The Family

The Family
Airstream Weekend Warriors

Monday, September 29, 2014

Wild and Wonderful Indeed

Blackwater Falls State Park
Davis, West Virginia

     Boy have I put off this trip for far too long. Melizza and I have planned quick getaways to West Virginia for the last few years but, for one reason or another, have always ended up cancelling. This time, however, we finally made the six hour trek to visit our wild and wonderful neighbor to the east. The experience was well worth the effort.

     The kids had a day off from school on Friday and I had a birthday to celebrate. Our three day weekend was shaping up nicely. Our destination was Blackwater Falls State Park in northeastern West Virginia. The only problem is that the state parks do not take reservations after Labor Day and the Leaf Peepers Festival was taking place in the nearby towns of Davis and Thomas. We hustled out of town on Thursday night for a quick overnight at Wal-Mart in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

    I woke up at the crack of down and rallied the troops for a quick and early departure. The last 70 miles took about two hours because of the mountain road but it was well worth the effort. We snagged the last electric site and a just few minutes after we arrived several more people were driving up. Our camp site was wooded and private while most sites were a bit out in the open. Site number 1 was abandoned for about five minutes before we arrived. Happy birthday to me! The weather was perfect and sunny and reached almost 70 degrees before the cool night arrived almost demanding a cozy campfire with the family. The campground crowd was a nice mix of younger outdoor enthusiasts and older couples.

    The Blackwater Falls campground is decent but the park and the surrounding area is excellent. They have about sixty sites. The electric loop (no water hookups) is circular with a large clearing in the middle and trees lining the exterior sites. The dry camping loop is hilly with a little more privacy. There is a small lake less than half a mile away and the namesake Blackwater Falls are close as well. The really remarkable feature of the park beyond the obvious waterfall is the eight mile gorge carved by the Blackwater River. There are several trails along the rim of the canyon. The fall colors really start to shine in late September.


    In the valley below Blackwater Falls State Park are two sleepy West Virginia towns. Davis is the larger of the two. By larger, it has a few more shops and a couple more restaurants. I visited the Blackwater Bikes Mountain Bike Outfitters for some mountain bike trail advice. I learned about the many and varied places you could hit the trails. This is a choice area for mountain biking and the scene here is in its infancy. I would recommend this shop for good mountain biking intel.

    Thomas is the hipper of the two towns primarily due to a little restaurant/bar/music venue called the Purple Fiddle. This is where you can find an interesting mix of West Virginians, hipsters, and campers converging for beer and great live music. Rumor has it that Norah Jones may be stopping by next weekend. Her traveling band is booked and she may stop by. The place holds about 100 people at most. It is smoke free and kid friendly. We watched a band called Big Leg Emma while enjoying a local IPA served in a jar. The Avett Brothers used to frequent this eclectic gem. There are also the requisite coffee shops and antique stores. This place looks like it is on the verge of evolving into a cool little town. It is not quite there but on its way.

     Ten miles south down the road from Blackwater Falls State Park is Canaan Valley State Park (rhymes with insane). This is a more developed resort park and is a winter ski destination. We checked out the campground. It was equally small but does have full hookups. We are trying to decide if we can brave the West Virginia roads with the Airstream in tow for a winter dry camping ski trip. They had almost 200 inches of snow last year in the valley. On this autumn Saturday, the trees light up the mountainside. Canaan Valley opens up the ski lifts for summer and fall explorers. They also have a clay pigeon shooting range. I would have loved to try it out but my boys are not ready for that. Ethan might shoot my toe off.


The view from the campground
    We ventured a bit south of Canaan Valley to head up the gravel National Forest Roads leading to the Dolly Sods Wilderness. What started out as a drive in the country quickly turned into an adventure. We drove for miles up the dusty roads to the top of this remote wilderness and were rewarded with beautiful mountaintop vistas and an otherworldly environment. The blueberry bushes that grow on these balds turn a fiery red in the fall and have been dubbed Fields of Fire. The plant life and upland bogs found up here are very rare in this part of the country and are more commonly found in northern Canada. These mountain tops used to be covered with large Spruce and Hemlock trees and a large swath of humus (no relation to the Whole Foods variety). This environment is a result of clear cutting in the 1800's and what is left is unique and beautiful. Many great photographers come up for the sunrises and sunsets. I am clearly not one of them. This is a popular place for tent campers who want to camp on top of the world. They have a developed campground and dispersed camping. If you find yourself in this area, do not miss Dolly Sods.


     There is so much more to explore moving south but that will have to wait for another trip. From atop the Dolly Sods wilderness, you can peer into the Shenandoah Valley to the east. Just south of this area is the more famous Seneca Rocks area. There is also the historic town of Cass and many great rivers for fly fishing. Also, the New River Gorge Bridge and the world famous whitewater rafting on the New and Gauley Rivers are what puts West Virginia on the map for outdoor enthusiast.

    We headed back to Blackwater Falls for dinner, a quick jaunt at the Purple Fiddle and the 25th Anniversary Dark Skies star party within the state park. The party was held in a clearing on the shores of Lake Pendleton with 360 degree views of the night sky. You could see the Milky Way from horizon to horizon. Meteorites were flashing across the night sky among the twinkling stars. We are able to view globular clusters of stars, comets and the Andromeda Galaxy through the various telescopes set up in the grass. It was a fitting end to a memorable Saturday.

    On Sunday, I was able to hit the mountain biking trails adjacent to Blackwater Falls State Park. The mountain biking scene is evolving here and the Dobbins House Trails were full of rocks and roots. These trails are not for amateurs without dual suspension bikes but I loved every minute of my ride. Maggie ran alongside me and we didn't see a soul. The trail follows the rim of the canyon overlooking the Blackwater River. There are easier trails that the kids rode with me but this was all about Maggie and I. When I return to this area, I will be drinking an IPA at the Purple Fiddle and explaining to a newbie that Dobbins House is a highly technical trail. He will surely be impressed with my knowledge.

My trusty canine companion

This is 41
    Sadly, we made our way back home on Sunday to prepare for the reality of a big move to our new home, school activities and work. Now I am armed with great memories and a new destination to dream about. I will see you soon West Virginia. You really are wild and wonderful.


Monday, September 8, 2014

House Hunting With An Airstream To Consider

Centerville, Ohio

     The Trout family is moving. Although we are only moving about six miles from our current home, it is a big production. When searching for a new house, we utilized all the normal criteria. We considered location, character, charm, condition, privacy, number of bedrooms, the kitchen and all the other characteristics that matter. The Airstream added another dimension to our search. There was only one relevant question in that regard. Will it fit?

     We have a good setup in our current home. We can park it on the curb and the neighbors don't mind as long as we don't overstay our welcome. We have a 30 amp plug at the house and always bring it home to prepare for a trip. We can charge it, stock it, and fill the water tanks before our trip. This is something we did not want to lose in our new home. 

     Our current setup looks something like these photos below.


     So our search began.

     We looked at new homes. The cost of building is pretty high in Washington Township, Ohio and we wanted a wooded lot. That is a tall order in our community which is mostly built out. This home was beautiful inside but way too expensive and notice the lack of trees. The Airstream would have fit in the long driveway but the home did not work for us.

      We searched homes in existing neighborhoods. This home was in a great neighborhood, well built and the Airstream would have fit in the long driveway. However, this home did not have that intangible character we were looking for. The backyard would have accomodated the Airstream but that would not have made us popular even with a carraige house.

     We found a home we thought would work. It was a Williamsburg Colonial with a center hall. We even backed the Airstream through the picket fence gate. It fit but we were ultimately outbid. Losing that home hurt because we really wanted a home with character. In the end, this one would have probably been a money pit but we loved it.

     We even looked at homes we could not afford like this one straight out of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The Airstream would have been tricky here. There was a long narrow driveway behind the home. Are you seeing a pattern? We like older homes with character.

     Then we found the one. It had character, charm, grace, a beautiful lot and the right layout. It was built in 1810 and we fell in love instantly. However, we had the Airstream to consider. There was definitely enough land to store it on site but getting in would be tricky. The front of the house contains a stone wall constructed before the Civil War. All paths lead through that gate.

     This is where we want to store it if we can get it back here. That may require some modifications.

     In the end, the Airstream fit. It did not go in exactly as we planned and we had to stop traffic but we got it in. In a future post, I may be discussing how I move this thing once we back it in to the driveway. For now, I am grateful that it fits.

    Our new adventure will begin this fall but I will miss the place and this easy spot to park in.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Ludington Is My Happy Place

Labor Day Weekend 2014
Beechwood Campground
Ludington State Park
Ludington, Michigan

     There is something about this place that speaks to my family. Ludington State Park feels like a familiar destination by now. This is our fifth trip up here and our second consecutive Labor Day trek with our neighbors Phil and Kim. It couldn't have come at a better time for us. Melizza and I just bought a new house that will be full of new benefits and challenges. Our current house is on the market. The kids are back in school and I just finished a mammoth project at work. It was definitely time to unwind. Upon arrival, I immediately felt the stress melt away.

     We began our journey with an early morning arrival and the opportunity to park along Lake Michigan. We like stay along the lake while waiting for our campsite to open up. I wish we could have  just remained here for the entire stay but overnight parking is prohibited.

What a view!
     Later in the morning, I hopped on my bike to check in and see if our site was ready. The weather along the Lake Michigan shore was windy and rain was expected. Thankfully for us, it never materialized. Labor Day weekend is prime time for this park and early reservations are essential. We scored a decent site in the Beechwood Campground on an inland lake. It is our favorite of the three campgrounds. Our site sat directly across the boardwalk along Lost Lake with an unobstructed view. The campground is still tight for my taste but the setting is so wonderful that I can let that slide.

The Beach House on Lake Michigan
Ethan can just walk over and drop a line whenever he feels like it.
Our Site
    Our neighbors arrived around the same time with their uber cool Cricket Trailer. They brought kayaks and bikes. This was going to be an active weekend for sure.

     Maggie loves to hit the trails. I must have hiked the Lost Lake trail twice a day with Maggie during my stay.

    Ludington State Park also received the honor of a sticker placement on the scarce real estate of my Airstream door.

     The kayaks were a big hit. I still need to find a good storage solution in my setup. I really enjoy being on the water. The rhythm of the water soothes my soul. The calm shallow waters on Lost Lake are perfect for my children. The kayak launch is on an island connected to the campground by a boardwalk. It is a very convenient setup.

     No trip to Ludington State Park would be complete without a trip down the river on our tubes. The lazy river experience was enhanced by Phil and Kim making the run with us on their kayaks. They were able to pull us when necessary.

     Before leaving, we biked down to the Big Sable Point Lighthouse. It is a must see sight in Michigan. This quick escape recharged my batteries in a big way. We were able to share good food and conversation with are soon to be ex-neighbors. We laughed by the glow of the fire at night and played hard during the days. Despite all the activity, it was the most relaxing weekend I have had in a while. Now that is a great vacation.

      We will be back soon. You can bet on that.