Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Virginia Creeper Trail

Gabby and Merrill Lynch (yes, that is his real name), the owners of Echo Valley Farm, highly recommended that we take a ride on the Virginia Creeper Trail.  This bike trail is part of the Rails to Trails network, of which we have a nice segment in Inverness, Florida.  Rails to Trails is exactly what it sounds like.  Former railroad tracks are removed and the land is donated by railroads or purchased by local organizations and/or governmental units and converted to bicycle trails.

The Virginia Creeper Trail is unique in several aspects. Most important to us is that 17 of its 34 mile length is mostly a gentle slope or flat land.  That is the segment Sandy and I rode yesterday. We drove into Abingdon,VA where we rented bikes, helmets and gel seats and took their shuttle to to White Top Station.

When we reached our starting point it was overcast and a bit on the cool side and I was wishing I would have worn my nylon windbreaker.  But neither of us did, so we took off and began our ride. The first couple of hundred yards were actually on a very slight incline and I thought I was gonna have a long hard day.  But soon after that we began to glide downward and the enjoyment set it.  It is truly very beautiful on this trail.
Our first stop was at the Green Cove station.  It is hard to describe the beauty here.  It is idyllic and peaceful.  And at one time it was the center of the universe for people living for miles around. There was a daily train that carried passengers, mail, provisions and more.  It was a link to the outside world. This is one of two railroad stations preserved on the lower section of the trail.  The stations are authentic in every detail and it is like stepping back in time to go inside.

What the station looked like back in the day.  The station had a post office and general store.

How it looks today.  Much of the original merchandise is still on display.
Parts of the forest are "old growth" which means that the trees have never been logged. We slowly transitioned from forest to farmland and back again.  Along a greater portion of the trail we followed are active streams with the sound of rushing water filling our ears as our eyes took in all of the beauty.

We even rode past a Christmas tree farm.

Some of the time the trail was very smooth and at others it was a bit on the bumpy side and most of the time I had to periodically glance at the trail because of stones and ruts that could be problematic. 


When we reached Taylor's Valley, a very tiny town, we stopped here for lunch.  Don't let the exterior fool you.  The food was excellent and the "World Famous chocolate cake" (their claim) is as good as any I've ever had in a restaurant. We needed the rest and the sustenance for the final seven miles to the town of Damascus, VA where we would be picked up by the bike shop shuttle.

At least 60 percent of the trail we rode is shaded.  One neat aspect is that parts of the bike trail parallel or intersect with the world famous Appalachian Trail.  We saw some very experienced-looking hikes a couple of times.

In the photo above the Appalachian Trail is the gravel path in the foreground.

A real log cabin home.

When we reached Damascus,VA we had been on the trail about 3 and a half hours.  We were weary but happy that we were able to experience this unique trail.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The local grist mill and Tom Dooley

Whenever we leave the farm to go into town, we pass through a small corner of northeastern Tennessee into a town called Trade.  This morning Sandy and I visited the recently closed, but fully restored Grist Mill.

The wood flume or raceway above the wheel uses an artesian well for water to turn the wheel.

 Some very attractive stonework by 19th Century stone masons.

The grist mill was built as early as 1803 and has been owned by several families.  Early in this century it was restored to working order and for a while thrived by grinding flour for local residents and selling its own products to tourists and locals, but, unfortunately, it closed in 2012.  The old school house is on the grist mill grounds and today both are maintained as a community center and park.

Trade City is the oldest unincorporated community in Tennessee.  The first English speaking person travelled here in 1673  (340 years ago).  The community came to life in the 18th century when it was called "The Trade Gap" and was a trading post established by Native Americans, pioneers and fur traders.  An old buffalo trail ran through the area. Adding to local history is the fact that Daniel Boone used this very buffalo trail in his travels into East Tennessee and  Kentucky. If you are old enough to remember the folk song about Tom Dooley then you might find it interesting to know that it is about Tom Dula, who was suspected of having murdered his young fiancee in Wilkes County, NC. The posse caught up with him in Trade.

Fortunately, we don't see posses anymore here in Trade or elsewhere for that matter.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Grandfather Mountain

Photo reproduced from CaptainKimo.com

Several people suggested that we visit Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina and so we did that today. The "main attraction" is a mile high swinging bridge. Of course,  mile high means the deck of the bridge is 5280 feet above sea level.  The distance from the bridge deck to the ground is only 80 feet. Even though the mountain is privately owned it is well maintained and its exhibits are very educational. Grandfather Mountain includes a number of habitats constructed for native bear, eagles, otters, cougar and deer.

The weather here in the Blue Ridge Mountains changes often.  We started our drive in sunshine and as we approached the mountain it started to cloud up.  Nonetheless,  the view from the top is beautiful.
One of two bears we spotted.

One of the two resident otters.

And here is his buddy swimming laps in the pool. They are fun to watch as they are quite animated.

We enjoyed our visit as well as the drive to and from this scenic attraction.


A few days ago Sandy and I both noticed an unusual flying insect at the farm.  At first I thought it was a cobweb with a spider in it. It had the shape of a snowflake and was about the size of a quarter.   It seemed to be carried by the wind, but it actually was flying on its own.  When I mentioned it to the farm owners in an email they responded that it was a crane fly.  I was able to find a photo of it on Google Images.  See below. Unfortunately, this photo just does not do it justice.  

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Short update from the farm sitters

We are enjoying our stay here on Echo Valley Farm in western North Carolina.  This week we took a drive around the immediate area on country roads.  It is really pretty.  Everything is lush and green from all of the record rainfall.

This is a typical farm.

Sandy spotted this shy fellow looking at passing traffic from the safety of his barn.

Down the road we came across the Old Tamarack Post Office.  Today Tamarack is a small farming community without a downtown or any commercial buildings. 

A few days later we took a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway and stopped at the Moses H. Cone estate called Flat Top.  Today it is a museum and an arts and crafts center.  No crap and nothing from China.  Everything sold is made locally.  We found a few keepsakes.

There is quite a story behind this mansion.  It was built by Moses Cone in 1901.  Mr. Cone made his fortune in textiles -- especially denim which was sold all over the world.  He purchased 3600 acres for $29,000.  At its height of productivity the estate had 32,000 apple trees and another 2,000 trees consisting of peach, pear, plum and cherry.  

The house has 23 rooms, including six bedrooms and 11 fireplaces on four floors and has 14,000 square feet in total.  We might go back for a tour of the living quarters on the upper floors.

The estate was donated to the National Park Service which maintains the entire property including 25 miles of original carriage roads now used as hiking trails.  

The view from the veranda includes some of the Appalachian Mountains. 

And this is the body of water you can see in the center of the above photograph.  We took it from the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

On Thursday I took Zoey and farm dog, Hayduke,  on the 3/4 mile farm trail loop, and Zoey got lost. Actually she got on the wrong side of an old wire fence and could not get back to the trail.  We had an anxious half hour or so until I spotted her through the trees looking at me.  She seemed very happy to be "rescued."

On Friday we had lunch with Sonnie and Mike Keefer,  Gabby's (farm co-owner) parents.  We went to a small restaurant in rural Tennessee named LaCucina.  LaCucina specializes in northern Italian cooking, and  it is Michelin 5 star good.  This is one of those rare experiences that come up by surprise every now and them. And the food is not at all expensive. We will go back. 

Today we drove into Boone,NC, the county seat, to visit the farmers market.  Quite nice, but we got there late, and many vendors were cleared out.  While in town we ran some errands and drove past and through Appalachian State University, which is situated in the mountain foothills on a large and rolling campus of trees and grass.  The architecture of the campus buildings is very well done. Sort of made we wish I was back in college.  NOT!  We had a great pizza for lunch. The town was jumping as this is the weekend that nearly 16,000 students returned to campus. Wal-Mart was a zoo.

Venison burgers on the grill tonight.  Yum.

Stay tuned. 

Friday, August 9, 2013


Sandy and I and Zoey are farm sitting a beautiful old farmstead in the far western mountains of North Carolina for nearly a month.  We arrived at Echo Valley Farm on Wednesday and leave in early September.

One of our few duties is to feed the chickens and collect their eggs -- something Sandy enjoys doing.  And for that I am grateful.

Nothing beats farm-fresh eggs for breakfast.
Farm owners Merrill and Gabby Lynch and their almost four-year-old daughter, Dovie, live on 60 acres of mostly wooded and rolling mountainside land.  It is peaceful and charming.  For weeks they have been telling Dovie that they are going on a Wild, Wild West Adventure.  Here they are just before taking off in their ParkLiner fiberglass camper.

The Lynch's also have a sweet senior dog named Hayduke, with whom our dog, Zoey, is having a blast.  They love to wander the farm.

Today I took both dogs on a 25 minute hike on the property.  Merrill has created a beautiful hiking trail and the dogs were so much fun. For an older dog, Hayduke moves remarkably fast.   As soon as we got past the farmhouse old Hayduke perked up and began a nice fast trot and soon lost us both.   Then Zoey decided she would rather be with another dog instead of me and disappeared. About every five minutes she would come racing back at full speed to me to be sure I was still on the trail.  They both were like puppies and had so much fun chasing each other in the meadow.  It was heartwarming to see. 

We came back down the shady side of the trail (where tin man is hanging) and Hayduke disappeared for about five minutes.   When he finally reappeared Zoey really gave him the business for deserting her.  It was really funny.

I spotted this "sculpture" hanging from a tree alongside the Echo Valley Farm trail.  I am not sure what the story behind it is, but I will have to ask. 

A view from the trail.

A view of a portion of the trail.  By the way, the farm elevation is approximately 3400 feet.

Our front porch from which we can watch birds and listen to the nearby spring-fed creek.

What we see from the front porch. The creek is hidden at the edge of the woods.

It has been unusually rainy in this part of the Southeast and so everything is really lush and green.

Flowers along the trail. 
A beautiful butterfly landed on the drive way.
A Luna moth on the front porch.
It is believed that the lumber to build this tobacco barn was cut and milled from old growth trees on the property.

So this is where we are at and will be our home base for the next 3+weeks.

Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

We now have real grass instead of a sea of sand to look at

Here is what our front yard looked like in March of last year a couple of months after we moved in.  When I composed that photo, I tried to minimize the fact that there was very little grass.
Below is what it looks like today after we completed spreading the mulch around the trees and flowerbeds.  Actually, Sandy spread  90 percent of the mulch.

Below is the back yard last year.  There was almost no grass to speak off.  Anything that was green was left alone because its roots would hold in place what little topsoil we have.

And here it is today.

By the numbers:

*100 pounds of grass seed
*40 pounds of fertilizer
*13 yards of topsoil
*13 yards of mulch
*countless gallons of water
*countless hours of work

And, I am not done.  I need to buy another 50 pounds of seed to fill in a number of sparse areas, as well as plant some areas in the back yard that are still all sand.  It will take all summer and fall to fully establish this lawn.

But, we are closer to those bocce ball games.