Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Hiking --always part of the Plan


 Gentle readers will recall that these two septuagenarians had gleefully agreed to host their attractive and preternaturally agile granddaughter for a Spring Mountain trip.  She reports:

The hiking went well. I even got the Grands to take off on a rocky, uphill 5 mile adventure and no one complained the whole time.

That complaining starts HERE with the uphill and rocky part. The trail to Russell Field Shelter is convenient to our campsite but it is a Horse Trail and Rocky and Uphill.

OK, not all of it.

   The powers had scribbled a note on the trail sign warning that the shelter was closed due to aggressive bears...ominous music here and sounds of PaPa planning an early turnaround...

Despite portending doom, some folks were having a great time...

Near lunch time, while eating snacks and keeping a weather eye out for marauding bears, we heard the Bear Attack Report from three AT hikers who spent the night at Russell Field with the park's bear expert and another Ranger.  It seems that folks who camp in their tents away from the shelter and keep a food supply handy should not be surprised when a bear snurfles about their tent fabric in the night.  Now when this happens -- and this is the important part -- don't kick the bear in the snout!

And, oh yes.  I think that hike was WAY over five miles...

Hiking on the Blue Ridge

Emilyn continues...

As the temperatures were dropping we decided to head to higher ground at the Mount Pisgah Campground off the Blue Ridge Parkway. There we found our first showers in four days (don't tell Mom) due to our wonky water heater. With our one full day there I was able to convince the grands to take a simple 2 mile stroll through the Frying Pan trail and up a road to get a view of the mountains from a fire tower. The view from the top was well worth it, but it was no casual walk to get there. We had ups and downs and rocks and narrow paths on the clearly seldom used trail. This was followed by a mile up the gravel road where we broke for trail mix and apple before the climb up 8 flights of stairs. We voted to take the road back to our camp where I fixed Snoopy Casserole in our own frying pan...


 The trail is named for the communal frying pan shepherds left hanging in a tree in the gap.

 We are nearly always overdressed to start a's a blood thinner thing...

Emilyn at work on the wonky water heater

After a brief stop at 4,980 ft we descended to Cataloochee for a potentially rain-filled week. Thankfully the forecast was wrong. We had beautiful days of fishing (well, more like casting practice) on the Palmer Branch and exploring trails to the Woody House, Palmer Chapel and climbing up the hill to see the Caldwell Cemetery. The rest of our time was filled with card games and cooking lessons.... I'm getting Meme and Papa in condition for their Maine trip with Anthony who I can only assume has more energy for trails and will want to play just as many games...


 Best trip ever, Emilyn

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Adding Muscle

The pretty young redhead flexed new muscles gained on the rock climbing wall at her campus gym.
I don’t want to have BIG muscles; I just want to be that cute little girl who can lift 100 pounds.  I think I’m pretty close. I put on my Jeep doors yesterday.
Hmm , I thought,  We could really use some muscle around here.
Despite spending an inordinate amount of time on vertical surfaces and mildly alarming her grandmother, Emilyn has completed her Freshman year at Auburn, secured summer employment (climbing on things), and has expressed an interest in joining us in the mountains… Gasp! …for a few weeks before “camp” begins. Her grandparents could not be happier.  We have been home clearing space in the trailer (no climbing ropes, please) adding fishing gear and watching the weather.  Oops, we promised to “camp above the clouds” as we once did with her father, but yesterday’s reports from Mt Pisgah feature snow, wind and temps in the thirties – and that was our R&R stop between shower-less spots in the Smokies.
As usual, a max load of cookies is pouring out of Meme’s oven.  Take that, Muscle Girl.

And so it was for ten glorious Spring days in the Great Smokies, heavy generators were levitated into place, six gallon Jerry cans of water were toted, Grands were led up mountain paths and a young woman fell in love with the places she had been carried in utero just a few short years ago.

In Emilyn’s  words…

As finals were ending and the camping trip was approaching, I was growing more eager by the day. We celebrated Mother’s Day, ran a couple errands around Montgomery and Auburn, and by Tuesday at 11 we were on the road bound for Cades Cove. We had plans of fishing and hiking and driving the loop … to see some bears. The hiking went well. I even got the grands to take off on a rocky, uphill, 5 mile round trip adventure and no one complained the whole time. But the bears, now that part of the trip didn’t really go as planned… We thought we would see a couple bears with a few loops around the cove, BUT we took 7 trips around (morning and evening) and counted up a grand total of 16 bear sightings! I have over 150 pictures to prove it. I will blame the lack of fish I caught on all of the bears being extra active and hungry this week.


BEAR JAMS are part of the experience of riding the Cades Cove Loop. We score ourselves Bonus Points when we find the Bears ourselves. The traffic was sparse in the evenings and we were lucky.  We have the usual collection of pictures –the South end of Northbound Bears,

Bears buried shoulder deep in salad greens


and each displaying a perverse disregard for the assembled photographic talent – but we developed a kind of intimacy with one devil-may-care coyote

and witnessed a bear ignoring a clot of humankind (and the associated odors)  stand bolt upright and stare down our transient coyote.

We saw a HUGE feral pig, an unwelcome first for us in the Cove and unforgettable sunsets.

There were open field wild flowers,

an abundance of turkey,

wide vistas and quiet little paths to leave the rest behind...

...and a certain amount of hi-jinx...

To be continued…

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Virginia is for Lovers

…and apparently it’s for fighters as well. The fighters have been keeping us increasingly occupied of late as we rediscover our country’s rich heritage at National Historical sites.  First, we settled the Civil War at Appomattox then walked the battlefield at Bull Run where it all began.  (Our visit to Bull Run was part of an Airstream Rally with the Washington DC unit. That’s really all I can say about that since “what happens at WDCU…”  Yeah, that’s right.  We sat around in chairs, ATE well and often whilst discoursing learnedly about maintenance issues, real and imagined.) 

Chippokes Plantation lies directly across the James River from the first English settlement in the New World and has been continuously farmed since 1619. When the owners turned the place over to the state, they insisted that it remain a working farm and tossed in the mansion, the furniture, farm equipment and staff who will continue to be employed here in perpetuity.  We chanced upon it and fell in love.   The campground is first class, quiet and well run.  It is just a free ferry ride to the Historic Triangle -- Williamsburg, Yorktown and Jamestown -- but Surry county is pastoral with a population barely 7000. When we wandered away for a day's adventure, returning gave us the same feeling of renewal that our hosts and new Friends of Chippokes spoke of.



Riverhouse Fence in the morning mist


Yorktown Historic Park comes with its own charming village.  NPS restorations, private dwellings, inns, galleries and a nice assortment of touristy stuff just a pleasant walk away.

Imagine taking your morning coffee here...

...or ditching the Airstream for a stay here

The Yorktown Monument is also the start/finish of the Trans America Bike Trail

Virginia Capitol Bike Trail

 Just a few miles from here the transcontinental route follows the Virginia Capitol bike trail from Jamestown to Richmond  paralleling Highway five and the beautiful James River on smooth pavement. We were just a few miles along it when we met Morris, a cheerful Australian and a world traveling cyclist.      

Two legendary cyclists comparing notes

 Jamestown Settlement 

 You may think you have visited the Jamestown settlement – – we did. But if you have not been following the amazing archaeological finds that are being unearthed DAILY, promise yourself another visit. 
Actually, it is a little confusing sorting out the many venues around the Chesapeake offering to put us in touch with the past.  We found the NPS app Chesapeake Explorer helpful for brief descriptions of the attractions, hours and fees. For example, at Jamestown we bypassed the big parking lot with multiple buses at the state run museum.  It is huge and features costumed interpreters, replicas of the original ships and much more.  There is a similar museum near Yorktown focusing on the Revolutionary War as a whole.  Like Colonial Williamsburg, both are richly rewarding and if you bypass these with a grandchild in tow, you must hand in your grandparent card.  We however pressed on to the NPS site which adjoins the Preserve Virginia acreage where the original Jamestown Fort HAS BEEN FOUND. 
 In 1994, a guide at the NPS Jamestown Settlement would have told you that all remnants of the original fort had been washed into the James by erosion. Next door, the Preserve Virginia folks were busy preserving the ruins of the brick church. Only one young archaeology student wondered why the church had been placed, apparently unprotected, outside the fort. He secured permission for a temporary "dig" which is now in its twenty second year and the good stuff is really pouring out of the ground now.  They discovered 88% of the fort still under dry land, found not a few, but hundreds of thousands of artifacts.  
  In the last few years several of the most important finds in the world have been found here. As a visitor you may hear a spellbinding tale from a PV docent, see the artifacts displayed and interpreted in the adjoining

Or, in the summer digging season, stand alongside the pit and watch the archaeologists at work.  (OK, tantalizing TV style teaser.  Cannibalism during the "starving times" at Jamestown.  Bones discovered, age, history and origin decoded and a lifelike facial reproduction ...). It's not carnival sideshow hipe, it's the best work of the most advanced scientific archaeology in the world "right before your eyes"   

OK, there is the idealized, probably not so authentic statue of Pocahontas...


We took other little trips like to Smithfield for the famous ham and she-crab soup and a stroll through their wonderful park and historical homes. We toured the mansion at Chippokes with our  camp host/friend/docent  and visited the brick kitchen with a family of park volunteers, mom and two little homeschooled kids, who wowed us with their  knowledge and poise in sharing it with us. The volunteers here at Chippokes are mostly local folks, retired in this pastoral paradise and giving back from richly diverse lives.  They were, every one, so warm and giving that we know we will return again.