Elizabeth A.S. Brooke

Crafting, traveling and everything in between.


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?

Claytor Lake

On a recent night on the town, we headed to Christiansburg. On the way there, we stopped at Claytor Lake to walk the pup.

A lot of people were out at the park for the day. Boating and fishing, biking and hiking. There were some people camping or staying over in cabins too.

I wasn’t feeling too inspired as far as photos go. I think the next time we stop (we’ve been a total of 3 times already) we should explore the longest trail — Claytor Lake Trail, which is 1.6 miles.
There are 3 miles of trails and we’ve been on most of them and part of the Claytor Lake Trail.
Most of the trails are very easy walking and appropriate for most people. Those people with wheelchairs, strollers or walkers may want to stitch with the Lake Shore Trail, which is paved and runs along the parks roads, serving as a sort of sidewalk. The rest of the trails are dirt.
Here’s some photos:
Wild basil, maybe?

The lake.

Look, the lake! Again. 🙂

One of the trails we took — Poplar Leaf Trail. There are 3 miles of trails at the park.

Ararat River Greenway

After our visit to the Autumn Leaves Festival, Chris, Sidney and I headed over the Ararat River Greenway.

I like this greenway, though it can get pretty busy. But that’s a good thing! It’s good to see the Mount Airy (N.C.) community using the park facilities and getting some exercise. Just as many people use this trail as they do the Emily B. Taylor Greenway.

Besides a paved trail, which is currently over 2 miles, residents can fish, tube and canoe on the Ararat River. There’s also a playground, skate park and open green space for picnics and ball games.

Here’s some photos from the day’s trip:

Someone stacks rocks up every year along the riverbank.
I love taking photos of water. I loved how the later afternoon sun shone on the river.
One of the boat launching sites.
Another view of the launching site.

Barkcamp State Park

On our trip to W.Va., we stayed at Barkcamp State Park in Belmont, Ohio. It’s just over the state line from Wheeling, W.Va.

This is a small, park in the middle of Barkcamp that has old buildings and interpretive signs. You can find barns all over the is area of Ohio and W.Va. with Mail Pouch Tobacco billboards on the side.

The area in Belmont is quite historic. We took time to explore some of the towns, including Morristown, which has streets lined with beautiful old homes and buildings, and St. Clairsville, which has grown up with big box stores.

A coworker said his family is originally from Belmont and have graves throughout the area, including an uncle who was buried in St. Clairsville after a horrific mine accident.

The park is quite nice and features amenities not usually found at Virginia State Parks — an archery range, miniature golf, basketball courts, playgrounds and a nature center.

It also had several trails, including one for horses and snowmobiles! There’s also a lake where you can enjoy swimming, fishing or boating.

We set up camp at campsite B, which was one of two that allowed pets. This is also the campsite closest to the only shower house in the whole park.

If you visit Trip Advisor or other review sites, you may get poor or average ratings just based on that fact. But the park’s maps clearly note there is only one shower house. We were lucky enough to be within walking range, but I’m sure other people had to drive.

The only complaint I have is the women’s shower didn’t have any heated water. Brrrrrr! Chris said his shower was warm.

It was pretty hard to take a shower early in the morning when it was 45 degrees out. But I had a shower and that made me happy.

Chris and I were amazed at how clean and well maintained everything was. Buckeyes must be proud of their state employees . . . or at least should be.

Some Roanoke County, Va., trails

Chris, Sidney and I spent Memorial Day Weekend wandering around trails and parks of Virginia. We originally planned to camp at Pipestem Resort State Park, W.Va., but sites were booked up. Other, closer Virginia parks were booked up too. So we settled for a couple of day trips.

The first day we explored four parks around Roanoke County, Va., using the Virgina Birding and Wildlife Trail book. A friend gave this to us as a gift a couple of years ago. Newer versions may have different or more trails.

The trail we used to make one of our day trips was the Roanoke Valley  Loop. You can view it online here. We followed each stop, using the directions given by the book. We did skip a sports complex, but we wanted to get to some of the other stops before it got dark.
Roanoke River Greenway
First off we started with the Roanoke River Greenway at Green Hill Park. It’s toward the end of the Roanoke Valley Loop. There, we walked along a 0.8 mile-long, paved trail. It appeared there was a soccer match going on, so we met a lot of people on and along the trail.

Though the walk was a short one we did see butterflies and hear several birds. The greenway will eventually link up with parts of the trail in the City of Roanoke and Salem and other areas of Roanoke County. A site for this part of the greenway said it’ll eventually be 30 miles long.

Since the trail is paved and relatively flat, this is a perfect jaunt for everyone. Some photos:

Poor Mountain Natural Area
Next up was the Poor Mountain Natural Area. Though signs and the book said the trail was only 0.25 miles long, it’s already been expanded and makes for a very nice walk. I guessed it may already be about a mile long. That includes an orange-marked, loop trail and a portion of a blue trail that’s not yet complete.

There’s supposed to be something called “piratebush” located on the site, but Chris and I couldn’t figure out which plant it might be.

This area is moderate in elevation, but the trail isn’t paved. So it’s not a hike for everyone. Anyone physically able and ages 5 and up will enjoy this hike.

Happy Hollow Gardens
Next was Happy Hollow Gardens. This is a small park — 34 acres according to the site.

There wasn’t much to it, but makes for a pleasant day trip. I was looking forward to seeing the azalea garden, but it was just a small grove of poor looking azaleas. I don’t think those poor shrubs were helped by the little boy beating them and trees with a stick. I wondered where his parents were and why they weren’t controlling their little vandal.

The trails on the property are pretty easy to walk. There’s a few to choose from and all are short. They’re not paved, so aren’t handicap accessible. Anyone with respiratory problems would handle the trails just fine.

I liked walking through the woods and listening to the little stream that flows by the parking lot. It would make a nice day trip during migrating season to listen and watch for birds.

Bent Mountain Elementary
The final stop on the tour ended at Bent Mountain Elementary’s birding area. I think this was Chris’ favorite stop of the day. We saw the most birds of the day in this little schoolyard — sparrows, red wing black birds and tree swallows.

Chris insisted on walking around the yard three times, including a short boardwalk that a Boy Scout built into an adjoining wetland.

We also met one of the school’s friendly neighbors — a man that lived up the street and his two cute dogs. We enjoyed talking with him and visiting the school. A photo of a birdhouse and meadow behind the school:

Sadly, we read recently that the school is closing. It’s always sad when a community school closes. I worry what will happen to the little birding area and the public library that was housed in the building too.

I hope the county or school will at least maintain the building (I’m not sure who owns the property, the school board or county) and keep it as a community center and library.

Side note: We ended our day with a meal at Nawab in the City of Roanoke. The best Indian food ever! (I admit, though, I’ve not eaten at many Indian restaurants so I don’t have much to compare it to.)
You can buy a copy of the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail book here and at Amazon:

This book is really useful in planning day hikes and trips. You will probably want a state map as a second resource to use in case you want to skip some of the stops on the loops. That way you can plan a different route.

Some other books birders may be interested in:


And, for identification:

We have “National Audubon Society Field Guild of Birds,” “Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide” and “National Audubon Society Field Guild of Wildflowers.” I recommend all three.

Newcomb’s can be a little tough to use, but if I can’t find it in the Audubon book, I can usually locate it there.

I’m an Amazon Associate. I use this service as a way to share books and products that I think you’ll find interesting.

DeHart Botanical Gardens, Meadows of Dan, Va.

DeHart Botanical Gardens, Meadows of Dan, Va., is one of the recent trails we’ve explored. (There are several more that I’ll write about in later posts.)

Located off of U.S. 58 in Patrick County, this garden is a beautiful piece of land to explore. But, warning, if you have asthma or other respiratory problems, please take an emergency inhaler and listen to your body. I had trouble from the beginning with tightness in my chest. Luckily, there were no problems but it concerned me. It was a very hot spring day, so pollen in the air and heat was an issue.

This is a private garden, but the owners allow visitors on the property. They just ask that you sign the guest register located in the mailbox by the gate so they’ll know that you were there. If you don’t sign in, you’re trespassing.

You have to park on the road side and walk up a very steep driveway to the trail head. There, you can begin a 2.8 mile loop down and up the side of  the mountain.

Along the trail you can spot all kinds of wildflowers — from showy orchis to wild columbine. (Please leave wild flowers where you find them!) The path also passes by a waterfall and a fallen down old homestead.

It’s very beautiful through the park, but very strenuous. On the accent back up the mountain we had to walk up the path holding onto trees and resting every few feet.

So, again, if you’ve got asthma or other problems, use caution and take an inhaler. Also, a bottle or two of water is very useful.

You can see a map and get directions to the garden here.

New River State Park, N.C.

While on vacation the week of June 29, Chris and I took a day trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway, visiting Doughton State Park and Moses H. Cone Memorial Park in North Carolina.

On our way home, we discovered North Carolina had its own New River State Park. Virginia’s New River State Park and Trail is a 57 mile long biking, hiking and horse trail. We’ve walked on most of the Virginia trail and were happy to discover more recreational possibilities along the New.

So we took off yesterday toward North Carolina to explore this new park. The main access and visitors’ center is located off of U.S. 221 in Ashe County. There are two other access points accessible by car located off of Wagoner Road and Kings Creek Road, following signs from U.S. 16.

Other access points are only accessible via canoe, including the Alleghany County Access area.

The park is divided into four areas, offering 2,200 acres of camping, fishing, canoeing, hiking and picnicking.

We explored the U.S. 221 access area where several campers and canoers were taking advantage of the weather.

Chris points to some canoers approaching the portage at the U.S. 221 access area.

The U.S. 221 access area has just completed a drive-in, RV camping area. It offers little shade right now, but does have nice gravel pads with fire rings and a hotwater bathhouse close by.

The visitors’ center and ranger station is located next to this camping area. It’s opened 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, but Christmas Day.

Tent camping is located next to the river and is accessed by walking 250 yards from a parking lot located near the boat portage area. I counted 16 sites, perfectly shaded with gravel pads and firerings. All were full.

A hotwater bathhouse and large picnic area were located nearby.

I would love to camp here. I’d enjoy listening to the river rush by and to the birds singing across the river and in the woods behind the camp sites. We heard several birds, including an owl across the river.

The U.S. 221 access offers a mile long loop trail called Hickory Trail. It features oak, hickory, laurel, rhododendron, joe pye weed, blackeyed susans, daisies, blackberries and swamp milkweed. It’s a moderate trail so should be fairly easy for most outdoor enthusiasts.

Swamp milkweed was in bloom along the Hickory Trail.Some of the milkweed was 5 feet tall, the largest I’ve ever seen!

Lots of jewelweed (a.k.a. touch-me-not) lined the path to the primitive campsites next to the New River.
We think this is wild basil, although our wildflower texts say it’s usually more pink. There were some pink spots on these flowers, although you can’t see them here since the picture isn’t that clear.
There was plenty of wildlife around too. We saw dragonflies and morning cloak, wood nymph and frittilary butterflies.
There was also a bright blue bird, most likely an indigo bunting, and deer. Although indigo buntings are actually black, sunlight makes the birds feathers look bright blue.

This little bunny was resting at the edge of the parking lot at the U.S. 221 access portage.

You could see hellbenders, a salamaner that can grow as large as 2 feet long, along the edge of the New. The hellbenders’ habitat is threatened, so if you see this aquatic creature, its best to leave it alone. We didn’t see one, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

The New River State Park also offers a community building and a covered picnic area for those looking to rent facilities for gatherings.

For more information, visit the park’s Web site or contact the park at (336) 982-2587 or new.river@ncmail.net.