When I awoke on Saturday morning at James River State Park, I was saddened to see that it was raining pretty hard outside. The weather reports I had seen earlier stated as much. Nevertheless, James River is located near some attractions that do not require you to be outdoors.
We decided to head out of the park for a couple hours in hope that the afternoon would bring some better weather. We cooked breakfast and then hopped in the truck to make our way to Natural Bridge Caverns. Natural Bridge Caverns is located roughly forty-five minutes from James River State Park which made it a perfect morning trip (not to mention that it wouldn’t be raining sixteen stories beneath the earth). The caverns are the deepest on the east coast.
The first thing we saw upon entering the caverns was a hibernating bat. I was happy to see a healthy bat in light of the white nose syndrome which is killing bats in Virginia. We didn’t seem to bother him. The tour proceeded down into the depths of the caverns where many stalactites and stalagmites could be seen. I have always loved caverns and can remember wanting to live in one as a child. My opinion on that matter may have changed a little since then, but my love of caverns and rock / mineral formations, has remained the same.
At the lowest level, our guide rehashed a story I had heard years ago. A crew working in the caverns began hearing a girl crying for help. The spelunkers looked around but could not find anyone. Eventually they heard something that made them flee immediately. The girl’s voice was said to take on a demonic tone that no one wanted to stick around for. Although the story may have been embellished a little by the workers themselves, it still gave the caverns a reputation of being haunted.
We headed back to the surface to find that the weather had cleared in spite of the reports. This was perfect since we had planned on hiking a couple trails. My personal favorite trail at James River would have to be the Tye River Overlook. This trail is accessed off of the Cabell Trail and is a 2.5 mile hike roundtrip (we took the Dixon Landing Overlook Trail to access the Cabell Trail).
I love walking the trails at our state parks. It is so peaceful, and if you are quiet, you can spot some wildlife along the way. A trail map is located here. We made our way to the Tye River Overlook and spotted two deer on the path ahead. They managed to see us and run off before I could get a good picture.
The view from the overlook was stunning. Some of the leaves were changing below and the rolling pastures and railroad bridge added to the view. I took a couple pictures and we began to head back for dinner. This is when I got the best picture opportunity of the weekend (in my opinion). We were walking the Dixon Landing Overlook Trail when my brother noticed a little critter hiding in the multi-colored leaves. It was a frog! I pulled out my trusty camera and snapped a couple of pictures (I only see toads where I live). The frog didn’t seem to mind and we left it to its business.
After dinner, which consisted of steak and mashed potatoes, I proceeded to shelter #4 for the Autumn Sky Watch with the Crewe Astronomy Club. I have attended this before at Pocahontas State Park, but I was surprised to see that nothing was repeated from one session to the next. After giving an awesome PowerPoint presentation, the clouds cleared up enough for some viewing. The first object they pointed the telescope towards was the Double Cluster (consisting of NGC 884 at 7600 LY and NGC 869 at 6800 LY). Next we took a look at the fifth brightest star in the night sky named Vega. Vega is only 25 LY (light years) from Earth and emits a blue light. Jupiter was the last object we got a chance to observe before the clouds moved back in (Jupiter is roughly 0.0000621 LY from earth at its closest point). The interesting thing about Jupiter is that you can also see four of its moons (Ganymede, Callisto, Europa, and Io) through a moderately powerful scope.
The next morning I woke up for my early morning commute to find a very thick fog had settled in the area. This was truly a sight to be seen as I could barely make out the cabin next to us. I went ahead and loaded my car as the fog lifted. The vacation was over and it was time to head back home. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again. The best part about a Virginia State Park vacation is the memories you will cherish for a lifetime (even when the weather puts a kink in your fishing plans).