The month was hot, very hot, right from the first day. Some new “on this day” records for heat were set that month. Peaks of Otter was hot but we were not letting the record breaking heat keep us from hiking the two trails that Jeri planned for us to traverse. First one was Harkening Hill to Johnson Farm. The next day we would hike the trail to Sharp Top.
The Harkening Hill Trail, part of the Peaks of Otter trail system, when combined with the trail to the Johnson Farm is a 4.3 mile long loop. We started our hike from the back of the visitor center which puts the farm at the end of our hike, almost. The biggest ascent starts where we started. I am guessing it is about 1000 feet but not straight up of course. The trail winds its way up the side of the hill with numerous switchbacks and turns. It meanders through woods, follows a stream for awhile, and travels across fields of milkweed and other lovely vegetation. One of my favorites stops along the trail is Balancing Rock, where we always try to tip it over. I imagine past people (including Robert E. Lee) have been trying to roll it down the hill for over a hundred years. The Harkening Hill Summit is on a long ridge, and the view, which I remember from times past was really good, was now overgrown with trees. The top, where we ate our lunch, unlike the Sharp Top Summit, looked lonely and neglected. The Summit sign was falling apart. As a volunteer for the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a person who helps maintain the Fisher Peak trail and others in our area, I can only hope that the Harkening Hill Trail receives some needed TLC. Soon. Hopefully it has already.
We tried, gave it all we had, but like many people before us, we could not get it to tip over. Balancing Rock defeated us.
Johnson Farm is a National Park Service working farm. It preserves what an Appalachian Family farm would have been like in the 1930’s. The farmhouse was built in the 1850s and passed on from generation to generation. The NPS acquired it sometime after 1931 when the Blue Ridge Parkway was being built. The have kept it in the same condition since. It has not changed much at all since Diane and I visited it the first time some 45 years ago. I think it is very much like the type of family farm my father grew up on. It is a nostalgic, meaningful, historic, and lovely place to go. On this day we did not stay long. It was very hot and very buggy. The boys played hoops in the yard for awhile, then we headed down the shady trail back to the visitor center.
Tom, Jeri and the boys went on ahead of Diane and myself. They missed this creature crossing the trail on its way to a nearby stream.
Sharp Top, round trip by foot
I can honestly say that I am pleased I was able to make this hike. It was the only way we could get to the top, the shuttle bus was not running this day. I can also say that at times the hike was tough. It was another very warm day and I ain’t as young as I used to be. Anyone making this hike needs to have on rugged closed toe shoes, don’t be an idiot and try it in sandals or flip flops, you will break a toe or worse. Use a hiking stick, a good one, and carry plenty of water. I suggest you pack some lunch or snacks. Allow over three hours to the top and back down. Stay off the Buzzard’s Roost Rocks unless you are a brave soul with no vertigo. Whew, that rock shelf still makes me weak in the knees and I have been on it many times. A couple of times I had a kid in a back pack clinging to my neck while I carefully negotiated my way out to the edge of a very big drop with a great view.
Jeri loved it, I enjoyed walking with the boys, Tom and the dogs. Diane says to this day that the hike almost killed her. I think I asked a couple of times while on the trail if she was having a good time…her response was “Are you trying to kill me?” I guess that is why trail and trial are spelled using the same letters. One can turn into the other. Just my little joke.
I think I just heard a familiar feminine voice tell me “That’s not Funny!”
It was a bunch of tired folks sitting around Tom and Jeri’s trailer that evening. Diane brought her dulcimer, both of them actually, and gave Jeri a few lessons. She also put on a bit of a concert. While playing a gentleman walked over, drawn by the distinct sound of the instruments. Turns out his wife is a dulcimer teacher and accomplished musician from Arkansas named Pam Setser. They were on the way back home from a class. Diane told him to tell her to come on over and join them, which she did and brought her two Dulcimers. For the next hour the three of them played together. It was quite nice. Pam is a Squarespace.com user. I notice things like that.
We spent the next day traveling by car to VMI, Natural Bridge, and other points of Interest. Tom and I also made a grocery shopping trip to Lexington. The Heat kept us from doing much else. On the Fourth of July we went for lunch at the crowded and Famous Pink Cadillac Diner. They serve terrific meat loaf with mashed taters and brown gravy, I know cause that is what I ate.
Tom, Jeri, and family left soon after that, back home to Weston. They had one mishap along the way, a blow out. They had a spare (which I aired up for them before they left). They managed to change out the tire, and stopped at a Camping World off I-95 for repairs. They bought more than a new tire, they bought a new Trailer. A much bigger one. We will see it in person in just a few weeks. We are spending Christmas with them in Weston. I am looking forward to it. Oh, I forgot to mention that we headed home about an hour behind Tom and Jeri and company. I was glad to get back to Galax, it was cooler there.
A Very Special Project
I think that a special project that took place in June and July deserves a special mention. I can’t continue with my Summer Story without noting what took place here, I just can’t. I was not a big part of this project, I got involved late, and spent just one day working with the folks from Deer Creek who took it on and worked many days.
Fairview Elementary School
For the last six years, folks here at Deer Creek have generously given money to buy school supplies to help supplement a school in Alleghany County. This past year we wanted to help a school here in Galax, one closer to home. We found one, right down the road from us. Fairview Elementary, is an amazing school, with wonderful teachers and great students, and they really needed help, so we provided it.
The best way to put it is the Deer Creek Team did a total school “makeover”. New LED lights, paint everywhere, inside and out, including the playgrounds, new landscaping including many, many plants and tons of mulch. We removed old dead bushes first. Our enthusiasm inspired the staff and they threw themselves into this makeover right along side us. Together we took a dark run down school and made it bright and happy. We all worked hard for this deserving school, put our hearts into it for no other motivation than love. Love for the teachers, the kids, and this area we have made home.
As I said I was there one day, moving mulch, pulling up dead plants, and expanding flower beds to put new plants in. I loved every minute of my time there. I don’t mind saying that I am really proud of all the DCMR folks and the guys from Cortez Landscaping who helped make this project of love a very big success.
The Fairview Elementary Project Volunteer Party.
The school looks great, everyone is happy, so why not have a celebration? We DCMR people love a good party! Visitors were invited too. Great time had by all who were there. Now for the sake of continuity, I am going to jump ahead a month and let you see pictures of the school makeover open house. I was not part of the pre-makeover site visit, but I understand that this was a dreary, dark place before so that should help to put the after pictures in perspective.
The Fairview Elementary School Open House and After Pictures. (no flash was used to take these pictures)
Its always good to document, make a record of an important event . The Fairview Elementary School makeover should have a record of its success, a record for the students, the teachers and all the volunteers who worked on it. It is something to be proud of and grateful for too. This is the kind of thing that people should be doing for each other. Pam, one of the DCMR volunteers, did just that, made a record, a book to be exact, here are some excerpts from it as well as a couple of other things that are very special, take your time looking at these pictures.
As I sit at my laptop in my motorhome here in Deer Creek, watching cold November rain fall, I realize that Diane and I are very blessed to be able to live in this wonderful spot in the mountains. It has been a lifelong dream to have a home in the Blue Ridge and it has come true. On that note here are some pictures of the flowers in our lot back in mid July.
The next chapter of our time here this summer and fall will be online real soon. Want a hint of what’s to come? How about two: Steep Canyon Rangers, Old Fiddler’sConvention.
Stay Tuned so to speak.