Tennessee – November 2017

Whenever we make the 500+ mile trek to Tennessee, we always take advantage of opportunities to explore natural areas.  On a previous trip we visited Percy Priest Lake, and this time we wanted to see Old Hickory Lake, which is northeast of Nashville.

We left home on Saturday, November 18th and started the long drive down I-81 South.

  

  

Near Knoxville, TN we turned west on I-40.

  

  

We knew the weather was going to take a turn for the worse (indeed–there were tornado warnings that night!), but aside from some rain and mist, we made it safely to our destination by late afternoon.

  

On Sunday afternoon, we made a quick return visit to Papa Turney’s BBQ at Nashville Shores on Percy Priest Lake.  As “Papa” was telling Wayne about a guitar he’d had made, they were both surprised when Wayne told him that he knew the guy who’d made the pickups for it.  Small (musical) world!

View of the marina from the restaurant:

  

On Monday, we took the “scenic” route (avoiding the interstate) towards Old Hickory Lake.  Our first stop was at the visitor center at the Rockland Recreation Area on the northwest side of the lake, just west of the town of Hendersonville.

  

  

  

Continuing east, we next went to Henderson Memory Gardens cemetery.

Unlike other mini-vacations that involve cemetery visits, this time it wasn’t for the purpose of doing genealogy research. 🙂

  

Instead, Wayne left a guitar pick on the grave of John R. Cash, better known as Johnny Cash.  He and June Carter Cash–as well as their other family members and friends–are buried in the Hendersonville Memory Gardens.

  

  

  

After paying our respects to “the man in black” and his family, we drove a little further east to the Avondale Recreation area.  What a pretty place for a picnic lunch!

We’d seen several Great Blue Herons already, but this one was close enough to get better pictures.

  

  

  

After leaving Avondale, we went through the town of Gallatin toward Bledsoe Creek State Park.  There are so many state parks in TN, but this was the first time we’d had a chance to go to one.  We were very impressed with the campground, scenery, and wildlife!

  

  

  

  

  

  

Hundreds of birds were flying back and forth, back and forth across the water, from one group of trees to another.  I’m not sure what the point was, but they seemed to be enjoying it!

As we drove back to our hotel on the south side of I-40, we again noticed mountains in the distance.  I haven’t been able to figure out exactly where these are or what they’re called.  They remind me of our Blue Ridge Mountains.

The map below shows the route we took and the stops we made around Old Hickory Lake.  As you can tell, we really just saw a fraction of it!  (To view an interactive map, click here.)

All too quickly, though, it was time to head back up the road to Virginia.  We left early on Tuesday morning, hoping to get home before dark.

  

  

  

  

During the last 20 miles or so of the trip, the late afternoon sunlight set the hillsides ablaze with beautiful fall colors.  I always think of my mother when the leaves turn orange, ochre, gold, and rust. Most of my mom’s clothing choices were similar in color to the mountain’s autumn palette, and these tones certainly complimented her dark auburn hair and green eyes….

  

  

Both of my parents loved fall–it was their favorite season–and they would have truly enjoyed the things we saw and the places we went on this trip.   Most importantly, they would have loved seeing their absolutely adorable great-grandchild!

Having the opportunity to spend some time with this beautiful little boy, my oldest son, and my daughter-in-law was the real reason for our trek to Tennessee, and the very best part of the time we spent there!

 

  

While I certainly wish we lived closer and could visit more often, on this Thanksgiving Day I’m very thankful that we’ve been able to see them as often as we have over the last several months.  And until our next long drive to and from Tennessee, I’ll remain thankful for pictures, videos, and FaceTime! 🙂

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Augusta County, Virginia – October 28, 2017

With rain in the forecast for Sunday, we decided to take advantage of a pretty Saturday to check out the fall colors in the Shenandoah Valley.  An interactive map that shows our route is here, and you can click on any of the pictures for a larger view.

First, west on Rt. 250 to Waynesboro, VA….

  

We could have stayed on 250, but opted to take Rt. 254 towards Staunton because it’s such a pretty, rural drive.

  

  

We got back on Rt. 250 in Staunton, and continued driving west.

  

We planned to go to Elkhorn Lake, a 54-acre reservoir in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.   Based on some of the pictures we’d checked out before we left home, it looked like it would be an interesting place to visit.  (A blogger and kayaker shared this post in 2009: http://www.virginiapaddler.com/2009/05/elkhorn-lake-may-2009.html)

We turned on Braley Pond Road, and a sign said that Elkhorn Lake was 7 miles.   I neglected to note the odometer reading when we made the turn, but we drove past a few homes, hunting cabins–and hunters–and then passed a sign that said, “End State Maintenance.”

The paved road soon turned to gravel, and it got steeper and more rugged.  While we generally like back roads, we’ve come to learn our limits.  Perhaps we were close to the lake, or perhaps we still had a mile or two to go, but ultimately we decided it would be best to play it safe and turn around.

As we headed back down Braley Pond Road, we decided to stop AT Braley Pond.  It was just a tiny blip of blue on the GPS, so we were surprised by the number of cars in the parking lot.

  

Stocked with trout, apparently it’s a favorite fishing spot for the locals.  Pretty place!

  

  

  

  

When we got back on Rt. 250, I was ready to turn east toward home, but Wayne wanted to stop by Mountain View General Store, which was less than a half mile west.  (We’ve stopped there before.)

Well, I guess it was meant to be, because just as we walked into the store, I heard someone say, “Hi, Wayne!” What?!

It turned out to be a friend of Wayne’s who used to live in Richmond, but now lives in Augusta County.  He’d just stopped in to put gas in his car before heading home, and we would have missed him if we’d been a few minutes later.  What a coincidence!

While Wayne was talking to him, two more people we knew walked in the door!  These were friends from our side of the mountain, and they were coming back from a drive to Monterey, VA.  Too funny–50 miles from home in rural western Augusta County, and yet there we all were. 🙂

When we got back to Staunton, we drove through Gypsy Hill Park, and then stopped at Wright’s Dairy-Rite for a milkshake.

Across the road from Wright’s is the former Western State Hospital.  The buildings–many of which were built in the 1820s and 1830s–are being converted into condominiums, and towards the back of the property is the Western State Hospital cemetery.

Access to the cemetery is restricted, but somewhere on this lonely hillside–among the nearly 3000 lost souls who are buried there–is the grave of my great-great-great grandmother….

  

At the time of each burial, a code number was painted onto the grave marker to identify the deceased while protecting his or her identity.  Unfortunately, the numbers have washed off or faded away over the years, and most of the markers now carry no information at all.

From state records, I know that my ancestor, Mary “Polly” Anderson Fox, was buried in “Row 9, #27” but I’m not sure that I would ever be able to find out–with any certainty–exactly where she is buried.  Sadly, markers have fallen over or crumbled, trees have grown up and pushed over the markers, and time has not been kind to this cemetery on the hill….

As we got closer to home, we stopped at the overlook on Afton Mountain and were treated to these late afternoon views.  I think our Rockfish Valley–home to so many of my ancestors–is beautiful in every season!

  

  

  

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Old Friends, New Friends; Changing Seasons – October 7, 2017

Our Saturday outing started with a drive down I-64 East, where the first hints of fall color were on display.

On this beautiful October morning as we drove past previously green fields where combines were now harvesting dusty brown cornstalks, I reflected on how our lives are like seasons, too.  Blessed to have reached our metaphoric “Autumn” years, Wayne and I–like most people our age–have experienced love and losses, joys and sorrows, health and illness, and many of the other beautiful/terrible things that life has to offer.  Who we were in our early years (which we didn’t share), has allowed us to become who we are now, and one can hope that we’ve gained a bit more compassion, wisdom, and peace along the way. Perhaps we’ve en-lightened up some, too. 🙂

So with these thoughts in mind, we reached our designated meeting place.  A few minutes later, Kate arrived.

Sweethearts in the late 60s, their lives had ultimately taken them in different directions.  They met again in the 1980s, when Kate (with her husband and young children) and Wayne (with a girlfriend, who would later become his wife) got together for dinner.  Their relationship–and the “season” of their lives–had changed, but their underlying friendship remained.

 

And so after nearly 35 years–in a relationship spanning close to 50 years!–here they were again, and the smiles tell it all!  As we enjoyed a delicious breakfast at a gourmet market, there was so much laughter, so many memories shared, and so many stories told–both old and new.  And just as old friendships were reaffirmed, new ones were made; it was a truly delightful morning. 🙂

With hugs and kisses all around, we finally said our fond goodbyes–“until the next time.” Still smiling from this sweet reunion, Wayne and I decided to make a day of it by visiting another old “friend,” the James River.

  

Due to the late summer/early fall drought, the water level was extremely low.  We could see so much more of the river banks, and rocks that were usually hidden below the surface were in plain view.

  

  

The nearby Hardware River was even lower….

  

  

We drove further west on Rt. 6 to see how the James looked in the town of Scottsville.

  

Wow, we knew it was low, but seeing someone actually wading across it was just crazy!

  

We can always find things to photograph:

  

  

That said, I’m not quite sure what this was about….

Finally it was time to head home, after a day well spent.

  

Thankful for the friends and experiences that continue to enrich and shape our lives, we know the truth of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous quote: “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

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Westmoreland State Park – September 30, 2017

It had been almost exactly four years since we’d visited Westmoreland State Park on the Potomac River.  It’s one of the longer day trips that we’ve done (it’s close to 3 hours, one way), but as we knew after the first visit, it’s well worth the drive!

We took I-64 East to Louisa, VA, and then back roads the rest of the way.

  

First view of the wide Potomac River once we were in the park:

It was in the mid-60s and incredibly windy.  This made our picnic by the river a bit of a challenge, but it was so amazing to see whitecaps and big waves on the Potomac!

  

View to our left, and view to our right….

  

 

Two things we love about this park: the cliffs that rise up from the river, and the Bald Eagles!

  

After our lunch of deli sandwiches, chips and dip, we drove back up towards the visitors center to take the trail down to Fossil Beach.

The trail is just a little over a half mile long.  The first part is fairly level, then there’s a long downhill stretch towards the beach.  (Strange how it’s ALL uphill on the way back!  😉 )  Alrighty…. With our walking sticks in hand, off we went.

  

An uprooted tree was beside the trail…

And it’s been so dry here recently that some parts of the path were actually cracking.  We really need a few days of rain….

Towards the bottom of the trail–still in the forest–there’s a marshy area where tall, green spikes and fronds grow in brackish water.  Wayne said it was easy to imagine seeing a Stegosaurus or some other prehistoric creature in this primeval part of the park!  A short distance later, however, the trail opens into a large, sunlit marsh.  A boardwalk leads to an elevated observation platform.

  

  

 

Our next stop was Fossil Beach.  Aptly named, visitors frequently find fossilized sharks’ teeth and other treasures that have been washed up.  There were several people on the beach using screens and colanders to sift through the sand.

Before our first visit here, I had no idea that this type of scenery could be found in Virginia!   And given the wild wind and the crashing waves, I had to keep reminding myself that I was on the banks of a large river, and not at the ocean!

  

 

“Oh, look!  More Bald Eagles!

  

  

If First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach is our favorite state park, Westmoreland is easily our second favorite park….

  

  

  

  

  

We stayed much longer than we’d originally intended, but finally, reluctantly, we started back up the trail.  I mentioned that it’s a steady uphill climb? Alrighty….

  

We took our time and paused often to take pictures.

  

Just after starting the climb, a couple passed us as they headed up the trail.  We all said hello and exchanged a few pleasantries, but they were definitely moving faster than we were!  A little while later, the man came back down the trail because he wanted to make sure we were okay!  Ah, the kindness of strangers, found even in the woods on the banks of the Potomac River. <3

As we huffed and puffed our way up the hill, I said it would be nice if our little travel trailer was set up and waiting for us in the Westmoreland campground instead of having a 3-hour drive home to look forward to.   Oh well, maybe some day!

Once we reached the top of the hill, we took advantage of a conveniently-placed bench to catch our breath for a few minutes.  The rest of the trail really is an easy walk. 🙂

  

The late afternoon sun was filtering through the trees, and Wayne said he could almost imagine we were nearing the “Emerald City.”

  

There were very few fall colors in the leaves, and the rich, lush green tones were all around us.  Some say that the color green is associated with the heart chakra, and with that thought in mind, we paused, joined hands and said a quick prayer of healing for my cousin’s husband who’d had quintuple bypass surgery the day before.  <3

When we arrived back at the visitors center, we again marveled at the view, watched more Bald Eagles riding the wind currents, and photographed a display of fossils that have been found at Westmoreland State Park.

  

We drove through the campground before leaving the park (nope, darn–our trailer wasn’t there!), then started the long drive home.

  

  

When we stopped at a convenience store north of Mineral, VA for coffee and water, I noticed that the moon was rising in the too-dark too-early Autumn sky.

Beautiful traveler….

About 10 hours and 266 miles later, we pulled back in the driveway.  As always, we were thankful–sincerely thankful–for a safe journey, and for having the strength, ability, and resources to be able to visit these wondrous places around our state.

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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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