July 16, 2020
Well, it has been nearly a year (August 6, 2019) since my last blog post about travel, so let's get started. In reviewing the scenic photos I have taken over the past year, I am surprised at the evident lack of travel: there are no entries at all for the last four months of 2019, and only one photo for the first two months of this year. No doubt this reflected being busy with a new teaching job.
Ironically, it was when the covid-10 pandemic broke out in mid-March that I started to get around with more frequency. The pandemic forced me to abandon a hoped-for trip out west to visit my siblings this summer, so Jacqueline and I have been limited to a few day trips. On March 20 we drove up to the Harrisonburg area, the main purpose of which was to locate and photograph the Federal court house to show in my political science classes. (I had previously taken photos of such court houses in Charlottesville, Richmond, and Lynchburg.) To my surprise, I learned that the Federal court house in Harrisonburg also serves as the U.S. Post Office building. On our way up there, we stopped at the Cove Creek Arboretum in Bridgewater, hoping to see birds. No luck in that regard, but we did see a large mammal near the creek that I later determined was a Muskrat!
On April 19 we went hiking and bird watching in the Ramseys Draft area, but the main highlight of the day was on our way home when Jacqueline spotted a Black Bear along the hillside. Good eye! So I did a U-turn, and got in position for a quick photograph of the bear, which was foraging on some of the few green plants that were available in the early spring.
During the latter part of May, after school was over, I got very busy with birding in the great outdoors. During one such trip in the mountains of northwestern Augusta County on May 17, Penny Warren led us to a place where she had seen some Yellow Lady Slippers, and that made for a nice photo opportunity.
On both June 1 and 8, Jacqueline and I drove up to the Shenandoah National Park. The first time was just leisure viewing, but the second time was a strenuous hike to the top of Hightop Mountain, which provided great views with beautiful blue skies. The restrictions on business and personal activities due to the coronavirus has resulted in a sharp drop in motor vehicle emissions, giving us some of the best outdoor views in many years. Typically, the Shenandoah Valley is blanketed by a faint haze even on "clear" days, thanks largely to all the traffic Interstate 81.
On June 24 we drove up to the Washington area to visit with family members, and I persuaded them to visit downtown D.C., where there had been major protests involved with the "Black Lives Matter" movement. It was a very nice day, and I got lots of good photos of iconic buildings in Our Nation's Capital, some of which I will use for classes this fall. As I described in a blog post on July 1, we spent a while observing the protesters on "Black Lives Matter Plaza," as the portion of 16th Street NW just north of the White House and Lafayette Square has been renamed. Fortunately, there was no violence that day, and we felt safe.
Three days later, on June 27, I went on a solo birding expedition to the top of Reddish Knob, at the northern tip of Augusta County. Rather than the usual route via Briery Branch Road, however, I took a long indirect approach via eastern Highland County and going into Pendleton County, West Virginia. For the first time I visited the tiny town of Sugar Grove, and also took a look at the nearby Sugar Grove Navy communications center, which closed several years ago. It served as a crucial nexus during the Cold War, and it is eerie to see all those buildings and houses for military personnel devoid of any human presence.
Finally, Jacqueline and I drove to Richmond on July 9. Once again, I was curious about the "Black Lives Matter" protests, and wanted to see the one remaining monument on Monument Avenue: General Robert E. Lee. But first I wanted to visit some of the battlefields in the Richmond area for the first time. There was a military campaign in the spring of 1862, leading up to the "Seven Days Battle," culminating in the Battle of Cold Harbor northeast of Richmond. Two years later, following the Battles of Wilderness and Spotsylvania, the Union Army approached Richmond for a second time, and basically laid siege to the Confederate capital city (and nearby Petersburg) for ten months: June 1864 to April 1865. I thought Jacqueline would enjoy touring some of the historic plantation houses along the James River southeast of Richmond, but the three closest ones were all closed, so we gave up. We spent the afternoon in the Petersburg area, about 20 miles south of Richmond, eating at Captain Tom's seafood restaurant in Colonial Heights, looking at armored vehicles on display at Fort Lee (which will probably be renamed eventually), and touring the Petersburg battlefield. Then late in the day we spent an hour or so in Richmond itself, seeing the now-vacant monument pedestals that have been defaced by graffiti. The Lee equestrian statue is the "ground zero" of the protest movement, and no police were seen in that vicinity. I will post photos of all that in a separate blog about politics.