Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Second Half of our Annual Two Weeks off...

    This post is disgustingly over due I know. I can’t say that I feel that guilty about it though. Charlie and I have been on the go since we got back from our last park on this trip. We came home to the James River at unheard of levels for this time of year, and so many raft trips that the only time we are in dry clothes is at the fire station. And you know what?  I have just been enjoying not having any homework and not having to be on the computer. I’m going to get back into the swing of things though I promise. So here is the review of the second half of our state park tour. Late but better than never.

            The next stop on our state park endeavor was Natural Tunnel. This park has been the hidden gem of the trip. It is a small park with a few trails. One of the best trails was “Lovers Leap.” The trailhead was right in our campground and a fairly easy walk. First you walk an old fire road for a bit then all of a sudden you are looking out over this huge gorge. The lookout was great, a nice cool breeze and some shade. The hike continues down and around the rim of the gorge and gets to an overlook where you can really see the natural tunnel- hence the park’s name- and the train tracks that run through the tunnel. The view was spectacular. The campsites were neat and well kept and not too close together. The bathhouse as well was super nice and clean. I can’t say this enough, but a clean and well-kept bathhouse can make a trip in some ways. This had to be one of our favorite places to stay, and for very good reason. We met two of the nicest people on the planet. Known to us as “Moose and Dixie,” they had to be the most welcoming people we have met so far, and they loved having the pups around. Charlie and I were all but adopted by them. They are retired and spending as much time as they can in their camper going where ever they please. They are the type of people that you want as grandparents ya know? Plus they drank us under the table, which is always impressive. We will most definitely be making the trip back out here; it is absolutely worth the drive.
            Next we made a day trip to both the Wilderness Road State Park and the Southwest Museum. Wilderness Road was interesting. They don’t offer much in the way of camping; you’ll need a tent and to bring your own water. No RV camping though. They have recreated Fort Martin, which is pretty cool. It is very typical of things you would find say at Jamestown. There are also re-enactors there to guide you around. They informed us we missed about 600 re-enactors that were there the weekend before for a re-enactment. I admit part of me snickered. Being from “the North” there is always a cynical part of me that snickers at re-enactors. I had honestly never encountered them until we moved to Virginia. But I digress. I’m sure it was impressive. I am still curious how you get the job of hanging out in a re-created fort, cleaning old guns, and wearing funny clothes and get paid by the state to do it.
            The Southwest Virginia Museum was quite lovely. Again it was more a school field trip type of place, but Charlie brought up a good point. It is probably a great local attraction in that there is only a certain amount of their extensive collection of artifacts on display at any one time, so the exhibits change. They have some 20,000 artifacts that chronicle life in Big Stone Gap VA during the 1890 coal boom. The grounds of the mansion are beautiful and great for a picnic lunch, one of which is held Sundays in the warmer months. There were a bunch of quilts on display the day that we visited and some arts and crafts of local artists. I got a very cool local vibe from the place. I was disappointed however when I found out that they did not have a patch.
            Once again we hit the road and headed to what we were hoping to be one of the best parks yet. Boy were we disappointed. Very disappointed. Breaks Interstate gave me a weird feeling as soon as we got there. You know when you go to a place and it just feels weird and the people around you seem weird too? Well that was Breaks for me. Now I was trying to keep an open mind and we still are, but here is what has us not thinking we will be back. So first off the campsites, they were decent. Nothing too impressive, but we id like how they were set back in the woods. We stayed in the “D” campsite, which was hard to get to, as the signage around the campground is rather confusing. We are hoping that this experience was maybe a fluke thing and just limited to the “D” campground, but the bathhouse was atrocious. They are very outdated, which would have been fine if they were clean. In the women’s side the soap dispenser had corroded the electrical box pretty much off the wall, the paint was peeling everywhere and there was trash scattered all over the place. After I picked up the trash, and made sure all of the toilets were flushed it was a little better. Yes I am the person who cleans up a park restroom; people are so gross and I don’t ever want to be accused of being a part of the problem. Besides it’s not that hard to make sure the toilet flushes or that you throw your trash in the trash can! Now for the men’s side… I wasn’t brave enough to look after Charlie came back from taking a shower only to tell me that he hadn’t taken a shower. Here’s why. Apparently the first shower didn’t have much water pressure, about enough to wash your hands in and that’s it, the second one was stopped up but he thought, “I’ll just quickly rinse off and head back to the camper.” Well as he was about to step into the shower, a serpent like creature (he could not confirm or deny if it was a worm, snake or whatever- he didn’t stay around long enough to find out) came swimming up from the drain and proceeded to enjoy the shower that Charlie wouldn’t. I didn’t even try to tell you the truth I was ok with being a little stinky.
            One of the weird things about where we stayed was that there was a lot of traffic through the campsite. Now we later figured out part of the reason was because there are a lot of “driving trails” we called them. You can drive just about anywhere to just about any overlook, but good luck finding a hiking trail. The other reason we think is that one guy appeared to be living there. Who knows?
            After Breaks, and not soon enough we were on our way to Hungry Mother. The campsites here were great and very scenic. We stayed in the B campground and it was right along a stream and very beautiful and not too close together. Hungry Mother offers a ton of hiking and biking trails, and a large lake to swim in. I would feel very comfortable bringing a canoe here, but there are some motorboats that come through. There are canoe rentals and paddle boats as well. We ran into more rain and people during our stay here but we were noticing that as it has gotten warmer and closer to Memorial Day the crowds are getting bigger. Again rave reviews for the facilities here, especially since we didn’t have to share them with the local wild life. We did have a bachelor group of mallards that hung out around the campsite, floating around in the stream. They were very entertaining to watch. This park I imagine gets very busy in the summer, as there is a convention center and other facilities that accommodate larger groups. So as always my advice is to plan ahead and make reservations.
            From Hungry Mother we day tripped to Claytor Lake. This park is much like Smith Mountain. There is a huge lake with a very nice marina. Again a large amount of motorboat traffic, but a great place to bring your boat if you have one. Again not a place that I think we would hang out much. It was a VERY nice park, but our boats don’t fit in there and there isn’t a ton of hiking trails, definitely a place for fishermen.
            Douthat was the last stop on this round of parks, and according to Charlie the best park of the bunch, and I have to agree. Douthat offers a beautiful lake that Seven thoroughly enjoyed swimming in and Charlie and Angus enjoyed the fishing. The campsites were tucked into the woods a bit, which really gave it a camping feel. The facilities were slightly outdated but they were clean and well kept so it didn’t matter. We had a great time playing in the lake and playing in the streams. Charlie didn’t have any luck with the fish but it didn’t really matter because we had such a good time. The morning of our departure could not be better timed though. When we went to bed the night before we were one of three campers in the campground and when we woke up, the invasion had begun. Before I could get the pups fed and under control a very nice lady was asking if she could put her tag on our campsite and what time we were leaving. I wanted to think that she was being rude, but she was very nice about it. We could not pack our stuff and get out of there fast enough. We have officially decided that Memorial Day is not the time for us to go camping. EVER. Way too many people with very obscene campers, and yes there is such a thing.
            As our trip came to a close I was sentimental about it. I wasn’t quite ready to go home, but then again I was. The cool thing was we came home to a garden that had exploded while we were gone. I was afraid that it was all going to die off, but apparently we got plenty of rain at home too. It’s back to work, and boy there is plenty of it, the James River is being very kind to raft guides this year. We still have a few more parks to go before we finish the list. Stay tuned. 

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