Virginia Beach – March 2022

Due to the pandemic, it had been over 2 years since Wayne and I stayed in a motel or hotel. With a rare free weekend, however, we made a (slow) run for Virginia Beach, traveling on Rt. 5 between Richmond and Jamestown.

One of the fun things about taking this route is crossing the James River on a ferry.

The forecast had originally called for strong storms on Saturday morning, but instead it was breezy, with bright sunshine and warm temperatures. Glorious! We went to Nick’s on Laskin Road for breakfast, and it was comfortable enough to eat outside.

Our next stop was one of our favorite places: First Landing State Park on 64th Street.

We’ve made many, many trips to this state park, but this time we saw something we’d never seen before–a Bald Eagle! And it was being pursued by two Ospreys!! I wish I could have gotten a picture as they flew overhead, but they were all moving way too fast!

A couple of hours later, we drove to another favorite place: Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. About 20 miles south of Virginia Beach, this narrow strip of land lies between between a bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

When we got there, the skies had become overcast and it was very windy. We parked facing Back Bay, opened the windows, reclined the seats, and just relaxed (and dozed) for 20-30 minutes.

In that short amount of time, the clouds moved off, the wind died down a little, and warm sunshine returned. We took the Seaside Trail over the dunes to the ocean, and marveled at the beauty all around us.

Atlantic Ocean at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia Beach, Virginia

Spending a day like this provided a much-needed opportunity to relax, reflect, and recharge.

I’m still very cautious about getting into situations involving crowds, but that evening the appeal of going to our favorite seafood buffet restaurant in Virginia Beach led us to take the risk. We wore masks except when we were seated at our table (many other people were doing the same thing), and we enjoyed an absolutely delicious meal.

There was a large and very loud group of people at one end of the room in which we were seated, and when they started singing “Happy Birthday” to someone at their table, everyone in the large dining room joined in! When the song ended–and after the clapping and cheering subsided–someone in the room started singing: “How Old Are You? How Old Are You?” to the same tune, and again everyone sang!

A gentleman at the end of the large table called out, “101 years old!” and there was even more cheering and clapping! Someone, somewhere in the room started singing, “May God Bless You, May God Bless You!” and one more time everyone joined together in song.

I’ll admit that part of me was still concerned at the thought of being in a room with a whole lot of people who were singing, but at the same time it was one of the sweetest and most moving things I’ve experienced in the last couple of years. Indeed, Sir – may God bless you, your family, and everyone else who shared a few moments of spontaneous kindness and humanity in this crazy, stressful world….

When we left the restaurant, we drove back to First Landing just before the park closed. I was delighted to see a Great Blue Heron fly towards us as we were parking. It was really too dark to get a good picture, but I’m always happy to see these big birds.

The next morning we started for home but detoured onto Rt. 17 North towards Yorktown and Gloucester Point. Someday we hope to explore the museums, shops, and restaurants in this area, but on this trip we just wanted to enjoy Gloucester Point Beach Park on the York River for a little while.

George P. Coleman Memorial Bridge
Weathervane on a gazebo at the park
Looking across the York River towards the Yorktown Waterfront
Ring-billed Gulls
Pelican
Blessings to the York River and to the Chesapeake Bay
View from the fishing pier
Looking for dolphins…. None spotted this time, but we’ve seen them here before!

We crossed back over the bridge, took the scenic Colonial Parkway to Williamsburg, then continued towards home. What a beautiful and restful weekend getaway!

Until next time,

Sharon & Wayne

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Red-Shouldered Hawks – February 20, 2022

Since 2019 I’ve followed the adventures of a Red-Shouldered hawk couple. I’ve watched as they’ve refined and refurbished the same nest year after year, as they’ve fed their babies, and as their young have taken some of their first flights.

This morning as we were driving by the tree where these birds have made their home, I commented that there was very little left of their nest. The storms and the strong winds we’ve had this winter have reduced it to only about 1/4 of its original size, and I wondered if they’d rebuild it this spring or abandon it. Wayne suggested that I take a picture to show its current state.

Right as I stopped the car and started to zoom in with my camera, I was stunned to see one of the birds–likely the female, due to the size–fly to the tree with several sticks in her beak! What incredible timing!

This was an all around “jaw-drop” moment, as the earliest I’ve seen them working on the nest in previous years was mid-March.

After arranging the sticks, the hawk flew to a nearby tree. While this was the only bird I saw, I imagine her partner was somewhere close as Red-Shouldered hawks are monogamous and mate for life. Since this is the fourth year that I’ve watched this pair–and they usually breed for the first time when they’re about 2 years old–this bird is likely at least 5 years old.

She flew off again, so I started driving away. We spotted her on another tree where she was apparently breaking off twigs, because we saw her flying back towards her nest with another load of sticks in her beak. I wish I could have gotten a video of this!

We look forward to another year of watching this beautiful family.

Until next time,

Sharon & Wayne

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Frontier Culture Museum – December 4, 2021

It had probably been 20 or more years since Wayne or I had visited the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, Virginia. With no definite plans on this Saturday–and with temperatures in the low 50s–we decided to get in some walking while touring this unique outdoor museum.

After paying the admission–and learning that their costumed interpreters would not be in the houses due to the museum’s winter schedule–we started towards the English farm.

Our next stop was the Irish forge:

Making some friends on the way to the Irish farm.

On to Germany….

I’d never heard of this Native American community from the 1700s.

The last section of the Frontier Culture Museum featured American farms.

And the highlight of this part of the tour? Wayne singing to a huge pig!

Due to the time of day and how far we’d already walked, we opted not to explore the rest of the houses in the American farms section, especially since this was more of a dead end than a loop. We were pretty tired by the time we got back to our car!

Next stop: dinner! Wayne had a gift card that was still good (after 2 years), so we splurged!

OMG… “Chocolate Thunder from Down Under” – decadent!

It was a most enjoyable day!

Until next time,

Sharon & Wayne

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375-Mile Day Trip – October 23, 2021

This adventure started with a trek down I-64 East. About halfway between Richmond and Williamsburg, we turned on Rt. 33 East, and this took us through the town of West Point. While a paper mill dominates the view as you enter the town, the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Rivers converge here to form the York River.

We have not yet visited the museums at the Mattaponi and Pamunkey reservations; perhaps we’ll do that on our next trip this way.

We took some “wrong” (but pretty) roads before arriving at our first destination: Gwynn’s Island. We camped here in August 2020 and we’ve missed it ever since we left!

When we arrived at the campground, we asked if there were any vacancies for one night in one of the rental cottages, cabins, or campers. Aside from a couple of tent sites, they were booked solid. Kind of figured they would be. The woman in the office said we were welcomed to walk around the campground for a while, and we took her up on the offer. This is SUCH a beautiful place, right on the Chesapeake Bay!

Leaving Gwynn’s Island RV Resort, the next place we planned to visit was Gloucester Point Beach Park near the Coleman Memorial Bridge. In November 2019 we’d discovered a little park on the York River, and we were delighted to see dolphins there:

Before reaching Gloucester Point, however, we saw a sign for Machicomoco State Park. I’d heard of this relatively new state park in a Virginia campers groups and impulsively decided to check it out. There was more there than I anticipated.

This is the first Virginia state park that “celebrates and honors the history of the Native Tribes of Virginia,” and after driving through the campground, we went to the interpretive area.

“For as long as 18,000 years, Native American people have lived along Chesapeake’s waterways…”

Back on Rt. 17 South, I missed the turn to Gloucester Point Beach Park! As we crossed the Coleman Memorial Bridge, Wayne snapped these pictures of a big sailboat going upstream on the York River.

As soon as we were across the bridge, a sign to the right said “Historic Yorktown,” “Waterfront,” and “Watermen’s Museum,” so I made the turn. To my surprise, the road curved back under the bridge and I had an opportunity to get an even better picture of the sailboat:

I’d never been to the Yorktown waterfront, but as we slowly drove past shops, restaurants, and a riverfront hotel, I remembered seeing a friend’s pictures of this area. We just did a quick drive-through this time, but it’s another place I’d like to re-visit!

From Yorktown, we took the scenic route to Williamsburg on the Colonial Parkway.

While I’m still not totally comfortable eating in restaurants, we greatly enjoyed our dinner at Captain George’s Seafood Restaurant.

Now here’s where the adventure took a bit of a turn…. Before we left home that morning I’d checked various Williamsburg motels and hotels and there were limited openings. Those that did have openings didn’t have particularly good reviews. Since it wasn’t completely dark by the time we left the restaurant, we decided to drive to Richmond. Surely we’d find a place to stay there.

Except we didn’t.

The places we checked were either too pricy, too sketchy (seriously), or there were no vacancies. Okay, fine. Let’s just call this a 375-mile day trip and go home. It was a beautiful day. 🙂

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Camping at Smith Mountain Lake State Park – August 3-8, 2021

With so many more people camping since the start of the pandemic, it’s been hard to find campsites–especially at state parks. We were delighted when a midweek cancellation opened up a site at Smith Mountain Lake State Park in early August! We arrived on a Tuesday afternoon and got set up in site # 5.

Smith Mountain Lake may only be 2 hours away from home for us, but it’s a whole different, beautiful world….

When we camped at SML last summer, we stayed in the park the whole time–which was great. This time we were interested in exploring the surrounding area. On Wednesday morning we decided we’d drive to the southeast end of Smith Mountain Lake to see the dam and visitor’s center.

It took us close to an hour to get from the state park to the dam, and once we were on the property (and not a moment before!), we saw a sign stating that the visitor’s center and observation area (above the dam) were closed! We could see the back side of the dam, but that was about it. Alrighty….

Regrouping, we chose to do a drive around the southern side of the lake instead of going back to the state park the way we’d come. After traveling on some bonafide backroads, Rt. 40 near Pen Hook, VA took us west to Rocky Mount where we got on Rt. 122 North. We made an impromptu stop at a roadside fruit stand, and the peaches and blackberries (and fruit tarts) we got were amazing!

Rt. 122 is also called “Booker T. Washington Highway,” and our next unscheduled stop was at the Booker T. Washington National Monument. At the visitor’s center we watched a short video about this man who was born as an enslaved person on the property, but who went on to become an educator, author, and adviser to several U.S. presidents.

Having successfully circumnavigated Smith Mountain Lake, we had a better feel for the general area and became more familiar with some of the major roads, backroads, and stores. Good reference for future trips. 🙂

That evening, we wanted to try a restaurant that fellow campers had recommended. “Jake’s Place” is about 10 miles from the state park, and well worth the drive. We opted to sit outside, and we enjoyed seeing all of the boats (including vintage/antique boats) that were coming and going at the marina. We also greatly enjoyed an appetizer of mussels (sautéed in wine, butter, and garlic) and our meals!

After an amazing and delicious dinner, it was very nice to come back “home” to the campground and spend the evening relaxing by a campfire.

The next morning we were ready to check out some of the park’s trails. Rated as “moderate” and 1.4 miles, the Turtle Island trail seemed like a good option. We paused, first, to bless the waters of Smith Mountain Lake.

The actual island is accessed via a small bridge.

View of the state park’s beach from Turtle Island. (Actual distance and zoomed in.)

The walk back to the parking lot was where the “moderate” rating came from. While it wasn’t particularly steep, it was a long, steady uphill trek. At least it was mainly shaded!

Originally we’d just been able to make camping reservations for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights–and felt lucky for that!–but thanks to another cancellation, we were able to extend our stay to include Friday and Saturday nights. Yes! This was the longest we’d stayed in any campground this summer, but we’re so glad we had extra time to explore and enjoy–we really weren’t ready to leave!

On Friday we finally made it to the lake for swimming! The water was just cool enough to be refreshing. During the time we were at the park, the temperatures were mainly in the mid-80s; quite pleasant, actually, for late summer.

On Saturday we drove to Bridgewater Plaza and Marina (an area we’d passed through on Wednesday), hoping to visit some of the shops there. Well, weekends are really busy at Smith Mountain Lake and when we couldn’t find a parking space, we started back towards the campground. Impulsively turning onto a side road, we found ourselves at Hickory Hill Vineyards, which proved to be an excellent decision.

The whole (extended) trip to Smith Mountain Lake was an excellent decision….

I’m so very glad we were able to have this time at Smith Mountain Lake State Park. What a beautiful way to close out the summer!

Until next time,

Sharon & Wayne

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