Sunday, May 6, 2012

The things we find when we are lost...

This weekend we decided to explore the Crooked Creek, and Stewart's Creek area of the Blue Ridge Highlands Loop of the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trails. The directions online showed how to get from Major General J.E.B. Stuart's birthplace (MBR05) to Stewart's creek, and then from Stewart's creek onto Crooked Creek. However, after looking through the directions we realized that Crooked Creek was less than 3 miles from 221/58. So it made more sense for us to go to Crooked Creek, and then onto Stewart's Creek.

i attempted to print up the directions, but my printer was being temperamental and refused to print. So hubby hand wrote the directions on a paper. All of the directions were backwards, being that they were originating from Stuart's birthplace. So we had to try and follow them from 221, backwards. It turned out to be a bit more difficult than we'd expected. :)

We ended up going down a very narrow mountain road. Not only were we having to watch out for deer and wild turkeys, we came across a corner and found a cow that had gotten out of it's fence.

It was just a little guy who was convinced the grass was greener on this side of the road. :)
So it seemed that the directions were pretty straightforward, but we never really found what we thought we were looking for. We saw several signs along the road that said it was part of the Crooked Creek Management area or signs that pointed towards an Equine recreational trail, but we never actually found any trails.

There were several places to pull over along the creek. So we stopped and decided to walk a bit and see if we could find a trail head. We followed the creek a bit, and saw lots of fisherman and a truly unbelievable amount of tiger swallowtails.

i'm guessing it was a breeding ground for them. i was unable to get a picture, but there was literally 20-30 butterfly swirling all around the creek. Some were on the banks sipping the minerals from the wet soil. Some were sunning themselves in the trees, and most of the were just soaring and gliding in circles over the creek. It was an extremely magical moment. we stood for quit a while just watching them. i took a ton of pictures, but all look like this with a just a couple blurry butterflies showing. They were moving so fast.

After wandering around by the creek for a while, we decided to walk up to the road, explore a bit and look for some signs of a trail. i grabbed my trusty tote bag...because you never know what kinds of fabulous treasures one might find while hiking...acorn caps, pine cones, pretty rocks etc...

After walking quite a ways without finding any signs of a trail, i say ' i really wish we'd find a giant patch of morels to make bringing my tote bag along worthwhile.' :) Then not even a minute later, i look across the road and exclaim 'HOLY HELL!!!"

There, sticking out of the side of the hill was the BIGGEST Morel mushroom i have ever seen!!

The funny thing, is that i never even noticed that it was in a patch of Dwarf Crested Iris. i didn't even see them...i just saw that beautiful morel mushroom. My husband had to point out the flowers, and as soon as he did i realized that the entire hill was covered in them. It again felt very magical... :)
We were all extremely excited by the first morel and immediately started scouting the area.

My boy was the next to find one, and then my girl found this one.

This was the mother of all Morels, it is 10' tall!!! i've never seen one anywhere near this size. On average we usually find morels that are 2.5-4" tall. We had all found several each before my husband had spotted even one. He was getting a little annoyed, and finally spotted one that was at the very top of the bank. He climbed up to get it and found a huge patch of them under a tree right there.

It was really neat to find such a large patch of them. Many were too old to collect, but it was still exciting to find. We now have a new morel spot, assuming we can find our way back here. :)

Here was our mushroom haul. Although we didn't bring home a ton, we were
delighted just to find any at all and were totally blown away by their size!

We had a great time mushroom hunting, and taking pictures of all the wildflowers..but decided to head over to Stewart's Creek since we couldn't find any trails where we were. On our attempt to back track, we got completely lost again. We drove in circle for a quiet a while, down a few scary mountain roads and amazingly came out on a road that had a sign for Stewart's creek! Once again, we found exactly what we were looking for. This was turning into quite an adventure!

Unfortunately we never made it to Stewart's creek. Without warning we came upon this road block and had to turn back. It was a little disappointing, but we were also eager to get our mushrooms home while they were still fresh. We'll have to save Stewart's Creek for a different weekend. We've now completed 5 of the 7 areas on the Blue Ridge Loop.

We returned home and decided to have a bonfire, one of our favorite summer activities. We roasted veggie dogs, and enjoyed the morels rolled in seasoned flour and fried in real butter...horribly unhealthy, but so good!!! We sat out by the fire, listening to the spring peepers and the Whip-poor-will's. We sat and enjoyed the beautiful evening while we waited for the moon to come out.

To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird's nest or a wildflower in spring - these are some of the rewards of the simple life. ~John Burroughs

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