For spring break this year we went to a really great part of the Commonwealth - the very western part where the ridge and valley soon give way to the Appalachian plateau. It's where Tennessee is to the south and Kentucky is to the north and West Virginia is to the northeast! We were far from our coastal Virginia habitat.
With all of the places in the world and in our nation that we have yet to visit, it's amazing to think that we still haven't seen all that Virginia has to offer! We drove up I-64, to I-81 and zoomed down to little Marion Virginia, the town just outside of Hungry Mother State Park.
We reserved a lovely cabin in the park which was our base of operations for this adventure. Many of the Virginia State parks have cabins that are fully furnished with linens and a kitchen with all of the gear needed to cook your own meals, including the towels and dish soap. All you have to bring is your food, clothes, and any toys but that's about it. The 2 bedroom cabin had plenty of room for our little family of 3. The master room had a queen-sized bed and the other room had 2 bunk beds.
Sunday, April 2
Our primary activity while on this trip was hiking. There was some pretty good hiking right in the park. Since check-in time was 3pm and we arrived at 11, we hiked the 6 mile loop that goes around the reservoir on the park property. It's an easy up and down trail that would have also been nice if we had our bicycles. But, we left those at home since we had our dog, Hampton, who needs the exercise as badly as we need it!
Monday, April 3
On the second day of our trip we hiked to the top of Molly's Knob. Molly is the hungry mother from which the legend came and you can read the summary of the story here. It's a pretty vigorous walk straight up and you can see Mt. Rogers from the top. It was overcast but we enjoyed the walk and the views nonetheless.
This tough boy scout hiked up Molly's knob with all of the materials to build several benches for hikers to rest on. That had to be one heck of a job! If done correctly, he actually would have delegated most of it in a display of service leadership of his peers. In any event, it gives me some perspective as an assistant scoutmaster as to what a good eagle project should entail. This one was impressive.
After our walk up Molly's knob in the morning it rained monsoon style all afternoon. For that we took a drive on the back of the dragon which is an exciting drive on state route 16 over three mountains for 33 miles from Hungry Mother to Tazewell, VA. If you can take this ride and not get carsick, then you can't get carsick! It's a crazy, constant serpentine little two lane highway with few guardrails and breathtaking views. We even saw a pair of wild turkeys. From what I hear this route is a favorite of motorcyclists, however, we didn't see one due to the rain.
The third day of our adventure was my favorite. For that we went to Grayson Highlands State Park. From Hungry Mother we had to take route 16 in the opposite direction of the dragon, south for 37 miles. When we got into the park we went to Massey Gap where we parked our car. The wind was howling and the air was brisk. The park was open to visitors but all of the visitor centers, stores, campsites and ammeneties of any type were closed. The only thing open were some open pit latrines.
Along with the cold wind it all seemed a bit foreboding, but, we pressed on.
From Massey Gap we began our hike up the Rhododendron Trail. This trail went through a large open area that was fenced off but there were herds of wild ponies. I was a little unsure how this would go since we have a large goofy dog. There were signs that said something like, "these ponies are wild. They kick and they bite."
Okay, cool, so the next thing I know, several ponies came right up to my goofy dog. He was loosing it. I seriously feared that he would break his collar as hard as he pulled and jerked. I'm not sure what would have happened under that scenario. My guess is we'd be minus one golden retriever. I finally got him to sit and he got some French kisses from the ponies. Meanwhile they even let us pet them. they didn't seem that wild to me. Some of the other folks that we passed said that they will definitely steal your lunch, given the chance. We ate our lunch later in the day when we were out of range of ponies!
After we passed through the land of the ponies we transferred from the Rhododendron Trail to the Appalachian Trail on our way to Mt. Rogers, the highest point above sea-level in Virginia. It's literally alpine and it truly has the feel of being out west (Rockies style). There are awesome views along this trail all the way until you reach the spur trail that goes to the peak of Mt. Rogers. The funny thing about that spur trail is that once you're there, there's no vista, no overlook. It's never been logged. It's covered trees and it's wet. One person described it as being like a rain forest, and I agree. It reminded me of the Oregon coast forest but with smaller trees.
Finally, after 30 miles of hiking, on our last day, we decided to take a load off and so we headed to Damascus. We checked into Sun Dog bicycle rentals and for $26 each we rented a bicycle and then our guide, James, loaded them onto a trailer pulled behind a 12 passenger van. He took us up the road to a place called White Top. From there back to Damascus is a 17 and 1/2 mile bike ride - all down hill! It's part of the rails to trails program, where old railroads are converted to trails. This one is called the Virginia Creeper Trail. It's a very nice ride down. You basically have to apply the break every now and then but there's not much peddling. James said that sometimes he has a van load of very senior citizens, sometimes in their 90s, and they all loved it, according to James.
Well, we enjoyed it too! Over the course of the trip we crossed at least 20 trestles, some of them quite high. There were springs of water coming out of the rocks, and the whole thing followed the Holston River. Apparently, this particular railroad was used to move the logs out of the area. Originally they used the river itself but I imagine the railroad would be a bit easier.
After this, the next day, we hightailed it back to the coastal plain. All tolled, we walked over 30 miles and I drove almost exactly 1000! I would do it again. We enjoyed the relative solitude of the cold water season. Hungry Mother park has a very nice beach that seems like it gets very popular in the summertime.
This post hits on some of the highlights of our trip. I didn't go into the time we spent in Marion where we ate a nice meal and drank some fine brews at a neat little restaurant called 27 Lions. We enjoyed that town, Damascus, and the whole area in general.
Oh, and here's my obligatory picture of what a flat-lands golden retriever looks like in a state park cabin after a 10 mile walk in the mountains. Ciao!