when this special kitty girl came running to me this morning when we drove over to feed the cats!  She was purring and kneading and twining around my legs, just as she done before her disappearance.  I have NO idea where she’d been the last 3 weeks, but I was so very relieved to see her!

Wayne grabbed the camera and tried to take some pictures, but she was moving around too quickly to get a clear shot. 😉  But it was a good “feral” morning because we also saw the long-haired black kitty, as well as Orange Girl and Cali-1–four of the six I trapped and had neutered/spayed between December 2016 and March 2017.

As we were leaving, we noticed how the raindrops–that were still clinging to electric wires following yesterday’s rain–were sparkling and glistening in the early morning sunlight.  Behind them, mist was rising from a field.  Simple wonders, perhaps, but we always try to stay open to beauty, wherever its found.

After we got home, I sent yet another email to a woman I’d been trying to get in touch with  on Craigslist regarding some fabric she wanted to sell.  Since early August when the ad first appeared, I’d been emailing her, hoping to get some of it to use in my art classroom at school.  This morning she finally replied.  She apologized for the delayed response and said she was packing and getting ready to move.  As to the fabric, she said if I wanted it, I could just HAVE it, as long as I could pick it up today!  Yes, please!

After getting her address, we drove over the mountain to Waynesboro.  It was a stunningly gorgeous day–especially appreciated after a couple of days of rain–and we enjoyed the familiar drive.

  

  

We navigated to the address the woman had given me, and I was surprised to find not one, not two, but THREE big boxes of fabric on her porch!  She’d left a note on one of the boxes, saying she hoped I’d enjoy it.  I just peeked into two of the boxes, and WOW!  So much pretty fabric–can’t wait to look through it all. 🙂

We stopped by Wal-Mart so I could pick up some thread, zippers, and lining fabric, and this happened.  It wasn’t exactly a dare, but Wayne urged me to try on one of the special masks so he could take a picture.  I guess the “wonder” here is that I actually DID it. 😉

I don’t think I would have bought the tuxedo kitty mask (that was pictured on the large bin of masks), but they only had panthers, tigers, sharks, and raccoons.  Ah, well….

After beheading myself (!) and paying for the things we’d purchased, we drove to a local park.  We visited with a friend and his family that we saw there, and I tried to photograph a spider web that was glistening in the sun, almost the same way as the raindrops on the wires earlier in the day.  I couldn’t get the camera to capture exactly what we saw, but it was nice to see this “prism” effect for the second time in one day.

We went to another park that has a paved path along the river, and we were delighted to see this guy:

  

It flew downstream a ways, but we saw it again as we walked further along the path.

  

Such a beautiful day–not quite 80 degrees.  And bonus wildlife shot; there was a Cedar Waxwing in a tree beside the river.  I rarely see Cedar Waxwings, so it’s always a treat when I can see–and photograph–them.

  

On the way home, we drove up to a parking lot at a visitors center on Afton Mountain.  The center was closed, but-hey-we were there for the views.  And we got them! 🙂

The Rockfish Valley and the Charlottesville area were to the southeast, and the Shenandoah Valley and the Waynesboro area were to the northwest.

  

This panorama shot was taken from left (west) to right (east).  If you click on the picture, you should be able to see a much larger image.

So all in all, it was a day of simple–but beautiful–wonders. 🙂

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Augusta Springs Wetland Park & Goshen Pass – August 27, 2017

A couple of years ago we discovered Augusta Springs Wetlands Park, but with ice and snow on the ground at the time, we knew we’d have to come back another time.  On Sunday morning, August 27th, we decided to visit again.

We got on Rt. 254 in Waynesboro since it offered an alternate, new-to-us route to Staunton, and ultimately to the park.  Any time we can stay off of main roads and interstates–and have pretty, rural views–is a plus. 🙂

  

As we drove through Staunton, I realized we were going right by Anne Hathaway Cottage Tea Room, and I impulsively turned into the driveway.  Why, you might wonder?  Because this property–950 West Beverley Street in Staunton, VA–used to belong to my great-great grandfather, John P. Koontz.

I knew the cottage wasn’t original, but I wondered if the owners had any information about the history of the land and former buildings.  We were told that the cottage had been built about 10 years ago on a site that had become sort of a city dump (!), and they let us wander around a bit on the site.  At first I thought one of these houses (at the back of the property beyond a gate) might have been my great-grandfather’s house, but then I realized they were on Anderson Street and not on West Beverley.

This building, however, which is directly behind the tea house, was intriguing.  Perhaps it’s original, as it’s at the very back of the property against a steep hill.

According to a deed that I found in the Staunton courthouse, the Koontz property (a house and several buildings) was sold out of the family in 1907, two years after John P. Koontz’s death.  I’ll have to see if I can find plats, tax records, and other information about 950 West Beverley Street the next time I go to the courthouse.

We bought some scones at the tea house and thanked the owner for his time and information.   We then continued on towards the park, which is about 20 miles south of Staunton on Rt. 42.

  

  

Before exploring the park, we decided to sample the scones–which were delicious! We also enjoyed the messages that were printed on the underside of the jam lids. 🙂

  

After cleaning up, we looked at a map at the beginning of the walk.

The trail is an easy 2/3 of a mile loop that passes through a variety of habitats.  There were so many flowers and so many colors!

  

  

  

We were in a small meadow at first, and then the trail led through some woods before crossing into a much larger and somewhat marshy meadow.

  

As we walked on the boardwalk over the meadow, we could see the most amazing tree to our right.  Wayne said it looked exactly like something Bob Ross would have painted!

  

When we re-entered the woods on the other side of the meadow, Wayne noticed some odd scratch marks on a bridge.  Made by a raccoon, maybe?

  

Soon we could see the “Bob Ross Tree” again, and we realized it was on sort of an island in the middle of a pond. Interesting that all of the bushes around the base of the tree were the same color!  Does anyone know what type of tree this is?

  

We were delighted to see some wildlife at the pond.  In addition to the ducks, goldfinches, and other birds, a buck was at the far edge, eating some sort of vegetation that he was pulling up out of the water.

  

  

What a pretty place! We opted to just do the “wetlands” trail, but there’s a shorter upland trail that leads to the spring house.  Maybe next time. 🙂

  

  

It was still early in the afternoon, so we decided to extend our day trip by driving further south down Rt. 42 to Goshen, VA.  There we turned east on Rt. 39, which runs along the Maury River.

  

  

The river was about as low as we’d ever seen it in Goshen Pass.

  

Blessing the waters of the Maury River:

  

  

  

After sitting by the river for a while, we drove another mile or so down the road to the overlook above the Maury River.  Sometimes we’ve seen kayakers coming through the rapids here, but with the water level so low, I’m sure it would be hard to navigate now due to all the rocks.

  

As we started for home, we opted to head north on Rt. 252, which is also called the Brownsburg Turnpike.  This scenic byway goes through the little towns of Brownsburg, Newport, and Middlebrook, and while we’ve never stopped in the towns, this is one incredibly beautiful drive!

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

Below is a link to an interactive map that shows our route.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1K0ocZtDbpkaQba0EJ4wbKpufPU4&usp=sharing

We thoroughly enjoyed our day, and we hope you’ve enjoyed coming along with us through our pictures. 🙂

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The Beautiful Ferals – August 8-9, 2017

These cats–basically wild, though they may be–are so pretty!  These are pics from the past couple of days.

Orange Girl:

  

Cali-1:

  

Post-breakfast bathing:

  

  

Still so shy….

Beautiful Mama Cat:

Oh, how I’d love to be able to brush out all of the dull, dead hair from this kitty’s coat:

I didn’t see anyone this morning when I went over to feed them, but after using my standard sing-songy call–“Kitties!  Where are the kitties?”–Mama Cat came running over to me and started rubbing around my legs. (In this pic I have the trail cam in my left hand. I set it up before I left to monitor activity today and tonight around the feeding station.)

There was another new “first” today with the Mama Cat: I picked her up while I was standing and held her for a moment–twice–and then gently put her down.  She didn’t really like it, but even some of my personal cats haven’t liked to be picked up and held.

Wayne got some nice shots of the Orange Girl this morning:

  

She comes closer than she used to, but she is still very, very cautious.

Such sweet girls…. <3

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