Thursday, July 17th
The drive from Claytor State Park to the Burnsville Lake Bulltown Campground was uneventful. But with beautiful sections. And, of course, the usual "circle" at the end. Most of the trip was on interstate highways at highway speeds. Not ideal when towing the Aliner. The Lincoln doesn't seem to mind. According to the in-car computer, it gets a pretty steady 18 miles per gallon when towing, on average.
First, the beautiful sections. Both Virginia and West Virginia have incredible scenery to offer the interstate traveler. Mountains coming down near the roads. Rolling fields. And varied plant life. Of course, the closer one gets to real mountains the more beautiful it is. And West Virginia has mountains in abundance! The route, south on 81, North on 77, to 19 and 79, included two tunnels through mountains in West Virginia.
The New River Gorge Bridge also was noteworthy. No stopping or standing on the bridge itself is allowed. A sign indicated a lookout on the northern end of the bridge. I didn't stop since I got such a late start, and hope to go back. Glancing over the side of the bridge the chisel-like mountains reaching up were breath-taking. All the more impressive for the trees that covered them. Not much chance of those trees being harvested, or even trimmed.
All instructions I received, including those given by the attendant at the West Virginia Welcome Center on I-79, sent me to exit # 91 to reach the Bulltown Campground. I stopped for gas at exit 67, and there glimpsed a small sign that said "Bulltown," and possibly more. But ignored it. Given the abundance of contradictory information from the Mio GPS, the maps, and so on.
Well, exit 67 would have been ideal. Just a ten-mile drive up Route 19 to the campground turnoff. Exit 91, on the other hand, took me a considerable distance up Route 19. So, I had between 20 and 30 miles of travel back south on this two-lane road. I was concerned about finding the campground before dark. And ended up consulting a rustic couple in an elderly blue pick-up truck. They assured me I was on the right road. Just another 12 to 15 miles to go! The lady assured me "It's very nice down there." Kindly people, very willing to help.
But the long drive down Route 19 was very nice. Lots of social scenery. Small farms up to the edge of the road. Hay recently baled in fields. With those huge bales that even smaller farms now use. Small herds of livestock. Here and there beautiful riding horses behind high-upkeep white fences. And all through, a road that wound at better-slow-down speeds among rocks and river beds along the way. Well worth the trip. I may go back to take some photos.
I arrived at the campground around 5:45 p.m. and checked in with no difficulty. The campground is quite spread out, with six loops. My site is in the last loop before the boat ramp, the F loop. # 191.
The site itself is less than impressive. A mixture of gravel, soil, and grass. With a considerable slope. I had some difficulty getting the Aliner in and turned around, even with the trailer dolly. I'm still working on that system. The slope of the site required me to extend the front wheeled jack to near its full extent, and to use the BAL leveler on the driver side. I've been spoiled with the paved and nearly-always level campsites in the South Carolina State Parks. The stabilizer jacks, though, coped nicely, and the Aliner is solid as a rock, and level now. The site has 30-amp electricity, but no water. Water is available from a central spigot not far from the site, however. And that's unnecessary for me since I carry water to the Aliner anyway, rather than using the hoses for direct hookup.
It's not encouraging to pull into an assigned campsite and find a large family group in the site directly beside you. Especially a multi-family group with lots and lots of children of all ages. Especially when they have two or more tents, an awning or two, elaborate cooking equipment, clothes lines, several vehicles of the glass-pack muffler sort, and what appears to be dozens of lawn chairs, already assembled. Well, that's exactly what I found here at the Bulltown Campground. Right beside my assigned site. I was apprehensive.
This time that apprehension was completely misplaced. Not a bit of "noise" from that group! How they keep that many children quiet is a mystery. But they do. It could be an elderly retired couple in a huge Class A motor home for all the noise they make. Great to see.
With the Aliner turned around, I look out onto the water from two windows, and hills in the background. Quite a beautiful sight. This isn't considered an "on-the-water" site, which lowers the price a couple of dollars. But it has the view. Ideal! Since I'll launch the kayak from the boat ramp anyway.
It was hot when I arrived. Around 90 degrees in the shade. So I turned on the air conditioner as soon as the Aliner walls were up, and left it on until about midnight, when I got up to turn it off. It was too late to go out and around, or to go kayaking. So, on to a nice grilled steak dinner. Washed down with a big cold glass of milk. Off to bed after clean-up and reading a while.
Oh, one more thing. When I arrived I heard a banjo faintly. Coming from the other side of Loop F. It was being well played too. I hope to meet the musician and take a photo.
Friday July 18th
I slept in this morning, not getting up until 6:30 a.m., with the alarm. Good sleeping weather. The campground was very quiet. I got up around midnight, turned of the air conditioner fan, and opened both ceiling vents. The night air was cool. In the mid-60s.
This morning I made a hot breakfast on the Weber grill. This little grill is a great addition to the Aliner's accessories. I leave it set up on the metal folding table near the door of the Aliner. Given its shape I can use it even if it's raining outside. Well, light rain, anyway. It adds a lot of variety to the camping menu. Especially combined with the Aliner refrigerator. Scrambled eggs, two sausage patties, and instant biscuits. Not he most healthy, perhaps. But better than 90 percent of restaurant meals. And significantly cheaper!
After breakfast and a nice chat with the neighbor on the east side of the Aliner, Mr. W., here with his wife in a big travel trailer, I went over to the bath house. A pleasant surprise. Not as far away as it looked last night. And the facilities were very clean. Even after being used all morning. This bath house has the push-button shower system. I was apprehensive. But it worked very well. Water at the right temperature and plenty of it. And it's possible to push the button before the water stops.
Today I hope to walk and drive around a bit, seeing things and taking more photos. First, though, I had to find the source of that banjo music yesterday. And here it is! Mr. Logan Jones, age 10, of Davis Creek, West Virginia. Logan said he's been playing the guitar for four years now. He kindly played me a few of the 70-some tunes he knows. Here he's pictured playing the guitar, with his first fan looking on intently.
The banjo, Logan said, is a more recent addition to his musical accomplishments. He began that only yesterday. He'll be studying with Robin Kessinger. With the encouragement of Mr. Jimmy Jones, Logan picked a few on the banjo as well. It's obvious even to me that Logan is a West Virginia natural string player. In this part of the country you either are or you're not. And he is. Here's Logan picking his first banjo with great concentration. Again supervised by his First Fan. Notice the concentration and attention to detail. This unexpected treat alone made the trip worthwhile.
After imposing for far too long on the hospitality of the Jones family, I drove down to the Bulltown Historical Area to have a look around and take a few photos. The Corps of Engineers maintains this facility just inside the main gate of the campground. It includes a small museum, full of relics commemorating the October 13, 1863 Battle of Bulltown. As well as the implements of everyday life and subsistence agriculture of this region during the mid-19th century.
One of the museum displays explains that Bulltown was named after a Delaware Indian chief, Captain Bull. Here he is, pictured on the left. Captain Bull and his family settled in the 18th century at a riverside camp nearby, where they made a living processing salt that they traded with white settlers. Hence, Bulltown!
It's impossible to include photos of every item of interest in the museum. You'll just have to visit. But the sign on one common household item begs for inclusion. It reads, "Temporarily out of order." And who said museum curators don't have a sense of humor!
In addition to the museum, the historic area includes several early log houses and out-buildings. The Corps of Engineers moved each to this central location just before flooding what became Lake Burnsville. Life in this part of West Virginia on a subsistence farm must have been difficult indeed, given the steep hillsides and rocky soil. Beautiful for the traveler to see. But a potential source of heartbreak for the farmer trying to raise a family on it. New York State's Southern Tier has no monopoly on such farmland, it seems. Though the West Virginians eventually had their coal.
Here's another example, with a most determined tree. Scenes like this are not at all unusual in this part of West Virginia.
Speaking of social scenery, here's one of the log buildings carefully reconstructed on this site to preserve their original configuration. Each log and board was numbered as it was removed from the original building, and reconstructed in the same order and position. This is the McCauley Barn, named after the man who bought and renovated it in 1928. Here on the left you see it restored to its original configuration.
Here's a closer view of the side of the same barn that better shows its construction. Must have been a breezy place to milk cows on a cold winter morning ...
A short walk down the paved path leads to a bridge that spans the original Weston and Gauley Turnpike. An important road in this part of the country during the Civil War. Parts of the turnpike have been excavated by the site archeologists. They've even added a millstone beside the path. Or, I think it must be a millstone. Will have to ask.
Set in the trees on the other side of the turnpike are several more log buildings. Here's the Cunningham house and the front porch of another.
This photo of the corner of the house gives a better look at how these houses were constructed. The chimney pictured below is described as unusual for this part of the country. The section above the stonework is made of wooden slats covered with mud. Called "cat and clay" construction. According to the pamphlet.
There was still more to see in the Bulltown Historical Area. But I had to buy groceries. Man lives not by history alone. Well, almost. The Bulltown Campground is pretty remote, with the closest comprehensive grocery store, a Kroger, in Sutton, about 13 miles to the south. I drove down, got supplies, and took advantage of the urban setting to make calls to all the family. It's a pleasant drive to and from Sutton. One that takes me right through the I-79 interchange where I bought gas on Thursday, and should have turned to go north on Route 19!
No more excitement for today. A light dinner, some reading and writing, and off to bed early. Looking forward to an early-morning of kayaking before the sun becomes too bright. Again tonight the campground is quiet and comfortable. This is a nice place to stay, even as crowded as it is, with every site that I can see occupied.
Saturday July 19th
Up this morning with the alarm at 3:30 a.m. The outside temperature has cooled to around 64 degrees. After a couple hours of wash-up and writing, I dressed for the water in all non-cotton sun-screening clothing and headed for the closest boat ramp. I can see it from the front window of the Aliner when sitting here at the computer.
There was enough light by around 6:30 a.m. to paddle safely, and I headed south. The lake here is quite narrow. More like a river with no perceptible current. But beautiful. Especially with the fog rising from the warmer water into the 64-degree air before sunup. As you can see on the map of my route below, the lake narrows considerably south of the Route 19 bridge.
It also becomes more shallow. To the point it's necessary to keep a close look-out for submerged stumps and branches just below the surface of the water. I didn't hit any of them in the kayak. But it must be a challenge to take a speedier power boat through this water.
The bridge above the lake in the photo on the left is where Route 19 crosses the lake. Just a short distance from the turn-off onto the road to Bulltown Campground. Nothing unusual about it. Appears to be sturdy.
But if you look closely on both the east and west banks of the lake just before the overhead bridge you can see the foundations of an earlier bridge crossing the lake at this point. Or probably what then was just a river or creek. It looks like very solid construction. Nice that it's been left for folks to see.
Here are a couple of photos that show the stumps sticking up from the water. Long-dead trees that refuse to make way for progress. Good! Though they do represent a navigation hazard for the unwary paddler.
The trip south down the lake and back covered just over six miles. Beautiful scenery, but not much wildlife. I did see two deer drinking at the edge of the lake toward the end of the trip, but that was it. But a very nice paddle on an early morning. I hope to go again before leaving tomorrow.
Today, though, is laundry day. And a search for a wireless connection to access e-mail, news from Japan, and hopefully, to post these web page updates.
I found the coin-operated laundromat in Sutton, about 13 miles south of the campground. No luck with the wireless, though. As the Bulltown Historical Area museum attendant said, the laundromat in Sutton was clean and well attended. All the more impressive since the facilities and equipment were far from new. The owner was there, serving as attendant today. She was helpful and friendly, and told me about life in Sutton. A great resource.
The weather continues to be hot and humid. Unusually hot, according to the NOAA weather station. In the low 90s, with lots of sunshine. The Aliner inside was 103 degrees when I returned from the laundry expedition. But it cooled down quickly with the air conditioner. I spent the rest of the day inside just reading, a refuge from the heat and humidity.
And didn't emerge until about 7:30 to grill a couple of hotdogs for dinner. Once the sun went down, which happens earlier here in these mountains, the temperature cooled down to the upper 70s, and I could open the windows again. Nice to be able to see Burnsville Lake right outside the window.
Sunday July 20th
Up this morning at 6:00 a.m. The air outside is cool and pleasant still. Only 63 degrees, according to the inside/outside thermometer. All still in the dark of the campground. Here and there the festive strings lf lights favored by so many RVers still wink their welcome. All making for a nice walk to the bath house. Again this morning a near-full golden moon moon showed through the haze and high clouds just as I walked toward the bath house. What a sight through the branches of the trees.
This morning a simple cold breakfast that doesn't require the grill, since I'll be packing it soon. Around 7:00 a.m. the folks camped in the two or three sites to the west of mine began disassembling their considerable equipment, preparing to leave. Good thing they have so many pickup trucks with them. I see no sign of children yet. Just adults moving about, coffee in hand, surveying the task ahead. I don't envy them this morning's duties.
The plan for today is to write until between 9:30 and 10:00 a.m. Then pack up and leave Bulltown Campground for the drive to Shawnee State Park in Pennsylvania. The drive should take between three and four hours. That is, without detours and circling. I think I have the Mio GPS programmed this time to take me to the Campground rather than to the downtown office of the State Park system. Both are listed as points of interest in the Mio GPS. We'll see. Should be a nice drive.
Around 9:45 a.m. I began to pack up and get ready to leave. First the inside of the Aliner, then the outside. As soon as I began on the outside chores, the folks in the trailers to the east of the Aliner came over and offered to help. They were especially concerned about turning the Aliner around. And they did help! Then they all stood by and gave a hand where needed throughout the process. When we were nearly done, one lady even brought me a bottle of cold cold water, since I was sweating. Both families lived nearby in West Virginia, demonstrating that hospitality and friendliness to strangers isn't just a South Carolina thing.
So, how was the Corps of Engineers Bulltown Campground on Burnsville Lake, West Virginia? The Bulltown Historical Area alone makes it well worth the visit. The museum and building displays are well conceived and beautifully maintained. The Park is situated in a beautiful part of the country. A drive along any secondary road offers views that beg to be preserved in a photo. Burnsville Lake, or that part of it I saw and paddled, anyway, is a pleasant piece of water with interesting shoreline that's remains largely undeveloped. I didn't see as much wildlife as I'd expected. Only two deer, in fact. Very few birds. In addition to the small birds around the campsites. The Campground facilities are modern and quite well maintained. And the campground loops are laid out skillfully to take advantage of the lake shoreline in this area.
The only negatives I could find were the large number of campsites and the condition of the campsite I occupied. The campground has six loops, each with outside and inside campsites. Sites in the F loop I reserved were quite close together, and the place was full. I arrived on Thursday afternoon, and left on Sunday, which put me there during the peak weekend time, I suppose. Site # 191 was not as level as other sites I've occupied. The grade of the site, combined with the gravel, dirt, grass combination surface, made it hard to position the Aliner. Even with the trailer dolly. I eventually got everything level, thanks to the BAL leveler and the stabilizer jacks. Other sites in this loop and around the campground may have been more level, though the ones nearby didn't appear to be.
None of the sites here had water, just 30-amp electricity. That was no inconvenience for me, since I carry water to the Aliner tank rather than hook up the hose. But it must have inconvenienced RVers. One poor soul nearby even tried to run a water hose from one of the central water spigots to his RV. Only to discover that he lacked about 12 feet of hose to make the connection. I doubt that the connection would have been approved by a visiting park ranger, however, since the hose crossed the F loop road and must have monopolized the central water supply.
So, off to Shawnee State Park in Southern Central Pennsylvania at just after noon. Hopefully the Mio car GPS will take me directly there this time, without the need to circle.