Elizabeth A.S. Brooke

Crafting, traveling and everything in between.

Fisher Peak, Blue Ridge Music Center

My friend Dahna has organized a Hiking Club. The first outing was Saturday at the Blue Ridge Music Center. The center, located on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 213, has a couple of trails that cross a wetlands, a meadow and through the woods that cover Fisher Peak. The Fisher Peak Loop is 2.24 miles and the liner High Meadow Trail is 1.35 miles.

Chris, Sidney and I have hiked these trails multiple of times. My favorite is the loop trail, mostly because it provides a great look at how habitats can be affected by the amount of sun exposure and water sources available, among other things. One part of the loop is very dry and features hardwoods and pines. The moist side has lots of rhododendrons, undergrowth and beautiful fungi. This section is where I’ve taken photos of red efts (a form of the red-spotted newt).

I’ve written about the Blue Ridge Music Center before. Bands perform at the visitor center or on the stage various times during the year. The visitor center also has a museum devoted to the rich music history of the area. It should be on your must-visit list on the Parkway.

Here are some photos I took during Saturday’s trip:

Fisher Peak trail

Gnarly tree, Fisher Peak

Galax leaves in their winter splendor.

Galax leaves in their winter splendor.

Meadow at Fisher Peak

Breaks Interstate Park, Breaks, Va.

The last camping trip of the year happened at Breaks Interstate Park, Breaks. Va. It’s located on the border of Virginia and Kentucky, and is one of two interstate parks in the country.

Chris and I were excited to check this park out because we assumed it would be the best one yet. When we arrived it appeared the park had seen its heyday. The facilities were dated and well-used. Check out this outlet in the women’s bathroom in the campground we chose:

Breaks outlet

This is the floor of the shower:

Breaks shower

I didn’t shower. I decided I could wait until we went home the next day.

We did have running water and electricity at our site. Some of the tent sites don’t have water and electricity, so you should get to the park in plenty of time to choose the best spots. There were also a few spots squeezed together, including a couple right beside the camp playground. I wouldn’t want my kids playing next to some random campers.

We were one of three campers in the whole campground that evening. Other campgrounds had a few campers, as well. This was both good and bad. Good, because it was quiet. Bad, because we had visitors during the night. Doesn’t matter how well you clean and store away the dishes and food. If you leave out the dog dish, someone is going to come exploring.

Oops! Someone either got really angry or tripped over the tent.

Oops! Someone either got really angry or tripped over the tent.

I didn’t sleep after our visitor came and went around 1:30 a.m. I longed for 6 a.m. and when it came, I was up and packin’.

The trails, however, were great. Beautiful, rugged, and long. Just the way we like them.

Breaks Trail

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Holliday Lake State Park, Appomattox, Va.

A couple of weeks ago we took a trip to Holliday Lake State Park in Appomattox, Va. We were the only campers in the Red Bud Campground the first night.  We had our pick of prime real estate. It sounded like a woodpecker had a nest over our tent. We heard his or her call throughout our trip, especially late in the evening and at dawn.

Holliday Lake campsite

In the park the first day, there were two other RVs and the camp host just up the road in the Laurel Ridge Campground, a fisherman at the beach and two state employees. Later in the evening, two more people in a RV picked a site not too far from our camp in Red Bud.

After setting up camp and buying ice and firewood, we walked the 0.1-mile Sanders Creek Trail to the Lakeshore Trail, which is 6.3 miles around the lake. We only walked a portion of the Lakeshore Trail and all of the 0.7-mile Dogwood Ridge Trail. The walk on the Lakeshore Trail brought us to the beach and a couple of picnic areas.

Holliday Lake beach

Holliday Lake flowers

As always, we didn’t think to bring bug spray. We’re used to not having mosquitos where we live so we don’t think of bug spray when packing for trips.

The bathhouse at the Red Bud Campground has three stalls and two showers. Since the campground is for both tents and pop-up campers, the few number of showers may not be a problem. I took a shower in the evening so I was able to avoid the early morning rush on the bath house (and wet towels from the morning dew).

After a trip to Appomattox the next day, we walked on another portion of the Lake Shore Trail and a portion of the Carter Taylor Trail. We saw turkeys, a kingfisher at an overlook and several spiders with their webs across the trails. One bright red spider had a body that was more than an inch long.

On the second night, at least a dozen people had joined us at the park. It was definitely not as quiet as the night before.

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Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge

At Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, we first hiked on the Woodland Trail. We saw kingfishers, a pileated woodpecker and egrets flying at Eagle Point Overlook. We also think we saw a couple of warblers, though we aren’t too sure. One was black with a white underbelly and a white spot on its wing. The mate was light green or yellow green. They have a soft “peep-peep” call and they fly like a flycatcher. We saw them hanging around an understory tree in woods.

Microanthra spiders had built lots of big webs across the trails. We had to tear down several to make our way through the woods.

We next went to the Great Marsh Trail, which is .75 miles long. It is paved, so is handicapped accessible. At the end of the trail is a sitting area with a telescope. We heard frogs, saw some egrets at a distance and saw some seagulls.

It would be good to take along some bug spray if you plan to spend a lot of time at the sitting area. It won’t be necessary, I don’t think, if you visit in cooler months.

We took a rest and discussed our next stop on our way home.

Smith Mountain Lake State Park, Huddleston, Va.


While lots of people attended the Hillsville Labor Day Gun Show and Flea Market this past Sunday, we headed off to visit Smith Mountain Lake State Park, located near Huddleston, Va.

As a lake-centric state park, Chris didn’t hold much hope for it. But after hiking on the Turtle Island Interpretive Trail, he declared it, “The best lake state park we’ve ever visited.” Besides the usual boating, swimming and fishing, there are primitive campsites, cabins and miles of trails for hiking or biking.


In all we walked close to 4 miles. The Turtle Island Trail, the first we tackled, is a moist, wooded trail full of fungi. It loops through pines and hardwoods and runs along the shoreline in some places. The interpretive signs educate hikers on forest succession, from pine stands to hardwood mixes. It’s an easy hike and was pretty pleasant. On the trail we saw a box turtle and heard chickadees and, maybe, an osprey. The Turtle Island Trail also includes a small island, where it gets it’s name, which you cross over a little foot bridge to access. I, of course, had to get my feet wet. Now I can say I’ve been in the water sometime this year. 🙂


Next up was the short Opossum Trot Trail, which connects the Turtle Island Trail to a portion of the Tobacco Run Trail. There is a tobacco barn alongside the road (and Tobacco Run Trail) where lots of drivers stopped to take photos. The tobacco trail is also a loop trail, but we took the road up to the Discovery Center, which was closed.

The Discovery Center has playgrounds and picnic tables for visitors. The Lakeview Trail runs behind the center and gives visitors a great view of an osprey nest. There weren’t any osprey around when we checked it out. There’s a camera attached to the perch, though, that provides a live feed to a monitor at the Visitor Center. So if you want to see the osprey up close, especially during nesting season, that would be a place to stop.


Swimming area at the Smith Mountain Lake State Park.

By this time it had started to rain, so we started our way back to the car. On the way back, we tried to find a trail called Beaver Den. We didn’t really find a trail marked for it, but found a short, unmarked loop trail. Back in the car, we drove to the other side of the park to walk the rocky Osprey Point Trail, which is a 0.4 mile-linear trail. Its trailhead is near some picnic tables and the swimming area of the park. The trail follows along an a dry stone wall. We saw a white, black and yellow bird. Maybe a warbler? We also heard a pileated woodpecker in a stand of tall pines.

It was a great trip and I’d definitely recommend a stop or a day trip if you’re ever out that way.

Shelley Lake Park, Raleigh, N.C.

Shelley Lake Park in Raleigh, N.C., is a great place to take a stroll or, as many people were on a recent visit, jog.

The small lake is surrounded by trees and a 2+ miles of trails, including sections of a greenway. Walking around the lake we saw ducks, geese, turtles and, possibly, cormorants. The cormorants could also have been herons; the birds were far away and hard to see.

There are also basketball courts, a playground, a boat house and an art center (Sertoma Arts Center) located in the park.

Great place to take a stroll with the family on a weekday afternoon!

(Sorry, no photos to share this time!)

Big Bend Picnic Area, Big Walker Mountain, Wytheville, Va.

Updated: I had a plant mislabeled. See below

We’ve visited the Big Bend Picnic Area twice in the past couple of months. Though it’s a picnic site, we didn’t take a lunch with us. We were there to explore the Big Walker Mountain area.

A turk’s cap lily.
A mondara, or bee balm. A friend corrected me and said this is a “wild bergamot.” Oops!

Chris has lamented the lack of butterflies this year. He’s almost convinced they’re all hiding out here on the mountain. There are many butterflies and other insects along the dirt road by the picnic area.

The last time we visited, Chris was able to get a few good photos of butterflies, including the rare Diana fritillary.

This is a male Diana fritillary. The female is brown with blue. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

Other areas to check out while you’re on Big Walker includes the country store and Monster Rock Trail, which has a trail head located behind the store.

There’s also Seven Sisters Trail and the Stony Fork Campground, which are both located at the foot of the mountain. The Seven Sisters Trail winds 4.8 miles up the mountain to the campground.