Fall Foliage Trip

Blue Ridge Parkway & Douthat State Park

By Cliff Maurand

I knew things were not going well when we had to alter our plans a few days before we left, canceling a run to Vermont, as Cindy didn't want to get that far from home due to personal reasons, Vermont would have been an 11 hour run each way. I quickly turned to plan-B which was head to the Blue Ridge Parkway (only 4 hours away), then wander south at a leisurely pace. That plan was eventually scuttled too, as Mother Nature was going to intervene with our plans. Oh well, for the third time in as many years, I had to settle for the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP).

I did however, hit the BRP a little further south than I've ever been before. This turned out well, as the colors were right at peak in southern Virginia. We left Chesapeake on Rt.58 and just headed west. It took about 6 hours, though we lost about an hour and a half when I wound up off course. We drove by the Martinsville Speedway just as they were holding Happy Hour practice, and I wanted to stop so bad. But Cindy kept me rolling along. Somehow, I missed the fact that Rt.58 turned off the main by-pass somewhere, and wound up going north on 220.

I didn't realize this for quite a while, it wasn't until I noticed that the shade from the tree's along side of the roadway were shading in the wrong direction. It was after that I paid closer attention to the signs. Once I figured out I was many miles off course, we stopped, checked the map, and made a change in direction at the next major intersection that would put me back in the direction of the BRP.

Unfortunately the route I chose was a treacherous one. Rt.40 out of Rocky Mount Va. was a twisting, curving, up & down mountain road that went on for endless mile after mile. By the time we reached the entrance to the BRP, the gas tank was on empty, and I was sweating bullet's. But there was a nice little Mom & Pop store right there, with some incredible gas prices, $1.85 for regular... OUCH!

We entered the BRP at Tuggle's Gap, and proceeded to head south. The colors were just fantastic, I had never known the Virginia mountains could be so colorful. The other trips had all been the same time of October, but all had been further north. And though all the other trips were colorful, it didn't match up to what we were seeing this trip.

About 20 minutes south on the BRP we came across a NPS campground called Rocky Knob. We stopped in and looked around. By this time it was 4:40pm, and had roughly 2 hours of daylight left. I asked the camp host how long it would take to drive to the next NPS campground to the south, which would have been Doughton Park. I was informed it would take 2 hours, and that didn't include stopping at any of the overlooks or other points of interest. With that in mind, we decided to spend our first night here.

We set up camp fairly quickly, and then headed out to the grocery store to pick up some needed items. Heading south again, we were able to take in some of the sights from various overlooks on the BRP until we got to the RT.58 intersection located at the village "Meadows of Dan" where there were a couple of quaint little stores and a country Restaurant. We bought ice, some grocery items, and firewood. Then decided to buy dinner at the little restaurant. The two of us ate great meals, for a total cost of about $13, couldn't beat that price with a stick.

By the time we got back to the pop-up, it was pretty dark outside. I had a brand new Group 27 Deep Cycle battery with me, and a Snap-on 12vdc automotive work light, a 24' fluorescent tube inside with alligator clips to attach to a battery. We had instant light inside, clean and odorless. Since it was pitch black outside, we also set a lantern out by the picnic table. Since we ate at the restaurant, there was no clean up, so we went right to the task of building a fire. We just kind of sat there and enjoyed the moment(s). By 11pm we were tired, and ready to call it a night. After putting out the fire, we retired to the pop-up.

At this point, I got to try my newest toy, a 300watt/600w peak power (modified sine wave) inverter and my 13" color TV. It worked great, we had clear reception from Roanoke on all 3 major networks. We were able to watch the news, and more important, the weather! What we saw was not good. The scattered storms we were expecting were now being called a major rain event.

The next morning we awoke to the sound of rain, lots of it! And it rained hard pretty much all day long. We used the TV again to double check the weather, but saw no change in the forecast. We were just going to have to suffer through this. We also were forced to make a decision, to close the camper in the pouring rain and continue south or just wait it out. It was a quick decision, we stayed. By noon we were getting tired of being cooped up in the camper, and headed out for a local excursion. We needed more ice, and I had forgot to bring razor blades. We headed for the nearest "big town" which was 26 miles away, down Rt.58 back towards Martinsville. The twisting mountain drive was pure pleasure this time, with the trailer no longer in tow. The colors were still awesome, despite the gloomy weather.

Once we had purchased what we needed, we turned back towards the BRP again. But with an entire afternoon ahead of us, a lot of rain still, and nothing to do, we decided to explore a nearby state park. Not far up the road was Fairystone State Park. I had never been there, but Cindy had when she was a child, her parents used to rent one of the camping cabins there. So off we went to explore, if for nothing else, I could get some valuable pictures and insight for my campground review page. It was not a disappointment at all, and the campground was much better than where we were staying at. We even gave serious consideration of packing up and coming here. In hindsight, I wish we had, but that is water over the dam now.

Next door to the state park, I discovered another campground, Goose Point Park which was built and administered by the Army Corp of Engineers. This was a nice place too, and had some fantastic waterfront campsites. The prices at both were only about $18 per night with electric and water hook-up's. I'm going to keep this place in mind for a spring fishing run with the kids!

After we left there, I turned left and headed back down the road. Approx 1/4 mile from the Goose Pt. entrance, I spotted a dirt road with a state sign on it. A quick u-turn and back I went to see what this was. It turned out to be just another piece of state owned woodlands, that was open to the public. More over, the posted rules for use of the property indicated that it was open for primitive camping, with no fee's! I had to take a closer look, so in we went. The road was a little rough, but the Jeep Grand Cherokee was right at home out here, though it never got rough enough to need the four wheel drive.

About 2-3 miles in, the dirt road came to a "Y"... We chose the right side, and kept on going. This road continued on for many miles, climbing up and up. This was perhaps a small mountain or a very large hill, but eventually the road came to a closed gate. Along the way there were numerous places that could be utilized for camping. When we got back down by the "Y" in the road, we headed the other way. That was short, about a half mile in was another gate, and a large open area that could also be used for "Free" camping. It was interesting, and the price is right!

About the time we were messing around on these off-road trails, the rain had stopped, and the sun was beginning to peak out from behind the clouds. We never lost sight of our main objective, to view the foliage which was all around us. As the sunshine began to filter through, we noticed that it was getting late, nearly 4pm and decided to head back to the campground. It would take us the better part of an hour to drive back there, and it was still too wet and damp to cook out, so we prepared our evening meal inside the camper. After clean up, we had decided that it just too wet & damp outside to sit by the fire, so we elected to stay in the camper for the evening. By the way, it was now Sunday night, and we were the only ones left in the Rocky Knob Campground's C-loop! It was quiet and dark back there, and we were alone! With little to do for an entire evening, I bit the bullet again, and fired up the TV. We studied the maps, and all the brochures we picked up during the day, and discussed what to do next.

Obviously, we couldn't continue on with our southward plan. She didn't want to go that far, and we had lost an entire day due to the weather. We made our decision, instead of going south, we would head north and west, into the George Washington National Forest, and stay at Douthat State Park near Clifton Forge. They had electric and water hook-up's, but more importantly, they had hot showers! Our idea there was, if we got close enough to the West Virginia State line, we would see better color in the leaves... how wrong we were!

Morning came early, and after preparing our break fast and the associated clean-up afterwards, we started packing the camper up. Within an hour we were on our way. This time we took the BRP northward, stopping at overlooks along the way. Some of the views from atop the mountains down into the valleys below were just awesome. But the further north we drove, the less vivid the colors became. We broke away from the BRP at Bearwallow Gap, and proceeded west on Rt.43, then north on 220 into Clifton Forge. By mid afternoon we were checking into Douthat State Park.

This park was nice, but many of the tree's were nearly leafless, though what was left was still quite colorful. A quick look around indicated the best loop was C-loop, the "White Oaks Campground" as it was spaced out better than the other two loops. It didn't take long to get the pop-up opened and this time we had electric and water. With everything set up, we headed for the Covington Va, where there was a Super Walmart, and some real groceries. While driving through town we spotted a Western Sizzler, and decided another meal purchased would be another meal we didn't have to clean up after! By the time we returned to the campground it was dark out, but this time we had left a light on. We built a nice fire and spent the evening in front of it.

The next morning we were fretting the weather again! It had turned rather cold over the night, but at least the rest rooms here had lights, heaters, and showers, which made getting up a little easier to handle. But the forecast had us wondering, as it was suppose to rain again, all day long and into the evening. As the morning wore on, the temps warmed up nicely, but it wasn't to last for very long. The couple in the Jayco Pop-up two sites over had a satellite dish, and they said the forecast was looking grim also. By noon the skies were completely overcast, and the temps were dropping again.

We discussed our options, and decided that we didn't want to spend our final day and evening out there cooped up in the trailer again. We elected to pack it up and head home. The skies were growing darker still. Just as I was getting ready to push in the bunk ends and lower the roof, the rain started, and it didn't take but a couple of minutes before it came down hard. But I got things closed before it got really wet, and off we went.

The trip back was pretty uneventful, except for stopping in Charlottesville to visit Monticello and the Thomas Jefferson Museum. We arrived back in Chesapeake right around dinner time, a day early, but we were dry and happy!

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