Archive for September, 2008

Take a Child Outside Week – Falls Ridge

Today is September 30th, making it my last chance to take an actual child (Larry doesn’t count) outdoors to celebrate Take a Child Outside Week. So this afternoon, my friend Mandy and I took her two children over to the Nature Conservancy‘s Falls Ridge Preserve for a quick hike.

As I mentioned before, Falls Ridge is a little off the beaten path, making its beauty all the more special. Our quick trip today didn’t disappoint! In just about an hour, the children got to see trees just starting to turn, a deer hop across the field, a waterfall, a creek, an old furnace, some caves, a weimaraner, and a surprisingly celebrated snail.

Gwen and Xavier walk in a field

The leaves are a-turning!

Gwen and Xavier on the bridge above the falls

Xavier holds up a snail

Once we left the preserve, the great views were not over. A brief rain provided us a very lovely rainbow over beautiful Ellett Valley!

Rainbow over the Blacksburg Country Club

We had a great trip and I very much enjoyed catching up with my friend Mandy at the same time! More pictures of our outing to Falls Ridge can be found on my Flickr site.

September 30, 2008 at 10:33 pm 9 comments


Just a quick note– this blog passed 300,000 last Friday (September 26th).  I don’t remember exactly how long ago it passed 250,000.  It was somewhere in the vicinity of Father’s Day.

Anyway, I wish I had something more substantial to add, but I’m pretty tired and I really just wanted to get a timestamp of the milestone recorded.

Oh, but I am not too tired to say:

Thanks, everyone!  Thank you for the views! 🙂

September 29, 2008 at 1:36 am 5 comments

Off the Beaten Paths: Hikes for T.A.C.O. Week

Christina recently challenged her blog readers to come up with a list of sites in their town that are off the beaten path.  Meanwhile, September 24th – September 30th is Take a Child Outside Week (HT Ryan Somma).  Being in beautiful southwest Virginia, there is no shortage of great places outside to take a child.  The Huckleberry Trail, the Caboose Park, Pandapas Pond and the Virginia Tech Duck Pond are all very popular.  BUT– I can also recommend some outings that are a little less crowded, a little closer to nature, and still child friendly.

So here are Five Off the Beaten Path Places to Take a Child Outside.  To help illustrate the outings, there are pictures of one of my favorite hiking partners, little Penn.

Falls Ridge Preserve
In 2005 when the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club took a group hike over to Falls Ridge Preserve, some of members never even knew the preserve existed.  This is particularly surprising because this hike has a lot to offer.  There is a giant grassy field to run around in.  There is a waterfall!  There are the remains of an old furnace!  There are CAVES!  And…. you can see it all with almost no elevation gain (There is a hill to go up to the top of the falls, but you don’t have to do that if you don’t wanna).

Penn at Falls Ridge, 2 years of age

Falls Ridge Preserve

Length: You can make it as long or as short as you want

Elevation Gain: Flat, except for a hill to the top of the falls.

Driving and Parking: The final approach to the preserve is a flat gravel road.  There is plenty of parking.

Directions from Blacksburg, VA
From Main Street, turn on Ellett Road.
Turn left on Jennelle Road and cross over railroad tracks
Turn right on Den Hill Road
Turn left on Northfork
Turn right on Falls Ridge Rd.
Turn left immediately after the railroad tracks and follow the gravel road to the preserve.

Barney’s Wall
As for off the beaten path, a hiker from Blue Ridge Country described Barney’s Wall as “the region’s best-kept-secret stunning views“.  It is indeed stunning and very often secluded.  And here’s the kicker– it is a very easy hike! 

Penn at Barney’s Wall, 4 years of age

For an added treat, I suggest packing in milk and cookies

P.S. If you are your child are still thirsting for more scenery, keep driving down VA-714 to the Butt Mountain Overlook and the old fire tower.

Barney’s Wall

Length: ~1.5 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: Small downhill there, small uphill back.

Parent Stress Level: I did find this hike the most stressful of all my outings with Penn because of the sharp dropoff at the overlook.  Keep children under close supervision.

Driving and Parking: To get to the trailhead, you do have to travel on gravel/dirt VA-714.  The road’s maintenance level does vary.  I would recommend 4WD.

Directions from Blacksburg, VA
Take 460 West
Turn right on Doe Creek Road
Turn left on Paces Gap Road/Little Meadow which will become gravel
Travel roughly 5.5 miles and look for “Nature Conservancy Trail” on the left.

Keffer Oak
Keffer Oak is one of the largest blazed trees on the 2175 mile Appalachian Trail and it isn’t that far from Blacksburg.  You know the tree is impressive when it makes it in a book called Remarkable Trees of Virginia.  Estimated at over 300 years old, the Keffer Oak is 18 feet in circumference.  To a small child, it seems even bigger!  From the VA-630 trailhead, it is only 0.6 miles to tree.  There is a hill, but an easy one.  If the tree is not enough, next to the tree is a stile, which Penn loved to climb.  It was like a mini jungle gym in the middle of the woods!

Penn at Keffer Oak, 4 years of age

On the drive to the tree, be sure to take a detour on VA-601 to see the historic covered bridge!

Appalachian Trail – Keffer Oak

Length: 1.2 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: There is a brief hill near the beginning of the trail, but nothing too scary.

Driving and Parking: The roads are all paved and there is a small gravel parking lot at the VA-630 trailhead.

Directions from Blacksburg, VA
Take 460 West
Turn right on VA-42
Bear right to stay on VA-42
Turn right on VA-629
Turn right on VA-630
The trailhead will be on your left shortly after passing over a bridge

Wind Rocks
Wind Rocks is another contender for your child’s first Appalachian Trail hike!  From the parking lot, there is not even a half mile walk to the overlook.  Of course you have to drive to the trailhead, but along the way, you can stop at Mountain Lake to explore the dry lake bed or marvel at the life size chess and checkers set.  Your child will also get exposed to Civil War history, when you pass by “Mini-Ball Hill” where soldiers, weary from climbing the steep mountains, abandoned their ammunition to lighten their load.
Penn and Uncle Ted at Wind Rocks, 1 Year of age

Appalachian Trail – Wind Rocks

Length: ~1 mile round trip

Elevation Gain: There is a uphill there, but not too bad.

Driving and Parking: The trailhead is off of gravel VA-613.  For the most part the road is flat and well maintained.  There are some sections with some water damage.  However, 4WD may not be a requirement.  I once saw a Mini Cooper make the trip!

Directions from Blacksburg, VA
Take 460 West
Turn right on VA-700 and drive 7 miles to Mountain Lake
Once at the resort, turn left on VA-613.
Pass by the turn off the to Biological Station
Pass by the trailhead for the War Spur Trail
Pass the Mini-Ball Hill sign on your left.
The AT Trailhead will eventually be on your right and a large dirt parking area will be on the left.

Gatewood Lake
In this area, you hear a lot about Smith Mountain Lake and you hear a lot about Claytor Lake.  But have you ever heard of Gatewood Lake in Pulaski?  Unlike the other two lakes, Gatewood Lake does not permit gas motors.  The result?  A very peaceful and quiet lake experience where you can really concentrate on nature.  There are number of easy hiking trails that run along the lake and if you yearn to be even closer to the water, they rent kid-friendly paddle boats! 

Penn at Gatewood Lake, 5 years of age.

Gatewood Resevoir

Length: Can be as long or as short as you like.

Elevation Gain:  Flat!

Driving and Parking: All roads and lots are paved

Directions from Blacksburg, VA
Take 460 East to I-81 South
Get off Exit 94
Take VA-99 into downtown Pulaski
Follow signs to “Gatewood Resevoir”

September 29, 2008 at 1:20 am 5 comments

links for 2008-09-24

  • This past weekend, a father and son were exploring the dry lake bed looking for old soda cans and bottles when they uncovered something else– a human skeleton. Investigators are working to identify the remains.

September 24, 2008 at 3:02 am 1 comment

Hearts in Nature: Cacti

In another “Hooray for Creative Commons” moment, I get to present two more Hearts in Nature! The first one is from the Galapagos Islands and the second is from Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Arizona:

Love Cactus (Photo by mtchm)

heart-shaped cactus section (Photo by Martin LaBar)

Oh and as a side note– if you are thinking you are going to be clever with the line “Love Hurts”, you’ll want to go back to the drawing board. That line already appears in the comment feed of BOTH pictures!

Hat Tip: Ryan Somma

September 23, 2008 at 7:28 pm 1 comment

RIP Courtney

I received word from my mother last weekend that one of our former family goats, Courtney, passed away.

Courtney the Goat (Photo from ClintJCL)

And you read that right– our family used to have goats. Circa 1995ish, we got two small goats to help eat all the poison ivy and brush in our yard. We had a male and a female. Originally my siblings and I pitched the names “Mickey” and “Mallory”, but once my mother realized the inspiration was Natural Born Killers, that idea got vetoed.

So we named them “Kurt” and “Courtney” instead– after Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love.

Like her namesake, I found Courtney the Goat to be very loud-mouthed, particularly that very first summer when she was young. I remember times I would be sleeping inside and awake to her crying at the top of her lungs. We would tie the goats up at different sections of the yard each day, so I thought maybe her leash was tangled. I would run out and discover that she was not tangled at all. She was complaining because she wanted to eat something that was just outside the scope of her range.

Meanwhile, I would look over and see that Kurt WAS tangled. He couldn’t even take a step in ANY direction. And yet he was quiet and as happy as he could be munching on the vegetation he could reach.

Courtney is also the reason I ended up getting poison ivy ON MY FACE. She liked to climb things and one day she climbed my Dad’s woodpile…and fell off into the vegetation behind it. So once again I woke up to her crying. I ran outside and found her stuck in all this brush behind the woodpile. I got on my hands and knees and crawled through a thicket of plants to retrieve her and bring her back to the fence (where she was free to find something else to complain about). I did not realize it at the time– But some of those leaves I was crawling through were poison ivy. Yeah, that was fun.

(It could be worse, I know at least two people who managed to get poison ivy on more private areas!)

I think my mother said she saw Courtney one day on the top of old tires looking down at the town at Occoquan and screaming– for no apparent reason. Sometimes, I think, she just liked to be heard.

And I can still remember the horror I felt standing on the Supreme Court steps at 3 AM with the goats and watching them both release their bowels RIGHT as a security guard approached. And goat poop! It’s crazy– the tiny, tiny, little black balls scattered with remarkable distance and contrast across the white marble steps. I scrambled and tried to gather up all the poop onto a single sheet of paper. I failed. Those stupid little balls kept rolling away! Luckily the security guard could care less about the poop. He just wanted to make sure the goats had a good home and weren’t crammed into an apartment in D.C.

Despite all her complaining (and pooping), I was fond of Courtney the Goat. She did put up with a lot from Kurt and she was so cute with her slender, dainty, physique. I liked watching her and Kurt buck up on their hind legs and head butt each other. I liked seeing what they would eat and they wouldn’t eat (Tostidos and cigarette butts were on the “Will Eat” list). And I loved watching her “talk” to my Mom– she would bleat when my mother called her name.

I think Courtney ended up with a very full life– first with my family in Occoquan and then later at the farm they moved to when my parents got a townhouse. And how many mammals out there get to say they pooped on the Supreme Court steps with no repercussions?

One of Courtney’s Accomplishments (Photo by Christopher Chan)

I’m glad for part of her full life, I got to be around. I’ll remember it as a time of wonderment and learning– getting to know the goats and watching all their antics. They are definitely interesting animals!

P.S. I would have better Courtney pictures for this post, but all my photo albums are 250 miles away!

P.S.S. These memories are how I remember them. If any of the details are incorrect, I’m sure my mother will correct me in the comment feed. 🙂

September 22, 2008 at 10:52 pm 7 comments

links for 2008-09-22

September 22, 2008 at 10:03 pm Leave a comment

Remarkable Trees of Virginia

Remember the Remarkable Trees of Virginia project? The organizers of the project have traveled all across the state, logging thousands of miles, to visit and photograph notable trees. They considered over a thousand nominations as well as talked to arborists, naturalists, historians and layman, like myself, who just have a fancy for trees.

Now, all of their work is compiled into a beautiful coffee-table book!

It’s at available at Amazon, you can buy it directly from the University of Virginia Press, or if you are impatient like me, you can drive over to the Christiansburg Barnes and Noble and get a copy there.

When you do get your copy, turn to Page 78. The Appalachian Trail’s beautiful Keffer Oak made the cut! It appears in the “Community Trees” chapter:

When most of us think of community trees, we think of trees beloved by towns or cities whose residents value and protect them, but there are trees valued by communities defined more by shared experience than by home address.

[Keffer oak] is mentioned in trail guides, backpacking journals, and hiker’s blogs, and pictures of it pop up on the Internet with a frequency that would put many a beloved urban tree to shame.”

– Nancy Hugo Ross, Remarkable Trees of Virginia

Like all the other trees in the book, a photograph by Robert Llewellyn compliments the page. The shot catches a hiker and a dog walking by the tree.

That hiker is ME! That dog is HENRY! We were photographed there last October.

Henry and I are famous! And maybe, quite possibly, my underwear. 🙂 In the shot, my shirt has risen up in the back, exposing just a little bit of my midriff. Now I can’t tell for sure– but I do believe I spy a color change in the fabric around on my hips. I am also very familiar with the shorts that I’m wearing and well aware they tend to hang low. It is definitely feasible!

So there you go! This book can meet many different needs. If you want to read about and see some amazing trees, look at a beagle, see more pictures of me (afterall there are only 255 on my Flickr account) or if you are a mystery lover, you can get out your image enhancing software and decide if that is in fact my underwear!

Whatever your reason, I encourage all to buy this book!

It’s absolutely stunning!

(The book, not my underwear)

September 18, 2008 at 4:25 pm 17 comments


I’ve seen cicadas and I’ve seen tons of discarded cicada shells, so it goes to figure that at some point cicadas are emerging out of those shells. But I’ve never actually gotten seen that process until Mount Vernon last month.

Coming out of his shell!

September 18, 2008 at 8:00 am 5 comments

New Flickr Group!

Last week I posted a picture of Stench using my suitcase as a bed.  Within an hour of each other, two of my friends posted pictures of their orange cats doing the same thing.

The original image — Stench in suitcase

Oranjello in briefcase (Photo by ClintJCL)

Toonces in suitcase (Photo by chriggy1)

I joked about how we could make a Flickr group… and then suddenly I get an invite to add my picture to the brand spanking new “Cats(and dogs) in Suitcases” pool.  🙂

The description for the new group reads, “Actually, I don’t really care whether it’s a cat or a dog or any other animal. As long as it’s an animal in a suitcase it belongs here.” 

SOOoooo Flickr users, if you have a picture of an animal in a suitcase, be sure to add it to the pool!

September 17, 2008 at 8:00 am 7 comments

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