“Let’s find some beautiful places and get lost together.” –Unknown
We own an RV that we use to escape on weekends and so far, it’s been great fun. While our long term goal is to RV for longer periods to some bucket list places, currently, we are weekend warriors exploring our home state of Virginia. Recently, we ran away to the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Living along the East Coast of Virginia, we are lucky to have the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains not too far away. The mountains are beautiful in every season and regardless of the time of year, a cool mountain breeze and an epic overlook always puts life into perspective.
If you are passing through Central Virginia or are in need of a weekend adventure, here are some top ideas for you if you have a few days in the Blue Ridge.
Visit Monticello: Located in Charlottesville, Virginia, Monticello is the home of Thomas Jefferson our Nation’s third President, Founding Father, principle author of the Declaration of Independence, diplomat, and architect. Monticello is still, to this day, a reflection of Mr. Jefferson’s love of architecture and gardening. Perched on a mountain above Charlottesville, there are sweeping views in every direction, lovely gardens to stroll through, and friendly docents and Jeffersonian experts always ready to teach you the history of the place and answer your questions when you visit. Before you visit, check the website at www.monticello.org for ticketing and helpful hints for your visit. If you’re a history buff, love architecture or gardening, Monticello is a great way to spend several hours.
Pick your own fruit: There is nothing better than picking your own fruit right from the tree. If you are looking to pick your own or grab a taste to grab and go, visit the farms below. Be sure to check out their websites for the crops in season and the wonderful goodies you can enjoy like apple cider and apple cider donuts!
Carter Mountain Orchard, 1435 Carters Mountain Trail, Charlottesville, Virginia (apples).
Chiles Peach Orchard, 1351 Greenwood Drive, Crozet, Virginia (peaches).
Spring Valley Orchard, 3256 Spring Valley Road, Afton, Virginia (cherries).
Skyline Drive: Skyline Drive is a 105-mile road that runs the length of the National Park Service’s Shenandoah National Park. It runs between Front Royal, Virginia and Charlottesville. Skyline Drive is known for it’s hiking the Appalachian Trail, waterfalls, and epic views. For details about the Drive and where to stop or stay, be sure to visit their website at www.visitskylinedrive.org.
Wine, Beer & Spirits: If you like wine and beer tastings, the Blue Ridge of Virginia is the place for you! I wouldn’t begin to make recommendations here since for medical reasons, I drink very little. However, know that there is an abundance of wineries, distilleries, & breweries throughout the area. Do your research and always ask a local for a recommendation–or try them all!
A visit to the Blue Ridge Mountains always makes me a believer of our State’s motto, “Virginia is for Lovers.” Whether you’re looking for adventure or a rest, I hope your next trip to Virginia is just what you need.
“The Earth laughs in flowers.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
Tucked deeply in Williamsburg, Virginia’s farm land lies a place where the Earth is laughing; Sweethaven Lavender Farm.
Amid Virginia’s phased re-opening from the 2020 Pandemic, my Husband and I ventured to Williamsburg during a camping trip for supplies, lunch, and to enjoy all things colonial that Williamsburg has to offer–even if it was within social distancing terms. From friends, I knew that Sweethaven was in Williamsburg so on this day, we set the GPS to work and followed it into the country to see if we could get a glimpse. I was delighted by the farm’s charm, the scent of the lavender wafting through the humid June breeze, and the delightful sounds of the industrious Bumble bees as they went about their work.
The prominent public building on the property is the Mercantile, a white barnlike structure that conjures visions of an Amish barn. Inside, are lavender products of every sort and experts to answer questions. Outside though, as is the case with nearly every farm, is where the magic was happening.
Just outside the Mercantile there is a gated garden with flower boxes filled to bursting with flower lover delights. Two of my favorite flowers giggled there, tickled by the passing breeze! A rainbow of button Zinnia where just starting to burst open, tempting Bumble Bees with their showy colors followed close behind by my zoom lens. Swaying in the breeze at the far end of the garden were several beds of sunflowers with their bright faces searching for the sun, ready for their closeups.
As we stepped out of the gated garden area and into the fields of lavender there was a faint fog of deep purple at knee level stretching along the ground in neat rows. The luxurious purple lavender was in full bloom all around us. Other visitors to the farm were bent in half angling for an up close sniff, snapping photos, and collecting bouquets of lavender to take home. Children giggled in the distance, playing together while the grown ups enjoyed a picnic lunch. And, the resident bumble bees were busiest here, totally ignorant of our intruding cameras. They were focused on their task for the day, leaping from one bloom to another, humming and buzzing to each other as they worked. At one point, I put my camera into the fray and captured their song, delighted that they nearly mistook me as a flower as they bustled by.
Enjoy all that the farm has to offer
Only 130 acres and opened to the public in June 2019, Sweethaven is a beautiful, amethyst gem tucked deeply into the emerald Williamsburg farmland. It is a treat for the senses. The farm offers all things lavender including a chance to pick your own bouquet as the lavender blooms in May and June, their own line of organic skincare, and culinary products including pre-made picnic lunches by reservation.
Sweethaven Lavender Festival Days
The Festival Days are how I first learned about Sweethaven initially, seeing ads and knowing several friends that visited the event. The event includes live music, food, local artisans, and the opportunity to learn about the farm and it’s lavender. The event grows from year to year so be sure to watch their website, www.sweethavenlavender.com, for dates, tickets, and other details on their event for 2021.
How to find and visit Sweethaven
I can’t wait for our next visit to the farm! If you’d like to see more, be sure to visit Sweethaven’s website and follow them on Facebook and Instagram. If you are in Williamsburg in your travels, Sweethaven is certainly a great place to visit that is outside of the big tourist sites of Colonial Williamsburg and truly a unique experience.
“I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world.” –George Washington
As a native Virginian and in my humble opinion, Virginia has great State Parks which highlight all of the features that make Virginia a great place to live, work, and play. Virginia has so much to offer. At sea level, we have long stretches of open beaches along the Atlantic Ocean and along the Chesapeake Bay. A few hours away, we have the Blue Ridge Mountains that offer epic views, apples, hiking, mountain climbing, and ample opportunities for checking out local wineries and breweries of all sizes.
As one of the original 13 Colonies, our state is full of history. From Jamestown and the first settlements, Yorktown and the end of the Revolutionary War, to Colonial Williamsburg and all of it’s charms. Our history even extends to the names of our towns that stem from the history brought to the United States from England such as Portsmouth, Suffolk, Isle of Wight, and Norfolk, to name a few.
With our new RV up and running, we have taken it out twice and have fallen in love anew with our State’s parks. Our intention is to explore as many of them in our RV as possible. I hope to bring you along and share our adventures in the parks we visit.
Chippokes Plantation State Park
Just under an hour from home, Chippokes Plantation State Park is one of the closest parks and best known to us of all the parks. When we bought our RV in March, we took it straight to Chippokes for our very first camping trip and despite the Pandemic interrupting our fun, we have restarted our camping adventures at Chippokes again this month. With Chippokes being so close to home, it has been a great spot for us to test our camping ability in our new equipment before venturing too far. My husband has called these our “Shake down” trips.
What is now Chippokes Plantation State Park was founded in 1619 by Captain William Powell, Lieutenant Governor of Jamestown, who lived in Jamestown settlement for 10 years. The property changed hands many times and was willed to the State of Virginia upon the death of it’s last owners in 1967.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Chippokes is noted for it’s continued agricultural production. In fact, it is one of the oldest continuously farmed properties in the Nation and is home to Chippokes Plantation Farm and Forestry Museum.
Situated on the tidal creeks and the banks of the historic James River, Chippokes Plantation State Park has a lot to offer Virginians and our guests from out of state.
Located in Surry, Virginia, and at currently 1,403 acres, the Park offers camping, cabin rentals, a swimming pool, a visitor’s center, trails, a beach, gardens, and a museum. Also offered are costumed interpretations, guided hikes, workshops and ranger-led tours of the historic Jones-Stewart Mansion. An active community park, there are annual festivals, canoe tours, hiking trails, fishing programs, and equestrian facilities.
The Park is easily reached from the Historic Triangle by the Jamestown-Scotland ferry or the James River Bridge. We like it because of it’s close proximity to the Williamsburg area and the abundance of activities in that area.
If you plan to visit the park for the day only, you should be aware that there is a parking fee charged year round at all Virginia State Parks and self-pay parking information is available at the contact stations.
The Chippokes Plantation State Park campground offers two rings of sites. S1 through S18 have blacktop pads, offering water and electric. These are “site specific” sites and require a reservation. Sites S19, S21, S23, S25, and S27 are also site specific but do not have blacktop pads. All other sites are first come, first served, and can be very uneven. The park also offers three yurts by reservation.
The park is quiet, clean, well maintained, and a friendly Camp host has checked on us as we have checked in each time. Park representatives are available and make regular rounds. While we don’t need to use the bath house, we did check them and they are clean and well maintained. Laundry facilities are also available.
Be sure to check the website at firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information regarding fishing, swimming, fires, drone use, camping or cabin reservations, and a list of festivals and events in the park.
The third point of the Historic Triangle, and also along the Colonial Parkway is Colonial Williamsburg. Williamsburg was the Capital of the Virginia Colony from 1699 to 1780 when it was moved to Richmond. This is where General George Washington assembled the Continental Army in 1781 for the siege of Yorktown. It is also home to the College of William and Mary. The Colonial area and it’s buildings are worth at least a day’s visit with costumed interpretations of life during the time of George Washington. Read more about Colonial Williamsburg at www.colonialwilliamsburg.org
Other attractions of note
Busch Gardens, Williamsburg
Water Country USA, Williamsburg
Sweethaven Lavender Farm, Williamsburg (plan your visit for the lavender bloom in May and June)
Great Wolf Lodge, Williamsburg
Yorktown Battlefield, Yorktown
Yorktown Victory Center, Yorktown
Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que, Williamsburg
And don’t forget to try local breweries and wineries in the area.
Chippokes Plantation State Park is a great home base for campers who would like to be near the Colonial attractions without staying in the hustle and bustle of town and for a much more reasonable cost.
We love the area and plan to be back again and again.
We hope to see you there or in one of the other Virginia State Parks soon!
“People who love to eat are always the best people.” –Julia Child
We love to cook and eat outside when we travel with our RV. For us, it’s a requirement when we’re camping.
This is especially so in the warm summer months since cooking in our RV makes the rig a bit warm, just like cooking in my home kitchen heats up the house. For us, cooking outside is part of the fun. As someone that likes to cook and eat good food, it’s a “challenge accepted” as we started to plan for our most recent adventure into the woods.
One of the most simple recipes that we love and I think is tons of fun over the fire is Nachos. They are easy to make and customize to your taste. Below, I’ve used ground beef for my protein but you can use chicken too if so desired.
My Nacho recipe
One pound lean ground beef; browned until no longer pink and drained
Any Shredded Cheese you wish. We used a sharp white cheddar. TIP: grate your own cheese. Pre-grated cheese has an ingredient called cellulose–or WOOD PULP–to prevent clumping. EWWW! Having a sensitive tummy, I choose to skip that unwanted ingredient and grate all of my own cheese. (No judgement here if you don’t have time to grate your own.)
Toppings of any kind: onions, black beans, green onions (scallions), jalapenos, sour cream, avocado, salsa, etc…
I haven’t purchased the store packets of taco seasonings for years. To take control of the salt and nix all the preservatives, making my own feels like a tiny bit more of the healthy way to go for tacos, nachos, or anything else I’d like to give a spicy kick to. It only takes a little time and when I make a batch, I double or triple the measurements below and store it in an airtight container so I have some ready to go for next time.
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon of each; garlic powder, onion powder, crushed red pepper flakes, and dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon of paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons of cumin
1/2 to 1 teaspoon of kosher salt (to your taste)
1 teaspoon of black pepper
I mix mine directly in the container I will store my seasoning in. With all the ingredients in and top on, just give it a shake to combine.
To the ground beef that you’ve browned and drained and depending on how spicy you want your meat to be, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of the seasoning mix to the beef (I usually stick to 2 tablespoons so I don’t set our mouths on fire). Also add 1/2 to 3/4 cups of water and a 1/2 cup of your favorite salsa (again, if you choose a spicy salsa, stick to the two tablespoons of seasonings–or not!). Simmer the meat until nearly all of the liquid is cooked off. At this point, you can make tacos with your meat but this time, we used it for nachos!
Assembling the Nachos
We cooked our meat over the fire in a cast iron skillet. When the meat was ready, we scooped it out into a bowl, wiped the pan clean, and started to assemble our nachos. I’ve seen other recipes that are assembled in disposable aluminum casserole containers, which could work as well.
We started with a single layer of chips, covering the bottom of the skillet. We added an even layer of our meat and other ingredients we like in our nachos. This is the creative part so add any ingredients that you love. Since it’s just the two of us, we stopped here. This was a hearty meal for the two of us since my cast iron skillet is BIG! However, for heartier appetites or big families, you can continue to add layers of chips, meat, and toppings to the top of your skillet or if using one, your disposable aluminum pan. Be sure that cheese is your last, or top layer.
Once assembled, cover with aluminum foil and head back to your fire. We used a bit of a direct/indirect heat just to warm the chips and melt the cheese. TIP: as you assemble, try to leave a little room between your last layer of cheese and your aluminum cover so the cheese doesn’t stick to the aluminum.
We topped ours with sour cream but you can use tomatoes, salsa, avocado or guacamole, lettuce, etc… Think of it as a deconstructed taco and go wild!
YUM! A dash of fresh air just makes it all taste even more wonderful.
I’d love to hear what variations you might use for our next trip into the woods!
We are finally preparing to head out in our RV at last! Our State parks are about to open for camping and they have started taking reservations again so we snapped up some spots for June and July.
In anticipation, we decided to go ahead and hook up and head out this weekend! Where to? Promise you won’t laugh!? We took our new RV out to do some practice driving. There. It’s out there! Commence the giggling!
While we are admitted Travel Addicts, we are also RV Newbies and with this new moniker comes some anxiety. Our trepidation is primarily around the chore of backing up our rig. Having camped as kids we aren’t total newbies to the actual camping and as part of our pre-purchase research, we rented an RV to make sure that this was something we wanted to do. However, as kids, we didn’t drive the RV and our rentals were Class C’s which is a very different driving experience.
We bought our new Grand Design Imagine XLS in March, just prior to being quarantined, so we only had time to squeeze in our first ever camping adventure before travel was put on pause across our State and Nationwide. Right away, we discovered that backing into our driveway was going to be our biggest challenge. Our driveway is a dog leg shape and not ideal for Newbies trying to back in our 26 feet plus the truck (we are not huge and happy about that). When we brought our RV home for the first time to load up, we managed to get it backed in on the first try despite the awkward bend in the driveway and a few obstacles to be mindful of. We know now, that this was just Newbie luck for sure. Semi-confident in our new abilities, when we came home, we thought it wouldn’t be a problem. This time, we got it in on what had to have been the 50th try! This left us frustrated and with our newfound confidence totally diminished. Not to mention, we found ourselves trying to figure out how to manage our future camping trips by NOT bringing our rig home from storage at all!
Since we didn’t feel assured in our skills as a team to back up, we went back to our favorite source of anything we want to know, YouTube. After watching “Keep Your Daydream‘s” episode on Sunday, May 10, we thought it was a great idea to take advantage of a bright, sunny day to find a large, unoccupied, unobstructed space in which to practice. Appropriately, we used a high school parking lot in which to learn. While our YouTube pros make it look relatively simple, we know that isn’t our reality behind the wheel right now. So, armed with advice from the more experienced, off we went.
Now for those of you who might be RV veterans, I know you’re probably having a bit of a chuckle and thinking to yourself, “These two!” However, I’m betting that in some point in your RV career, you might’ve scraped tree branches or come within inches of running over your spotter when going backwards. Right? I’m hoping those are the least of your mishaps! As newbies, we are very aware that even in our cars, going backwards is the most dangerous time and with an extra 26 feet to maneuver, we are taking some sage advice and making time to learn how our RV responds when we make the slightest of adjustments at the wheel. Safety first. And, with both of us having been musicians early in our lives, we know that “Practice makes perfect!”
When we were done with our practice session, my Husband asked, “What did we learn?” I suspect that he might’ve asked because he knows that our hijinks are fair game for my blogs these days but it was also a good question and a time for us to review together what we had learned. So, what lessons DID we learn?
Backing up is hard. Even away from our awkward driveway, what would seem to be an elementary task of keeping the truck and trailer in a simple straight line takes practice. While we really prefer pull through campsites, that is not always going to be an option. Not to mention, backing into our driveway or our storage space is a necessity. Going backwards is probably our hardest challenge and we know it will take patience and practice.
The steering wheel. When backing up, it’s best to hold the 6 o’clock station of your steering wheel to turn. If you want the back end of your RV to go left, point the 6 o’clock position to the driver’s side. To go right, point the 6 o’clock position to the passenger side. I bet it sounds easy and pretty basic. I thought so too but it takes some practice to train your brain to remember this simple maneuver.
Go slow and make small adjustments. This is our new mantra. First, this is not a race. While we might hold up traffic and annoy our fellow campers, and for this we are eternally apologetic, there is no time limit in getting backed in. Taking our time will prevent mistakes or an accident. Small adjustments are key. Whirling the steering wheel too far in one direction or another totally changes the trajectory of the back end of our trailer. So, small adjustments are the way to go.
Perspective, team work, and trust. This was our biggest lesson of the day. First, I actually drove the truck with the RV in tow for the first time. Honestly, it’s not as hard as I was anticipating. Although, I am trying to remind myself that my first attempt to drive was in the empty parking lot of our local high school with no traffic. In real life, I drive a zippy high performance machine and I have never pulled anything so my goal was to get a feel of the extra weight behind us and to understand where my new back end was and where I needed it to be. Our truck may be a high performance machine in her own right but she is not zippy with that RV attached and rightly so! My lead foot will need to take a break! While my plan is to let my husband do most of the driving, in my mind, it’s always a good idea for me to know how to manage our rig by myself in the unlikely event that I have to. We also plan for me to be the backup driver when he needs a break so, at the minimum, I need to be comfortable in pointing the rig straight and keeping it all safely between the lines.
As part of the whole lesson, I also practiced backing up. THIS was where we both started to learn. With my husband out of the truck and acting as my spotter for his first time, we learned how to speak the language of “backing up the RV.” We learned that what the driver can see and what the spotter can see are two very different perspectives and for us, that included different focuses. The driver and spotter need to be able to clearly communicate when in reverse and apparently, I was not giving the best of direction. I was focused on where the trailer was and where it needed to be while Roger was focused on the truck. We agreed that this approach would not work.
When I was behind the wheel, he could see what I had been seeing and why I gave the directions that I did. He now also understood how the truck needs to be maneuvered to get the trailer to be where we want it to be. Now, as husband and wife, we also started to understand that there have got to be spouses or travel buddies out there who have had a few shouting matches over this particular part of their RV experience. While we did not have said shouting match, we can totally see how that could happen. The key for us was not to get frustrated with each other, listen, and talk to each other. This meant learning to speak trailer. A new language for us, for sure! Now that both of us understand how to communicate left and right to each other, we have probably, saved our marriage and will likely enjoy our camping adventures for years to come! Saying, “go left” or “go right,” for us, is no longer providing accurate direction. Instead, we use, “driver’s side,” or “passenger side.”
After learning this, when we were done for the day, I was able to almost expertly get our rig backed into it’s storage space with the superb direction of my spotter. This last and final lesson of the day left us feeling like our time of practice was time well spent. I know to trust Roger’s direction and carefully listening, along with going slow and making small adjustments got the job done.
“G.O.A.L.” and the multiple point turn. From our YouTube friends we learned “G.O.A.L.; Get Out And Look.” When we get to a campground this will be our go to maneuver before we ever put the rig in reverse and anytime we feel we need to assess the situation during the positioning process. This practice starts as soon as you get to your campsite. Every campsite is different so it’s wise advice for the driver and the spotter to get out and look together at the layout of the site before pulling in. The purpose here is to scope out the campsite so you know where the hook ups are, where you might want to have your RV positioned to accommodate slides or for the optimal enjoyment, and to be on the lookout for obstacles like tree branches, picnic tables, or uneven ground. G.O.A.L is also a highly recommended pause at any point in the back up process if the driver needs a first hand look at where he/she might be. I think Roger would agree that he understands the premise even better after getting out of the truck while I drove.
The first try might not be perfect. I mentioned before that as the spotter, I was focused on the rear end of the trailer in hopes of getting it to where “X marks the spot.” However, Roger needs the truck to be straight and lined up with the trailer to easily unhitch. To achieve this, we learned that backing up our RV will not be perfect on the first try. In fact, this means that pulling forward and backing up several times will eventually get us where we want to be, along with the small adjustments noted above. We had to make peace with this new understanding. Our favorite YouTubers even mentioned this in their recommendations as well so we feel like we came to understand that lesson clearly during out training session.
We think we learn something new every time we hook up. We try to move slowly, methodically, and check behind each other so we are sure that we don’t forget any piece of hooking up before moving our rig. We are confident that we will get better with more practice. Practice does indeed make perfect.
We are counting down the days to be on the road again! We wish you safety and pleasant travels.
**Note: For those of you who are avid fans of all things RV, these are some of our favorite families on YouTube that we follow and watch religiously. We look to them for tips, tricks, ideas for places to add to the bucket list, and the reality of RV’ing: Keep Your Daydream, Less Junk More Journey, Finding Our Someday, Eat See RV, Embracing Detours, The Chick’s Life, Traveling Robert, and RV Lifestyle with Mike and Jenn. There are a lot of others as well so check out YouTube for some great resources.
“Never give up on something that you can’t go a day without thinking about.” -Winston Churchill
Do you have a something in life that you keep going back to over and over until you decide to take action? Maybe you are thinking about something now? Is it a dream vacation, starting a family, buying a house, moving to another state, getting a new job, a pool in the back yard, or maybe a fixer upper cottage on the beach or lake? We all have something, no matter what it is, right?
We have had lots of dreams that we’ve worked to make reality and we are truly blessed! Our most recent dream? Buying an RV.
After two years of shopping, researching, dreaming, planning, and watching our favorite You Tube RV families, we finally purchased our Grand Design RV at the beginning of March.
After two years of in depth study, we found what we wanted. We knew where to get it, how much it would be, what we needed to get started, the whole thing. We had even driven out to the dealership and lurked around when they were closed. AND, to be sure we were going to like it, we rented an RV last fall and took a long weekend to make sure that we would like the camping thing. (We aren’t really new to the idea. We both camped with our families as kids so don’t worry about us too much!) You’d think we would’ve been ready, right? HA!
When we finally made an appointment to talk to a salesman, before we left the house, the conversation was; “We’re not buying anything today.” We agreed.
I know what you’re thinking but bear with me! Of course, when we got there, we had no questions. We had seen our exact RV at the 2020 Florida RV Supershow in Tampa just a month before. We knew everything there was to know. We had no questions. So, what was left? That’s right. I already spoiled the surprise in the title! We bought an RV!
Okay. Now. Our someday finally came and three weeks after kicking things off, we picked up our new hobby and headed off on our first camping weekend. It was scary, fun, terrifying, and we had a ball! We are going to love it! Wouldn’t you agree that some of the best things in life scare you death?
Then a Pandemic outbreak brought the world to a screeching halt. With our beloved Virginia State Parks closed, we have had two planned trips for April and May canceled. So, back to dreaming we go! It’s hard to make plans but we persevere. At least this time, we are hopeful that we don’t have to wait another two years! That is our short term.
For us, the long term plan is getting out there to see the U.S. in our RV. We have a bucket list of spots we want to go and now we have the gear that can get us up close and personal if we plan it right.
Our thinking in all of this is that we want to be sure that we don’t wait for some day, until we have the money, or worse, until we retire and have the time. The fact of life is, we are not guaranteed tomorrow. We work hard, we save our money, we plan a trip and we go! We go when and where we can. We are blessed, that is for sure! And while retirement might be the optimal time to travel, and we plan to keep going if we can, that season of our life is still a long way off! In the meantime, we will go when it’s safe to do so. #stayhome
So, for those that think we’ve lost our minds, I say, what is your dream and what are you doing about it? Make sure you aren’t dreaming your life away.