Friday, March 22, 2013

Blue Ridge Mountain getaway at Cabin Creekwood

View from cabin deck.

It was mid-March, and bare trees as well as occasional patches of snow showed that winter still had a grip on the Blue Ridge Mountains of western Virginia. My sister and I had escaped for a weekend getaway at the family-run Cabin Creekwood in southeastern Augusta County. It provided fun time together but the best part of all was location, location, location.

For us, our cabin offered a jump-off point for a busy weekend of sister fun. We were just a short distance from hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, whitewater rafting, canoeing, and golf as well as historical sites, shopping, and dining. It was a quick two-minute drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway, half a mile to Sherando Lake, only three miles to Wintergreen Resort and, just beyond that, the famous Nelson Rt. 151 with seven wineries and three breweries along with orchards and farms. Of course, our short stay would not allow us to enjoy much of what was available, but what a choice!

The family-owned Creekwood is a group of nine rustic cabins nestled in various locations within a three-mile radius of base camp. It started in 1982 as one cabin owned by Mary Jane and Stan Shirk who gradually built up to five cabins that offered a variety of locations and needs. In 1995, the Shirks sold the vacation operation to their daughter and son-in-law, Deb and Stan Horst, who have added four more cabins and run the business with their two children, part-time employees, and back-up help from Deb's parents.

Though check-in was at 3:00 on Friday afternoon, we arrived a little later and were met by Mary Jane Shirk who had our key and directions. We wasted no time finding and moving into our cabin that was complete with wraparound deck on two sides, outdoor bonfire area, charcoal grill, DVD player, and free Wi-Fi. I was in heaven with internet access but soon realized there was not going to be much time for that with everything we had planned for the weekend. In season, there's a big swimming pool and a small children's playground, and the Horsts rent canoes and kayaks that can be used at Sherando Lake. The beautiful views from the deck of our cabin were of the mountains and winter woods.

Since it was already late in the afternoon and we had places to go and things to do, we unloaded the car and put things away, then headed to nearby Sherando Lake. When we turned in on the one-mile drive from the main road to the lake, winter damage from the recent deep snow was evident and we could see where trees had been cleared from the roadway. The winter woods allowed a view from above of the lake that is usually cloaked by leafed-out trees in summer.

A few fishermen were along the shoreline as we stopped to breathe in the fresh mountain air and take in the beauty of this mountain lake. It was quiet and serene, unlike summer when the place is bustling with swimmers, bikers, campers, and picnickers. I had spent many a hot, summer day on those shores with local homeschool friends as we picnicked while the kids biked and hiked around the lake or swam to the island in the middle. We then drove to the campground area and walked around as my sister, leader of her daughter's Girl Scout troop in Richmond, checked camp sites for a future trip to the area.

As dark descended, we were back in the car and on our way to dinner in historic downtown Staunton. Since my sister had eaten at many of the local restaurants over the years and wanted to try a new one, I left the dinner choice to her and she chose Mill Street Grill. She was not disappointed, and neither was I.

Friday night in this picturesque small city equaled a bustling, lively, packed dining room with a 30-minute wait. Perhaps it was because there were only two of us but our wait ended up being just a short 10 minutes before they led us to a table for two in a corner. I started to say "quiet corner" but it was just as lively as the rest of the place. The menu read like a book and, though Mill Street is known regionally for their barbecued ribs, we decided to try something else and soon zeroed in on a choice of wine and dinner entrees, and then settled in for conversation to discuss our plans for the next day. My sister's chicken-pasta dish was excellent as was my filet mignon, and we left with doggie boxes as we walked out into the chilly night air.

As we arrived back to the cabin, taking a different route that led us by rows of Waynesboro Nursery trees, a sliver of moon was visible above the Blue Ridge Mountains. We lingered on the deck to look at it but the chilly air drove us inside where it was snug and warm even though we didn't have a fire in the wood stove. We settled in with a glass of Virginia wine, popped the movie "It's Complicated" into the DVD player, and spent the next two hours laughing our heads off with Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, and Alec Baldwin. We both slept well that night in the quiet of the mountains.

A few miles from Cabin Creekwood along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Saturday morning we woke bright and early for our day in Highland County at the 55th annual Maple Festival. I used the Wi-Fi to check Facebook before leaving and saw that our host, Stan Horst, was already in Charlottesville for a 10-Miler Race. It was overcast with a chilly rain as we loaded the cooler, coats, and gloves into the car for our day-long adventure. We drove the short two minutes to the Blue Ridge Parkway which by then was reopened after closing two weeks earlier for snow and ice, and followed it to Afton Mountain and I-64. Along the way, we stopped to take photos of frozen water-ice sculptures on rocky cliffs and views across the Valley. The winter woods made rock outcroppings visible that were usually hidden during warmer months.

Wanting to take a different track, we decided to drive the "back way" to Highland -- out through Buffalo Gap in western Augusta County, through Goshen into Bath County, over Warm Springs Mountain to Rt. 220, and then north to Highland County and Monterey. It rained the entire way but didn't dampen our spirits. Mountain streams were at capacity, and there was still snow in some areas of the wooded mountains. By the time we stopped, took photos, and checked out other sights, it was lunch time as we arrived in Monterey. The first stop was Evelyn's Pantry on Main Street which was a warm and inviting refuge from the pouring-down cold rain.

Evelyn's offers sandwiches, soup, pies, cookies, side salads, and other goodies along with bulk food sales. We ordered our lunch and found a table in front of the fireplace to eat our hot homemade vegetable soup, chicken salad croissant sandwich, side of broccoli salad, and side of deviled eggs. It was a chance to taste several of Evelyn's offerings, and they were all good. By the time we finished, the rain had let up to just a drizzle so we joined the crowds walking along Monterey's Main Street to check out shops and maple products, crafts and vendors.

On the courthouse lawn there was one particular vendor I was looking for so we stopped by the tent of artist Robert Tuckwiller. My daughter liked one of his sheep prints when we were there the previous weekend. We found it among his other scenic drawings and talked with Mr. Tuckwiller who told us the back story of the print. He wrote my daughter a short note telling her he hoped she enjoyed the print and, after talking a bit longer, we stepped out from under the tent into the still-pouring rain.

Making our way down the sidewalk, we dipped into the Back Creek Farm tent where we had purchased maple syrup the week before. While the rain fell noisily on the roof of the tent, we browsed around at their offerings and then popped the umbrella back up and continued walking down the street. We made several more stops but the rain was coming down so hard by then that it was getting to be a little miserable. We made our way back to Evelyn's for one last dip into the store before heading to the car where we piled the wet umbrella and coats into the trunk and turned on the heater. What a shame ... the rain was setting in, and not just showers as many had hoped.

With windshield wipers going, we drove west out of Monterey to the Blue Grass Valley, checking out maple sugar camps Rexrode's and Puffenbarger's where mud was in abundance on that messy day. We then made our way past the trout hatchery and south to my favorite (and now my sister's favorite), Duff's Sugar House at Fair Lawn Farm, where owner and Highland County Sheriff Tim Duff was at ease in the sugar house, educating visitors about the old way of making maple syrup while blue grass musicians entertained on the side porch of the farm house. 

With no let up in sight for rain, it was time to begin the journey back to Augusta County. Fog had settled onto the mountain tops as a line of cars drove along Rt. 250 east, headlights on and windshield wipers going, for the hour drive. As we drove over mountain ranges, the rain poured down, the fog closed in, and then we began to see flashes of lightning followed by the low rumble of thunder even as leftover snow lined the ditches of Rt. 250.

When we finally crossed Shenandoah Mountain, many cars in the line that had snaked up the mountain pulled off at the scenic overlook at the top, presumably to regather their nerves from the white-knuckle drive. I breathed a sign of relief that we were back in the familiar territory of Augusta County. Before long, the rain let up and by the time we made our way back to Cabin Creekwood before the sun set, the rain had stopped. My sister dried off the table and chairs on the deck of the cabin, poured a glass of wine, and sat outside in the quiet as darkness fell and chilly temperatures sent her inside.

I took that opportunity to use the Wi-Fi to get my internet fix, and then we made dinner and settled in, popping "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" into the DVD player. The cabin was warm against the chilly, damp late winter night and we again slept soundly on our last night in the mountains.

Sunday morning fog.

Sunday morning we woke to rain and fog on the mountains surrounding us with snow in the forecast. We had planned to stay a while and walk around the property but the icky weather and possibility of snow made us decide to head out early since my sister had to return to Richmond. It didn't take long to pack the car, and we left in the rain and fog on our way to the Rockfish Valley. Later that night, a snowstorm moved into the area and covered the Shenandoah Valley and surrounding mountains with several inches of snow.

We found that Cabin Creekwood had something to offer for just about everyone. If you like to be in the middle of it all, there are cabins within walking distance to the pool, creek, and playground that include Wi-Fi. If several families or a group want to stay together, there are cabins that are close together for easy visiting. If you prefer seclusion and privacy, two cabins are away from it all. Creekwood is in a wooded setting overlooking a rushing mountain stream, and Dogwood is located on a ridge with Blue Ridge Mountain views. Owner Stan is a friendly, outgoing man who is knowledgeable about the area and can help with hiking trails, many that he has hiked, and other attractions.

For cabin descriptions, prices, and other information, be sure to check out Cabin Creekwood's website.

No comments: