Tamara's Journeys

Journeys as great as the destinations.

Southwest Virginia

November 11th, 2013

Last September I made my annual 12 hour drive to Fries, Virginia’s remote mountain cabin. I made it to the cabin, sans phone service, by 9:30pm. I drove directly to the BP station at the top of the hill, and they’d gotten rid of the pay phone since my last visit. Thankfully an employee allowed me to use her phone in order to let Glen know I made it safely.

Being able to get away to spend time in nature is important me spiritually. I appreciate the level of quiet, and to follow the sounds of leaves rustling in the wind coming down the valley, or the brook babbling as it passes over the river rocks. It’s a special feeling to be away from the world, yet closer than Him. This is time to really commit myself to study the Gospel I lay in bed at the cabin trying to decipher a pounding sound, and after a little while, realized it was my heart beat! It’s also so dark at night that it hurts the eyes seeking to focus on something when they can’t see your hand in front of your nose.

Let me share with you the art of waking in the deep woods. First: open your eyes. If you can’t see your hand in front of your nose, close them again. Second: Once you can see something exhale. If you can’t see your breath, stay in bed. LOL!

Eventually, I got out of bed, and after having my hot chocolate I opened the front door to see a pair of deer looking back at me. They had such a funny look, as if they were saying “It’s about time you got up, we’ve been standing here waiting to welcome you for a good hour.” LOL They weren’t in a rush to run off and just enjoyed the morning dew covered grass while I enjoyed my hot chocolate.

I chose to walk the 1/3 mile through the woods to the New River and hang a left towards Fries Junction Bridge. The river was rushing over the shoals, and Canadian geese were flying down river honking all the way. Some mornings I would wake to wild turkeys in the yard. They took off once I open the door. Imagine the wing power, and sound created, to lift 15-20lbs of turkey into the air and into the trees! It was impressive. Marvelous are His works!!

I hike many miles along Virginia’s New River Trail. At 36-miles long, it’s one of America’s premier rail-to-trails along the oldest river in the United States. The New River Trail is very popular with hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders. If you hiked it in its entirety, you could expect to see cavernous tunnels, steep dams, the historical Shot Tower and trestle bridges, including the impressive 950-foot Hiawassee trestle. I’m in my glory hiking this trail.

Overlooking the New River is the historic Shot Tower which was built more than 150 years ago to make ammunition for the firearms for the early settlers. Lead from the nearby Austinville Mines was melted in a kettle atop the 75-foot tower and poured through a sieve, falling through the tower and an additional 75-foot shaft beneath the tower into a kettle of water. For a small fee, guests may ascend the tower. But this time I’ve usually done enough walking!

I also enjoy driving to Mabry Mill. Located on the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s been photographed and painted many times, and you can see why by the photos. Mabry Mill was originally built in 1910, and the historic water-powered grist mill, sawmill and nearby blacksmith shop provide a good view of pioneer life along the Parkway. Self-guided tours include a sorghum mill, soap making kettle, and an “old time” whiskey still being demonstrated by costumed volunteers.

I came across Mabry Mill by sheer luck on my first visit. I was out driving in search of cell phone service and found it at the mill. Today, as I did the first time, I enjoyed a great day of hiking and visiting the Mill before enjoying a delicious buckwheat cake breakfast at the Mabry Mill Restaurant.

You might be interested in some other places I’ve gone to on previous trips to southwest Virginia that I find interesting.

Virginia City Gem Mine was atop Walker Mountain near Wytheville. Treasure hunters young and old could spend time sifting through the mining past of this 1880s-style frontier town by panning for precious gems. There was sluice mining, picnicking, gift shopping, and exploring the history of gems were all part of the attraction. Sadly, this historic attraction was a victim of the economy and has been foreclosed. The scenery was beautiful and well worth the drive. I had a blast getting to sift through the sand to find minerals, gems and fossils, from a bucket I brought at the store.

Fairy Stone State Park, the largest of Virginia’s six original state parks, is home to “fairy stones.” These rare mineral crosses and the park’s scenic beauty, rich history and ample recreational opportunities make it a regional favorite. The 4,639 acres that make up the park were donated by the owner of the Roanoke Times newspaper in 1933. The Civilian Conservation Corps originally built the park and its lake and many structures that are still in use today.

The Legend of the Fairy Stone: Many hundreds of years before Chief Powhatan’s reign, fairies were dancing around a spring of water, playing with naiads and wood nymphs, when an elfin messenger arrived from a city far away. He brought news of the death of Christ. When these creatures of the forest heard the story of the crucifixion, they wept. As their tears fell upon the earth, they crystallized to form beautiful crosses.

For years people held superstitions beliefs about these little crosses, firmly believing that they protected the wearer against witchcraft, sickness, accidents and disaster. Fairy stones are staurolite, a combination of silica, iron and aluminum. Staurolite crystallizes at 60 or 90 degree angles, hence the stone’s cross-like structure. Found only in rocks once subjected to great heat and pressure, the mineral was formed long, long ago, during the rise of the Appalachian Mountains. I purchased a couple as gifts when I was there.

At Wolf Creek Indian Village & Museum, in Bastian, VA, I experienced a re-created Village based on an actual archeological site. The village has been carbon dated to be nearly 800 years old, or around the year 1215 A.D. The site was very carefully excavated, mapped, and documented. It’s been recreated so visitors can experience the actual layout of the wigwams and palisade. Knowledgeable interpretive guides lead me through a hands-on exploration of the early living skills and skills that the Indians still use today. Museum displays include artifacts from the site and other artifacts and replicas from not only Southwest Virginia, but also all of North America. There’s a museum Store, picnic areas, picnic shelter, and nature trails. It didn’t take much time to see, but it was interesting how they excavated and the guides were very good at answering questions and demonstrating the skills.

And for my fellow Civil War affectionados, I visited the tranquil and beautiful place known as Laurel Hill. Birthplace of Civil War General J.E.B. Stuart, one of the most celebrated heroes of the Civil War, is nestled beneath the Blue Ridge Mountains in Ararat, NC. General Stuart once wrote in a letter to his brother in 1863 “I would give anything to make a pilgrimage to the old place, and when the war is over quietly spend the rest of my days there.” Tragically, on May 12th, 1864 his dream of returning to Laurel Hill ended with his death as a result of the wound he received during the engagement at Yellow Tavern the previous day.

In celebration of the life of General Stuart, the Trust sponsors a Civil War re-enactment each year on the first full weekend in the month of October. I haven’t been there for it, but I’ve heard it’s very well received.

I try to visit the Big Walker Lookout whenever I’m in the area. At an elevation of 3,405 feet, Big Walker Lookout affords one of the most spectacular views of the Appalachian Mountains. Looking out over the patterned farms of Virginia in one direction and the untouched wilderness in another, it’s hard to believe that the views are real. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s an 100′ observation tower. On a clear day, you’ll even be able to see five states, and I have, but today was too foggy to see 5 states today so I headed for downtown.

The Edith Bolling Wison Birthplace opened since my previous visits into Wytheville and I was interested in visiting. She was #7 of 11 children. Both grandparents lived with them and 26 canaries and several dogs. Can you imagine the noise?! She is a direct decendant of Pocahontas and Martha Washington. All 11 children went to college. She was married to a jeweler in DC and after her husband died, she bought herself the first electris car in DC and drove herself to work. Even after marrying, and becoming first lady, she kept the store.

When President Wilson took an immediate liking to the intelligent, charming, and pretty widow (and a descendant of Pocahontas) Edith upon their meeting. He proposed to her saying, “in this place time is not measured by weeks, or months, or years, but by deep human experiences …” They were married on December 18, 1915, at her home in Washington, DC, only nine months after their first meeting.

She became the first First Lady to travel to Europe during her incumbency. She accompanied the President on two separate occasions to visit troops and sign the Treaty of Versailles. Her presence among the queens and other women royalty of Europe put the position of First Lady on an equivalent standing, thus helping to define the uniquely American role in an international context.

And in October of 1919, when President Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke. It was during this time that Edith Bolling Wilson was referred to as “The Secret President” and “The First Woman President.” Very interesting!

By this time I was hungry enough to venture into Skeeter’s World Famous Hot Dogs. Skeeter’s is a very old restaurant in downtown Wytheville. As you can see from the photo, there are interesting signs and pictures that provide an interesting glimpse of what the restaurant looked like 60 or 70 years ago. Honestly, the hot dogs are average, as is the service, but I go for the experience.

I hadn’t been to Beagle Ridge Herb Farm. Last time I was in the area I wasn’t there on the right day of the week as they are open only Thursday- Sunday. Sadly, I’m just missing the Monarch Tagging event by 1 week. That would have been fun. I understood they had vegetable gardens, herbs, and hiking trails, but it was a glorified garden. Their farm building houses their herbal line of products including soap, lotions and a variety of dried flowers, tea, potpourri and of course, Lavender. Getting there was awful, the road was a rough dirt road so bad I think I need a chiropractic adjustment now.

On previous visits I had eaten at the historic Log House 1776 Restaurant while in Wytheville. It’s a charming and unique restaurant set in an authentic log house. The oldest room dates from 1776, when the owner had to interrupt construction to go fight the Revolutionary war. It was home to a freed slave and a furniture factory before it became a restaurant. I’ve spent time exploring the many rooms decorated with everything from local Indian relics to log cabin quilts to contemporary kitsch. Little gardens even appear unexpectedly. Stopping for dinner at the Log House is a painless history lesson served up with good food.

I hope you have a chance to appreciate some of the beautiful, historical places America has to offer. (See photos on http://emiling.com/photos/southwest-virginia/ )




Tamara's Journeys

Journeys as great as the destinations.