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.
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.
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.
In the middle of the Outer Banks in North Carolina, you would never expect to find the tallest active sand dune on the east coast. At Jockey’s Ridge State Park, you can explore these sand dunes and more. The park covers an area of 427 acres and is the most visited park in the North Carolina park system.
The temperatures can apparently be truly desert-like in the hot summer months. Reaching 110 degrees F and the sand can be up to 30 degrees hotter. Our visit was in late September so there was virtually no one when we arrived. For our son, this was the largest sandbox he’d ever seen and he was thrilled.
* Make sure to bring plenty of water on those hot days. Sunglasses help too even if it’s not sunny, especially on windy days
I remember the simple days back when it was just me and my wife. If we wanted to take a day trip out to the mountains, such a feat could be accomplished within a moments notice. Some light packing, some food and water and we were good to go. These days, with two kiddos, a simple day excursion requires enough packing for an expedition – everything from maps, first aid kits, spare clothing, food, water, toys for the car, diapers, and the list goes on. Although it definitely takes more energy to embark on such trips, the reward is also greater. There is nothing better than seeing a child’s reaction to the marvels of our natural world. Every breath of brisk, fresh air seems to infuse them with energy as they are pulled from one discovery to another. Whether they are seeing a new animal for the first time – hearing the rush of the river as it crashes into rocks, or feeling the textures of different tree barks, I believe that there is not a better classroom out there.
One of the beautiful overlooks from Route 39
More views from Route 39 of the Maury River
For Earth Day 2020, we planned for a trip to the scenic, 936-acre, Goshen Pass Natural Preserve in Goshen, Virginia just outside of Lexington in RockBridge County. Elevation: 1,350 ft (411 m). We were blessed with absolute perfect weather. High of 64F and sunny. We knew that our prime spring hiking days were coming to a close so we wanted to get out there before the Virginia vegetation took over. Even this late in April, it was still perfect, the mountains were later to bloom than the city. Awesome. Mountain flowers were in bloom and the new buds emerging on trees, created an emerald backdrop with beautiful displays of every hue of green.
The drive from Richmond to Goshen Pass is about 2 hours from Richmond, and it is a pretty one. The gentle rolling hills, and well kept farms provide a peaceful journey as you course your way through the mountain. The natural preserve is Virginia’s oldest state-managed natural area. The region was acquired in 1954 to protect the gorgeous 3.7 long gorge along the specatcular Maury River. There is certainly magic here still yet to be discovered. There is an old-age chestnut oak forest, pine-oak-heath woodland and rare species of plants.
Picnic area off Route 39
These are stocked trout waters, special license required.
Our original plan was to hike a 3.0 mile circuit that started at the famous Swing Bridge over the Maury River. Despite the website, saying that this area was open, we arrived to find that the bridge had actually been boarded shut! Fortunately, this area is large enough to explore without the main hike. We drove back 2 miles on Route 39 to reach the Maury Memorial overlooking the Maury River. This area has a shelter, several well kept picnic areas, grills, portable restrooms and best of all, great access to the Maury River. We decided to spend the day here, catching crayfish, observing wildlife, tenkara fly fishing and just enjoying the outdoors. Surprisingly the area was really quiet. Other than one other family, we had the whole river access to ourselves. I learned later that this segment of the Maury River was popular for whitewater kayakers during certain parts of the year. This is certainly something I would like to check out in the future. The area by the swinging bridge appeared like a good put in for a fun run. I guess what they say is true, the Goshen Pass area is one of the most beautiful spots in Virginia.
Public access for hiking at Goshen Pass Natural Area Preserve is available via a parking area off Route 39 and swinging bridge across the Maury River, both maintained by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) as an access point for the Goshen-Little North Mountain Wildlife Management Area (WMA). DGIF requires a WMA Access Permit for visitors age 17 years and older who do not possess a valid Virginia hunting, freshwater fishing or trapping license, or boat registration. Contact: the DGIF Field Office in Verona (540) 248-9360 or go to http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/access-permit/ for information on acquiring a WMA Access Permit.
Deep Bottom Park is special not only for its historic significance, but also for its position on a unique part of the James River known as — the oxbow. The U-shape bend of the river at this section of the James resembles the harness for an ox. The river in this section is also unusually deep, hence the name of the park.
“…Gabriel Archer, who along with John Smith and a band of other Jamestown colonists first traveled through here in May 1607, estimated the depth at “five or six fadom eight oars’ length from the shore.” ” – National Park Service, US Department of Interior.
This portion of the river is also part of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake national Historic Trail, one of only two water trails designated as a “National Historic Trail”, the other being the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail. The Captain John Smith trail consists of a series of waterways in the eastern USA covering approximately 3000 miles (4800km) flowing along the Chesapeake Bay. The waterways are of historic significance as they trace the 1607-1609 voyages of Captain John Smith on his expedition to chart the land and waterways of the Chesapeake.
Deep Bottom Park is a quiet and small getaway on the James River. About 20 minutes out from Richmond, the park provides access to the two boat ramps – one is a canoe launch facing Four Mile Creek, and the second is the main boat launch out to the James River. This section of the James River is uncharacteristically deep (hence the name of the park).
We were blessed with another beautiful spring day. The sun was out with temperatures in the low 60s F. Although not designed as a biking trail, our toddler found plenty of suitable ground to blaze through. We spent most of our time at the canoe launch, where we had the dock all to ourselves. From here, we were able to immerse ourselves into the surroundings and the wildlife welcomed us. We saw a large osprey, a large blue heron, fish jumping out of the water and countless frogs and tadpoles and everything in between.
From what I could see from the dock, the waterway up to Four Mile Creek, looked like a good one to paddle. The water was calm, and the wildlife viewing appeared promising. Whether your interest is history, wildlife, the river or fishing, there is something here for everyone. (Be safe out there, and always make sure you have your personal flotation device, PFDs).
Deep Bottom Park also offers picnic facilities, restrooms, and fishing are available at this site. The boat ramps are available twenty-four hours a day to launch and retrieve boats. The park grounds are open from dawn to dusk.
The transition period from March to April is one of the prettiest times of year in Virginia. Cherry blossoms make their display, snowing petals in the gentle breeze for just a couple of weeks before the landscape flourishes with green. It is also the nicest time of year to go scouting for new clear waters to paddle. The mountains to the west is where I have the best luck in finding such waters. While the coastal plains of Virginia offer incredible wildlife and scenery to paddle in, I’ve always been in love with the backdrop of a bare forest against a sparkling mountain lake. In my heart, Lake Moomawand Switzer lake hold the top two spots in my ranking of favorite Virginia mountain lakes, but I’m always open to see if they can be dethroned.
With two kids in tow, (Lake moomaw and switzer lake) are just a tad too far for a daytrip. (3.5 hours and 2.5 hours respectively). A quick look at a map of Virginia led me to investigate the Ragged Mountain Natural Natural in Charlottesville, Virginia.
At an elevation of 737 ft. This beautiful 980-acre region is home to the charlottesville reservoir, a gorgeous clear lake with more than 4 miles of shoreline. This area offers seven miles of trail through its oak, hickory, pine and maple forests. The densely wooded area is home to white-tailed deer, black bears, bobcats, and dozens of species of birds including the popular pileated woodpecker in this area.
It had been a long time since I’ve used our Deuter Kid Comfort Active (child backpack carrier), actually haven’t used it since Utah (September 2019). Our 2.5 year old has also gained some weight since that time, but we have all been cooped up and ready for a decent hike. We started at the main parking lot and made a 3.0 mile round trip to the floating bridge. This hike is certainly not as remote as Shenandoah National Park, as you can still hear cars on the inner roads but it is still certainly peaceful.
The trails were laid out clearly without any brush (another reason why I like spring hiking). We sat down and had a small snack at the floating bridge before making our way back across the dam and to the main parking area. In front of the parking lot are several picnic tables with a great view of the lake. We sat down and had lunch in the brisk spring breeze after working up a sweat. Down at the canoe launch are actually several canoes and kayaks that people just leave there unattended on the racks. I told our son that we would be back to paddle this lake one day, when it wasn’t as cold.
Whether you come here for the trails, water or wildlife, there is something here for everyone. It is a great trail for kids too, as it is not too strenuous. Stay healthy, stay safe everyone.
Directions (open 7:00am to sunset)
Physical Address: 1730 Reservoir Rd., Charlottesville, VA 22903
From I-64 in Charlottesville, take Exit #118B/US 29 North. After 0.4 miles, take the first exit for US 29 Business. At the end of the ramp, turn left onto Fontaine Avenue. Go 0.3 miles on Fontaine Avenue to Reservoir Road and turn right. Follow Reservoir Road for 1.7 miles to the sign on the right just before Camp Holiday Trails. This is the lower parking area. To reach the upper parking area, continue past the lower lot, stay right and pass the yellow gate, and travel up the paved road to the top of the dam and park by the kiosk and tool shed.
The City of Charlottesville owns and manages the land, parking areas, and trails at Ragged Mountain. The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority manages the water and related infrastructure.
Dogs are not allowed at Ragged Mountain natural area (other than approved ADA service dogs).
On my last day of break, I wanted to take the family out to explore the freshwater tidal marsh areas of R. Garland Dodd Park in Chesterfield County, Virginia on the Appomatox River. The park spans 176 acres and offers something for everyone of all ages. Apart from the beautiful 2.7 miles of walking trails, there are 2 baseball fields, 2 basketball courts, a football field and 6 tennis courts which are all lighted. There are also 4 soccer fields and two different sets of playgrounds, and numerous shelters.
The main attraction to the park is the floating boardwalk through the Ashton Creek Marsh. In the heart of winter, the place seemed desolate but still very beautiful. I imagine that in the summer, this place would be teeming with wildlife; birds, turtles, and dragonflies to mention a few. We enjoyed the very short hike down to the first Marsh Overlook where the floating board walk begins. Interestingly, at this location is another playground area which seems to be almost hidden in the woods. Our son very much enjoyed the floating boardwalk, as he hopped over the panels to avoid the small gaps. With walking stick in hand he explored the marsh and the plants, marveled at the ducks as they flew in formation and observed the sporadic movements of the dozens of tadpoles.
At the age of 28 months, he is a very capable hiker on flat terrain such as this. Towards the South Gully Bridge is a beautiful outlook on the Appomatox as the marsh opens up into flowing river water. This area is interestingly of historic significance as well. This land was the southern end of the Union position during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign. These were a series of battles fought at the town fo Bermuda Hundred during May of 1864 during the American Civil War. There is evidence of the Union Army’s earthworks in the area however relic hunting is prohibited in the park.
The park is listed as “at Point of Rocks”. The Point of Rocks is a plantation home that was built in 1840 of historic significance during the civil war. It was named after the 60 foot high sandstone cliffs on the Appomattox River. The house had signficance as an observation point during the war for Union General Benjamin F. Butler. It was used for a time as a hospital as well. The home today is owned privately by descendants of John Strachan, but part of the land is part of the park today.
Whether you come for the views, the sports or the history, there is certainly plenty to explore at R. Garland Dodd Park. (30 minutes away from Richmond, VA)
A nice Tuesday off had our family seeking the outdoors for a nice change of scenery. We head to our closest state park, Pocahontas for a stroll through the forest and playground with our toddler.
It is obvious to me that he feels the same sense of freedom and bliss that I experience when I am outside. It’s probably only natural that we all humans feel this way. We have evolved and have been wired to spend our time outside. The energy that is poured through the body when you are outside is certainly palpable.
Interestingly, the act of physicians prescribing “outdoor time” for their patients has picked up significant momentum in recent years. Especially in Canada and Europe. Keep in mind that this is distinctly different from an exercise prescription. The mere act of being outside has been linked to help treat, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression, anxiety and several other chronic maladies.
Even on this cold and cloudy January day, this little kid is happy as a clam to explore treasures of the forest.