Friday, April 30, 2010

Unlevel in West Virginia - Pipestem Resort State Park

Roger here...  Level has a new meaning in West Virginia, at least from our perspective.  The definition of West Virginia Level is any angle less than 30 degrees.

After an uneventful drive to the beautiful Pipestem Resort State Park in southern WV, we found the campground office closed.  It appeared that we would have our choice of the 31 paved, full hook-up sites, so Dianne and I set out on foot (downhill, of course) to find just the right one.  We were looking for a great view, a level site, and an open southern sky (so our satellite would work).  We found just the right one on an elevated pad that extended out over a peaceful, wooded valley.

  Lots of privacy, as we could not even see our distant neighbors.  AND, it was level, at least when we backed all the way in.  Great spot for a campfire in the woods!  Gorgeous views from our lawn chairs behind the motor home.

At that point, two hours of "fun" began.  With Dianne's direction, I backed without incident into the site.  We put down the jacks, plugged in the electricity and engaged the satellite.  We decided not to do the rest of the setup until we were sure that we had internet and DirectTV connections.  Good thing we waited. We could not get a connection because a tree was partially blocking the sky.  Sometimes this is not an issue; this time it was. 

 After 20 minutes of messing with the automatic dish, we moved to plan B.  (As it turned out, plan B had about 20 time-consuming and aggravating subparts.).  First, we checked to see if any of the other sites would work better - probably not. 

 Then we decided that if we moved forward about five feet, that the offending tree would not be an issue.  We would have to use some of our leveling blocks to compensate for the upward angle, but that should be easy -- yeah, right.

We moved up, reconnected the electricity, made sure that the satellite connected, and we were in business - not really.  We still had to level the motor home.  I did the driving while Dianne placed the plastic leveling ramps behind the four rear tires.  (Visualize when I do this, I'm crawling under the back of the motorhome to reach the inner dual wheels. --  D.)

When I backed up, the motorhome easily rose to the second level of the ramp - perfect.  Dianne placed additional blocks under the rear jacks before I deployed them so that they would not overextend.  I pushed the appropriate buttons to send the rear jacks down.  (There are lights on the automatic control panel to tell me which jacks to deploy to level everything off.  I also had a carpenter's level sitting next to me.)  We were almost level UNTIL everything moved and Dianne screamed.  The rear jacks had lifted one of the rear wheels off the ramp slightly (a no-no), just enough for one of the ramps to shift from center.  We could not leave it that way - bad for the tires.  So, we tried again.

  This time when I backed onto the ramps, one of them shifted right away.  So we tried again, and again, and again, and again.  By this time Dianne and I were both a little testy - to say the least.  (Ready to come to blows is more like it -- D.)  Dianne suggested (insistedwe give up.  

I got out of the motor home and took another look at the other sites - probably wouldn't be any better.  We (Hedecided to try it one more time, and then another, and then another.  Finally, I was able to get all of the rear tires onto the first level of the ramps.  We knew that we would not be perfectly level, but felt we could live with it for our three nights - especially since we would have our TV and internet.  

So, I played with the jacks and the carpenter's level for a while to get it as level as possible.  Then Dianne and I began the long (l-o-n-gprocess of calming down.  Two hours had passed since the ordeal began.

One of our favorite movies is Lucy and Desi's "The Long, Long Trailer."  We even have a poster of it hanging in the motor home.  One of the funniest scenes in the movie shows Desi attempting to level their trailer on a hilly forest road during a thunderstorm.  When Lucy tried to fry eggs, they slid out of the frying pan onto the floor.  When she opened the pantry doors, all the food fell out, covering her in flour.  As she was sleeping in the slanted bed, the jack gave way, the door opened, and she landed outside in the mud.

Our experience was not quite that bad, but it did have some of the same elements:  We could not open any of the doors -- refrigerator included -- without them slamming wide open.  We had to literally use our heads to keep the heavy outside door open when entering and exiting.  The last step out of the motor home was so uneven that we had to hold onto the handle so as not to tumble down the hill.  Inside the motor home, any steps toward the back required great care so as not to pick up momentum and end up flying into the bed.

After completely calming down and beginning to enjoy the beauty (and it was magnificent) of our surroundings, the situation began to be funny.  We started a camp fire and Dianne took a picture of her wine glass, just to illustrate how uneven we were, even on the patio.  What the photo doesn't show is that as soon as she snapped it, she lost her balance, bumped the table, resulting in the entire glass of wine finding a new home on my jeans.  (Oops, my bad....)

Leaving all that behind, we had a great time exploring the state park.  It has two lodges, two golf courses, and a myriad of hiking/biking trails, and lots more.  It even has an aerial tram that descends to one of the lodges.  

We did take the dogs on a couple of hikes.  I suggested that we hike the Canyon Rim Trail to a limestone outcropping at the bottom of one of the canyons.  It was only .7 miles, and the views were amazing.  I pointed out the way.  The problem was that it was straight down (no steps or switchbacks here, just a steep trail).  In all fairness, there was a warning sign.  (How does the song go..."When will they ever learn....")

As we were descending, I asked Dianne several times if she would like to go back, but she declined.  Let me just say that, though the views were worth it and I would do it again, it was pure drudgery climbing back up out of that canyon.  (I recall muttering at one point, "What part of 60-years-old do you not understand?"  Oh well, I needed to burn the calories after the visit to Opies Candy Store.)  What a good aerobic workout :-)

After recovering and some exploring from the car, we opted for another hike near the nature center.  It started at another old homestead (we've encountered a lot of those lately).  It was billed as an easy, mostly-level hike of .6 miles.  The first thing we did was go straight down.  What part of straight down is level?  Oh yes, I forgot the West Virginia rule of 30 degree angles.  Actually the hike wasn't that bad.  Dianne got some great shots of a butterfly, a wild flower, 

and a deer in a tiny cemetery within the park.   Dianne here:  I noticed as we drove past the cemetery while leaving that most of the names on the tombstones were "Hill."  Fitting, somehow....

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Yadkin Valley Winery Tour + Harvest Host Tryout

Hi all -- Dianne here.
Just a reminder: The photos can be made larger for viewing by clicking on each one of them. Some of the landscaping in this blog is worth a click!

On our final day in Mount Airy, NC, Roger and I visited several wineries. The area, known as the Yadkin Valley Appellation, is developing as an area of dozens of wineries. Some of these are the result of former tobacco farmers switching to grapes as a crop.

We picked up a brochure outlining the various wineries in the area, and ruled out all but those offering dry wines that we prefer.

The first winery tasting room we visited was right in the middle of Mount Airy, the Old North State Winery. We didn't care for the reds, but we really liked some of their white wines. We left with a bottle of "Bare Bones Un-Oaked Chardonnay."

The next day we visited two wineries. The first one was about 25 miles south of Mount Airy. We were excited to see this winery, the Raffaldini Winery, as it was advertised as having Italian-type wines, which are our favorite.

The grounds were absolutely beautiful, and the setting did, indeed, remind us of our trip to Tuscany several years ago.

They have obviously taken great care in the landscaping and ambiance for their winery.

There were dozens of yellow rose bushes, all in full bloom.

My favorite wine is an Italian Chianti. I was very excited to try Raffaldini's Sangiovese; alas, though, even though I really
wanted to like it, I just didn't care for it.

We again preferred their white wine selection, and came away with a Pinot Grigio and several fun items from the gift shop, including some Raffaldini spaghetti sauce, which is reportedly heavily spiked with wine. (I also got a new cap, retiring a red one that is now pink -- R.)

After the tastings, Roger also purchased a glass of white wine to enjoy on the lovely patio.

There is a large fountain and beautiful hilltop views. If there had not been as many hardwood trees, it really would have looked a lot like rural Italy!

I'm including a photo taken from our Tuscany vacation in 2004 to illustrate what I mean. This photo was taken from the villa

(a working winery) we stayed in with a group of friends who pooled resources to rent it. We've been hooked on Italian wine ever since!

The next winery we visited was the Shelton Winery, closer to Mount Airy.

Another beautifully landscaped winery! We thoroughly enjoyed walking around the grounds and taking it all in.

There were more beautiful roses planted in the Shelton Winery landscape. I also noticed rose bushes planted next to each row of grape vines in the field. Turns out, this is like a canary in a coal mine for the vintners; the rose bushes act as an early warning system for disease or insect infestation which might harm the grape vines.

The woman who did our tasting was delightful, and we really enjoyed ourselves.

We struck up a conversation with a couple tasting next to us; turns out, they were also traveling in the area in their RV. In fact, they were just passing through on their way north from Florida, and their RV was parked outside in the parking lot.

More "damage" was done at the gift shop (see final photo below). In addition, we also actually liked the Shelton Winery dry reds, so we came away with six very large bottles of Red Harvest table wine. We liked it just as well as their more expensive labels costing twice or three times as much, so we listened to our frugal inner voice and came away with the equivalent of 12 bottles @ $5.99/bottle.

Roger here... The two wineries that we visited poured not only wine for their visitors, but also poured big bucks into their facilities. The Raffaldini visitors' area

was an imposing Italian structure at the top of a hill. The Shelton Winery building was every bit as impressive. One of the friendly employees referred to it as the owner's hobby gone wild.

I'll let Roger fill you in on our overnight stay at the Rag Apple Lassie Winery, part of the new Harvest Host system.

Roger here... We recently joined an RV visitation club called Harvest Hosts ( This new club has enlisted the cooperation of scores of wineries and working farms across the country. As members ($20/year), we are invited to park overnight for free (no hook-ups) in the winery parking lots. Since we knew that we would be spending next fall in California, visiting our older daughter, we thought it would be a good way to enjoy a little wine-tasting in a friendly atmosphere. Most of the original participating wineries are on the west coast, but many wineries across the entire country are now participating. It is a good deal for us, the membership pretty much paying for itself after one visit. It is also a great deal for the wineries due to the obvious purchases that are made.

While looking at the Harvest Hosts website, I noticed that one of the Yadkin Valley wineries, Rag Apple Lassie, was a participant, so I called to let them know we would be coming to spend our last night in North Carolina. We thought it would be fun, and it was.

Rag Apple Lassie

was named after the owner's grand prize-winning Holstein at the North Carolina State Fair. When the owner decided to convert many of his tobacco fields to other crops, including grapes, he decided to name the wine-making operation after the beloved cow of his youth. The company logo shows a black and white holstein cow sitting on a harvest moon while sipping a glass of wine - really pretty clever. All the cardboard cases and doors bear the black spots of a holstein on a white background. A modern metal sculpture of Rag Apple Lassie sipping a glass of wine while holding a wine bottle greets all the guests at the entrance to the winery.

The winery was voted as a finalist in the "Best New Winery in US" in 2007 by The Wine Appreciation Guild, San Francisco.

The building itself is unique. After passing a

silo, guests enter a metal building and find themselves on a catwalk overlooking the wine-making area below. Upon descending the stairs, guests can walk through the production area and into the gift shop/tasting room.

The person who greeted us and poured red wines for us to sample was the wife of the owner's son. She explained that this particular winery was not so much a hobby as part of a large family farm. (It was more of a working atmosphere than the upscale landscaped wineries we had visited earlier -- D.) We purchased three bottles of wine and then enjoyed a glass of Cabernet on the outside patio area in the shadow of

Pilot Mountain in the distance. We did like the Rag Apple Lassie dry reds: we purchased a bottle each of the cabernet, syrah, and red zinfandel. -- D.

I took the boys

on a walk along the outskirts of the vineyard

before we settled in for a quiet night among the landscaping.

Since we had no hook-ups and therefore no TV, it was a great night to read a book, listen to tree frogs, and relax.

I mentioned before that this was a good deal for the wineries - maybe a better deal than we intended it to be. Because of the beautiful atmosphere, we were tempted to purchase a few items in the gift shops - and that we did. We certainly did add to the local economy. Since we plan to utilize Harvest Hosts again when we get to California,

someone should notify the vineyards to stock up on their merchandise!