Thursday May 28- Monday June 1, 2015
Stony Fork Campground, Washington/Jefferson National Forest
near Wytheville, Virginia
David, Carrie and I have been to many areas of Virginia as long time tent campers but Winnona has only been to a few places. She’s been too busy traveling to spots we’ve never seen before. But now we are stuck for a while so we thought perhaps we could avoid the heat by judiciously picking some higher elevation spots in Virginia for Winnona to visit. This is the story of the first 5 days. So far we’ve traded the heat for rain.
THURSDAY MAY 28
On Thursday we set out for the 192 mile drive to Stony Fork Campground in the Washington/Jefferson National Forest just outside of Wytheville, Virginia (that’s pronounced With-ville or if you are a native Weeeth-vll).
The campground is run by the forest service and has a combination of sites withno services, water only sites and water/electric sites. A few are reserveable on Recreation.gov but many are walk ins which is what we do. Being in the mountains, quite a few of the sites are less than level and some are too short for big rigs. There is one reserveable electric only pull though that will fit just about anyone.
We choose site 33 of the ones available at the time and we like it. Winnona is way in the back of the long site and from our windows, other than the front, we can’t see a soul.
The lovely little creek weaves back and forth through the campground. A sign warns of flooding with heavy rains.
The campground also has one log cabin. It too is reserveable on line.
It’s a nice quiet sweet campground with direct access to two trails, the 1 mile Stony Fork Nature Trail and the 5 mile Seven Sisters trial. As you would expect in the mountains both are upward climbs. The nature trail goes up, over and down. The Seven Sisters Trial is up up up up up up and then down down down down. Unless you want to walk 10 miles to go over and come back, you’d need a bike or car at the other end. Some sections of Seven Sisters are quite steep. But more about that in another post.
Within driving distance, there are also several bike trails and many more hiking trails. It’s much cooler here but by the time we set up, it begins raining so we aren’t able to get out and about.
FRIDAY May 29
Raining again this morning but before it starts, I do manage to get in a long walk including the Nature Trail. No camera though but I’m sure I’ll hike it again for pictures of the beautiful blooming Mountain Laurel.
What to do on a rainy day? Probably not hiking or biking, both of which had been in our plans. The rain is on and off with some heavier thunderstorms predicted. During a dry spell we decide to scout out some other campgrounds in the area. I’d picked out two other National Forest Campgrounds and Grayson Highlands State Park to which we have never been.
I map them all out on Google Maps and we set out. I know the directions to the first one, Grindstone State Forest Campground. It turns out to be down mountain roads far too winding and narrow for Winnona in my opinion.
David says “Oh we’ll just drive slowly”.
“And what about the blind curves on a road with no line down the middle”, I ask?
This is just after a big pick up truck comes speeding around one of those and luckily Ruby was on her side of the road. Had we been in Winnona, well we won’t think about that.
We pass Raccoon Branch Campground on the way. I’d read about it and hadn’t put it on the list because of the probability that big rigs wouldn’t fit and there are no electric hook ups. We do have solar but it doesn’t work optimally in the heavily shaded woods. We agree that on the way back, we’ll stop just to check it out personally.
When we arrive at Grindstone, it is so far in the boonies that I have no cell signal even with the booster and can’t get the directions for the other two places we want to see. So we rely on my memory which doesn’t work out so well since I turn the exact wrong direction on Route 58. We do get to drive through the little town of Damascus which is a hub of AT Through Hikers and home of the Virginia Creeper Bike Trail.
We do not get to stop by Raccoon Branch since we don’t go back out the same way we came in. Given the roads, I’m crossing it off my list even if David is not.
A day without pictures – too much rain.
SATURDAY May 30
On Saturday, more rain predicted, we take a trip down to Hungry Mother State Park in order to get one of Virginia State Parks new Senior Passes.
I moved my residency to Florida in order to save on all the insurance and auto fees for Winnona and Ruby. But for whatever reasons David didn’t move his. Maybe too much trouble. Turns out that was a good thing since Virginia State Parks costs for camping have skyrocketed as have other states like South Carolina.
Thus we had determined we probably would not visit either of them in the future. But never say never. Things change beyond your control.
Recently Virginia has instituted a “resident’s camping fee” which is $5 less than the $35 or $40 per night charged everyone else for a water/electric site. For that you don’t have to have a special pass, just a Virginia Driver’s License which David has but I don’t. Actually the $5 only covers the reservation fee.
For the Senior Pass (called the Senior Naturally Yours Passport Plus) you have to be a resident and over 62. Then you can get an additional 10% off your campsite. Still with all the fees and taxes they add on, staying in a Virginia State Park for 2 weeks costs a senior resident between $400 and $440. At that rate, a month in one of their parks would be $1600. And that’s only for water and electric. No wonder people stay in private campgrounds with full hook ups. They can be had for that much especially if you are a non resident looking at over $50 a night in the most popular Virginia State Parks.
Anyway, since we are tied to Virginia this summer, we pay the $36 for a one year pass. It is $121 for a lifetime pass but we are hoping we won’t be restricted to Virginia for the rest of his lifetime. Those under 62 can also get Naturally Yours Plus passports, Lifetime or annually. The Lifetime cost is by age group. The younger you are of course the more it costs. The annual pass is $66. If you plan to do more than one or two Virginia State Parks I suspect the 10% discount would be worth it plus you get into all the parks for free so you can go day hiking anywhere with it.
After getting the pass in the Visitor’s Center, we look around and find there is a bracelet making program going on. I watch for a bit and folks are having a hard time following the directions. Seems easy to me, but then I’m a recovering hand crafter, so I grab a cord and a buckle and go to work.
I’m finished in a snap and the ranger asks if I want to cut off the ends and have them finished by melting the cord. I have two HUGE ends and really can’t imagine throwing them away so I think I’ll take mine apart and redo it so I have a long enough end to do a couple more or some key chains or I’m not sure what else.
On to the displays. They have informational displays on pretty much every natural thing in the park, birds, butterflies, wildflowers, rocks, mammals, reptiles and more.
They must have a taxidermist who has done a stuffed version of every creature in the park. No pictures as they always make me sad that these animals are no longer alive and free.
There are some lovely relocated local rocks. What a variety. I do take some pictures of them. Unfortunately they are not labeled which surprises me so I don’t know for sure what they are. Perhaps Sue Malone will clue us all in. But these were the ones that attracted me most.
David says this one has mica. Looks like fools gold (pyrite) too.
Fossils provide proof that our mountains were once under the sea.
Another craft project is set out. This one is a rubbing of local wildflowers and ferns. They turn out beautifully with just the crayons.
And of course there is a CCC Exhibit since they helped build this park too in 1936. Their original banner is in the glass case.
Hungry Mother has a large lake with a swimming beach and boat rentals. Lots of folks are in and on the water today. The park also has 7 or 8 nice hiking trials. It was easy for us to keep ourselves busy for a week to 10 days here in years past.
By now, we are ready to eat. The restaurant opened for the season last week-end so we head over there and get seats on the patio.
You know you are in Virginia when you find varieties of ham and a fried green tomato sandwich on the menu.
At a bit of a distance, we can see the lake but between it and us is a wedding which has apparently just finished and the photographer is taking the bridal party pictures before the dinner, catered by the restaurant, begins.
There’s music coming from the tent as we order peanut butter pie for dessert. It comes in a pool of chocolate with whipped cream and fresh strawberries on the side. It looks delicious. We both agree that probably due to our normal no sugar diet, this pie is seriously too sweet. We eat it anyway. Someone has to do it.
Time to visit the campgrounds before we head back. Hungry Mother State Park which was always one of our favorite tent camping places for the many many years we tent camped. Then we stayed in Campground A.
When we brought Winnona here in April of 2011, we camped across from the water in pull through site 3 in Campground B. There were probably only 4 other campers in the campground at that time.
Today was a totally different story. We go over to check it out. It’s a fairly small campground and the place is packed full. Driving Winnona around the roads and into a site would have been a real trick. This is not a big rig friendly campground at this time of year.
Hungry Mother does have a big rig campground though. Burson Campground just outside the park has some full hook ups and is more like a nice private RV park with sites in rows and laundry facilities. It’s close to the park but still requires walking or driving.
SUNDAY May 31
We had planned to be near enough to Bill and Nancy Mills to spend Nancy’s birthday with them but that’s not how it’s working out. So I wrap her present and give it to her early when the two of them come over for dinner.
Just in case, we put the screened tent over the picnic table which is too big and heavy to move from the back of the lot. Not for bugs, but for the seemingly never ending rain. Bill’s waiting “patiently” for dinner. Nancy takes this picture before I call her inside to open her present.
It’s an inside joke which they both clearly enjoyed. Sure makes me happy to see them both laugh! Hope they enjoy every drop!
David stuck his arm in the picture but I still had to post this one of Nancy cradling her Bosco. Anybody else remember Bosco?
If so or if not, you can hear the Bosco commercial from the 50’s by clicking this link. The first part is the ad but the best part is the jingle at the end. Too funny!
If you come to dinner at our house it’s likely I’m going to serve you bread and water with a side of soup or vegetable stew. Sharon and David Rasmussen are the lucky ones going north with Bill and Nancy to Maine this year and their journey from the RV Dreams Reunion to Maine also began at Stony Fork. We invited them for dinner too. Who wants to cook anyway at the end of a driving day?
Now is Bill thinking of putting Bosco in his soup or on the bread? We all know Bosco goes with EVERYTHING. Should I grab it first?
After the meal is over, of course, I think about pictures so here they are. Sharon didn’t quite get the totally empty soup pot turned up for the picture but it had been full to the top when we started out. I love when people ask for seconds and clean up every drop.
You know you’ve succeeded when Bill Mills has a completely empty bowl after two servings.
Since we only have 4 bowls, Sharon and David bring their own and empty them too. Thanks you guys for helping clean that pan!
MONDAY June 1
We had planned to do some biking with Bill and Nancy today but again the weather didn’t cooperate and they are totally pooped out from all the excitement of the rally. Since they are leaving tomorrow morning to head north we get together after dinner for some dominoes.
Amazingly this time Bill doesn’t win but they keep it in the family. Nancy is tonight’s winner. I’m not sure how since I won 4 of the games we played and Bill won more than that. Nancy only won one. But somehow she and Bill always manage to have low totals when someone goes out. Poor David just couldn’t catch a break. Bill doesn’t look very sympathetic at all the dominos David is having to draw.
It was a short but fun visit. So glad we were here when they came. Sure wish we were going along up to Maine. That was our plan but instead we wish them all safe travels out of the rain. As for us, we’re hanging around Virginia and hoping that the rain stops here before the flooding starts and we don’t have to evacuate the campground.