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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A Monadnock and an Olympic Host – More fun in Georgia!

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Pose at the top of Stone Mountain

We left LaGrange and continued our trek up north to Stone Mountain, GA.  This is actually a granite mountain in Georgia, not the city with the same name.  When we arrived we were surprised to see not just an ordinary mountain, but a huge dome-like mass of granite.  As soon as we settled in at the Stone Mountain Park Campground we began learning about activities we could check out there. Continue reading

Our Top 7 Favorite Biking Trails-1st Anniversary Post Part 2

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Tools of the Trade

Why 7?  Because we just couldn’t fit all of our favorites in a Top 5!

When we’re at an RV park or near a place with good biking trails, we try to take advantage of them as much as we can (weather permitting).  As Steve keeps reminding me, If we have to lug these bikes around let’s use them.  Okay, lets do it!

Tools of the Trade

Our tools of the trade

Our parameters for favorite biking trails are similar to those for hiking trails, but with the emphasis on visual treats.  We don’t take many tough mountain bike trails, instead preferring to meander along and enjoy the fresh air and beauty of the surroundings. Click on the red links to take you to our detailed posts.

Here we go!

7. Quartzsite, AZ – This was fun for there were no established trails – just head off the road into the desert and make your own!  We first followed Dome Rock Road and then went off the beaten path.  This was where we encountered a natural golf course in the desert amidst the cacti – very interesting.

Quartzsite

6. Talkeetna, AK – We began our trek at the Talkeetna river for a rare view of Mt McKinley, which happened to be visible that morning.  We rode 15 miles of bike trails along the road to Talkeetna, laden with beautiful wildflowers.

Talkeetna

Rare view of Mt Mckinley

5. Sacramento River Trail – Redding, CA – A nice 9 mile ride along the banks of the beautiful Sacramento River.  We passed on the west end Keswick dam, cross over the Stress Ribbon Bridge across the river and around the highlight of this trail: the Sundial Bridge.

Sacramento River Trail

Stress Ribbon Bridge

4.  Riverfront Trail at The Dalles, OR – The paved trail winds along the southern bank of the Columbia River for ten miles.  Beautiful views of the gorge on this one.

Riverfront Trail

3. San Juan Islands, WA – By far the longest and toughest ride we have undertaken, 28 miles around the island and will not do it again!  Why?  I don’t like biking along narrow roads with no space for bikers.  We also encountered some really big hills on this one.  But it was beautiful, and if you’re a serious cyclist you would love it.

Part of the strenuous ride on San Juan Island

Part of the strenuous ride on San Juan Island

2. Fort Stevens State Park – Astoria, OR : When the path is packed with yellow wildflowers, how can you not enjoy your ride?  This excellent paved path took us through forests to the beach and a lake.

Ft Stevens State Park

1. Historic Columbia River Trail – Columbia River Gorge, OR : This was the coolest, greenest ride we have taken.  The path is a section of  restored portion of the  historic highway that curves through the forest over gentle hills.  One end terminates at the Cascade Locks, where we were able to enjoy a small farmer’s market when we were there.

Historic Columbia River State Trail

How about you – do you have a favorite biking trail?  We we’d love to hear about it so we can give it a shot when we’re in that area.

Picacho Peak kicked our butts!

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From the Tucson area we moved west, stopping at Casa Grande, AZ.  After arriving there, we did our usual investigation for places with good hiking.  We didn’t find anything in the immediate area, but we discovered that beautiful Picacho Peak, which we had admired from I-10 west of Tucson, is located within a state park about 33 miles from Casa Grande.

Picacho Peak

Picacho Peak as seen on I-10

This striking peak has been a navigational point for ground and air travelers for decades.  It rises 1500 feet from the desert floor and has several hiking trails of various difficulties.  At first, we weren’t sure we would try for the summit, as it was rated “difficult” and we are more into “moderate.”  It is recommended that hikers take gloves to assist with “holding onto the cables”.  Oh, that sounds interesting!

We parked at the Sunset Vista trailhead on the west end of the mountain and decided to check out the first couple of miles.  What a fantastic trek it was!  This trail was an easy walk with beautiful scenery on the south side of the mountain which got us warmed up for an attempt on the summit.  This is now one of Steve’s favorite hikes, with sweeping views of the mountain and 30+ miles of valleys all around.  Gorgeous!

Sunset Trail

Sunset Trail

A quick break to take in the view

A quick break halfway up the mountain to take in the view

After the first 2 miles, the trail became more difficult, and soon we were faced with either climbing steep rock faces using the steel cables, or turning onto the Hunter Trail to descend on the north side of the mountain.  We decided to give the cables a try and guage ourselves (me primarily).  It went OK, and as we continued along the climb got steeper with some narrow ledges actually fenced in to prevent folks from plummeting down several hundred feet.  We trudged on slowly and carefully until we reached the top.

After two and a half hours of tough climbing we were there.  We made it – whew!  We were richly rewarded with a sublime 360-degree view of the Sonoran Desert.  We took a break, soaked in the view and grabbed some lunch to renew our energy.

 Picacho Peak

Pose at the Peak

Picacho Peak summit

Southside view

After lunch we descended 1.5 miles via the strenuous Hunter Trail to its trailhead at a parking lot.  Since we had parked at the other end of the mountain, we needed to walk an additional 2 miles back to our car.  It was a long 7-mile day of walking and climbing, but we were surely glad we did it.

As we soaked our sore muscles in the spa (luckily our RV park had one), we were happy to have accomplished this challenging climb, and we’re looking forward to the next one!

A place NOT on everybody’s “Must See” list – Tecopa, CA

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Clay and rock

After days of exploration and fascination at Death Valley National Park its time to say goodbye to one of our favorite places and move along.  We didn’t have a firm destination, but rather a tentative stop in mind before crossing into Nevada.  We took highway 190 E and at the junction turned right onto 127 S, where we traveled through the expanse of the Amargosa Valley.  We initially hesitated to stop at our first tentative destination, for it was in the middle of nowhere and we didn’t know much about it.   But what the heck, lets check out this place called Tecopa Hot Springs.  We saw what looked like a little oasis up on a plateau to the east, so we turned left and followed the sign.  Our GPS directed us to the first RV park, Petersen’s Tecopa Palm RV Park.  At registration we learned we’d be hooking up to natural mineral water, which means it’s not so good for cooking, drinking or using in your coffee.  Also, since we were in the desert there was no cell, internet or tv.  Hmmm, sounds exciting!  So we decided to stay for the night.

Mineral Water Content

Even if Tecopa is off the beaten path, this town seems to be a snow birder’s destination.  As we socialized with folks during the 4pm happy hour we learned that the big attraction here is the natural baths, local hot mineral springs they claim is healing.  There is a public hot springs administered by Inyo County at a cost of $5 per day, where you must shower first then bathe in the nude.  Oh.  Lucky for us, the RV park had their own  private Hot Mineral Baths, natural hot spring water piped into soaking tubs.  The rules are the same, shower first then soak in your  birthday suit.

Hot Tub

The sign says, “Welcome to Paradise”.  Well, maybe if your idea of paradise is scalding hot water!  Too hot for us…

Our planned one-day stay became three days in short order, as the desert landscape and quiteness got to us, plus the natural hot springs.  The mineral water did not bother us much, nor did being off the grid again.  Tecopa is beautiful and has a mix of rolling hills and desert flats.  From our site we enjoyed a 360-degree mountain view, interesting vistas and more.  This place is no Death Valley, yet it has its own character and is worth seeing and enjoying.

View from our Betsy

The view of Tecopa from Betsy

On our second day we hopped in the car and followed the sign pointing to China Ranch, about 7 miles north of Tecopa.  At the end of a twisting road between chalky cliffs cut into desert seemingly barren of plant life, China Ranch came into view.

China Ranch

To China Ranch we go

What the heck is China Ranch? Well, it’s a family-owned small farm in a hidden oasis in the Mojave Desert.  The ranch fills a little valley with groves of stately date palms, stands of cottonwoods and thickets of vegetation, all amid the tranquil sounds of trickling spring water. P1240476

There’s  a bakery with yummy home made bread and cookies made of dates, assorted dates for tasting, a gift shop, landscaping nursery, a one-room museum

and miles of hiking trails.  Mine shafts abound in China Ranch, as the area has a rich history of mining booms and busts.  Lead, Silver, Gypsum and Talc were the primary minerals that were extracted here.

Date Palms

Groves of Date Palms ready for harvest

We were thrilled at  the assortment of hiking trails!  Off we went  without a trail map (the gift shop was not open yet) or drinking water, thinking we’d be back in less than an hour.  In short, we were winging it and feeling adventurous.

Gold Rock

Gold Rock next to Clay hills

Despite the lack of trail markers, this was really a wonderful area to hike and explore.  It is unique, with an assortment of intriguing scenery.  As we were walking along the ancient lakebed sediments, we saw light-colored clay hills mixed in with darker hard “gold rock” mountains.  We also explored a couple of canyons leading between mountain peaks which ended in very high dry waterfalls.  We could just picture the water cascading down those falls and through the canyons we were exploring.

We enjoyed looking at interesting formations and checked out some  veins of gypsum running through the clay hills.  Then we walked down the ridge and flood levee. Rockhounds would love this place with all the colorful rocks strewn in the area.

Waterfall in the desertFinally, we saw a waterfall in the middle of the desert.  Parts of the various trails run along the grade to the old Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad, and we found many of the 100+ year old track ties discarded along the way.  As we kept walking and admiring the view of badlands, colorful rhyolitic volcanic rocks, marshes and salt flats we lost track of time and were feeling a little lost in the wilderness.  The half-hour walk became a three-hour trek, and it was pretty awesome.  After arriving back at the park we availed ourselves of the  mineral bath to ease our aching muscles.  Not for long though, that water was super-hot!

The lack of  quality drinking water in Tecopa, a community  built around natural hot springs, does not deter those who seek a destination off the beaten path. Our spur-of-the-moment decision to stop here illustrated that even though it’s NOT on everyone’s must-see list, that only makes it more  alluring.  It was a stop well worth it!

Here are some interesting things we admired along the way.