We had a great trip in early July (as great as possible in heatwave conditions at any rate). We started by packing up lots of camping stuff and driving down to Grayson Highlands State Park, in Southwest Virginia where we spent a couple of days getting acclimated to higher (OK, not a lot higher, but coming from DC at sea level, anything this side of Death Valley and not on the beach is higher) altitudes and lower tempertures (and more importantly, less humidity).
While we were in the campground, David's folks came up from Seven Devils and brought a great picnic lunch which we all enjoyed before hiking down the trail to Wilson Creek. The infomation about Grayson Highlands mentioned a large waterfall which David didn't believe could exist inside the park boundries so off we went in search of it. And sure enough we found it. More of a water slide than a fall, it was still much larger than David (or any of us) expected. After a very pleasent afternoon Loren and Sarah (David's folks) headed back home.
The next day we loaded our camping equipment into the packs and headed out of the campground for Wilburn Ridge and the somewhat famous wild ponies of Grayson Highlands. Actually there are two herds, one inside the park boundries (where camping is not allowed except in the campground) and one (seen here) in Jefferson National Forest (just across the boundry line). We never managed to run into the ponies when we were carrying our carrots (at least when the carrots were accessible and not stuffed at the bottom of a full pack). So we not forced to violate the "Please don't feed the ponies" rule.
After getting up onto the ridge with all our stuff (as usual, the first part of the hike was the hardest -- very steep up the open field, not the best way to get comfortable with a full pack). We scouted out a spot to camp below the second rock outcropping. We also started to realize how little noontime shade there was on the ridge. While DC was melting with temperatures close to 100 (and humidity to match) we were almost melting with temps in the 90s and no air conditioning to run away to. However, it cooled off nicely at night.
We stayed on the ridge for a couple of days just hiking from the tent to the rock outcroppings and looking for the springs. The map showed a couple of springs within an easy walk; however, the actual location was not quite where the map showed them. That was a bit disconcerting after our first unsuccessful attempt to replenish our water supply. Once the spring was found, we relaxed a bit more and enjoyed the views.
On Wednesday (after two nights on Wilburn Ridge), we packed up again and headed back down to the campground and the most excellent hot and cold running water showers there. We probably weren't supposed to use them since we were no longer staying in the campground but there was no question in either of our minds about paying for another night in the campground if we needed to in order to take a cool shower.
After cleaning up and cooling off, we drove down to Deep Gap and Steve and Helen and Aaron's new house (David's brother, sister-in-law and nephew). They built the house using a fairly new technique with styrofoam blocks and concrete. While there will be house projects for some time to come (there will be a deck and porch on these two sides); it was very comfortable and really is a great house. The first thing we lusted after was the kitchen: big enough for 3 or 4 people easily and with more counterspace than than some commercial kitchens. Of course, the quiet setting and lovely forested views are also great.
We did a bit more work to help them out (having sprayed mud on the ceilings the last time we were down), this time painting the old house to make it more attractive to prospective buyers. And also had time to take a canoe trip on the New River ending up in the backyard of their old house.
All the work and hard play seemed to get to Aaron. We spent the rest of our time with Steve, Helen, Aaron and Ruby (Helen's mother) eating lots of good food (to recover from the hard work), playing scrabble and marvelling over the new house. And of course, trying to teach Aaron the "P is for Phosphorus" song to go with this year's Chemistry club tee shirt.
The next phase of our trip took us to Seven Devils to visit more with David's parents. And to go to the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. The largest annual Scottish Games festival in the world (they claim to have more contestants and spectators than the games in Scotland). We got to see the finish of the Mountain Marathon (among other things) which has to be one of the hardest around because of the climb from Boone to Grandfather mountain, a net gain of 1000 feet but actually requiring 3000 feet of uphill running due to the rolling terrain.
Of course, one of the other events we saw was the caber toss (note the telephone-pole sized caber aligned with the treeline). This is actually called "The Turning of the Caber" and Loren and David think it comes from either bridging swollen stream or moats. Maybe it is something some fool dreamed up during the long Scottish winter?
Watching the sheep dogs round up sheep was also fun (even in the rainy -- but pleasantly cool -- part of the day).
However, watching the sheep dogs hussle the geese across the "bridge" was more interesting. One of those geese really didn't want to be chased with his friends and kept straying off the course. And the dog kept herding him back.
All that animal play (or work) at the Highland Games reminded us of the two kitties (really, cats these days) that we had waiting for us back in Alexandria. We spent another day visiting with David's folks (but decided not to head back to the games) then loaded up the car for the trip back see how those guys were doing.
When we got home, we found all was right with the world. Ken (designated cat sitter for the first couple of days) and Auntie Lisa (designated cat sitter for the rest of the time) discharged their duties with the greatest degress of professionalism possible. (That means Zip and Max were happy, well fed and well played with kitties). They weren't exactly sure what to make of all the new smells we brought back with us, but they were still happy at our return.
We, too, were happy to be back. It was a great trip that we both enjoyed and seeing David's family (or a large portion of it, at any rate) was a lot of fun. But it was nice to get back to our own (imperfect) home, with our own kitties and routines.
We think Zip and Max have forgiven us for going away, but we are happy to stay around the house for a while and enjoying not packing and unpacking for a couple of weeks.