Monday, July 14th
First day of the Great Northern Expedition 2008. And the first day at Virginia's Claytor Lake State Park. I left the house at 1:20 p.m., and drove straight to the park, stopping only one time for gas. Well, "straight." Actually, some circling was involved. The in-car GPS took me exactly where it was asked to take me. But that turned out to be the downtown office of the state park system in Radford. Not to the park itself. Once that was clarified, with the help of two by-standers, it was an easy drive to get back on I-81 south, find exit 101, and drive straight to the Park.
No difficulty with check-in. The gate attendant had a packet ready. Specific sites aren't assigned. Only three were left in the D section. I could find only one site, though. It hadn't been occupied because not only was it a back-in site. it required a 90 degree turn to the right once backed in.
As I looked at the site, planning the best backing strategy, a couple camped nearby in a 5th Wheel stopped to chat. The husband out of the blue offered to back the Aliner into the site, and he did. Perfectly. Quite a performance of driving skill, and a very nice thing to do. On-lookers were impressed. They are frequent campers, retired now for two years. They often visit South Carolina's campgrounds, they said.
No time to walk around the Park since it was so late. That's for tomorrow morning. The facilities are clean as a whistle, though. I went to check on the bath house at around 9:00 p.m. An attendant was there cleaning up! So, maintenance must be a high priority for this Park. The facilities were modern and kept up to their potential.
Just time for a grilled dinner of hamburgers and lima beans. Much more convenient to prepare meals at the Aliner than to try to find suitable restaurants along the way. As well as cheaper! I even packed a lunch for the drive. Live and learn!
The park was quiet by 9:00 p.m., or so. Lots of families camping in tents here, with lots of kids running around. They were remarkably well behaved, however. And by 10:00 p.m., beginning of the designated quiet period, all was completely silent.
It was hot in the sun, but quite cool in the shade. And when the sun went down the temperature dropped quickly to very comfortable levels. I didn't need the air conditioner at all.
A good campground selection, it seems. Tomorrow I'll check out the area, especially the boat ramps for kayaking on the lake.
Tuesday, July 15th
Up this morning around 5:45 a.m. No special reason. Just happened to wake up. Off to shower and wash-up, before making some notes on the computer and breakfast. The Weber Baby Q grill outside the Aliner is convenient for a quick biscuits, eggs, and sausage. I know; I know. Better than restaurant food, though.
Around 9:30 a.m., I took a walk around the Park facilities. Stopping first at the entrance gate, which seems to do double duty as an information center. Two young people there provided all sorts of good information about the Park and about the Lake.
At their suggestion, I walked down State Park Road to the Visitor's Center and the Marina. The Visitor's Center is in an old brick house set on a lot that overlooks the lake. A beautiful spot. The Park Service has taken good care of the grounds. Even maintaining some of the very old trees in front of the house.
The DAR has erected a monument on the grounds of the house that commemorates the first White settlement in the area. Made by "Dunkers." Hence, "Dunkards Bottom." Will have to find out more about that. Stones for the monument are from the original chimney of a house built there by William Christian. Now you know!
Even more impressive than the monument are the views of the Lake from the grounds of this Visitors Center. It looks as if it will be interesting to paddle. I plan to try tomorrow morning. I got a detailed map of the lake at the Marina gift shop, so it should be quite safe. This isn't a huge lake. But it's 21 miles long, and appears to be around a half-mile wide in most places. The New River flows through it.
The walk back to the campsite was just as beautiful. I was able to take a shortcut on a road that has been closed for some reason.
This afternoon I've done some of the preliminary work on the syllabus for the Japan foresight policy class for the fall semester, and given some thought to the next podcast script. Not a lot, though. Mostly relaxing and enjoying the scenery in this beautiful Park.
The Marina pictured here is an interesting operation. Obviously created to generate revenue. It includes slips rented to private individuals to store their boats, and a very nice building. The one with the WiFi. Inside there are several meeting rooms, and a lobby with comfortable chairs and couches. That's where the WiFi seems to work best. The gift shop is well stocked too.
Staff I've come in contact with here at Claytor Lake State Park have, without exception, been helpful, informed, and well trained. Lots of help. Though they have a sign at the entrance advertising for more summer help.
The Park must spend a fortune on maintenance and janitorial services. It's hard to imagine. But during my walks and drives through the Park I haven't seen a single piece of paper or trash on the ground. This Park rivals a military installation in that regard.
Tonight was grilled steak night at the Aliner restaurant. Very good. Fortunately, there's been no rain. So the outside grill has had regular use. Much more healthy eating food prepared with a minimum of salt. And cheaper too!
Tomorrow I hope to go out on the lake in the kayak during the cooler early morning hours. So, an early bedtime. By 7:30 p.m. outside temperatures had cooled to the point that the Aliner was comfortable inside without the air conditioner.
Wednesday, July 16th
My second full day at Claytor Lake State Park. Up with the alarm at 3:00 a.m., in the hope of getting out on the water today in the cooler early-morning hours. A regular wash-up and this morning a cold breakfast. In anticipation of the kayak adventure.
The NOAA emergency weather radio predicted cooler temperatures overnight. Down into the mid-50s. But this morning at 3:00 a.m. it was still 63 degrees. That may mean we'll have a warmer day today. Yesterday was sunny, with puffy white clouds just made for a photographer. Hopefully, you can see some of them in the attached photos.
This campground remains nearly full, though it's the middle of the week. In South Carolina, campgrounds like this tend to empty out during the middle of the week. Guess I was lucky to get a reservation. Reservations at this Park are not site-specific. The gate attendant asks arriving campers with reservations to go pick out any unoccupied site.
This D section includes electric and water hookups. However, at least half of the sites are occupied by tent campers. Some with quite elaborate equipment. Obviously experienced at this sort of thing. The Park has other camping areas that do not have electricity and water. They don't seem to be as crowded. But the availability of electricity must be a draw.
Based on just two days of observation, including a four-hour drive up I-77 and I-81, I'd say fewer people are driving around in large RVs this year. Probably because of the sharp increase in the price of fuel. It must affect the RV industry. As I walk by areas where campers congregate to chat, talk often includes the high price of gas, and where to get the best deals.
This may explain the large number of tent campers I've seen. Come to think of it, the same thing was true during the past couple of months in the South Carolina campgrounds. More and more sites occupied by multiple-person, usually family, groups. With very large tents, usually new, awnings, lawn chairs, elaborate cooking facilities, and sometimes, what appear to be large plasma television screens. So they too need electricity to be comfortable.
Will all of this increase demand for smaller RVs? Undoubtedly. Time and time again, people arriving in big Class A motorhomes come by to look at the Aliner. They always ask what sort of gas mileage I get when towing it.
Now, at 5:00 a.m., the outside temperature is still dropping. It's 62 degrees now. With virtually no wind. Not even a breeze. The campground is completely quiet. And mostly dark. A few of the campsites have festive lights strung along their awnings. And a soft drink machine glows an soft blue in the distance, marking the bath house.
At 5:30 there was just enough light to head for the beach with the kayak. The parking lot already had four boat trailers and tow vehicles. I drove down to the boat ramp, unloaded the kayak, and parked the car up the hill in the single-car parking spaces.
The water at the boat ramp was clear and surprisingly warm. Here you see the kayak inflated and ready to go. The sun isn't up yet. And that, unfortunately, affects the quality of the photos. That's a small island out in the water. Covered in dense brush and a few trees. It was full of birds. Most of them didn't even bother to take notice of me in the kayak. They must be used to boat traffic by now.
It now takes no longer than 20 minutes, start to finish, to inflate the kayak and prepare it for paddling. Usually more like 15 minutes. That includes triple-checking all safety features. By now I've inflated and deflated it dozens of times. It shows no signs of wear. Surprisingly durable. Which is good!
For this first paddle on Claytor Lake, I headed out around that small island, and then to the south, or southwest. Here's a map of the whole route. A total of about 4.5 miles. In about 2 hours and 15 minutes.
I'm unlikely to set any kayak speed records in the trusty Sea Eagle. She's too wide and too soft in the hull for that. But speed isn't the point! The Sea Eagle is about the safest kayak I can imagine. Buoyant to a fault. And so stable it would require effort to capsize her once under way. A great way to learn about kayaking.
According to the eTrex Venture HC GPS that made that route diagram, and that keeps me from getting lost on unfamiliar water, normal steady paddling drives the Sea Eagle along at just under 3 miles per hour. More like 2.7 miles per hour for a long-term comfortable paddling rate. That's quite slow compared to other kayaks. But it's fine for paddling along the shores of lakes like this. When the geological formations, plant life, and animal life are the main attraction. It also handles easily, turning and stopping with no difficulty. Of course, the ability to deflate the boat, roll it up, package it with all necessary accessories, and toss it into the back seat of the car is the real advantage.
According to the signs along the side of this boat, it belongs to the Friends of Claytor Lake association. The Friends of Claytor Lake are mentioned everywhere here in the Park. They must to be very active group. Working on all sorts of lake improvement projects. By the looks of it, this is a working boat, not a pleasure craft. Good to see.
It wasn't long before the sun began to peep over the horizon. So I had to take at least one photo. Talk about cliche! So here it is. During much of this morning's paddle the sun didn't reach the water I was on. Really a blessing, since by 7:30 a.m., or so, it was hot in the sun. That's the advantage of an irregular shoreline, with all of its nooks and crannies.
Now, before 7:00 a.m., it's still cool, with just a slight breeze. Not enough to make paddling more difficult. Just enough to cool things down.
Virginia's Claytor Lake State Park doesn't spend all of its money on maintenance and housekeeping. Here is a photo of the swimming area they maintain. It's quite elaborate. With a wading section marked off toward shore, markers just beyond where I took the photo delineating the overall swim area. And even a nice diving platform. I paddled in to get a closer look. Like the rest of the Park, this area was immaculate. Not a single piece of litter. All equipment painted, shined, and well maintained. It must cost a fortune to keep those facilities in such good shape.
Notice in this photo how smooth the water was. It remained that way, and even smoother through the paddling route this morning.
Here's another example of this Park's facilities. It's just a simple fence. One that appears to mark a walking path between the swimming area and Park-maintained cabins further along the shore. But here too everything is ship-shape. No trash. No graffiti, or evidence of other common sorts of vandalism so often seen in areas open to the public. I can't believe that the people who use these facilities are any less prone to vandalism than other populations. So it must reflect the diligence of the maintenance crews.
Speaking of "cabins," this is a view from the water of some of the facilities available at the Park. They all looked to be occupied too. I didn't paddle very close to the shore here, for fear of raising the early-morning suspicions of the folks staying in the cabins. Already, just after daybreak, two or three men were out fishing from the bank at the next point. While passing, I saw two fairly large fish jump out of the water on the other side of the cove. Well out of reach of their lines.
I found this unusual boat moored at the end of an especially deep cove, not far from the cabins in the last photo. It may be hard to see in this picture. But it looks to me as if it's used for dredging. It would be nice to see it working. I'll have to ask about it at the Park office.
Claytor Lake has an interesting shoreline. I could paddle along for hours, just looking at the various geological formations. And how plant and animal life have adapted, or tried to adapt, to their physical environment. Here's one good example. Solid-looking rocks along the shoreline. With trees that appear to be growing right out of the rock. I've seen this in several other places along this lake shore as well. What a way to make a living! Though I guess these trees have less to fear from erosion than do those growing out of regular soil.
It's possible here to paddle right up to the rocks, to bump the nose of the kayak right against them. So I could get a good look. Lots of interesting plant life. I didn't see much animal or insect life, however. Not a single snake. Not a single turtle or fish. Maybe it was just too early for them to be awake.
As the route map shows, I paddled across the lake at one of its narrower points to see what sort of shoreline it had on that side. There were differences. A different kind of vegetation. Less development. Or that might have been only in the area I traveled. Not as much development, but some. Look carefully at the photo on the left. That's a stairway! With what appear to be hundreds of steps. It would be a challenge to climb, let alone build. The bank has eroded beside it. Eroded to the point that huge tree fell into the lake.
I couldn't see the top of the stairs from the water, though I paddled around to get a proper angle. I can only imagine that determined people live up there. There are several such stairways down to the water here and there along the eastern bank of the lake where I paddled. None of them were quite as ambitious as this one, though.
After paddling around the stairway for as long as seemed prudent, I paddled further back into the cove. The map identifies it as "Spooky Hollow." At the very end of the cove someone has built a complex that looks out onto the cove from large windows. Again, I turned around well away from the complex out of concern of inviting misunderstanding from the inhabitants. How often do they have visitors arrive paddling inflatable kayaks? Especially, visitors in such strange costumes. Why, the hat alone would be enough to set off the alarms!
I mentioned that there isn't as much wildlife along the shore of Claytor Lake as I'm used to along the lakes of South Carolina. Here and there a great blue heron would fly up, cackling indignantly at the interruption. But not often. Here's a photo of a heron that I met paddling out of Spooky Hollow cove. He's not easy to see, since he wouldn't let me get close enough for a portrait shot. I did take one more picture as he flew off, but it was too blurred to recognize.
The Spooky Hollow heron was fishing in quite shallow water toward the very end of a narrow finger of water that went of the main cove. He, or she, looked optimistic until I came along. Must have been the hat that frightened him. Or her. Nice to see, anyway. According to the Park brochures there's an abundance of wildlife on the shores of this lake. Guess I was just unlucky. I have one more chance to paddle tomorrow morning before leaving. I'll probably head north along the lake's western shore. Hopefully, to see more wildlife.
Not far from the heron in Spooky Hollow cove I came across another strange sight. A wooden raft, or very small dock. Up near the bank. Here's a photo. By the look of the thing it had just drifted there and stuck. Ready for the Friends of Claytor Lake to come collect it. When I paddled closer, however, I could see that it was held in place by a rope. A rope tied way up in the tree. The rope appeared to be of more recent vintage than the raft! Now, why in the world would anyone moor a raft, or small dock, right there? And in just that way. A mystery of Spooky Hollow!
Leaving Spooky Hollow, I paddled a ways up the eastern shore of the lake, and then headed back across, toward the Park's boat ramp. I wasn't at all tired. But the sun was getting too warm to allow comfortable paddling. Here on the left you see a view from the water of the Park Marina. With water as smooth as glass, to coin a phrase ... It was a beautiful sight.
Speaking of beautiful sights, here's another. The photo on the right is the Park's Visitor's Center from the water. Notice the gazebo down toward the water. And some more of the older trees that have been carefully preserved on the grounds. Several people were fishing from the bank and the dock.
And, at around 8:25 a.m., back to the boat ramps and the end of today's paddle. Claytor Lake is a great paddling destination for those who, like me, enjoy placid flatwater kayaking. Virginia's New River flows through here, by the way. A river that provides all the whitewater kayaking experience anyone would need. I'll stick to the lake!
I devoted the rest of the day to some writing on the computer, and to a couple of hours of reading the Louis L'Amour book from WalMart. "The Lonesome Gods," This # 10 campsite is shaded by a beautiful large tree. So I took advantage of its shade, sitting in the "reading chair" beside the picnic table. For about three hours. Without sunscreen on bare arms and legs. Live and learn. The result was burned forearms and shins. Not serious. But enough to serve as a good reminder. It's possible to sunburn on bright sunny days even in the shade.
After reading and lunch, I prepared a few of the photos from this morning's paddle for the web, put them up on the webpage with some commentary, and around 4:00 p.m. went back to the Lakeside Meeting Room here at the Park to take advantage of their WiFi cloud.
This is a convenient facility because until 7:00 p.m. the lounge of the building is open to visitors. Air conditioned, with comfortable seating. Two of the Park employees stopped to chat while I was there. So I showed them the Claytor Lake State Park section of the website. They seemed pleased.
It was a treat to meet the two young Park employees. They told me more about the Park and about Claytor Lake than was available in the brochures. Quite a place! The staff here works very hard to keep it worthy of even more national awards. On the left see a plaque dedicated to the Father of the Park employee who talked with me about the Park, Mr. Sarver. He was responsible for reconstructing the Gazebo you see in the next photo.
The D section of the Park campground, the section with water and electrical hookups, remains full. As soon as one camping party leaves, another is waiting to pull in. I was lucky indeed to get a reservation.
After a light dinner tonight, more reading and writing, and the end of an excellent day around 8:30 p.m. The Great Northern Expedition 2008 is off to a good start.
Thursday July 17th
The last morning at Claytor Lake State Park. It's a tribute to the natural beauty of this area, and the hard work of the Park staff, that I'm reluctant to leave. Three days is not enough time to experience all that's available here for the attentive visitor. Claytor Lake alone would take weeks, if not months, to paddle in a kayak. Its quaintly named points and coves all have something worth seeing, and photographing. I was able to visit only one of them, "Spooky Hollow." There are many more. The Park includes several well marked, comfortable hiking trails that are equally interesting. And again, the maintenance crews work constantly to keep everything in the best possible condition.
Walking and driving through the Park for three days, I've yet to see a piece of paper or trash along the roadway! Looking for one almost became a challenge. That must require a lot of effort. And expense. Add to that a friendly and knowledgeable staff, all ready to help and to inform. No wonder this Park has won so many national awards for excellence. I'll reluctantly begin packing up around 9:30 this morning, hoping to be on the road between 10:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.
Well, plans to spend the rest of the morning in the Aliner working on the computer proved impossible to fulfill. The woods near the campsite looked so nice in the early-morning fog that they drew me out for a two-mile walk around the facilities. Good decision!
No sense to waste this natural scenery as nice as this. Here on the left is a shot of one of the many picnic areas in the Park. There are many more tables, fireplaces, and seating areas just over the rise behind the trees. Nearly all of the tables overlook the lake.
This viewing deck out over the water is just a short walk down from the main picnic area, along a paved path. All of this area is easily wheelchair accessible. Not just parking.
Then back up the hill you see on the left, to Site # D-10 to process a few of the photos for the Website. It looks to be a beautiful day as the sun comes up, burning away the fog. The drive to West Virginia and the Corps of Engineers' Bulltown Campground, should be pleasant.