Neighbors and (Not Much) Wildlife

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Scott and Jane – from Frederick, MD. Our neighbors for a few nights at Blackwater Falls State Park. Scott was very outgoing, and came over to ask us about our Lafuma chair. The true proof that they were “nice people” came when they said that they enjoyed my guitar and mandolin practicing. Now you have to understand that this is not guitar and mandolin “playing.” This is guitar and mandolin practicing. I’m new enough at mandolin that I know very few songs. I have to do exercises nearly every day to build my skills. They are nothing to listen to. In guitar, in spite of the fact that I’m no beginner, I am currently playing like a beginner. (One of the instructors at the Greyfox Bluegrass Festival “corrected” the way I was gripping the guitar pick. He told me that I’ll never be a good bluegrass player unless I change the way I grip the pick. So I’ve been forcing myself to change. The result is that I feel like I am completely uncoordinated and playing like an oaf.) They gave us information about a bluegrass/roots music festival held every June in Barryville, VA. It’s held in Watermelon Park.


In the afternoon we went exploring in the inner reaches of the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. There is an unpaved road, known as the “A-Frame Road” that gives access to an area where beavers have created a network of pools and ponds. We hoped to see some beavers. While the scenery was spectacular, and hope sprang eternal, we did not see any wildlife except for a white-tailed deer, and a mountain bluebird (seen by Elaine but not by me).

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Some Brave Soldiers

There is a spot near here where a pair of 900’ tall rock outcroppings emerge from the surrounding hills. This feature is known as Seneca Rocks, and it is quite a sight to behold. Evidently rock climbers from all over the world come here to face its challenge. We saw some of them in action today.


The US Forest Service operates a visitor’s center at that base of the rocks. It’s a very nice facility, and well worth a visit. One of the things they have to offer is a 20-minute video about the US Army’s use of this area during World War II. The Tenth Mountain Division saw these rocks as an excellent training ground for mountaineering skills. Thousands of soldiers learned climbing techniques here before being deployed in the war effort. One of the things that struck me as I listened to some original source material from some of the trainees was how they had to overcome their natural fears as a part of their training exercises. The Army took ordinary boys, brought them to these rocks, screened them for their likelihood to succeed (6 in 10 were selected), and then essentially ordered them to follow their training – in spite of their natural fears. Even at that, some of them were not able to do it.


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Seneca Rocks


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This got me thinking about fears and how we overcome them. I will admit that I’ve been facing some anxiety on this trip as I am getting acquainted with my 4Runner’s capabilities to handle towing our trailer in mountainous country. The roads are steep and winding. Going uphill presents the challenge of finding the right gears and watching the temperatures. Am I asking too much of our 4Runner? It’s a constant source of a bit of  anxiety. Going downhill, am I letting it pick up too much speed? Am I going to be able to keep it on the road? Am I using the brakes too much and causing them to overheat? Again, it can be a constant source of a bit of anxiety. So how do we respond to our anxieties? How did those young soldiers overcome their fears? In some ways they had it easier than most of us do. They had orders, and they knew they had to follow them. Most of us have to give ourselves our own orders. It is a lot easier to ignore orders coming from ourselves than it is to ignore military orders from a commander. But it still comes down to the same thing, I think. We simply have to tell ourselves to get over our fears and get on with life.






One of the things we’ve found when we travel looking for music is that most musical activity is centered around weekends. So, we have a few days to enjoy the nature of Tucker County, WV.


We are staying at Blackwater Falls State Park, just outside Davis, WV. It’s extremely quiet and peaceful, and they tell us that black bears are not out of the question. We’ve only seen white-tailed deer so far. The campground at Blackwater Falls is divided into two separate sections: an electric loop and a non-electric loop. We’re in the electric loop, and it is pretty spacious. One of the nicest features is that there is a wide-open area of sky in the center of the loop. It allows for great night-sky viewing, and it is dark enough here that the Milky Way is clearly visible.

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Blackwater Falls

To the south of the park there is an area known as the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. (They pronounce it “Kuh NAAN” with a short, nasally “a” sound on the accented second syllable.) Evidently this area was targeted by an electric power corporation sometime in the 20th century to be dammed and flooded, but locals stood up against this plan. The case eventually reached the Supreme Court, and the power company was thwarted. The land that would have been flooded has been (mostly) turned into this wildlife refuge. There is good hiking and some flatwater canoeing/kayaking on the Blackwater River. I took a short cruise in my kayak to check it out.


Even further south from the wildlife refuge is a second state park, the Canaan Valley Resort State Park. This is the most fancy and swanky state park that I’ve ever seen. It includes a ski slope, a golf course, and a conference center (along with the usual components of a state park: campground, hiking trails, cabins). Everything is very nice and well presented. It seems like it is designed to appeal to the more well-to-do clients. We did some hiking here, and the hiking trails were like hiking trails everywhere: no distinctives for the well-to-do.

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Two Hits and No Misses So Far

When we first heard of the Mountain Music Trail in West Virginia, we were exploring the different music venues and events, and we were struck by the fact that two of our very favorite Bluegrass bands (The Barefoot Movement and Balsam Range) would be playing on consecutive nights within a few miles of each other. These two events became the anchor points for the beginning of our trip. We would go to the Purple Fiddle in Thomas, WV on Friday, August 5 to hear The Barefoot Movement, and we would see Balsam Range at the Pickin’ in Parsons bluegrass festival on Saturday, August 6. In all our planning contingencies, these two events were the non-negotiables. So we made camping reservations at Blackwater Falls State Park to enable us to see these two bands without too much in-between traveling.

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Friday night the Barefoot Movement put on a tremendous show. They are full of energy, they are excellent musicians, and they perform great songs and tunes. By the end of their show I was slightly disappointed that they had not performed Tobacco Road, an original song by Noah Wall. When they made their encore appearance after a well-deserved standing-0, I shouted, “Tobacco Road.” Noah seemed a bit taken aback. She said that they hadn’t performed it in a long time, but since it was requested, and since it was an original song with them, she said they would do it. I was happy! They did a great performance of this salt-of-the-earth song.


On Saturday we spent the whole afternoon and evening at Pickin’ in Parsons. This is a smaller bluegrass festival than Greyfox, but it was a great experience. They had a super lineup of bands, and they saved the best for last. At 8:00 Balsam Range took the stage. We’ve heard them at two previous festivals (Winter Village Bluegrass Festival and Greyfox), so we knew we were in for a treat. Their performance was even better than we had expected. The highlight of the evening was when they performed Stackin up the Rocks. They explained the origin of the song. Buddy Melton, their fiddler and lead singer, had had a severe head injury in a farming accident about four years ago. His survival and ultimate recovery had been in doubt for a while. They sent out requests for prayer, and eventually thousands of people prayed for him. He experienced a miraculous recovery. After he was well again, he was meditating on the Biblical story of the rocks stacked up by the Jordan River to commemorate God’s act on Israel’s behalf. This became the impetus for the song, as a testimony of his miraculous healing. This was not the only Christian testimony that occurred in their performance. The entire evening was a reflection of God’s glory in their beautiful harmonies and uplifting music.


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It’s hard to imagine this journey getting any better following these two evenings of great performances by some of our favorite bands.


Meet Scott and Mary Ann Bubb, owners of Seven Mountains Wine Cellars in Spring Mills, PA. Scott and Mary Ann are participants in Harvest Hosts, which means they are one of the farms, wineries, or “attractions” around the country who have agreed to offer Harvest Hosts members free overnight RV parking. Well, it isn’t quite free, because there is an understanding among members that in exchange for the overnight parking privilege, members will make a purchase at the host location. Elaine and I joined Harvest Hosts last month to check it out. We will be including many (we hope) Harvest Host locations in our itineraries.

Scott and Mary Ann are a fascinating couple. Both of them grew up in the central PA area, and both will tell you that this is not an ideal location for growing grapes. As we were driving in their access road I was remarking to Elaine that it was difficult to see how this forested, hilly area could support vineyards. I was almost expecting to round a corner or crest a hill and find a surprising wide-open valley full of vineyards. That was not the case. We approached the wine cellars and discovered that they were set right in the forest itself.

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One of the first things Scott explained is that they “import” juice for all their wines. He said that it would be possible to grow grapes here, but not high-quality grapes needed for great wines. He had made a decision early on to use only imported juice, because he was aiming to make the best quality wine. This notion of high quality was found throughout their operation.

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When we told Scott (and later, separately Mary Ann) that we were from the Finger Lakes area of New York, they both, independently told the same story. This story says a lot about the sort of person Scott is, and it sheds light on why their winery has been such a success. Here’s the story: Not long ago Scott had been visiting some Finger Lakes wineries with a number of traveling companions of his. He had been marveling at the “minerality” that he was tasting in some of the Riesling wines that the Finger Lakes are famous for. His companions were having a difficult time figuring out what he was talking about. What is this “minerality?” Whatever it was, it seemed to be exciting to Scott, but they confessed that they just weren’t getting it. So Scott marched them outside, took them to one of the vineyards, knelt down and picked up a small handful of the shale that comprises a lot of the soil in the region. “Here,” he said, “take this and taste it!” What???!! Taste the rocks? They did, and Scott said, “That’s minerality.” That’s the thing that gives certain Finger Lakes wines a special, distinctive flavor.

Now what kind of person does this? What kind of friend asks you to taste rocks? What kind of friend would you actually do that for? (In all honesty, some of these traveling companions were Scott’s employees, so they really didn’t have much choice, did they?) What kind of a person can actually taste and appreciate the rocks in a finished wine? It is this attention to detail and this quest for the subtle dimensions of high quality wine that make Scott do what he does.

What he does is to live the American Dream. In their fifties, both Scott and Mary Ann found themselves unemployed after many years of successful careers. It was at that point that they combined the ingredients of vision, courage, optimism, and hard work and used them to create Seven Mountains Wine Cellars. Scott had been a successful amateur wine-maker; now they wanted to try to take that to a commercial level. Step-by-step they located property, obtained financing, purchased the equipment, and built a beautiful facility. Heavily in debt, they began by producing 4000 gallons of wine in that first year. They sold it all before they began year number two. Before too long their wines were winning awards. Currently they are proud to display four Governor’s Cups, which they’ve won. Mary Ann tells us that they’ve told their carpenter to leave room for at least three more display shelves, because they need seven of them – in keeping with the number “seven” in the name of their winery.

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We greatly appreciated their hospitality. We enjoyed tastes of a few of their wines, and we can testify that the quality that Scott strives for, he captures in his products. Minerality, indeed!

Mountain Music Trails

After enjoying our tour of the Crooked Road in southwest VA last summer, I was browsing online to see if there were other, similar trails in Appalachia. My growing interest in, not just bluegrass, but all traditional mountain music, as well as the history and culture of this region, demands further explorations. I was thrilled to find that there are such “trails” in West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Kentucky. There may be more. So we reached a decision to use our travels this summer to explore West Virginia’s “Mountain Music Trail.” (The blog of our Crooked Road Trip starts here, and you can read the whole thing if you look at the August 2015 archives.)

We set out on our trip to West Virginia recently, and our trip report will appear here through the next several posts.



Who Gets Continual Sunsets?

I was sailing last evening, enjoying a glorious sunset. I was marveling that God takes the trouble to create such a beautiful display for such a short time. Then I had this revelation: for God, sunsets (and sunrises) are continuous. He is constantly…

I was sailing last evening, enjoying a glorious sunset. I was marveling that God takes the trouble to create such a beautiful display for such a short time. Then I had this revelation: for God, sunsets (and sunrises) are continuous. He is constantly creating sunsets and sunrises. They literally never end. Since I’ve been thinking about what to name my travel blog, the idea of continuous sunsets was really appealing to me. This was the birthplace of “Continual Sunsets.”

The real challenge, beyond a catchy name, is to create a travel blog that people will actually enjoy reading. What catches my interest and raises a travel blog above the crowd is a focus on the people who are a part of the places I visit. When I am in a place that is new and interesting to me, that place is home to others. If I can meet those people and learn their stories, I can understand the place I am visiting. If I can tell their stories, I believe I can present my readers with something worth their time.