Creekwood Farm, Biltmore and Cherokee

When we arrived in Western North Carolina to check into Creekwood Farm RV Park we were told by a concerned worker that we might have a hard time backing into our site.   Since we were staying for 10 nights, she couldn’t find any other place to put us that wouldn’t be occupied by someone else during that time.   After Mark looked at the “problem” spot he thought it would probably work out okay.   When I had called several weeks beforehand to book a stay, I was told that they had one site left and it was usually only used as a vehicle washing area.   The person I talked to thought it would work for our truck and trailer and a reservation was made.    Now it was our check in day and the office was questioning if it would work and whether we wanted to take the site or not.   I said that at this point we really didn’t have any other options except to contact RV parks in the area for availability and it was getting close to the end of the afternoon.   Writing about this isn’t meant to be complaining, but to show the uncertainty when moving regularly from place to place.   I am just glad we have never arrived any where and found our reservation lost or been turned away!   Although I have heard of this happening and even saw it once.   In the end we took the spot and set up our trailer fine.   Our site backed up to another RV and there was only about six inches between our two ends which seemed pretty close, but worked out okay.

It is fun arriving at a new campground and seeing if there is anything special or unique about each one.   Usually I know about the amenities from researching and if there is a creek or river on site then I want to check it out right away.   Creekwood Farm has a nice rushing stream that runs through the park.   Some of the sites are next to the creek where people can sit outside and enjoy the sight and sound of the water.   When you get the last spot in the park like we did, you aren’t going to be next to the creek, but there were still places to go and relax near the water.   Below is a picture of a glider on a deck with a view of the creek.   A few times I took my chair down close to the water and sat and read or watched the leaves falling.

When I was planning our North Carolina trip one of the main attractions I wanted to see was the Biltmore, built by a Vanderbilt and the largest home in America.   I had seen Vanderbilt homes in the Hudson River Valley of New York and Newport, Rhode Island.   I talked to a number of people during our travels who said we had to see the Biltmore when we came to North Carolina.   I had high hopes for a visit there but we ended up not going.   This is the first major attraction on my to do list we decided to skip.   While trying to book online I found out the tickets were $80.00 each with an extra $14.00 for the necessary audio set since the tour is self-guided with no signage inside the house.   With tax it was going to cost us $200.00 to see the home and gardens.   I had never seen such a high admission cost any where else during our travels.   It was also annoying that the ticket price changed from day to day, sometimes lower, sometimes higher and I couldn’t find an explanation why.   Tickets are for timed entry to help manage the crowds, but it was the crowds that made me realize it wouldn’t be worth the cost.   Due to popularity, visitation is heavy with traffic issues and lots of people to maneuver around inside the home.    I came across the word “cattle” in several recent reviews.   Perhaps I will regret having missed the biggest home in America, but as Mark sometimes reminds me, “you can’t see everything.”

The town of Cherokee is the North Carolina gateway to Smoky Mountains National Park, the ending point of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the home of the Eastern Cherokee Nation.   In 1838, most Cherokee in the southeastern U.S. were forced to relocate to Oklahoma, marching on what became known as the “Trail of Tears.”   Some Cherokee from this region had taken land and were allowed to remain and others hid in the mountains to avoid being located.   After arriving in Oklahoma, some Cherokee walked back home to North Carolina.   Today, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians do not live on a reservation given to them by the government but on property they purchased in the 1800’s called the Qualla Boundary.   They live in beautiful and rugged country with mountains, rivers and forests, a sovereign nation with over 14,000 members.   I took the photo above at a stop looking down on Eastern Cherokee lands.

Prior to doing research about visiting North Carolina, I did not realize that the Eastern Cherokee lived so close to the Great Smokies.   During my social work career I often had to interact with the Cherokee tribes including not only the Eastern Band but also the United Keetoowah Band and Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma.   Since we worked with families through juvenile court for child protection issues, we had to inquire if families had Indian ancestry.   Cherokee was one of the tribes frequently mentioned by our clients and involved written notice to each tribal office to determine if the children were eligible for enrollment and if the tribe wanted to get involved.   So it was interesting to drive around the town of Cherokee and see the enrollment office, the Bureau of Indian Affairs  and the tribal court building, etc.   I took the photo above because I thought it was neat how all of the street signs as well as some signs on buildings were in both English and Cherokee.   I read that students are taught the Cherokee language in school and each high school student is required to pass a Cherokee language class before graduation.   It is encouraging that active measures are in place to keep the language alive among tribal members.

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian was an informative and worthwhile visit to learn more about their history including interaction with the European or white settlers, their livelihood and culture.   Outside of the building is a really neat statue carved from a single redwood tree from California and donated and shipped by Georgia Pacific Company.   The statue honors Sequoyah, a Cherokee who invented the Cherokee alphabet.   We learned that Sequoyah, who was illiterate, believed it was important to capture the thoughts and words of his people.   It took him two years, but in 1821 he completed his first syllabary, a writing system or kind of alphabet in which each character stands for a syllable.  It was a success with the people easily learning to use the syllabary allowing them to communicate and keep records in their own language to help and preserve their culture.

Below is a photo of one of my favorite pieces in the museum, a face mask made from a hornet’s nest.   It is difficult taking photos through glass so sorry for the spots of light in the picture.

After the museum we headed across the street to Qualla Arts and Crafts, a Native American Cooperative for Eastern Cherokee artwork.

There was a large selection of baskets, pottery, wood carvings, beadwork and jewelry.   I really enjoyed seeing the many baskets made from a variety of materials, such as river cane, honeysuckle and white oak.  Some were behind glass like in the photo below due to their museum quality and others could be purchased in the gift shop area.   They were all quite beautiful but also very expensive.

Leaving the town of Cherokee we drove to Mingo Falls located within Cherokee lands.   As is typical with most falls in the Appalachian mountains, a long set of steps had to be traversed to get to the falls.   The Falls cascade 120 feet down a rock face in a lovely forest setting.

Thanks for checking in!   In the next post we find ourselves in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Blue Ridge of North Carolina


Leaving Virginia we headed to our next spot located a short drive away from the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.   The Blue Ridge Parkway in this area is different from Virginia in that the mountains are higher and more rugged.   In Virginia there were small towns near the Parkway and you could get on and off at more places.    During our North Carolina stay, we explored the most southern part of the Parkway that extends from the city of Asheville to the town of Cherokee near the entrance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.   We drove the Parkway two different times, the first day starting mid afternoon after having our air conditioning unit repaired.   Small trailers like ours are not meant to be lived in and we run the unit almost every day.   It had stopped working and this was the first day we could get someone out.   He was efficient and so nice plus we really appreciated he could come to us and we did not have to take the trailer to a shop somewhere.   Mark said that my “travel karma” held out because the repairman had just the right part we needed.    But, it was a perfectly sunny day, the mountains were calling and I was eager to get on the road after a few days of wet weather and resting up from our travels.

We began near the end of the Parkway at Cherokee heading north into the highest elevations of the Parkway.   Driving through these mountains you don’t see signs of civilization.  There are over 250 pull offs and overlooks on the 469 miles of Parkway that travels through Virginia and North Carolina, so plenty of places to stop for views like in the photo below.

We stopped at the highest point of the Parkway at 6,053 feet.   I expected grand views here, after all it was the highest point, but it was not as nice as some of the others and did not have the wide open views I was expecting, especially with the tree cover.

After traveling up the Parkway we decided rather than backtracking to get off on a side road for the drive back to our campground before nightfall.   We followed a beautiful creek and in one spot stopped to see this cascading waterfall.   The drive was picturesque but not entirely relaxing because we had neglected to fill up the gas tank prior to our drive which took us much further than we anticipated.   When we finally reached a back road gas station it was closed but my trusty gas buddy app showed another station just a few miles down the road and thankfully it was open.

The next day we headed to Asheville about 20 minutes north of where we were staying.   Our plan was to connect here with the Parkway and head south.   Our first stop was the Folk Art Center where artists from Maryland to Alabama belonging to the Southern Highland Craft Guild display their works.   The building is great and is also a bit of a museum with signboards explaining about early Appalachian crafters and displays of historic crafts such as woodcarving, basketry, pottery, furniture, textiles and dolls.   My favorite creations were the corn husk figures, brooms and blacksmithing exhibit with some interesting metal sculptures.   There are a number of items for sale which are quite expensive, for example a handwoven dish towel for $90 and a $14,000 coffee table.   No photos are allowed inside so I can’t share any of the great artwork on the blog.

Tunnels carved through the mountains are common on the Parkway in North Carolina.   I learned there are a total of 26 with 25 being in North Carolina so we came upon them from time to time on this part of the drive.

It is hard for me to pass up a great waterfall (Mark says ANY waterfall) so we got off the Parkway once to drive a very scenic and winding road to Looking Glass Falls.   The 60 foot Falls are popular and just off the road with a few different viewing areas as you head down the stairs to the stream below.

After returning to the Parkway we stopped at Graveyard Fields, an area with a hiking loop to two waterfalls.   I walked to the first falls, called “Lower Falls” crossing a stream and down a number of steep stairs to the base.

People were enjoying climbing around the rocks to get closer to the cascading falls.

At the time we were visiting before mid October we were hoping to find fall colors, but they were just beginning so we saw only a few trees here and there with some red and orange.   From what we heard the colors are a little behind in Appalachia this year due to warmer weather and more rain.   In some years it can be the end of October for peak fall foliage.  It is hard to predict the best fall color times and even though we missed it on the Parkway, the beautiful green mountain views like you can see in the photo below were certainly worth the drive.

I will close with a few photos from early evening when the sun was starting to go down.   The shadows and evening light were beautiful on the mountains.   I hope you enjoyed this post about our trek along the North Carolina Blue Ridge.

Andy’s Mayberry

The little town of Mayberry from the Andy Griffith Show is alive and well in Mt. Airy, North Carolina.   Andy was born and raised here and the town has not forgotten their favorite Sheriff, Andy Taylor.   Although officially called Mt. Airy, the town also seems to think of itself as the real Mayberry and a trip to the historic Main Street serves as a reminder.

Some of the stores and businesses are named after characters from the TV series like Opie’s Candy Shop, Aunt Bea’s BBQ, Floyd’s Barber Shop and Barney’s Cafe where we had lunch.

At Floyd’s Barber Shop, Andy Taylor’s regular hangout, you can still get a hair cut and next door is the Snappy Lunch which prides itself as being the only original business in town from Andy’s younger years that is mentioned on a few episodes.   Here you can try their specialty, a large fried pork chop sandwich and the line can get long waiting for a seat in this tiny establishment.   Around town you also see businesses using the word “Mayberry” such as Mayberry Market, Mayberry Antique Mall, Mayberry Motor Inn and Mayberry Mules and Wagon Rides.

As we wandered the Main Street, a period squad car passes by sounding the siren.  A company offers tours in the car around town.    I got a shot of the car next to the Earle Theater where we went to a radio show and a music jam, which I talked about in my previous blog.   As a boy, Andy Griffith used to go to shows at this theater.

Mt. Airy seems to be a happy place, as tourists wander down the Main Street checking out the shops, eating snacks and ice cream and enjoying all the Mayberry memorabilia on the buildings and in the shop windows.  Every year in September there is also a Mayberry Days Festival celebrating their most famous citizen.

Speaking of ice cream, here is something a little different – home made moonshine ice cream.   The store front is fun looking and although I am not into hard liquor I thought I shouldn’t pass up trying some.   I got a scoop with liquor soaked cherries and chocolate chunks but couldn’t detect much of an alcohol flavor.    A few episodes of the show deal with moonshiners including one called,  “Alcohol and Old Lace” that actually mentioned the town where we were staying – Fancy Gap, Virginia.   Fancy Gap is about a 20 minute drive up the mountain from Mt. Airy.   In this episode, Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife are trying to locate and shut down moonshine stills in the area.    Barney suggests checking out Fancy Gap.   Andy replies:  “Yes, there are a lot of holes and hollers around there a fellow could hide something in.”   In the end they found the stills they were looking for, although none in Fancy Gap.

The Andy Griffith Museum in Mt. Airy has the largest collection of Andy memorabilia, much of it collected by one of his lifelong friends.   The museum is rather small but packed with facts and items from his life as a TV star, film star and musician.   Both of his TV shows, Andy Griffith and Matlock were long running series.   The Andy Griffith Show played for eight seasons, from 1960-1968.   I have never watched a Matlock show and didn’t tune in faithfully to the Andy Griffith show, but I did enjoy watching some of the episodes in my much younger years.   The museum has original clothing worn by many of the actors, like the suits (photo below) worn by Don Knotts who played Barney.

Here you can find the pants, shirt and hat worn by Goober, the likeable filling station mechanic.   Actor George Lindsay had the original cap he wore bronzed and put on a plaque after the show.    He thought it would look good on his wall but decided later that it would be better off at the museum.   You can see it in the photo below.

The centerpiece of the museum is the replica courthouse and office.   Some of the items in the office are originals from the series.   Videos from his shows and films play in various parts of the museum to add to the experience.   The museum is right next to the Andy Griffith Playhouse which hosts performances on a regular basis and was the building where Andy once attended Elementary School.   For those that want to get more of the Andy experience, you can book a stay at his former childhood home, a two bedroom house now owned by Hampton Inns.

After our Mt. Airy visit, I decided to watch a few episodes of Andy Griffith including the “moonshine still” episode.   Luckily, Amazon Prime was carrying the series so I could watch it on my Kindle.   I had forgotten how delightful and heartwarming the show could be – a time when life was simple and Sheriff Andy Taylor took care of Mayberry with a gentle spirit and a dose of good humor.   I am glad that Mt. Airy is keeping his spirit alive.

I will close with a photo I took on a hill looking down on our campground on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Fancy Gap.   On the far right is the parkway road and although you can’t see our trailer, our site was on the far left in the photo.

In the next blog we move on to our next camping spot in North Carolina and closer to the most southern section of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

That Old Time Mountain Music

Mountain and Bluegrass music is in the heart of the people in the Blue Ridge Mountains.   It is easy to find music venues as jams, shows and festivals are often held throughout the week.   We spent several days enjoying some of that old time music.   On the Blue Ridge Parkway south of where we were staying is the Blue Ridge Music Center operated by the National Park Service.   It has an informative museum dedicated to understanding the roots of American music.   You can learn how the fiddle brought by immigrants from Europe and the banjo brought by enslaved Africans created old time mountain, gospel and bluegrass sounds that influenced American popular music.   What is so neat about the exhibits is how interactive they are with examples of music playing and videos of well known musicians who were the founders of country and bluegrass.   Further exhibits show the importance of radio in bringing mountain music to the homes of many listeners.

The Music Center hosts different musicians each afternoon from 12:00 – 4:00 in the “breezeway” next to the museum.   Seats and even rockers are provided and Mark and I spent a few hours listening to the two guys above.   They are both excellent musicians and singers of old time mountain and bluegrass music.   The older gentleman to the right, Mr. Gayheart who grew up in Kentucky had written several songs that he sang about his younger years living in a small Appalachian community.   He is also an incredible pencil artist who displayed some of his prints of life in Appalachia.   We had a relaxing and enjoyable afternoon at the Music Center.

After an afternoon at the Blue Ridge Music Center we headed to the nearby town of Mt. Airy, North Carolina for a Thursday night jam of local musicians at the Earle Theater.   Since the 1930’s the Earle has hosted performances, shows, jams and films.   The theater was not even half full when we visited and I thought it was too bad more didn’t turn out as it was free and so organized, it seemed more like a show than a jam.   One of the musicians told me later that there is so much free music happening around the area that a group can’t get a paid gig.   Many of the musicians on stage had been playing for years and also played at other jam venues in various small towns during the week.   It would have been interesting to know their combined ages and years of experience!    They enjoyed playing so much that when they were done at the Earle, some continued jamming at a square down the street.

We returned to Mt. Airy and the Earle Theater on Saturday morning for the WPAQ’s Merry-Go-Round which is the country’s second longest running live radio show since February 1948 behind only Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry.   Over the years quite a few music legends have performed here.   The radio show hosted a young bluegrass group first and then the couple called “Davis Bradley” pictured below who were my favorite.   They come from Virginia with an active touring schedule and each played a variety of instruments including the mandolin, banjo, fiddle, guitar, ukulele and harmonica.

Prior to the Earle Merry-Go-Round show we hung around the square listening to musicians jamming.   Some of them were the same ones we heard on Thursday night and they like to gather each Saturday morning to visit and play.   What a great way to keep mountain music alive in Mt. Airy!   Locals and tourists shopping on the Main Street would stop for awhile to listen.

The Floyd Country Store near the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia is a general store and eatery, but best known as a popular music venue several days a week.   Ongoing events are a show on Friday nights, Americana music on Saturday afternoons and on Sunday afternoons two different jam sessions.  In addition, they have a radio show.

Not only is the music wonderful, but the first rate Southern comfort food is worth coming for too.   The store itself is delightful with lots of things for sale such as musical instruments, books, cards, artwork, toys, clothes, souvenirs and big barrels full of candy.

And if candy is not exotic enough, then how about a can of creamed possum, a true mountain treat in these parts.

We came for the Sunday afternoon jam and everyone there, including musicians and visitors seemed to be having a great time.   Floyd’s isn’t really all that big, but they manage to squeeze everyone in.   The music happens in the back of the store where chairs are set up in a circle for the musicians and a few rows of chairs placed on the outside for listeners.   There are also some tables in the back of the room as well so those listening can eat their lunch or snacks like Mark and I did.   I think when you listen to old time music you just have to eat beans and cornbread, collard greens and chow chow.

When the music started with about 28 musicians playing, so did the flat foot dancing in the center.   It was fun to see people out there doing this traditional Appalachian dance and you don’t need a partner to do it.   Sometimes the dance floor would be full of people including families with kids, but these guys were the mainstay during the session.   I think the guy wearing the “I’m Confused” black shirt was out there for most of the two hour old time music jam.

When the old time jam ends then the Bluegrass jam started with a different group of musicians.   We stayed for some of it and then headed back to our “home” in Fancy Gap.   What a great afternoon of music, food and fun!

In the next blog we head back to Mt. Airy, North Carolina to further explore Andy Griffith’s home town.

Exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia

As I write this from North Carolina, I am thinking back to our stay on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.   Our campground was right on the Parkway, “America’s Favorite Drive,” making it easy to get on and explore this famous road.   The main reason I wanted to camp again in Virginia was to be able to drive the Parkway which travels over the Appalachian Highlands with scenic views of rugged mountains and valleys.   I thought the name Fancy Gap, for the town and campground where we stayed was cute, but there really isn’t much of a town.   There are only a few businesses and not even a Main Street or business district.   In this part of the country I noticed other towns and areas using the word “Gap.”   I was curious what a “Gap” was and found in Appalachia it is similar to what we in the West would call a “pass.”    When we googled this we found gap vs. pass vs. notch vs. saddle and discovered they all mean about the same thing depending on where you are in the U.S.   We learn something new every day traveling.

This was our first time exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway.   An amazing road, the Parkway runs 469 miles from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia all the way to Cherokee, North Carolina at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.    Along the way are many scenic overlooks, picnic spots, hiking trails, historic sites and visitor/information centers.   Periodically other roads intersect the Parkway so you can get on or off.   The above photo is a view from one of the overlooks close to our campground explaining the agricultural lease program.   This program began in the 1930’s to preserve traditional Appalachian farm scenes adjacent to the Parkway.   More than 4,000 acres of land is leased to farmers for crops and pasture.   This type of scene was a common sight along the way.

Heading north of Fancy Gap for a day of exploration we relied on a map from the National Park Service (NPS) that was helpful in identifying our route with mileposts and main points of interest along the way.   One of the first things I noticed was how well the Parkway is cared for.   Managed by the NPS, this road is pristine with grass and weeds kept cut along the sides and no unsightly objects or debris.

Our first stop was the Orlena Puckett cabin where we read about the unusual life of Orlena who lived to be 102 years old and lived in this cabin during the latter part of her life.   Orlena is a testament to how the later years of one’s life can be among the most productive.   She began a career as a midwife after age 50 and assisted in the births of more than 1,000 babies,  delivering her last one in 1939 the year she died.   It is tragic though that she gave birth to 24 children of her own and none of them lived past infancy.   I bought a book on Orlena’s life written by a journalist/author who spent several years doing extensive research and interviews.   Most of the people she spoke to were in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s at the time and had been delivered by Orlena.   I am looking forward to learning more about this amazing Appalachian woman.  Below is a photo of her on a signboard near the cabin holding the last child that she delivered.

Mabry Mill is reported to be the most photographed spot on the Parkway and you can go inside and see how the Mill operated.   Built in 1903 by Ed Mabry, he ground corn, sawed lumber and did blacksmithing here for decades.  Mr. Mabry created an extensive flume system to bring water from several creeks to the Mill.   While no longer used, it is still in great shape and a very picturesque place to visit.   On the property is a restaurant where we had breakfast.    The specialty here are pancakes made from stoneground cornmeal and buckwheat flour and I was looking forward to trying them having read they were made from meal ground on the premises.   But I misread as the meal is not ground from here but “for here” at another mill in nearby North Carolina.   We were told that the EPA has not allowed grains to be ground here for some years, although I couldn’t really get a clear answer as to why.   Mark and I visited a mill in Arkansas that I wrote about in an earlier blog and you could watch them grind the grain and buy different kinds of flour there as well.   Perhaps it’s the difference between a private business and one run by the National Park system.

There are a few other buildings on the property including this blacksmith shop.   I had to laugh at the sign inside the shop:  “Rarely seen today, the blacksmith shop was a vital home industry….”.    Mark and I often joke that there seems to be a blacksmith at most of the historical sites we have visited this past year.   If there is a single demonstration it is usually a blacksmith and I don’t need to see another, although we found this shop closed for the day.   I realize there is a difference between true blacksmiths offering a service to the community and the ones demonstrating at living history sites, but it still amused me as this is the trade I have most often seen during our travels.

Along the Parkway are overlooks or stops giving interesting information on the history or geography of the area.   Since I like seeing all the old time fences and there are many of them maintained along the drive, I found this stop with information on rail fences interesting.   It explained there are three general types including the one in the photo below, the “Buck Rail” which I don’t recall seeing before.   It was a good fence to put up on rugged, uneven terrain.   Here at Groundhog Mountain is a wooden observation tower with great views from the top surrounded by those different kinds of fences.

At another stop, I loved seeing this historic Appalachian cabin perched on the ridge.   What an awesome view from this very rustic home built by the Trail family in the 1890’s.   The sign noted that cabins such as this one were once common along the Blue Ridge, but now only a few remain.

I took the photo below of the parkway across from a small visitor center while Mark got Blue Ridge Parkway stamps for his NPS notebook.   Getting the book stamped at sites we have visited across the U.S. has been a fun endeavor.   When Mark first bought the book I thought we wouldn’t find that many NPS sites that carried the stamps.   But there are so many more historic sites than I could have imagined we have plenty of stamps filling his book.

A sky full of huge, puffy white clouds is one of the best sights I can imagine and we had the perfect sky on this outing.   We were treated to a wondrous sky throughout miles of driving and stops at overlooks.   While gazing at expansive views I was often exclaiming, “Wow, I can’t believe the sky today!”   I am often amazed at how beautiful the clouds can be in much of the Eastern U.S. where weather change is a constant.   I might complain about the abundance of grey clouds, storm threats and rain, but the sky is certainly magical at times.

I hope you enjoyed reading about our trek along the Blue Ridge Parkway.   In the next post I will write about old time mountain music that is so much a part of the area.

Blackwater Falls State Park and A Stay at the Farm in West Virginia

When researching places to see in West Virginia, Blackwater Falls State Park came up on most lists of top attractions to visit.   The Falls are beloved by West Virginians and tourists so I was looking forward to seeing them.   Although the focal point of this large state park, there is more to see here as well.   To get up close, there are many steps down to a platform right next to the plunging falls.   Along the way are a few different viewpoints for those that don’t want to venture down and up all those steps.

There had been so much rain prior to our visit that the Falls were roaring.   It made taking pictures a little difficult because there was so much churning foam and spray as the river hit the pool below.   The Falls are an amber color due to the tannic acid of fallen hemlock and red spruce needles.   I was really pleased to see a rainbow next to the Falls which came and went as sunlight changed in the canyon.

The park is located in the rugged Allegheny Mountains and as we drove we stopped at various viewpoints.  Mark and I talked about the difficulty early settlers must have had navigating these mountains due to the deep canyons and dense forests that are common in this Eastern part of West Virginia.   It is hard to imagine that beginning in the late 1800’s, clear cut logging took most of the trees, decimating the magnificent forests throughout the state.   The trees eventually came back when large scale logging operations ceased.    Today, 78 percent of West Virginia is forest, making it the third most forested state in the U.S. behind Maine and New Hampshire.

Lindy Point is one of the favorite places to visit here as the scenic overlook provides expansive views of Blackwater Canyon far below.   After a short walk to the point, it was breathtaking to stand there and take it all in.    People like to get out on the rocks closer to the edge, but I am not that brave so I just stepped a little ways on one of the closer ones for a photo.

We were surprised to see that this park has a good sized lodge with rooms, cabins and a restaurant where we ate dinner.   The views behind the lodge are dramatic and if staying there, what a great place to hang out and enjoy the scenery on the chairs provided.

We visited another waterfall on a short trail near the Lodge.   Elakala Falls is much smaller than Blackwater but in a very pretty forest setting.   To get the photo below, I had to do a little scrambling down a rock and tree root studded bank to the creek below.

When we arrived at our campground in Elkins, West Virginia we were greeted with “Welcome to the Farm” by the owner.   Located in the country off a narrow paved road and then an even narrower gravel/dirt driveway to the campsites is an RV park with a bit of a farm atmosphere.   The owner and his wife are musicians who used to travel and perform extensively as well as manage their farm.   At one time it was listed in a West Virginia tourism site as a place for families to see a working farm.   Today it seems rather bedraggled with an unkept apple orchard, old buildings and “rustic campsites.”  Musical events have been held here and there are two stages with a big grassy field for that purpose.

The owner was great about giving us directions to the campground over the phone explaining to me, “They call West Virginia the Mountain State for a reason and most GPS will send you on the worst mountain roads of the state.”   We took his suggestion and other than several grades to cross all went well.   He also warned me about the campground’s entrance sign that says they are closed for the season.   He noted that oil pipeline workers are always looking for a place to stay and he has to turn them away.   He is angry that pipelines are being built in West Virginia and does not want to extend his hospitality to them.   He hopes his closed sign will deter most of them.  He asked us to observe his “silent gate” rule by stopping for a moment on the driveway next to his home when passing in or out of the campground so he will know we are real bonafide campers.

This campground is set in a valley and has a large amount of property with fields and some woods to explore.   Since I love to wander, I thought this would be a great place to camp and enjoy nature.   The owner had created a sunflower shaped maze that was filled with wild goldenrod.   Monarch butterflies were migrating and decorated the flower fields.

I came upon an old railroad bridge over the creek that had been abandoned.   When I asked about it I was told it was 100 years old and had not been used for several years.  This was something new, an old railroad bridge and tracks in a campground.

The more I wandered the more I was enjoying this campground.    Mark and I also got to see that others have loved staying here as well.   While I was exploring that first day, Mark was relaxing outside our trailer when a group of people came to the camp site next door to us.    They planted a small tree and sprinkled ashes.   We found out that a former camper had loved coming here so much that he wanted his ashes spread at his favorite campsite.   As a tribute they planted the tree for him and also gathered at the small pond near the the sunflower maze and planted another sapling spreading more of his ashes.   The owner told me this was the memorial grove with half a dozen other trees of various sizes that had been planted for former campers.   Below another view from the campground.

Sometimes a place can be both invigorating and exasperating and this was our experience at  Pegasus Farm.   The country atmosphere was beautiful and peaceful but as a campground, it was not always so great.   There was no office and trying to get questions answered can be tough unless you can find the owner while he is working around the large property.   This is the first campground we stayed at where no paperwork was given with general campground information.   For a couple of days we did not know where the trash receptacle was as it was not located near the campsites.   But the main problem here was the long driveway on a blind hill that I estimate to be 1/4 mile long and so narrow that two vehicles of any size would be unable to pass each other.    This amazed me because most RV’s staying in the park were large Class A’s, including one next to us that is the biggest I have ever seen in our travels at 46 feet in length.   I kept wondering how they were getting these huge RV’s down this drive and what if they met up with another vehicle?   Whenever we ventured down the driveway to go in or out I feared we might encounter someone coming the opposite way.

One night driving back late we were halfway down the drive when we came upon a small car which flashed their lights that they wanted us to back up.   I got out to help guide Mark through the pitch blackness.   Just then another set of lights approached from the rear.   We found out the owners were in the car in front of us and now they decided to back up on the side of the hill near the cemetery to make room.   As I perched on the bank, Mark had to drive on down without me as he couldn’t locate me in the dark and needed to get out of the way of the oncoming truck.   The owner insisted on giving me a ride the rest of the way to our campsite.     Summing up the confusion he said, “Well, it always works out all right on the farm.”   Although I didn’t agree, it gave me a few chuckles thinking about what happened.

I thought I would include the above photo to show how a campground can look after almost five straight days of rain.    Although our site was not flooded, some of the others were.    When I ventured out to wander the campground including those goldenrod fields and the railroad bridge, my soaked tennis shoes would not dry out that night.   When we left to travel on to Virginia, I had a newly purchased pair of rubber boots from Walmart in the back of the truck.

Thanks for reading – in the next blog we move on to another campsite on the Blue Ridge Parkway of Virginia.

Cass Scenic Railroad State Park

I am jumping ahead from my last posts focusing on Maine to our recent travels through West Virginia.   My posts have been a few months behind and I thought I would write on more recent experiences to bring the blog better up to date.   As I write this, we have visited all the New England states and had wonderful experiences which I plan to write about in future blogs.   We will be spending the Fall in the Appalachian states and so in this post I will write about one of our favorite experiences in West Virginia, riding the trains!    When planning our stay in West Virginia, we knew we wanted to ride the Cass Scenic Railroad in the Eastern part of the state.   What we didn’t know until we arrived to our campground near the town of Elkins, was that there were other interesting train trips available in the area.   We ended up riding three different trains three days in a row and had a great time doing it.   I will start with Cass, the last one we rode and perhaps the highlight.

The Cass Railroad is actually a West Virginia State Park.   The park showcases not only the trains, but also the company town that began here in 1901.   It was built for the loggers who worked in the nearby mountains bringing lumber to the mill in the town of Cass.   The mill closed in 1960 when the timber industry declined and in 1961 the town became a state park.    Part of the sawmill still stands but is mostly in ruins.   The trains now carry passengers on the same tracks that the lumber trains once used.   In the photo above, one of the trains takes on water from the tank before heading out on a trip.

Before we hopped on the train we were able to tour the very large machine shop where train engines are serviced and repaired.    In the photo above the largest steam engine at the park is being serviced.   There was an amazing array of equipment and with so many parts and pieces laying everywhere I couldn’t help but wonder how they found anything or kept up with it all, but  there is probably a great system in place.    Since we had free rein around the shop, I had to be careful where I walked since it was so easy to trip over things.   I wonder what OSHA would think?

This is the first time we have seen so many steam engines in one place.   Eight are located here and before our trip they had a few of them running along the tracks at the same time, checking them out or getting ready to leave.    It was fun to see so much train energy at one time.    There are more of these steam engines here than any where else in the world.   In the photo below is the Cass Shop where the trains receive maintenance and the back of Number 5 in front of the shop.   Number 5 has been making runs into the mountains for almost 100 years.  This engine is also in the first photo above.

We were lucky because we ended up being in the car closest to the engine.   The cars have bench seats, a roof and open windows to make it easy to look out.   Our seats were right next to the engine as it pushed the cars up the track.   I spent much of my time standing and looking at all that wonderful steam and smoke and listening to the engine chug along.

I love riding trains, especially steam trains.   I don’t mind the smoke, grit and noise.   Although sometimes I had to put my fingers in my ears because it did get loud when the whistle blew as we were so close.   Since ash and cinders occasionally fell on us, I had to be careful to not get a piece of of it in my eyes.

The train was so close that Mark could reach out and touch the Builder Plate.   He said it was not hot, but definitely warm.   Our engine, Number 11 was originally built in 1923 and is from Feather Falls, California.   We found it funny that a train from our home state came in 1997 to Cass Railroad State Park to be added to their collection.

The train trip was very scenic the whole way with views of streams, thick forests and plenty of mountains.    West Virginia is known as the “Mountain State” and we could certainly agree after visiting.   Our objective was Bald Knob, the third highest point in West Virginia, so we were traveling up hill during most of the trip.

Once we reached Bald Knob located at 4,842 feet we were given time to wander the mountain top and soak up the views.   A large wooden platform perched on the edge offered a spectacular sight into West Virginia valleys below.  We were so fortunate to have perfect weather especially since prior to this trip it had been raining for about four days straight!   It was sunny and the clouds were lovely.

From the platform you can also see into two states, Pennsylvania and Virginia.   It was interesting to see how the Alleghany Mountains of Eastern West Virginia run parallel for many miles, looking so orderly.   To the right in the photo below you can see towards Virginia in the distance where the Alleghenies meet the Blue Ridge Mountains, our next destination after leaving West Virginia.

Our trip lasted almost five hours and was 22 miles round trip with two stops.   It was a beautiful historic ride and relaxing.   There is something about a train trip that puts you in a relaxed mood.

Mark took the photo below using the panorama mode.   The picture looks like there is no barrier between me and the train as it is moving, although that was not the case.   Even though the picture is distorted, I thought I would share since I find it funny.

Does anyone have a favorite train trip they have taken?   Would love to hear of your experiences!    Stay tuned as I share about our other train rides in West Virginia.

A Day at Campobello Island and the Most Eastern U.S. Point


Campobello Island located in New Brunswick, Canada, and a short trip over a bridge from Maine was an easy day trip for us.    We had actually thought about exploring more of Eastern Canada since we were so close, but didn’t think we would have time since there is so much there and we wanted to be able to see the rest of the Eastern U.S. including New England and Appalachia before the end of Fall.   So, it was at least fun to be able to go into Canada for the day and see not only a beautiful island but a former home of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  It was also neat to see this home because we had been to his other home and presidential library in Hyde Park, New York.   Above is a photo looking across at Campobello.

Our first stop on this day trip was West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, the most Eastern point in the United States and near the town of Lubec.   The original tower was built in 1808 under orders from President Thomas Jefferson.   The current tower was built in 1858.   I thought the red and white striped tower was so pretty and it was neat to be at the most Eastern location!

The cute town of Lubec is the gateway to Campobello Island.  In the photo above you can see the FDR Memorial Bridge which crosses from Lubec to Campobello.   This is the only land crossing; all other transportation is by ferry.   The bridge opened in 1962, well after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death.   After crossing we stopped at the border station to show our passports and answer a few questions as to where, what and why and then we were on our way to explore the Island!

Our first stop was the Roosevelt Campobello International Park which is the only park administered jointly by the United States and Canadian governments.   The park includes a Visitor Center, the Roosevelt home and several other historic homes.   We first stopped at the Visitor Center to get tickets and information.   The park offers a few programs including “Tea with Eleanor” which is a presentation about Eleanor Roosevelt accompanied with tea and homemade ginger cookies.   The cost for the tea was about $12.00 each and we had hoped to use our ATM card as we were low on cash.   Unfortunately the ATM machine was down.   The lady working the counter told us that we really should attend the program, it was so nice and she would lend us the money.   We explained that we weren’t staying on the Island and it would be difficult to get the money back to her.   Without hesitation, she said that we could mail a check to her address when we were back home!    In shock at her offer, we thanked her and said we would think about it.   We managed to scrape up enough money when I realized we had our “laundry quarters” in the truck and Mark decided he would rather not attend it anyway, so we just signed me up.    But this encounter with the very kind woman was a surprising act of generosity during our traveling.

We first had a tour of the Roosevelt summer cottage which is beautiful both inside and out.   Although a cottage to me denotes a rather small place, this one has 34 rooms!   Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) first summered on Campobello with his parents at the age of one and it became a beloved retreat for his parents.   FDR’s father was a big sailing enthusiast and his son also grew to love the sport, receiving his own small sailboat when he was seven years old.   Next door to FDR’s parent’s home was this cottage built in 1897 that the Roosevelts acquired in 1909 from the previous owner.   The couple spent many happy summers here with their children and enjoyed lots of activities such as sailing, swimming and playing sports.   Below is a picture from the game room displaying one of the model boats that Roosevelt built with his sons.

The Roosevelts enjoyed entertaining friends in this dining room but no political guests came here.   This was a retreat, a sanctuary and away from the cares of the world.  Many of the cottage’s rooms on two floors can be seen by visitors including the kitchen, living areas, family bedrooms and school room for the children.   Daughter Anna loved horses and her bedroom window looked out on the stables.

Sadly, it was here in August 1921 that FDR at the age of 39 was stricken suddenly with symptoms of paralysis after a day of sailing and swimming.   He soon lost all movement below his waist and was diagnosed with infantile paralysis or polio.   How ironic that this debilitating illness came upon him in this beloved place where he had been so actively enjoying life.    After his illness, FDR only came to the Island a few more times.   The effects of his illness and political responsibilities kept him away, although Eleanor and the children continued to visit each summer.

Below is a photo taken from the back of the house looking down on the broad sweep of lawn leading to the water where the family enjoyed so many of their activities.

After the house tour, I headed over to the “Eleanor’s Tea” which was held in the historic Wells-Shober Cottage.   Built in the late 1880’s, it had a lovely yellow painted parlor filled with tables for the tea.

The program was interesting with two presenters providing information on Eleanor’s life and her work as an activist.   The cookies and tea were delicious and we were each given a little booklet called “Cookies for Eleanor” with recipes and pictures inside from teas and picnics Eleanor attended.  Eleanor was fond of outdoor teas and they were a common occurrence.  Eleanor’s granddaughter who compiled the booklet wrote:  “I doubt that my grandmother ever baked a cookie.  In fact, she was not known for fine cuisine.  She loved picnics and indeed every mealtime, with lively conversation among friends and family.”   I liked the photo on the booklet cover so thought I would include in this post.   Eleanor is seated second from the left during a tea party.

After our Roosevelt visit, we headed for a late lunch at a restaurant next to the water that was known to have up close sightings of whales.   From the outside deck, we ate our fish and chips and haddock fish chowder anxiously scanning the water for a whale visit, but none came in view.   After eating we drove to one end of the Island next to Head Harbor Light Station where we had some good sightings of Minke whales in the distance.   There are whale watching tours from the Island and we saw several out in the Bay.   Below, Mark scans the water for whales.

Head Harbor Light is located in a very scenic area on a little island.   Actually it becomes an island only at high tide.   At low tide, you can cross over by way of rickety looking steel stairs or ladders.   While we were there, the tide was still covering much of the passage area and a chain blocked the stairs heading down.

When we were getting ready to leave, they opened up the stairs and people started making their way across the beach area to the stairs going up to the light station.   We ended up not going, although if it had been accessible when we first got there, I might have given it a go.   The views were certainly beautiful and the 1829 wooden light tower was built in a remarkable spot on a rocky outcropping.

We had a great day on Campobello Island full of history and natural beauty!

For my next blog post I plan to do something different and write on the last state we just visited, West Virginia.   This will make the blog more current to where we have just been.  But I will return to write about the other states we have visited in between.