High Cliff State Park is a lovely place, although their maps are quite confusing. But along with the water sports, for which most of our neighbors were there, campers will find lots and lots of walking/hiking/biking trails to enjoy.
Being in the woods, and having a relaxing day on our hands, I tried to photograph a couple of our insect neighbors.
We had thought to take a ride, touring the paved roads and taking “every left turn” so we wouldn’t miss anything, but then remembered my bike chain.
Jack dug out the serious bicycle maintenance tool kit he carries in the truck, and with a couple of pairs of pliers, he fixed it right up. When we tried to find the bent link, it was impossible to discern from the others.
I greased up both chains and took a test ride to see how the fix would work, and voila! Back in bike business. So we began by exploring our loops, and found what would be the perfect site for next time we’re in the neighborhood: #109 on the electric loop. It has good space between it and both its neighbors, is beautifully shady, and has a multi-use (unpaved) trail off its back.
We rode that trail through the woods and although we had many roots and rocks to avoid, it was fine, until we joined up with the horse trail.
That part was choppy and rutted, and mostly came out of the trees and through hot, sunny, buggy open meadows. Between the mosquitoes and the chopped up terrain, I thought I would lose my mind and my fillings.
Still, we persevered, hoping that the “Overlook Trail” would take us to an overlook where we could see precisely how high these High Cliffs are above Lake Winnebago. But no. There was no overlook available, until we (mistakenly) rode our bikes onto a part of the Red Bird Trail that discouraged bicycle use, and there were short paths toward rocky outcroppings, but there was hardly any view at all due to the thick tree growth from below. In the image at the top of this post, you can see Lake Winnebago through a small window I was able to catch along the Red Bird. Jack actually walked up to one of the edges, but I could not go that close without some sort of barrier keeping my vertigo from tumbling be over the edge.
So we rode back as the sky darkened and threatened, but we only had to deal with sprinkles.
Ride time = 56 minutes
Distance = 7.3 miles
Average speed = 7.8MPH
Every day our battery charged, but we continue to feel there is a problem either with the monitor, or some of the other wiring that sends solar gain into the battery because it seemed that the charge did not last as long as it should, given the sunlight and the relatively small draw (refrigerator, primarily) on the resource. The cross-breeze was such that we only had the vent fan running at the hottest part of the day, when the sun was full on the solar panels.
That is something we’re going to have to continue to research and test.
After a simple meal of grilled hamburgers and chips, we called it a day and readied ourselves for the trip to Madison, WI, only a 3-ish hour drive southwest.
Took some of the rainy time to take a shower while no one is around.
The wind combined with the waterlogged soil made it challenging to keep the awning staked up, but we triple-guy-lined the windward side pole, and that seemed to do the trick.
About 12:30P the constant rain began to ebb and by 1 it was not raining for the first time in two nights and two days. I took advantage and headed out along one of the trails hereabouts. I donned my hiking boots that have sat, lonely and forlorn in the back seat of the car, and tied my rain jacket around my waist just in case the clouds were not serious about turning off the spigot. It was still pretty cool, so I kept my hoodie on and set out.
Had a really lovely 4 mile round-trip walk; first down the trail they call Watch House that ended at the Rappahannock River. Of course, there was some mud, but mostly it was hard-packed gravel and dirt.
Another longer trail headed off of that one, to something called “Brewers Point.” Of course, I had to go out thataway. It was a longer, 1.9 mile trek and it was along there that the sun came out, the humidity rose and the hungry insects came to see what might be for lunch. So the good news/bad news thing of the day was that I had to wear my hoodie because I forgot bug spray.
At the end of the trail to Brewers Point were more insects, but also a “canoe-in camping area.” It was actually quite nice, with four raised tent platforms, four picnic tables, a common fire ring, and an area to hang stuff like wet towels as well as lanterns.
Of course, there was a fee-paying station; but oddly, no privy. Short of walking the 2-plus miles back to the campground for the bathhouse, one would have to portage in all one’s water, and bring along a good, light shovel for burying non-trash waste. If you’re a purist camper who packs out everything he packs in, this site would be perfect. Very remote and primitive.
Every creature in the region, including the biting insects, had been sequestered, it seemed, during the rains, because I saw no fewer than 7 rabbits out for a nibble along the path; and 3 groundhogs. The birds and frogs in the wooded areas were legion and loud!
I got back to the camper where Jack had spread our outdoor rug and a couple of other wet things in the sun to dry. Unfortunately, it wasn’t too much longer when the clouds rolled back in. It began lightly raining again at about 4, just as Jack received a Happy Birthday phone call from his longtime buddy, Harry (Jack’s big day is tomorrow, our transition day). Below are various additional scenes from my hike.
After a bit more reading and game-playing on our devices, we set to making dinner: tortellini pasta with pesto sauce, Italian sausage, and a salad. More things removed from the fridge, so I can get more beer in there (hehe) 😉.
That’s pretty much the sum of our Tuesday, April 25. Tomorrow the weather is supposed to improve and stay that way, so we might be able to take a quickie ride or two before we head over to Powhatan State Park near Richmond, VA.
Jack and I stayed two nights in the Charles C. Deam (yes, that’s supposed to be an “m” not an “n”) Wilderness area, 13,000 acres of the Hosier National Forest in Indiana. The campground we stayed in Sunday, July 31 and Monday, August 1—Hardin Ridge State Recreation Area—is one part of the Wilderness area that was designated as such in 1982. The entire area is managed to preserve a natural condition and provide opportunities for solitude.
The campsites are mostly level and actually better-maintained than the above description might lead one to believe. The really noticeable aspect of this being a wilderness area is there is quite a lot of greenery and un-tended space between each site.
On Monday, it was raining, so we decided to head into Bloomington to do some shopping. A nice bridge or causeway spans the enormous recreational lake adjacent to the area, Lake Monroe. It was fun to drive through Bloomington, because one of our fave movies is Breaking Away, a cycling story set in that college town. We did our shopping but it was still rainy or threatening rain, and this was my “send off” dinner night (before I went to Indianapolis/Carmel for my business meeting). So we endeavored to build a campfire in the intermittent rain, and had some success. Grilled steaks with fresh corn on the cob and portobello mushroom caps (also grilled—Jack was the chef of the evening) were yummy.
It finally cleared up enough for us to sit by the fire to finish up our wine and the day.
We took a bike ride Tuesday morning, before I had to head north. We rode all around the campground and rec area and logged 12 miles by following all the loops, and heading all the way down hill (a rather steep grade, at that, which was delightful heading down, but somewhat of a chug climbing back up) to the beach and public access area for Lake Monroe.
Our observations, having seen the 4 or 5 loop areas where camping is permitted (plus one section where there are just a couple of cabins) indicated that the first two loops closest to the ranger station are the oldest. The shower/restroom structures in these two loops are the oldest. While they are certainly clean, the fixtures and structures themselves are showing quite a lot of wear.
The loops farther away from the ranger/check in area appear to be newer facilities. Not all—in fact, relatively few—of the sites have water hookups on site. There is a wide variety of electric, however, but also many areas where walk-in camping sites for tents are available, and even sites that have tiered levels for tents and RVs, and primitive RV sites with no hookups.
A person can find most anything in this camping area, and the managers and rangers are all quite nice and helpful, and (at least at this time of year) there is hardly anyone using the entire place. We might have seen a total of 12 users other than the camp hosts on each loop. Of course, it was Sunday/Monday, and one of the folks said that school starts hereabouts in a week or so. That might have something to do with it being relatively quiet.
There are lots of trails for all types of uses—hiking only, multi-use, equestrian. And among the materials about the area the Rangers hand out when you register is some interesting history about the Hickory Ridge Lookout Tower, which I’ll reproduce below, for those of you who like local lore as I do. If you don’t want to read about it, you can skip that part.
With the rain and humidity came the flowering of rather amazing fungi. I loved all the shapes and colors, so I took a few photos to share. These were all around our campsite and all totally amazing.
We left around 1PM for the ride to Carmel and my convention at the Renaissance North Hotel. Everything you never wanted to know about beer will be my life for the next 4-5 days, although Carmel Indiana is reported to have some very fine bicycling trails so I will also be exploring those if the weather cooperates.
Hickory Ridge Lookout Tower
This structure stands guard over the Charles C. Deam Wilderness area, the last lookout tower remaining in the Hoosier National Forest. Built in 1939 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), it was manned and used for fire detection until the 1970s. It is 110 feet tall, made of steel, with a 7 share foot cab and 123 metal steps.
Early lookouts were simple perches in the crowns of tall trees, or mere ladder steps nailed to a tall tree so someone could climb up to look around. By the 1930s, however, the design for lookout towers had become uniform. At their peak, there were 5,060 towers in the nation, eight of which were in the Hoosier National Forest.
Inside the cabin, entered through a hunger trapdoor in the cabin’s floor, was an alidade on a podium. The alidade was a circular map with the fire tower’s location in the center, and compass directions around the edge (it has been removed from this tower). Attached to the map was a swivel range finder with a sighting wire. When smoke was sighted, the tower man lined up the sighting wire with the smoke, and by plotting the intersection of the lines of sight from different towers, the precise location of the fire could be determined. A telephone or radio could be used to report the fire and dispatch crews. It was common for the towers to be the first site in a rural to get a telephone or radio, and they often served as the community’s link to the outside world.
Raymond Axsom manned the Hickory Ridge Lookout for 26 of the years it was in use. Axsom stayed in the tower during periods of high fire danger. When he wasn’t on duty in the tower, he helped survey land lines, marked timber, routed signs, and did maintenance work on the Forest.
Axsom had a farm 2 miles from the tower and was hired in 1936 as the first tower an. He was replaced in 1938 and 39 by young men from the CCC camp who were assigned to keep watch. Axsom noted the young men kept falling asleep in the tower: a few fires got unnecessarily large because they were not reported promptly. So in 1940, Axsom was called back to be the lookout.
While many of the towermen were local farmers recruited to man a tower during high fire danger, at least two of the towers were “manned” by women. These were the wives of the men originally hired to do the job. According to Clarisse Carroll, former lookout in one of the towers, her husband just gave her the job when other duties called him away. “The rules weren’t as strict as they are now,” she said. “I never told anyone I was taking over. I just did it.”
During periods of high fire danger, a small crew of fire fighters was stationed at the base of the tower. If smoke was spotted, the crew was immediately dispatched to put out the fire. Axsom recalls periods when there might have been 4-5 fires a day, so the fighters were kept busy.
He recalls the wors fire in the Hickory Ridge area was in 1952. A farmer was burning off his garden plot on a windy day, and the fire got away from him. Before it was put out, the fire burnt 2,000+ acres and spread over ~6 miles. It was stopped with on a half mile of the Hickory Ridge Tower.
As frightening as the fire was, Axsom said the time the tower was struck by lightening with him in the top was worse. Still, he said he was the most frightened when an unexpected storm hit with high winds. Since towers had been known to blow over, he had quickly started down toward the ground. But the wind blew so hard he said he had to sit down and wrap his legs around the stairway to keep from being blown off the top.
Over time, the open farmlands around the tower have reverted to forest. Raymond Axsom is now gone, and the house near the base of the tower has been torn down. Today, the tower serves visitors to the Charles C. Deam Wilderness by offering them a panoramic view of the forest and Lake Monroe.
Finally got our lazy behinds moving enough to take a ride today (April 27). We suited up, lubed the chains, and met Kerry on the opposite side of the main highway (Rt 60 or Shore Drive) where the mainly day use areas and woodsy trails are in this enormous state park.
We took a paved trail, named the Cape Henry Trail, in the direction of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, until it ran out. Saw some interesting things along the way, once we left the Park and headed through some pretty residential areas. We were also surprised to see that we passed behind the grocery store we’d been shopping – knowing we could ride our bikes easily and off-road to get provisions is a good thing for next time.
Reversed course to see where the pavement on the opposite side of the main park entry road would take us, and the pavement itself was terrible, with deep potholes and high ridges pushed up by roots. It circled back to the main road at another entrance to the Cape Henry trail (and several others) which were unpaved. Kerry decided he had had enough for the day, and returned to the campground.
Jack and I deliberated a while, due to the fact that we’d placed skinny tires our bikes for the Cycle NC ride just passed, but then said, “How wrong can we be?” And took off into the woods.
While there were tree roots pushed up along the path, it was wide and flat and we had no trouble avoiding the hazards, which also included deep loose sand in a spot or two. But for the most part, the trails was packed and covered with a light dusting of pine needles, so it was soft and quite lovely.
We found a map that said we could exit the trail at 64th Street in VA Beach, so we checked that out and while we didn’t find a bike lane proper, there was a parallel road that had almost zero vehicle use, bordering a residential section, which served as a lovely bike road.
A little while later, as the bigger road turned into Atlatic Ave., we found something called the Maritime Trail, and that led us right to the boardwalk. Which, by the way, isn’t made of wood any more.
The wind off the Atlantic Ocean was quite strong, and the clouds were gathering for the afternoon storm that was forecast. Jack had neglected to bring along a jacket, and we had to ride pretty fast to keep him warm, so we began looking for a bike shop so he might be able to buy a coat. Cycled down to the Pier without any luck, and decided it was time for lunch.
Had an excellent pizza and a salad at a place just off Atlantic Ave., looked for where our devices directed us to a cycle shop (evidently now closed with the space a barber shop today), and decided to beat a fast path back to the campground. Again followed the parallel road until the main road made a bend and turned back into Shore Drive, where we found excellent pavement and a dedicated bike line along both edges of the four-lane. Doesn’t get much better than that.
Jack was really cranking the pedals up the road, and I just managed to keep up, and we got back to camp around 3, and took hasty showers. The rain was definitely coming, so we took down the screen house and had the greatest time watching the osprey over the bay.
They were hovering like kestrels, using the wind (blowing strongly out of the east) to just “sit” in the air. We saw many of them dive into the water, where we would lose sight of them beyond the dunes. But now and again, one would fly over the campground and our site, carrying a fish overland to their nests. This went on for ages, and we saw many, many of them score successes and carry their bounty over our heads. Total bliss.
We left with Kerry and Gloria in their car to head out to Trader Joes. What a nice store! We had a great time looking at all the fun foods and planned and provisioned for the trip to North Bend Campground, where a grocery store is not just right around the corner but rather 20-30 miles away.
Got back home and began prep-and-grill of our quit late dinner together. Pork roast, asparagus, salad, and rice. Just as we sat down to eat the skies opened up and it rained significantly on us as we sat under our awning. We stayed dry, ate well, and enjoyed the close of our last day at First Landing. This is definitely a place we’d like to return to one day.
The next morning, April 28 (Roomba’s adoption anniversary) I was up just after dawn when I saw a blue grosbeak, just foraging around the campsite. I haven’t seen one of those for years. Later, as we were nearing the completion of the pack-stow-and hitch process, I first heard, then saw a little hummingbird in one of the nearby live oaks. Such a bounty of birds!
Headed west for the final camp-stop of this adventure, and lost track of Kerry and Gloria somewhere near Portsmouth. Had a fuel stop and lunch in Emporia, Virginia. Texted with Jack and Martha (coming from Meadows of Dan to meet us), Gloria and Kerry, to locate everyone en route, and got to our site at about 3:30.
It is truly a lovely campground, and quite inexpensive for senior citizens — far les expensive than my fave state park, Occoneechee, nearly next door. But since this is a federal site, also on Bugg’s Island/Kerr Lake, as is Occoneechee, it is a true asset to the citizens of America, so is available for less cost.
Anyway, we gathered not only with Jack and Martha, and Kerry and Gloria, but also Jack and Martha’s friends, John and Lisa. All of us are near one another and John and Lisa built a fire and we told stories and lies, ate dinner, and laughed tougher until about 10, when we hit the hay. Two great days.