Horizons of the Outer Banks, North Carolina

The Outer banks, a string of barrier islands off the mainland from North Carolina is a slice of heaven. We come here every year. I was lucky enough to be able to spend two weeks here this past summer. Here are some of my favorite shots of the horizons of the Outerbanks. Shot on Sony a6000.

Beach in Nagshead
Nagshead
6:00am, Nagshead
Finished for the day
Sunset
Crimson
Storm approaches
Town of Nagshead

Bear Creek Lake State Park – Cumberland, VA

As a father of 3 little children, I find that I appreciate the Virginia state parks more and more each year. Before kids, I loved trekking, camping and canoeing in wilderness areas, far from civilization. Although this can still certainly be done with kids, mine are still a little too young. For now, they are absolutely loving the state parks and all of their amenities, such as pools, bathrooms and showers. The trails are always well kept and the parking lots allow for easy transport of the munchkins.

We’ve had a few chilly mornings lately, signifying the near arrival of autumn and the school year. I wanted to get outside with them before they started school. The weather forecast was set for a high of 87F and sunny, it was our chance to explore Bear Creek Lake State Park in Cumberland, Virginia. The drive was easy, less than 1 hour from Richmond and the empty lake on a Wednesday was perfect.

The park is a modest 329 acres, but the beach lake access and boat ramp with playgrounds was perfect. As true Canucks, these guys overheat easily, so we were stoked about the ample shade provided by the towering oaks and tulip poplars. The beach area was well kept with canoes, kayaks and paddle boats for rent. The spent their day swimming and playing in the sand. These little guys played their hearts out as the final days of summer approach. School is around the corner!

Stay safe and healthy out there everyone.

Return to St Mary’s Wilderness – Raphine, VA

stmarys
St Mary’s Road is very well maintained, with a parking area before the trail head.

8/6/2022 – It’s been 6 years since I’ve stepped foot in St. Mary’s Wilderness, located in the vast and spectacular George Washington National Forest. I’ve hiked and camped here before in the Spring and Fall however I’ve never hiked through in the heart of summer – for good reason. The trail on this hike is generally poorly maintained because it is a designated wilderness area. Pink ribbons tied to branches outline the trail and most easily visible during spring and winter when the trees are bare. I wanted to take my son and my brother to this area to beat the summer heat and swim in the cold spring waters and to get to the St. Mary’s waterfall – where there are deep pools and cliff jumping. 

St. Marys Wilderness Falls – April 2016
St. Mary’s Wilderness – October 2016

We arrived on Saturday morning at approximately 10:00am. The parking lot was full but we had no trouble finding parking on the side of the roads. The directions to the trail are very straight forward and the road is well maintained. The summer heat brought numerous visitors, all with towels and bathing suits ready to dip in the ice cold spring waters. The lush green vegetation blanketed everything including parts of the trail.

I realized early into the hike that we were not going to make it to the waterfall. There was heavy rain the days prior and everything was wet and it took plenty of time to navigate with my son. So we decided to just take it slow and enjoy the hike. He’s currently into mushroom identification, and he spent a good amount of time combing the forest floor. The butterflies were also in full force, so he marveled at the sight of dozens of them near the stream. He made hiking sticks with his trusty laplander folding saw. I let him pick one of the deeper pools to swim in as promised before the trip. He was thrilled at the idea of swimming in ice cold spring water.

After a much needed swim and some lunch. We slowly made our way back to the car. As we left, my son reassured me that we were coming back to get to the falls next time. He had an awesome time in St. Mary’s Wilderness.

Petersburg National Battlefield – Petersburg, Virginia

The city of Petersburg is a short 40 minute drive away from the capital of Virginia, Richmond. These two cities played pivotal roles in the American Civil War. It was here, where the final days of the civil war were fought. The “Siege of Petersburg” was a series of battles fought from June 9, 1864 to March 25, 1865 that led to the end of the civil war.

“Nine and a half months, 70,000 casualties, the suffering of civilians, thousands of U. S. Colored Troops fighting for the freedom of their race, and the decline of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of No. Virginia all describe the Siege of Petersburg. It was here Gen. Ulysses S. Grant cut off all of Petersburg’s supply lines ensuring the fall of Richmond on April 3, 1865. Six days later, Lee surrendered.” – National Park Service

I wanted to take the kids out for some epic learning and exploration. We have never actually spent any time in Petersburg, but the park was certainly impressive. There was loads to see and we explored just a small fraction.

Photos taken on Sony a6000 w/Tamron 28-75mm lens

Cape Charles – Eastern Shore, Virginia

The Eastern Shore of Virginia is separated from the mainland of Virginia by the Chesapeake Bay. This 70-mile long stretch of sandy and deep soil terrain is a peninsula with over 78,000 acres of protected parks, refuges and preserves and a national seashore. The region’s tourism affirms “You’ll Love Our Nature”.

Many travel by golf carts in Cape Charles. Several of the houses even have parking spots
for them.
Admiring the local art
This town loves Yellow Roses, for good reason too

Cape Charles is a small town, at the southern tip of the eastern shore, with a population of 1009 (2010 census) yet it boasts a vibrant, historic downtown, beaches, restaurants and a quaint and charming scene. I love communities by the ocean. There is something carefree about being able to here’s something about being able to smell the ocean while walking through neighborhoods that puts you in a carefree mood. The slow pace of the town, follows the cadence of the gentle waves that roll in from the bay – the beaches are very kid-friendly for this reason. The beach faces west toward the Chesapeake Bay and hence has very flat water, it is protected from the Atlantic Ocean.

Between the reflection of the water, the clouds and the parallels…..sometimes it’s hard to figure out where you are!
Virginia is for lovers.
Lots to discover at the beach

With a newborn in tow, we couldn’t ride the golf carts. But bicycling was even better for the kids. The quiet town had plenty of sidewalks for the kids to zip through safely. There were lots to see, ice cream shops, gift stores, restaurants and history. Central Park in the heart of the historic district was a place that we frequented for its large field and playground area.

Our last full day was spent exploring Kiptopeke State Park, located at the southern tip of The Eastern Shore. It was an easy 15 minute drive to the park entrance. This state park is known for it’s migratory bird watching, beaches and The Concrete Fleet, several concrete ships that were partially sunk to create the Kiptopeke Breakwater. During World War II, 24 concrete ships were contracted by the U.S. Maritime Commission, in 1948, 9 of these ships were brought to Kiptopeke to protect the ferry terminal during severe thunderstorms. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel was open in 1964 and the terminal was no longer needed. The concrete ships are still in place to serve as a break water for the beaches.

Balancing on shone driftwood in kiptopeke state park. In the distance the concrete fleet stands guard.
The shaded boardwalk leading to the beach is a pleasant hike.
Board walk to the beach.

A 0.3 mile board walk through the shaded beach forest takes you to the beach. We arrived in the early morning, and had the beach to ourselves. We spotted a nice shaded area along the tree line some ways away. It was a bit of a hike to get to, but was pleasant and the kids collected shells along the way. The water was clear and the views were great.

Heading to the shade
Testing the buoyancy of some driftwood
A shell paradise

Before we knew it, our 5 days were up. There was much to still see of the eastern shore. Alas, Tangier and Chincoteague Islands will have to wait for another trip. We explored only the southern tip of the eastern shore, and it was pretty awesome.

Sherando Lake – Lyndhurst, Virginia

  • Elevation: 1820 ft
  • Location: Sherando Lake Recreation Area, 96 Sherando Lake Rd, Lyndhurst, VA 22952
  • Latitude : 37.919724, Longitude : -79.01
  • Date: 10/21/2021

The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests contain almost 2 million acres, with most of these acres in Virginia (1,664,110 acres). The remainder is mostly in West Virginia (123,629 acres) and then Kentucky at 961 acres. It is home to some of the most beautiful mountain lakes in Virginia. Lake Moomaw and Switzer Lake are two of my favorites. I’ve heard much about the popular Sherando Lake, which is probably the most popular of the lakes given it’s ease of accessibility and plethora of facilities and amenities. Many people come here to swim, camp, hike and of course fish the stocked trout.

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During a week long trip out to the Blue Ridge Mountains, we made a day trip to Sherando Lake to check it out. With  2 little ones in tow, we hiked an easy trail around the lake at 1.4 miles with very little elevation gain of about 100 ft. The spring-fed lake is small at 25 acres, but picturesque. The entrance to the lake is magnificent, with small stone bathhouses and small bridges that cross meandering creeks. There is a designated beach area for swimmers which I’m sure is packed during the summer months. The trees were starting to turn in late October and the air was crisp.

If you are thinking about heading to Sherando Lake for a day trip or for a camp out, just do it. You won’t be disappointed. (For the paddlers out there, make sure you bring your own canoe/kayak, there are no rentals on site.)

Directions

Location: Sherando Lake Recreation Area, 96 Sherando Lake Rd, Lyndhurst, VA 22952

From I-64: Take exit 96 just east of Stuarts Draft. Turn south onto State Route (SR) 624 and continue. At Lyndhurst, the road changes to SR 664/ Mount Torrey Rd, but there is no distinct turn. Continue south on SR 664 approximately 8 miles to the entrance to Sherando Lake Recreation Area on the right.

From the previous site on the Thomas Jefferson Loop of the VBWT:

About 1 mile down Sherando Lake Road from SR 664, head right for a small parking and lake access area or left for parking, lake access, restrooms, information, camping, and hiking trails.

From Royal Oaks, travel north on SR 814 for 3.6 miles to SR 664. Continue straight onto and follow for 0.6 miles before turning left onto Sherando Lake Road.

To return to the interstate, return to the Blue Ridge Parkway and follow it south to SR 56. Turn right and follow this to I-81. From here, turn north to begin the Forest Trails Loop or south and start the Rockbridge River and Ridge Loop.

Leaf Hunting and Preserving

I recall many days of my childhood in Ontario, Canada on school field trips where we were asked to identify trees, plants and animals. These were always great memories for me and helped opened my eyes to the natural world all around us…even in our very own backyards. Looking back now, I’m amazed at how much emphasis, the canadian public schools placed on educating their youth about nature. It has certainly left a lasting impression upon me and how I view the world. I try to pass this wonder on to future generations.

The weather this past week has just been perfect in the central and western parts of Virginia. Fall is certainly underway and we have been trying to get out as much as possible to soak it all in. This was a great opportunity to do some leaf hunting. My son has enjoyed watching the leaves change and he also loves tree identification with his trusty tree guide. We didn’t have to go far, we had enough species of trees in our neighborhood to keep him occupied with a good field activity. We were going to collect leaves and seal them up in wax paper.

We hunted for acorns of many varieties of oak: white oak, red oak, chestnut oaks. It appeared that sugar maples were still far from turning in our neighborhood. Gum trees were yellowing and so were sycamores.

Once you have found your collection of leaves, simply lay them out on kitchen wax paper. Cover it with another layer of wax paper and iron them. The heat will keep the two papers adhered to one another and your leaves preserved inside.

All in all, it was great way to get outside, feel the sun and admire nature. Enjoy and be safe everyone.

Winter hike on Beaver Lake

It is hard to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has raged on for more than 10 months in the United States. As the cold winter days settle in, there is no sign that this virus letting up either. As the air becomes drier and people are forced to spend more time indoors, the number of cases have skyrocketed. Hope arrived several weeks ago, with the first vaccinations administered to health care workers – our first solid foothold in this war. I was fortunate enough to get the first of the two part vaccinations, 3 weeks ago at my hospital. My reaction was similar to my flu vaccinations, I had mild chills for a couple days but otherwise bounced back quickly.

As I reflect on the past 10 months, there is no doubt this has been a difficult time for everyone in the world. During this trying time, it is no surprise to me that this pandemic has also taken a toll on mental health. Families and friends are separated and the feeling of loneliness and anxiety can naturally settle in. Everyone has their own way of finding center, of recharging and being uplifted. For myself, it has always been the outdoors.

In the winter, getting outside has its obstacles. But there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear. For us, getting outside is a priority and to let the kids run and explore new lands. Everything is a little slower in the winter, so we prepared for that – waking up just a little earlier, bundling up on more layers and packing the right food and snacks.

Our closest state park is the good ol’ dependable Pocahontas State Park. We wanted to hike the Beaver Lake Trail once again. The last time we took on this short 2.4 mile hike was in the summer of 2019.  In the afternoon, it was going to reach a high of 46F with plenty of sun. I was surprised at how quiet the trails actually were. Breathing in the crisp, cool air while hiking under towering white oaks and sycamore trees was something that I missed. The trail certainly looked different without the foliage. It definitely sounded different, the chirping of birds cut through the bare forest, the snaps of twigs and sticks under our feet seemed to echo just a little louder.

It all felt good. The gentle wind on the face, the  slight chill through the body, the movement of muscles, the sunlight, and the calming sight of a bare lake in the winter made everyone feel better.

Whatever it is that gets you to center, I hope you get to do more of it. Don’t forget to check on family and friends that might be more prone to loneliness or depression, a phone call or video chat goes a long way these days. I hope everyone stays healthy and safe. Vaccines are on the way. We shall prevail.

Telephoto trial on the Piankatank River

We took the family to spend a couple of days on the Piankatank River. The water was calm and the wildlife was out and about. I was able to get a shot of the bald eagles that have been hunting our segment of the river for years. I’ve been breaking in the Sigma 100-400mm telephoto lens. I still have it attached to the trusty old Sony a6000 that’s been pulling it’s weight for the past 5 years now. Hard to believe it’s been that long. I still have much to learn about telephoto lenses, but it’s been a lot of fun. Happy Holidays to everyone. Stay safe and healthy out there…and keep those masks on! Cheers.