Our Top Ten Favorite Hikes – 2nd Anniversary

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Stone Mountain Trail

We have crossed another milestone.  Two years ago today, on March 1, 2012, we embarked on our new lifestyle of living on the road.  One of our many goals was to continue to exercise and be active.  Building on what I began last year, and to commemorate our 2nd year of full timing, I have compiled our new set of favorite hike/walk trails.  This top ten list covers the trails we explored between March 1, 2013 and Feb 28, 2014.  It does not include the dozens of beach walks we took while on the east coast.  Although we love long walks on the beach, they tend to be fairly similar and we decided not to try to rate them. Continue reading

Meandering along Skyline Drive – Northern VA

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Skyline Drive

Driving through the state of Virginia, we learned quickly that it is not only steeped with history but also rich in natural beauty.  This was very evident as we drove north along country roads to our next destination.  We were  graced with the green lushness of the countryside dotted with wildflowers, the beautiful farms and the small charming towns.  Our last stop in Virginia was at Luray in scenic Page County.

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On our first day at Shenandoah National Park we headed south and were met with heavy fog at the higher elevations.  We drove slowly, but because we were unfamiliar with the curves of Skyline Drive we turned around as soon as we saw a safe place to do so.  We did not intend to leave the park empty-handed; instead we looked for a place where we could wait out the fog.  We learned later on that it was at Mile 35 near the Pinnacles Overlook where we made our u-turn.

Skyline Drive

Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park follows the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains for 105 miles.  At its southern end it joins the Blue Ridge Parkway, where we were a few days ago.  Unlike the Blue Ridge Parkway where most of the scenic overlooks have overgrown trees blocking the view, Skyline Drive has beautiful and plentiful overlooks.

Shenandoah Valley

Shenandoah Valley viewed from Stony Man Overlook

Once we got back below the fog, we stumbled onto a gorgeous hiking trail, Buck Hollow.  This is the  3-mile portion of a longer trail, and it’s pretty much a constant descent and rather steep in several sections.  We were paralleling the Buck Hollow stream and at some points made a few rock-hops across the water.  The constant descent going in let us know we’d get a good workout on the way back.  Steve saw a black bear cub, but it smelled him quickly and ran away.  This is really bear and deer country.

We saw these colorful critters and some mushrooms or fungi.

The fog had lifted after our hike , so we continued on to the highest point of the park at the Skyland area.  We stopped first at the Stony Man overlook and took a picture of Stony mountain, where we could follow a trail that led to Stony Man Summit.

Stony Man Overlook

Stony Man Overlook, viewed from the summit…

Stony Man summit

…and Stony Man summit viewed from the overlook

The trail to the summit was an easy 1.6 mile hike, ending with excellent panoramic views.  Unfortunately, some patches of fog were still there and partially obscured our view on this day.

Stony Man Summit

We made it to the Stony Man Summit

The next day was sunny, and we wanted to make use of our 7-day, $15 entrance fee.  This time we headed north and pulled off at many of the over 75 scenic overlooks to see the views.  We went almost all the way to the north entrance and stopped at Mile 5, the Dicky Ridge Visitor Center.

On this drive we met some of the frequent visitors cruising along Skyline, motorcyclists of all shapes and kinds and colors.  It was wonderful to see the wildflowers blooming and wild animals running away from us as we cruised along.

Skyline Drive

Bikers of all colors, brands and sizes

Blooming Wildflowers

Blooming wildflowers along overlooks

There are over 500 hiking trails to explore in the park, and on this day we tackled the Compton Peak Trail, a steady elevation increase of about 835 feet to the summit of Compton Mountain.  There were some steep spots, but the 2.4 mile hike was fairly easy.  At the summit were two side trails, one leading to broad mountain views…

Compton Peak

A pose at Compton Peak

…and the other to an interesting rocky outcrop with columnar joints.

Columnar Joints at Compton Mountain

Looking up at the rocky columnar joints

And along the way we saw more interesting mushrooms or fungi.

There are many more hiking trails and miles for us to explore along the Skyline Drive, we’ll just have to come back to experience more of the Shenandoah National Park.

Finally during this stop, we took a quick side trip for a tour of the Route 11 brand potato chip factory.  We had never heard of the wheat and gluten-free Route 11 brand of chips until Steve stumbled on it while searching for an RV park in Luray.  The Mama Zumma’s flavor, packed with Habanero pepper seasoning, set our mouths on fire and had us grabbing for a cold beer.  Several flavors of these yummy chips are sold at Whole Foods and other stores.

Our base camp was at Outlanders River Camp and we chose it for its proximity to the Shenandoah National Park.  We loved it, for we were surrounded by beautiful greenery and all of the nearby mountains.  You can see Steve’s review here, if you’re interested.

Outlanders River Camp

Panoramic view of Outlanders River Camp

And when the sun came out we enjoyed it to the fullest, with a campfire – even on a hot and humid day.

Outlanders River Camp

Enjoying the sunset

And these lovely duckies were fun to watch!

Ducks

These guys were checking us out as we approached on our evening walk

Green Bee

Green bee – see the ant looking at him?

Next up:  Blackwater beauty, WV

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Back on the road – Blue Ridge Parkway

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Rhododendrons

After surviving my jet lag and cooling down from the sweltering heat of the Philippines, we’re rolling down the road again.  My first order of the day is burning off the poundage I gained from guzzling those delicious, greasy Filipino foods.  Fortunately, the Lake Norman Motorcoach Resort is only a few minutes away from Lake Norman State Park, where entrance and usage are all free.  That is one four-letter word we love.  We are so used to paying park fees that we felt a little guilty using their beautiful hiking trails on several occasions.

Lake Norman lake

View of Lake Norman from our rig

When we were in Alaska we met adventurous and great people from all over the states.  One couple was Joe and Judy, whom we first met during our 18-hour Arctic Circle Tour and consequently bumped into again several places in Alaska.  We eventually exchanged addresses and they promised to host us when we got into their neck of the woods in North Carolina.  Fast forward a year later, here we were knocking on their door.  The door of their brand new class-A motorhome that is, as they met us at the lovely Bandit’s Roost COE Campground for a few days.  We’re so glad we took them up on their offer, as they gave us a wonderful tour along part of the Blue Ridge Parkway and also provided us valuable input for our trek to the northeast this summer.  They even celebrated their 32nd wedding anniversary with us.  Congratulations, and thanks again Joe and Judy!

Bandits Roost Campground

Happy hour at Bandits Roost Campground

While driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway a ribbon of highway, we learned that the Blue Ridge Mountains are noted for their bluish color when seen from a distance.  The Blue Ridge Parkway is a great scenic mountain drive that extends 469 miles along the crests of the southern Appalachians and links two national parks – Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the north and the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina to the south.  There are nine campgrounds along the parkway, if you are so inclined.

Blue Ridge Mountains

Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina

Blue Ridge Parkway Stats

Blue Ridge Parkway Stats

Construction of the Parkway  began in 1935 as part of  FDR’s New Deal to stimulate the economy during the Great Depression era.  The Blue Ridge Parkway, also known as Americas Favorite Drive, was designed especially for leisurely enjoyment of the scenic wonders along the way which can be enjoyed from many overlooks.  There are several worthwhile attractions along the way, including short and long walking trails which give folks even more viewing opportunities.

The area of our drive between Mile 275 and Mile 316 is considered the High Country of NC.  It was tempered with fog, rain and overcast skies during the first part of our day, but things cleared up nicely later on.  For us, the crowning point of the Parkway was at Mile 304, the Linn Cove Viaduct.  It is a 1,243 foot long elevated roadway engineered to wrap around the mountains to minimize impact on the fragile environment.

Linn Cove Viaduct

Linn Cove Viaduct traverses Grandfather Mountain’s boulder fields

The S-shaped structure consists of 153 concrete segments, only one of which is straight.  Weighing 50 tons each and joined by epoxy and massive steel tendons, the segments form a deck nearly one-quarter mile long that is supported by seven piers.  This is an amazing achievement when you consider the technology at that time, and the effort required just to access this area for construction.

Linn Cove Viaduct

Underbelly of Linn Cove Viaduct that skirts around Grandfather Mountain

At Milepost 306 is Grandfather Mountain, best known for its “mile-high swinging bridge” that connects two of the mountain’s peaks.  Heavy fog shrouded the mountain that day, so we’ll save that stop for another visit.

Grandfather Mountain

If you believe me there is a Grandfather Mountain hidden by that thick fog.

Just off the parkway at Milepost 316.3 were trails that led to various overlooks for a wonderful view of Linville Falls, which can be seen roaring through a dramatic rugged gorge.

Linville Falls

Linville Falls

Linville Falls

Joe and Judy with the you-know-whos

There are plenty of stopping points, and everywhere you look there’s something else amazing to appreciate.  Each season provides an ever-changing appeal, and in our case we were just a little early for the blooming of the Rhododendrons that adorn the Parkway.  I captured a few early blooms along the way, but we will be driving other sections of the parkway during the next week and hope to see many more of these beautiful blooms.

During this stop we stayed at Bandits Roost Campground, a COE park at Wilkesboro, NC.  Click here for Steve’s campground review of Bandit’s Roost and the Lake Norman Motorcoach Resort.

Lastly, these Wood Thrushes were rustling on the leaves while Steve and Joe were busy planning.

Wood Thrush

Next up: More of the Blue Ridge Parkway on the Virginia side.

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