We were in the area of the New River Gorge National Park for our weeklong vacation. We wanted to see everything that the area had to offer. We had a list of things that we definitely wanted to see. But we also had a list of places that would be ‘nice’ to see if we were able to work it into our week. The Sandstone Waterfalls were one of the items on the it would be nice to visit list.
Sandstone Falls is the largest waterfall in the New River Gorge National Park. It has a drop of about 15-20 feet. This waterfall spans the width of the New River, a width of 1500 feet and is divided by some islands. Located in the southern region of the New River Gorge National Park, Sandstone Falls would be easily to overlook. Many people associate the New River Gorge National Park with the New River Gorge Bridge and that would be an apt description. However, this National park offers so much more. There is hiking, abandoned towns, history and multiple waterfalls. The park is spread out over quite a few miles making some of the points of interest quite a distance away. The drive from the New River Gorge Bridge to Sandstone Falls took about an hour. It was a drive through gorgeous mountains and the last portion of the drive will take you along the edge of the New River. There are some places to pull off and take in the view of the river. We did this and as always the power of the New River blew our minds. One could just sit on the edge of the river and let the rumbling sounds of the rushing water soothe all worries.
The parking lot at Sandstone Falls is adequate and we had no difficulty finding a parking spot. We could hear the rumble of the falls and we were ready to get our first glimpse of natures glory. So we headed off to the trailhead. This trail is actually a boardwalk that will carry you across channels and over islands to various overlooks. It is a super easy hike and just what we needed after the awesome but intense hike down and back up Kaymoor Miners Trail to the abandoned coal mine. The boardwalk is handicap accessible and is only a quarter of a mile long, making it something that can be completed and enjoyed by anyone with any skill level. The level boardwalk was recently redone and was awesome! Periodically along the boardwalk path there were larger areas that offered vantage points where we could stop and see various areas of the Sandstone Waterfalls. We stopped at each area and took in the beauty. It is awe inspiring and we allowed the nature to wash over us at each overlook.
Along the boardwalk there are steps down onto the islands so that a visitor can actually access the waters edge. Of course we went to the rivers edge. We did not get into the water, but there have been multiple accidents here at the falls over the years, so use precaution. One of the areas that allow you to step off of the boardwalk is the Island Loop Trail.
Island Loop Trail
I would highly recommend this trail if you are in the area. This trail will take you on journey around one of the island at the Sandstone Falls. This one half mile trail is level, there will be little to no inclines. There will be some rocky areas, but they are easily navigable. What you will get in return is close up view of the river and a walk through an island that once had a grist mill and was farmed. Sadly, we could see no evidence of that history and instead you can see how nature is reclaiming the island. It was still an amazing hike because of that abundant nature. The beavers were doing their job quite well as we saw quite a bit of evidence of their hard work and we could even spy a beaver dam in on of the channels between islands.
A drive to Sandstone Falls might be a bit longer than you are planning but if you are visiting New River Gorge, the trip is well worth it! For us, it was the perfect recovery day after a few intense days of hiking. The easy boardwalk made it an enjoyable retreat to a powerful piece of nature.
In early April 2017 we stayed in Germantown at and Extended Stay hotel. The visit wasn't bad, but it wasn't good. The room had obviously not been cleaned overly well as we saw what looked to be boogers dried on the bathroom wall. Yes, it was gross! But a few weeks later when that hotel came up as the cheapest option for where we wanted to go, we decided to give it another try. After all, I'm sure something like that could be overlooked very easily.
We pulled up to the hotel at about 3:15 on April 22. Check in started at 3 so we were right on time. We walked into the hotel lobby and there was a line. The gentleman behind the counter was polite...but moved VERY slow. (And really, is an untucked dress shirt under a track jacket proper attire?) Finally it was our turn to check in. We walked into our room at 4:15, an hour after arriving at the hotel.
The first thing we noticed? The room reeked. It was obvious that someone had been smoking pot in the room...a lot of pot! We opened the window and let the room air out and we were right as rain. Yes, I checked, the bathroom had no boogers so we were good!
The next problem came at 12 midnight when someone knocked on our door. Jason looked out the window and the guy quickly said "Sorry" and moved away. Within the next half hour he knocked 4-5 more times. I called the front desk but they just laughed and told us to call the police. The police? For someone roaming the property? We vowed that if it got out of hand we would. I eventually went back to sleep but kept hearing random knocks that I thought I was just dreaming. It wasn't until the morning that I found out that the knocking had recommenced at 3AM and again at 5AM.
The icing on the cake? When I was in the shower I looked up at the top of the shower curtain and there was a dried crusty washcloth hanging over the curtain. I knew immediately....neither Jason or I put washcloths over the curtain rod. I asked him to be sure....and actually visually saw the washcloths that he and I both used. It was DEFINITELY not ours! EWWWWWW
We were ready to get out into the woods to enjoy some peace and quiet in nature so we headed to the Catoctin Mountain National Park! We decided to park at the Owens Creek Picnic site and hike from there. The first trail we hiked was the Browns Farm Trail. Our hike took us down an educational trail that sparked out curiosity and interest. History and nature surrounded us and we were in our glory.
Browns Farm Loop Trail
The Browns Farm Loop Trail in the Catoctin Mountain National Park is a short easy hike. The trail meanders in a loop from the parking lot. At the trail head there is an information booth that has the self guided tour of the loop trail available for anyone to pick up. We grabbed one and headed off down the trail. The trail was not overly used by other hikers and we were able to listen to the sounds of nature and breath deeply the smells of a mountain forest.
Along the trail there are markers. They are labelled with a number and a title. At each marker you can stop to read the corresponding information of the self guided tour. This farm tour took us on a stroll through an old farmstead high in the Catoctin Mountains (part of the Appalachian Mountain chain). It shows the diversity of the area and the unique characteristics that made it an opportune place for a farmstead. There is a pine grove, wetlands, a stream and a hardwood forest and a natural spring.
Along the way there are small remnants and reminders of a life once lived on this mountain top. There is a Buckeye Tree, which is not native to the area. One can only speculate that it was brought here to be planted by the family that started this farmstead. The location of the house and the nearby well is easily identifiable, even without the sign marking it as the Farmhouse. It is just a short walk away to reach the remains of the farms bank barn. The foundation is visible buried into the bank hill. The feeding trough still stands near the foundation, a testament to the livestock that once lived here.
We hiked here in the fall and loved seeing the remnants of an old stone wall peeking out from the undergrowth beside the trail.
One can only imagine how life must have been on a mountain top farm 100 years ago. It was definitely a slower more quiet existence that one can only dream of.
Browns Farm Trail
The Loop trail is not the only place to hike. The Browns Farm Trail branches off of the Browns Farm Loop and will take you another ½ to 1 mile further. It is an out and back trail that is a stroll through the woods with only one slight incline. Along that route you will see more foundations and more stone walls. These are not marked and we could only speculate as to what their uses were when the land that we were walking on was a working productive farm. It is worth the time to take that extra walk. The nature is amazing!
We had a delightful hike. We learned more about a history and an area that we didn’t know about. The farmstead families in this area are a forgotten piece of history and these trails will bring it to life. This is definitely a great hike to take. We live locally and we will be back for sure!
A few years back I found myself in a situation where I was doing a bit of traveling each weekend. Literally, every weekend I went away for at least one night and as often as I could manage it, two or more nights. The trips were usually not too far away, I usually stayed within an hour or two radius of where I lived. No, I was not independently wealthy or able to do that traveling because of some financial windfall. Through the two and a half years I only missed going away on 3 different weekends and they were not due to financial constraints, each of those were due to external factors (snow, sickness and death). Even more incredible was the fact that I actually managed to travel each weekend on a minimal budget! It is possible to travel with limited funds! It is possible to explore the world around us without a large travel budget. It just takes planning and flexibility to make your travel plans work with little money, I travelled on a shoestring budget.
Be open to going anywhere when Travelling on a Shoestring Budget
For two and a half years I went away each weekend on a very limited budget. It was an integral part of a relationship I was in (and still am in) for those years. I coveted those weekend hours and decided very early on that I would do whatever I had to do in order to make those weekends happen. During that time, at the bare minimum I stayed somewhere for 1 night each week, but I was always trying to find ways to stretch it to a two night or even a three night get a way. I was not independently wealthy. I didn’t have a high paying job. In fact, I was working a job that paid $10 an hour. With that said, you can see that I didn’t have a whole lot of extra money to play with. Yet somehow, week after week I was able to pay for gas and hotel expenses for travel, it IS doable! It is possible to travel and explore on a shoestring budget! It just takes planning and flexibility.
Being Flexible while Travelling
The first major concept to travelling on a shoestring budget is that you have to have flexibility. When you are looking to travel on a limited budget it is important to be willing to go to whatever place is offering a deal. When I had a set place that I wanted to stay, I almost always ended up paying more money for the accommodations that I booked. But when I was open to staying anywhere, I was able to score some incredible deals. As long as I was out and about, traveling and exploring something new; I didn’t care. Most of the time, I was willing to go to the area that offered me the best deal. I managed to book us rooms at some incredible hotels at a minimal cost. We were still getting away and exploring but the open flexibility that we had to stay anywhere and have no set plans introduced us to areas and experiences that I may have never encountered.
The first thing I would do each week when I was going to make our plans was to pull up my hotel app on my phone or pull up the website on the computer. I used Hotels.com and found that site to work great for me, but any such travel website or app would work. Each week I would have a general idea of how far we were willing to travel and I would begin my search. I would first pull up the map on the website (The information is the same between the website and the phone application, but the map to find a good radius is easier to navigate on the website.) I would then filter my search results to $50 and under and check all hotels within the radius that we were willing to travel. If I didn’t have any hits, I would raise the amount I was willing to pay by slow increments until I found something. I would check the reviews of the hotel and if it looked ok, then I booked. Now don’t get the idea that we were staying in the low budget hotels. Quite the contrary. Many times, we were staying at top of the line hotels. These hotels will lower their prices if they have a lot of available rooms. They do not want an empty room and $50 or $60 for a room is better than an empty room that is earning them no income. Most of the trips took place over the weekends and that opened up quite a few business class hotels as most business is conducted on the week days. I found that weekends near an airport also seem to have better rates, for the same reason due to those business travelers. I just had to be willing to follow the deals and stay wherever and in whatever town that I could find a good deal on a hotel.
Sometimes I didn’t have as much flexibility. I may have needed to be close to a certain location due to an event or place that I needed or wanted to see. I still found some incredible deals but once again it took a willingness to be flexible. I sometimes drove 5 miles further down the road to save $20 or $30 a night. Do I really need the pool? If I had a busy weekend planned, I eliminated hotels with pools as that sometimes was enough to save me a few dollars. I looked at the trip from all angles. Distance, amenities and even the size of the bed. Seriously, changing the size of the bed you get in a room can make a huge difference in price! Look at the room from all angles. If the hotel price seems too good to be true, read the reviews. I was looking for a hotel for a three-night stay, but I was really tight on money. I was almost willing to admit defeat and only go away for 1 or 2 nights because that is what the budget was allowing. But I searched and searched and searched. FINALLY, I found a hotel room for $19 dollars a night. It was near Atlantic City, NJ. I was nervous because come on now, $19 a night. I was really nervous. I read the reviews and the hotel looked decent. The only thing that I could discern was that it was about 3-5 miles from the beach and that I was booking the room for early October which was off season. I decided to jump on the room and I booked it. The room was just fine. It was clean, comfortable and roomy. I was willing to drive a bit. I was willing to have a locally owned hotel without a lot of the amenities and I was able to explore and experience Atlantic City, NJ on a shoestring budget!
Planning your trips on a Shoe String Budget
There were moments during my two and a half year run of going to hotels every weekend that I wasn’t sure how it would work out. But each time I sat back and thought about where I could cut a corner in order to make it work with the money that I had available for the weekend. I didn’t always buy the fanciest food when I was out and about. You know you can get a pizza for $5 right at Little Ceaser’s Pizza Right? If travelling and exploring meant that I had to eat a $5 pizza, then it was the sacrifice that I made because I wanted to spend that time travelling and exploring. Sometimes the hotels would have a breakfast and I would definitely partake of that, it was already paid for in the cost of my room. But when I stayed in hotels that didn’t have a breakfast option, I would eat leftovers from the night before. (I always make sure that I have a small refrigerator in the room for the express purpose of saving my leftovers.) There were weekends that I took food with me. There is nothing wrong with taking a cooler along. Fill it with your drinks and one of your meals it will save you a fair amount of money! If you want to travel and explore you will look at all the options and act upon them.
Exploring the local sites on a budget is also an act of planning. As soon as I would book a room, I would begin to look at what museums, parks and attractions were in the area. There are some amazing local museums that are absolutely free. There are parks that have beautiful views and a variety of activities. There are attractions that cost little to no money. Sure, some things will cost. But many things will be free or quite cost efficient. If you do your research you will have a great roadmap to the activities and places that you wish to explore in the area that you are staying in. I did this every weekend. I found places to see and things to do. We discovered the New River Gorge this way. Hiking is free and we knew that there was some amazing hikes, such as the Kaymoor Miners Trail in that area! Some cost money and some were free, but they all remained well within my shoestring budget. I would just plan. If the attraction we wanted to see cost more, I would shave off some expenses elsewhere (such as food). It was totally doable and we saw some amazing things!
Traveling on a shoestring budget is quite fun. I did it for those two and a half years. I wouldn’t trade those years and those memories for anything. They opened a whole new world for me and brought me to a deeper and closer relationship with the person that I travelled with. We frequently talk about those days. When we made a leap that caused us to not need to travel as much, we both vowed that we would never give up our weekends away! I may not need to be on such a strict budget since we are not traveling quite as much, but old habits die hard. I look for the best hotel deals. I weigh out the options of what we want to see and what amenities are available to us at each hotel and compare the costs. I still look for many of the free and low-cost attractions. I still take the time to plan out our get-a-ways. We may not always be low budget anymore, but I figure the more cost efficiently we can travel each time, the more often we can do it!
We were heading to the mountains to hike when we got a bit sidetracked the other week! Our drive to our planned hike took us up Route 15 in Maryland through Thurmont. As we approached the small town of Thurmont that sits at the base of the mountain, we saw the signs for the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve. As always, we started to talk about our past visits there and how much we enjoy a stroll through the zoo and how we hadn’t been to the Preserve once this year due to a lack of time in our schedule and of course the pandemic. Before we knew it, we were pulling into a parking spot and heading toward a fun afternoon at the zoo.
Catoctin Wildlife Preserve
The Catoctin Wildlife Preserve is a 50-acre wildlife preserve that is dedicated to educating the public about the animals that live in our world. The atmosphere at this zoo is very relaxed and allows you to view and interact with the variety of animals in a safe way. The park offers quite a few paths that allows for a nice walk that will take you through some lush areas of vegetation and past many different types of animals.
While parking is free at the zoo, there are admission costs. Currently, the cost for admission ranges from $16.50 (child) to $22.50 (adult). The annual membership is $60 per person and includes passes for some of the additional activities in the park, amongst other benefits. There are also family and grandparent passes available.
While visiting this preserve you will be able to observe quite a few animals from a safe distance. However, there are ample opportunities for a visitor of the zoo to interact with the animals in different ways. For an additional fee (check for availability) one can purchase tickets for additional activities. Some of these activities include a Safari Ride that will take you around the property and give you the opportunity to see and even feed a wide variety of animals from the safety of the Safari vehicles. You can also purchase a camel ride or a feathered encounter experience.
If you are not interested in any of the additional purchases, there are still plenty of opportunities to interact with animals. There are special times throughout the day (Memorial through Labor Day) to allow for opportunities to hear a zookeeper talk about specific animals and to encounter a variety of animals at the conservation theater. (Check with the Preserve for a schedule of the times and opportunities available on the day of your visit.) There are a variety of animals that you can feed and pet interspersed all around the zoo. They are friendly and welcome a little treat from the visitors that come into their home.
Our Visit to the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve
During this visit, we decided to pay for an annual pass for each of us. The annual passes work on a rolling calendar year so we will be able to visit the Preserve on these newly purchased passes through October 30, 2021. (And if we visit a total of 3 times, then financially we will come out even….actually a bit better than had we paid for individual passes for each day). We declined the Safari Tour that came with our membership. We are going to save that for a nice spring day next year. When we entered the park, we also purchased two cups of food to feed the animals and we headed off!
Due to the temperatures, some of the animals had been removed from display for their safety, but we had expected that. However, there were still quite a few animals that were out and about! We couldn’t help but stop and watch the cages where there were young animals.
We stopped to explore all of the animals on display. We each have our favorites but stopped to enjoy all of the inhabitants of the preserve. The cooler temperatures of the fall day made our visit much more enjoyable and perfect for the current pandemic as we very rarely saw other visitors and never felt rushed to move on to allow someone else to see an animal. We laughed at the antics of some of the animals such as the wolves who were totally disinterested in us when we first walked up. But when we decided to grab a drink and snack became TOTALLY interested in us due to the beef jerky that Jason was eating.
We especially enjoyed the opportunities to feed the animals at the feeding stations. The animals that they have in those areas are a joy to interact with. They were all very interested in us, probably because they are used to quite a few more people visiting and they missed the interaction as much as we enjoyed their attention. Ok, maybe the food that we were offering was part of their interest.
The Catoctin Wildlife Preserve is a great place to spend a few hours enjoying animals that you may not normally have a chance to experience. This preserve is just entertaining. From meercats to wolves, from alligators to emus and from snakes to black swans; the Wildlife preserve in Thurmont Maryland offers fun for all ages! We have our annual pass; we will be back!
Do you dream big? Do you dream of setting off to explore the world? Do you imagine ourself travelling full time and seeing all the sites and places that you have only seen on the television and in books. Is it your dream to hop in an RV and drive off into the sunset? What’s holding you back?
I ask myself this quite a bit. Jason and I both work typical 9-5 jobs that have us tied down with limited time for vacation. The hustle and responsibilities of life weigh us down. We live for the long weekends where we can do a bit of travel and exploring. We long for our yearly week-long vacations. We are always looking at each other and saying, “There has to be more to life than this.”
We talked about this quite a bit on our vacation to West Virginia the other month. We want more from life. We want to explore the world while we are young enough to enjoy it. But time is passing us and we fear that we will never be able to travel to the extent that we would desire. We came home from that vacation and we were determined to change something. We talked about some plans and ideas that we had on the drive home and when we got home, the rigors of daily life overtook us. A few weeks after getting home, I picked up a book that looked interesting. It was called The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life you Want, and Change the World. It was just the spark that I needed to push myself into action.
There has to be something Better
The book, The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life you Want, and Change the World is written by Chris Guillebeau (Amazon Link). In a nutshell, this book is an in depth look at the life of the author. He has lived an unconventional adult life. He did not follow the standard route that most people take. He has made the effort and taken the time to create a life that satisfied his innermost desires while still being a productive and active member of society.
From the very first chapter I knew that this author understood where I was at. He actually kept using the phrase, “there has to be something better”. He was using the same phrase that frequently repeat. He understood us! Even better, this author not only understood but he had personally forged a path where there was more to his life. He was able to pack his bags to travel and see the world when he felt the calling. He was living a life that most can only dream of. But how?
The Concept to Living a Life we Desire
The one concept that the author of this book quickly pointed out is that anyone can make the changes necessary to live the life that they desire. It takes a desire and commitment. It takes not just wanting to do it, but actually doing it. He wrote about people that he talked to that were full of admiration of his lifestyle and vowed to follow his footsteps. In some cases, the author had a chance to actually see the fruits of their labors and many times, a year or two later the person was still mired in a life that they did not like yet constantly dreaming of something different. Every time those dreamers would talk to the author, they would get excited and stirred up and vow that this time they were ready to make a change. But no change ever happened. But there were a different group of people that the author would talk to and they would also be all fired up to take the steps to change their lives. They would work up a plan and tell the author about their plan and when the author met them months or years later, he would find out that the person had been dead serious and that they had followed their plan and took the steps to be free to travel, financially independent or whatever their dream was. They had a dream and they were willing to take that leap. They were willing to risk the questions, comments and concerns from well meaning family and friends. They wanted something and they were going to do it! So, they did it.
The author went on to talk about some other concepts and ideas that he has used in order to make his dreams a reality. So many refer to their bucket list as some vague idea of things they want to do. If that is you, it is time to sit down with pen and paper and actually write out the list. Write out your goals. Write out your dreams. List all of those places that you want to visit. Don’t limit your dreams to short term ideas that you want to accomplish this year. Likewise, don’t limit your list to only long-term far-off goals. Make your list your Goal Bible. Write the list and then start to tackle the list. The author decided that he would separate his list into three sections. He had three different categories; one-year goals, 5-year goals and long-term goals. He is constantly checking on the progress of his one-year goals (every three months). As he accomplishes a goal off of that list, he can sometimes move a 5-year goal onto the shorter term list. Regardless, every year he reviews all lists and decides what needs to be done during the upcoming year to work toward achieving all goals. He keeps that list and uses it as his roadmap.
This book was an eye opener for me. The biggest take away for me was that I have to decide. Do I want to be a dreamer or do I want to be a doer? I can dream about the life I want for the rest of my life. I can repeat the phrase “there has to be something more to life” for the next 30 years. And if that makes me happy, then that is perfectly fine. But if I want to actually live that life that I am dreaming about, I have to take the steps to actually do it! The question is how badly do I really want it?
Ideas and plans
During that drive home from vacation, even before I read the above book, we had discussed some ideas to work on in order to make some of our dreams and ideas a reality. We talked about our weaknesses and strengths and what we could do to possibly move toward a lifestyle where we would have the money and freedom to travel a bit more. We talked quite a bit and we were happy with our ideas. We came home and we even made one or two forays into the areas of our interest. But there was no real plan of action put into effect, so our efforts were disjointed and sporadic at best. We wanted it badly enough, but we were lacking the organization and discipline that would make it happen. One of our ideas will take time and some effort and while we feel confident that it could be a worthy opportunity. It will take an quite a bit of effort and time from us. It will take persistence. The question will be, how badly do we want it?
I loved the idea of the bucket list that the author had used. I had started an actual physical copy of a bucket list of places that we would like to visit just a few months earlier so it wasn’t a foreign concept to me. However, after reading the book I sat down with a notebook and started to really dive deeply into my wants and desires. I added to that bucket list. I added personal things like, losing the rest of the excess weight on my body and to finally run that half marathon that I was never able to run due to illness. Without a shadow of a doubt you know that I kept those travel plans on my new bucket list. But I added a few more. I added that trip to Germany that has floated around in the back of my mind since I was in high school! No holds barred! If I dream about it and want it, then it is time to put it on the list. But that is not all. I also included some different items. I added a long-term goal of being able to live financially independent (or free from a standard 9-5 office job). In regards to that, I added a few short-term goals. I added some of the ideas and concept that we had talked about that might lead us to a life that we want to live. Right now, my list is manageable without breaking it down into 1, 5 and long-term sections. But I want to work on my list. So how am I doing that?
One of the new things that I have decided to do is to make up a daily to do list. It is so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life. When that happens the work that is involved in making our dreams come true tend to get pushed to the side. I don’t want this to happen. My list includes the mundane things such as ‘cardio workout day’ but it also includes general reminders to do ‘something’ in terms of building our future, even if it is just research. Some days have already included specific items to complete for the future. But in this way, I can not unwittingly forget to work toward my goals.
How bad do you want it? That is the question. Do you want it bad enough to give up playing a game on your phone or computer each evening? Do you want it bad enough to take the time out of your busy day to complete a task? Do you want it bad enough to make the changes in your life that necessitate the change? That is the question. I am going to tell you; I want it bad! I am willing to put in the work to make it happen! I am willing to invest my time and energy into my future. It may not work out for me. (I sure hope and pray that it does!) But if it doesn’t, at least I won’t be sitting here in 10 years saying “There has to be something more to life…. I wonder if we should have tried to find a solution 10 years ago!” I refuse to risk that regret! I am going to forge ahead to find my dreams! And maybe, just maybe you will see me on the road and able to travel full time……part time……or just more often…..all of those would be a positive change!
In February of this year we decided to get away for the weekend. We wanted to do something that was lighthearted but fun. We wanted to get away. We wanted to explore. It was cold and we felt our options were limited, so we decided to go into Virginia and visit two small towns. We went to Front Royal Virginia and Manassas, Virginia and explored and visited their quaint downtown areas.
Our first stop was actually in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. We were heading down the road and decided to take a stroll through the shops in that unique town. Visiting the fun shops and stores in Harpers Ferry really set the tone for our whole small town weekend!
A stroll through Front Royal, Virginia
Front Royal sits just north of the Shenandoah National Park and the famed Skyline Drive. The town sits nestled in the shadow of the Appalachian mountains. The town received a lot of visitors who are seeking to embark upon the skyline trail, hike in the mountains surrounding the town or canoe in the plentiful rivers and streams.
We arrived in Front Royal, Virginia with enough time to stroll through the town and explore the shops. This little town was alive with activity as we strolled up and down the street. We were tickled to see an antique shop and a trail outfitter store. There was no question that we were going to go into those stores. But we also enjoyed looking at the architectural salvage in one storefront and we had a blast visiting all the stores on the street.
A trip to Front Royal is not complete without a stop in at the General Store. Whenever we are in town we always like to stop in this shop. This store has a bit of everything. We looked at the cast iron pans, shoes, coats, knives, candy and so many more things. We always take our time to amble and stroll through this jam packed store and almost always have to try on a cowboy hat! On this trip, I even bought a new nightgown!
We had a great time exploring this small town. It has a charm that just draws us in. The people are welcoming and the stores are unique and fun! But the evening went way too fast. We enjoyed a good nights sleep at a locally owned hotel and a nice hearty breakfast at a local diner and we were ready for our next day of exploring!
Our next stop was Manassas, Virginia
For our next adventure, we decided to head east about an hour and explore the town of Manassas, Virginia. Manassas is probably best known for it's role in the Civil War, where not one but two instrumental battles were fought. But many people visiting the area never take the time to explore the actual town.
We had been there before and knew that it had a neat historic downtown area that would interest us. OK let me be honest, we also knew that there was a candle shop in that downtown that just might hold some interest for us! So we headed off!
Manassas, Virginia lived up to our expectations that day! We enjoyed our leisurely stroll through the historic downtown. We popped in and out of the stores and explored the side streets. We did find that candle shop and we did purchase a lot of candles! The stores were so fun and many of them were in old buildings that still held many of the vintage aspects of the architecture. My favorite store was the Used book shop. Sadly, the pandemic hit just a short month after our visit and the bookstore closed it's doors for good.
We ambled down a side street to the site of the Manassas Museum. This museum offers free admission and has a small gift shop in the lobby. The museum is dedicated to the history of the area. It won't take long to visit but it is absolutely fascinating to see how the area surrounding Manassas was developed and how it has changed over the years!
We were impressed with the town of Manassas. We Spent time watching the ice skaters on the outdoor rink under the pavilion in the center park. Upon reading up on the area, I discovered that in the summers when the ice rink is closed the town of Manassas will utilize the are for farmers markets and community events and festivals. I loved to see the community spending time building a place of recreation and activity for their residents!
We had an absolutely fantastic time exploring both of these small towns in Virginia. Both Front Royal and Manassas made us feel welcome and afforded us the opportunity to experience life in a small town. The shops and products in these locally owned shops were top notch and sorely tempted us to spend money! (Which we did). Visiting small town America is definitely a great day of exploration!
mSo often we go away on a fabulous trip. We see amazing views and experience amazing things! We come home and we MIGHT look at the pictures that we took on our phones. We may look at the files on our computer once in a blue moon. But that is not the way life should be. We should be living with our memories and preserving our memories for our every day use!
What am I talking about? I'm talking about taking pictures from our vacation and exploration experiences and turning them into wall art! We recently went to the New River Gorge in West Virginia for a week of vacation time. We hiked, we explored and we had a great time. One of the places that we went to was the Babcock State Park and specifically the Glade Creek Grist Mill. It was absolutely gorgeous and I knew that I wanted to stop keeping my pictures, at least of this building hidden away in files on my computer. Instead, I wanted this on my wall as art! I wanted to preserve my memories so that I could relive them over and over.
How to Preserve Memories as Art
I didn't know how I wanted to preserve my memories as art for my wall. I just knew that I wanted to hang these memories on the wall for us to relive the experience and beauty day in and day out. I started to research online. I was very interested (and still am) in printing on glass but ultimately decided that I wanted a very large print for behind my couch. That narrowed my choices for how I could have my work printed and displayed. I chose to have my picture printed on Canvas. I began to research companies and settled on Canvas Pop (this is an unsolicited and unpaid review).
The Process to Preserve my Memories on Canvas
The process to preserve my memories on canvas was quite easy once I chose the printing company that would be doing the work. Canvas Pop had a really good rating so I decided to try them out. Wow! Am I ever glad that I did! I started the process on a Saturday night. I uploaded my picture and clicked a few buttons to make some selections and before I knew it, my order was complete. Even better, it had automatically given me a nice discount (first time user or something!) The original price for the largest size canvas was right around $200 but with that discount, I paid $121! (including shipping) Not bad at all!
I immediately received an email advising me of my order. This was an expected email but still nice to receive nonetheless! On Sunday afternoon I received my next email from this company. They had received my digital file and they had created a mock up of how my print was going to look. I had to review the mock up and approve it. I was leery about the process, thinking it was going to be long and drawn out and difficult. But once again, this company made it simple. I opened the email, clicked the link and looked at the mock up. Approval was as simple as hitting a button that said "I approve." EASY!
I knew that it was now time to actually wait for my canvas to be printed. I was expecting the next step to take a while. But no! By Tuesday I had an email saying that my print was ready and was being shipped and they advised me of my tracking number! I was NOT expecting service that soon!
By Thursday, 5 days after placing the order I had my canvas print! It looks amazing! It was everything I expected and then some!
My memory is preserved
Every time I walk through the living room I see the picture! I smile when I think about the day that we stood together looking at the building. I ponder and recall the sounds of nature as we hiked and spent time in the woods in that state park. I remember the good times we had! There is nothing like a well preserved memory and printing my memory on Canvas was the perfect way to do it!!
In June of 2020, we visited the area near Summersville, West Virginia and Fayetteville, West Virginia to see the New River Gorge Bridge. The three days in the area were not enough, we saw a lot of the sites, but there were so many more places to explore. I had lists of places that I wanted to see but we ran out of time. The Carnifex Ferry Battlefield was one of those places. In less than four months, we were back to see some of what we missed on our first visit.
The civil war battle in 1861 that took place near the Carnifex Ferry was a mystery to me. I had never heard of this battle and I wanted to learn more. Nestled in the Appalachian hills of West Virginia, this battleground is often overlooked as people chose to visit the larger more well known Civil War historical locations. However, this battlefield is a great historical stop for the person that is in the area enjoying the kayaking, hiking and gorgeous mountain top views that the New River and Gauley River areas offer.
The West Virginia State Park: Carnifex Ferry Battlefield
The Carnifex Ferry Battlefield is a small State Park near Summersville, West Virginia. The area draws tourists who vacation on the Summersville Reservoir, boat the Gauley and nearby New Rivers, come to see the mighty New River Gorge Bridge or visit the multiple parks (national and state) in this area. An area that is a playground for the nature lover and outdoorsman.
The grounds of this park have been preserved in memory of a civil war battle that took place in September of 1861. To fully understand the battle however, we need to back track a few days in time before the battle.
The Battle of Carnifex Ferry
In August of 1861, a contingent of the Confederate Army encamped in the area near the Carnifex Ferry Battlefield. The roughly 1,800 men settled onto the land near the Patterson Farmhouse. In early September, the union army arrived with nearly 7,000 troops. In the afternoon of September 10th, the Union army advanced upon the heavily entrenched confederate army. Both sides fought valiantly and it was the Union army that retreated at the end of the day.
When the union general was pushed back he must have realized his error. You see, he had only advanced a small portion of his available men to attack this confederate camp. When he retreated, he knew it was only for the night and that in the morning that he would be attacking with his full force of me.
Riding high on his troops ability to push back the Union army on the first day of fighting, the confederate general knew that he was seriously outnumbered. He assessed the risks and the benefits and that night in the cover of darkness he withdrew his troops and retreated.
The Union army claimed victory for this battle. They held the ground that they had fought for and the Confederate Army had retreated. However, the Confederate Army did not see it that way. They claimed that they rightfully held the victory due to the fact that they sustained far fewer casualties and absolutely no fatalities during this battle. A claim that could not be made by the Union Army.
Near the Patterson House on the Carnifex Ferry Battlefield is a single grave. This grave is a stark reminders that risk of being a troop in the Civil War was not confined to times of battle. Sickness in the encampments was a very real problem and this grave is testament to that. On September 7th, only three days before the battle a young soldier died of sickness within that encampment. Granville Blevins had been in the army for less than 3 months when he passed away. His brother and friends gave him a proper burial on the Patterson land. While many men died of sickness while encamped here, this is the only known gravesite.
Other activities at the Carnifex Ferry Battlefield
This state park also offers a few other neat tidbits of interest. The Carnifex Ferry Battlefield can boast of a fabulous overlook that gives visitors a breathtaking view of the river far below. This battlefield offers a 2 mile trail that circles that battlefield and will take a visitor near all points of interest within the battlefield. The multiple picnic shelters and the softball field round out the variety of activities that this park offers.
A trip to the Gauley River and the New River would not be complete without at least a quick stop to see the hallowed ground of this battlefield. During the summer months, the gift shop and museum is open for visitors (weekends and holidays). If you enjoy watching reenactments, you can visit in early September during an even numbered year and take in the thunder of guns as this battle for control of the valley takes place. During our visit we split our day at Carnifex Ferry Battlefield with a trip to the Babcock State Park to see the gorgeous Glade Creek Grist mill! Thanks for the great visit West Virginia State Parks!
At the top of a small side trail off the Appalachian Trail in the state of Maryland sits the Pogo Campsite. This primitive camp site seems rather unimposing and quiet. The beauty of the area is fantastic and the Black Rock and Annapolis Overlooks are only a short walk away on the trail. But this area is bursting with historical significance. The Black Rock Hotel once stood at the site of the Pogo Campground.
Thurston Griggs Trail
The name of the trail that winds up the side of the mountain to intersect with the Appalachian Trail is named the Thurston Griggs Trail. This trail was once named the Bagtown Road and it took visitors up to the Black Rock Hotel. Over the years, the trail was adjusted and moved to preserve the land and now bears no resemblance to what we could consider to be a road. In the 1980's there was a thrust by various people to work to preserve our trails. Many people fought for the conservation and protection of the trails. Thurston Griggs was one of these crusaders for the trails. During his retirement years, he spent much time working to preserve the Appalachian Trail and other trails in the Mid-Atlantic area. Bagtown road was one of the trails that Thurston worked to preserve. When Thurston Griggs was 86 years old, they renamed this trail to honor his work. Thus, we now have The Thurston Griggs Trail. Thurston Griggs was active in the trail community until shortly before his death at at 95 in 2011.
The Pogo Campsite sites at the top of the Thurston Griggs trail. A small spring near the top of the Thurston Griggs tail makes this campsite a desirable stop for hikers. The campsite is a primitive style campsite with a an older privy and multiple fire circles scattered around the area. A new privy is being built.
The Pogo campsite is built near /on the site of the old Black Rock Hotel. The campsite was named after a young man who passed away in 1974. Walter "Pogo" Rheinheimer grew up on the Appalachian Trail. His parents were active members of the PATC (Potomac Appalachian Trail Club). In 1974, as a young adult, Pogo cheated death. He and a friend set out for a cross country adventure on their bikes, attempting to travel from coast to coast. On the first day they were sideswiped and suffered serious injuries. Once healed, Pogo accepted an invitation to go canoeing on the nearby Potomac River. This time his luck was not with him. He passed away. His parents wanted to memorialize their son and approached the PATC. The Black Rock Hotel Campsite was renamed the Pogo Campsite.
The Black Rock Hotel
The Black Rock Hotel, also known as the Black Rock House was originally built in the 1870's. Even though the hotel was not easily accessible, it quickly became a popular destination for people that wanted to escape the heat of the city. Sadly, the hotel burned down in 1880. Within in a short period of time, the owner lost his wife and child to illness. Depressed and disheartened, he moved to New York where he experienced great financial prosperity. The fresh mountain air near Black Rock kept calling his name and in 1907 he rebuilt the Black Rock Hotel.
The newly rebuilt never regained it's former popularity. The accessibility of the hotel came into play as more and more people chose to visit the nearby Pen Mar park, travelling by train to access the mountain top resort.
The memories that are recounted about the Black Rock Hotel are pleasant. Memories include sitting on the porch and looking at the town far below, visiting during the Fourth of July and reading the Declaration of Independence and drinking liquor distilled from Washington County Rye.
The second Black Rock Hotel burned in 1920. The walls stood high up in the mountains for many years. It became a popular spot for people to visit and explore. As late as the 1960's and 1970's people recount experiences at the Black Rock Hotel and talk about the walls still standing. But by the turn of the new century, the walls had been reduced to rubble and the foundation overtaken by nature.
I would have loved to live in that time frame to travel up the Bagtown Road to visit the Black Rock Hotel/Black Rock House. The resort high in the mountains would have been the perfect retreat from daily life. But that era is over. Instead, I will enjoy my hikes up the Thurston Griggs trail and my walks through the Pogo Campsite.
Photo Credits: http://fess2.blogspot.com/2011/03/my-search-for-black-rock-hotel.html and https://www.fredericknewspost.com/news/lifestyle/wolfsville-serenity-in-the-hills/article_93620fce-04f0-5404-87ea-8364c92cb874.html
Belief In Living
Travel with us as we explore!