OTR 8.0: Virginia (but first, Maryland)

Headwaters Presbyterian Church, 1890, Headwaters, VA (pop. 113)

Cumberland, Maryland

Savage Mountain, GAP

With a cool but dry forecast in front of us we decided to delay our arrival in Virginia and head to Cumberland for a couple of days to take advantage of the forecast and do some cycling. Cumberland is the terminus for two exceptional bike trails. The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) connects Pittsburgh to Cumberland providing 150 miles of cycling. The trail roughly follows the course of three rivers from west to east: the Monongahela River, the Youghiogheny River and the Casselman River.

The C&O trail begins in Washington DC and follows the C&O Canal for 185 miles to its terminus in Cumberland. Based on a recommendation from some local bicyclists we rode west on the GAP. While the GAP has a better surface than the C&O, riding west is all uphill out of Cumberland. Of course the ride back takes about half as much time.

The scenery along the trail is spectacular as the trail ascends into the Laurel Highlands of Virginia. We definitely plan on going back in the future to ride additional sections of the trail.

Skyline drive

Skyline Drive sits within Shenandoah National Park (SNP). The road winds its way (north/south) along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains for 105 miles. Skyline is the only through road in the entire park. Additionally, you can only enter or exit Skyline Drive in four places. We accessed the road at the Northern entrance in Front Royal.

Driving South – Skyline Drive

While the highest elevation on the road is 3680 FASL the views are none the less spectacular. You are witness to broad green valleys reaching across to more ridgeline, and are able to view the Shenandoah River meandering through the valley to the west.

We had hoped to camp overnight at Great Meadows, which sits approximately 51 miles south of the northern entrance at Front Royal. We would then complete the remainder of the drive the following day. We also planned on hiking from the Great Meadows that afternoon. Alas, the campground was gated and we were unable to camp on the ridge.

We also had planned to hike to Lewis Fall from the campground. We still wanted to hike so we pushed on to a trailhead about five miles further south based on a recommendation from a park rangers.

The Rose River Trail is a loop trail that descends from a trailhead at Fishers Gap. The Rose River is just 8.8 miles in length but flows down from one of the highest points on the Blue Ridge until it converges with the Robinson River.

After descending to the valley floor,the climb back up to the trailhead was steep and a bit arduous as you regain the 1000 feet of elevation lost on the way down. The sights and sounds of the multiple waterfalls and cascades that are your constant companions on this hike more than compensate for the effort.

Highland County

After finishing the hike we made our way south completing the drive and heading west to stay in Staunton (pronounced Stanton). We had stopped in Staunton in March, 2020 on our way back to Connecticut after the pandemic cut short that trip – looking for coffee and food. We found an excellent coffee shop and roaster (Crucible Coffee) and an excellent restaurant (Table 44) that were both still operating. We have fond memories of our stop in Staunton as we had limited option in March 2020 – the excellent news is that our memories had not failed us and we again had a great dinner and excellent coffee and tea before heading west to Highland County.

The trip west to Highland is a spectacular ride on Route 250. The road is a twisting up and down affair as you climb up and over the crest of Shenandoah Mountain.

Hankey Mountain Highway -Route 250

Highland County is the least populated county in Virginia. While the county is 416 square miles the population is a mere 2200 people. The economy is dominated by agriculture – mostly in the form of beef cattle as the mountainous terrain and narrow valleys are not conducive to growing crops at scale.

Eastern Continental Divide, Allegheny Mountains

The Western border of the county is formed by the ridges of the Allegheny Mountains (see photo above of Allegheny Mountains as viewed of Shenandoah Mountain). The Allegenies at the western edge of the county also form the border with West Virginia. There are just three communites in the county; McDowell, Montery and Blue Grass. You may find other places designated on maps but they are just remnants of towns.

Beulah Presbyterian Church

We are drawn, as you know, to more remote locations to enjoy nature and solitude but must confess that part of our motive for this segment of OTR 8.0 was the Annual Highland County Maple Festival. The Maple Festival has been taking place for two weekends in March for the last 52 years.

Maple Dounts

What can we say – donuts, pancakes, pretzels, etc. – all made fresh by local residents with pure maple syrup from Highland County. The money supports local churches, civic organizations and businesses. More importantly it is all gosh darn delicious and the people are happy you made the trip up to ”Little Switzerland” from down in the Eastern lowlands!

The Curly Maple, Monterey, Virginia (pop. 130)
Blue Grass Mercantile, Blue Grass Virginia (pop. 144)
Episcopal Church of The Good Shepard, Blue Grass, Virginia

We enjoyed touring the valleys of Highland County and chatting with some of the local folks we met in the towns (even if one of them called us Yankees!) but we knew it was time to move on when we awoke to snow and howling winds.

Be seeing you!

P.S. As you may have noticed if you follow our blog on a regular basis our posts are not published on a strictly chronological basis.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP)

Hiking

GSMNP is a fantastic destination for hiking. There are 150 official trails within the park that provide over 800 miles of hiking opportunities. The Appalachian Trail also traverses the park.

We spent four days at the park. The mornings tended to be cloudy and foggy in the hollows and valleys so we auto toured in the mornings (after finding coffee) and hiked in the afternoon.

Hikes at GSMNP range from short and easy to full on backcountry. There are many connector trails allowing hikers to elongate or shorten hikes, or to create loop hikes.

GSMNP Trail Map

Because of the park’s topography, there are a multitude of creeks, streams, and rivers which make for many water crossings and provide the sound of rushing water as an accompaniment to the beautiful scenery. Additionally, waterfalls abound (especially in spring) providing hikers with plenty of ooh and ahh moments.

Spruce Flats Falls

Auto touring

GSMNP provides plentiful opportunities to take in vistas and view wildlife while touring the park by auto. There are a number of designated tour loops and routes throughout the park. There are almost 400 miles of paved and gravel roads suitable for ordinary passenger vehicles. There are also a number of primitive roads for those equipped with 4wd vehicles with high clearance.

Roaring Forks Motor Nature Trail
New Found Gap

Park history

Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church, 1827

GSMNP opened in 1940 about six years after being chartered by Congress. Much of the land within the park was previously privately owned. Many of the advocates for the park were attempting to stop the massive clear cutting by timber companies that was destroying the forest, and believed a national park was the best way to acquire and protect such a large tract of land (523,000 acres).

Henry Whitehead Cabin, Parsons Branch Road, c. 1895

Of course, in addition to the land owned by the timber companies, there were a number of small communities located within the proposed boundaries. Most of the residents were farmers.

Over a period of years the residents were forced off of their properties and the communities ceased to exist. Amazingly, many of the homes and other structures were not destroyed when the famlies relocated outside of the park.

Little Greenbrier School, 1892-1935
Little Greenbrier School

When we toured Mammoth Cave NP during OTR 7.0 we found the more typical situation – all the building and structures had been razed (except several churches and cemetaries) in order to erase the evidence of the communities and restore the land to its state prior to the creation of the park. We thought that practice was disrespectful and, fortunately, that was not the case at GSMNP.

We will skip the discussion of the displacement of the Cherokee Indians as we all know that story. Today, the Eastern Cherokees reside in a reservation just south of the park’s border in Cherokee, North Carolina.

There are over 80 structures still standing and maintained by the park service. The structures include, cabins, schoolhouses, barns, churches and a grist mill.

Cantilever Barn, Tipton Homestead

Pictured above and below is a replica of the original cantilever barn that was part of the homestead of William ”Fighting Billy” Tipton. The homestead still boasts the original two story cabin, blacksmith shop and corn cribs.

The origins of the cantilever barn are unknown but they are prevalent in this part of Tennessee. Historians generally agree that this type of barn was favored because it provided cover for the livestock from Tennessee’s abundant rainfall.

Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church, 1842

Thoughts

We enjoyed our first visit to GSMNP and definitely recommend the park if you are hikers. Our caveats would be to avoid peak season – from talking with local folks, we understand that the roads into and within the park are jammed in high season. GSMNP recorded over 14 million visitors last year.

Also, we did drive through Gaitlinberg to find coffee – as a result we highly recommend entering the park through Townsend as we did. Gaitlinberg is crowded and uber touristy; it is the antithesis of the park. In our opinion there is no reason to visit Gaitlinberg unless you just cannot get enough of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museums!

Be seeing you.

Taos

E. Martin Hennings,Thinning Aspens, Undated, Oil on Canvas

Taos: a brief history

The Taos Pueblo has been in existence for 1000 years. The first Europeans to arrive in Taos were the Spanish – who initially maintained friendly relations with the Tiwa Indians who inhabited the pueblo.

Afer a relatively short period of peaceful co-existence the Spanish exerted their might and will over the Tiwa, and as they would do many more times in the west, instituted rule over the indians and imposed Catholicism.

While the Town of Taos was incorporated in 1934, the Taos Pueblo has been continuously inhabited by the Tiwa Indians since its founding. The pueblo has about150 residents with another 1750 Tiwa living on pueblo lands.

The Town of Taos is a major tourist destination with a myriad of outdoor recreational activities including alpine skiing at the world class Taos Ski Valley. Taos is also a noted art colony dating back to the migration of eastern artists to Taos Valley and the formation of The Taos Society of Artists in the early 20th century.

Rio grande gorge

The Rio Grande Gorge is atypical of canyons this size in that it is a massive rift in the earth with the river filling the bottom after the formation of the rift. The gorge is 50 miles long and 800 feet deep at its deepest – quite impressive!

The river itself is impressive as well. The Rio Grande is the fourth longest river in North America. The river runs from Colorado through New Mexico (470 miles) and then forms the border between Texas and Mexico until it empties into the Gulf Of Mexico. The total length of the river is between 1800 and 1900 miles.

Big Horn Sheep

We hiked along the west rim of the gorge, enjoying the views of the river below, the mountains to the east and west and the Big Horn Sheep dotting the edge of the rim.

El Santero by George Chacon, Wall Mural
Elevation Coffee, Taos

We had the pleasure of spending an afternoon at the Taos Museum of Art at Fechin House. We will share photographs of some of the wonderful paintings and the architecture of the Fechin House in an upcoming post.

Be seeing you.

Falling for…Fallingwater

Fallingwater

After our visit to Pittsburgh we decided to head south to Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece Fallingwater. Fallingwater was designed for the Kaufman family. Edgar and Liliane Kaufman were prominent members of Pittsburgh society and owners of the highly successful Kaufman’s Department Store.

The Kaufmans owned the property at Bear Run in the Laurel Highlands where they had a rustic weekend retreat. The met Frank Lloyd Wright through their son Edgar jr. The younger Edgar studied with Wright for a short time at Taliesin in Wisconsin.

Edgar jr sold the home and 1500 acres of land to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy with the proviso that the home be open to the public. The conservancy purchased another 3500 acres adjacent to the former Kaufman property to assure that the area remains unspoiled for future generations.

Bear Run

Wright designed the house in 1935 after visiting the site and integrated the house into the waterfall and landscape in brillant fashion. Wright practiced what he called “organic” architecture and Fallingwater is undoubtedly unparalled in that regard.

Wright also designed many innovative and one of a kind pieces of furniture which can be found throughout the main house and the guest house.

Wright designed over 1000 structures in a career that spanned 70 years. Just over half of his designs were constructed. He was a pioneer in many facets of design and was acknowldeged by the American Institute of Architects in 1991 as the greatest American architect of all time.

Wright’s designs were not limited to just his well known private residences. He designed churches, schools, museums, hotels and office buildings. Additionally, he designed one gas station (which we stumbled upon during our previous wanderings in Michigan.)

In addition to achieving phenomenal fame as an architect Wright also achieved significant noteriety in his personal life. During his life he was married and divorced several times in very public fashion and suffered the tragedy of having a lover and her children murdered at his studio while he was away on business. Recommended reading -The Fellowship:The Untold Story of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship.

Fallingwater is located near Ohiopyle, Pennsylavania. Ohiopyle State Park encompasses over 20,000 acres of beautiful scenery for hiking and camping. The Youghiogeheny (yawk) River runs though the middle of the park and provides serious whitewater rafting and kayaking opportunities. Additionally, the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail runs through the park with a trailhead in town for easy access to ride towards the Pittsburgh or Cumberland, Maryland terminus points.

The combination of outdoor activites and Fallingwater makes Ohiopyle a popular destination with many visitors. As we visited early in the season there were no crowds. We definitely recommend the Ohiopyle area as worth a several day visit.

Be seeing you!

P.S. There is a second Frank Lloyd Wright designed house (Kentuck Knob) close by which is open for tours. Kentuck Knob is an example of Wright’s Usonian (affordable) designs.

New Hampshire: On The Road 5.1

Loading the Beast
Pandemic Travel Wardrobe

Howdy! After shortening our winter/spring roadtrip by about 50% we finally got back on the road for a short adventure. Based on the title above you have probably figured out that we journeyed up the road apiece from our home base in Connecticut to the Granite State, New Hampshire. This trip was intended to “test the waters” for travel conditions in the new normal of the forever pandemic. Our choice of New Hampshire reflected its proximity, the fact we had not visited the state in some time and the state is welcoming visitors from all of the other New England states.

View from Bald Mountain, Franconia Notch

We visited Nashua and Manchester briefly on our trip north to the White Mountains but our main focus in New Hampshire was on camping and hiking.

The White Mountain National Forest offers significant camping options as well as a seemingly infinite amount of hiking options. We were fortunate to have very comfortable and mostly sunny weather which made for some wonderful (and occasionally strenuous) hiking.

Hiking in New Hampshire is so rewarding with its abundance of streams, rivers, lakes and waterfalls to be found along the way not to mention the views from the ridgelines and summits.

Franconia Falls, Lincoln, New Hampshire
View from Pine Mountain, Gorham, New Hampshire
Cherry Lake, Pondicherry National Wildlife Refuge
Beautiful Stands of Birch Trees are Scattered Throughout the Forest
Riding the Trails near Gorham, New Hampshire

Littleton, hard on the Ammonoosuc River, was one of our favorite small towns in the Franconia Notch area. It has a well preserved downtown with a variety of shops as well as a number of eateries right along the river. Of course, best of all there was an excellent coffee shop with ooutdoor seating on the riverbank (Inkwell Coffee & Tea).

Bridal Veil Falls, Moultonborough, New Hampshire
Franconia, New Hampshire

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in New Hampshire and plan to explore all of northern New England on a more comprehensive basis at some point in the future. Next stop: a short swing into Maine to visit friends in Boothbay Harbor and then visit the beautiful city of Portland.

Be seeing you!

P.S. Don’t forget to check out the art and coffee photo galleries in the sidebar.

Big Bend National Park

Hola!

After our terrific stay in BBRSP we journeyed east on FM 170 (farm to market) alternatively known as Farm Road 170. The local folks just call it the River Road. It is also a segment of the Texas Mountain Trail. Regardless of what name you reference it by it is an absolutely stunning drive. The road is an undulating strip of asphalt winding its way between the mountains of BBRSP on one side and the Rio Grande and Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains on the other.

Big Bend National Park is an expansive park with remarkable diversity in regard to the terrain and species of wildlife and flora. While it is wild and rugged it is far more accessible than Big Bend Ranch State Park. There are visitor centers, a gas station, drinking water, paved scenic drives and more people. The one thing that both parks have in common is the spectacular scenery.

We would rate this park as a “must visit” national park. A couple things to keep in mind – this is not a summer park due to the South Texas location and it is a spring break destination for many Texas families (making mid-March the busiest time).

Re-assessing our itinerary based on developments with Covid-19.

Be seeing you!

Video Clip: FM 170

Rio Grande, Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains, Mexico

St Elena Canyon

St Elena Canyon

Side Canyon Lower Burro Mesa Pour-off

Lower Buro Mesa Pour-off

Box Canyon, Lower Burro Mesa

Tuff Canyon

Scrambling in Tuff Canyon

Burro Spring Trail

Chisos Mountains

Early Morning Fog Lifting Off Chisos Mountains

Video: Chisos Basin Road, BBNP

Rio Grande

Boquillos Canyon, Wild Burro

Boquillos Canyon, Rio Grande, Mexico on the Right

Rio Grande, Sierra del Carmen Mountains, Mexico

Slot Canyons Inn

We stayed four nights at the Slot Canyons Inn while exploring the EGSNM. The inn is located on a 160 acre property about five miles west of the town of Escalante, and is perfectly situated to watch both sunrise and sunset. While in residence at the inn we had the opportunity to hike on the property (what else!). There are four hiking cats that live on the property and three of them accompanied us on our hike as we looped the property.  Joette-Marie Rex owns the inn and is an incredibly gracious host. Joette-Marie invited her friend Mary Kaye, a singer-songwriter in the western cowboy genre, to perform at the inn during our stay. She has a beautiful voice and provided a lot of history about the cowboy history of the local area.

We also had the opportunity to visit David Delthony’s studio while in Escalante. David is a custom furniture artist and built the two chairs in the Slot Canyons Inn (pictured below).

The Slot Canyons Inn was a great base for our stay in Escalante.

Zion NP – River Walk and Hidden Canyon

On Thursday morning we made an early drive into Zion NP for our final hiking of the trip. We started with a walk along the Virgin River following its winding path until we reached the narrows where the flow of water due to winter snow melt makes continuing further too dangerous. We then hiked the steep climb up to Hidden Canyon. This is a fairly strenuous hike with a 1000 vertical climb along steep narrow switchbacks and exposed cliffs. Well worth the climb with outstanding views and exhilarating moments holding tight to the chains bolted to the rock.

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The Narrows

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Virgin River

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River Walk

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Hidden Canyon Trail

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Cliff Section

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On the Edge

 

Taylor Creek – Kolob Canyons

On Tuesday we hiked the Middle Fork of the Taylor Creek in the Kolob Canyons district of Zion NP. We accessed the hike from the trailhead on Kolob Canyons Road. We followed the middle fork crisscrossing the creek multiple times. The canyon narrows and deepens until ending at a double arch alcove. Along the way we stopped to see two long abandoned cabins built by homesteaders around 1930.

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Larson Cabin

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Double Arch Alcove