Ramble On

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Walking on the Hawksbill Greenway

Tessie and I enjoy a little walk along the Hawksbill Greenway on Sunday mornings when we're out in Luray.  She finds some good sniffs around, and I enjoy the little peeks at the stream that you find around every corner - like the ones here.

The Greenway is a little urban park that the town has put together.  There's a four mile long walking trail along the stream, and it's very popular with the locals.  We're lucky enough to see friends from around town pretty much anytime we're our for our walks.

I know I have posted about the Greenway before, but here is a link with more information about the park: http://www.hawksbillgreenway.org/history.html

There are a couple of flocks of ducks there, you can always spot some trout, there are several species of herons, and in one section, there's a pasture full of grazing cows.  Not a bad feature, this park.

Now that I'm thinking about it, I can't wait to get back for a walk this Sunday!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Day Trip to Lexington, VA

Mary and I continued our day trip last month, departing the Natural Chimneys park on the way to Lexington.  We had intended to go on from there to Natural Bridge but planned a lunch stop in the little town first.

We were surprised to find a charming little town, a bit larger than our beloved Luray, with a little more activity downtown, probably owing to the location of two universities there – Virginia Military Institute and Washington and Lee Universities.  It’s well known as the home of Stonewall Jackson, and he is buried there, as is Robert E. Lee.  During my reading for this post I also learned that Sam Houston – famous for his exploits in Texas – was also from Lexington.

Mary and I rolled into town in search of lunch, and settled on The Southern Inn.  We had salads and light fare – in particular I enjoyed the beer list (I had two, both local and good).  We chatted a bit with our waiter, and he told us about Boxerwood Botanical Garden on the outskirts of town.

We decided to head there for a bit instead of continuing the trek to Natural Bridge, since there’s always another day for an activity like that one.  We went for a walk in the gardens there – the website is http://www.boxerwood.org/ -  it turns out this was the estate of a local doctor and it has been subsequently developed into a botanical garden and educational resource.   There are quite a few distinct “habitats” here – almost like rooms in the garden, featuring wildlife, a variety of trees, and artworks.

One of the photos features a central variety of tree that’s featured here, the Japanese Maple – apparently they were a favorite of the doctor’s.  We also found what’s known as “The Nest,” a sort of outdoors classroom that our waiter has worked on one summer as an intern at the gardens.  It’s on a high point in the garden, and there are 360 degree views of the Blue Ridge and Shenandoah Valley countryside from there.

After an hour in the garden, the time on our day trip was running out.  

We’d checked out the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction (and had some pie), Natural Chimneys, the town of Lexington, and Boxerwood Gardens.  A full day, in other words, so it was time for the trek back home.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Natural Chimneys Regional Park

Mary and took a little drive to Lexington, VA a few weeks back, following Route 11 south out of Harrisonburg.  We saw a few little signs Natural Chimneys Park and thought that following them to see what was there would be a good idea.

So we did, and the detour did not disappoint - there is a nice little park there, dominated by a limestone formation of seven towers, shaped like chimneys.  The formations are leftovers of the ancient sea floor that forms the Valley; some layers of these rocks can be very resistant to erosion and so you find a unique feature like these here and there.

The towers are usually described as chimneys, but as you walk around them, you are treated to alternative perspectives that may lead you to think you are looking at the ruins of a medieval castle.  And that may just be why this park is home to a Renaissance Faire, scheduled for this weekend, as a matter of fact, and a jousting contest in August.

The thought of this jousting contest, which has been held here since 1821, that really fires the imagination.  While the contest is not the stuff of movies - shining armor, where the knights try to knock each other off of their horses - just thinking about people coming here for this over nearly 200 years it kind of fun.  The contest is one where the rider tries to pick off little rings with his or her lance while riding full speed along the track.

Couple that with camping, some outdoor music, and you certainly could have a good time out there.  Here's a link to the park's web page:


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Checking in on the Hops

Thought I might post a check up on my hops bines.  Here they are about two months up out of the ground.

The first photo is of the Goldings, which are in a pot right in the middle of Mary's truck patch - so the other plants there are summer squash on the left and eggplant on the right.

The second photo is of the Willamette, which took off and I thought would be better at this stage than the Goldings.  Looks like a squirrel chewed the training twine on one of the runners, and we had a little setback. But all's well, I don't expect much from them this first year anyway.

The Beer Making Book by Erica Shea and Stephen Valand (Amazon link below) describes the two varieties as follows:

Golding:  low to medium bitterness,  flavors of dried flowers, plum and moss
Willamette:  low bitterness, flavors of pear, eucalyptus, and earth

In the book, the Goldings varieties are listed as ingredients for blondes and lighter ales, while the Willamette hops are used in a couple of pale ales.  I've brewed some of each of those, so I know that I can use whatever these bines might produce.

Here's the link to the book:

Monday, June 17, 2013

Hawksbill Mountain Day Hike

Looking south from the Hawksbill Summit.
It’s something of a ritual, whether it occurs in the spring, summer, or fall – but Mary and I find our way to the summit of Hawksbill Mountain in Shenandoah National Park at least once a year.   Most recently, that was during our vacation in late May. 

Lately, another part of the ritual for me is a stop at the Pinnacles overlook, where you can get a nice view of Old Rag, site of one of the most popular hikes in the park – for more on that, check out Bob Look’s blog in the blog roll on the right.  He’s a volunteer steward on the mountain, and is a source of a wealth of information about the trails, the wild life, and other goings on up on Old Rag.
Old Rag, from the Pinnacles Overlook.

We chose the route from the Upper Hawksbill Parking, at mile 46.7.  My Heatwole guide describes the hike: “Round trip 2.1 miles, total climb about 520 feet…A fairly easy hike on a graded trail and a fire road.  Good views from the summit.”
Page Valley below, from Hawksbill Summit.

I’m sharing a few photos from the summit with this post – the views are one of the reasons we go there so often.  But sometimes we go for the breeze, especially during the summer, because Hawksbill is highest peak in the park and it’s usually a few degrees cooler up there.

This hike will take you anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, depending on how much time you spend at the summit enjoying the 360-degree views or watching the hawks and buzzards gliding by.  There are often deer along the path, and there are always chipmunks and squirrels scavenging away in the underbrush just out of site. 

Since we can see Hawksbill Mountain from the cabin during the winter, I guess you could call this easy day hike a favorite.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Unwinding Jordan Hollow Farm Inn

This is the last of three posts this week meant to help me get caught up on the vacation week that Mary and I spent at Hawksbill Cabin in late May.  I still have a few left, but won’t put them up until next week at the earliest.

Back in 2010, the locally famous Jordan Hollow Farm Inn finally succumbed to a combination of the bad economy and some bad business decisions by the owners, and it went into foreclosure.  Somewhere in the history of this blog, a reader might find a few photos of the property back then, as Mary and I took a couple of looks at it while we tried to decide if we might make a play for it at the foreclosure auction.

At the time, the bank was sticking with a price that was just too high.  I ran some proformas and simply couldn’t find a way to make the old inn work with the mortgage that would be required – so we passed on it.  We met a lot of good local people during our due diligence, and we got to spend some time with a few good friends who could offer insight into the wisdom of the venture, so I count the whole experience as a win

Eventually the price came down to almost half of what the bank originally sought.  The moment had passed for us, but the price was too good for the property to sit for much longer and a new buyer appeared.  Now we’ve been watching the place with great interest as a lot of improvements have been made under the new trade name of ‘Hawksbill Hideaway.’

A couple of weekends ago, there was an auction of some of the personal property at the place – I guess you’d call that the final unwinding of the old inn.  The event was just packed, but after having benefitted from a couple of up close and personal looks at all the items that were up for auction, there really wasn’t anything that Mary and I could use, or would likely bid on.

That is, except for two items – the old signs for the inn.  I’d used a modified PowerPoint version of one of them on my business plan when Mary and I were looking at the place. They’d been tucked away in the old barn gathering dust; I saw them on one of my old walk-throughs, but I had completely forgotten about them. 

We stopped by the auction briefly on our way back from the farmers market, just as the crowd was moving to the vehicles and lawn care equipment.  We walked around looking at the flotsam and jetsam of what had been a popular local spot a couple of decades ago, sorry to see it coming to an end like that.

Then I spotted a lady moving the signs around.  She’s picked them up for less than $50 for both.  I chatted with her a bit, and told me she had taken riding lessons at the inn when she was a youngster, so having the signs around her farm was going to be a nice memory.

I agreed, and told her they probably were the only things I might have been interested in, too, but that I was glad to hear they were going to a place like hers where they would be appreciated.

And then I helped her load them into her car.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Rolling Grape Leaves at Wisteria

Here's the finish product - ready to eat!
There’s plenty going on at Hawksbill Cabin this summer, but I have fallen a little behind on putting up some highlight posts from the vacation week that Mary and I spent there in late May.  This week I am working on getting caught up this week with a few posts – today is the second of three.

We spent Saturday afternoon enjoying a ‘music under the arbor’ event at our neighbors’ vineyard, Wisteria.  Since we were already out for the weekend, we had the chance to enjoy their annual grape leaves rolling event as well.

Sue and Moussa put together this little annual event – generally on a Sunday in the spring – but we missed it last year due to travel schedules.  I’ve been enjoying grape leaves since my USAF tour of Berlin, where we could get the Greek, Turkish, and Balkan versions within a short walk of the base, and Mary has been making them using a family recipe for all of her life, so we made a point of getting to Wisteria to join the fun this time.
Here's a look at the vegan stuffing mixture.

Freshly picked leaves from the vines at Wisteria!
They use a Lebanese variant of the recipe, making a vegan dish that combines fresh herbs, tomatoes, chick peas, rice, and spices in the stuffing mixture.  Moussa picked the leaves from the vineyard earlier in the week, and they had been blanched before we got there to soften them up for rolling.  (If you’re making them from bottled leaves, you’d need to do a pre-boil to eliminate some of the brine.)

We had fresh made baba ghanoush and hummus with pita while we were working – paired with a couple of wine samples.  After the leaves were stuffed and rolled, Sue boiled them, and we enjoyed sitting around a chatting while they cooked. 

In progress shot, before they were boiled to finish them.
Then they were done, and we dabbed a little fresh olive oil on them, along with fresh Greek-style yogurt.  

That made for a fine lunch – there was plenty for everyone, and then some.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Another Brew Day at Beaver Run Brewery

The hops for this batch of Flat Tale IPA.
There’s plenty going on at Hawksbill Cabin this summer.  But it seems I have fallen a little behind on putting up some highlight posts from the vacation week that Mary and I spent there in late May, so I am going to work on getting caught up this week with a few posts – today is the first of three.

We’d had a great visit from Kathy that included rib night with Sally and Dan out on their patio, and then Dan announced he was going to brew a new batch of his Flat Tale IPA. It turned out that spending Sunday morning at Beaver Run Brewery would be a great way to get the vacation underway – so I headed over there after breakfast to join him, arriving just as the mash began.
Wrapping up the mash.

Already I’ve written a few posts about the upgrades at Beaver Run Brewery – they’ve been designed both to help scale up the operation a bit for the most part, but they also make everything just a bit easier to manage.  That’s especially the case with the pump – which eliminates the need to lift boiling hot wort – and the plate chiller, which expedites cooling the wort down to yeast pitching temperature. 

The wort chiller is the last step in the brewing process.
So the activity is just a lot of fun, and then you have a great product to enjoy at the end of it all.  As usual here are a few photos of the process – it will be a few weeks before we can enjoy the beer, though!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Hawks at Hawksbill Cabin

During the first couple of springs at Hawksbill Cabin, the front yard was dominated by a very large pine tree.  We had to take it down eventually after a wet and windy winter, when we noticed it had started to lean slightly and there was disturbance in the soil around the roots - it looked ready to fall.

And that signal was confirmed in another way, since the tree had been the home to nesting hawks for the two previous springs, and they didn't return that year.  We enjoyed watching the pair that returned every year raise two clutches of four nestlings each year.  By clicking the 'Hawks' label at the end of the post you can read more about them.

Last week I was sitting on the brick terrace working through a pile of old magazines when I heard the distinctive call of our hawks.  They still return to nest nearby, possibly back in the wood lot, and we hear them during the mornings and evenings when one of the parents returns to the nest with food.  As I looked up, I was surprised to see four of them circling around above the pond across the road from us.

I rushed for my camera and was very lucky to catch three of them in this image - you can just see the third one as a speck in the lower right hand corner.  I often see one or two of them engaged in this frolic, but it was amazing to see the four of them.

These are either Sharp-shinned Hawks or Cooper's Hawks.  I've never settled on an identification - and most of the web resources I've read said it's common not to be able to confidently identify them, since they are so similar.  I think if you check into the past posts, you'll see that I refer to them as one or the other from time to time.  Someday I'll get it right.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Early Season Action at the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction

On our vacation last week, one of the essential activities I had planned was a drive down to the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction in Dayton, VA.  I learned about the place when I worked with David during my "agribusiness internship" back in 2011; we went back last summer as well.  This time I wanted to see the early season crops...but Mary suspects that we went because I wanted some pie.

They have a little snack bar out in the back where you can buy sandwiches and sodas - and pie.  There is a board where they list the varieties of the day.  It's funny how on the day we went, everything was a two word flavor.  For the record, we both chose one of my favorites - oatmeal pecan.

As far as the produce available, there was more than I expected, including early lots of tomatoes.  David said that some of the farmers use hoop houses, so they get an extended growing season that is 6 weeks earlier and 6 weeks later.

While most of what was available was flowers (there are always plenty of these), there were some flats of herbs grown from seed, and a few other varieties.  I made a little video of the call on some auctions - it's embedded below (you can see another action video on the Hawksbill Cabin YouTube channel!).

The auction's web page is here:  http://svproduceauction.com/

It's a very pleasant drive, with the last part cruising over some winding back roads through dairy farm country.  My last photo from the outing is of a barley field at one of the neighboring farms.  We were lucky with a beautiful day for our trip!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Nevada Falls Accident in Yosemite

This is Nevada Falls - in October, when the
snowmelt has long passed.
Youthful enthusiasm has claimed yet another victim at the waterfalls of Yosemite.  There’s news over the weekend that a 19-year old man, touring with a church group, was swimming in the pool at the top of 600-feet tall Nevada Falls, the waterfall in the first picture here.

I find myself increasingly annoyed and angry that these things happen, because they simply defy common sense.  I know that the NPS has plenty of warnings up throughout the part about how slick the rocks are, how fast the current flows, etc., and there are even barriers in some places at the tops of these locations to keep people out, and still you get news of an accident like this several times a year.
Nevada Falls is part of the Mist Trail, which
features the "Giant Staircase" en route to
the Half Dome.  Nevada Falls is the upper
waterfall, Vernal Falls is below.

I wrote about three people dying in 2011 in the blog post below:

As with this one, it was a church group outing.  I can only imagine how horrified all the others in that group were at the accident, and what a god-awful bus trip home they must have had at the loss of a friend. 

As of this evening, it appears that they have called off the recovery operation because the snow melt has increased.  Here’s a YouTube video that includes Vernal (the site of the 2011 accident) and Nevada (this incident).  It was taken in April 2013 and you can see the power of these waterfalls in the spring.  There’s nothing to be underestimated here.

This tranquil pond is at the top of Nevada Falls - again, this
photo was in October.  During the spring melting season it
would be a caldron of white water, pulling everything in the
current towards the 600-foot drop.
I have some experience with these accidents.  As I wrote in the 2011 post, that story and this one “reminded me of the time I was at the top of the falls, in September 2005, when Chris and I climbed the Half Dome - the Mist Trail and the falls is on the route.  As we climbed the granite stairs on the Mist Trail, and then at the top of the falls, there were a number of emergency workers around, and several areas were marked off with police tape.  Apparently, there had been another case of someone being swept away in July 2005, and the water levels had finally receded enough that the body could be removed from the pool at the base of the falls.

It has to fall to tour organizers and group leaders to provide a safety briefing about this before they get their group off of their bus.  There’s no statistic that tells us the share of accidents coming from groups like this one and the 2011 – but that is something they have in common.  

Maybe this kind of responsibility from the organizers could reduce the accidents by half.
If it doesn’t stop, we’ll have to get permits to just set foot on the Mist Trail in Yosemite. 

Common sense, people!

Seasons of the Road Kill: Black Rat Snakes

It’s a seasonal thing, these migrations, or whatever they are, that provoke the creatures we share this planet with to mosey out onto the pavement.  All jokes aside about what may lie on the other side of the road, a lot of them just don’t make it across. 

This week, Mary and I took a drive down to Lexington, Virginia as one of our vacation outings. While we were there, we visited a little garden on the edge of town called Boxerwood; on our way back, we saw a large black rat snake crossing the road.  I know from black snakes, so I slowed down and let it pass.

Not so with many of my fellow drivers.  On Wednesday I drove into Luray to take Tessie on a walk on the Greenway.  Driving in via Ida Road, there were no less than three black rat snakes dead on the road, including one that was freshly pinned to the yellow stripe.  So fresh, there was still residual nervous movement.

Blogger's Note:  Since I wrote the post this morning, I forgot to make note of a couple of things.  First, friends Marty and Evan both posted photos of large black snakes that they had seen over the weekend...definitely confirming that the snakes are on the move.  And at least two other friends have mentioned the unusual number of roadkill snakes this year.  Finally, one colleague said, "Black rat snakes eat other snakes and rats.  Slow down, people!"

So I'm not the only one seeing this roadkill phenomenon.

The snakes are on the move folks. That means it’s black rat snake road kill season.