Day 63 – Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia Part 2)

The dogs and I headed back to the Blue Ridge Parkway to continue south to the border of Virginia and North Carolina before jumping off to visit parts of eastern Tennessee.  The next two stops on the Parkway included Smart View and Mabry Mill.  Reader’s Digest explains the names of each stop fit the description mountain folk applied ages ago.  Given all the stunning views I enjoyed yesterday, I couldn’t imagine what a right, smart view would include.  In this instance, I was taken more to the view of the old, log cabin perched on the hillside than the vast vista of mountains beyond.  After a short walk around the picnic area, the dogs and I moved on to Mabry Mill.

From 1910 to 1935, Ed Mabry ran the mill, a blacksmith shop, and a woodworking shop just to name a few of the businesses that contributed to his reputation as the man that could “fix most anything”.  The mill building, separated into three sections, housed a sawmill, a gristmill, and a woodworking shop.  In the gristmill, Mabry only ground corn as opposed to some of his competitors which also ground wheat.  He used his sawmill during the rainy times when the water flow increased and used his jigsaw and other tools in the woodworking shop to produce wagon wheels.

The site also included a whisky still to brew moonshine and a mule powered sorghum mill and evaporator used to yield molasses.  I found these items interesting as I had never seen the apparatus.  Next to each display a sign documented the production process.

To make moonshine, cornmeal, malt, and sugar are mixed with water and fermented in barrels for several days to almost two weeks.  The fermented mash (beer) is heated in the copper still.  The vapor is then transferred to a flake stand which contains a spiral tube (also known as the worm) that is immersed in a constant flow of water.  The worm condenses the vapor into liquid which flows into another barrel to hold the corn whiskey.

Sorghum molasses became popular during the Civil War when sugar and corn syrup supplies diminished.  A mule, attached to a ten foot sweep, walks in a circle to operate the rollers to which stalks are fed.  The rollers extract a bright green juice that is strained and then cooked for several hours in an evaporator.  Ten gallons of juice produce one gallon of syrup which is bottled once it reaches the proper consistency.

The morning was also the last of the sunlight, as the afternoon brought thick thunder clouds and rain.  The mutts accompanied me through two hours of rain past the first few stops I planned to make in Tennessee, including Watauga Lake and Cherokee National Forest.  Given my recent luck with National forests, the rain was probably a blessing!  And as for the lake, the magical setting created by low hanging clouds over a jade colored water surrounded by mountains was in perfect view through VANilla’s passenger window.

While searching for the next Walmart in Elizabethton, I stumbled across a historic site that I plan to visit in the morning.  In the meantime, I enjoyed a spinach salad at Fatz Café before camping in the parking lot for the night.


Day 62 – Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia)

Yesterday’s post in Virginia…

Today the dogs and I started down the Blue Ridge Parkway which connects to the south end of Skyline Drive through the Shenandoah Valley that I completed last week. The drives, similar in scenery, were quite different in other ways. Skyline Drive passes through a National Park where a toll booth marks a limited amount of entry and exit points…I believe three in total. As such, the Skyline Drive area is more pristine. With signs identifying activities such as picnicking, hiking, and camping, the Blue Ridge Parkway is slightly more commercialized, though still an extremely natural area. In addition, many more exhibits line the area such as self-guided geological trails, Appalachian farm houses, and a rebuilt logging railroad the dogs and I visited today. A nice feature at most trailheads included a sign posted with the mileage and approximate time to complete the trail…a bonus for me as I didn’t have any trail maps.

For much of the drive I passed beneath brown leaves fluttering to the ground,

Otter Creek (mentioned later in post)

but occasionally I crossed through regions where the hemlocks, hickories, maples, and oaks ranged in colors of green, red, yellow, orange, and brown. I’d have to use the names of crayons from the 128 count box to describe the appropriate shades…raw umber, goldenrod, neon carrot, mango tango, laser lemon, burnt orange, maize, orange red, sunglow, scarlet, burnt orange, forest green, and mahogany to name a few. I wanted to pull off the side of the road so many times for a photo; however, the turnouts tended to be in overlook areas where the winter weather had already arrived as opposed to the protected sections of the forest. The overlook areas provided brilliant views of their own. Green valleys separated mountain tops covered in crimson red trees….nature’s version of Christmas decorations.

The drive passes by several creeks, waterfalls, springs where pioneers brewed moonshine, lakes, rivers, and even the Kanawha canal. The dogs and I took a few walks by the water. We first strolled by Otter Creek, which tumbles ten miles down the Blue Ridge to the James River, and around Otter Lake. Lily pads covered the edge of the lake as Bluegills hovered beneath the fishing dock waiting for tourists to drop some bread.

Before exiting the Parkway in Roanoke to visit a distant relative, Quinn, we took one last 1.6 mile loop trail by Fallingwater Cascades. As we walked 2,000 feet, mostly down, I knew a nice uphill climb awaited us before reaching the parking lot. Aside from Scout beginning to feel puny toward the end, a moderate hike was an exuberant way to finish the day.

We spent a delightful late afternoon and evening with Quinn. Over a home cooked meal of steaks, potatoes, and salad, I learned all about the business of auctioning farmland…quite fascinating! To top it off, I got to see the Cowboys play for the second time this season (both games against the Giants), and surprisingly they squeaked out a win!

antietam national battlefield

Day 55 – Maryland Panhandle

Day 55 of Year Long Roadtrip Following Scenic Byways in the USA

How about waking up to this sunrise every day?  At least I got to wake up to it for a day.  Not only did I see a beautiful sunrise, but also homemade cranberry scones, compliments of Katherine!  What a cook.  Just watching her, I learned a few tricks to try a year from now when I have an oven again. Continue reading “Day 55 – Maryland Panhandle”

Day 54 – Skyline Drive through Shenandoah Valley Part 3

Can you find a snowflake?

I woke up to what I’d have to call Texas snow…oh, there’s a snowflake…5 seconds later, oh, there’s another one!  Lucky for me, it was light and nothing stuck.  I would have liked to take a few pictures of snow dusted mountains, but at the same time I wanted to be able to depart when planned.  The ranger told me, depending on how much it snows, they have all campers wait until the roads are plowed and then the campers are directed to the safest exit which might not be in the chosen direction.

Deer were out in mass this morning.  I saw at least twenty doe and three bucks on my way to our hike in the Skyland Area, the highest point of Shenandoah National Park.  We hiked the Millers

Appalachian Trail Marker on right

Head trails, a 1.6 mile out and back walk for a scenic view.  Today we enjoyed several scenic views as the overlooks were fog free today, though the clouds started rolling in, so I didn’t really make out the eye, nose, mustache, and beard of the Stony Man Mountain.

It’s hard to believe at one time this region was largely deforested by farmers, loggers, and hunters.  It was in 1926 when Congress authorized the area as a National Park and in 1931, to spur economic growth, President Herbert Hoover approved construction of the Skyline Drive along the crest of these Blue Ridge Mountains.  The only tunnel on the drive, known as Marys Rock Tunnel, is a 600-foot-long corridor carved through granite.


I kept trying to geocache while in the mountains, but none were located on the trails we took.  On our way to Berryville, where my cousin Katherine lives, I passed by a cemetery and old church which looked like a good place for a cache to be stashed.  According to the geocaching app on my phone, a cache called “Old Chapel” was nearby…yep, a bison tube was hanging in a bush across from the chapel.  The Old Chapel, dating back to 1790, turned out to be a historic site too.  Lord Fairfax worshipped here and Governor Edmund Randolph and Colonel Nathaniel Burwell are laid to rest in the surrounding cemetery.

I am currently at Katherine’s; a house home to eight dogs and a barn full of seven horses.  I get to ride in the morning!  Hopefully this time I won’t get bucked off. ETB

Day 53 – Skyline Drive through Shenandoah Valley Part 2

Thankfully the skies were friendly and no snow fell last night.  The temperature couldn’t be much above 40, but the sun was out, so the dogs and I went for a walk.  We connected Lewis Trail Falls with the Appalachian Trail to complete a 3.3 mile loop.  The view of the falls was mediocre at best, but the view of the valley below and the mountains afar was lovely.  I didn’t see that many people on the trail, maybe ten or so hikers, but Kathy was nice enough to take a picture of me and the dogs.

As I returned back to camp, I saw the same buck I saw last night or at least it was a buck of the same stature in the same general area.  He was following a doe and not far away was a young buck who had just begun growing his antlers.  The large buck cooperated pretty well for photos.  He looked right at me, he scratched his back with his antlers, he scratched his head on a low hanging tree branch and then continued across the road.

After lunch in VANilla, we headed to the lodge, where I am currently sitting in front of the fire.  On the way up, I passed by another doe that was attempting to eat an apple.  She was pushing it across the ground with her nose…so fun!  It’s only three in the afternoon.  I might go for a drive to a few overlooks, as I’m not sure what to do with myself with all this free time.

It is supposed to get into the twenties tonight with a high of low thirties tomorrow.  If I’m not too frozen, I’m planning a few more hikes before I stay with my cousin Katherine for the evening and then explore Maryland for a few more days.  Signing off.

Day 52 – Skyline Drive through Shenandoah Valley

I woke up to rain and at 9:40 this evening it has yet to stop.  Per Laura’s recommendation I stopped by Bodo’s for a bagel and coffee, the locals’ favorite.  What made it even better is it was located directly across from the UVA campus which is splendid.

In the Shenandoah Valley, with rain comes fog.  Visibility is the worst it has been for me in recent memory…traveling more than 25 mph would be hazardous, especially with all the deer nearby.  I think I saw about six of them during my 55 mile jaunt along Skyline Drive, appropriately named as it curved around the ridge tops of the mountains peppered in trees, some bare and some harboring fall leaves, covered in green lichen.

I got lucky a handful of times and came to an overlook without fog, but the majority of the nearly two hour drive was fogged in.  I arrived at the campgrounds around 1pm.  I figured I’d take the day to reorganize…VANilla was getting a bit messy from moving in and out of houses.  In addition to organizing, I got a hot shower in this afternoon while it was relatively warm (in the forties and not snowing yet).  Yes, the evening forecast calls for a 60% chance of snow!

The ranger here at Big Meadows campground was just fantastic.  If it snows tonight, we have to stay put until the road is plowed, so after we talked a while about the alternatives and the fact I wasn’t sure how to work the heat in my vehicle, she asked the campground host to help me.  Bob came down to my site a few hours later, and we tested out my heater.  I kind of felt stupid it was so easy to operate.  It actually worked the first time I turned it on, I just wasn’t sure how to tell.  He just said walk outside and see if air is blowing out of the vent on the back of the van…well, I am officially an expert on the camping equipment on VANilla.  Now I just have to prepare for the possibility of my water tank freezing…ok, so maybe I’m not an expert then.  All I know to do is drain it.

Enough about propane and VANilla…the ranger suggested I go hang out at the lodge by the fire since there wasn’t much else to do in the fog.   The best suggestion ever!!  I have been here for the last six hours with a few breaks to go check on the doggies since they aren’t allowed inside.  While I was blogging and enjoying chili and a beer by the fire, Janet and her family (Laura, Russell, and Steven), from New Jersey and Patriots fans, were playing scrabble.  I looked a few words up for them since a scrabble dictionary wasn’t available to them.  Janet finally asked if I was writing a book.  I told them my story and we talked quite a bit about traveling.  They were going for dinner and a shower and coming back to the bar later to enjoy the entertainment by Flat Top Fred.

When they left, Ellie and Matt sat down nearby.  Ellie is from Boston and retired from a variety of interesting jobs, including television, and Matt is a lawyer and judge from D.C.  They were extremely interesting people and so kind.  I asked them to watch my computer for a few minutes while I walked the dogs, and when I came back they invited me to dinner with them.  Having just eaten, I said I’d be happy to join them and chat, but that I wasn’t hungry.  They insisted I order dinner to go so that I had something healthy to eat tomorrow – their treat!  So GREAT!  To top it off, Ellie has two horses.  They were only here at the lodge for the evening on the way to visit some friends in Asheville, North Carolina.  I’m so grateful I met them.  We shared some blackberry ice cream before I left them for the night.

I’m currently downstairs at the bar listening to this great band that plays cover songs – The Eagles, John Denver, Elvis, Pink Floyd and more.  Just two guys and their guitars – really good and not too loud!  Live entertainment ends at 10:30 at which time I’ll head back to the campground.  Hopefully, even if there is snow on the ground it will at least be clear enough tomorrow to see. ETB

Day 51 – Virginia’s James River Plantations

Scout, Petey and I had a busy day today.  We left the Walmart parking lot and arrived in Colonial Williamsburg only a short time later around 10 o’clock.  I got so lucky…I followed the brown signs to the area, passed up a few parking lots and ended up pulling into the lot right next to the visitor’s center aside the most historic part of the area.  We took a 1.2 mile walk down Duke of Gloucester Street and back.  The street was lined with sites where “artists” (for lack of a better word) dressed in colonial wear demonstrated a variety of colonial practices such as wig making, blacksmithing, tailoring, and more.

The old Capitol building stood at the end of the street and the Governor’s Palace could be found after a two block walk at the end of the palace green.  I didn’t tour any of the shops or buildings as I had visited Williamsburg as a 6th grader for our class history trip.  It was kind of interesting to note what stuck out in my mind as a 12 year old as compared to now.  I did try to find a cache nearby the Capitol.  I know it was in a nearby tree, but I was trying to look in a stealthy manner as several tourists and even colonial folks were all around.  Not to mention, being in this area is just too close to government security.  I didn’t want to be mistaken for a terrorist.

After our walk through Williamsburg, we wound along Colonial Parkway through forests of fall foliage to several different plantations.  The first stop was at Sherwood Forest Plantation, home of John Tyler, the 10th President of the United States.  The buildings on this property, some dating back to 1680, have remained in constant use and include the big house, the servant’s house, the milk house, the smoke house, the tobacco barn and a few others.  The big house is one of the longest frame houses in America. The grounds (3,500 acres in total) include a variety of gardens, swamp and marsh lands, forests and even a pet cemetery.  I met a lady here from Del Mar that had lost her sim card for her camera with all of her pictures from the previous day as well as several from a trip to France…BUMMER!  I helped her look for a while, but didn’t see it.  Losing my pictures is my worst nightmare!!

We moved on to Berkeley Plantation, site of the first Thanksgiving in America, held by Captain Woodliffe and his 38 settlers after their ship Margaret landed here on December 4, 1619.  The site, also home to the first whisky distillery in America (1621), was at one time home to Benjamin Harrison, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and the birthplace of President William Henry Harrison.  During part of its history, the house was occupied by Union troops where taps was composed.  Further, it withstood a variety of wars as evidenced by a cannonball that can be found in the outer wall of one of the buildings. The home fell into disrepair after three years of failed tobacco crops and some 45 years after the Civil War, the property was purchased for timber land in auction by a once young Scottish drummer boy who occupied the home with the Union Troops.  The house has remained in the same family since.

We briefly stopped by Shirley Plantation known for its perfectly portioned Queen Anne house before heading to Richmond.  While many historic buildings were destroyed in the wars, others survived.  Inside the train station looked like a mansion.   It was extraordinary.  Just next to and below it were the remnants of slave holding faciliites as across the street was the slave trading district.  A few other buildings of note are the oldest residential structure in Richmond which houses the works of Edgar Allen Poe and the Old City Hall, now a courts building that looks like a palace both inside and out.  There was statue a nearby which was a virtual cache, so I have logged Virginia!

Given there were three choices for Walmart parking lots in Richmond, I decided to drive toward my next destination to a smaller city.  I settled in Charlottesville where I met Laura at The Outback Steakhouse.  She was my waitress, but I think she felt bad that I was sitting alone and waiting of food, so she just sat down and started talking.  It was so great.  She is Canadian, but has her green card, and is waitressing while putting herself through school.  She wants to be a dermatologist – lots of years to go!  She was truly a delight.  I hope it all works out for her.