Healing in the Highlands

Bob and Joy’s Epic Road Trip Adventures

Grayson Highlands

 

We had thought we’d have to cancel our plans for the second time in a row, but there we sat under a thick canopy of multi-hued green, listening to the wind sweep through the leaves. We had finally made it.  Back at the end of March we had planned our first getaway in a year and had reservations at Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia. Three days before we were due to leave I had my heart attack/opening and we had to cancel.  Fast-forward 3 months, and we were ready for another try.  Bob once again made our reservations (highly recommended, by the way) and we were really looking forward to a long weekend away,  especially to tent camping together for the first time. A week before our departure date, our 21 year old cat Isaac began a rapid deterioration in his health and once again we wondered if we’d need to put our plans on hold.

But now, we were here.  And here was beautiful.

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Grayson Highlands State Park, Mouth of Wilson, Virginia.  Mouth of Wilson!  I love that name!  TripAdvisor.com lists 2 things to do and 1 restaurant for MOW.  It is TINY!  The park’s campground is about 12 miles further down the road with only one store/grill in-between, so if you need any food or other supplies, make sure to stop on your way in.  (The campground does have a camp store that is surprisingly well stocked with decent prices, too.) The Log House Trading Post and Restaurant has a fairly good supply of basics, their food is good for the price and they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Do not plan to buy your gas there, though…they were charging $2.87 per gallon while other gas stations in the area were between $1.99 and $2.19.  A bit further down the road toward the campground is the Grayson Highlands General Store and Inn, which surprised us with its huge selection of gourmet and gluten free foods.  It also has a grill/restaurant , which we did not get to try but did see one of the park rangers getting her lunch there, so that is a good sign of good food…I always like to find out where the locals eat.  (I don’t know why it’s not listed on TripAdvisor…I would review it, but since we didn’t eat there, don’t feel qualified. We did get a cup of coffee to go, which was very fresh and tasty.)

Note:  If you are a smoker, stock up on your cigarettes before you get into the area…we didn’t see anywhere that sold any for miles around…

On to the campground!

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The Virginia State Parks System has been voted #1 in the country, (so say the signs posted here and there…) and I can understand why if Grayson Highlands is typical of their offerings.  I found its facilities and services to be very comparable to its not too far neighbor, Shenandoah National Park.  The campsites were well placed with adequate space in-between so you didn’t feel like you were right on top of your neighbors, the bathrooms/showers were always clean and I never had to wait for either, the camp store was handy dandy for little things we might have forgotten, the camp host came around to welcome us and offer us wood AND ICE for sale ($5.00 per wood bundle which included great kindling, $2.50 for ice) and the campground itself was QUIET!

We needed that quiet after the week we had just had.  To lay there at night and hear only the wind in the trees was literally Heaven. (I guess the elevation is too high for crickets and tree frogs…we heard not a peep or chirp the whole time we were there!)

The first evening we got our campsite set up …

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(There’s my honey ♥ )

…and we prepared and ate our first ever together tent camping meal!

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Everything really does taste better when you are outside in nature!

The next day we began exploring, beginning with the park’s Visitor Center

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The wildflowers outside were spectacular!

Inside, we found a treasure trove!  A combination museum, gift shop and information desk.

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The old pictures give a fascinating glimpse of how life used to be in these hills.  The gift shop was wonderfully stocked with a combination of hand-made items and other souvenirs, which gave me a dilemma… which to pick as my material memory of our time spent there.  I carefully looked over everything and finally made my selection on our last day there…

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What better memento to remember the wild ponies (and my time with my honey) than a heart made of horse-shoes!  (Although I don’t think the wild ponies actually wear shoes!)

The wild ponies!  The ponies are how Bob sold me on Grayson Highlands, in the very beginning!  But, we’ll get to them in just a bit!

After visiting the visitor’s center, we headed out to find the “Old Homestead”.  And, we got lost.  Wonderfully, beautifully, lost.

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We ended up taking a trail that we mistook for another.  We thought it was going to be 3/10ths of a mile…it ended up being quite a bit more.   We kept walking and walking.  We saw no-one.  We heard no sounds, other than nature.  No engine noise, no voices, no nothing but birdsong and our breath.  It was awesome!

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Here we are…loving being lost…together

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We finally came to the end of the trail and found the “Old Homestead”, a collection of preserved old buildings along with a picnic shelter (a wedding was setting up at the time.)

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We headed back to our campsite for some quiet and reading time (I started and completed Stephen King’s newest “End of Watch” over the weekend) and resumed our explorations the next day with…

The Wild Ponies of Grayson Highlands!

Or, rather, our search for said ponies!  We had been told and read that the best trail to see them on was the Rhododendron Trail, also known as Massie Gap.  We set out around 10:30 that morning and at the trail head, we found what I call a “teaser” pony.  He was all by his lonesome but he was enough of an appetizer for us to want to see more, for sure!

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So, we hiked on!

Up and up…

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No ponies…

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We registered…with a bit of reservation…what were we getting ourselves into?  We are absolutely NOT experienced hikers and this was telling us they needed to know who and how many were in our party…just in case…

We saw signs of ponies…

but still no ponies.  THEN THIS HAPPENED…

 

No one told us Grayson Highlands had long horned cattle!  They came, one at a time at first, then they were all around us!

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Mama’s, babies and this magnificent beauty…

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He was about 3 feet away from me and I have to admit, I scooted myself behind a tree for possible safety!

Onward and upward we continued…

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All the way to the top!

I can’t begin to tell you how amazing it felt to stand up there on the top of that mountain!  I felt stronger and more connected to my body than I had in years…possibly my whole life.  Not once did I think about my heart and how, not too many months ago, it tried to stop on me.  Not once did I think I couldn’t make it to the top.  I felt powerful and confident, sure and balanced.  Thinking back on it, I realized this…I felt this way because I was with my husband, my beloved Bob.  It was being in his calm, centered, loving presence that lent me that invincible feeling of being able to do anything.  Thank you, honey.  You ROCK! (pun intended!…see the pic?  see the ROCK?!)

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Then, it was down, down, down the mountain.  Going down was much easier, by the way 🙂

We were almost to the trail head and had given up on seeing any of the wild ponies that are such a draw to this state park.  Bob was a bit ahead of me, as usual…I tend to stop and take a ton of pictures, then run to catch up…

“PONIES! PONIES!”

I heard him shout at me and then THIS!

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AND THIS & THIS & THIS!

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They were literally close enough to touch!  In fact, some people did.  Which, they weren’t supposed to (see sign above).  There are reasons for the no-touching/petting/feeding the ponies, folks.  I know it’s hard not to…believe me, I had to struggle to keep my own hands to myself…the temptation was HUGE.  But, really, if you let your kids touch the ponies, what are you teaching them?  That it’s OK to indulge their impulses and break the rules that are there to protect not only the ponies but the humans, as well (the ponies DO kick and DO bite.)  Not a really great way to help your child to learn respect for nature, is it?  Bob did get his own little close encounter, however…as he was standing on the trail watching the ponies go by, he felt something and looking down, saw a tiny baby pony walk right between his legs!  I wish I had a picture of THAT!

The next day we headed out for an afternoon in Damascus, Virginia, “Trail Town, USA.”

It was a good little drive…about 26 miles of twisty, turny mountain roads…which took about 45 minutes.

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Damascus is a scenic little town (population 814) and is the home of the annual Trail Days Festival. The Trail Days Festival began in 1987 with just a few hundred people and has grown to host over 20,000 hikers and nature lovers each May.

The town is known as Trail Town USA due to the meeting of  several picturesque  trails in the town, including the Appalachian Trail, U.S. Bicycle Route 76, The Iron Mountain Trail,  the Virginia Creeper Trail, the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail (a driving route) and the Crooked Road Musical Heritage Trail (another driving route.)

The Virginia Creeper Trail is a 34 mile long mountain biking trail and a good part of the businesses in Damascus seem to be dedicated to renting bikes and shuttling folks from one point to another along the trail.  We didn’t have time to participate, but from what we saw, a lot of others did, and it looked like they were having a great time.

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The Virginia Creeper Trail

We walked around the park for a while…

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…drove around town and admired the beautiful homes…

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…found a place to eat (I had the chicken wings…they were yummy!)…

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…and finished up with some awesome ice cream!

We definitely want to return to Damascus to continue exploring all it has to offer…I want to check out the horseback riding, and an antique and vintage store by the name of Missing Pieces, Hippy Chick Recycled Art, and Mojo’s Trailside Cafe, which looks absolutely amazing and has awesome reviews on Trip Advisor! I’ve got to admit, I did not do my due diligence before we headed out for Damascus by checking Trip Advisor, and look at all we missed!

We’ll also be returning to camp at Grayson Highlands.  There are so many more trails to hike and we missed driving to the top of Whitetop Mountain, which is famous for it’s vistas and sunsets. Maybe we’ll go in May, when the Mt. Rogers Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad puts on its annual Ramp Festival, offering a day of fun-filled activities, arts and crafts, food and music to the community.  They also have a Maple Festival in April and a Molasses Festival in October!

I’m glad we decided to take our grief over Isaac to the mountains.  Getting away together, away from the home Isaac had been born in and lived for 21 years, away from the place where he was now buried was exactly what we needed and the Highlands was perfect for our healing.

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