Winter Trip 20-21: Episode 2, Huntington Beach SC, Cliffs of the Neuse SP (NC), and North Bend, VA

Our four nights/three days at Huntington Beach were full of long hikes and longer bike rides. We had hoped to get to Brookgreen Gardens, the United States’ first sculpture garden (founded by Archer Huntington and his wife, Anna Hyatt Huntington) to showcase her sculpture collection. The property, created from four defunct rice plantations, comprises 9,100 acres with several themed gardens, the Lowcountry Zoo, and trails through several ecosystems.

At the time we were there, however, they were doing a holiday light show in the sculpture garden, and the tickets to see it were hard to come by as well as being expensive. So we were unable to get into any aspect of the property, even though the gates shared a visitor center and parking lot with the State Park.

For those interested in history, there’s a description of the evolution of Brookgreen Gardens at the end of this post.

Of course, seafood remained on the agenda, and since none of us were comfortable eating at a restaurant, we contented ourselves with purchasing fresh seafood and “eating in.” 

Some good trails wound through the woodsy areas around the park, and there was a lot of beach access within walking distance. The weather turned windy and chill, but that didn’t stop us from long hikes and bike rides around the grounds.

On the 31st, I went to the beach and caught a pelican ballet above the choppy surf.

Jack and I took several long bike rides through and around the park, as well as some urban riding around Murrells Inlet, the burgh near the park. On one of the cooler days, we rode our bikes out to a harbor restaurant associated with the Dead Dog Saloon called Wicked Tuna in Murrells Inlet. John and Mary drove over in their van and we had lunch there, eating our meal in the quite cool breezes off the harbor in the “closed” deck of the restaurant out back. We had fun people-watching, but were the only ones back there and had a variety of seafood meals amongst us. The staff was quite accommodating of our need for isolation. It was good food—Jack and I split a huge order of lobster rolls—and Jack had a slice of cheesecake at the end that powered his ride back to camp as the wind blew up the threat of rain. He set a blistering pace, and we made it without getting wet.

One night, we tried out my tripod for cooking with a Dutch Oven over a fire or coals for the first time. Chili was in the pot, and we nearly couldn’t get the pot high enough over the solo stove to keep everything from boiling over, but John and Jack managed it a some length. Next time we’ll wait until the fire has calmed and the coals are what heats the pot.

I took the doggies on several of my long treks out and about. It wind was howling on the beach proper for the most part, but I did discover this “beach art” one one walk:

On another hike, I took a “nature loop” back through the woods to a preserve area called the Sandpiper Pond and saw this really neat tree:

Of course, the dogs loved the walks, even though they much prefer the freedom of romping around our home acreage without restraint.

Our next stop was a one-nighter as a quick layover en route to one of our fave “hometown” campgrounds, North Bend, near Boydton, VA. But to ease the distance between Huntington Beach and North Bend, we stopped for New Year’s Day night at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park in North Carolina, near Seven Springs.

We’d never been before and weren’t there long, but intend to go back and spend more time. It’s small and intimate, with a good diversity of hiking trails, and we’d like to know more. Our site was #8, electric only, and the day was overcast, leaving the Neuse River foggy and mysterious.

Our final stop of this adventure was at North Bend, on J. H. Kerr Lake, which actually had lots and lots of shoreline and camping options on both sides of the VA/NC border. We habitually stay at North Bend campground because they leave a couple of small loops open year-round, and while they shut off water at the sites, they leave open (and warmed and regularly cleaned) a bath house for campers to use. All the winter-available sites are “walk-up” and we ended up choosing #84 this time. Not a water site, but we enjoyed some spectacular sunsets through the trees at our “back yard.”

One of the sunsets we enjoyed reflected in such a way as to metaphorically “set the woods afire.” The light had an interesting effect on our Clam screen house, too:

As is usual for us, we took down the bikes and toured the open and closed loops, boat ramps, picnic areas—basically all the paved roadways—to accumulate 10-12 miles of cycling with zero traffic. The doggies and I walked a whole bunch also, and enjoyed winter-ish sunsets and vistas over the water.

As we also habitually do, we rode our bikes down below the dam to watch the bald eagles and osprey. There was quite a lot of activity at that end of the lake the two times we went down there to watch, with young eagles and osprey both sparring in the air for territory—both perching limbs and fishing options. 

While unable to get any photos of the eagle/osprey contests, I did get a shot of this perched great blue heron:

On our final night, we cooked dinner outside, off the back of the truck using the topper light. The Solo stove fire was lit and we enjoyed the end of our winter 2020-2021 adventure doing our favorite things we love about camping: eating well and sitting around a campfire watching the coals. The only things missing were friends with whom to share it.

Slàinte.

Brookgreen Gardens
Founded by Archer Milton Huntington (stepson of railroad magnate Collis Potter Huntington) and his wife, Anna Hyatt Huntington Brookgreen Gardens features sculptures by Anna and her sister Harriet Randolph Hyatt Mayor, along with other American sculptors. Brookgreen Gardens opened in 1932 having been developed on property of four former rice plantations. It took its name from the former Brookgreen plantation, which dates to the antebellum period.
Development began with the purchase in January 1930 as a site for a winter home as well as a setting for Mrs. Huntington’s sculpture work. Construction of the house, named Atalaya, a Spanish term for “watchtower,” began the following winter of 1931 (Archer Huntington was a noted authority on Spanish culture, and he designed the house after the Moorish architecture of the Spanish Mediterranean Coast).
Workers alternated between construction on Atalaya and Brookgreen Gardens over a two- to three-year period. Mr. Huntington insisted that local labor be employed in its construction to provide work opportunities during the Great Depression.
The outer walls of the building form a square, with the east side facing the ocean. Within the walled structure, there are two grassy open inner courtyards with a main entry court on the west side. The living quarters consist of 30 rooms around three sides of the perimeter. The one-story brick building is dominated by a square tower that rises nearly 40 feet from a covered walkway and bisects the inner court. It is functional in design, having once contained a  3,000 gallon cypress water tank. Water drawn from an artesian well was then pumped into a 10,000 gallon concrete cistern where the sand settled. From there, it was pumped into the tower tank. The height of this tank gave the water enough pressure to flow through the house.
The covered walkway of open brickwork is lined with archways and planters on both sides. Living facilities, including the dining room, sunroom, library, and bedrooms, occupied the ocean-facing side of the house. The southern wing housed Mr. Huntington’s spacious study, his secretary’s office, and Mrs. Huntington’s studio.
The studio, with a 25-ft skylight, opened onto a wall enclosed courtyard where Mrs, Huntington worked on her sculptures. Due to her passion for sculpting animals, she had facilities such as horse stables, a dog kennel, and a bear pen included in the construction. The Huntingtons resided in the house during the colder months of the year, usually from November until March or April.
Heating was entirely by coal room heaters and wood-burning fireplaces. Ramps led from the courtyards up to each entry door, and wood was hauled in using small carts. Grillwork—designed by Mrs. Huntington—and shutters were installed on each window to protect against hurricane-force winds.
After Mr. Huntigton’s death in 1955, most of the furnishings from the house were sent to the Huntington home in NYC. The 2,500-acre tract, including Atalaya, was leased to the state by the Brookgreen Trustees in 1960. Mrs. Huntington died at her Connecticut home in 1973. In tribute to Mrs. Huntington, the annual Atalaya Arts and Crafts Festival is held in the Castle during the fourth weekend of September.

First Landing Days

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On our first full day at First Landing State Park, Jack and I lounged a lot. We took a lovely walk on the beach, although it was seriously windy and brisk. Even the birds were hunkered down on their “condo”and I took one pic of a pelican (we saw many) because our friend Annie, who will arrive here on Sunday, just adores pelicans. I sent the pic to her to let her know she’d be able to see some once she arrives.

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Saw some interesting stuff and picked up a nice shell, that reminded me of our Safari Condo Snail that John had made for us last year.

After our beachwalk and lunch, we got the bicycles down for a “shakeout” cruise around the campground and across the road to remind ourselves of the trails that are appropriate for bikes. It was a leisurely 7-mile effort without any pain.

We found a site (175) that has potential for future camping. It’s a drive-through, slightly sandy where the truck might park, but quite nice, with lots of potential for hammock-hanging and privacy.

John and Mary arrived around 5P, to a nice site (177) — in the photo you cannot see a really nice, shady area directly adjacent to their set-up, excellent for hammocks or chairs, or more working space or a screen house. Their setup is quite fine and works well in the site.

We four went out to dinner instead of cooking, as J n M were tired after their drive, so we had excellent seafood (fast service, good beer) and could have chosen to sit outside on the deck but the wind kept us inside. The place was called Dockside (along Shore Dr. northward, on the left and tucked back from a couple of other seafood restaurants nearer the road), and they also sell fresh seafood to purchase and cook yourself.

The next day, we did some more lounging as J n M settled in. We’d been eyeing a spot above Roomba, where some live oaks cling to a dune, as a potential hammock site. The path up to the trees was covered with live oak leaves, so it was incredibly slippery. I tried to clear them off a bit so we wouldn’t break our necks.

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We hung the hammocks and had a nice lounge in the wind and shade. Jack actually fell asleep after reading a bit.

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After lunch, we all four rode across the highway to the trail heads that actually go everywhere. We were looking for a woodsy trail that would take us toward Virginia Beach proper, and found it in the Cape Henry Trail. It’s quite a nice trail, although we had to watch closely for roots and pockets of deep sand so we wouldn’t go butt-over-teakettle. There were many other users also, on a sunny Friday. There is a break in the trail that you can take either toward 64th Street off Atlantic Ave, or you can go right toward an inlet and beach/picnic/boating area. We paused there to assess our timing.

Mary wanted to visit an elderly friend, so she and John turned back at that point, where Jack and I carried on along the Cape Henry Trail toward that same inlet to which one can drive. The trail along this stretch was quite narrow and the “footing” became increasingly sandy, the closer we got to the very pretty inlet.

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But this section of the trail was a raptor area, and we saw many flying osprey and I watched one settle into a high nest in a snag, in the middle of a tidal marsh. Its mate was circling and calling, possibly announcing a hatch, or just communicating with the parent that settled into the nest. By the time I got my camera out, all you could see of the nesting parent was its head.

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We ended up having to walk our bikes through deep, deep sand at the edge of the beach area that was being extensively used by mothers and young kids as we passed. Once I emptied the dune’s worth of sand from my shoes, we carried on to the parking and boat launch area, and rode back along the road to where Mary and John had turned back. We refilled our water bottles, and rode up to 64th St., turned left to head back to camp, and ended up with a nice 14-mile day, with a decent average speed of 9.5. I got “into a zone” as we tore up Shore Drive past the army base and back to camp, and really exercised my legs into the wind all the way to our turnoff. 

While she was out, Mary stopped by Dockside (totally mobbed on a Friday night) to pick up some shrimp. The “mediums” were enormous! We collaborated for dinner: Jack marinated the shrimp for a while in some Old Bay, and then we skewered them to cook on the grill; Mary made a salad; and I cooked up some rice. We had quite a lovely dinner together under the screen tent.

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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Two Days in VA Beach

We’ve had some lazy leisure since arriving to our campsite in Virginia Beach on Sunday evening. Our schedule has included linking up with some of Jack’s fraternity and rugby buddies from long ago: Monday night was dinner with Jim and Nell in Norfolk; Tuesday was lunch with Chip and Becky in Williamsburg.

 

Our campsite is on the Chesapeake Bay side of the road, with a dune between us and the water for a bit of windbreak. We get good shade in the AM under the awning, but the sun comes over Roomba and the shade is gone during the afternoon. We’ve set up the screen house to the left side of this photo, but the bugs have not been at all noticeable so far, while the fresh wind keeps up at about 15 mph. The trees surrounding are mostly live oaks full of “blooms” that are falling everywhere, and of great interest to little birds and insects.
 
So for most of Monday, we just lazed about. Jack had a nice shady snooze in the gravity chair, Kerry and Gloria took a looping bike ride around the campsites, and I walked down the road and over the dunes via boardwalk to the beach, and took some photos of this and that. One critter of note that I was unable to capture or really to identify is the species of dragonfly that is everywhere. They are huge, appear to be a blue or green, and keep whapping into the screen house, the awning, the car, the camper. They’re simply everywhere. Also I captured by my camera, I saw lots of osprey, one of which dove into the water but came up empty-taloned; a dolphin; a group of pelicans fishing low over the water; and a black snake back at camp, racing under Roomba and into the trees before we could get a camera on it. 

Here’s a little gallery of my sightings that I was able to capture.
 

People enjoying the Chesapeake Bay surf
  
Crab shell on the beach
  
Exercise for dog and man
  
Dune-protecting boardwalk from campground to beach
  
Butterfly on honeysuckle
  
Random feather caught on beach debris
  
Boardwalk
  
Apparent ship aground (sailing around the peninsula)
  
Scrubby, low-growing greenery along the shoreline
  
Some sort of lizard hanging out at the campground bathhouse, just before darting back into the shadow on the right
  
Pelican condominium
  
This black snake guards the boardwalk that guards the dunes
  
Not my photo, but rather a pic from my bird ID book showing the prairie warblers that are browsing throughout the live oaks around the campsite
  
Dipping my toes into the Chesapeak Bay
  
This lovely bit of poison oak greets folks heading to the women’s side of the bath house
 
Jim phoned at about 4PM and shortly thereafter, we headed up the road to a roadhouse/bar on the water that Jim calls his local. They were having a happy hour discount on bad beer and excellent shrimp. Jim said he often takes some advantage of these happy discounts. Jack and I chose some better beer offerings, but the shrimp by the pound were quite good, as were the dipping sauce choices, including straight horseradish that would ream-and-rebush a body’s sinuses if you got too much. We sat on the deck and watched the aircraft carriers come into port (we saw one arrive, but there were 5 due, and we saw all of them docked the next day); and the sun set, and the seagulls head to roost. It was quite a good evening catching up with old friends.

 

Strangers near us on the deck enjoying drinks and conversation
  
Seagull headed to roost
  
Sunset #1
  
The pier across the way from our deck
  
On the beach just off the deck where we had our shrimp
  
Sunset #2
 
Tuesday, April 26, 2016: The next day, which just happened to be Jack’s 66th birthday, we headed out early, having first taken down the awning, because the winds were scheduled to rise with the temperatures. Our plan with Kerry and Gloria was to meet them at the Jamestown Settlement historic site after our lunch, and then we four would have Jack’s birthday dinner in Williamsburg.

Chip and Becky live in Kingsmill, and we didn’t want to arrive too early, but were unsure how the traffic might be on our route up the shore, and inland, thus the early start. As it happened, we were really too early, so we took a detour to see Jack’s old home in Hampton, plus a few others of his childhood haunts. Everything was quite different, after 25 or so years, as might be imagined.

 

Jack’s old home in Hampton
 
We then took a quick tour of things that had changed on the William and Mary campus since our last visit to the ‘Burgh, and got to Chip and Becky’s right on time. Had a lovely chin-wag with them for about an hour in their lovely home, then headed over to one of the Kingsmill amenities: The Eagle, a casual restaurant and watering hole on the golf course. Chip treated us to an excellent lunch and we spent another couple of hours eating and telling stories and catching up on everyone these guys know/knew in common. It was an excellent experience, and I had a grand time meeting them both for the first time and getting to know them a little. I look forward to seeing them both again in the future.

Linking up with Kerry and Gloria at Jamestown, we wandered through the outdoor exhibits and, although it was oppressively hot in the sun, the breeze from the river kept up and offered excellent respite whenever we could find a place in the shade to sit for a bit.

 

Path headed to the waterfront and the old ship replicas
  
Map
  
Eagle hainging out and preening feathers near the Old Fort exhibit, with his/her nest nearby (couldn’t get a decent photo of the nest)
  
We saw two of the 3 ships (replicas) that sailed to VA in 1607 to establish America’s first permanent English colony
  
Structure exhibit in the Old Fort area, just below the eagle’s perch
  
Discovery Tower at Jamestown Settlement
   
After seeing the eagle, we headed back to the ‘Burgh to give Kerry and Glo a car-tour of the W&M Campus before we went to Berret’s Seafood restaurant for an early dinner. We saw some women practicing rugby on one of the athletic fields, and just wondered if we might see an old teammate of mine, who is known to be coaching the W&M Women’s team these days. Sure enough, Beth was there, and we had a nice quick chat before she had to go back to doing what she needed to do to shape up the team for participation in a National Sevens tournament coming up this weekend. It was great to see her again, after all these years! Go W&M Women’s Rugby!

Arriving at Berret’s, we were able to walk in and sit outside. The temps by this time had dropped 10 or more degrees, and again, in the shade with the breeze, we were quite comfortable and ate more than we should have. 

Stopped for provisions on the way back, where Gloria bought a little cheesecake for us to enjoy as a birthday treat, and we sat at their campsite, where the breeze had stilled considerably, and I was battling chewing insects (they always like me best), until about 10 when I headed Roomba-ward. 

Hoping to get back on the bikes tomorrow if the weather holds, and enjoy our final day at First Landing by seeing more of the sights and maybe the actual ocean.