Pettigrew State Park, North Carolina

January 3, 2020, Friday: It was a warm night so we slept with the ceiling fan/vent exhausting and awoke to 65 degrees outside and in the low 60s inside.

One final note about Carolina Beach SP that I forgot to mention in the prior post: They close and lock the gate at 6PM. When Jack was checking in, this was mentioned, and when he asked what we might do if we arrive back and find the gate locked, some general arm-waving and vague references to a “driveway” were made, but we never followed up.

When we returned from Michael’s Seafood on our last night at Carolina Beach, it was 6:45. So we wandered around some of the turn-offs from the main road in front of the gate, and at one point ended up turning around in some poor soul’s driveway. 

For the record, if you go past the park entry off Dow Rd. The first right past the Park Road is, indeed, a gravel driveway, but it goes past a house and becomes the cut-through to get behind the gate and into (as well as out of) the park after hours. Sheesh!

Anyway, we left Carolina Beach SP, and en route, we encountered 75 degrees at 10AM, and clear driving the whole way to Pettigrew State Park. The temps were cooling by the time we arrived around 3PM.

Site 13 is in the sun (for solar gain as there is no electric or water at the sites) and nearest to the bathroom (the loop bathhouse remains closed in the winter, but there’s a heated toilet at the ranger’s office). By the way, the folks at the office are incredibly nice). You can get ice when the office is open, and firewood is on the honor system right at the camping loop.

Hal and Dawn (fellow Alto owners) were already there, as were the mosquitoes, which were pretty bad with the wet, warm weather. We put up the screen house and pulled out the Deep Woods Off to save my ankles, still bumpy from bites sustained at Hunting Island. David, Holli, and their dog Digby joined us shortly after we arrived (another Alto-owner family).

First thing, I took the dogs for a walk, and we ended up at the boat launch, where the sun was setting.

In nearby (relatively speaking) Edenton, NC, were additional Alto owners, Karen and Steve, who wanted to come for the birds but didn’t want to de-winterize their camper. Instead, they stayed at a BnB in Edenton, about 35-40 minutes’ drive away. We’d made a reservation in Edenton for us all to gather for dinner at the Edenton Bay Oyster Bar—one of the past registration sites of the Bike NC Spring Ride.

Needing fuel to even make it to Edenton, we googled nearby stations and found the one highlighted didn’t exist. So we had to go farther away from Edenton en route to dinner to get fuel, resulting in our late arrival to the party. Moral: Don’t trust solely on Google in this part of the state.

Very nice dinner—got some excellent seared scallops on risotto, and returned to the camper for a much-needed sleep.

January 4, Saturday: Overnight the rain began and it really pelted down. We were not looking forward to trying to spot migrating birds in the wet, but we all dressed for it and headed out in separate cars, once Karen and Steve got to Pettigrew and joined us around 9:30AM. Despite the rain, the temperature was quite warm. Got away, headed to Mattamuskeet around 10 after deciding that we’d try to find a cafe for lunch rather than packing our lunches along.

During the long drive to the Visitor Center (it’s actually called the “Refuge Headquarters”) on Lake Mattamuskeet, we saw a bunch of American kestrels and kingfishers, and I spotted one perched bald eagle—very wet and unhappy-looking—along the way. We stopped at the informational kiosk at the top of the VC drive to see loads of water birds (mostly ducks) in the wetlands (mergansers, “redheads,” mallards, pintails, herons, egrets, etc.). But in the area pretty far from the road (needed binoculars to see them) were a gang or three of tundra swans—but no snow geese that we could see. And where we’d seen several bald eagles in the wetland on prior trips, we didn’t see any this time.

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Strangely, the VC was closed so we not only were unable to speak to any rangers or biologists to get tips on where to find the big flocks of birds, but also couldn’t get the general introduction to what we might see and experience while there—this VC has a great display and lots of information about not only birds but also mammals, fish, trees, etc. Too bad those who hadn’t been there before couldn’t experience that.

So we drove around the opposite (far) side of the primary wetland (slightly closer to the tundra swans) and then headed to lunch. Found Martelle’s Feedhouse in Englehard and had a quite nice and filling (and warm/dry) lunch. Many of the local hunters and residents were there, so we knew it was going to be good. They served all kinds of seafood, Eastern NC BBQ, sandwiches and burgers galore, plates and smalls, and everything you might imagine at a “feedhouse.” I got a pork tenderloin salad that was superb.

We were headed to Pungo Lake, where we’d seen the most of the arctic birds in the past when we saw a white patch on the muddy landscape alongside the road. There seemed to be an access road to get closer, so we took it and got our first close-up look (and listen) of tundra swans.

Unfortunately, we spooked them as we peeked around the tree line, but it was quite breathtaking to see these enormous birds fly and sound the alarm. 

It was still rainy: When the actual rain abated, a fine mist fell steadily. So we retreated back to the cars after watching the enormous birds a while and resumed our trek to Pungo.

In another 40 minutes of driving along state rt. 45, we got to the Pungo Lake preserve, driving in at the south entrance, where the main road takes a sharp turn and the “straight” roadway turns into Pat Road. The pavement turned to mud and the pools and puddles on the road were quite deep and numerous. But at least the rain had stopped.

We saw a huge flock of tundras in a cornfield at the far side of a thin, raised bank of trees and bushes. We pulled the cars onto the verge and all piled out to cross the stubble field and use the line of vegetation as a “blind” to get closer to the swans. We saw several piles of bear poop in the stubble field, just as is the case back home.

As we approached the line of trees, however, we found that there was a deep, moderately wide canal between us and our “blind.” But a couple of us jumped the ditch and were able to take some photos of the swan gang. We stood there in the relative dry watching the birds landing, taking off, and just hanging out.

We thought that, logically speaking, Pat Road should somehow link to Phelps Lake from Pungo as the two are relatively near one another. But bouncing along the mud lane simply landed us in front of a “No Trespassing—Private Property” sign, so we turned around and bounced back to Route 45 North and drove around our elbows (it seemed) to get back to camp.

I took some shots of the sunset as the sky cleared and the rain clouds dispersed.

Everyone elected to eat dinner separately, and although Hal suggested a campfire, he reported that the mosquitoes were ravenous so we all nixed that idea. In our camper, at least, we turned in early.

January 5, Sunday: At 6AM it was 42 both in and outside the camper, so we cranked the furnace and crawled back under the Rumpl blanket. Didn’t get up until late, and Hal and Dawn headed back to NOVA around 9:30 because Hal had to be at work on Monday.

As they were pulling out, Karen and Steve arrived to see what the pulse of the group was. It wasn’t until about 11 that Jack and I decided to pass up the opportunity for more bird-finding in favor of taking more time to hike around with the dogs. Everyone else elected to drive around some more, although the two cars-full went on separate adventures. Karen later reported seeing a bald eagle. David and Holli headed back to Pungo and later reported good sightings of swans, but also snow geese (which I was sorry to miss).

At the end of the campground along the walk to the Plantation is an interesting hollowed-out tree that Jack can stand inside. He held the dogs with him and they were both intent on some sound or smell within (probably a squirrel). Jack himself was unmoved by squirrel scent.

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We took the pups along the boardwalk from the Plantation to the ranger’s office, and then along the 2.8-mile trail to Moccasin Overlook. Along the grassy trail, however, we encountered a lot of pooled water, and some dogs we were worried had no invisible fence restraints, so we turned around early. In all, it ended up being about a 2 mile trek.

The wind came up and there was significant chop out on Phelps Lake. But it dried things out a bit as the temperatures began to drop.

Around 2 Alison and Andy showed up from Raleigh, just to see what all the bird-fuss was about, and after chatting a while, they headed off to Pungo also. I loaned them my binoculars and when we saw them again, they reported lots of arctic bird sightings and a very satisfactory trip.

I threw the ball for Mischief for a bit and Holli and David discussed sharing a bonfire and some adult beverages, and we set up for that and had a lovely evening with them and Alison and Andy. We set up behind the trailer on the slight rise where Jack had taken down the screen house, so we were high and dry.

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At about 7 the party broke up and Jack and I ate chili and “take and bake” rolls for dinner.

January 6, Monday: Holli and David rolled out of camp around 8:30 and we decided to delay breakfast until we were on the road. Jack had a special mission: to find the butcher who had made the sausages we ate when Edenton was the host site of the Bike NC Spring Ride a few years ago. He had done his research and thought we might have it pegged with directions to get there and an opening time of 10AM.

Tragically, Grandma’s Sausages was out of business. An elderly gent taking the sun in a carport next door to the shop kept trying to sell Jack the business or the building, even though Jack kept insisting that all we wanted were some of Grandma’s sausages. He said his wife used to run the business but had to stop, and now they were trying to sell it.

Sausage-less, we headed along back roads to Ahoskie, NC, where we ate lunch at a Golden Skillet. It was quite the place for “regulars” to gather, and Jack really enjoyed his chicken livers.

We kept to the back roads to NC Rt. 4, which is the Kerr Lake/North Bend Federal Campground road, and we crossed the dam and entered one of our most happy places. While our favorite peninsula was not open in the dead of winter, the loop available to us had a warm shower house sporting private toilet/shower rooms. Site #78 was relatively level so we could leave the truck hitched as we anticipated leaving for home the following morning.

Set up was minimal, so we grilled some bratwursts and re-heated leftover roasted veggies and potatoes for dinner. Then we walked down to the lakeside and watched the sun set as the evening star appeared.

The forecast for back home was for up to an inch or two of snow/sleet/icy mix early Tuesday, so we kept up with John via text and delayed deciding whether to head home the next day (as scheduled) or not.

January 7, Tuesday: The rains came in the night and the deluge continued most of Tuesday. We had only paid for one day as they would not refund if we decided to leave after spending just one night. But the gate attendant said as long as we paid by about 3PM, it was okay to delay our decision. We saw a total of 2 other campers, so there wasn’t any chance someone would come in and kick us out of our site.

At about noon, John texted that they’d gotten a slushy mix that was making driving on the mountain less than ideal. He said if we were to encounter trouble, it would be getting in our driveway.

While it was still pouring down with rain at North Bend, we decided to stay another night, and I walked with the dogs in the deluge to the front gate to give them another $10. The furnace was on when we got back, so my jeans and the dogs were able to dry out in comfort.

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We listened to our audiobook, took nice warm showers (knowing that the water at home was turned off) and simply chilled out for the day. The rain stopped around 3PM when the wind whipped up to blow away all the clouds. We fought the wind down to the beach where a previous camper had created some rock-balanced towers that were pretty neat in the back-lit dusk.

January 8, Wednesday: The temperatures dropped like a rock overnight and we quickly broke camp at 34 degrees under a clear, bright sky, as we were surrounded by frosted leaves carpeting the woods. Initiated the 3-ish hour drive home at about 9-9:30, and were able to begin the long process of re-heating our 48-degree home in the mountains by about 2PM on January 8, 2020.

April 23 & 24 – Rain and More Rain

Our final night at Kiptopeke Saturday, April 22) was quite a bit different from what we had expected. For one thing, most everyone in the park quickly broke camp and left. It was windy and the night was supposed to be rainy, but what did they know that we didn’t?

So I think I mentioned that Jack spent a lot of the day packing up things we knew we would not need. Due to the wind, we elected to pack up the awning, too, leaving no where to grill our pork chops for a final-night-at-a-site dinner. So we put together some sandwiches and ate indoors, listening to more of the Jussi Adler-Olsen book we’ve been listening to in the car since we left Meadows of Dan.

Due to this fact, the packup to leave for Belle Isle State park near Kilmarnock, VA was quick and easy on the morning of Sunday, April 23. Also of note, is that the Kiptopeke State Park campground does NOT have a dish-washing station at the bathhouse, but a big bonus is that they DO HAVE sewer at every electric site in the park. Very nice feature. We only had to back up a couple of feet to dump our gray tank, and we were away (after waving goodbye to our killdeer neighbors, steadfastly sitting the nest in the rain, but the wind had died down and there was nothing near flooding levels of precip).

I mention all this because there is absolutely nothing to say about our transfer to the new campground, since travel went perfectly, and the wind was not scary at all as we crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.

Once we arrived, however, our reserved site (#3, which we highly recommend) was occupied. My only complaint about anything about Virginia State Parks is that sometimes we find that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. The Ranger where we checked in said #3 was still occupied, as the folks there had not yet checked out. The Camp Host, however, came by and assured us #3 didn’t have anyone there, and we could drive right in, even though it was a little after noon. Secondly, on one piece of paper it says check out is 3PM, where another (and the internet) says it’s 1PM. No wonder staff and volunteers are confused (not to mention campers).

The folks already there in site #3 showed exactly zero signs of moving out, and in fact were nowhere to be seen when we set up shop to sit a while and “encourage” them to get on the stick (by parking nearby and glaring at them — naw, just kidding on the glaring part. We did, park nearby and watch, though). Luckily, it was a pop-up, thus a relatively simple break-down process, and once they began, it was only about an hour before they pulled out.

Speaking of the internet, the reservation system is rather Byzantine, too, when we come to niggly complaints. All we wanted to do was to change up our reservations for the upcoming weekend. For example, what we intended to do was to grab 3 extra days at park Y by transferring our current PAID days (the SAME DAYS mind you) at park Z over to park Y, and basically, cancelling our stay at park Z. But the sequence in which you reserve and cancel is critical to the SYSTEM. If you feel like, logically you want to secure the site you’ve already got a couple of days reserved at park Y by adding the extra days onto that site-specific reservation (before someone might take it and you end up having to break camp and move to a different site during your stay), and you enter the reservation system to do so—but the helpful person on the other end (all of whom are invariably nice and quite helpful) neglects to understand the full scope of your needs—and you begin by reserving more time at park Y BEFORE you cancel the time at park Z . . . . well, let’s just say those days won’t transfer in that order. You MUST do it in the reverse order to save a buck or two.

We did secure the extra time, and did manage to cancel the days at the park we didn’t want, but we had to pay both a NEW registration fee AND the cancellation fee; instead of making it a seamless transfer of the same paid days to a different location. **sigh**

ANYWAY.

Belle Isle is a lovely State Park, with big, flat, roomy sites with plenty of brush between sites. There are some really pristine pull-through sites, although they’re not as shady as the others (not an issue during our stay, but in the summer? Might be a factor). Another really nice, deep-set back-in site is #25. That one might be a good grab next time we come. The bathhouse is modern and clean with both a laundry and a dish-cleaning station; and the showers are each private rooms off the back. The fire pits are well-positioned far from where you might want to stake a guy line or erect a screen house.

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Site #3
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Our Setup

And we took advantage of just such a fire on our opening day, once we finally managed to get in. The rain held off until we were set up, which was wonderful. But then began just after our Billy-Boil cooked Lebanese Chicken Stew dinner, enjoyed by the fire (the temperatures were chilly, too), and as the firewood was no longer in need of constant attention to stay lit. We watched it turn to embers from the screen house until it got too cold to sit outside, and then we retreated to our heated Roomba.

It’s been raining ever since.

We believe we would really love to explore this park, because, near as we can tell through the rain and fog, there are tons of bicycle-friendly trails out and about, some even heading down to the Rappahannock River. But at this point, we have not off-loaded our bikes from their rack and waterproof cover.

Instead, we went exploring by car on Monday, April 24. Driving in with Roomba on set-up day, we had seen exactly one grocery store. On Monday, we figured we’d make that our last stop before heading back with the hope of clearing weather. We first drove to Kilmarnock (the locals call it “Kill-mar-nogh” in which the final “ock” is sort of swallowed at the end). That was where the grocery store and a likely lunch place was. Since it was still early when we passed through on Monday, and we’d had good hearty steel-cut oatmeal breakfast and weren’t hungry yet, we drove through and down by back roads to Irvington, where the Tides Inn Yacht resort is.

We noted some damage to numerous trees in that neck of the Neck, guessing that the recent “Snowmageddon” storm might have been the culprit. But the yachts all seem to be fine.

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From there we ventured out to where the mouth of the Rappahannock River meets the Chesapeake Bay, at a place called Windmill Point. Here’s what the historic marker says about Windmill Point:

During the War of 1812, the British blockaded the Chesapeake Bay and sent raiding vessels up the rivers and creeks to plunder and destroy property. The lookout at Windmill Point (about a mile east [of this marker]) on Fleet’s Island reported that on 23 April 1814, the enemy “landed near Windmill (Point) or North Point (about 2 miles northwest) and plundered a poor man . . . of a boat, everything he was worth.” A detachment of the 92nd Regiment of Lancaster Militia posted in the vicinity fired across a creek nearby and drove the British back to their ship. This was the final raid of the War of 1812 in Lancaster County.

And here’s the one about Fleete’s Island:

Henry Fleete was born about 1602 in Kent, England and moved to Jamestown, VA, in 1621 Fleete was seized by the Anacostan Indians during a trading expedition and held for five years. He learned their language and after his release in 1627, became a negotiator for the Virginia and Maryland colonies. Fleete helped establish Maryland in 1634 and served in its General Assembly from 1635 to 1638, and in the Virginia House of Burgesses from 1652 to 1661. He established the boundaries of Lancaster County when it was created in 1651. In May 1661, Fleete died and was buried at his home here on Fleete’s Island.

Not too far from these two markers, where the road ended, I hopped out and grabbed a couple of photos of the Mouth of the Rappahannock on one side of me, and the Chesapeake Bay on the other.

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River’s Mouth
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Chesapeake Bay

The return drive held a few photograph-able views, but the rain was like a spigot that a 2-year-old was playing with: sometimes heavy, sometimes light, sometimes just barely sprinkling. The sky was uniformly gray, however.

In the biggest, first photo above, you can see two blue herons that startled near the road as we drove past, one lower left and one high middle-right.

Headed back to Kilmarnock and drove around a while to find the local hang-out: Lee’s Restaurant (how wrong could be be?).

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I’d already thought that a warming lunch of soup and a sandwich would be just the ticket, and Lee’s is where we found it.

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Hot navy bean soup and corned beef on toasted rye.

By the time we’d returned to camp, the rain was worse than ever, so again we retreated to listen to our book for a while, and later, prepped, cooked, and ate the long-delayed grilled pork chops and grilled corn on the cob, accompanied by wild rice. As you’ve probably noticed, eating is a mainstay of our travel experience, and we usually do it up right.

Hoping for a bit of clearing tomorrow, although the prospect is not great, but better for Wednesday, when we move on to Powhatan State Park near Richmond. Maybe if we, like our predecessors in site #3 observe a 3PM checkout, we might get a cycling tour in before we leave. Otherwise, we’ll just have to return to explore further.

 

Tootling About

April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday. Most folks are leaving the campground today. We thought it would be a good idea to stay close to take some small advantage of the “changing of the guard” during the day.

The neighbors on both sides are sticking, as are we.

But I walk around the place late on Sunday and find that it’s a bittersweet feeling, with everyone who was packed in here yesterday gone today. Nice to have the quiet and the extra “elbow room” but I walk by the now-empty spot where the folks were celebrating a birthday in a great gaggle of friends; I walk past the empty spot where the “base camp” for another great mass of folks distributed among 3 or 4 sites now sits forlorn at the end of the row, a large group having an absolutely splendid time, all managed by the wife of the guy who was “hale fellow well met” to everyone he saw; the big dog with the perfect manners in the spot near the bath house . . .

Still, the quiet is truly special, so I don’t dwell on the lack of bodies surrounding us today.

Did I mention the pollen? We had just enough rain last night to wash some of it off the car, and it all puddled on the road. I included my foot so you might get some perspective.

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The road shows at the top of the photo, the gravel of the campsite below, near my foot.

Earlier, while most folks were breaking camp, we took off on a dawdle around the campground, and then left via the main drag (Plantation Rd) to head toward Crisfield, for a low-key tootle. Here are some photos from the campground area, followed by pix of what we saw along the way in and around Crisfield.

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Gulls along Daugherty Creek.

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In the far reaches of the photo, you can see white-roofed condos in Crisfield from the Janes Island SP dock at Dougherty Creek.

These images are from our ride into and around Crisfield.

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Defunct crab restaurant specializing in steamed crabs, a remnant of which lay abandoned in the parking lot (below).

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Those self-same condo/apartments visible from the state park’s dock, shown from the bay side here.

No photos, however, of some interesting sights. A guy in what appeared to be a sheriff’s cruiser was feeding an enormous flock of chickens, geese, ducks, seagulls, etc. from his car, in an empty lot. I’m guessing he was throwing bread to the birds, and they were fighting, tussling, vie-ing for crumbs, and procreating all over the place.

Took some video of the turbine that I cannot upload because it was pretty loud, although in the vid, the regular wind off the bay was loud enough for the camera mic.

A sign on a paddock that read, “Please don’t feed fingers to the horses.” (I thought that was brilliant).

Lots and lots of cemeteries, large and small. The United Methodist Church seems to be the dominant group hereabouts.

New birds spotted along the route:

  • Snowy egret
  • Pelicans
  • Great blue herons
  • Laughing gulls
  • Northern harrier
  • Cormorants
  • Wood ducks

Returned for a relaxed time at camp in the quiet, and grilled brats with grilled summer squash and rice for dinner. Lovely warm night with Roomba showing off his best with the lights shining.

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