Posts Tagged ‘Great Dismal Swamp’

Mesa Falls, Idaho. — Photo by Pat Bean

“Sense the blessings of the earth in the perfect arc of a ripe tangerine, the taste of warm, fresh bread, the circling flight of birds, the lavender color of the sky shining in a late afternoon rain puddle, the million times we pass other beings in our cars and shops and out among the trees without crashing, conflict, or harm.” — Jack Kornfield

Earth Day

            As one who has traveled this country widely for the last half of my life, including nine years living full-time in a small RV with the road as my only roots, people are always asking me what is my favorite, or the most beautiful, place I have visited.

I never have an answer. I found beauty everywhere I went, and it would take a list that would stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific to name my favorite places.

More than once, when surrounded by Mother Nature’s wonders, have I wondered how people exist without putting themselves, at least occasionally, in the earth goddess’ arms, and simply breathing in the splendor of lush green forests; or gazing at purple, snow-covered mountains; or standing in a meadow filled with wildflowers; or walking beside a bubbling stream; or looking out a car window at waving, golden grasses filled with yellow-headed blackbirds; or sitting on a sandy beach watching roaring ocean waves pound the shore; or … well, you get my point.

The Great Dismal Swamp, North Carolina. — Photo by Pat Bean

I’ve seen beauty in a crowded RV park in New Mexico, when a family of quails marched through it. I’ve seen beauty in the wild rock sculptures of Arizona’s Painted Desert. I’ve seen beauty in the hoodoos of Southern Utah. It seen beauty as I’ve strolled among California’s magnificent redwoods. I’ve seen beauty in a sunrise on the top of Cadillac Mountain in Maine, and while walking beside a laughing creek in Wyoming’s Teton National Park. I’ve even seen beauty in Virginia and North Carolina’s Dismal Swamp.

The beauty of this magnificent planet can be found anywhere. All you have to do is look around. Please take a moment on this Earth Day to do just that. Actually, do it on any day. Even better, do it every day.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: Travel Theme Earth http://tinyurl.com/m9y65lv Great blog and the inspiration for today’s blog.

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The Great Dismal Swamp. -- photo by Pat Bean

The Great Dismal Swamp. — photo by Pat Bean

“Everything we do every thought we’ve ever had, is produced by the human brain. But exactly how it operates remains one of the biggest unsolved mysteries, and it seems the more we probe its secrets, the more surprises we find.” Neil deGrasse Tyson

It was a Surprise

            I have two traveling styles. The first is a mile-by-mile research of all the sights and attractions I will be seeing from Point A to Point B. I highly recommend it as it gives meaning to the seeing. The second is simply to choose a route to get me from Point A to Point B and be surprised along the way. I highly recommend this method of road trips, too.

Sailboats on the Great Dismal Swamp behind the North Carolina Welcome Center off Highway 17.  Photo by Pat Bean

Sailboats on the Great Dismal Swamp behind the North Carolina Welcome Center off Highway 17. Photo by Pat Bean

It’s not that one method is better, simply different, as are so many of life’s choices.

The Great Dismal Swamp was one of those surprises for me. I didn’t know it even existed before I came across it a few years back,. I was traveling westward from Virginia Beach, zig-zagging on back roads until I reached Highway 17.

It was a late October morning, sunny, but cool, when I came across this great marsh with its waterlogged trees, poisonous snakes and dark waters that hid what lurked below. Of course I had to explore it a bit. Just its name, Great Dismal Swamp, captured both my curiosity and my imagination.

My stopping place was a welcome center in North Carolina just across the border from Virginia. It had a picnic area for both motorists and boaters, with a parking lot entrance for vehicles off Highway 17 and a dock at the rear of the building to accommodate water traffic on the Great Dismal Swamp Canal.  Inside, I found a mountain of information on the swamp, which  until that day I hadn’t known existed.

The short hiking trail wasn't dismal at all. -- Photo by Pat Bean

The short hiking trail wasn’t dismal at all. — Photo by Pat Bean

. The creation of the canal through it was the idea of George Washington and his investor colleagues. They saw it as a means to accommodate trade between Virginia and an isolated region of North Carolina. Today, the 22-mile long canal provides boaters a shortcut between the Elizabeth River and Chesapeake Bay in Virginia and the Pasquotank River in North Carolina. In Washington’s time, it was the only easy passage through the mucky swamp.

Six large sailboats, quite nifty compared to the small 21-foot sloop I used to sail on the Great Salt Lake, were double-parked at the welcome center’s dock. After ogling the sailboats with an experienced eye, and exploring the visitor center and its manicured grounds, I found a path leading off into the forest. A sign identified it as “The Dismal Swamp Nature Trail,” with an added cautionary note to “Beware of Snakes.”

Actually it was a quite civilized trail, with markers identifying black cherry and mulberry trees, a cheerful squirrel dashing among the foliage, and a tufted titmouse whistling me along its fallen leaf carpet. The narrow path led along the canal for a while, then circled around into a more forested area before dumping me out, far too quickly, near the parking lot.

On the far side of the canal, the landscape was fiercer. There were no paths, only a mass of tangled vines and nature debris hiding and sheltering its wild occupants, like black bears and bobcats. The swamp also plays host to over 200 species of birds. Its tangled webs of vines, unsure footing and dangerous wildlife keep most people out, which is why it became a refuge for America’s former slaves.

The runaway slaves passed through it on their hopeful way to freedom, while others chose to live in the swamp as an alternative to slavery. Harriett Beecher Stow, whose book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” sympathetically described the sad plight of slaves, wrote a second book, “Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp,” whose title character was an escaped, angry slave who lived in it.

Back in my RV, still pondering facts I had learned, I continued following Highway 17 south until it intersected with Highway 158, a well-maintained but little traveled road that took me through the middle of the swamp. The 38-mile drive through the quagmire took me from the swamp’s eastern edge to its western edge — and because I stopped often to take photos, two hours to cover.

I rank that day’s Road Trip Surprise a solid 11, on a 1 to 10 ranking.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: Determination http://tinyurl.com/jj5zsg4 Some great quotes.


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 Buttercup: That’s the fire swamp! We’ll never survive.                                                                                                                      Wesley: Nonsense! You’re only saying that because no one ever has.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 — The Princess Bride

View of The Great Dismal Swamp from Highway 17 -- Photo by Pat Bean

Travels With Maggie

 It was a beautiful fall day that found Maggie and I driving south on Highway 17. We had no plans except for making it 100 miles farther down the road, a necessity if we were to be back in Texas in time for Thanksgiving with family.

 I had just crossed from Virginia into North Carolina when I came upon the Great Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center. Of course I stopped to investigate.

 Maggie, who was recovering from one of her recurring bouts of the infamous cocker-spaniel-ear infections, gave me her: Don’t bother me, I’m napping look. No problem, I told her as I climbed down from the RV.

Sailboats tied up at the Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center in North Carolina. -- Photo by Pat Bean

From information available in the visitor center, I learned that the swamp stretched from Virginia into North Carolina, and that 110, 000 acres of it was a designated national wildlife refuge. The more fascinating information concerned the canal that ran behind the visitor center.

This 22-mile long waterway was the idea of George Washington, who saw it as an investment to accommodate trade between Virginia and an isolated region of North Carolina. In George’s day, such a canal was the only easy way through the swampy muck.

 Given the year it was begun, 1793 (finished in 1805), it’s a given that slaves were the digging tools. But the swamp was also a place of hiding for runaway slaves, which “Unce Tom’s Cabin” author, Harriet Beecher Stow, wrote about in her less known work, “Dred.” This is the story of an escaped slave who lives in the Great Dismal Swamp.

Civilized trail -- no snakes -- Photo by Pat Bean

 Today, the canal provides access to Lake Drummond , and is a shortcut for boaters traveling between the Elizabeth River and Chesapeake Bay in Virginia to the Pasquotank River in North Carolina. Six large sailboats tied up this morning at the welcome center dock told me it was a popular passage.

 By the time I got back to the RV, Maggie had decided she wanted to investigate, too. I took her for a walk on a short nature trail on the civilized and landscaped side of the swamp.

 Back on the road, Highway 17 traversed the swamp for another 60 miles. From my comfortable seat behind the steering wheel, with the tires of my RV humming a pavement tune, I didn’t find the swamp dismal at all.

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