Elizabeth A.S. Brooke

Crafting, traveling and everything in between.

Occoneeche State Park, Va.

On our way to the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, we stopped at Occoneeche State Park, Clarksville, Va. The park is on the John H. Kerr Reservoir (Buggs Island Lake).

The park is designed to appeal to boaters, horseback riders, campers and hikers alike.

While there, we walked on the Big Oak Nature Trail and the Old Plantation Trail where we explored the site of the former Occoneeche Plantation, reading interpretive signs about the home’s foundations, the terrace gardens and cemeteries.


Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

Here’s some photos from our trip to Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, near Suffolk, Va. If you’re out that way, check out the Plaid Turnip, a delicious restaurant in Suffolk! Here’s a Hampton’s Road article about it.

Nearly all the trails at the refuge were closed for bear and deer hunting season while we were there, so we stuck to the Washington Ditch Trail and the Boardwalk Trail for our exploring.

We, unfortunately, didn’t make it to Lake Drummond, which is 4 1/2 miles from the trail head.

This is a park I’ve wanted to visit a long time and this one day trip was a let down. But I hope to go back when we have more time to explore it.

We didn’t get to see too much wildlife, just some birds flitting about, including either a parakeet or flycatcher and some other walkers. Oh, and what is possibly bear scat. Does that count?

Oglebay Resort, Wheeling, W.Va.

We did a quick drive through one day and then spent a few hours one afternoon at Oglebay Resort. (It’s pronounced Ogle-bee.)

This municipal park was donated by various landowners over the years, starting with Earl Oglebay. It’s now 1,700 acres and offers everything from trails and golf to lodging and shopping. It’s a pretty amazing place.
There were Christmas lights strung up around the park. Our friend said the park’s light display is recognized as one of the best on the East Coast. We saw two deer that were wrapped in lights. They must have crashed into one of the displays and got tangled up!
When Chris and I went back one afternoon, we checked out Carriage House Glass, which is a store filled with a variety of expensive glassware. Most was much too expensive for our wallets. We don’t have a lot of decorating items lying around our house anyway, so it was not a big deal to us.

We wanted to visit the greenhouse and garden shop but wanted to get to the Environmental Center before it closed, so we skipped that.
The Environmental Center has several small exhibits explaining the wildlife of the park and had a small exhibit that explained the environmentally-friendly way the building was constructed.

There were also a kids’ room filled with activities and toys. Hanging on the wall were a couple of frames with several moth and butterfly specimens and their ids.

The larger, exhibit area had examples of feathers, bones and fossils that can be found in the park. There were also a few snakes displayed. When we were there, the snakes were being fed a mouse each. Chris took photos of the keeper feeding the snakes and the snakes eating the mice.

The keeper told us of a herpetology camp for adults coming up next June near the eastern border of West Virginia and invited us out. I’m not sure we’d go that far for something we’re not completely excited about but it might be fun. Now, if it were dragonflies or butterflies (which was this year’s camp), Chris would be all over that!
The guy also spoke with us about a rare, blue grosbeak that’s supposed to be seen in our area. We discussed it and I think I may have caught a glimpse of it last year on the New River Trail near Byllesby Dam. That was pretty cool!
Another interesting feature inside the center was the bird watching room. It’s on the end of the building with windows on two adjacent walls. There’s also feeders that jut out and open to the outdoors. You can sit on a stool and watch the birds feed on black sunflower seeds. We saw chickadees and nuthatches.
Behind the building are more bird feeders (swarming with birds), a butterfly garden and an observation deck with interpretive signs. The signs shared info about what trees are in the area, what butterflies and birds and explained a forest’s canopy structure.

Next, we explored some of the trails behind the center. The one we took ended at a waterfall. It was a very nice trail and a perfect day for hiking!

There are three trails, the longest being close to 2 miles and loops around. The center’s site says the trails are 5 miles long. We took the second longest trail and it was 0.9 miles out, I think.
Besides the areas we explored, there is also a zoo and planetarium, an observatory, golf, Frisbee golf, tennis, a lodge and cottages, dining and swimming. There’s so much to do there, I may have forgotten something! It’s worth the trip there.

Natural Tunnel State Park

Our final romping around the state on Memorial Day Weekend ended at Natural Tunnel State Park. You can read about our other hikes here.

The park is located near the Virginia-Tennessee border and we stopped in Kingsport, Tenn., on our way home for supper.

Next to Fairy Stone State Park, this may be one of my favorite Virginia parks for camping. We didn’t camp here, but I wish we had. The campsites were nice and the trails and views were great.

The park is also building new cabins that should be open soon. If they’re anything like a cabin we saw from the trail, they’re huge and beautiful!

On the trails we saw a woodpecker (maybe a hairy or downy) and heard many other types of birds. We hoped to see grouse, but could only hear what we thought was one. A sign in the park said grouse sound like drumming.

We also found what might be an orchid. It’s the small plant with two oval leaves in the middle:

(All photos by E.A. Seagraves or Christopher Brooke. Do not use without permission.)

Most of the trails are short and there’s one that is 2.8 miles. We walked most of the trails, walking around the valley’s ridges to get better looks at the trains and valley below:

There’s a train track that runs through the park and is still used to haul coal. Visitors frequently take photos of trains coming through the tunnel. You can either snap pictures from above or below in the valley.

You can get to the valley by walking a short (0.25 mile), steep trail or taking a chair lift. At the bottom is a boardwalk that runs along the train tracks and a creek.

Chris tried to take pictures of what might have been cave swallows, but wasn’t successful.

We also had a surprise while waiting for the swallows and another train to take pictures — a snake! It must have fallen from the rock wall above or was dropped by a bird. You can kind of see what might be gore on the snake’s head here:

All I know is the snake wasn’t there when I looked in that spot a few seconds before and I found it after hearing a thump. I felt like I was going to have a heart attack or pass out. Can you imagine what it would be like if a snake fell on you?
I know next time I’ll take an umbrella with me. : )

A friend who looked at the photo of the snake believes it was a harmless garter snake, but it was pretty angry when we found it. Another friend said she’d be angry too if she were dropped several hundred feet. Yeah, I suppose so.

Here’s some more photos:

This is called “The Carter Cabin.” It’s in the valley below and sits beside the creek on the other side from the tracks.

A shot of another, shorter tunnel trains travel through.

Here’s a sign posted on the boardwalk explaining the history and use of the Natural Tunnel.

I’m not sure what this little fella is, but he’s cute, right?

I tried to get a picture of the train coming through Natural Tunnel, but didn’t get a clear shot. So this picture of the train going through the smaller tunnel will have to do.

I think this lizard looks pregnant. On our way up the first trail we saw at least 3 of these lizards.

Chris took a picture of this pretty view of The Wilderness Road Blockhouse.

Here’s some history on the Blockhouse.

This is a garden behind the Blockhouse. Chris said it reminded him of the gardens around Colonial Williamsburg, Va.

Savannah National Wildlife Refuge

On our return trip stop in Savannah, we went to the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge in Hardeeville, S.C.

There’s a 4-mile wildlife drive in this refuge and lots of birds and alligators can be seen in the water and shore.

It was a very cold day so the few alligators we saw weren’t very active.

Chris about missed this guy floating in the water./All photos by Christopher Brooke
Do not reprint or use without permission.

We did see lots of birds though.

Park rangers said we could get out and walk along the levees in the park, but we didn’t do that. We just stuck to the road and drove around taking photos of what wildlife we did see.

Oh, and fishing is allowed. Here’s a couple of men (way in the distance) braving the cold and pending rain:

The refuge is former rice fields that are now used as freshwater wetlands for wildlife. Driving around the refuge you can still see water control structures, which are used to control the water.

Although it was cold and windy, it was a nice refuge to visit.

You can reach the refuge from Savannah by driving north of U.S. 17 for 7 miles.

Lake Kissimmee State Park

One of the coolest places we visited in Florida was Lake Kissimmee State Park.

Well, actually, I probably think it’s cool because we saw two armadillos. I squealed when I saw the first one. Really. I did.

All photos by Christopher Brooke/Do not use photos or reprint them without permission.

And it’s not because armadillo is the mascot of the community college I attended. It was just so cute . . . well, sort of.

We walked along a trail at the park that was pretty much flooded. We tried to keep to the side of the trail as much as possible, but by the time we got back to the car, our feet were pretty much soaked.

This is the trail, not a creek. It was flooded from recent rains.

Most of the trail meanders through open grassland, perfect for birds and, obviously, armadillos.

Before looping back around, the trail follows along a section of the Everglades. We could hear air boats out on the water, although we couldn’t see them.

I know it’s hard to see, but the Everglades can bee seen in the back.

In the water we saw ducks and various herons and other water birds. No alligators though. I guess we weren’t close enough to view them.

The park also has campsites, playgrounds and picnic tables at the park, but we didn’t take advantage of any of them.