Posts Tagged ‘Highway 17’

 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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Fall in Colorado's San Juan National Forest -- Photo by Pat Bean

“If I had my life to live over, I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.” — Nadine Stair

Travels With Maggie

I thought I knew what route I wanted to drive today, but the travel gods knew differently.

Outside of Chama, New Mexico, I zigged instead of zagged. Never have I been more delighted for my lack of a sense of direction.

I had been at this same intersection several times before, but always when I was headed to Santa Fe. This time I planned to pass through Taos– so it just seemed logical that I would turn left instead of right. Perhaps I was distracted by that magical moment of sunrise that was happening when I reached the fork in the road. That fraction of a second when the world goes from a quiet gray that hides all details to a glowing glow that brings the world to life is my favorite part of any day. I don’t experience this moment often so when I do, I absorb it fully.

Cumbres and Toltec Railroad engine warming up at the summit -- Photo by Pat bean

Up where the air is thin.

For whatever reason, however, I didn’t notice my mistake until a road marker told me I was crossing back into Colorado. By this time I was driving through a landscape so fantastic that there was no way I would have turned around, even if it meant adding 200 miles to the trip.

In reality, it only made my day’s drive 19 miles longer. My error had put me on Highway 17 instead of Highway 64, and took me on a northern instead of a southern loop to Taos. My mistake took me high into the San Juan National Forest and over the 10,000-foot-plus Cumbres and Conejos passes.

At the top of Cumbres Pass, a Cumbres and Toltec Railroad engine was warming up for one of its scenic tourist expeditions that begin in Chama. I would have stopped to explore the train museum in Chama except it hadn’t yet opened when I passed through the rustic town. Seeing the engine here, with smoke churning from its stack as it sat on the narrow guage tracks, made up for that. Before catering to tourists, trains ran through this beautiful landscape to serve the area’s silver mines.

A view from Cumbres Pass -- Photo by Pat Bean

The best part of my day, however, were the golden mountain sides. Autumn was in full bloom – and I knew I was fortunate to get to see it because I was headed to Texas where fall is mostly a matter of leaves turning brown and falling off the trees. Of course there are exceptions, but nothing as vast and brilliant as what I was seeing this day.

By the time I got to Taos, which was late in the afternoon because I lingered so long in the high forest, I abhorred its trendy and crowded atmosphere and drove through without stopping. Mother Nature had fulfilled all my sight-seeing needs this day.

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