Posts filed under ‘Virginia’

Family Hike: Huntley Meadows Park in Fairfax, Virginia

This past June, Sagan went on his first outing with a hiking buddy his own age. He was invited by young Adela (roughly six months his junior) to check out Fairfax County’s Huntley Meadows Park. Huntley Meadows encompasses 1425 acres, including some impressive freshwater wetlands. The trails are short, completely flat and well maintained. You aren’t going to get your heartrate up in Huntley Meadows, but if you are in the market for some wildlife, this is the place to go to.

Huntley Meadows Park - Sagan Meets Adela
Hiking Buddy Adela and Sagan

Trail Overview
We started at the Visitors Center and took the Cedar Trail to the observation tower to take in the wetlands. Afterwards, we took the boardwalk for a more intimate encounter with the wetlands. Finally, the Heron Trail took us on the last leg of the journey back. Overall, I think we walked between 1 and 1.5 miles.

Huntley Meadows Park - Sagan Smiles As He Passes
On Cedar Trail

Huntley Meadows Park - Sagan and Ryan Take in View
Taking in View From Observation Tower

Huntley Meadows Park - Walkway From Above
Wetlands from Observation Tower

On the tree front, I saw a variety of oaks, red maples, black gum and hickory. The wetlands sported swamp rose and some amazingly fragrant white flowers and lots and lots of grasses.

Huntley Meadows Park - Spikey Grass

The real highlight of the trip was all the animals that were commonplace in the park. Almost immediately, our companion found a small frog in the parking lot. From there, we would see and hear many more frogs. Turtles were everywhere as where geese and herons. We saw a red-winged blackbird. Although we didn’t get the see the beavers, their handiwork was readily visible.

Huntley Meadows Park - Little Frog
Frog in Parking Lot

Huntley Meadows Park - Frog in Water
Frog in Water

Huntley Meadows Park - Turtle Head
Turtle Pokes Head Out of Water

Huntley Meadows Park - Baby and Adult Canadian Geese

Huntley Meadows Park - Red Winged Black Bird
Red-Winged Blackbird

Huntley Meadows Park - Beaver Handiwork
Formidable Stick Pile

Thanks to the beautiful landscape and all the animal-sightings, our outing was a memorable one. But there was an additional characteristic to the trip that we could appreciate as new parents — it was short and fast! When we finished our loop, we still had plenty of time to tackle all the tasks that waited for us back home.

Thank you to Adela and her father for inviting us along!

More pictures of our outing to Huntley Meadows Park are available on my Flickr site.

Huntley Meadows Park

3701 Lockheed Blvd
Alexandria, Virginia

Trail Map

Length: Varies 1.5 – 2 miles

Elevation Gain: Neglible

Directions from Occoquan, Virginia

Take Route 1 North towards Ft. Belvoir/Mt Vernon for 11.4 miles

Turn left on Lockheed Blvd

Turn left on Harrison Lane

October 16, 2012 at 10:55 am 2 comments

36th Birthday Hike – Great Falls National Park

After we finished our hike on The Billy Goat Trail, Ryan and I had lunch at The Old Angler’s Inn. A word to the wise– the cheeseburger is a much better investment than the smoked salmon. The smoked salmon portion is not in parity with its price. But be sure the check out the mustard in the plastic yellow bottles. It’s not what ClintJCL would refer to “Mus-turd”, it’s actually a very yummy and high quality horseradish mustard!

After lunch, Ryan and I still had some daylight left and were well aware our commute home would put us on the Beltway right during Friday rush hour. Sitting in traffic didn’t sound especially appealing. We decided to explore the nearby Great Falls National Park instead. Even though I grew up in the DC area, I was completely unaware of this National Park. It’s gorgeous! We enjoyed the views of the falls. In addition, we got to hike the River Trail which skirted the Virginia side of the Potomac and gave us views of Mather Gorge and the Maryland-side. That meant we got to see the trail we hiked earlier in the day from a very different perspective. : )

Great Falls National Park - Water and Rocks at Falls
Great Falls – Water and Rocks

Great Falls National Park - Mather Gorge From Virginia Side
Mather Gorge From the Virginia Side (River Trail)

Great Falls National Park - Falls and Vicky (By Ryan Somma)
Me at Great Falls (Photo by Ryan Somma)

Great Falls National Park - Falls View (by Ryan Somma)
Falls View (Photo by Ryan Somma)

Great Falls National Park - Hikers on Billy Goat Rock Wall (By Ryan Somma)
Hikers on Maryland’s Billy Goat Trail From Virginia’s River Trail (Photo by Ryan Somma)

In my last post, I talked about being humbled by seeing how high the water can get. I didn’t even know the half of it! At Great Falls National Park in a plaza that is WELL ABOVE the falls, there is a sign that shows you the high level mark of past years. It’s just dumbfounding to look down the cliffs and think about the water still coming up above your head. That’s a lot of water!

Great Falls National Park - Vicky with High Water Mark Sign (By Ryan Somma)
Me and the High Watermark Sign (Photo by Ryan Somma)

More pictures of our visit to Great Falls National Park can be found on my Flickr site.

Great Falls National Park

National Park Website

May 12, 2011 at 1:00 am 2 comments

National D-Day Memorial

On Sunday, Ryan and I stopped by the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. Bedford is a small town near the Blue Ridge Parkway and doesn’t seem like the most likely candidate for a national memorial. The planners, however, paid attention to every single detail. The memorial’s location is no coincidence.

On the morning of June 6, 1944, 30 men from Bedford landed on Omaha Beach. By the end of the day 19 were dead. Bedford is a small town now and it was a small town then. With a wartime population of 3200, Bedford suffered the highest per capita loss that day.

You couldn’t ask for a more gorgeous spot than Bedford– perched at the top of a hill, the memorial has great views of the mountains, including the Peaks of Otter.

National D-Day Memorial - Overlord Arch and Peaks of Otter
Peaks of Otter Between the Overlord Arch

I think this is the most well-thought out structure I have ever visited. Every detail was chosen for a reason. A plaza separated into five parts represented the five landing beaches. A peaceful garden was actually in the form of the SHAEF seal. Hidden above a statue of Eisenhower was a replica of the map they used for planning. Marble in the form of Higgins Boats. Bathrooms that looked like pillboxes. A fountain reminiscent of the scattered gun fire at the beaches. Even the aesthetics of the Overlord Arch were selected to match the stripes the Allies had on their planes.

National D-Day Memorial - Plaza and Plane
View of the Plaza– Separated in Fve sections for the Five Beach Heads

National D-Day Memorial - Valor, Fidelity and Sacrifice by Overlord Arch
Valor, Fidelity and Sacrifice

National D-Day Memorial - Beach Head, Higgins Boat From Front
Beach Landing Fountain – Complete with Sporadic Water Sprays Reminiscent of Gun Fire

National D-Day Memorial - Higgins Boat and Soldier
Marble Higgins Boat

National D-Day Memorial - SHAEF Gardens from Sword Tip
SHAEF Garden – That’s Part of the Sword from the SEAL

National D-Day Memorial - Eisenhower and Tedder
Eisenhower and Tedder

National D-Day Memorial -Eisenhower with Map
Hidden Above Eisenhower – An Invasion Planning Map

National D-Day Memorial - Overlord Arch Inspiration (Portrait)
Inspiration for the Overlord Arch

Like I said, the planners of the memorial thought of everything, including traveling pet owners! Pets aren’t allowed on the monument, but the National D-Day Memorial has a shaded area with crates and water bowls for your pets to wait. That allowed Jimmie and Henry to sit back and get attention from the gift shop staff, while Ryan and I took in the sights.

National D-Day Memorial - Jimmie and Henry in Shade (Far)
Jimmie and Henry Wait in the Shade

More pictures of the National D-Day Memorial can be found on my Flickr site.

June 30, 2010 at 8:22 am 2 comments

Buffalo Mountain Natural Area Preserve…via Facebook!

After the first annual Qualtrax’s User Conference in 2005, I went hiking with a couple of the Qualtrax customers. We went up to Mountain Lake on Salt Pond Mountain which we found snow covered in October!

This year I had hoped to attend the conference and do more hiking with all the friends I had met when I worked at Qualtrax. Unfortunately, the timing didn’t work out. It was the same week as our local Relay for Life which and I had a number of obligations to attend to.

Luckily, one of the Qualtrax customers, Robyn Ruth, had me covered. Not only did she upload pictures of the hike to Facebook… she uploaded a video of the summit made especially for me. How do I know this? The video opens with “So…Vicky, I’m making this for you.” 🙂

Video of Buffalo Mountain Summit (courtesy of Robyn Ruth)

She and two of the Qualtrax employees hiked Floyd County, Virginia’s Buffalo Mountain. They kept their eyes open for the giant mealybug species (Puto kosztarabi) that is indigenous only to Buffalo Mountain. They didn’t have any spottings of that but thanks to the rainy weather, they saw plenty of red efts!

Buffalo Mountain - Red Eft (By Robyn Ruth)
Red Eft (Photo Courtesy of Robyn Ruth)

As far as I know, this is the first video uploaded to YouTube with me specifically in mind (Jeremy Turner did upload a rendition of Round Here, but he said it was for his “old, old friends“).

It pleases me that like five years ago, a hike accompanied the Qualtrax User’s Conference.  And it pleases me even more to know that when they got to the top, Robyn Ruth thought to include me on the adventure. 🙂

June 11, 2010 at 1:46 pm Leave a comment

Swan in a Swamp

When I think of swans, I think of them in posh ponds surrounded by manicured lawns, ornate fountains and brightly colored perennials.

Last Saturday, Ryan, the dogs and I were hiking on the White Oak Trail in Newport News Park and I discovered swans are not the snobby waterfowl I thought they were. At “Swamp View Point”, we saw this:

Newport News Park - Swan in a Swamp
Behold… a swan in a swamp

Newport News Park - Swan in a Swamp (Cropped)
Cropped, closer view

The best part about this sighting is I get to indulge my love for alliteration. Swamp Swans Swim in Swamps!

I need to try to work “Swamp Swan” in next time I play Scattergories. : )

February 23, 2010 at 11:58 am 2 comments

Counting on Cellphones

You can read time and time again about how when you are hiking, you shouldn’t count on your cell phone working. A couple of weekends ago, I had a benign reminder of that fact while hiking in the Northwest River Park in Chesapeake, Virginia. After a few miles, I wanted to refer to the trail map which I did not have on me. But I did have the Blackberry! Although I had connectivity was able to get to and download the full trail map PDF, I was presented with a problem.

Northwest River Park - No Help From Blackberry
The Trail Map on the Blackberry

I had no means to zoom in! I found this mini trail map to be thoroughly useless. Good thing I didn’t really need it. : )

But don’t ditch your phone just yet. Even if you can’t bank on your cell phone fulfilling its intended function, you could assign it a tertiary duty. Backpacker Magazine has a video showing how you can use the battery and a Brillo pad to start a fire (Hat Tip, The Smoky Mountain Hiking Blog).

How cool is that?

July 7, 2009 at 12:50 am 2 comments

Introducing….The Virginia Appalachian Trail License Plate!

Look what my good friend and boss, Larry, received in the mail yesterday!

Virginia AT License Plate (by Larry)
Larry’s New License Plate (Photo by Larry Bowman)

Eighteen months after I first posted about the efforts to get a Virginia Appalachian Trail License plate, we have it! And it’s beautiful!!!!

Live in Virginia and want to support the Appalachian Trail Conservancy while having a nice plate of your own? Visit your local DMV!

May 13, 2009 at 1:21 pm 6 comments

Bear Cliffs via Spring Trail

In December I was in Blacksburg, Virginia so I took the opportunity to explore a new overlook.  I went to Bear Cliffs on Salt Pond Mountain which features a view of the Virginia Tech campus.  

There are a couple of routes you can take to Bear Cliffs.  You can go up the Bald Knob Road (which Tony and I took up to Bald Knob in November) about 0.5 miles and turn left on Bear Cliffs Trail and take a 1.9 rocky miles to the overlook.  Alternatively, you can do what Jimmie and I did– we hiked from the Biological Station off of VA-613 up the Spring Trail about 1 mile to the overlook.

Getting There

It took some research to find the Spring Trail.  From Blacksburg, Virginia, you head west of 460 and turn right on VA-700 to head up to Mountain Lake.  Once at the lake, you bear left on VA-613.  When you get to the fork in VA-613, instead of heading left like you would if you were going to War Spur or Wind Rocks, head right to the Biological Station.

 Bear Cliffs - Sign on 612
Turn right at this fork

As soon as you reach the Biological Station, a burgundy sign is on the left side of the road and a gated fire road is on the right. You can walk up that gated road.

 Bear Cliffs - Parking
This fireroad leads to Bear Cliffs

Trail Markings

Shortly after the fireroad, you’ll start to see small posts on the side of the trail.  If you look closely, you’ll see evidence that you are on the right track.

 Bear Cliffs - Spring Station Sign
A small sign points the way to the spring

Before long, you reach the namesake of the trail, a spring.

Bear Cliffs - Rhodos and Equipment Near Spring
Part of the spring

After the spring, a yellow blazed trail takes you the rest of the way to Bear Cliffs.  it is a heavily blazed trail.  No worries about getting lost here!

Bear Cliffs - Lots of Blazes
At least six blazes in one shot.  The entire trail is as heavily blazed.


At an elevation of 4000 feet, Bear Cliffs has extensive views southeast, including Blacksburg, Virginia.  The rocks at the cliffs are filled with caves and crevices.

Bear Cliffs - Summit Sign
Top of Bear Cliffs

Bear Cliffs - View (Portrait)
View from Top

Bear Cliffs - Lane Stadium (Cropped)
Lane Stadium from Bear Cliffs

Bear Cliffs - Crevice
Crevice in Rocks

Little Things

The views were grand, but it was the little things that really made this hike– the ferns and the lichen, leaves in the ice, the contrast of snow and rocks.  There was plenty to see.

Bear Cliffs - Lichen and Fern Frond
Ferns and Lichen on Rocks at Top

Bear Cliffs - Leaf Imprint in Ice
Leafs and imprints in ice

Bear Cliffs - Jimmie on Snowy Trail
Jimmie on Snowy Trail

Bear Cliffs - Four Seasons, One Log
Four seasons– one shot.  Dried Leaves for Autum, Snow for Winter, Green Moss for Spring and Charred Wood for Summer Forest Fires.

All in all, it was a great outing.  As usual, more pictures of Bear Cliffs are available on my Flickr site.

Bear Cliffs Via Spring Trail 

Trail Map 

Length: 2 miles roundtrip

Elevation Gain: ~160 Feet

Directions From Blacksburg Virginia

1) Take 460 West

2) Turn right on VA-700 and take about 7 miles to the top of Mountain Lake

3) Bear left on VA-613

4) At the fork, take a right to the Biological Station

February 5, 2009 at 8:00 am 3 comments

iNaturalist: East Coast vs. West Coast

Move over, hip hop. Make room for the naturalists!

I’ve started my own silent war against the west coast on!

iNaturalist is a relatively new site, but absolutely captivating. It allows people to log their observations and sightings of all of our planet’s diverse species. It’s like WineLog… only you are getting drunk on nature! iNaturalist is also cooler than WineLog because it links into Flickr so you can easily reference Creative Commons photos of the species you’re logging as well as embed your own images into your observation.

When I joined the site yesterday, the map on the front page was fixated on California. Sifting through the lists of observations, it does appear a vast majority are in California, which makes sense as the founders are from California.

So I went ahead and entered some of my spottings. With a few well-timed chestnut-related entries today, the tide has changed! Now when you look at the map on the homepage, it is dominated by Virginia!

Virginia Representin'
Virginia Dominates iNaturalist… at least at 9:00 PM EST on Tuesday, January 20th it did

Ha, ha! Take that, California!!!

The possibilities of this site are amazing. I believe I’m going to use it to document all my American Chestnut and Paw Paw encounters… or tree tumors I’d like to revisit in a few years. Just as researchers are currently using Thoreau’s journals to compare bloom dates of spring flowers or old photographs from family albums to see when trees leaf, all the information aggregated in this site by ordinary folk with seemingly ordinary fauna and flora may one day prove to be a valuable resource.

Chronobiologist Bora Zivkovic discusses the research potential of the database in his post, “iNaturalist Rocks!

But, imagine a couple of years from now, with millions of people pinning millions of sightings, providing additional information and then having the community agree on the ID? How about ecologists putting in all their field survey data (at least after publication if not before)? How about everyone who participates in the Christmas bird hunt? What an incredible database that will be! Something that one can search with machines, build and test models, and use the results to test ideas about, for instance, effects of weather events (hurricanes, fires, floods, El Nino, etc.) or broader weather changes (e.g., Global Warming).

There is one more potential I find inspiring. The ability to take over the home page map! Tomorrow I’ll diligently check the site again and if need be, I have a number of observations ready to bring the map back over to the East Coast. Muahaha.

More telling– After my flurry of trips this fall, I was very much coveting some down time. Now suddenly, I feel the urge to travel once more. I want to go out and concentrate a number of sightings in one place so instead of focusing the map on a state, I can target a town.

Can you imagine loading up iNaturalist one day and being greeted by Crapo, Maryland? Or Yeehaw Junction, Florida? There is always good ole Intercourse, Pennsylvania. Oooh maybe I want to hit Newfoundland and see what kind of fauna like Dildo.

With iNaturalist, the sky’s the limit!

January 21, 2009 at 8:00 am 9 comments

The Garden of Lights and the Power of Subject Matter

Today Ryan Somma and I drove up to Norfolk, Virginia and had a day full of ideals and sentiment and Christmas spirit. We started off visiting the American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell exhibit at the Chrysler Musuem. Next we caught a showing of “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the Naro Cinema (I had actually never seen that film before!). We had supper and then the grand finale– Driving through the “Garden of Lights” at the Norfolk Botanical Garden.

I’m on a Christmas Light streak! In 2006, I toured lights in Wichita, Kansas. In 2007, I got to see Ritzy’s Fantasy of Lights in Evansville, Indiana. There were some surprising similarities, particularly the Christmas Dragon.

So for 2008 in Norfolk, Virginia, I expected to see more of the same and it appeared that way as we inched by familiar looking lollipops, snowflakes and candycanes waiting to enter the park.

Candycanes, Lollypops and Gingerbread Men

But once we paid our entrance fee, there was a definite theme to the lights:


I had figured the “Garden” in “Garden of Lights” was simply a reference to the locale. But it truly was a Garden of Lights! They had trees, apples, spiderwebs, caterpillars, pumpkins, daisies, butterflies, tulips, roses, fall leaves, mushrooms. They even had a waterfall and a nice little lighted river.

A Netherlands section? Tulips and Windmills!

Nature: Flower, Caterpillar, Mushroom, Butterfly, Flower


Pumpkins and behind it– a very giant spiderweb

A Waterfall and a Creek Comprised of Lights (plus some corn)

The summer of 1988, my father and I played in a Regional Bridge Tournament up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. While we competed, my mother and my two siblings went site-seeing. One day they went to this awesome wax musuem. Both my brother and my sister raved about how cool it was and all the historic characters depicted in the museum. They got to see that and I was stuck looking at the same set of 52 cards for 8 hours. I was soooooo jealous. (Note: During my bridge career I also found myself jealous of the caddies who got to sit around and shoot rubberbands at each other all day, so it really didn’t take all that much to spark my envy).

I probably pestered my partner (a.k.a Dad) relentlessly about poor me and how deprived I was because I missed out on the wax museum. I say this because at the very next bridge tournament, my father promptly found a wax museum and took me to it. So just like the Baby Cry and Dry incident in the early eighties when Santa forget what I wanted, my Daddy was the hero, right?

Well….this tournament was in Nashville, Tennessee and instead of familiar founding fathers, Dad and I got to look at likenesses of Country Music stars. Country Music, a genre I would not really be exposed to for 20 more years when I developed a fondness for Taylor Swift. So the only person I recognized in the entire museum was…Dolly Parton. Looking at wax strangers wasn’t all that fun.

I was thirteen years old at the time and my conclusion from that experience was:

Subject matter makes a difference in wax museums.

Tonight I am two decades wiser and I have a corollary. I believe subject matter makes a difference in Christmas lights as well. Don’t get me wrong– I definitely enjoyed the lights in Wichita and Evansville.

But I really, really, really, enjoyed the lights in Norfolk.

And more picture of those lights can be found on my Flickr site.

December 21, 2008 at 12:40 am 3 comments

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