Monday, November 9, 2009

Cascade Falls and Mountain Lake

Day 3 and 4 of our Weekend Getaway

Cascade Falls and Mountain Lake
Saturday, October 31st, 2009

Photos are posted here:

As a student at Virginia Tech I did the hike to Cascade Falls several times. I remembered it being an awesome waterfall, but it’s been well over 10 years since my last visit. Therefore, the one sight I knew I had to check out on this trip was Cascade Falls (aka “The Cascades”).

After another awesome breakfast at the Huffman House Bed and Breakfast, Amy and I headed up the road to Pembroke, VA and the Cascade Falls Trailhead.

It’s a moderate 4-mile round trip hike (2 miles each way) alongside the very pretty Little Stony Creek. Even without the waterfall, it would still be a great hike. Endless cascades and small waterfalls can be viewed just about the entire hike.

Cascades along Little Stony Creek
Cascade Falls turns out to be even more spectacular than I remembered it! A beautiful 70-ft falls cascading into one of the greatest swimming holes anywhere! Every waterfall lover should add this one to their must do list!

Jack and Amy at Cascade Falls

The only problem with Cascade Falls is that it is a very popular place! We got an early enough start that we had the waterfall to ourselves for a few minutes before the crowds started to arrive. Before long there were probably around 20 people at the falls.

In the summertime this is a great place to check out bikini clad college girls swimming and sunning themselves on the rocks! Today was too cold for any bikini viewing, so I saw no reason to stick around any longer.

The return hike was much easier since it was almost all downhill. Here is a bit more detail about the hike and how to get there:

After our hike we stopped for lunch at a gas station restaurant in Pembroke. While enjoying a club sandwich, the rain started falling outside.

Another nearby place I wanted to re-visit was Mountain Lake.

Amy in front of the Mountain Lake Hotel

A winding road leads about 8 miles up the mountain and ends at the Mountain Lake Hotel sitting above the scenic Mountain Lake. At least it used to be a scenic Mountain Lake.

The severe drought over the past few years caused the lake to completely dry up in 2008. Even with a fairly wet year, Mountain Lake still sits at 36’ below full pool.

Mountain Lake - Way below Full Pool

Maybe it was the dreary rain and fog, or maybe it was the nearly empty lake, but this place just did not seem as nice as I remembered. I did decide that since I’m here, I might as well get a hike in, while Amy explored the gift shops.

The steady rain had let off a bit to just a light misty drizzle, so I headed on up the trail to Bald Knob. It’s a little less than a mile with a steady climb all the way making for a good little workout. Supposedly there are some nice views up top, but for today all I saw was a fogged in mountain top!

A Foggy Balk Knob

We made several stops on the drive down to mountain to check out some of the roadside views.

View from Mountain Lake Road
We also checked out a couple of the covered bridges near the Bed and Breakfast before dinner.

Covered Bridge

One of my favorite places to eat during my years at Virginia Tech was Mike’s Grill. A lot has changed in Blacksburg over the years, but Mike’s is still there in the same location offering up giant burgers, calzones, and excellent pizza! The calzone we ordered was just and good and even bigger than I remember them being!

After dinner we took a nice long walk around Blacksburg and the Virginia Tech Campus. I regretted not carrying my tri-pod around with me, because the Virginia Tech offers a lot of good spots for night time photography. However, even without my tri-pod, I was still able to snap a few decent shots.

Virginia Tech

The next morning after our final awesome breakfast of the weekend, we said our goodbyes to Ron and Carol, packed up the truck, visited with the Turkeys one last time and hit the road.

I had a couple other potential places in my mind to stop off and visit on the drive back, but a steady rain helped make up my mind to skip it and just head on home. Ironically our last stop was in Blacksburg.

Blacksburg, SC that is, to fill up the tank and get a photo to post on my website.

The 2009 Hess Collectable comes out on Friday, November 13th at which time my little side business becomes a 2nd full time job for about 2 months! Therefore, this might be my last trip report for a while!

It was great to have this little weekend getaway before the madness of Hess Truck Season begins!

Additional Photos from Day 3 and 4 of our weekend getaway are located here:

Friday, November 6, 2009

Pipestem Resort State Park, WV

Day 2 of our Weekend Getaway

Pipestem Resort State Park, WV
Friday, October 30th, 2009

Photos are posted here:

As much as I enjoy staying at Bed and Breakfast’s, one of the drawbacks is that you lose a little control over the day’s schedule. Assuming you want to take advantage of the breakfast, you are usually at the mercy of innkeepers as to when you get to eat. For today, breakfast was at 9:00am.

Even with the late night Virginia Tech Football game, there is no way I can stay in bed for that long, especially with the Turkeys gobbling outside our window and the roosters Cockle Doodle Dooing. I interpreted these sounds as “come out and play”; so I did.

The Huffman House Bed and Breakfast

Eventually, after wandering around the farm with the animals it was time for breakfast. There are (4) guest rooms in the B&B, and all (4) were filled with Hokie fans that were at the game the previous evening. Needless to say, the mood around the breakfast table was a bit somber. Despite the sad faces of all the devastated Hokie Fans, breakfast was excellent.

Our plan for the day was to take a drive into West Virginia and check out a couple of the State Parks. I lived in West Virginia for (7) years and one of my biggest regrets was not visiting many of the wonderful West Virginia State Parks.

I decided on Pipestem Resort State Park because there were several waterfalls, a lookout tower, a canyon, a lake, and an Ariel Tramway. Sounded like a lot of neat stuff packed into a State Park.

Here is a link to the parks website:

Our first stop would be Brush Creek Falls. Kevin Adam’s “Waterfalls of Virginia and West Virginia” book lists this one as being on Pipestem State Park property. I think it actually outside the State Park Boundary and owned by a Nature Conservancy. Either way, the directions from the book were dead on accurate.

It’s a short and easy hike of about a quarter mile and the waterfall turned out to be nicer than I expected.

Brush Creek Falls

I took a very steep but short scramble down to the base, but found out later that by continuing down the main trail for about 100 yards, a much easier path to the base is available. Due to leaving my hat at the base, I ended up doing the scramble up and down twice!

Amy and I continued on the main trail to Whiteoak Creek Falls. Combining Brush Creek Falls and White Oak Creek Falls makes for a 4-mile (2-mile out and back) hike. It’s a pleasant and easy hike all the way.

Jack and Amy sitting by the Bluestone River

Whiteoak Creek Falls is actually a series of smaller drops. It is impossible to capture the whole thing in one shot and trying to scramble up to see some of the larger upper drops would be very difficult. While it was a very nice spot, I wouldn’t put Whiteoak Creek Falls on your must see list.

Jack and Amy at Whiteoak Creek Falls

After a nice break, we returned back the way we came and drove on into the main entrance to Pipestem Resort State Park.

Our first stop here would be the Pipestem Knob Tower Trail. A short but moderately steep climb on a paved trail leads to the Lookout Tower. I was happy to see that you can actually climb the lookout tower which offers up some nice views.

The Pipestem Knob Lookout Tower

Next up would be a ride on the Aerial Tramway! At least that was what I had hoped, but unfortunately the Tramway was closed for the season! However, the gift shop was still open, so I left Amy there while I hiked down to Heritage Point on the Canyon Rim Trail.

We saw lots of Deer throughout the park

Heritage Point was nice, but power lines marred what otherwise would have been an excellent view. The steep climb out made me glad I didn’t try to entice Amy to join me as this trail is definitely not Amy approved!

View from Heritage Point

After exploring around the park a bit more, I decided to do one more short hike to Long Branch Lake. Amy elected to sit this one out and didn’t miss much. It’s a typical small State Park lake with fishing docks, and a place to rent canoes or paddle boats. The trail was nice, but nothing to go out of you way for.

Long Branch Lake

Since we had a late and large breakfast, we elected to skip lunch on the day. But by 4:30pm we had both developed an appetite. Most of the restaurants inside Pipestem State Park were closed for the season, and others did not open until 5:30pm. Amy remembered seeing a sign for a BBQ joint just outside the park entrance, so we decided to check that out.

We followed the sign for “Brandon’s BBQ” which lead on a one-way gravel road past a trailer park. Things were not looking promising, but we eventually arrived at the restaurant which had a 100% empty parking lot. Another bad sign.

However, a bright “Open” sign was lit up, so we decided to check it out. This restaurant turned out to be much better than we anticipated. So if you ever decide to visit Pipestem State Park and find yourself getting hungry, Brandon’s BBQ is worth the stop!

After dinner we decided to make one more stop to check on Indian Branch Falls. You can get here via a 2.5 mile hike from the Pipestem Nature Center, but Kevin Adams book gave directions to another access point which offered up a much shorter hike to the Falls.

We were not very impressed with Indian Branch Falls. The view from the trail is lousy I saw no way to safely get to the base.

The very un-impressive Indian Branch Falls

We returned back to the Huffman House Bed and Breakfast and enjoyed the rest of the evening reading and relaxing.

Additional photos from Day 2 of our weekend getaway are located here:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Disaster in Turkey Town!

Disaster in Turkey Town

Day 1 of our Weekend Getaway
Thursday, October 29th, 2009
Blacksburg, VA

Photos are posted here:

It had been a long time since my last visit to my Alma Mater of Virginia Tech. In addition, Amy has never been to a Hokie home football game or even seen the Virginia Tech campus. So when we decided to plan a little weekend getaway, I suggested Blacksburg, VA.

I left Amy with the job of finding someplace to stay. Since it is almost impossible to find last minute accommodations in Blacksburg for Thursday Night Football games, I wasn’t expecting Amy to have any luck. When 60,000+ people converge on a small college town, every hotel within a 100+ mile radius gets booked months in advance.

I was really expecting to have to come up with a Plan B for the weekend. However, somehow Amy was able to find a place less than 20 minutes from campus with an available room.

The Huffman House at Creekside Farm in Newport, VA.

The Huffman House at Creekside Farm  
Bed and Breakfast

I was excited about this as both Amy and I really enjoy the Bed & Breakfast experience. Unlike a Holiday Inn, you just never know what to expect when you book a stay at a Bed and Breakfast.

Now that our lodging was booked, I went in search of game tickets. Back when I was in college, face value was about $12.00, students got in for free, and even though there were about 20,000 less seats in the stadium, they rarely sold out and even for big games there was never a problem finding tickets.

During my 4 years of college (1988-1992) we would have been happy just to have a winning season. And even one of the lowliest of Bowl Games would have been awesome. Unfortunately, it never happened during my college years.

Then in 1993, the year after I graduated, Virginia Tech made it to the Independence Bowl. Since then we have never had a losing season, played in a Bowl Game every year, played for a National Championship, and won several Big East and ACC championships. Great things have happened to the Virginia Tech Football Program!

However, finding tickets would now be a challenge. Actually finding tickets was not a problem as there were plenty available on eBay. Now finding reasonably priced tickets was another story! Good seats were selling for $400 each! Lousy seats for about $150 each. Plus $100 for a parking pass?

After many hours of searching for some fairly decent seats for something closer to the $48.00 face value, I came to the conclusion that it just wasn’t going to happen. I ended up finding a pair of fairly good seats for about $80 each. They were on the 20 yard line about 35 rows from the field. I saw no need to buy a parking pass!

Game Day!

We left Spartanburg at around 8:00am and had an uneventful 3.5 hour drive to Blacksburg, VA. We found an open parking meter on campus, deposited and few quarters, and went exploring. We started with the University Bookstore, which is Hokie Gear Heaven! Amy has never seen so much Hokie Gear in one place and she has seen the inside of my T-Shirt drawer!

After dropping about $100 on Hokie gear we went for a nice walk around campus. It is amazing how much things have changed in the 17 years since I graduated. Many new Hokie Stone clad buildings have been constructed since my last visit, but the most meaningful new addition was the April 16th Memorial!

The April 16th Memorial

One of (32) Hokies Stones.  This one for Christopher James Bishop
Amy and I actually met "Jamie" Bishop at a party about a year before he was Killed in the April 16th, 2007 Tragedy

Fall color was well past peak here with most of the leaves on the ground. However, certain types of trees hang on to their leaves a little longer and there were still a few spectacular displays of fall color lingering around.

Since we were parked at a parking meter, I didn’t have time to give Amy the full campus tour. However, we would be seeing a lot more later in the day when we returned for the football game.

We were still a little early to check into the Bed and Breakfast, so we made a stop at Pandapas Pond, one of the spots I liked to explore when I was a student at Virginia Tech. It’s a nice short and easy hike around a small pond with many connecting trails making it a good starting point for longer hikes.

After our little visit to Pandapas Pond, we arrived at the Huffman House Bed and Breakfast. Upon our arrival we were greeted by two very friendly dogs!

Then we were greeted by Carol who offered us some fresh baked cookies and showed us to our room. Very nice accommodations, but I wanted to check out the farm! I quickly realized that you could not walk around the farm without a flock of turkeys following, gobbling, and pecking at your legs, shorts, and shoelaces. You just can’t get that experience at the Holiday Inn!

Soon we decided it was time to head back into Blacksburg and find a place to park for the game. It seems that all the new buildings constructed over the years are all in places which used to be parking lots. Plus the stadium has grown by about 20,000 seats. This has led to quite the parking shortage on game day.

Three and a half hours before game time and all the public lots were full. I soon understood why people were paying so much for reserved parking passes. Luckily as we were about to leave to find some off campus parking, we found the last public parking area that still had available spaces and paid our $10.00 parking fee.

It was still about a mile away from the stadium, but it beats parking way off campus and having to herd into a shuttle bus, which is what we would have ended up doing if we arrived any later. Glad we decided to park first and then go get some dinner.

From the parking lot we took a walk just off campus to Macado’s ( for some dinner. I remember Macado’s being a great place for a casual meal with a huge selection of sandwiches to choose from. It was just as I remembered! It takes about 2 hours to read the menu, so you are better off just picking the first thing that sounds good, rather than trying to decipher the entire menu.

After dinner we returned to the parking lot to find the driver’s side window of my truck missing. Someone broke into my truck while we were at dinner. Hopefully they didn’t find where we stashed the tickets. At least we still had about 2 hours before kick-off to deal with it and file a police report. Maybe some tailgaters tossing a baseball around accidentally broke it and left a note. Either way, this really sucks! All this went through my head.

Fortunately my 10 seconds of panic were for naught! I just accidentally left the window rolled down for 2 hours while we went to dinner. It was a huge relief to find nothing missing or disturbed. So we grabbed the tickets, packed our bag full of layers of clothing and blankets and started the walk across campus.

Even with taking several detours to explore some other sites around campus, we still had about an hour till kick-off by the time we got to our seats. Being ex band geeks, we actually enjoyed and appreciated the Pre-Game performance of the Virginia Tech Marching Band; The Marching Virginias!

It was the perfect night for college football! The stadium was packed, the fans were going wild, and the weather was a perfect 50 degrees with no rain in the forecast. College Football just doesn’t get any better than this!

Then disaster struck!

The Hokies ended up losing to the University of North Carolina (UNC), possibly the worst team in the ACC! It was a huge disappointment to make it to my first Hokie home Football Game in years and have them play one of the worst games I have ever seen!

Despite the Hokies disappointing performance, it was still great to make it back to campus and take Amy to a big time college football game. I certainly won’t go this long again before returning to Blacksburg!

For now I would just have to get over the devastating loss as we still had the rest of our weekend to enjoy (to be posted sometime later).

Additional Photos from Day 1 of our weekend getaway are located here: