A Bust. In a Way.

When you make plans for a trip like this one, there are certain days and places that are like keystones in a stone arch. They hold a lot of pieces together. Today was to be one of those days. I selected our overnight campsite destination (for two nights) on the basis of its location mid-way between two music venues that we wanted to see. The campsite was expensive, but because of its central location I was willing to pay for it.


On our drive to the campground we found ourselves in Wilkesboro, NC. I had read that there is a small museum there with a Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame. We thought it might be worth a few minutes to take a look, even though we were on a tight schedule. We found our way to the museum and explained to the attendant what we were interested in. She took our money for admission to the museum, and told us that the admission includes a guided tour of the Wilkes County Jail. This is the jail where the legendary Tom Dooley was imprisoned before he was hung. (Tom Dooley; of the folksong “Hang down your head Tom Dooley.”) Well, we had to see that! The only thing is, this was a guided tour, and our tour guide also wanted to tell us about every historical event that ever happened in Wilkes County. We got to see Tom’s cell, and we got to hear the whole story of his crime (or supposed crime; there is some ambiguity about whether he was truly guilty). But when all was said and done, this stop cut about 2 hours into our tight schedule. We were destined to be late getting to the music events that we planned for later in the afternoon. Ah well. At least we saw some interesting stuff.


The Cell Where Tom Dula (“Dooley”) Was Held


We got to the campground and almost immediately headed for today’s music destination. The Orchard at Altapass was billed as having Wednesday afternoon jamming and free live music Wednesday through Sunday nights. We planned on staying for both the jamming and the live music. After the 45-minute drive, we arrived at the orchard, to find… no musicians. No one was jamming! Even though we arrived about an hour after the jamming was supposed to start, there was no one there. I asked, and was told that usually no one shows up. And they don’t have any musicians on hand to lead the jam if no one shows up. Well. That’s disappointing. But what about the live music on Wednesday evenings? What time does that start? “Oh. that’s not going on now. We close at 5:00 today.” What? No jamming and no music in the evening? So all our efforts to get to this destination were for nothing? I guess sometimes you just have to accept defeat and move on to the next thing.

The Sign Says, “Parking for Musicians Only.” There were none.


Since we had to use the Blue Ridge Parkway to drive back to the campground, we resumed our quest for mountain wildflowers. The Mt. Laurel was everywhere. We also saw some flowers that we couldn’t identify.


We took a short hike near Linwood Falls, and we saw some flame azaleas.


So. No music today, and a lesson in how to handle disappointments.

A Mountain Climb and a Mountain Jamboree

With promising weather, and with us camped on the side of a mountain (Stone Mountain), the ideal way to begin the day was with a hike to the top of the mountain. The Stone Mountain hike was about 1.7 miles, with about 800 feet of elevation gain. It was billed as a “strenuous” hike, but with statistics like those, it was hard for me to accept that it really was strenuous. I reached the top in about 45 minutes, and only the last 10 to 15 minutes or so were hard work. The amazing thing about this mountain, and this hike, is that the top of the mountain is one solid mass of granite. I suppose from a distance the mountain has a really striking appearance, but from the vantage point of the mountain itself, it was just sort of weird. It felt weird to be sitting atop this mass of granite, looking out over the Blue Ridge mountains and the Yadkin valley to the south. It was beautiful, and the wind was strong, and it was pure joy to sit and soak it in.



When I returned from the hike it was almost time to head for Sparta, NC where we hoped to find some music in the evening at the Alleghany Jubilee. We had read that the village of Sparta was cool and interesting, so we left ourselves plenty of time to explore it. I found a few mildly interesting things in the town, but mostly it was just an ordinary small-town-America kind of place.


The Alleghany Jubilee was a homerun, however. The band for the evening was Rise and Shine, and they provided a great variety of bluegrass, old time, country, and folk music. The main thing, however, was the dancing. Unlike Floyd Country Store where everything is pretty much continual flat-footing, here there was all sorts of dancing. There was a lot of flat footing, but there was also a lot of two-step, quite a few waltzes, some line dancing, and even a square dance (where everyone seemed to know what to do even without a caller).


The highlight of the evening was meeting Anges and Dottie when the band was taking a break. The two of them took turns telling me various perspectives on the history of the Alleghany Jubilee, the importance of traditional music, and the various people and places that were a part of the story. These two ladies were the height of friendliness, and they were full of joy. They made it a special evening. Agnes and her husband are responsible for initiating the Alleghany Jubilee 23 years ago. I’m glad they did it!


As the evening drew to a close, the band announced that their last number would be a gospel song. At this, all the members of the audience formed a circle and urged us to join them. With everyone holding hands, the band played its gospel song, everyone in the circle took a bow toward one another, and the evening was over. All in all it was quite a special evening.



A Worthwhile Investment

In spite of having camped at and visited Letchworth State Park many times over the years, there is one thing I have not done there. I have not taken a tour of the Mt. Morris Dam. Today I remedied that deficit. The US Army Corps of Engineers operates the dam, and every weekday at 2:00PM they offer a free tour. I made sure to plan my day in such a way that I would be there at 2:00. (I actually arrived a couple hours early and took a 4-mile hike on the Finger Lakes Trail while I was waiting.)

Triliums are in bloom in Letchworth in May


Yeah. Mile 24. I only walked four miles, however.

Our tour guide was Lucy (even though her name tag indicated that she was Julia.) Lucy had been on the job for only about a week, and this was only her fifth tour. She was able to give a lot of the basic information without referring to her notes, but she couldn’t answer very many questions. The fact that she grew up in Ohio rather than western New York made it even more difficult for her to respond to questions. She was friendly and nice, however, and I didn’t want to give her grief or challenge her. I enjoyed her tour. (She explained that she was so new to the job that her uniform and nametag had not yet arrived. She had borrowed co-worker Julia’s uniform – with nametag still attached.)

Tour Guide Lucy (aka Julia)

We began the tour by walking down a sloping roadway to the entrance to the dam. At the dam entrance Lucy explained that we could take all the photos we wanted until we got inside the structure. There are a number of security procedures in place to protect the dam from unwelcome visitors, and this restriction on photography was one of them. When we entered the building we immediately took an elevator about 13 floors down into the structure. When we exited the elevator there was a very cool, damp atmosphere, with a strong smell of damp concrete. Lucy explained that we were still above the level of the water. She explained that the moisture we would be seeing is condensation not leaking! We walked through several narrow passageways and came to a long, long stairway leading up from where we were and down to the depths of the dam. This was the “plan B” entry and escape route should access be needed when the elevator was not working. We then proceeded to an exit and were able to stand on a deck slightly above water level on the discharge side of the dam. We were close to the water, and we were able to see the turbulence from the water being released through the internal causeways. The river water was very muddy and brown. We returned to the elevator, then walked back up the sloping roadway to return to our starting point.


Throughout the tour Lucy gave us many facts and figures about the size of the dam, the history of it, the amount of concrete in it, and so on. It might be fun to bring some of the older grandchildren here. There is a nice visitor’s center with a very clear and helpful video telling the story of the dam’s construction. All in all it was a very pleasant way to spend an hour on a rainy Tuesday afternoon.




The brochure for Hickory Run State Park told us of a unique geological feature in the park: a boulder field. This is an area of large rocks, ranging in size from 6” diameter to 27 FEET in diameter. It is 1800’ long. (That’s approaching a half mile!) We had to go see it.


It was pretty amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it. Photos don’t really do it justice, but I walked out into the middle of it and took a panorama shot:


This shows 180 degrees. If I were able to continue, the other 180 degrees would look the same.


After gawking at this for a while we packed up and headed for home. Our adventure to Assateague, 2017 was over. Thanks for sharing it with us!

Farewell Allegany State Park – For Now





Bear Caves.


Was there really any choice in the matter? I just had to take the hike to Bear Caves. Didn’t I?


So; yeah. There’s a trail called the “Bear Caves” trail. And yeah; there really are caves there. But no – there are no bears in the caves.


The park literature explains that bears don’t like the dampness and cold of these caves. But it doesn’t really explain why they are named “Bear Caves.” I guess it doesn’t really matter. It was a worthy walking destination, and it was quite cool to see the caves. No; I didn’t go into any of them. Most of them seemed too narrow, and they seemed to offer only a risk of getting stuck. So I just looked. In one of them I stuck my camera in and snapped a picture around the corner, but the pic didn’t turn out very nicely, so it isn’t even worth sharing.


So, on this last day at the park, aside from a nice hike to the caves, I didn’t do much except pack up the trailer and then drive home.


The drive home was mostly uneventful except for the fact that I almost plowed into a stopped school bus that was invisible over the crest of a hill above Naples. I guess I learned from that to take the hills and curves more slowly. Lesson learned.


Porcupine Damage; Gigantic Boulders

In spring of 2002 I took a backpacking trip to ASP. On that trip I hiked out about 3 miles along trail #9 (The North Country Branch of the Finger Lakes Trail), starting in the northeast area of the park, and camped at a lean-to that was in a remote area. I remember this especially because there was a “Notice” posted on the lean-to about porcupines eating the wood. During the night I slept in a tent near the lean-to instead of sleeping inside it. All night long I could hear the animals chewing on the wood. The lean-to was quite new at the time.


Today I decided that I would like to re-visit that lean-to. It was a stupendous day for hiking, with bright sunshine and temperatures in the mid to upper 50’s. There was no wind to speak of. I approached the area of the lean-to from the opposite direction this time. I took Trail #9 from ASP Road #1, which meant that I had between 2 and 3 miles to walk before coming to the lean-to. As I walked I wondered what I would find. Would the park have found a way to protect it from the porcupines, leaving it in as-new condition?


When I got to the lean-to I was shocked to see the effect of 14 years of neglect. The structure had fallen in, leaving about half of it still standing. Obviously the park had not succeeded in protecting what had been a beautiful structure.



There was a couple sitting and enjoying a picnic lunch nearby, so I struck up a conversation with them about the lean-to and about hiking in ASP in general. John and Sue were from north of Buffalo, and they reported that they had been hiking here for about the past ten years. As long as they can remember, the lean-to has been in a state of some disrepair, and they have watched as it has deteriorated over the years. They had been unaware that porcupines had been the culprits.


Another area of the park that is fascinating and well worth a visit is an area called Thunder Rocks. There are about a dozen huge boulders, some as big as a house. Getting there requires driving a few miles on a gravel road, but that’s the kind of thing my Toyota 4Runner excels at. The pictures I began to take when I first arrived seemed to me to lack the perspective needed to get a good sense of just how awesome these boulders are, so I took a couple of “selfies” just to give the necessary size perspective.






The day (August 14) began, wonderfully, with a gospel sing as a final conclusion to the Augusta Heritage Festival. This event began, as scheduled, at 10:00 AM, but it did not conclude until well past 11:00 AM. It was evident that everyone was thoroughly enjoying the sing-along and didn’t want it to end. It was held in the chapel at Davis and Elkins College, which is a very interesting building. It is round, and the seating is arranged around the circle so that everyone is basically facing each other. If I were going to design a chapel or church, this is the design I would use. It communicates, intangibly, that all the congregants are expected to be participants rather than spectators. (This is also how I would design classrooms, but that’s another story.) The singing was led, initially, by a member of the leadership team of the Augusta Heritage Festival, but he quickly moved into a shared leadership position, inviting anyone and everyone to suggest and/or lead songs. It was very nice!

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Chapel at Davis and Elkins College

A situation such as this makes me wonder about people’s enjoyment of gospel music. Is this enjoyment indicative of a genuine relationship with the author of the gospel, Jesus, or is this a cultural thing, centered more on the music than the message of the songs? There’s no real way to know for sure, and I’m sure the answer varies from individual to individual. There was one young fellow who left no doubt as to his passion for Jesus. He requested that we sing the hymn, “Victory in Jesus.” He admitted to being a poor singer (he wasn’t, really), and he went ahead and led the song with enthusiasm regardless. It was clear that it was the message of the song and not the tune alone that was meaningful to him.


When the sing-along ended one of the participants whom we had seen multiple times since Thursday night came over to chat with us. Both Elaine and I had noticed her early on because she looks a lot like a friend of our daughters. We had been referring to her as “Julin” because of this resemblance to this friend (whose name is Julin). So when she introduced herself to us, we told her about Julin and that we had been calling her Julin since Thursday. She told us a little about herself. She attended the vocal music week at Augusta. She is originally from Mississippi, but is currently living in Virginia. She is a songwriter, and presents her work at www.graciousmemusic.com. This has been one of the best parts for us of the Augusta Heritage Festival: meeting people who have a love for this music and the culture of this region.

On one of the short hikes I took there was a great overlook with a wide-ranging view of the Blackstone River in its canyon. When I saw it, it made me think of the standard West Virginia WV logo.

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Here is the scene: Do you see what I mean about the logo?

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In the afternoon we spent time on the river (Shaver’s Fork – tributary to the Cheat River). There is a really nice swimming area (hole?) in our campground. Unfortunately, it is not an easily walkable distance, so we have to get there by car, but it is well worth the trouble to get there. The river water is as clear as crystal, and it isn’t too cold nor too warm.

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Swimming Area at Shaver’s Fork in Stuart Recreation Area

It was a lovely place to spend part of the afternoon. Then a thunderstorm came along and drove us back to the shelter of our camper for the rest of the evening.