Monday, May 28, 2012

Crabtree Falls & Loft Mountain

One of the great things about RVing is that if you don’t like where you are you can just leave!  And that’s exactly what we did this morning! Yokum’s Vacationland, despite being a character building experience, just wasn’t cutting it for us, so we left!

Last night we decided we would drive to Crabtree Falls, which is in the George Washington Forest in Virginia.  But 1st we had to get out of West Virginia!  We went out 33 to Harrisonburg, which meant that we had to go over 3 mountain passes!  Dad and I had a brief discussion about driving in the mountains and I learned a few things – namely it’s ok for the RPMS to go higher either going up or down.  Between figuring out how to get the van to downshift while I’m going up, (and go faster than 40 mph!) and learning how the transmission works when I downshift going down, driving the mountains was actually fun!  I didn’t feel like I was fighting the van!

Going up the last mountain I got behind a pick-up truck that was moving really slow!  I got stuck back there the whole way down!  When we were finally at the bottom I had an opportunity to pass him (on a 2 lane highway, so I had to go in the lane for the opposing traffic) and I decided go for it.  I floored the accelerator and the RV just took off!  I was amazed!  Usually it does 0-60 in about 20 minutes. 

I had another opportunity today to test the van’s ability to move quickly under pressure.  When we were heading up the mountain to get to Crabtree Falls we came to a train crossing.  There was a train coming, but it was moving really slow and it was partially hidden by a parked train on the tracks in front.  The lights weren’t flashing and the barriers weren’t down.  Dad went through.  Then I looked up and the lights were flashing, maybe…the lights weren’t facing me so I wasn’t sure if they were for me or something else.  I decided to go for it and started across the tracks.  At the same instant the barriers started coming down!  The train was picking up speed! And blowing it’s horn at me! OH SH*******t!!!  I gunned it and shot across the tracks faster than I though possible.  I think the barrier may have clipped the back of my RV, but we couldn’t really see any damage.   I almost had to change my pants after that. 

Of course Crabtree Falls wasn’t an original idea on Memorial Day weekend.  The parking lot was full and there was no place for me to park!  Just as we were wondering what to do a truck pulled out of a spot that I could back into!  Dad ran up there and started directing me in.  It was hard because I really didn’t know where I was heading, just following his directions.  He directed me right and for the 1st time I backed the RV into a spot between 2 parked cars!  He quickly found an illegal place to park and after lunch in the back of Roxy we headed up to the falls. 

Mom went to the base of the falls and Dad and I made the trek all the way to the top – 1.7 up hill!  We figure it was at least 1,000 feet of elevation gain (and loss).  Took us about 2 hours to get up and back and it was hot!  We hadn’t brought water with us so we were very thirsty when we got back to the parking lot!

We decided to go up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and find an overlook to enjoy some birthday cake! The Blue Ridge Parkway is very nice!  Less populated than Shenandoah and the mountains seem bigger and wilder! 

I’d decided I’d try and see if I could get a site at Loft Mountain in Shenandoah – if I couldn’t I’d drive home.   We pulled into the entrance station at Rockfish Gap at 5:20 and the sign said that Loft Mountain had vacancy – it was the only lodging option in the park that did! The ranger told me there were about 30 sites and that he didn’t think they’d all fill up (I agreed, I figured most folks got reservations for the whole weekend and not many people would be looking for something Sun night).  We drove up Skyline Drive 25 miles to the campground and when we got here there were 5 sites left.  All but one in the “generator free” area.  I drove around trying to locate the open sites and while I was doing that at least 2 of the campsites were snatched up.  I pulled into the one available one that was empty.  It’s a nice pull through with a HUGE tent/picnic table area, but it’s not level. 

Dad and I were trying to level it and the leaders of the Boy Scout Troop at the campsites across the way saw us and all came over to help!  We finally attempted to use the root that was growing under the pavement to bring the tire up but it didn’t work.  The leveling blocks aren’t high enough.  I ended up just turning off the fridge. 

By the time I went to pay for the site there was a sign up that said “campground full”! 

Mom and Dad stayed for dinner – we ate cold stuff since we couldn’t run the generator – and then the headed home.  They decided that it was easier to just go home, even though it was a 3 hour drive that they started at 8:00 pm. 

I took a lovely walk through the campground, found about 6 other empty sites.  As well as several reserved sites that looked empty – like the people never came! 

Loft Mountain is a lovely campground!  Great big sites, many more level than the one I’m in! There’s a nice a breeze blowing! The Boy Scouts across the way are settling in – the leaders are all really nice and I think they’ve adopted a thru-hiker to hang with them and eat their leftovers!  I can even get intermittent cell phone/data coverage!  After I walked through the campground I went and stood where I’d had signal and every time the signal would drop off I’d walk to a new spot a few feet away to try again.   I was mostly successful!

I’m looking forward to a nice night in my kind of campground!  :-)

Crabtree Falls 5.27.12
Loft Mt Summit 5.28.12

Sunday, May 27, 2012


This morning started around 6:30 when I finally woke up for good (I’d woken up about 5 because I was cold, but went back to sleep) and started getting ready since Mom and Dad had promised they’d be here early.   After my shower I was standing in the aisle in my towel and suddenly the LP/CO2 detector started going off! Many of you will remember that I had this same problem in Shenandoah National Park on my 1st real trip out.  This time however, I wasn’t running the heater or in my sleeping bag! I had no idea what was causing it to go off! I turned the hot water heater off, that was the only propane appliance I was using.  Then I quickly unlocked the door and threw it open.   It was then that I realized I was only wearing a towel.  And was now kinda standing out in the open in the campground wearing just a towel.  I then realized that I should go turn off the propane.  This involved leaving the RV, wearing only a towel, and walking around to the propane turn off switch.  Then since the alarm was still going I opened the back door to the RV.  A minute or so after I opened the back door the alarm shut itself off.  I waited a few minutes and turned the propane back on, turned the water heater back on and then closed the door to get dressed.   I even closed the whole RV up so I could make coffee – thinking I might be able to make it go off again and try and see why it’s randomly going off.  Of course, it didn’t go off.  I’m not sure what the problem is, my dad’s guess is that the towel, like the sleeping bag, was throwing dust into the sensors and made it think it needed to go off.  If there was a real problem with the propane it would be going off all the time and it’s not. 

It was almost 9 before Mom and Dad got here and we went off exploring. The whole point of this weekend was to check out some of the National Forest Service campgrounds and the roads in to get to them to see if I could drive Roxy down there.  There were some great sounding campgrounds but all them were down gravel/dirt Forest Service Roads which could be fine or they could do damage to the RV because the RV has less ground clearance than an SUV!

We first checked out Seneca Shadows campground, right around the corner from Yokum’s.  Very nice sites, some even had electricity!  WOW! That campground went straight to the “stay here next time” list!

Next we headed down a forest service road to Spruce Knob Overlook, the highest point in West Virginia!  There’s a nice observation tower and picnic area at the top!  It was kinda hazy so the views weren’t so great, but it was nice.  After lunch at the picnic area we headed deep into the forest to find the Spruce Knob Lake Campground.  This was the campground that I really wanted to find out about, it’s deep in the woods and looked very nice, but it’s almost all dirt roads to get in.  Turns out the road in is just fine for Roxy and there are lots of trails in the area.  After checking out the campground we walked around Spruce Knob Lake – about a mile or so, all flat – nice quick walk. 

We’d decided to make a loop and go back up another forest service road.  In this section of the forest they had “dispersed” camping.  Dispersed camping is car camping but out in the wilderness, not in a campground.  It sounded like a great idea on paper.  In reality though the campsites are along the road and they are fairly close to each other and you don’t have the security of a campground.  Maybe in some places I would enjoy it, but not here. 

We came out of the forest at 2:00 and realized that it would be really easy to go up to Canaan Valley today and come back through Dolly Sods, which had been the plan for tomorrow.  Since the cabin is so dreadful, Mom and Dad didn’t want to go back a second before they had to and if we finished everything today then we could leave tomorrow AM and go somewhere better.  So off to Canaan Valley we went. 

We went up to Blackwater Falls State Park and saw the falls and checked out the lodge and such.  When we got there we went to drive through the campground and see what it was like.  I guess since it’s a holiday weekend they had an attendant stopping cars as they came in and my dad explained to him that we were simply “reconnoitering”.  This kid had never heard the word and asked my dad to repeat it and explain it because he was “a wordsmith” and enjoyed words.  So dad explained that it meant to “check things out” and that it was kinda like “reconnaissance”.  The kid knew what reconnaissance was and told us to explore all we wanted! I figured he only let us in because we confused him with big words!

Last time I’d been out there I’d found a dirt road that looked like fun to drive and it took you back to the main road so we decided to try it.  Dad loves a good “off roading" opportunity so we took off!  There was a sign at the beginning of the road that warning of rough road and suggested 4W drive only!  We had 4W drive so we had no worries.  The road quickly went from paved to dirt and from dirt to great big potholes and then to boulders in the road!  At one point dad hit something with the bottom of the car!  Yikes!  Mom was getting a bit a freaked out.  And then we came to the river.  The river went over the road, or the road went through the river, not sure.  Dad forged ahead.  But when we got into the river it seemed a bit deeper than it looked – and there were huge sharp boulders downstream.  Dad and I both opened out doors to see how deep the water was and it wasn’t up the to the running board yet, but we still decided it would be best to turn around.  So he backed out of the river and then up the steep hill a bit until he had a place to turn around and we went back through the park!

The one restaurant in the area that I’d been too and knew was good was Big John’s Family Fixins’ – a pizza place in Canaan Valley.  We’d decided we’d eat there when we were in Canaan Valley so we had dinner there!  This worked out great because we weren’t sure how the fettuccine alfredo Mom and Dad had brought to cook was turn out in the substandard kitchen at the cabin.  We had 2 pizzas and they were yummy!  And as an added bonus I had cell signal in Canaan Valley and could check email and Facebook!

Soon we were on our way back to the dreaded cabin by way of Dolly Sods Wilderness Area.  I’d discovered this road when I came to Canaan Valley a few years ago and wanted to share it with dad.  Turns out I’d only discovered the tip of the iceberg and the best was waiting to be discovered!  Since I had the benefit of a map this time I was able to see that there was a viewpoint a little ways down a different road from where we were going to turn off to go back to the cabin.  When we went down that road we saw a sign for a campground down there!  So we went to the overlook – there were 2 short trails that lead to viewpoints.  As we were walking out I realized we were due west of Petersburg and that I just might have a signal on my phone.  Sure enough I not only had a signal, but I had 3G! So I was standing on the mountain top enjoying the view & checking Facebook!  YAY!  

There were scattered thunderstorms in the area and as we were heading back to the car there was a loud clap of thunder!  The cloud was small though so it wasn’t going to do much! In fact I was looking east hoping to see rainbows because the clouds were so few the sun kept peeking out.

We continued down the road and Dolly Sods began to show herself to us! Dolly Sods is an amazing area!  It’s like tundra, almost alpine, but yet still in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains! You could see for miles! There was a mix of trees and low growing shrubs!  It was a very cool area and I’m very excited about coming back to explore!  The campground is small, I’m thinking I need to come one day in the summer and get there early on a week day.  Despite it being very remote the Dolly Sods area is very popular, as evidenced by all the cars parked at every trailhead!

It was about 8:00 when we made our way back to the cabin.  When we got there we discovered that the folks next door had commandeered our picnic table! We’d planned to use the picnic table to plan our escape tomorrow.  I did notice that they had beer and suggested that maybe being drunk would help make the cabin look like a better place to stay.  The folks next door, all young college/mid-20s, also had tents set up and said that some of their group was sleeping out there.  I suggested that they could keep the picnic table if my dad could sleep in one of the tents! We decided to move the table from inside out so we could all sit outside!

We made a plan to leave Yokum’s a day early and drive back to VA early tomorrow AM.  We are going to explore a little of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Waynesboro and Mom and Dad will likely go back to Williamsburg and I will either drive home or drive partway home and stay at Wal-Mart or something tomorrow night. 

When Mom and Dad brought me back to Roxy the folks next door were sitting outside of their camper watching TV with the truck parked right in front and the country music blasting from the truck speakers! I peeked out the window and it appears that they are watching the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. 

I was amazed at how well Roxy blocked the sound – standing outside you could hear the music loud and clear, inside you could barely hear it!  And with the fan going on the AC unit, I can’t hear a thing!  And I have the blackout shades pulled down so I can’t see them and they can’t see me! I might as well be anywhere! :-) 

West Virginia 5.26.12

Saturday, May 26, 2012

National Lampoon’s Redneck Vacation

I’d decided that I wanted to check out some of the National Forest Service Campgrounds in West Virginia and Memorial Day looked like the perfect time to do it.  I’d found a few campgrounds that looked good but I was unsure of the road in – most are down unpaved Forest Service Roads.  I didn’t want to make a reservation and then get all the way out here and not be able to get down the road or worse damage my baby trying to drive over boulders and such.  

The solution was for mom and dad to come with me, we could camp someplace and go exploring in the Jeep.  Great Plan!

One glitch.  Mom and Dad’s RV is in the shop.  Somehow water got under the fiberglass and a whole side of the RV needs to be replaced. 

No problem, there are lots of cabins for rent in the area where I was looking.  Mom and Dad would rent a cabin and we’d find a legal place for me to park.  By this time I couldn’t get a reservation at my preferred campground – they did have “1st come 1st served” sites but that felt risky to me since I wouldn’t be able to get there until after 6:30 on Friday night. 

Mom found Yokum’s Vacationland located right at the base of Seneca Rocks! They had cabins AND a campground!  The campground didn’t take reservations, but they said they’d never turned anyone away. 

Mom and Dad arrived early and checked into their cabin and then secured me a site with electric! YAY!

Dad left a message for me on my phone and told me where the campground was and where the site was.  The sites aren’t numbered or anything – they just left a chair indicating the site was taken.  Dad told me that my site was next to a trailer and there was a guy with a goatee.  Hmmm..not very helpful directions. 

I left school just before 3 and headed out!  Even with holiday traffic 66 wasn’t a bad drive!  There was traffic till Haymarket, then it was open!  I drove the same way I’d come when I went to Canaan Valley and when we met Russell and Amy here 3 years ago. 

There’s a nice scenic overlook just outside of Moorefield and I pulled off there for dinner.  There’s a huge parking area and I pulled away from the other 5 cars that were there. I fired up the generator and heated my leftovers!  The spot had excellent cell coverage so I was able to check email and Facebook one last time before heading into the wilderness. 

I arrived at Seneca Rocks about 6:30 and went to the campground.  It was def rustic! Basically a big field with a few electrical posts scattered here and there.   Most of the folks in there had trailers so I was thinking I’d have a hard time finding my spot.  I quickly saw a site with a chair on it though and headed that way.  I backed right in and was attempting to get the RV level when Mom and Dad pulled up.  They’d been watching from the porch of the cabin and saw me drive by. 

As we were leveling we saw the guy in the trailer, the guy with the goatee.  His goatee went practically to his navel.  I’m not even kidding.  I’ll try to get a covert picture of it.  It was so long and frizzy he had pony tail holders on it! It was a serious goatee!

It took quite a few attempts to get Roxy level.  We finally put the back driver side tires in the hole and then raised the front driver side tire up on blocks and the bubble is almost in the circle on the level. 

After Roxy was level and plugged in we headed out to check out the General Store and go to Mom and Dad’s cabin.  From the store you can get a great view of Seneca Rocks and at sunset you even get Alpenglow, just like at Yosemite!

Mom and Dad’s cabin is a sight to see.  I had low expectorations and it was even worse than I expected.  Honestly I’m surprised there aren’t raccoons living in the oven.  It was musty and everything in it was used beyond it’s life expectancy. The furnishings looked like they’d been drug in from the curb where someone had put them out for the trash! It was musty and not at all welcoming or comfortable.  I’m soooooo freaking glad I have Roxy.  Note to self: If Roxy is broken, DO NOT agree to sleep anywhere else, and if you do bring the aero bed!

Back at the campground my neighbors are having a HUGE bonfire.  Just a few feet from both my propane tank and theirs.  Lots of folks looked like they were out partying.  I went right in my RV and pulled the shades and fired up the AC.  It’s like my own little bubble! I can’t hear anything other than the fan on the AC!  This is not so much the “camping” experience that my other weekends have been!

Tomorrow we are going out exploring!  Mom and Dad have promised to be here early, just so they can escape the cabin!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Off Roadin’

It was a chilly night on the mountain!  The last weather forecast I saw had said it was going down to the mid-40s and I think that was about right.  Slept in my sleeping bag and was nice and cozy!

I slept in a bit and didn’t really get up and get moving until after 7! 

After a leisurely breakfast I decided to take a walk around the campground. I was thinking about doing a proper hike but the main event for the day was to go to the farm so I didn’t want to delay too much.  The kids two sites down had been up for hours!  It looked like it was at least 3 families – maybe more.  The kids seemed quieter, but they were full of energy! I walked all the loops and checked out who had come in since I’d arrived.  I’d say the campground was a 1/3 full – mostly tents and many families with small (infants, toddlers & preschoolers)children!  It was about 9:00 when I headed out.  The great thing about dry camping in the van is that when you are ready you just secure everything and drive off!

As I drove down Skyline Drive I scouted the trail head parking areas and noted that all had room for me if I’d wanted to park and hike!  Early in the morning there was plenty of room and I could have backed into a spot and headed out.  I’m liking the 1 night trip idea!

From Skyline Drive I could see what I thought was Signal Knob where I’d hiked last week.  I wasn’t sure though.  As I was driving I thought, “if only I had binoculars, I’m sure I could see the TV tower and know that it was Signal Knob”   Well, duh, I have my binoculars! I pulled off at the next overlook which happened to be my favorite overlook to watch the sunset and it’s name: Signal Knob Overlook!  HA!  I was looking at Signal Knob.  I did pull out the binoculars and I found the TV tower!

We’d been told we could come out to the farm anytime between 11 and 2. I’d emailed Farmer Leigh about where I could park Roxy and he advised that I come closer to 11 so I wouldn’t encounter lots of folks coming out.  See, the farm is about a mile from the paved road on a very narrow 1 lane dirt road!  I zipped down Skyline Drive and 66 and arrived at the farm a little before 11!

The drive in on the dirt road was fine! It def seems a lot narrower in the RV, but it was plenty wide enough.  Good thing I didn’t encounter another car!  When I got to the farm I was one of the 1st people to arrive and I pulled into what I think is the prime spot.  I’d have to back out but I figured I’d deal with that when the time came. The RV was fine where it was.  But then I second guessed myself and decided that I needed to back in now so I could just pull out later.  So I backed up and pulled down the road and attempted to back into the spot.  It was an obtuse angle, I know better than to try backing in, I knew before I started that it wouldn’t work.  But the Sprinter can handle things I never would have thought it could handle (like a U-turn in heavy traffic!), so I went for it.  I managed to get wedged in between a tree and some big trash cans!  1st time I’ve gotten her stuck!  I was starting to panic a bit because I wasn’t sure how to get out, when I looked up and saw that I was blocking the whole road into the farm and there was a line of cars waiting to get in.  I managed to pull forward and cut it hard and drove down the road to another spot where I could park right by the farm van that wasn’t going anywhere.  This time it was a straight shot backwards and Leigh ran over to help me!  Just when I didn’t need help anymore! :-)

I ended up hanging out at the farm until almost 2 since there was a steady stream of cars in and I really didn’t want to run into anyone coming the opposite direction!  Also there were cars parked in my way and I would have had to make at least a 3 point turn to get out.  I helped some new shareholders learn the ropes and made friends with some folks who also pick up in Manassas!  I had 2 conversations with folks about food and how gross industrialized & processed food is! So fun to meet people who have watch the same things I have and read the same books and have made the same changes as me!  Around Noon I went back to the RV and made lunch and sat under a tree and ate!  Then I found a chair a read my book.  It was a lovely day!

After the farm I hit up Wegmans, then came home to unload and then took Roxy back to storage.  I got home a little after 5, which was perfect to have my evening and get the sheets washed! Looking forward to having tomorrow to cook, clean and catch up on TV!

The 1 night trip is something that will be happening again!

Opening Night at Matthew’s Arm

I’ve enjoyed my 2 camping weekends so far, but it’s always hard to spend the whole weekend away and come back Sunday and not have time for weekend stuff like laundry, cooking and doing nothing!  I was thinking that one night camping trips would be the perfect way to get the best of both worlds – camping Friday night, a hike Saturday and home Saturday night, then I’d have Sunday at home! 

This weekend’s trip was rather spontaneous, I didn’t fully decide I was doing it until Thursday!  I’m a member of The Bull Run Mountain Farm’s CSA and they are having a special shareholder’s event tomorrow and I wanted to go.  The farm is out west and by coming to Matthew’s Arm in Shenandoah for the night I was going to be able to get in a Friday Night Hike AND a night in the RV AND hit the farm on my way home AND I’d be home Saturday night and have Sun to catch up on stuff!  When I realized that Matthew’s Arm, the closest campground in SNP was actually open (tonight is the 1st night of the season) that sealed the deal!

Part of what made this doable was that I didn’t have an RV chores to do – it had water, didn’t need to be dumped, had fuel.  Getting ready Thursday night was very easy! Took less than an hour!  The biggest thing that slowed me down was that I’d brought the bedding/towels home to wash and hadn’t done it so had to wait for them to dry. Hopefully unpacking will be just as quick – it was last week! If the packing/unpacking process is down and dirty then a one night trip will probably become a regular thing!

I left school at 3:15 and got out to the park rather quickly.  The 20 miles of Skyline Drive were way easier this time than it was the last time!  Much more comfortable driving on hills and such! On my way in I discovered that I had full cell phone signal at the overlook that was walking distance from the campground!  YAY! 

I pulled in the campground and started scouting sites.  I was one of the 1st to arrive so there was plenty to choose from.  Most of the campsites are identical so the main thing was finding one that was mostly level.   I selected one that looked nice and level and backed in.   When I got the RV all the way on the site I pulled out the level and it turns out the site wasn’t at all level.  Oh, well, there were other choices and I needed the practice backing up!  So I pulled up and tried the one next to it.  This one I got a bit confused by the angle – campsites are typically angled to help you park, I have a very hard time with this as I always turn the wheel the wrong way and end up going in the grass.  I’m pretty good at backing up at a right angle so you’d think this would be easier!  I’ve kinda learned that if I can see the campsite in both mirrors then it’s time to go straight back.  Anyway, once I got myself into campsite #2 I discovered that it was even less level than the one before.  So I pulled out and tried a 3rd.  This time I went for one on the other side of the road – this time I was going right, which is how I go when I back into my parking spot at home so it was a bit easier.  3rd time’s a charm because this site is perfectly level! :-)

When I jumped out to check the site number for the registration however I discovered I was in the “reservation” section!  My site was available tonight, but not tomorrow night – phew, good thing I’m leaving by 10 am tomorrow!  Both sites on either side are reserved for tonight.  It’s 9:23 and my one neighbors just arrived – the others aren’t here.

On my way back from turning in  my registration I walked the other loops and found lots of great sites, some, at the top of the hill even have “wifi” because my phone gets a signal there!  I marked those on my map for next time.   Of course it’s real easy to walk up there.  That’s a big plus for both Matthew’s Arm & Big Meadows, cell phone signal within easy walking distance.  At Elizabeth Furnace I had to walk 5 miles up the mountain before I got a signal!

The next order of business was dinner.  I’d brought leftovers from the week and I needed the generator to run the microwave and I’m not allowed to run the generator after 7 pm.  I really wanted to walk up to the overlook for the sunset, or maybe just before the sunset so I was feeling crunched for time!  I ate quickly and reviewed the map and then set out about 6:30.  6:30 comes so fast at home and seems so late! Time seems to slow down when I’m camping!  I hiked about 3 miles between 6:30 and dark!

The hike was nice!  It wasn’t too hot and the sun was shinning!  I hiked a bit on the Tuscarora Trail, which is the same trail I’d hiked on last weekend – it’s a long distance, 200 miles I think, trail that goes over the other ridges and into PA.  When I reached the overlook I could see what I think was Signal Knob where I’d hiked last weekend.  At the overlook I checked Facebook and email and downloaded twitter to read later.  I also enjoyed some “belated birthday cookies” one of the wonderful K teachers at school made me!

I decided to hike back via the AT to Skyline Drive.  I was worried it was going to get dark and I decided the AT and Skyline Driver were better places to walk in the dark and there was no real chance of getting lost.   Turns out we were still a good hour from sunset – it was about 8:15 before the sun set and after 9 before it was truly dark!  I enjoyed the walk down the AT and found a rock outcropping that would have been perfect to watch the sunset but I decided not to stick around. 

When I got back to the campground a lot more people had arrived!  The place was hopping!  This campground is a totally different camping experience from Elizabeth Furnace!  Lots more people, lots less privacy!  It’s not bad, in fact in some ways it feels safer for a single woman.  Although that could be because Shenandoah is kinda like home, but also it just seems like more people around is better.  Not that Elizabeth Furnace was unsafe, it was just isolated.  Also here they don’t lock you in at a certain time, while I like that I can bail out in the middle of the night if I need to, I probably won’t like it when my neighbor arrives at midnight.  And if I need contact with the outside world I can walk up the hill and get on facebook!

As I was walking back in I could hear screams of children playing at what sounded like the site next to mine.  Turns out they are 2 sites down, but you can hear them from pretty much the whole campground.   No idea how many kids they have but it sounds like about 100.  I’m kinda wishing I’d brought the Ritalin Salt Lick, I’m sure even the parents would appreciate it!  I will say though as much as screaming children aren’t what I want to listen to while camping, I AM glad that the parents brought them out here!  Quite honestly I’ll put up with the screaming since I know how good it is for the kids!   The parents are trying to keep the kids entertained – they had a campfire story telling/talent show and then I believe they were getting ready for bed.  It was getting cold so I closed the door to the van and I can no longer hear the kids…either they have gone to bed or this thing has some incredible sound proofing!  Last weekend I was serenaded by frogs as I typed my blog, this week screaming kids.  See what I mean about totally different camping experiences!

Not sure if I’ll take a quick hike before I leave tomorrow or not, the farm thing is from 11-2 and the farm gets crowded, not sure how to time it best so that Roxy doesn’t cause a huge bottleneck – not sure if earlier is better, but then I’ll get stuck in there or later…oh well…we’ll find out!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Signal Knob Hike

The main event of my camping trip here at Elizabeth Furnace was hiking to Signal Knob! I’d seen this hike when I was here that other time and thought it was too far for a day hike – the loop from the parking area was 10.6 miles!  The nice thing about camping at the trail head is that you can get an early start and have the whole day, which means you can plan to hike further! 

The loop from the campground was actually 12 miles because you had to walk to the trail! I knew I needed to get an early start!  Lucky for me the sun comes up around 6am now!  I woke up for good about 5:30 and got out of bed at 6.  Despite having mostly packed my lunch and my day pack last night it still took me an hour and half to get myself ready to leave! 

I walked out of the campground at 7:30 am.  I decided that if it took me less than 12 hours to hike the loop I would consider it a huge success! 

The first part of the trail was an old road which lead to a short spur trail that connected me with the Tuscarora Trail which lead to the Massanutan Trail.  At the beginning the trail seemed to be one giant spider web as I kept walking into them, and they stuck to me since I was still sticky from applying sunscreen.  I wasn’t very far into the hike when I flushed out what I think was a turkey!  I heard a rustle in the woods and looked up and saw a large bird flying awkwardly away!

It was 8:15 when I arrived at the Signal Knob Parking area where most people start their hike.  I’d only been hiking an hour and I’d covered 2 miles, off to a great start!  There were 2 parties getting their gear together in the parking area.  One was a couple who passed me just a little while later and I never saw them again.  The other was a group of Boy Scouts who I encountered twice. 

From the parking lot the trail went straight up for 5 miles.  It was about 2200 feet of elevation change! The up wasn’t so bad, I just got into my rhythm and motored on!  There were 2 overlooks on the way up – Buzzard Rock Overlook and Fort Valley Overlook.  I think I missed the offical Buzzard Rock Overlook, but I ran into the Boy Scouts and the Fort Valley one. 

As I walked up to the overlook the leader saw me and said to the boys “If you have extra gear you can’t carry maybe this *girl* could carry it for you!”  I countered with “You want to bring it, you gotta carry it!” He was rather taken aback.  We chatted a bit and then I went on.  I was sure they would catch me quickly but they didn’t. 

I reached Signal Knob about 10:30 – 7 miles in 3 hours!  WOW! That’s over 2 MPH average speed!  Didn’t think I could hike that fast!  I took my time enjoying the view and checking in on Facebook and email!  Signal Knob lived up to it’s name, I had full 3G coverage! 

Soon it was time to head down.  The 1st mile down was on an old road and boring.  I was very glad when I got to the Tuscarora Trail! 

What I hadn’t counted on though was the trail would go up again.  I hate going downhill, especially if I’m going down for an extended time like I knew I’d be doing on this hike, but I still wasn’t prepared for some unexpected up.  And not just any up, a very steep up, steeper than going up to get to Signal Knob.  I realized that if I kept up my pace I was going to end up back at the campground at 1:30 and there wasn’t that much to do here so I realized I could slow down and take my time.  I was a bit worried that the rain and storms were going to come – the sky was looking ominous at times, but if I got wet oh well. 

Finally I reached the top of the last ridge and began to descend for good.  It was 2.8 miles from the top of the ridge to the spur trail I needed to use to get back to the campground.  It was the longest 2.8 miles ever.  The hiking was easy, I wasn’t that tired or uncomfortable, I didn’t really have anything else to do be doing, but I just wanted to be there and not hiking down anymore. 

Finally I got to the spur and soon after I was back at my campsite!  It was 2:30.  I’d hiked the entire 12 mile loop in 7 hours! Average speed was 1.7 mph!  WOW.  I usually don’t hike that fast!  I guess all the walking at home is paying off!

When I got back I just wanted to sit and cool off!  I had some snacks and looked over the map until I was ready to get a shower and put on some comfy clothes. 

I pulled out the camp chair and finished my book, then took a walk around the campground (because I hadn’t gotten in enough walking! LOL!), ran the generator while I fixed dinner, did the dishes, took another walk (this time I was trying to hit 35,000 steps on my fitbit) and finally settled in to blog! 

Lots more people came into the campground! 2/3 of the sites are filled!  I’m still the only driveable RV!  Lots more tents and lots of families with small children!

The frog concert started promptly at 8:00 – I was looking for them to start around 7:45 and was finding it odd that last night they were singing but not tonight! I’m about to head in and crawl into bed with my book and enjoy the frogs!  Hopefully the whippoorwill won’t be back!

Updated Sun Afternoon: 

No whippoorwill last night, but there was an owl! I find it rather ironic that the campground has quiet hours for humans from 10 pm – 6am.  It was 10 pm Friday night when the whippoorwill started and 10 pm last night when the owl started!

I slept in a bit, woke up at 6:30! Didn’t get up until close to 8.  It was so dark in the campground – cloudy/foggy and the sun wasn’t shining, that made it hard to get up!  I got all ready to go then ate breakfast and read a book.   I was ready to roll out by 9:15!

As soon as I turned out of the campground the clouds started breaking up and the sun came out!  I stopped to take some pictures of Signal Knob from below and took the scenic route through Front Royal and down 55 to Wegmans and home!

First trip was a success! :-)

Check out pictures here:  (I hate how Google changed Picasa web albums to Google+ albums….)

Dr. Ben and the Whippoorwill

Last night I as I crawled into bed with my book the frogs were giving quite a concert which I enjoyed until they stopped a little before 10. I turned off the light and was just about asleep when I heard this loud high pitched piercing cry – it sounded like a bird and it might have been a pretty if it wasn’t so obnoxious. Not to mention that it was silent except for this awful bird noise.  It took me by surprise, but it didn’t take me long to realize what it was.  It was a whippoorwill. 

I hadn’t heard, nor thought about whippoorwills in years! We used to hear them at my grandparents house on the lake in KY.  Hearing the whippoorwill last night made me think of a funny story that happened to my family, maybe you’ll think it’s funny too…

It was summer of 1985, I was 10 years old, and my mom’s whole family was heading to my grandparents house on The Barren River Lake in Scottsville, KY.  Going to the lake was our vacation when I was kid – we went every summer for about 2 weeks.  My grandparents had lakefront property on a big lot with few neighbors.  The lake was perfect for boating, swimming, jet skiing and all sorts of other summer stuff!  This time however my cousin Liz, who was 8 at the time, and my new cousin Lauren, who was just about a year old, and I would all be there at the same time!  With 11 people coming my grandparents house quickly ran out of beds. 

My grandfather, Dr. Ben, decided it would be fun to rent a teeny tiny fiberglass camping trailer for Liz and I to sleep in in the front yard/parking area.   I was pretty excited, even then I’d wanted to like camping!   He rented this little trailer and towed it home from Bowling Green behind his Volkswagon Rabbit convertible!  It was the cutest thing you ever saw!  Bunk beds, a dinette that turned into a bed, and a kitchen! I couldn’t wait till Liz got there and we could go camping! 

My excitement was short lived.  Liz’s mom wouldn’t let her sleep out there because she had a cold and the night air would aggravate it.  Boo.  Not worry though, my grandmother would sleep out there with me!  So we got all ready for bed and headed out.  I crawled into the top bunk and she crawled into the dinette turned bed and we were ready to sleep.  Not 10 minutes later there was a clap a thunder.  At ten I was still terrified of thunderstorms and there wasn’t any way I’d be staying in the trailer in a storm.  No amount of assurances that the storm wasn’t coming where we were would make me stay.  I hightailed it into the house and took up residence on a pool (lake) raft by my parents bed. 

Well, someone had to sleep out there, there just weren’t enough beds, or lake rafts, for everyone in the house.  So the next night my grandma and grandpa go out to the trailer to sleep.  All is well and no one comes running for the house.

My mom and her siblings were up late that night chatting and as they were crossing the dining room, with it’s big picture window looking out over the front yard on their way to their beds, they heard gunshots!!!  My uncle, who was in the Army and had actually been in combat, went into autopilot mode and started low-crawling across the dinning room like he’d been trained.  The others were just in shock. 

It wasn’t long before the whole story came out…my grandma and grandpa had been rudely awoken by a whippoorwill in the tree above the trailer and Dr. Ben went out with the shotgun to scary him off! 

What I always wondered was why he brought his shotgun with him to sleep in the front yard/driveway?!?!

I couldn’t shoot at my whippoorwill – didn’t even want to try my shotgun app for my phone on him since the other folks in the campground might get scared! I did try to talked to it to scare it away, but that didn’t work.  It woke me up 3x before it finally went to bother someone else.   I hope he doesn’t come back tonight!

If you want to hear a whippoorwill for yourself click here. You have to scroll down and click on the sound player. 

Elizabeth Furnace, George Washington National Forest: Part 1

A few years ago I came out to the Elizabeth Furnace area to hike to Buzzard’s Rock with a hiking group I was a part of.  I was surprised by how close to Front Royal it was and the multitude of hiking opportunities in the area.  I’d wanted to come back sometime but I was always drawn to Shenandoah and the Skyline Drive area.  What I’m beginning to learn is that most National Parks have National Forests nearby and the scenery is usually similar, or in some cases better, and there are usually way fewer people in the National Forests, so I’ve kinda made it my goal to check out as many as I can. 

Elizabeth Furnace appears to be no exception to what I’ve discovered in other places!  The campground is about 10 miles out of Front Royal, very easy to get to off RT 55.  It’s a small campground – only 30 sites!  Right now about 1/2 of those sites are filled.  The sites are nice – some nicer than others. I have a large flat site that is all gravel.  It is away from other sites, but still rather close. I can kinda see my neighbors across the road but I’m surrounded by woods.  Nice because I can run my generator and not worry about blowing exhaust at anyone! Or folks being overly bothered by the noise. It was fairly easy to back into – I did make some rookie mistakes in terms of not paying attention to what the front the RV might hit as I backed in, but luckily there was nothing there!  I had to stop and straighten up a few times, but the site is at a funny angle.  Many of the sites look to be newly “renovated”.   The campground does have shower and bathhouse facilities but they are still in “winter” mode and none of that is turned on yet.  That also means the nightly camping fee is only $10!

After I picked my site I decided to explore a bit before dinner.  I headed around the campground and tried to find a way over the river to the picnic area.  I was a bit discouraged at first since there didn’t seem to be a clear way to get over there, I was wondering what I’d do for the evening if I couldn’t go for a walk.  Eventually I came to a clearing on one of the smaller campsite loops and saw a cabin and just beyond the cabin was a large suspension bridge that lead right into the picnic area!  I wandered around the picnic area for about and hour – it was totally deserted, not a soul was there! I found some interpretive trails – one was 1/2 mile and the other was 1/4 mile – so I walked those, reading a few of the signs about how they made pig iron back in the day.  I was mostly marveling at the fact that there are mountain laurel blooming already and looking forward to hopefully seeing some on my hike tomorrow.   Eventually I decided I should head back to the campground and get dinner!

For dinner I’d planned to re-heat leftovers from the week so that meant I needed the microwave, which meant that I needed to run the generator.  This would be the 1st time I’d run the generator.  I pushed the button and it started right up! :-)  Boy is it loud!  Soon the microwave clock clicked on so I knew it had power!  I was also running the AC because it was really hot in the RV.  I heated my soup and let the AC run for awhile, and I needed to exercise the generator.  I decided I wanted to watch a DVD while I ate so I popped one in, but then couldn’t hear it over the generator and I couldn’t figure out how to work the surround sound.  Such issues to have while camping!

Finally I was tired of listening to the generator so I cut it off and only seconds after I turned it off realized that I needed to have turned the AC of 1st!  Rookie mistake.  I did turn the AC off so when I start the generator tomorrow night to fix dinner it should be ok. 

After dinner I mostly packed my lunch and snacks and gear for tomorrow’s hike so I could hopefully get an early start.  I’m planning to hike the Signal Knob loop and it’s almost 12 miles around so I’d like to get started super early. 

There was still daylight left after that so I walked another loop around the campground.  When I was at the picnic area I could see the road and I saw a Roadtrek (another van conversion RV) drive by and I wondered if they were in the campground.  I walked by every site and didn’t see them, in fact I realized I’m the only driveable RV in the whole place!  Almost everyone else here is in a travel trailer or pop-up, not even that many tents!

The air outside is nice and cool, but was really hot in the RV.  I had the windows open and started the fan but it was still hot.  It’s finally getting cooler – I have the sliding door open and one of the back doors – letting in bugs but I’d rather bugs than hot.  There’s a chorus of frogs going and a cool breeze starting to blow!   It’s almost too dark to see the keys, I suppose I should close up the doors and crawl into bed with my book! 


My site at Elizabeth Furnace Family Campground! Great site!

My great site, #18!