Sunday, November 12, 2017

Great Dismal Swamp NWR

The campground here is just a few miles away from the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.  We've been wanting to check it out and see if they have any resident volunteer opportunities, so we took advantage of one last beautiful afternoon to go for a drive.

We located the Refuge Headquarters and stopped in to talk to the Ranger on duty.  They do not have RV sites for resident volunteers, so no luck there, but we talked for a while and she directed us to the Wildlife Drive.

The Wildlife Drive is a 6 mile long road through the swamp, out to Drummond Lake.  

There are a few short boardwalks along the way.  We skipped the first one because the small parking lot was already full, but stopped at the next one, Cypress Marsh.

It was a nice raised boardwalk through a cypress-filled marsh.  The Cypress trees were a beautiful golden brown color for Fall.

It was a beautiful day for a walk!

We reached the end of the boardwalk, which was just a short distance down the road from where we had parked the Jeep.  We could have walked back on the boardwalk, but we just followed the road back.

There was a canal that followed along the side of the road.  It looked like a perfect habitat for alligators . . . but we know there aren't any in Virginia!

We exited the woods and made a left turn along an area of the marsh that recently burned.  It looked strange with no trees standing, just blackened stumps lying on the ground.

We reached the lake, which is the largest natural lake in Virginia, but only an average depth of 6 feet.  That's a really shallow lake -- you could practically walk all the way across it!

It's a pretty lake, though.

The lake is popular with kayakers and fishermen, and there is a fishing pier into the lake.

It looks like a good spot for bird-watching, too, but we didn't spot anything while we were there.

One last stop on the way out -- at the first boardwalk that we had skipped on the way in.

It was just a short boardwalk in the tall pines.

Lots of leaves on this trail - somebody needs to get out here with a blower!

Another nice walk, though, on a beautiful fall day . . . it would be our last warm day for a while!!

We enjoyed our visit to the Great Dismal Swamp.  It's too bad they don't have facilities for volunteers -- this would be a great location for visiting Nicolas!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Virginia Beach Off Season

The beach at First Landing State Park

Ever since Nicolas got here in late July, he says there’s always been something going on in Virginia Beach – concerts, food festivals, beer festivals – anything a 21-year-old could want . . . He’s spent many weekend evenings at the beach, and he said the boardwalk is usually wall-to-wall people.  Early November, though, is pretty quiet and most of the businesses along the Boardwalk are closed up until Spring.

We knew we’d waited a little too long to get down there, but we decided to check it out anyway this weekend.  Before we hit the boardwalk, though, we stopped in at First Landing State Park. We’re on the waiting list for a Camp Host position for next spring, and we wanted to check out the park and the Host Sites.

Several of the camping loops are closed down for the season, so we drove through the two loops that are still open through November.  We passed a lot of tent sites, and were beginning to wonder if they even had RV sites when we reached an area of sites with water and electric.  There were campers on them, but they weren’t very long, and the roads were really narrow!  We found one of the Host Sites, but we weren’t too confident that we could get on the site.

We stopped in the office and talked to the rangers at the desk, and they directed us to the loop “where the bigger rigs go”.  It’s currently closed, but we were able to walk through.

The Host Site in this loop is much bigger and more wide open.

Campground Host site

We wouldn’t have any trouble fitting there . . . but it is right across from the beach, so we’d probably get a little sand-blasted.  Well, we’re just on the waiting list, so it may not even open up.

We continued walking around the loop, and found that the rest of the sites were all under a canopy of trees.

Cool trees

Campsites in the RV Loop

The trees definitely add character, but I’m not sure I’d call these sites big-rig friendly.  There were really only a handful of sites that could handle a bigger RV.

Before we left, we stopped to take a look at the beach.

Virginia Beach


From the beach we could see the Chesapeake Bay Bridge – Tunnel, and you could clearly see where the bridge disappeared into the underwater tunnel.


It was a blustery day, and the beach was pretty much deserted, except for a couple windsurfers.

Blustery day at the beach

From the State Park, we continued on to the boardwalk - it was pretty quiet.

Not many people around in November

There are several small parks along the boardwalk, including this Naval Aviation Memorial Park.

Naval Aviation Park

There were statues honoring the pilots, support crew, and their families,

Navy Pilots

Aviation Support

and granite memorials to the backbone of the air defense program – the aircraft carrier.


Prominently displayed on this one is the Eisenhower.

Carrier Memorial - that's the Ike

In the fall, winter and spring, horseback tours of the beach are offered.  The horses have a stable right on the beach.

Horse tours on the beach

We continued walking until we reached the Neptune Statue . . . the iconic symbol of Virginia Beach.


Neptune's Beach

Tom had to get in on the photo op!

Tom had to get in there with Neptune

We turned around then and walked back the other way.  Workers were busy putting up the Christmas lights along the boardwalk for their holiday display – maybe we’ll have to come back one evening to check them out!

Looking forward to visiting the beach again next spring when there’s more going on!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Naval Station Norfolk


Last weekend, Nicolas had Saturday off so he took us on a little tour of Norfolk.  We drove around the downtown and waterside districts, and had lunch at the Little Dog Cafe.  It looked like a very popular place for breakfast, and lunch was pretty good, too.

After lunch, Nicolas took us to the NEX to look around.  It’s a lot bigger than the one in Charleston!  Nicolas picked up a few things he needed, and Tom got a “Navy Dad” T-shirt.

From the NEX, he drove us down to the piers.


(I couldn’t get this photo as we drove into the gate, so I had to borrow it from the internet)

Even with two carriers in the shipyard, a couple others underway, and numerous ships deployed, it’s still a busy place.  Nicolas was able to drive us right down to pierside, where we got an up-close view of the two newest carriers,  USS George H. W. Bush (CVN-77, in the foreground), and USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78, in the background).

CVN-77 and CVN-78 parked next to each other

From behind, the Ford (on the right) appears to dwarf the Bush!

The Ford looks huge next to the Bush

It’s definitely an impressive ship!

CVN-78 USS Gerald R. Ford

CVN-78 USS Gerald R. Ford

When the Ike was here, it was parked right on this side of the Ford.  It should be out of the shipyard by the time we get here in the spring, and Nick will take us on a tour.

The Bush isn’t exactly a dinghy, either!

CVN-77 USS George H. W. Bush

Driving along the pier, there were lots of other ships, too.

This is an Amphibious Landing Dock.  Based on what I saw online, I think it may be the USS Arlington.

Amphibious Landing Dock, probably the USS Arlington

The USS Bainbridge is a Guided Missile Destroyer.

DDG-96 Guided Missile Destroyer USS Bainbridge

It took a little research online, but I’m pretty sure this one is a Fleet Replenishment Oiler, possibly the USNS Leroy Grumman.

Fleet Replenishment Oiler, possibly the USNS Leroy Grumman

Lastly, we spotted a submarine . . . not sure which type, though, or what one it is (there’s too many!)


It was very interesting to see, and we’re looking forward to taking a tour of Nick’s ship next spring!

Later in the evening, we did get a quick glimpse of Nick’s ship.  He took us over the Jordan Bridge over the Elizabeth River, and we had a direct view of the Eisenhower.  It was dark, though, and I couldn’t get a good picture.

I did get a blurry view of the front of the Shipyard, though!

Norfolk Naval Shipyard

We enjoyed getting this little view into Nicolas’ life, and are looking forward to seeing even more in the spring!