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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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 (sautรฉed 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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Camping in Virginia Beach – July 21-24, 2021

Some years when we’ve gone to the beach in the summer, we’ve stayed at a motel 10 miles from the oceanfront just to keep our visit reasonably affordable. In more recent years we’ve stayed at a campground near Williamsburg and we’ve done day trips to the beach. (This allowed us to avoid towing through the crazy traffic and congestion of Hampton Roads and the tunnel on I-64.) This year, however, we decided to take an alternate route to the coast and stay at the Holiday Trav-L-Park campground in Virginia Beach.

We took I-64 East to I-295. Southeast of Richmond we turned onto State Route 5 East towards Charles City. This road runs from Richmond, Virginia to Williamsburg, and it’s one of our favorite drives. It’s especially pretty in the fall when the leaves are turning.

Just before Williamsburg, we followed the signs towards Jamestown–and the Jamestown-Scotland ferry. In addition to the rural, scenic nature of this route, an extra fun aspect is crossing the James River on a ferry! I always enjoy photographing the birds that hang out near the docks.

While we’ve taken this route to the beach many times, this was the first time we’d ever had our trailer on the ferry!

Waze wasn’t quite sure what was happening as we crossed the James River.

The trip across the river took 20-25 minutes, and it took us another couple of hours to make our way to the campground. A little after 2:00 PM (about 5 hours after leaving home) we arrived at Holiday Trav-L-Park and got set up in site # 152.

This is an enormous campground, and the sites in this section are only suitable for tents or small trailers, such as ours. We had water and electric hookups, and we were pretty close to a bathhouse, the main pool, the camp store, and the entrance to the park.

This particular site was mostly shaded, morning and afternoon, and on the end of a row which gave us more space.

The campground (represented by the blue dot) wasn’t far from the ocean at all.

We planned to eat an early dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, but I wasn’t sure if I’d feel comfortable eating in or if I’d want to get take-out (as we did last summer). We ultimately decided to eat in, and I was pleased to see that almost everyone was opting to use disposable gloves on their “serving hand” at the buffet. (We wore our masks any time we left our table.) As usual, the food was great! This was the ceiling in the room where we were seated.

After dinner we drove to the oceanfront and walked on the boardwalk before returning to the campground. We got some rain just after we got “home,” but the worst of the storms that night passed to our east and to our west.

The next morning we drove south to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Most of the time there are very few people on the beach (no swimming is allowed) and it offers beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean and the resident wildlife.

Wayne always likes to swim in the ocean, so we went to Little Island Park in Sandbridge to change into our suits. When we walked out on the beach, I took one look at the surprisingly rough surf and decided I wasn’t getting in. Wayne decided otherwise….

After the fact, he said it felt like an “Old Man and the Sea” experience–and the sea won that round. ๐Ÿ˜‰

On the pier in Sandbridge, I saw some birds that I haven’t been able to identify yet. I’m not sure if they were adults or juveniles. They were smaller than seagulls, but larger than Grackles or Red-wing Blackbirds.

Back at the campground, an almost-full moon was rising over the trees, and we could hear music coming from the pool area. I remembered reading something about a DJ that night, so we decided to check it out.

This was so much fun–music, dancing, and swimming under a moonlit sky. ๐Ÿ™‚

On Friday morning we went to a favorite restaurant (Nick’s on Laskin Road) for breakfast before driving to 64th Street and First Landing State Park. We’ve been to this section of the park SO many times and we always enjoy walking on the Cape Henry Trail and taking pictures along the way.

We totally lucked out on the weather. The temperature was pretty awesome for a day in July!

I took a LOT of pictures of what I think was a juvenile Great Blue Heron:

Our next stop was the section of First Landing on Shore Drive where the campground and beach are. If you look closely, you can see the Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel behind us.

The previous day we’d purchased tickets online for a 4:00 PM visit to the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, a place we’d never had time to go before. My pictures aren’t very good–too dark inside and everything was moving!–but I’m very glad we went!

I did not know this….

Outside of the aquarium, there’s a large tank that houses two harbor seals, Hector and Rudder.

An interesting “rainbow” formed along the outer edge of the edge of the tank as the late afternoon sun came through the water.

When we got back to the campground, Wayne made delicious salads for dinner. We ate pretty lightly on this trip–with the exception of our first night seafood splurge! ๐Ÿ˜‰

After dinner we went back to the main pool for another evening of swimming and music. I’d never heard of dances like the “Cupid Shuffle” and the “Wobble”–and who knew that hula hoop contests were still a thing–but there were participants of all ages. While there were more people there than the previous night, the pool wasn’t overly crowded and everyone seemed to be having a good time on a beautiful summer Friday night.

The next morning as we prepared to leave the campground, I looked at a map to plot my course back to Jamestown via the ferry. I also checked the best way to get to Rt. 460 West, in case we decided to go that way for a change of scenery. Despite my planning, I ultimately made a wrong turn and found myself heading right for the Hampton Roads tunnel on I-64!

Yes, I had to pull over at an inspection station before the tunnel to verify that the propane tank on the trailer was turned off (Virginia state law), and yes, there was a lot of traffic, and at times we just crept along as we entered the tunnel–but you know what? It was okay.

Although I’d PREFER not to take this route in the future when towing the trailer, it’s not something I’ll absolutely avoid or be fearful about. Even with the congestion and occasional slow downs due to construction, we made it home in 4 hours.

We thoroughly enjoyed our 3-night stay at Holiday Trav-L-Park. What a fun trip, and we look forward to staying there again!

Until next time,

Sharon & Wayne

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Camping at Sherando Lake – July 14-16, 2021

We greatly enjoyed our recent 2-night stay at Sherando Lake in the George Washington National Forest. While we prefer even-numbered sites in the shadier section in River Bend (B) loop at Sherando, we couldn’t complain about the size of site B-13.

We’ve camped at Sherando several times, and in 2016 we were in B13 with our little Scamp travel trailer.

It was hot the afternoon we arrived–even at this campground in the mountains–and in addition to using our awning, we found it helpful to put up our colorful shade cloth.

After we’d gotten everything situated and set up, we drove to the lake to swim for a while. The water felt great! Later, as we were hanging our suits and other items on a makeshift clothesline, Wayne smiled. We were using his mother’s clothespins, and he wondered what she’d think of them traveling around with us in our camper!

Earlier in the day we’d walked from our site in B loop to the dam at the upper lake and around C loop. After dinner, we walked from B loop down to–and around–A loop and back. My Fitbit loved all this walking and said we’d covered a little over 4 miles.

Once it was dark, we sat outside watching the sky. It was the beginning of the Perseid meteor shower and we saw several “shooting stars,” along with a number of satellites. When we finally came inside, I guess that the combination of swimming, walking, fresh air, and simply relaxing under the stars accounted for the fact that we slept an amazing 9 hours that night!

The next day we visited with my cousin, Mary, and her husband, David, who are camp hosts at Sherando. It was the first time we’d seen each other in well over a year due to the pandemic, and it was nice to catch up. ๐Ÿ™‚

After leaving their site in C loop, we walked up the road towards the group camping area, then turned left to walk up on top of the dam. I certainly wished I had my regular camera with me because there were dozens of Goldfinches (and butterflies) up there on the thistles! I didn’t get any pics of the birds with my cell phone camera, but the thistles were certainly pretty!

There’s a trail around the upper lake, but we’ve never been on it. Maybe we will on another trip.

Looking down towards the bottom of the dam, we were surprised to see a number of crows gathered on the bridge. They seemed very “serious” about something, and there was much discussion among them.

After walking back to our campsite, we were ready for a swim. The water was cool enough to be refreshing, but warm enough to be enjoyable.

That evening after dinner we planned to go up to the top of the dam to watch for meteors, but we were told to avoid the area. A rattlesnake had been spotted near the base of the dam, not too far from the bridge where the crows had been. Hmmm–had they spotted the snake earlier in the day? Is that why they were so serious and concerned?

So instead of going up to the dam to watch the sky, we opted to stay at our campsite again after another walk around the various campground loops. My cousin’s site looked so pretty! She said their vintage lights are over 40 years old.

Our stay at Sherando lake was so relaxing and low-key. I really hope we’ll be able to go again one weekend this fall.

Until next time,

Sharon & Wayne

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“Secret” Marriage in St. Joseph, Michigan in 1902

I love/hate mysteries, and this is probably one reason that I’ve been passionate about genealogy research for 30+ years. For a long time I focused on direct-line ancestors, but more recently I’ve been exploring all of the “side lines”–the brothers and sisters of my ancestors and their families. One benefit of this is that I’ve found several 2nd and 3rd cousins who have become good friends. ๐Ÿ™‚

My most recent exploration involved one of my grandfather Barrett’s older sisters. She grew up in Pennsylvania, and her husband’s family was in Chicago before moving to Missouri, and yet in 1902 they were married in a small coastal town on the southeast side of Lake Michigan. How did they meet in the first place?!

As I found more records about their marriage, I noticed that they’d been married on a Wednesday. Was that unusual?? Wait, according to the documents I found, there were five other couples married on this Wednesday–in February, in Michigan–and two of those other couples were married by the same minister, W.P. French!

As I looked forwards and backwards in the online wedding registry, it seemed that there were multiple people marrying every day of the week in this small town, and most of them were from other parts of Michigan or from other states!

As I “Googled” to try to figure out what this was all about, I found a couple of articles that explained a lot:

According to the first article (, 100 years ago couples from Chicago could take a 4-hour boat ride across Lake Michigan and be married in St. Joseph, MI the same afternoon. The relaxed requirements for marriages in Michigan (including no wait time) made this town a hub for quickie weddings, and “the clerk was averaging a marriage every four minutes, with the fastest ceremony being just 30 seconds.ย “

The second article ( went further, saying that while we think of Las Vegas as America’s wedding capital, St. Joe was the undisputed wedding capital of the Midwest in the early twentieth century.

Well, who knew?! And as I searched for even more information, I found this:

I have absolutely NO idea what this is about. With so many people coming to St. Joseph, MI to get married, why did THIS particular couple make the newspaper? Did they do or say something that called attention to themselves? Was it a “secret” marriage because they eloped? Was that unusual for the “Marriage Capital of the Midwest”? And I’d say their marriage was hardly a “secret” after their names were published in the newspaper!

One of the things I’ve found fascinating AND …humbling… about genealogy research is that it gives the researcher such a broad–almost omniscient–view of an individual. We often know when someone was born, who their parents were, who they married, when they died…. We can see their life played out in documents, photographs, and headstones.

Despite these little “footprints” through time and space, however, I always find myself wanting to know more; really wanting to KNOW the people who came before me. I guess that explains why that even after 30 years of looking at census records, wills, deeds, faded pictures, and graves, I’m still engaged and interested…

As to this couple, after marrying in St. Joseph, Michigan in 1902, in 1910 they were making their home in Elgin, Illinois, west of Chicago. According to census records, Hamilton McKinley worked for the Elgin Watch Company as a “commercial traveler.” (In 1900 when he was unmarried and living with his parents in Mexico, Missouri, he had listed his occupation as “watch maker.” Prior to that, in 1898, he had served in the Spanish-American war.)

By 1915 the couple was living in Mexico, Missouri. Hamilton had taken over his father’s bakery business that had been established some 30 years before. He was still listed as the owner of the business (his brother, Alex, was the manager) in 1918.

Census records show the couple in the same town in Missouri in 1920, but by 1930 they were living in Los Angeles, California, renting an apartment on Crenshaw Boulevard. Hamilton listed his occupation as a jewelry salesman. They were still in California in 1935, but they spent some time that year in St. Petersburg, Florida.

At the age of 62, Hamilton Brown McKinley died in Glendale, California on April 10, 1938.

After a military funeral service, his body was placed in crypt #8252 at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. His widow, my great-aunt (or “grandaunt” as ancestry dot com calls it), was living in Los Angeles again in 1940 and owned this house (picture from Google Maps, street view):

But what happened over the next 20 years? Louella “Lulu” Barrett McKinley died in a nursing home in November 1960 in Cleveland, Ohio at the age of 81.

Why was she in Cleveland? She and her husband had no children and I don’t think that any of her siblings were in Ohio. Why was an autopsy performed? (The document says that it was “used for certification.”) Perhaps there was someone she knew there, or perhaps it was in her will (which I have not found) but somehow it was arranged for her body to be taken back to Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California to be interred in crypt #8252 beside her husband.

It’s possible that some of my Barrett cousins–descendants of my grandfather’s other siblings–know more of the story of this couple, so I’ll be checking with them. And also–like many other genealogists around the country–we’re all looking forward to the release of the 1950 census records in April 2022.

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Camping at Douthat State Park – May 21-23, 2021

Thanks to a last-minute cancellation, I was able to make weekend reservations at Douthat State Park near Clifton Forge, Virginia. We’ve done two day trips to Douthat for First Day Hikes, but we’d never camped there.

We were packed up and ready to go around 1:00 pm on Friday.

This is a large and well-established state park with 4 separate campgrounds, and we had a “non-specific” site in White Oak. Getting into this campground involves crossing a creek on a low bridge. While it was certainly wide enough for our car and trailer, I drove across right in the center!

There were still several sites to choose from by the time we arrived and we chose site #14. This was a back-in site (as are most in this campground) and not very level. The door side of the trailer needed to come up about 4″, and we also had to raise the back end and lower the front end of the trailer.

This was the first opportunity we’d had to try out our new Andersen leveler, and it worked great. As a general word to the wise, though, be sure your trailer wheels are well chocked before disconnecting from your tow vehicle especially when a site isn’t level!

After we had everything set up, we drove down to the beach area of the lake.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails “puddling” on the beach

It was so peaceful and relaxing…. Wayne stretched out on one of the benches near the lake and quickly fell asleep! When he woke up, he took this picture of the blue sky and green leaves.

Dinner that evening was Shrimp Scampi & Linguine (a Bertolli frozen meal) cooked outside in the electric skillet. After dinner, Wayne started a campfire, and it cooled off so much later in the evening that I needed to put on my sweatshirt jacket. Nice sleeping weather!

The next morning, Wayne fixed breakfast outside. I’ve said it before, but the electric skillet is one of the best things we’ve found for food preparation when we’re camping; we rarely take our propane stove with us now.

Scrambled eggs with onion, garlic and cheese – Bush’s vegetarian baked beans – bagels & cream cheese – coffee

I wanted to make a quick trip into Clifton Forge to look around and also to pick up a couple of things at a grocery store.

ALSO, I wanted to get a picture of myself at the Amtrak station. One of my cousins who grew up in Clifton Forge recently made a cross-country train trip and she was able to get a quick picture of herself at the station. This was my “Hi, Jane!” moment. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Clifton Forge has been a railroad town for years and years. Two of my grandmother’s brothers moved to this small town to work for the C&O railroad, and a great-great uncle on my grandfather’s side lived and worked there, too, as did other relatives!

We decided to “stop by” the C&O Railway Heritage Center on our way out of town and had NO idea that we’d spend the next couple of hours there! We took so many pictures that I put them in a separate blog post that you can view here. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.

When we got back to our campsite, we sat outside for a while and enjoyed watching the various critters that stopped by:

Oh, and funny thing–we heard an Eastern Whip-poor-will both nights at Douthat State Park; I hadn’t heard one in years! In the link it says, “They chant their loud, namesakeย whip-poor-willย song continuously on spring and summer evenings,” and that is the truth! I don’t know how or when it ever took a breath because it sang non-stop. ๐Ÿ™‚

It was warm Saturday afternoon and Wayne wanted to go to the lake to swim. Hmmm. I put my bathing suit on but I was pretty sure I’d just watch from the sidelines.

Wayne ventured out into the lake, but pretty quickly he ventured right back to the beach. As he put it, ice cubes would not have melted in the water! Made me laugh!

As he sat on the beach in front of me drying off and warming up, I thought of how fortunate and how blessed we were to simply be in this beautiful place…. We are so very thankful for all of the healing that has taken place since November 2020.

When we got back to the campground, I took this picture of the hood of my car. Can you say, “Ah-CHOO!”? So just as mountain lakes are still going to be super cold in May, camping in a forest in the springtime is going to expose you to a lot of pollen!

For dinner Saturday night we fixed another delicious Bertolli frozen meal. While the fridge and freezer in the trailer are small, it’s so nice to have the ability to keep things frozen.

After dinner, we sat outside talking and listening to the Whip-poor-will until the campfire burned down to embers.

With check out time at 1:00 pm, we had time to go back to the lake on Sunday morning.

With a lake this size, one of the obvious attractions is fishing. In addition to needing a regular VA State fishing license and a trout license, the park charges an $8/day fee for fishing from early April until mid-June. During this time the lake is stocked with trout twice a week, and we saw people catching HUGE trout while we were there!

Below the dam is Wilson Creek. It’s a very pretty area that we’ve visited on our previous day trips.

While this was our first camping trip to Douthat, we hope to go again sometime!

Until next time,

Sharon & Wayne

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