CBC 2021.

This year was my fifth year participating in the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count. Doray and I joined a bunch of other birders to count birdies in the Westcave area. Over 8 hours we logged 7+ miles and ~40 species over 3 different properties. I haven’t birded much this year. Other things have crammed their way in to fill my free hours. But I do enjoy walking around with my eyes on the treetops.

The temperatures started out in the mid-60s this year, instead of the 30s, for a change. No rain. Just a perfect day to tramp around the hill country trying to tell one Sparrow species from another.

Nice. Very nice.

Reflections on the Pedernales River near Westcave Preserve.

Goals.

I’m not a bucket list person. But I am motivated by a challenge. And I love the outdoors. I’ve only recently sort of slid into this “see as many National Parks as I can” thing. But now it’s a thing I’d like to do. Before this week, I visited 10 of the current 63 U.S. National Parks in the National Park Service. As of today, my total is up to 14. 49 to go. And, they add new parks every year or two, so I need to step up my game.

Lori has a National Park Geek sticker on her car’s roof-top carrier. So, of course, I wanted one. I got the pin 🙂

I now am starting work on an itinerary, and on Monte to join me, for a long road trip to see several of the National Parks out west. Stay tuned.

Above the trees.

Tuesday morning we got up early and drove to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the most visited National Park, with over 12 million visitors a year. And it is stunning.

We made it up to Newfound Gap overlook, which lies on the Tennessee/North Carolina State line, as well as the Appalachian Trail.

I’ve hiked the Appalachian Trail (100 feet of it!)
Standing in 2 states at once.

Then we drove up to Clingman’s Dome and walked up the steep climb to the observation tower for 360 degree views above the treetops. Clingman’s Dome, called Mulberry Place in Cherokee, was sacred to them. It is 6643’ high – the highest point in Tennessee.

View from Clingman’s Dome.
Clingman’s Dome observation tower.

After the park, we drove another 9 1/2 hours to Little Rock. One more National Park and then home tomorrow.

Three firsts.

We left Virginia early Monday morning, headed for the newest US National Park – New River Gorge National Park. It took us into West Virginia, my very first visit to the state.

The park is home to the New River and a 3000 ft long steel arch bridge, which was the longest in the world when it was built in 1977. Located in the Appalachian Mountains, the New River is actually one of the oldest on the continent, according to the NPS app (which I highly recommend if you’re a National Park geek).

The new bridge over the New River.
The New River gorge and its old bridge.
Sandstone Falls on the New River.

Visiting the park was a 2nd first for me. The 3rd first was grabbing my first geocache in West Virginia, for which I earned this nifty virtual badge. 🙂

Tuesday morning we’re in Tennessee, headed for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Stay tuned!

…And by car.

We left Annapolis yesterday, driving home to Austin. Our route takes us very close to four US National Parks along the way. So, we must see them!

Sunday’s park was Shenandoah National Park. It was the created in 1935 amongst the Blue Ridge Mountains. The winding, two-lane Skyline Drive takes you through the park along the ridge-tops with dozens of overlook parking areas along it. We drove it for 60 miles. The trees were turning red and gold. It will be even more stunning in a week or two.

Mid-week lake play.

We rafted up overnight with Julie and Ryan last night, grilling up dinner once they tied up to us after sunset. It was a new moon night, dark and clear.

The only other boat in the cove with us, as we enjoyed the sunset.

The temps were perfect, but no wind overnight.

Thankfully the winds came up around 10AM this morning and Monte and I enjoyed a lovely sail up to the yacht club and back.

A good day.

Sunday drive.

Monte and I drove out Highway 290 on Sunday. It was a really lovely day for a drive.

Autumn means pumpkins!

Autumn zinnies!

Autumn wine on the veranda!

A good day.

It’s alive!

After the prolonged deep freeze we experienced in February, our giant sago palm appeared to be dead. Until about a month ago, I saw no signs of life. I’m very happy to report that now it is teeming with new growth. Yay, Nature!

Quasi-normal.

Yesterday Monte and I drove out the Texas wine trail to our favorite wine-club vineyard to pick up our May box of wine. It’s a big deal for us. We’ve deferred picking up our wine boxes for over a year because of COVID. But the winery is now open by appointment, so I booked us for a pickup, a tasting, and some lovely charcuterie.

Zinnias!

I’ve missed our drives out here. The visit to the winery was very nice. The wine was delicious, we saw the tail end of some lovely wildflowers, did a little antiquing, and grumbled about the return of traffic on the way home.

We’re back.

Last week was busy. We rescued Nirvana from the boatyard, brought her home, and I spent the next few days schlepping 100 lb batteries up and down the ramp, and Monte made sure they worked. The old ones lasted 5-6 years. The new ones will hopefully perform similarly.

Out with the old. One starter battery and two house batteries. The big ones weigh 100 Lbs each.
She’s back home and shiny!

We got everything installed in time to race the beer-can regatta on her with Kurt and Kevin and she flew with her new bottom. We think she’s at least a knot faster.

Then over the weekend we anchored in the cove for a sunset grilled dinner. Nice. Very nice. We had our annual first jump in the lake, finally, a week or so past the usual Memorial Day dip. It was fantastic.

Ahhh, sunset.

Thriving.

It’s been raining since the end of April in Central Texas. A weird happening. It’s so humid and WET outside. The plants are loving it though.

Purple coneflowers in their 4th year blooming with little help from me.
Our sago palm is finally showing signs of life after the big freeze.
Zinnias abound with help from Monte’s green thumb
Impatient for impatiens, but they don’t disappoint.

Life is good on the ranch.

Days 9 through 11.

We picked up the anchor at sunrise Monday morning and enjoyed some good sailing across Albemarle Sound and Currituck Sound.

Lunch nibblies aboard

We hit the last bridge openings before rush hour and tied up at Atlantic Yacht Basin in time to watch the local rowing club practice alongside us.

For dinner we biked to a fantastic Italian restaurant for a delicious meal ashore.

Yummmmm

Tuesday morning we caught the 7AM bridge opening at Great Bridge and followed the parade of boats and geese into the lock beyond the bridge for the one foot rise in water level between the canal and the Elizabeth River beyond it.

We reached mile marker 0 of the ICW in Norfolk and kept going on past it and into Chesapeake Bay for some more good sailing. We anchored in the Piankatank River, on the west side of Chesapeake Bay for the night.

Sunset on the Piankatank River

Wednesday we picked up anchor at sunrise again, trying to get as far north as possible before sunset.

We crossed into Maryland before noon, and raced a thunderstorm into our anchorage at the Choptank River on the east side of the bay.

We made it before the rain and high winds came, and watched the full moon rise after the storm passed.

Tomorrow, Thursday, we will arrive at our destination. Annapolis, here comes Trident and her crew!

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