Ramble On

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

One question...

Who is going to rake all these damn leaves?

You can't even tell I already spent four hours on this task!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

T-giving Weekend Visitors

After a great T-day meal at Nancy’s house, we took Mom and Aunt Rusti out for a visit to the cabin…we’d already done a guest shakedown with Chris staying overnight before the Old Rag climb (thanks again Chris, for putting together the IKEA futon!).

With them, we had a chance to try out a couple of things:

1) The bargain filet steaks I found at the Luray Food Lion, charcoal grilled on my new mini-Weber. Complementing the steaks – grilled yellow squash with onions, asparagus, and for openers, bean soup. Desert, pumpkin pie.
2) DVD on the new TV. Nothing special technology-wise here, and still no cable or internet out there. We watched ‘The Holiday’ with Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, and Jack Black.
3) It was a cloudless night with a full moon, and the temp outside got to well below freezing. So our winter plan – new heat, flannel sheets for everybody, carried the day. Nice view of Orion from the brick terrace – the moon was bright enough to cast shadows!
4) We made an inevitable trip to the Luray Wal-Mart…through Leaksville, Virginia. Of note, as there is a family connection to Leaksville, NC and I thought that would be a fun drive.

They left Saturday afternoon, with the first part of their route back to Raleigh following US 211 through New Market and then to I-81…they planned a stop or two along the way, for one thing, looking for apple butter.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Catching Up

After the long Thanksgiving weekend there will be plenty to post, I am behind a bit and will catch up over the next few days.

On Saturday, Mary and I took a drive up to Skyline Drive, likely for the last time this season. Most of the facilities are now closed for the winter in SNP, although the drive is still accesible and most of the hiking trails will remain open. Our Saturday destination was Big Meadows - a wayside up there which is a very interesting geological feature - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Meadows (note the article does not include anything about the geology of the meadow!).

They have an excellent old lodge there in the tradition of famous national park lodges - not as glamorous as some of the big western parks maybe but still nice digs. Also, cabins, campgrounds, a visitor center, and a little restaraunt. It is near some favorite hikes including the Hawksbill summit and Dark Hollow Falls.

We can see the facilities as we drive up to the cabin, so I have often wanted to take a look back down into the valley and see what I could make out. Here is my lame motocam shot from the balcony of the lodge (it was closed, so we were walking around the outside checking it out).

Two other items of note - the temperature up on the mountain was 26 degrees - it was nearly 50 in the valley; and we passed two deer on the way to the lodge, one a six pointer.

A second image for this post - a Google Earth map showing the relationship of the two lodges, Skyland and Big Meadows, to Hawksbill Cabin. Since these peaks of the Blue Ridge are all over 3,000, they loom over the valley, especially where we are, tucked up close to the Park (the cabin is about 1.5 miles from the Park border). From this image, the orientation of my photo is viewing towards the Northeast; looking through a ravine in the mountainside towards the farms between Stanley and Luray. The cabin is obscured by the mountainside in the foreground.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Heating Systems - Upgrades Complete!

Going back to the posts on October 15 (http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2007/10/another-big-project-for-this-year.html) and October 30 (http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2007/10/heating-system-update.html ), we’ve upgraded the heating system in the cabin.

We retained the baseboard radiators as a supplement to the new propane system. These are installed in the bathrooms, the utility room, and the guest bedroom. We keep them set at 50 degrees while we are away as a way to help slow the use of propane and keep from having a freeze, but we are worried about the expense of this type of heat so we’ll be watching costs carefully.

Gone are the fuel tank from the front of the house (thanks very much for “no refund” on the unused propane, Valley Gas Corp. in Stanley – we went with Southern States partially due to this), the old propane fireplace and dining room heater, and the electric fan heaters that were installed in various parts of the house. Also, we eliminated the pellet stove.

We thought the propane heater in the dining room was salvageable, and that a farmer might use it to heat a barn or workshop; however, it was substantially rusted out and now rests in the Page County landfill (in case my fellow uninitiated city folk are interested http://www.co.page.va.us/dept/landfill.htm). The obsolete and non-working electric fan heaters are also there, as is the old propane fireplace.

This is one potential destiny for the pellet stove, which is now stored in the garage shed. Substantial cleaning will be required for that unit, and we could still end up using it to heat the outbuilding. Or, we could put it up for sale to a farmer as above. Our GC Jesse did a great job of patching the fireplace where the exhaust from that unit attached – he found a decent matching stone in the yard and installed it there.

Now for the new system: we have a larger tank that was installed out back – shown in the photo, conveniently hidden behind the small shed. Also, a new fuel tank line has been trenched in to the house, as shown in this photo. My Jacobs friends will remember my continuing lectures on Miss Utility…as they were trenching this line, they found an old electric cable that ran from the small shed out to the garage…this was abandoned and not a hot line. It is typical of the earlier utilities for the place, everything is spliced together in make due fashion…

There is a 25K BTU monstrosity in the master bedroom, which will serve to heat the entire addition. We are keeping this at 50 degrees also.
Finally, the new propane fireplace also pushes out 25K BTU, kept at 50 degrees when we are not there, will serve to keep the main part of the house at a toasty temp. The new roof job included 30 insulation, and we have a ceiling fan in there to ensure that the warm air circulates.

This heating system upgrade was one of the two major projects of the first phase of repairs. There is still plenty to do, and I’ll revisit the master task list later in the month.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


A couple of years ago, Mary and I went to a David Byrne show at the Birchmere (http://www.birchmere.com/ - always worth a check of the schedule!). Byrne is a long-time favorite of most people of our age, dating back to the time he led the Talking Heads in the '70's and '80's.

Since then I've checked into his blog from time to time - he kept a journal of the tour he was in when we saw him, and I keep up with him because of it.

Since we used quite a bit of IKEA stuff to furnish the cabin - here is a link to a pertinent entry:


Monday, November 19, 2007

Skyland and the Neighbor's Stock

On Sunday, Mary and I decided to head up to Skyland in Shenandoah National Park. We wanted to do a short hike and then have lunch up there in the dining room that overlooks the valley. The Skyland facilities close after Thanksgiving until March, it has already snowed a couple of times up on the mountain. On the way, we explored a short cut I had heard about, Jewel Hollow, that intersects route 211 in the Thornton Gap entrance to the park.

Skyland (http://www.visitshenandoah.com/lodging-food/skyland-resort.cfm) – I have also copied a photo of the terrace by the restaurant – is where Mary and I stayed last Spring when we were first thinking of buying a place in the valley. In this photo, you can see the valley in the distance.

The Google Earth image I’ve uploaded here traces the route (click the image to view details). It is pretty direct even though it winds through hills and dales, past cattle farms (IBR is a big agricultural producer here, as are Tysons and Cargill), chicken coops, sillage fields, etc. Rather than going through Luray, this route is probably 3 miles shorter, except that the last mile is over one mile on a one-lane gravel road…so until we get the new four wheel drive vehicle Mary is talking about, or the farm vehicle I am talking about (likely a used Ford 150) – we won’t be taking this one much.

Another item of interest as we were leaving the cabin: our neighbor’s stock were out in the small pasture at the foot of the hill. I was able to snap some Moto-cams of the cows and donkey. Also, if you look up the hillside in the photo of the cows, there are three goats on the hillside. Due to the resolution of phone cam shots you may not be able to see them well, but they are all laying on the hill under the trees at the top in this view. I reckon the small heard in this pasture is about 10 cows, there are two calves among them. There is a small seasonal stream that runs through here, whenever there is water the cows congregate in it, very near the road into our place.

Also of note, this weekend at the Food Lion, I saw a posting for goats for sale: $50 for black Nubian goat kids….hmmm, too bad we don’t have the acreage (yet).

Friday, November 16, 2007

Old Rag Hike and Ascent - Tuesday November 13

Following our successful climb of the Half Dome in Yosemite in 2005 (view at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Half_dome and scroll down for the famous “Cable Route”), Chris and I decided to do the Old Rag hike in SNP on Tuesday.

From http://www.hikingupward.com/SNP/OldRag/ , the Old Rag Mountain hike in the Shenandoah National Park is one of the most popular hikes in the mid-Atlantic region. With many spectacular panoramic views, and one of the most challenging rock scrambles in the park, this circuit hike is favorite of many hikers but can be crowded (that’s why we went on a weekday).

The hike features great views, but features a mile long rock scramble that is challenging due to its steepness, and for forcing passage through cracks in the rock. Hopefully, some of the pictures give a sense of the challenge.
Now, more on the mountain, from Wikipedia: Old Rag Mountain, or simply Old Rag, is a mountain in the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia…and is unusual in that, unlike most mountains of the Blue Ridge, it has an exposed (rocky) top.

The photos (most from my phone cam, but some are borrowed from Wiki and Hiking Upward) start with a picture of the mountain as one approaches it, then I have Chris and me as we set off. Note, the dot-com vintage Kozmo.com gear bag Chris maintains! And there is a great history of this company at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kozmo.com !

From there, after a mile or two, you come to a couple of opportunities for views. The ones I selected here feature the foilage, then a look up at the peak and the beginning of the rock scramble.

Next, here are a few photos of the rock scramble itself. As advertised, it was very challenging, requiring movement up, down, and sideways in all directions. At one point, during a particularly tough pull up a boulder, you realize you can’t just go back anymore – the way back down is just as tough as the rest of the way up.

And finally a couple of photos of the summit – the sign, and this incredible boulder sitting up on a flat rock. Lastly, a shot of Chris climbing up as high as possible, almost to the full height of the mountain.

As is typical of our approach, our goal was to summit and then get as far down the hill as possible by nightfall. We were successful, but did the final 2 miles in the dark using headlamps. No problems here, as that part of the route is on a fire road. Last photo here is a topo map of the route.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Battle of the Species 3: Termites

One of the main problems we identified at the cabin was potential termite damage. There was a visibly damaged roof beam that we knew had to be repaired, and an early diagnosis indicated that there was a possible termite issue there. Here is a photo of the original ceiling and the roof beams.

First, a note about termites, from http://www.wikipedia.org/:

“Termites, sometimes known as white ants, are a group of social insects. They usually prefer to feed on dead plant materal such as wood, leaf litter, and soil, but about 10 percent of the 4,000 species are economically significant pests that can cause serious structural damage to buildings. Their habit of remaining concealed often results in their presence being undetected until the timbers are severely damaged and exhibit surface changes. Once termites have entered a building they do not limit themselves just to wood, also damaging other cellulosic materials such as wood paper and carpet. ... Termites usually avoid exposure to unfavourable environmental conditions. They tend to remain hidden in tunnels in earth and wood. Where they need to cross an impervious or unfavourable substrate, they cover their tracks with tubing made of faeces, plant matter, and soil. Sometimes these shelter tubes will extend for many metres, such as up the outside of a tree reaching from the soil to dead branches. Most termite barrier systems used for buildings aim to prevent concealed termite access, thus forcing them out into the open where they must form clearly visible shelter tubes to gain entry.”

The wiki entry goes on and includes a very insightful article about avoiding termite troubles…unfortunately, a proactive title like that would prove to be of little use to us.

As Jesse, our general contractor, prepared to do the demolition before installing the replacement beam, he took down some old metal siding from the back of the house, over the clerestory windows. When he did this, the surprise he discovered was that each of the beams in this area, ten in all, had serious infestations. In fact, each beam sheltered an active colony that had bored into the beams to a distance of 10 – 12 feet!

Here are photos of the damage, discovered during the demolition and afterwards.
The first one is the area where the metal siding covered the ends of the beams. In this photo, the ends of 2 or 3 beams should be visible, but termites had devoured them. Keep in mind the scale of the beams - they are 20-plus feet long, 12x6 inches. At least two feet of each beam extended into this space!

The second photo is of one of the beams - relatively intact - after demolition. Mostly, as the old wood was exposed to air, it simply disintegrated, as shown in the final of these three photos. This damage led to our decision to take the entire roof off of the original part of the cabin – the stone part. The construction project is documented in earlier blog entries.
We decided to use the new technology beams rather than the original solid wood ones, first because the original type costs $1,500 a pop, and second because we actually needed more than 10 beams to be safe structurally. The beams we chose were $250 apiece in the length we needed, so this element of the construction project came in significantly below budget and actually improved the house. The photo below shows the construction progress with the new clerestory windows and tech beams.
The end of the story is the installation of the standing seam metal roof, and the new interior paneling and lighting. So far we have not found any damage in the addition – the newer part of the house. But we are keeping an eye out for any signs!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Long Weekend Plan

It has been a slow week for posting on the blog for several reasons, including a two-day trip to Los Angeles early in the week, and some important meetings at the end of the week. I plan to make up for it by early next week, as Mary and I are going out to the cabin for the weekend, and will be there Saturday through Tuesday.

Several activities to report on during this trip:

1. The heating system has been updated with a new thermostat controlled propane fireplace. We’ll see how that works and talk about the installation.
2. I hope to write up the termite entry on the battle of the species; also on this topic there was a related article in the Washington Post about why rodents get into houses during the winter – I am sure it is full of surprises.
3. On Tuesday, my hiking partner – trail name Musical Fruit, and also known in this blog as Chris – will attempt to climb Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park – link here: http://www.hikingupward.com/SNP/OldRag/ .

So those updates will appear next week.

Friday, November 2, 2007


Today is moving day, but I thought I would make a quick post.

First photo here is of our collection of terra cotta jack-o-lanterns, we've acquired these over the years from estate sales and from a little road side stand in Sperryville, which is just over the SNP ridge from Luray.

The second photo is of a collection of squash we picked up last week out in Luray at the "pumpkin patch," which was set up just across from the site of the auction I posted about a few weeks back. Several of my family members had come out to visit the cabin, and on the way back we stopped at this place, where Mary and I decided to buy a few decorative squashes. The large green on is called an apple gourd, I hope to make a birdhouse from it next spring because of its unusual shape.