Sandbridge is that little space between the Oceana Naval Air Station and the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge that people tend to overlook. Aside from the rental condos, there aren’t any options for cheap, creature-comfort lodging on the beach. Many people prefer the nightlife and people watching on the main strip of Virginia Beach. Others head south to the under-developed shores of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. While getting a Euro-style OBX on your car may be something of a status symbol, I recommend making Sandbridge a day trip, if not vacation destination.
Little Island Park is the kind of small town beach that you thought was paved over completely. The rest rooms are well taken care of and life guards are ready for rescues and suggestions of where to stay and what to do in town. The park boast a massive fishing pier where almost anything can be caught (I saw a guy come off the pier with pompano, a more southern species, in his bucket). Surfers and kite boarders have plenty of room to play. Kayakers can launch into Back Bay across the road. Visit during the off-season (before Memorial and after Labor Day Weekends) and there is no parking fee.
Cameras were invented for places like Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The abundance of wildlife and scenery is breathtaking. Walk along a nearly deserted Atlantic Ocean Beach and see everything from humpback whales to ghost crabs. Hike the trails and dirt roads (you can’t drive your private vehicle beyond the parking lot) for a glimpse of great and snowy egrets. Wild horses can be found occasionally and do keep an eye out for the cottonmouths. The Visitor’s Center is a great place to learn about all that can be found in the refuge.
Now, if you really want to stay on the beach in the most remote way possible, False Cape State Park is the answer to your prayers. You must hike, bike, or paddle in. Needless to say, your camping gear had better be lightweight. Your efforts are greatly rewarded with perhaps the most secluded stretch of public waterfront in the entire commonwealth. Back Bay is on the other side of this narrow strip of land for more aquatic adventures. Be sure to stop at the Visitor’s Center for info on guided programs and kayak rentals.
If you can’t scrape up enough money to rent one of those beach condos and lack the nerve to camp at False Cape, don’t feel forsaken. Sandbridge is less than eight miles from the resort area of Virginia Beach. Secure an affordable hotel in town and drive down to the pier for some fishing and fun on the beach away from the crowds. Call the NWR or State Park and reserve a tram or terra-gator ride for an adventurous day trip. All of the great eateries on the strip await you at the end of the day. That is, unless you choose to dine at the iconic Margie & Ray’s Crab House instead (and I think you should).
There wasn’t a kayak yard like it anywhere. Yeah, you could pick up one from big box chain store from some high school kid that thinks a blade is something to shave with. And I know of one dealer with a great reputation and mind boggling selection. But, the shop isn’t located where customers aren’t free to try before they buy. This yard was located on a small cove of an expansive salt marsh giving rookie paddlers a calm place to learn new skills and veteran kayakers access to the Chesapeake Bay. The owners also lead guided tours in a few choice locations in their water encircled county. A simple red barn with a zillion fiddler crabs scurrying around roto-molded plastic and Kevlar composite hulls ready and waiting for adventures. This was Bay Trails Outfitters.
There was nowhere else I was going to buy my first kayak. The owner, Shawn Towne, had a “day job” as he was running BTO. Talking with him, I understood I should make my first boat versatile in my two major interest, fishing and exploring. Of course, he allowed me to put his suggestion to the “test paddle.” I found the recreational/touring Wilderness Systems Pungo 140 as the kayak with the right combination of stability for hauling up large croaker and the speed to get to where the were swimming. Not long after buying the boat (he let me put it on lay-away), I added outdoor photography to my list of interest. The Pungo served that purpose as well.
After making the purchase, I would often stop by BTO just to see what was new. I’d pick up brochures of the new models from Necky, Perception, and the like. Sometimes I’d come home with a new whistle, t-shirt, or some other what-not. It was just cool walking among the fiddler crabs daydreaming of being able to buy a 16-foot sit-on-top, or one of those sleek performance touring boats. Unfortunately, the dream died for Shawn and his wife a couple of years ago. One of our park guest gave me the sad news that Bay Trails Outfitters went out of business.
Had it not been for BTO, I would have never seen and experienced the wonders of kayaking. Paddling against an incoming tidal current on the Mattaponi River, slaying croaker with Berkley Gulp jigs, seeing dolphins jump and splash with me in their home, losing that huge croaker (or red drum) on Horn Harbor; these are the things Shawn and Jan gave me. Coupled with my photography and writing, they also helped to lay the groundwork for me to obtain the most enjoyable secular job I have ever had.
Here’s to you Shawn and Jan Towne. Thank you so much for providing me with a seed that has bloomed into this flower of a blog called Baystride and planted me at York River State Park. Your work was not in vain. I pray that our economy will turn around and you will resurrect the best kayak yard this side of the Eastern Shore. Until then, Bay Trails Outfitters – Memory Eternal.
Some years ago, I remember telling someone who my wife and I were going to Norfolk for our vacation. She turned up her nose, as if the city was not a worthwhile destination. undeterred by my critic and spurred on by a good deal I got on the hotel room, Brenda and I had a ball in Norfolk. We enjoyed sunrises and sunsets at Ocean View, visited Nauticus and the Chrysler Museum, and ate at one of the best restaurants in the commonwealth, Freemason Abbey. No, it was not the Bahamas or some other luxurious place people take cruises to. But, we found a great little spot to get away and didn’t have to go far to get there.
For those who can afford to travel out-of-state and overseas, go for it. We should all experience life away from our normal circles. But, it is not unusual to find something different in a 60 mile radius of one’s home. To save up for years for a “dream vacation” and not burn a tank of gas on a weekend road trip is a bit shameful.
Within an hour or two from my town are a charming set of watermen communities on the Northern Neck. I can visit the Eastern Shore or Back Bay and Sandbridge from metropolitan Hampton Roads. On the other side of the James River is the land of peanuts and pigs. Making my home base in Charlottesville, the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge are at my fingertips. Each region has its own local flavor from the great seafood of Willis Wharf to a tasty little sandwich shop in Nellysford. The Hampton Coliseum is a popular venue for major recording artist. Or, a little bluegrass performance can be heard for pocket change in a Northumberland County church yard. The same things that we are willing to spend hours en route to experience can be had by checking print and online weekend guides.
Here is a New Year’s Resolution that may help you appreciate what you have here before going off to elsewhere. Find five places in Virginia that you have never been to (or haven’t visited in a while) and go there for either a day, weekend, or longer. If you prefer mountains or seashore, big cities or small towns. Whatever floats your boat. Make at least 3 of those visits before taking that major trip and compare the experiences. Even if that dream vacation was all that you ever desired, at least you will know that there adventures and memories to be had right in your own backyard.
This life has been given to you for repentance. Do not waste it on vain pursuits.
St. Isaac the Syrian
The Christmas shopping season is upon us. It used to be that merchants would, at least, wait until our Thanksgiving meals have been well digested and football fans had plenty of time to cheer or curse the results of the big game. Alas, the infamous “black Friday” begins Thursday night. It was one thing when a local restaurant or tavern would offer a holiday meal to weary travelers who were delayed from reaching their intended destination. I suppose mall food courts will offer turkey steak and cheese hoagies to shoppers awaiting ”door buster specials.”
Yet, it is not enough to bemoan how Christmas has become an overly commercial farce. Cynicism is also a toxic mentality which destroys the joy and hope that we should have during this (and any other) time of the year. Unmet expectations of special gifts under the tree, losing beloved relatives and friends, employment and finances taking turns for the worse; such things can easily lead people into a slippery slope of depression as real life does not always mirror the seasonal Hallmark Channel specials.
The words of St. Isaac the Syrian have become my mantra for these days leading into Christmas. While I have done nothing to justify arrest and imprisonment, I am mindful of my imperfect actions, words, and (the source of these things) thoughts. The fact that the Lord has not destroyed me in my wickedness is proof of his love and desire that I should change my ways. Thus, repentance should be a part of everything I do from eating breakfast, performing task at home and work, even enjoying a quick game of mahjong. One need not live in sackcloth and ashes. But, to be careful of the thoughts harbored has a positive effect on words spoken and things done.
It is more difficult to shop until you drop knowing that one’s highest aim is a change of self. Nor can one wallow in self-pity if they focus on developing a greater spiritual self. We seek out greater principles of life instead. This is where things are created and discoveries are made. New bonds of interaction are forged and hope continues in spite of disappointments and disasters. It is this higher awareness that cannot be found in fat men sliding down chimneys or washing away one’s misery in spirits. It is found only when one pursues a life of spirit.
Give thoughtful gifts to the people you love. Refuse to be swept up in the excesses of commercial marketing. Seeking the higher point of our existence keeps us safe from this seasons toxicity and allows us a fullness of life that goes beyond January first.
Yes, after way too long, I am back on the blog that started my career. While my other works on religion have been important, I should have never lost sight of the fact that Baystride Images Journal is my original creation. This is where I expressed my passion to photograph and write about the corner of the world that I love. I have been re-inspired by a great speech from a wonderful conference.
I am in Hampton for the National Association of Interpretation National Workshop learning skills to become more proficient at my job. This morning’s address was given by Ned Tillman. Ned has been a leader in conservation projects along the Chesapeake Bay for years. Hearing him speak about the beauty of the bay, the problems and threats to its health caused by us humans, and the reasons why we must restore this precious waterway back to health could not have been given by some mere academic who doesn’t know a “rockfish” from a rock lobster. The man is a native of the Maryland stretch of the Chesapeake and speaks from the heart. I will soon dig into my autographed copy of The Chesapeake Watershed: A Sense of Place and a Call to Action.
All of us who heard his address were reminded of the reason why we are park interpreters. Part of our job is to encourage people to love our corner of the world. I have met Alaskans, Pennsylvanians, and colleagues from places in between. I am sure that when they return to their workplaces, a part of Tillman’s message will be shared with each one of their guest.
I believe with my blog articles in Virginia Outdoors, I have been effective in showing people how special of a place the York River State Park is. But, my corner and love extends past Croaker and Riverview Roads. I have seen snow geese take off from Hughlett’s Point, croaker get hooked on a lure near the Parrot Islands, falling water near the Blue Ridge, and a beaver dam beside my parent’s house on Jacks Creek. The Virginia State Parks will not pay me for this blog. I have to make the sacrifice of time and effort to show how much I care about these and other places.
I apologize for taking so long to write here. I’ll be back in two weeks. New photos will be posted around Thanksgiving.
It used to be a bi-weekly thing. I’d throw my kayak on top of the car, grab my fishing and camera gear, put a few bucks in my wallet and hit Route 14 until I couldn’t go any further east. For years, Mathews County has been my summer hang out. The public beaches attract wild birds more than sunbathers. Kayak anglers can find almost anything swimming in the marshes. The Saturday farmer’s market offers a variety of food and crafts. How could anyone hate a mostly rural county surrounded by water and possessing no traffic lights?
I barely stepped foot in Mathews in about a year. Work caught up with me. Being a ranger and pastor doesn’t lend me to much free time. Oddly enough, I have been a bit more interested in hiking in the mountains rather than hunting for Oystercatchers. Constantly shooting and blogging for the park and my recent pursuit of Orthodox Christianity has made my passion for pleasure photography dwindle.
I couldn’t let the summer pass by without reigniting my love for the place (and the blog) that led me out of a basement in Richmond. With the Pamunkey Baptist Association Annual Session out-of-the-way and having to lead a canoe trip on Thursday, I made sure the lawn and other chores were taken care of Friday. Even though my time was limited by other responsibilities, I had to make an escape to Mathews Saturday morning.
I was expecting higher winds. But the Chesapeake Bay was rather calm at Bethel Beach. I probably could have launched my kayak in it. The colors at sunrise were fine for a couple of good images. Returning to my car to switch lenses, an Osprey was kind enough to pose perfectly with the sunlight at it’s back. I was a bit frustrated with myself for letting my skills wane a bit as a couple of Dunlin and Wilson’s Plovers fed along the gently crashing waves. Even at low tide, I couldn’t cross the narrow channel that cut an island from the rest of the beach. But, I thought the sand flat would be a great area to create a panorama or two.
After a couple of hours, I pulled into Winter Harbor Haven and saw that a few kayakers had already hit the water. If it weren’t for a sermon and eulogy I had to develop, my Pungo 14o would be in Horn Harbor hunting for croakers, red drum, and speckled trout. Driving back through town, I had to make two stops. A couple of guys were selling fresh Carolina shrimp from the back of a truck. Eating the farm-raised variety for over a year, it was refreshing to taste the real McCoy again. A little sugar baby watermelon from the farmer’s market made a good desert with grilled shrimp.
My Saturdays in August and September will be booked at work. So, I will take a couple of days off during the week those months and make more escapes to the land and waters of my ancestry. I hope some fish will be there to greet me as well.
Yes, it is open again! The Taskinas Creek Trail at York River State Park was renown as one of the best hikes east of I-95. Due to storm damage, it was closed to the public for two years. Park staff and volunteers worked hard to re-route and restore the trail. Despite some significant changes, Taskinas Creek is a hike that is winning praise in the region for it’s physical challenge, views of wildlife, and unique beauty.
The long bridges across the freshwater streams at the beginning of the trail are gone. Yet, hiking along the smaller crossings still provides guest with an idea of how estuarine creeks and rivers begin as mere trickles of water at the bottom of a hill. As they flow, these streams get broader turning the surrounding lowland into bogs. A variety of frogs, turtles, and other creatures can be found here.
The freshwater bogs give way to an open canopy marsh and cord grass as hikers reach the first Marsh Overlook. The stream meets the larger Taskinas Creek at the Heron Overlook. This is a great place to spot both the Great Blue Heron and the smaller Green Heron. At low tide, Fiddler Crabs can be seen scurrying around for hiding places. High tides bring Muskrat and Killifish swimming right underneath the overlook.
After an elevation change, hikers are rewarded with the Osprey Overlook. An Osprey nesting platform stands between two bends in the creek. These expert anglers reside here from March until September to raise their young. This year, we have two chicks on the nest in the creek. The platform was installed by a local Boy Scout working on his Eagle Badge. An overlook named for our national bird can be found on a small spur trail before ascending on another hill. Bald Eagles can be seen at the park year round, perhaps more frequently when the Osprey are back in Latin America for the winter.
A challenging ravine follows lined with Mountain Laurels. In May, this is one of the most beautiful parts of the hike. Ascending to the final hill is the spur leading to the Kingfisher Overlook. Fans of the original trail will remember how the long bridge used to cross a section of the marsh. A portion of the bridge was removed due to constant erosion damage. But, a substantial section remains as an overlook that is perfect for wildlife viewing, photography, and waving to the canoeist and kayakers as they explore the creek. Returning from the spur, the final leg of the hike is relatively broad with only slight elevation changes until completing the loop to the first two ravines.
As unbiased as I can be, this is the best hiking trail on the peninsula. I doubt if there is anything quite like it along the Chesapeake Bay. The elevation changes will impress the most avid outdoors adventurers. Birders and photographers can enjoy the diversity of nature’s beauty. Environmental educators will find it a great learning lab for geology as well as ecology. Make plans to visit the Taskinas Creek Trail at York River State Park. Parking at the park is only $2 per vehicle on weekdays, $3 on weekends. Visit the Virginia State Parks blog for stories about the trail and other items of interest at York River and around the state.
You would think that with “Gresham’s Law*” being a part of our lives that everyone would have some sort of back up plan for their outdoor adventures. I used to be one of those poor souls. I would come home in a foul mood if the fish weren’t biting, the weather turned bad, or if some other complication would arise just to ruin my day or weekend off. Now, getting skunked or soaked no longer is something that I dread. I look to my alternatives.
My camera goes wherever I go. I may not take it in the kayak while fishing. But, if the day is especially bad, I can get some landscape and wildlife images in. I have access to a couple of good point-and-shoot cameras when I backpack. If I change my mind, “The Brick” (my Pentax K200D) is in the trunk for a shorter walk and better photos. No matter what level photographer you are, a camera is a great thing to have. Capturing a few good scenes can make a bad day better.
My appetite and taste buds are a part of me. Having a few bucks while traveling can open one up to a culinary adventure when the waters and trails prove uncooperative. Bypass the typical chain restaurants and fast food. Local diners and dives have offerings that you just may not find at home. You may even be inspired to buy the ingredients and try making the meal at home.
In this age of social media, we have forgotten what it is to have a good book on hand. Yeah, Kindle and Nook may have their advantages. But, there is something about the feel of hardbound or paperback that makes reading a holistic experience. Some communities have neat local papers and magazines that beckon even the most discouraged adventurer to come back and try again next time.
This past Monday was to be my epic mountain adventure of the year. I was going on a solo backpack of Crabtree Falls and The Priest. I told everyone that I was going to make the climb on Monday, crash at the shelter, make my way down Tuesday, and use Wednesday to recuperate. When I got to Massies Mill, I couldn’t even see the mountains due to the thick fog. To make matters worse, the weatherman called for rain and thunderstorms all day and evening. A 18 mile round trip solo hike in bad weather on some trail I wasn’t familiar with didn’t seem like a great idea to me.
So, I went to plan B. I grabbed the “brick” and captured some waterfall images along Crabtree and the Tye River. Unfortunately, the Country Store in Montebello didn’t take my ATM card. The UVA Credit Union in Nellysford was available. I found a great little Italian joint that had a used book exchange. They didn’t have anything I was interested in. But, I did pick up the “Appalachian Voice.” Being discouraged about not being able to execute my original plan would have been self-defeating. Enjoying the alternatives has given me an appreciation for Nelson County and a marinated beef and turkey sandwich with cheese.
*“Everything that can go wrong will go wrong.” I wrote that on a post it note with no adhesive. Some guy named Murphy picked it up, got the copyrights, and made millions.
Has this ever happened to you? You crave a pulled pork barbecue sandwich. But, you don’t have hours to tend to a shoulder or even a rack of baby backs on the pit. There is time for grilling a hamburger. But, 80/20 ground beef isn’t the same as (and less healthy than) pork. The local joint is either too expensive or doesn’t season the pig like you do. What a country boy culinary nightmare. Well, wake up buddy! There is a solution in your local grocery store that will be easy on your wallet, healthier than a fast food burger, and will give you the flavor of well smoked barbecue. Ground pork.
Take a pound of ground pork and mix in your favorite rub, or plain old salt and pepper. Make patties and put them in the fridge until you are ready to cook. Use whatever wood chip variety you wish with your grill. When the smoke is rising, grill your burgers until they are well done. Top with your favorite sauce and cole slaw on a plate or bun. This may not have the heritage of a pig on a pit. But, if you are too busy and broke, the pork barbecue burger may be the best substitute to barbecue.
Walkerton, Virginia is one of those little spots of real estate that barely show up on a map or GPS. The King & Queen County town was once a busy little port on the Mattaponi River. As with its upriver sister Aylett, Walkerton’s importance dwindled as more people relied on automobiles. There is an attractive mill-pond, a couple of historic buildings, and a little gas station/country store to visit. Civic organizations and the volunteer fire department hold different fundraisers serving delicious barbecue and Brunswick Stew.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day, motorboats dominate the Mattaponi River here. The river is tidal, but freshwater. Water-skiing and jet-skiing are very popular with locals and those in the know. But, things can get a bit congested here and there are a few shallow islands that one has to navigate. This gets even trickier as the tidal current is said to be one of the swiftest in the state. Canoeists and kayakers would do well to avoid the town on weekends.
Weekdays before the Spring and Summer madness begins is a great time to paddle here. The local fire dept. has a launch specifically for small craft (please leave a donation) and there is a kiosk of information about this stretch of the river provided by the Mattaponi/Pamunkey Rivers Association. The freshwater tidal marsh is a fine place to admire the variety of plants growing along the shoreline. Sunrise and sunset visits offer great opportunities for capturing a beautiful image or two with your camera. Or, try your luck with a rod and reel. Walkerton is known for catfish and yellow perch fishing. But, the bass and bream provide action as well.
From Richmond, take Rt.360 East to Central Garage. Turn Right on Rt. 30 and left on Rt. 629 (across from Hamilton-Holmes Middle School).