Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Family Easter Fun in Baltimore

You know I am behind on my blogging when I am just now getting around to mentioning Easter!  My sister Lora and her family nicely invited us to her house for the Easter holiday along with other family members.  They warmly opened their house up to seven people, two kids and two dogs and the controlled chaos that reigned.  What is better than a week with fun people, great food, and a time to slow down and relax?  


What is Easter without dying eggs and waiting for peeps to turn stale?  The kid in all of us came out with the hard boiled eggs, vinegar, food dye, and edible glitter that was put on the kitchen table.  So what was supposed to be the kid’s activity turned into a bunch of creative adults sitting around the table vying to produce the best-looking egg. 


Even Betsy enjoyed dying Easter eggs.  LOL.

An outdoor fire pit blazing on a cool, sunny afternoon was the perfect conduit to stay warm and catch up with family members we had not seen in a long time.  And it also served as the perfect place for cocktails and a gooey dessert!



The holiday flew by and before you knew it the dyed eggs were gone, the peeps vanished (the soft yellow ones), and we were saying goodbye.  What a great Easter!  Thanks to my sister and her family for such great hospitality.  Are we invited back next year?

"I 'm humiliated!"


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art

The eastern shore of Virginia was on our radar for two reasons, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (to see the iconic ponies that graze the marsh) and to visit the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art.  Yep, we are back to being our nature-loving selves with those two stops.  With only two days to drive and sight-see, we were going to be busy.    

Oh, and the other BIG reason was to avoid all of the big city traffic we were sure to hit on route from Virginia Beach to Baltimore on I-95.  That being said, the pleasant drive across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and up the eastern shore of Virginia was a perfect route.

The most iconic animal roaming the 14,000-acre Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is not what you would typically expect to find on this federal conservation land set aside to protect migratory birds and known for providing outdoor recreation opportunities.  Instead, Chincoteague NWR is notorious for their
ponies.  Yes, I said “ponies” – those long-manned equines that look totally out of place grazing under the pines and in the marsh of a Virginia barrier island.  Lore has it that the ponies escaped from a shipwrecked Spanish galleon and swam ashore.  Others believe early settlers brought them with other livestock and they were allowed to roam free.  Regardless of their origin, these iconic ponies adorn storefronts, t-shirts, signs, and were the catalyst that drew us to the area. 

We started our visit at the refuge visitor center which has great interactive and educational exhibits and four short movies for your viewing pleasure.  While pony viewing is certainly the most popular activity, other activities are climbing the 142-foot Assateague Lighthouse for a spectacular view of the barrier islands, hiking to one of many waterfowl-laden ponds, enjoying a bike ride on the wildlife loop trail, participating in a ranger-led educational program, trying to land dinner while surf fishing, enjoying off-road beach driving or just lounging on the beach. 

 

After the refuge, we picked up Spirit (as dogs are not allowed in the refuge) and went downtown to check out the tiny vacation town.  As we expected, pony souvenirs were everywhere and the downtown pays homage to “Misty of Chincoteague” with a bronze statue.  

Once I saw an advertisement for the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, I knew we had to go.  As someone who grew up duck hunting in southern Missouri and spent three years in graduate school researching mottled ducks in Louisiana, I have a thing for waterfowl.  This museum has one of the most incredible collections of wildfowl carvings anywhere in the world.  They run the gamut from antique decoys that were durable and useful to the decorative and detailed carvings that fetch tens of thousands of dollars.  The decoys and carvings are artistically displayed and the decoys seem to come alive before you. 


The museum is named for Steve and Lem Ward two brothers from the area that were carving pioneers.  These visionaries took the skill of carving functional decoys and transformed it into an art that lives on today.  What we thought was going to be a quick visit to the museum turned into over a two-hour stay. 





The museum was much larger than we thought and exceptionally well done.  We are certainly glad we decided to stop.  It's a must for anyone who likes waterfowl.  




Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Virginia Beach, Virginia and an Added Bonus

Betsy and I like to visit towns we have never been to before and Virginia Beach fit that bill with an added bonus – one of my old high school friends lived there.  The beaches here are famous and are a strong lure attracting people when the days get longer and the weather warmer.  We quickly discovered the city is a dynamic mix of American history, beach fun, delicious seafood, and natural beauty.

We stayed at the First Landing State Park and quickly realized we made the right decision to stay here and not at a private park.  The park was named “First Landing” as this was the site of the landing of the first permanent English Settlers in the U.S. in 1607.  Upon first site of the area, they referred to it as a “desert” but we call it a sandy beach of fun.

Beach boardwalk leading to miles of beach along the Chesapeake Bay.
The park's visitor center is a great place to learn about the early settlers.
The park sits on 1,000+ acres in an appealing mix of beach, dunes, and maritime forest.  We scored big with our campsite which backed right into the dunes and offered a spectacular view of the beach and Chesapeake Bay with lots of privacy.  

The park turned out to be full of activities in its self – there is a visitor center with interpretive exhibits, over a mile and half of beach access, a boat ramp, and across the street from the campground is the Trail Center which is the launching point for over 20 miles of hiking/biking trails which were uncrowded and beautiful.  

Dogs are allowed to be on the beach and trails so Spirits tail was wagging the entire time.


A warm day hiking in the cypress swamp was followed by cooling off in the Chesapeake Bay.
The ocean-front boardwalk in downtown Virginia Beach was a short ten minute drive from the park and we soon realized this is a popular spot.  This is where visitors go to sit on the beach, rent a pedal-powered surrey, shop for beach souvenirs, grab a bite to eat, and just enjoy being in the warming spring sun.  Strolling along the boardwalk, one cannot overlook the monuments and statues that highlight Virginia Beach's past and present. 

King Neptune - the 34-foot bronze statue highlights Virginia Beach's ties to the sea.
The Naval Aviation Monument Park recognizes the men and women who play a part in the area's rich
naval aviation heritage. 
Quietly tucked along the boardwalk were two museums that caught our attention.  The first was the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum and Historic DeWitt Cottage.  The museum is a fabulous collection of waterfowl decoys and carvings housed in the 1895 cottage that claims to be the city’s oldest remaining structure on the oceanfront.  The museum is free and well worth a few minutes of your time to read about the rich wildfowl history of the area.  On the grounds you will also find Virginia Beach’s first library, historic gardens and an old boathouse.




The second museum we visited was the Old Coast Guard Station.  This former U.S. Life-Saving Station (the predecessor to the U.S. Coast Guard) was built in 1903 and serves as a museum re-counting the history of the Coast Guard, rescue methods and shipwrecks off the Virginia coast.  Inside is a small gift shop with interesting nautical souvenirs and books.  A small admission fee is required but the guided tour is educational and interesting.

Before we left Virginia Beach, we had lunch with my high school friend that I had not seen in 26 years.  It’s amazing how so much time went by since we last saw each other but it seemed like yesterday when I last saw her.  Cher expressed her love for Virginia Beach and in particular the bountiful sea that surrounds this unique city.  After listening to Cher’s fishing stories it was obvious that we need to come back next year and spend more time with a rod in our hand on her boat.  How could we pass up a fishing trip with a great friend? 


Until next time, we will keep making our way up the coast.




   

Sunday, April 20, 2014

RV Park Review - Ocean Waves Campground (Waves, North Carolina)


Overall, this park has a lot of features we liked: paved roads and pads, full hook-up, great wifi, cable, and beach access all at a modest price.  The park is located in the southern portion of the Outer Banks and serves as a good location if you want to explore.  The park is very clean and well-kept and the owners (and work campers) are super friendly and helpful. 


The park has 68 sites for RV’s and 4 tent sites.  Not all sites are long enough to accommodate large rigs but all are level and concrete.  All sites are back-in.  The sewer, water and electric hook-ups (50/30 amp) were well placed.  There was a $2/day charge for cable which had over 50 channels and the free wifi worked great.  Sites have a picnic table but no fire pit.  However, you are permitted to have open fires on the beach through the park offices’ permit. 
 
Note all the RV's clustered together with plenty of open sites to space everyone out.

shady site
Site prices vary depending on the time of year and hook-ups you want.  Since we came in the off-season, we got a deal to stay 6 nights and get the 7th free which put our full hook-up site at $46/night (that includes $2/night for cable).  This campground is priced nearly $20 lower than the nearby KOA and other large private campgrounds nearby. 

Our 4G Verizon hotspot and phone worked great.  There are some shady sites but most are wide open so getting satellite television is not a problem.

There are very few amenities in this park but that is fine with us since we normally don't use them.  There is a swimming pool, game room, small playground, laundry, bath/shower house, and well-stocked store with food, camping supplies, and gifts.  The bath/shower houses were older but clean. 
 
The pool was not open when we were there in early April.
bath/shower house
What we really liked about this park was the great beach access and the nice paved, level site.  Leashed dogs are permitted on the beach and low tide is a perfect time for walking endless miles.  

The park has great beach access and is just a one-mile walk to the Rodanthe Pier.
This park is really affordable compared to other private parks that charge nearly $20 more per night.  For the price, we are certainly glad we stayed at this park.

What we did not like was the closeness of sites and the fact that we were put right on top of someone.  The office assigned us a site that was right next to someone else when the park was not even 1/10th full.  In fact, they clustered all the RV’s that were there on a short term basis together.  In hindsight, we should have asked to move sites but not knowing how full they were and arriving prior to a weekend, we didn’t ask.  Usually, we always ask to pick out a site when a park is not completely full.  Beware, the toilet stalls are so small they really only fit a small child and no soap is provided in the bathrooms.  When we were there it was too cold for campers to take a shower as no heat was available. 

Spirit’s two cents:  well she did love playing on the beach and in the surf.  The park was not very full so when no one was looking we let her off-leash and threw her tennis ball.  Overall, she would give it thumbs up (if she had thumbs) so we guess it's "paws up"!

 
"Whoops, I forgot my leash."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Wright Brothers National Memorial and A Few More Things

Our final days in the Outer Banks were spent in the northern portion as we had our sights set on visiting the famed Wright Brothers National Memorial.  Also on our to-do list was eating some more seafood, marveling at another lighthouse and walking around a quaint village . . . again.  Are you seeing a pattern here?   This is something I will never get tired of.

The Wright Brothers National Memorial commemorates one of America’s spectacular feats and will make you stand in awe of their achievement.  Orville and Wilbur Wright made history through perseverance, determination, faith, and raw genius.  These two bicycle building boys from Dayton, Ohio always believed man could achieve sustained flight.  In 1899, they started using their mechanical ingenuity and know
how to experiment with gliders and kites to perfect their aeronautical designs.  Feeling they were ready to test their experiments they set out to select the ideal location, a place where they had high dunes, strong winds, soft sand for hard landings, and isolation from peering competitors. 

Looking out from the bluff where the first glider was tested.  
The boys flipped a coin to see who would “fly” first and on the remote North Carolina beach, Orville took flight for the first time.  He was aloft for 12 seconds and traveled 120 feet, less than the length of today’s airliner.  Next was Wilbur’s turn traveling just slightly farther at 175 feet.  The third attempt took them even farther to a distance of 200 feet in a mere 15 seconds.  Undaunted, Wilbur climbed aboard and started the fourth flight.  Once aloft he pitched up and rolled unable to get full control of the plane. But shortly into the flight it all came together and he worked the controls perfectly adjusting the thrust, pitch, and yaw in unison giving him control of the aircraft and he was “flying.”  The first ever flight lasted 59 seconds and covered a distance of 852 feet.
 
You didn't know Wilbur had a passenger?!
This stone marks the starting point of the four flights.  Additional stones are placed out the walkway to show the point at which landings occurred.  


With one last day in the Outer Banks we ventured up to Corolla, the northernmost town which just happens to be the cutest (at least I think so).  Corolla is known for its wild horses that roam free on the beaches but the town itself is a true delight and a refreshing change from the many tacky beach shops and water parks found along the major strip.  One of the other attractions in Corolla is the Currituck Heritage Park, home to the Currituck Beach Light Station, the historic Whalehead Club and the Outer Banks Center forWildlife Education.   

The historic lighthouse and its gorgeous grounds and walkways have been rejuvenated and are a delight to explore.  I advise paying the $8 and climbing the 220 steps to marvel at the view and experience a small part of what these hardy light keepers experienced.  


The Light Station has interpretive exhibits lining the inside. They are a great reason to stop and catch your breath.
Historic buildings have been saved and are now offices, a gift shop and residences.

A short walk from the light station grounds is the Whalehead Club which is a beautifully restored historic home now available for parties and weddings.  The grounds are beautiful to walk around and a great place to let Spirit cool off. 



Not to far from the park is the Village of Corolla.  The town has a great bookstore, cute shops with nautical gifts and celebrate the horse history, an adorable restored schoolhouse, and a BBQ joint. 


Unfortunately, our day was running longer than expected and we didn’t have time to see the famous wild horses of Corolla.  We'll plan that next year when we can spend more time.  The wild Mustangs were brought to the islands in the 1500’s by early explorers and now roam free.  The hearty herd has adapted to the harsh environment and survives by eating salt grasses, persimmons, and acorns.  During strong storm events the horses head into the maritime forest and survive on the high ground.  I guess after 4,000 years on the barrier islands they have certainly learned how to survive.

Our stay in the Outer Banks was great and we were sorry to have to leave, but first there were a couple of more things to eat which we found in the little town of Duck.  We kept seeing ads for Duck Donuts and it just so happens we passed a couple of stores, one of which received our business.  

Not ones to miss a good seafood restaurant or market we stopped at a local store and picked up a dozen and a half oysters and a pound of lump crab meat so I could go home and make crab cakes.  

There is nothing better than indulging in seafood on our last night on the coast . . . o.k. maybe throw in a bottle of wine too.