Elizabeth A.S. Brooke

Crafting, traveling and everything in between.

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.

Hunting for caterpillars

Yesterday afternoon, Chris, Sidney and I went in hunt of a new air mattress for some upcoming camping trips. I was disappointed to find that Fancy Gap Outfitters in Mount Airy (N.C.) had closed. So we eventually made our way back up the mountain and stopped in at Magic Mart (Galax, Va.) where we found not only air mattresses, but cots, tarps and other camping gear. (We only needed and bought the mattress.)

While out and about, Chris insisted on stopping along the way to scope out milkweed for caterpillars, particularly monarch caterpillars. We started out in our backyard. Chris found several monarch caterpillars and, as usual, tons of tussock milkweed moth caterpillars:

Chris in our backyard.

Chris in our backyard.

A tusk (left) and monarch caterpillars on swamp milkweed in our backyard.

A tussock milkweed moth (left) and monarch caterpillars on swamp milkweed in our backyard.

Next up was the Emily B. Taylor Greenway in Mount Airy (N.C.). We didn’t see any caterpillars, though.

Emily B. Taylor Greenway

Emily B. Taylor Greenway. You can faintly see two dragonflies in the upper right of this photo.

Besides goldenrod, these beautiful flowers were in bloom.

Besides goldenrod, these beautiful flowers were in bloom.

Kudzu beetles on the underside of the kudzu leaf.

Kudzu beetles on the underside of the kudzu leaf.

On the way to Galax, we stopped at Devil’s Den (Fancy Gap, Va.), but someone had already mowed the meadow, which is sad. Just a couple of weeks ago this field was full of milkweed and there were lots of monarchs flitting around. Most of the monarch caterpillars won’t emerge from their chrysalis until late October. I wish the preserve would have waited until early November to mow.

Devil's Den Wildlife Preserve, Fancy Gap, Va.

Devil’s Den Wildlife Preserve, Fancy Gap, Va.

We did find this guy at one of the overlooks.

This fella is on a bench at one of the overlooks. I about sat on him.

This fella is on a bench at one of the overlooks. I about sat on him.

Top of caterpillar

Maybe another type of tussock moth caterpillar? Here’s a view of the overlook.

Overlook at Devil's Den.

Overlook at Devil’s Den.

I hope other people are finding tons of caterpillars this year!

Washington Youth Garden

If you have kids, you definitely want to check out this garden in the National Arboretum. Besides various plants, there is a cute area where kids can dig, climb and play in a sandbox. The area also has a stage and a sitting area for programs.

Entrance to Washington Youth Garden

(Just a note of warning — take along the bug spray! As we were leaving the garden five mosquitos shared a meal on my leg. I itched for a few days after that!)

The Washington Youth Garden is full of color and a variety of plants. There were tons of bees and butterflies flying around. Sunflowers, coneflowers, rose mallow, apple trees, strawberries, figs, crepe myrtle, canna lilies, sedum, carnations, hydrangeas, spirea and more filled the beds.

Washington Youth Garden

The coolest thing we saw was a passionfruit vine. According to this source, the plant is naturalized and is not native to the U.S. A woman working at the garden said the fruit is ripe when it feels hollow when you squeeze it. She described it as feeling like “cardboard.” Doesn’t sound too appetizing, but I understood what she meant after testing a couple of fruit that were nearly ripe.

Passionfruit vine

Passionfruit vine


Fern Valley, National Arboretum

The area called Fern Valley is filled with meadow and prairie plants. The trail also winds through a small wooded area, but we did not walk there. This was a beautiful garden to start our tour of the gardens. The garden had cattails, rose mallow, cup plant and other flowers and grasses. It was very enjoyable!

Here’s just a few photos:

Fern Valley

Bridge in Fern Valley meadow

Rose Mallow and Bee

A bee working on a rose mallow.

Bug on thistle

A bug on a thistle.

bee and flower

yellow meadow

Capital Columns, National Arboretum

First up in our tour of the National Arboretum was the National Capital Columns. These sandstone columns used to stand on the East Portico of the Capital building in the 1800s. They were moved to the park in the 1980s.

Capital Columns

The columns sit in the middle of a meadow. We walked along a mowed path to get a closer look. In front of the columns and in the middle of them are reflecting pools.

Columns Reflecting Pool The park’s website says the columns are the most photographed and filmed structures in the park. I can see why! The columns are also handicap accessible and parking is nearby.

Reflecting pool


A sculpture across the field from the columns.

A sculpture across the field from the columns.