Kiptopeke State Park, VA Part 2

Monday, April 15

Tootled down the Southern Tip Bikeway (old Cape Charles Railway bed) to the beautiful and enormous wildlife refuge, which once was an Army base (see reader board text below). Rode down to the old gun emplacement and around some of the trails, over to the boat launch, and the marsh observation deck. Saw a juvie baldie and lots of other neat birds. 

Reader board: Cape Charles Railroad

The Cape Charles Railroad once ran along this bike path, connecting lower Northhampton County to the town of Cape Charles. From there the New York, Philadelphia, and Norfolk Railroad carried produce from the Eastern Shore to northern cities.

In the early 1900s, local farmers carried their produce to Cape Charles by boat. During potato season, boats filled with produce clogged the town’s harbor. Building the Cape Charles Railroad solved this problem and for years daily trains ran between Kiptopeke (south end) and Cape Charles.

In 1941 the rail line was extended south to supply the 5000 troops housed in the new Army base, today turned into a wildlife refuge (but still features two of the gun turrets and one of the guns used in WWII to protect the Chesapeake Bay). After WWII, improved highways and the growing trucking industry led to the slow decline of the railroad, which closed in 1972.

Today, the bike trail is all that remains of the Cape Charles Railroad, and the path runs from the Wildlife Refuge and its exceptional Visitor Center (open only Thurs/Fri/Sat at this time of the year) adjacent to Route 13, ending at a 700-numbered road called Capeville Rd (near a truck stop and seafood restaurant called Sparky’s). But the effort continues to extend the bike path all the way to Cape Charles when possible. For now, intrepid cyclists must leave the protected path and use the wide shoulder of Rt. 13 (or a maze of back roads) to cycle into Cape Charles proper (which Jack & I did on April 17, but more of that later).


It was during this ride, especially on our return to camp, when we took some back roads instead of staying on the bike path, that we encountered a very gusty, strong wind that alternated between being a headwind and a crosswind. We were literally threatened with being knocked off our bikes by oversteering the cross-gusts. We also (Mary especially) discovered the thick, dense pollen that was blowing and collecting everywhere and on everything. Note the yellow tinge of the Big Front Window on our Alto in the below photo.


For John and Mary’s last night camping, we had a celebratory “weenie roast” (using bratwurst) over a Solo stove fire, even though it was pretty darn chilly. 



Mary even cooked a s’more for herself and John (Jack and I don’t do s’mores). When it was full dark, Mary cranked up her “disco light” and we placed it around the two sites to see what it looked like. The best photo I was able to get was when it was sitting on J n M’s teardrop, Little Debbie’s doorstep. Pretty cool.


The next day, John and Mary got away about 10:30 (April 16). Jack and I sat around to let the sun warm us up a bit and then headed out for a long bike ride after lunch. Again, pollen counts must have been off the charts, and the wind had not abated by any measurable margin.

As we set off we stopped at an active osprey nest midway up the main road into Kiptopeke (we’d noticed it yesterday, but I couldn’t get any pix). The parents were around, and Mr. delivered a fish, but I wasn’t able to capture the carry or drop.


Taking the Bikeway as far as we could, we decided to head toward the Bay along the Custis Tomb road, west of Rt. 13. We rode down to the tombs themselves, on what was once the Custis Arlington Plantation, now a tony housing development. A short history of Arlington: Early in the 1670s John 2 built a three-story brick mansion on the south bank of Old Plantation Creek, in southwestern Northampton County, naming the house Arlington after the Custis family’s ancestral village in Gloucestershire, England. 

The name of the mansion inspired Custis’s descendant, George Washington Parke Custis (adopted grandson of George Washington) early in the nineteenth century, to give the same name to his estate outside Washington, D.C.

There’s not much left except an open grassland where the grand home once stood, with some reader boards, and the view of Old Plantation Creek.


And of course, the tombs themselves, which bear mention. Both John Custis II and his grandson John Custis IV are buried there, within a brick-walled enclosure with a small wooden gate. The inscription on John 4’s marker is significant and rather funny. Both original inscriptions are unintelligible on the stones, but the preservation folks have reprinted them for posterity.

John Custis II’s inscription:

Oddly, John 2 neglected to mention the actual name of his granddaughter-in-law, Frances Parke Custis (seeing her father as being much more important), but she was evidently a rather difficult person, evidenced by her husband’s inscription.



The one for John 4 (above) is notable on several counts, not the least of which is that he threatened to cut his son, Daniel Parke Custis, out of his inheritance if he would not place his requested wording on the marker. While John 4 had moved to Williamsburg in 1717, he specifically wanted to be buried on the Eastern Shore, under these exact words:

“Aged 71 Years and Yet lived but Seven years which was the Space of time he kept a Bachelors House at Arlington on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. This Inscription put on this Tomb by his own positive Order.” It was chiseled there by William Coley, Mason in Fenn Church Street, London.

Now, if several of these references (Governor Berkeley, Bacon’s Rebellion) have stirred your memories of Virginia history or snagged your “bells” on the names themselves (Custis being a part of Martha Washington’s as well as Mrs. Robert E. Lee’s names) you can click here for a somewhat cobbled-together history of those periods and people in Colonial Virginia’s history, up to (nearly) America’s Civil War.

Back at the long-gone estate, we pedaled into and out of the Arlington development, and then, turning randomly on the country roads to see waterfront where we could and stay off Rt. 13, we made our way back to Kiptopeke. We hadn’t ridden around the park itself yet (something we nearly always do, taking every left turn so you cover it all without getting lost, since you end up where you began eventually) and we learned some things and saw things missed the first time through, two years prior (for more, check the link here).


We went down to a boat launch, beach, and fishing area, adjacent to the “cement ships” used during WWII as cargo vessels so that the metal ships could be used in the war effort. They have been beached off the shore of Kiptopeke, as a breakwater. The 9 ships that comprise the breakwater now serve as structure for fish habitat.


This area was also the northern landing site for the once-busy Kiptopeke Ferry, which carried passengers from Norfolk to the roads accessing Cape Charles between 1949 and 1964.

It is obvious this was a passenger throughway if you catch this sign buried in the woods near the Ferry Road, and adjacent to the Kiptopeke Hawk Watch area (where the country’s highest counts of migratory peregrine falcons have been documented).


Bike Stats

  • Ride time = 2 hours
  • Stopped time = 1 hour
  • Distance = 21 miles
  • Average speed = 11 mph
  • Fastest speed = 17 mph

Not to belabor this entry overmuch, on Wed., April 17, we rode into Cape Charles for lunch at Tim’s Family Restaurant (good food) in the shopping district and pedaled around the neighborhoods for much of the day. 

Before leaving camp, we noticed a family of squirrels living nearly above our heads in our major shade tree. The strangeness of the black plastic trash bag caught my eye at first, and then we watched the mama exit and leave the kids behind. There were at least two of them and they were stretching their legs a bit before they disappeared back inside (went down for a nap?).

Anyway, forgot to take my camera along on the ride, so not much more to report. After getting back to camp and before the teensy Cape Charles library closed, I drove back into town to upload the Janes Island Pt. 2 post. We tried to fix pizza for dinner, but it was too windy to cook properly on the grill (with our grill-sized pizza stone). Decent, but sort of like eating a big pizza cracker: crispy on the bottom and barely melted on top. We’ll try that dinner again sometime, without the wind.

Bike stats

  • Ride time = 2.25 hours
  • Stopped time = 1.5 hours
  • Distance = 26 miles
  • Average speed = 11.5 mph
  • Fastest speed = 18 mph


Cycling the Kiptopeke Area

April 21, 2017

We rode up to Cape Charles and then back down to the end-of-peninsula wildlife refuge, actually a reclaimed Army post, called the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge (you might remember we saw a gateway to this refuge back when Jack and I first landed on this side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel – I think that was April 13).

Anyway, we found a way to get up to Cape Charles that did not involve any riding along the busy artery, Route 13. We crossed the busy road a couple of times, but we mostly headed north and then south again along Rt. 600, or Seaview Road. We discovered later that this used to be the road that was the primary north/south travel route.

Yard Egrets.
Potato perspective.

For us, however, it was lovely and traffic-free (just about), although the day had turned quite hot for a change. We saw several interesting things, and once we got back across to Cape Charles, we had to climb “the hump” as we discovered the highest bridge was called by the locals (and over which we’d driven to obtain our dinner last night at the Shanty). One of the locals said that it had been built for the time when Cape Charles was a rail hub, and no one could cross the tracks on the ground, they were so busy. So rather than allow residents and visitors to sit in long lines of traffic to get to the beach, the town fathers built this high bridge over the rail tracks.

View from The Hump.

Today, the hump is no longer required, but has become a landmark.

We toured a bit through the shopping district, which has fun and quirky shops and restaurants. We saw a place called The Dacha Russian Tea Room, and another called Deadrise Pies (pizza). There was a local market for veggies and other fresh stuff, and lots of art galleries and gift shops. Bistros with on-street seating and fancy looking restaurants dotted the long main road.

Ending up at the public beaches, I walked along a boardwalk while Jack minded the bikes, just to see what I could see, and the beaches were surprisingly vast, clean, and fun-looking. Not having brought along the kite on the bicycles, we found that that beach would have been the perfect place to fly it. Maybe next time.

Dune restoration.

The last photo is a pair of osprey – one on the nest and one perched above.

At the boardwalk and the beach intersection, we found a Virginia Is for Lovers “LOVE” sign, and a very interesting (but somewhat deteriorated) info sign about a meteor impact that elevated the geology of Cape Charles so that it’s higher than much of the surrounding land.


Here’s what the info signboard said:

A meteor/comet two miles wide crossed paths with Earth 35 million years ago. Moving at a speed of 21 miles per second, it crashed here, at what is today the town of Cape Charles, creating the Sith largest impact crater on Earth.

The meteor blasted into the shadow sea that covered the state’s eastern half and exploded with more force than the combined nuclear arsenal of today’s world powers. Rock flew skyward, bedrock fractured seven miles deep, and enormous tsunamis raced westward to the tops of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Melted rock splashed upward in the center, hardening into a central peak nearly a mile tall, which is directly under Cape Charles. Over the centuries, sediment and debris have filled in the crater, and what is now called the Chesapeake Bay lays over much of it today.

Although the crater is not visible today, small earthquakes occasionally rock its fault lines, and two low ridges appear to mimic its contours far underground. One of these can be seen near the town of Painter, northeast of Cape Charles. The other is just east of Gloucester Courthouse on the western side of the Bay.


We spent a bit more time cycling around the neighborhoods of the town, with some really lovely old homes and others that were works-in-progress. We both commented on the fact that so many of the old places appeared to be getting renovations rather than being torn down to make way for something bigger and inappropriate (as happens in Jack’s old neighborhood in Hampton, VA).

Later we found a picture and information board about the famous Cape Charles lighthouse, but were interested to see that the community had designed their public water tower to appear as if it’s a lighthouse. Very clever.

The water tower from The Hump.


The water tower from below.

We also found it rather odd that so many people park their boats in the streets. Later, we saw boats parked in a variety of strange places.

Potato patch boat.

Town of Cape Charles Historic Marker

The Town of Cape Charles was founded in 1884 by Alexander Cassatt and William L. Scott as the southern terminus of the New York, Philadelphia & Norfolk Railroad. The extension of tracks south from Maryland to Cape Charles opened the northeastern markets to Eastern Shore seafood and farm produce. Using railcar barges and passenger steamers, the new port established a link to Norfolk. Cape Charles enjoyed rapid growth and soon became the commercial and residential center of Northampton County. The old town historic district, with its many Victorian-style residences, is listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.

But Cape Charles is a small place, and if you’re not eating, swimming, sunbathing, or shopping, there’s not much to see. So we retraced our steps to the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge, which, as I mentioned, was once an Army Base.


Cycling the bike route to the VC.
Canada geese sculpture outside of the VC.

The Visitor Center (2.5 miles along the bike path) was open for about 10 minutes when we got there, and the docent behind the desk was a native, and it was from him that we learned about “the hump” and Rt. 600, and so many other tidbits about the area. We kept them a bit long past their closing hour, looking around at the kid-oriented displays in the Center, but the guy recommended that we take the time to follow the Butterfly Trail down to the Big Gun. After sharing a granola bar, we did just that.

16 inch/50 Mark VII Gun #393

The 16 inch gun barrel, designated U.S. Navy Mark VII #393, was mounted in the rear gun turret aboard the famed battleship USS Missouri and saw extensive action during WWII. The USS Missouri is best known for the Japanese surrender ceremony held on board in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.

This barrel is 66.6 feet long—50 times its 16-inch bore, or 50 calibers. Each gun weighted 239,000 pounds (267,900 lbs. with the breech). The built-up gun is constructed of liner, tuibe, jacket, three hoops, two locking rings, tube and liner locking ring, yoke ring and screw box liner. The gun had two main projectiles – armor piercing (AP) Mark 8 – weighing 2,700 pounds and 72 inches tall, containing 40.9 pound burning charge, all of which needed 660 pounds of propellant; and its smaller sister shell – high capacity (HC) Mark 13 – weighing 1,900 pounds and 64 inches tall, containing 153.6 pound bursting charge.

The gun barrel was taken off the Missouri during the Korean War when the ship was refurbished. The gun barrel was put into storage at St. Juliens Naval Annex in Chesapeake, VA, for possible re-use. But it was never remounted and lay in the yard alongside eight other battleship gun barrels for 55 years. When the U.S. Navy phased out its last battleships in the 1990s, the spare guns at St. Juliens (and others at Hawthorne, NV) were eventually declared surplus and were put up for sale as scrap.

The USFWS, however, worked closely with DOD to save this barrel for display at the Refuge. Gun #393 was selected for preservation because of its historic association with the USS Missouri.



About the USS Missouri (BB-63)

The USS Missouri, a 45,000 ton Iowa class battleship built by the NY Navy Yard, was commissioned on June 11, 1944. She spent the remainder of ’44 preparing for combat, transiting to the Pacific in November, and arriving in the war zone by January of 1945.

Missouri supported the Iwo Jima invasions, the Ryukyus campaign and raids on Japan’s home islands. In May, she became the Third Fleet flagship and was the site of the September 2, 1945 Japanese surrender ceremony that ended WWII.

Following the end of hostilities, Missouri returned to the US, participating in a naval review at New York in October 1945. In March 1946, she went to the Mediterranean on a diplomatic mission. Through the rest of the 1940s and into 1950 the battleship operated extensively in the Atlantic area. She was the centerpiece of a grounding incident off Hampton Roads, VA, in January 1950, but was quickly repaired and returned to service.

Missouri was the only US battleship on active duty in June 1950, when the Korean War began, and made two combat deployments to the Western Pacific. Following that action, and several training cruises to Europe, she decommissioned in Feb. 1955. For the next three decades, she was ion reserve at Bremerton, WA, and became an important tourist attraction. All four Iowa class battleships were reactivated ub the 1980s, with Missouri recommissioning in May of 1986.

Her next 6 years were busy, including (among other activities) a cruise around the world and a combat role inn the 1991 Persian Gulf War. She decommissioned for the last time in March 1992. Stricken from the Naval Vessel Register in 1995, Missouri was transferred to Pearl Harbor, HI in June 1998 to be come a memorial.

It was so big I had to take it in two pieces (I also posted a Pano shot of it to my Facebook Page).


We rode along a bit farther to an “overlook” and found low tide and a long, low tidal flat. There we discovered this info plaque about the Cape Charles lighthouse.


Having gotten seriously tired and hot (although we both were drinking good quantities of water) we decided to go by pavement back to the cut-across-Rt13 road along a part of 600 that we’d turned off from to get to the wildlife refuge. There I saw this old boat full of plants at the edge of a hay field.


We finished off with a long cool-down sit in the tree house with fans blowing, a shower, and a nice Leftover Queen’s Royal Salad (with a bit of everything in the fridge thrown in). Checked into the general health and well-being of our killdeer neighbors, and called it an early night.

Cycling stats: 34.5 miles, during 3 hours of ride time, at a 12 MPH pace.

April 22

Not much to say about Saturday, Earth Day, because it was raining and blowing, or getting ready to do so, most of the day. So I caught up with blog posts and Jack filled the car with fuel, and found a Custis historic marker (below), then got the groceries for our travel-time BillyBoil stew for tomorrow night. As the wind was getting fiercer, he pretty much broke camp on the outside, and since the awning really needed to come down, we changed our dinner plans from pork chops on the grill to sandwiches. The rains have come and we’re snug inside Roomba and pretty ready for an early departure in the morning to get to Belle Isle State Park.