Cypress trees on Lake Drummond


Great Dismal Swamp, Easter Weekend 2011

Last updated April 29, 2011



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Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four

After reading a November 30, 2008 article in the Washington Post newspaper titled In a Swamp, I Realize My Bear Ambition, Norma suggested we explore Great Dismal Swamp. I saved the article and kept this trip in the back of my mind. At the time, it didn't seem particularly interesting. But as I read more, I became intrigued.

Norma's office is closed from Good Friday through Easter Monday. My company gives us Easter Sunday off. It had been awhile since we did a long weekend of kayaking and exploring so this seemed like a good time to do just that. Late April is still cool but further south, near the North Carolina border, things would likely be warmer. With a 4 day weekend, a long drive to Great Dismal Swamp is feasible with mid-spring the ideal time since nobody in their right mind would want to be in a place called Great Dismal Swamp during mosquito season.

Day One, Friday, April 22, 2011

Norma and I left at 0940 on Good Friday. The goal was to make it into the Washington D.C. area after 1000 so we could avoid the rush hour traffic. Our plan failed miserably. Traffic was heavy, especially in northern Virginia. I've driven in northern Virginia before and except for the weekends, I have never found a time when traffic was light during the daytime. After lots of stop, go, and 30 mph driving, we were well on our way to our destination. It was supposed to be a 4.5 hour drive but I'm guessing it took closer to 5.5 hours after stopping for gas and food.

We checked in at Northwest River Park and Campground. It was a toss up between this place and Davis Lakes and Campground. The latter boasted a sping-fed lake where one could swim but it seemed suited more for recreational vehicles (RVs) and folks wanting to rent cabins whereas the former was more oriented to tent camping. Additionally, Northwest was closer to more interesting places to paddle while Davis was nearer the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge main entrance.

The thing to keep in mind is that this swamp is HUGE! It consists of over 112,000 acres of forested wetlands. The National Wildlife Refuge starts in southern Virginia and extends into nortern North Carolina. But there is also the Dismal Swamp State Park in North Carolina which lies just east of the lower part. This is comprised of another 14,344 acres of protected land.

Norma and I set up our tent and scoped out the campground. We had tent site 53. There were not many other people around. There was a group site taken up by either multiple families or a youth group. The sign at the group site didn't actually say it was for youth groups so it might be possible that adult groups (such as a kayak club) could reserve it. But it didn't offer much privacy.

The campground was well maintained. The bath house was fair. No coinage needed for the showers which produced adequately hot water. Sites were well shaded and appeared to have good drainage. The park allows 2 vehicles and 2 tents per site. We invited a few friends along but they all declined. Their loss.

Next we went to the welcome center at the state park in North Carolina. This is just south of the border and conveniently located at the rest stop. Unfortunately, we were too late and they were about to close. But we did manage to pick up a good number of pamphlets about the area and talk to a very helpful volunteer who told us about the refuge.

The trails were open for a few more minutes so we walked across a bridge over the Dismal Swamp Canal (see first and second photos) into the park and walked on the Swamp Boardwalk (third photo), Supple-Jack Trail (fourth photo), and part of the Canal Road. We found something that reminded me of a bag worm's house attached under a rail (fifth photo).

We checked out the closed building of the state park welcome center. It appeared new and was quite large. There were a few butterflies and/or moths resting on its exterior walls. See sixth photo.

We returned across the bridge a few minutes before 1730 curfew. A gatekeeper maintains a list of who went across. At 1800, he raises the bridge so boats (yacht size) can pass under while he is gone. Anyone remaining after his shift is left stranded on the other side. Just north of the bridge on the east side was a beachy area that looked suitable for kayak launching. See seventh photo. Not sure if launching is permitted there but I don't see why not.

Lastly, we walked on the quarter mile Dismal Swamp Nature Trail. This trail was home to numerous native trees. See eighth photo. A pamphlet near the entrance is conveniently provided to help identify them.

Norma and I drove back into Virginia and searched for launch sites. My 1995 Virginia DeLorme map listed two sites providing access to the Intracoastal Waterway/Dismal Swamp Canal:
  • Arbuckle Landing South: As far as I could tell, this was just a floating dock at the bottom of some stairs that led to the water just north of the Feeder Ditch. See me with the Feeder Ditch behind in the ninth photo. It was next to a fenced area and a little white building. There was little room for parking at the side of the road and no sign indicating it was indeed a launch site. Not worth the effort.
  • Arbuckle Landing North: Just 500 meters north of the west end of Ballahack Road (west of George Washington Highway South/highway 17) is a launch area with parking for about 50 vehicles. There is a boat ramp with no beach, and no restroom. I forget what the sign here read so I'm making up the name of this launch area. This is where you definitely want to launch.

  • There isn't much near the campsite in terms of restaurants. I think the Hardee's at
         2620 Battlefield Boulevard South
         Chesapeake, Virginia 23322
    was closest. After that, I think it was the Wendy's and Applebee's. That night, we ate at Applebee's near the Wal Mart. The food was average and the waitress was cute.

    We got some good scouting done and became familiar with the area. It wasn't a nice day for kayaking. There was light rain with high temperatures in the 50s. But the rest of our weekend looked promising with highs in the 70s and 80s.

    Day Two, Saturday, April 23, 2011

    We were up at 0700. I built a small fire to heat up my Applebee's leftovers.

    From our campsite we walked west on a trail that took us to the equestrian area. I don't remember seeing any horses but we did see numerous bat boxes. Each was about 3 feet tall, 2 feet wide, and one foot deep. I took photos using the flash to see if any were occupied. None were, except by a few wasps. There were also some huge, beautiful trees in the area...the kind I wish we had in our yard. See first photo.

    We made our way south and caught Indian Creek Trail. See second photo. Walking counterclockwise, we saw Fernpatch Meadow and Moonshine Meadow. There were numerous flowers growing in the wet areas (third and fourth photos) along with fern, and some sort of fungi. Deer Island Trail took us south for a bit to a fishing pier at Northwest River. Indian Creek and Smith Creek both flow into this river which was about 400 feet wide at the pier. This river was a paddling option. While we didn't scout the sites, the map and park staff told us there are two small boat launches in the park:
  • Indian Creek Launch: This is at the west end of the park, west of the equestrian area. The launch is just south of Indian Creek Road and puts one on a narrow, scenic section of Indian Creek.
  • Baum Road Launch: From the park, if you head east on Indian Creek Road, it will eventually veer to the left (east) after about 1.6 miles. Instead of veering left, continue straight on Baum Road. Somewhere around here is a launch site. You'll have to talk to the park staff to get more details. This will put one on some of the most upstream sections of Smith Creek.
  • I suggest doing a bike shuttle from the latter to the former since Indian Creek Launch will probably be easier to find via kayak. Maybe stop at the pier (the one we were at) for lunch and to use the restroom.

    Next we walked west on Majorie Rein Memorial Walkway. This led to an overlook which, unfortunately, was closed for repair.

    Heading north on Deer Island Trail took us back to the campground. Along the way, we got some nice views of the unnamed creek in the park. For lack of a better name, I will refer to it as the Northwest River Park Campground Creek although I don't think it has any flow so it is really just a funny shaped pond. See fifth photo. Regardless, it was extremely scenic (sixth photo) and home to numerous tadpoles. See seventh photo.

    There were some flowers near the end of the trail that looked like little white bells. See eighth photo. I'm sure I've seem something similar on cartoons.

    I'm estimating we walked about 3.25 miles. By the time we finished, it had warmed up a good bit. A little afternoon kayaking was next on our "to do" list.

    After a quick bite to eat, Norma and I headed back to Great Dismal Swamp for some kayaking. We launched at Arbuckle Landing North. From here, we paddled south on Dismal Swamp Canal for less than a mile. Then we turned right (west) to access the Feeder Ditch. Paddling in the canal and ditch was strange. The greenery was lush and the turtle population was one less than infinity. See first photo. Yet it was very unnatural the way the waterway was so uniformly wide and straight. I thought I would quickly get bored but that was not the case.

    I got out of our Ocean Kayak Cabo to see what things looked like on the north and south sides of the ditch. On the north side I saw a dirt road and a field. On the south side, I saw a sandy open area where it looked like heavy machinery had done some work. So except for our little oasis of water, the surrounding area was very uninteresting.

    We passed numerous kayakers (second and third photos), including some Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA) members who recognized me.

    Only one portage was required. There was a gaging station that was basically a dam on the north side and a grassy area on the south. Also on the south side was an electric tram to lift boats up to 1000 pounds around the dam. See fourth photo. The portage was only about 50 feet. This station had a toilet, picnic tables, and a screened little building. There was also a house. I was told that one can camp here for free.

    After portaging, we continued for a very short distance then came to Lake Drummond, which was 3.5 miles from the Dismal Swamp Canal. Here, things changed dramatically. No longer were we in a secluded, sheltered, narrow area. This huge lake was open, choppy, and windy. The shoreline and maybe an eighth of a mile out was dotted with cypress trees...some quite large.

    The dark clouds made for a dramatic background as the waves tossed us around. While we encountered numerous small boats in the ditch, most chose not to risk capsizing in the lake...or maybe it just wasn't to their liking. Hence, it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.

    Lake Drummond is quite a special place. A sign at the refuge told us just how special it is.
  • It was discovered in 1755 by William Drummond, the first colonial governor of North Carolina.
  • It is the larger of only two natural lakes in Virginia.
  • It looks much the same today as when it was first discovered.
  • The dark water is the result of ground water seeping through organic soils surrounding the lake.
  • Size: 3100 acres
  • Shoreline: 9 miles
  • Average depth: 3 feet
  • Average distance across: 2.5 to 3 miles
  • Deepest areas: 6 to 7 feet

  • We paddled around from cypress to cypress, taking lots of photos along the way.
  • Fifth photo: Lone tree with miles of open water behind.
  • Sixth photo: Big tree with cage-like base.
  • Seventh photo: Me paddling out to visit a tree. Looks like rain, doesn't it?
  • Eighth photo: Closer to shore, smaller cypress trees grow close together.
  • Ninth photo: Dark skies.
  • Tenth photo: Wind-swept hair.

  • Spanish moss hung from several trees, which reminded us of our Florida 2010 trip. See the eleventh photo which is an upward view from the base of a cypress. The moss is the scraggly looking greenish-gray stuff.

    As we passed by one cypress, I looked up and saw a large furry animal. We kayaked around the tree and saw its face. It was a sleeping racoon. See twelfth photo. The waves covered our sound and kept it from waking up.

    After paddling north on the east side of the lake for a bit, we headed south. The northern side was more interesting.

    Back at the gaging station, we ate lunch and took a nap. We spoke to a few other paddlers. It seemed quite a few others had driven a long distance to come to the refuge.

    Can one paddle this area year round? Maybe, but not so easily. According to a refuge sign,
    Many people perceive swamps as having standing water year round. This is not the case in the Great Dismal; in fact, most of the swamp's vegetation could not survive permanent flooding. The Great Dismal Swamp has an annual water cycle that results in changing water levels throughout the year. Water levels are highest from December through April and lowest from May through November.

    There were numerous bumble bees flying near the screened structure. See thirteenth photo. They didn't appear to be swarming. I think it would have been too early for that anyway. Then Norma noticed two of them mating. We learned from our beekeeping class (through the Howard County Beekeepers) that a new queen releases phermones to attract males. Then she mates with several, collecting all the sperm she will need for lay worker eggs for years to come.

    We were hoping to see a bear but did not.

    After 10.5 miles of kayaking, we were done.

    It was still a little early for dinner so instead we did some more scouting for launch sites.
  • Bob's Fishing Hole: "The best hole for your pole." On the west end of Northwest River on the east side of Battlefield Boulevard South is a little place with a boat ramp and a porta-john. They charge $5 to launch.
  • Blackwater Trading Post: Just south of Pungo Ferry Road on the west side is a place with parking for 3 near a ramp. There is a fee to launch, a store with a restroom, and a gas station. It is located at 5605 Blackwater Road, Virginia Beach, VA 23457. Phone: 757-421-2803. This will put you on the Blackwater, a tributary off North Landing River.
  • North Landing River Natural Area Preserve: Some maps show a canoe launch here but unfortunately, as of the time of this writing, the preserve is now closed, and even if you could access it, you would need to carry your boat pretty far to get to the launch area. But perhaps it would make for a good lunch stop if launching from Blackwater Trading Post.
  • Pocaty River: My DeLorme map indicates there is a canoe launch just off Blackwater Road over the Pocaty River. Unfortunately, I found no place to park. But the Pocaty is very scenic.
  • North Landing Road: My DeLorme map shows a boat ramp on the North Landing River, just off North Landing Road (route 165). We didn't find it but looking at satellite photos, it appears we might have checked the location on the east side of the easternmost bridge. It appears there are two bridges and the ramp may be between them on the south side. If you happen to go there, let me know what you find.
  • Indian River Road: There is room for two vehicles, just barely on the north side of Indian River Road/state route 603, just east of West Neck Creek. No restroom, ramp, sign, or anything. Not a good place to launch but it will work if you are desperate.
  • West Neck Marina: We didn't stop here but I found it on the map, originally labeled as Pleasant Ridge. A kayak website implies this is a place for kayaks to launch and satellite photos show boat trailers, indicating they have a boat ramp. They are located at 3985 West Neck Road, Virginia Beach, Virginia 23456. Phone: 757-426-6735. This location will provide access to West Neck Creek.
  • Dozier Bridge: This is the jackpot! There is parking for 4 vehicles and no restroom. Only non-motorized boats are permitted to launch. It is just north of Princess Anne Road (route 149) and west of West Neck Creek. This is a great launch site. See April 25, 2011 and you'll see why.

  • The area just east of West Neck Creek is called Pungo. This got me thinking. Kayakers know Pungo as being a short, stubby kayak. It is well suited for exploring narrow creeks, like the upper part of West Neck Creek and its tributaries. So was the boat named after the town and its nice paddling opportunities?

    Having accomplished a good bit of exploring, Norma and I ate dinner at Pungo Pizza and Ice Cream
         1824 Princess Anne Road
         Virginia Beach, Virginia 23456
         Phone: 757-721-4900
    We both ate very tasty pizzas. I highly recommend this homey, reasonably priced little restaurant.

    The back of the restaurant was an arcade, similar to the ones at the family-oriented pizzerias I remember growing up in Sacramento. On my way back from the restroom, I stopped to see what video games they had. Naturally, I hardly recognized any. But then I passed a Ms. Pac-Man machine. I noticed that it had several video games from the 1980s. Did it have Galaga or Galaga 3? Just for sh*ts and giggles, I scrolled through the games that were loaded on this machine. Yes, it did indeed have Galaga. The next thing I knew, the game started. I didn't even put in any money. Of course I had to play...I was was my duty. I play this game maybe once every few years but it always comes back to me. I kept clearing off the screen and advancing myself further. I didn't want Norma to think I abandoned her so after the Challenging Stage, I ran back to tell her what was going on. But as soon as I got 20 feet away from the game, the next level started so I had to run back to continue. I forget what score I had when it was all over but it took a very long time and I ended up getting the high score.

    Day Three, Sunday, April 24, 2011

    Having seen the eastern side of the Great Dismal Swamp via kayak, we decided it was time to see the western side. This was best suited for bicycling.

    Our goal was to get out early and see bears in their natural habitat. We were up at 0630 and on the road shortly after. Unfortunately, there is no quick way to get from the east side of the refuge to the west side so we drove north towards Portsmouth then west to Suffolk. The whole trip from the campground took about 75 minutes to get to the entrance at
         3100 Desert Road
         Suffolk, Virginia 23434
    This wasn't quite where we wanted to be but it was darn close. The actual parking area was nearby at the east end of Washington Ditch Road off White Marsh Road/route 462. Here we started bicycling.

    We biked east next to Washington Ditch on the Washington Ditch Trail for about 4.5 miles. Along the way, we saw numerous turtles in the water, cypress trees, butterflies on crap (first photo), and a snake. It was an eastern garter snake. Unfortunately, it moved quickly so Norma missed seeing it.

    What purpose did the ditches serve? That's just what Norma is learning in the second photo. According to a sign in the refuge,
    The network of ditches found in the Great Dismal Swamp carves a prominent feature on the landscape, the most famous of these being the Washington Ditch. The ditch was dug with slave labor under awful conditions of heat, bugs and snakes for the Dismal Swamp Land Company and its shareholder, George Washington. History suggests the original purpose was for draining the peat soils to enable agriculture. Once the agriculture experiment failed, both the Washington and the newer Jericho ditches were used to transport logs for the growing timber operations. All later ditches were dug by landholders for water control.

    The turnaround point for the trail was the north side of Lake Drummond. Here we saw a huge northern water snake in a tree...possibly the biggest I'd ever seen. It looked to be about 3 inches in diameter at its widest. See third photo.

    A sign at the lake told us about its prehistory:
    The Lake's origin has been the subject of considerable debate. Some believe it was formed when a meteorite struck the earth thousands of years ago. A more popular theory suggests the Lake was formed when a fire burned a depression into the peat during a severe drought.

    We also read about the color of the water:
    Plants and trees decay slowly in the Great Dismal Swamp, which naturally generates tannic acid, which stains the water its amber color. The water was once used to fill casks on ships, for its acidity inhibited bacteria spoilage.
    The dark water blocks sunlight from the Lake's bottom, so few plants grow there. Some fish, such as largemouth bass, do not reproduce well in the acidic waters. However, the Lake does contain black crappie, catfish, chain pickerel, and a variety of sunfish.
    I should mention that I did not see anyone fishing at the lake.

    Returning west on Washington Ditch (fourth photo), I saw another northern water snake (this one much smaller) and possibly a small black snake. The latter I saw just for a split second so I couldn't be sure.

    There were lots of dragonflies and some smaller flying insect...perhaps gnats or mayflies. But mosquitos were not a problem, though I expect in another couple of weeks, that will not be the case.

    Next, we turned right (north) to bike on the trail next to Lynn Ditch. By now it was getting hot, with a high temperature somewhere in the mid to high 80s. We stopped to put on sunscreen and eat a light snack.

    I spotted a big, thick turtle that looked different from the others we've encountered. See fifth photo.

    At Middle Ditch, we turned right (east). Eventually, the trail became less maintained as we biked through tall grass (about a foot tall).

    Norma ran over a bicycle inner tube which her back tire flung into the air. I was maybe 12 feet behind her. Then I noticed the inner tube start to slither. I hit my brakes as what I thought was an inanimate object turned out to be a 4 foot long black snake. It passed between my front tire and my feet then made its way into the woods.

    Our goal was to make it to the south end of Jericho Ditch but the trail was just too overgrown. We turned around and headed back to Lynn Ditch where we continued north to Jericho Lane and the north end of Jericho Ditch which was near the northwestern parking lot for the refuge. There was a restroom and benches where we took a nap.

    We saw two wild turkeys.

    Rather than retrace our steps, Norma and I biked west on the gravelly Jericho Lane to White Marsh Road. This took us south, through the city and outskirts of Suffolk. The paved road was easy riding compared to the packed dirt roads that ran alongside the ditches. We passed some cotton fields. After about 7.5 miles of biking on the road, we were back in the refuge. Our total biking distance was 23.25 miles.

    We finished our adventures at the refuge with a 0.75 mile walk on the shaded Washington Ditch Boardwalk Trail. See sixth photo.

    On the drive back, we stopped at a convenience store. The outer wall was covered with pink and yellow moths. See seventh photo. Their color made me crave sherbert.

    Returning to the campground, we donned our kayaking gear and launched at the north end of the Northwest River Park Campground Creek, just west of the ranger station. Parking here was only for 15 minutes, so after unloading, I moved my 2008 Subaru Impreza to the day use parking area.

    It was warm enough so that we were comfortable without any insulation though I brought them along in the highly unlikely event that we capsized.

    We kayaked the entire creek, which is only 2.5 miles but extremely scenic. See first and second photos. Our route includes a circumnavigation of the tiny Deer Island if one does a portage, which we did.

    Paddle slowly, you'll want to savor every minute on this waterway.

    A green tree snake was seen slithering across a log and then climbing a branch. See third photo. I don't think I'd ever seen one of these before.

    We finished around 1800. As I went to retrieve my car, a park ranger told Norma that we were supposed to check in at the ranger station before launching and be off the water by 1700. Interestingly, only this one fellow (who I believe was a more senior ranger and not a regular at this park) informed us of this while other staff said nothing. I'm guessing it is a rule they have but don't necessarily enforce.

    I noticed the Dr. Dean Bohon Fragrance Garden to the right of the entrance of the day use area. I know Norma likes various plant scents so I said let's check it out. Unfortunately, it looked like it hadn't been well maintained and the plants there were not very interesting.

    Back at the campsite, I spotted a 7 inch long skink lizard in a tree. See first photo.

    After our busy day, we weren't much wanting to drive far so we ate at Wendy's. I had their half pound baconator with cheese which I found delicious; not as good as Five Guys but close.

    Day Four, Monday, April 25, 2011

    On our final day, we were up at 0630. We packed up then headed out to Dozier Bridge. See first photo. By 0910, we were on the water.

    It was windy as it had been in the previous days but the wind was hardly noticeable on the water since every place we paddled (except Lake Drummond) was narrow and sheltered by trees.

    We kayaked north (upstream) with some help from the tide. Our first obstacle was a low pipe. No problem for us but a big person on a bigger boat might have problems.

    The creek was absolutely gorgeous! We were knee deep in nature most of the time. See second and third photos.

    After 1.3 miles, the creek split. Norma and I took the right (east) side. While this branch was worth exploring, it was the shorter and less interesting of the two.

    At the power lines, an osprey kept watch over us next to its nest. See fourth photo.

    We saw a couple of duck families, each with about 6 ducklings. See fifth photo.

    In another mile or so, the creek passed through suburban backyards. There were some fallen logs which we simply plowed over using brute force and our nearly indestructable kayak. Along with the houses came litter. Things became less scenic so we turned around, right about when the creek was just a foot or two wider than our boat is long. Good timing.

    Back at the split, we ventured up the west side. There were some cows and horses to our right.

    There was a smoking log just a foot or two from the creek. Obviously, someone had a campfire and left.

    A racoon saw us about the same time we saw it. It ran into a hollow spot under a tree (sixth photo). Then it ran up the bank of the creek and into a tree (seventh photo).

    At Shipps Corner Road, Bridge 8022, we went ashore and ate lunch. There wasn't anyplace to pull the boat ashore so we just used my paddle leash to keep it from floating away as it rested next to big boulders.

    Just upstream from the bridge, we headed back into civilization. The steep tree-lined banks subsided and were replaced by eroded mud and grass. But this made it much easier to spot the fiddler crabs which numbered in the hundreds. See eighth photo.

    Litter was most definitely a problem. But unlike the common trash, there was an abundance of shopping carts along with a couple of reclining chairs. We even found a 12 foot diameter trampoline in the creek. But the most unusual thing was something that resembled a 5 foot long komodo dragon. See ninth photo. At first, I though it was just a log or tree root but it looked so much like a komodo dragon that I was starting to wonder if it was once a big lizard that had died. Or perhaps it was a toy. The mud was too soft to go ashore and find out so that will just remain a mystery.

    We could have ventured further but the trash and urban environment was a little much so we turned around and started making our way downstream shortly before coming to Lynnhaven Parkway. That isn't to say that our trip was cluttered with homes and litter. On the contrary, 95% of it was beautiful and of the three days of paddling, I'd say this was the best.

    The log that was smoking as we headed upstream was still smoking. I splashed lots of water on it, got out of my boat, flipped the log upside down, and continued splashing more water on it until I was confident there was no chance of it being a fire hazard. My good deed of the day was done.

    Heading back, we saw three snakes. I saw the first...a northern water snake. See tenth and eleventh photos. Norma saw the second...another northern water snake (twelfth photo). She also saw the third...a garter snake (thirteenth photo). When we are on a bicycle, they want to run and hide, but on a kayak, they are willing to stick around and pose for photos.

    Also on our list of animals was a Prothonotary Warbler (fourteenth photo) and what we think was an otter. We didn't get a good look at the latter so it could have been a muskrat but Norma (who got a better look when it came up for air) thinks it was an otter.

    The tide never changed so we paddled against it on the way back. No big deal. It wasn't that strong.

    It took us 5 hours to explore this lovely 10.25 miles. I hope we can return to Dozier Bridge and explore downstream. We only did the upstream portion.

    Rather than drive back to Savage, Maryland the way we came, Norma and I chose to head back on the eastern shore. I drove us on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, known as one of the seven engineering wonders of the modern world. It cost $12 to get across and it was certainly a longer route than the way we came but it was scenic and well worth the cost to avoid the frustration of driving around Washington D.C. and northern Virginia. One special treat was to see a ship pass over the tunnel just before we went into it. It looked like the ship broke through the bridge but of course this was just an illusion.

    In Fruitland, Maryland (just south of Salisbury) we ate at a grill on the west side of route 13. I forget the name of it but it was good. We tend to like the non-chain, non-fast food, cloth napkin, inexpensive restaurants with a hometown feel where the locals eat.

    By 2115, we were home. Norma took care of her garden and I worked on cleaning our kayak and camping gear. It was a great trip.

    We wanted to see bears. Instead, we saw tadpoles, ducklings, 9 snakes, 2 racoons, (likely) an otter, a pine warbler, a skink, countless fiddler crabs, a bazillion turtles, and something that looked like a komodo dragon. But that doesn't mean we failed. As it often turns out, in nature we don't necessarily find the critters we're looking for. We just need to be thankful for the ones that we do find.

    For the last couple of years, I'd been complaining about not seeing enough snakes. Perhaps 2011 will be different (though 2013 is the year of the snake). The day after we returned home, I mowed our lawn and found a garter snake in the process. See photo at left. So things are looking hopeful. After all, it isn't just the cute, furry animals that matter. All of God's creatures are important...especially in a balanced ecosystem.