Over Columbus Day weekend, my son and I headed to Virginia's Northern Neck for a few days of camping at Westmoreland State Park. Opened in 1936, this is one of the Commonwealth's six original state parks and was created in an earlier economic stimulus package by the Civilian Conservation Corp, but its history is much older than that. The park is next to the Potomac River on land that was once part of Stratford Hall, home of the Lees. It is also just down river from the birthplaces of George Washington and James Monroe.
The park has several nice trails and is heavily wooded with most of the forest in the climax stage of growth. Large maples, oaks, beeches and tulip poplars dominate the landscape. Underneath these trees the forest floor is relatively clear, but you can see American holly, ferns and mountain laurel - lots of mountain laurel, I need to come back late next spring to see them bloom. Our camp site was in a less wooded area, but it was still nice and had wild grapes hanging over the tent pad.
The trail behind our camp led us through the rich forest, down nearly 200' of steep slopes to a wetland and then out to Fossil Beach and the Potomac. You can guess why it is called Fossil Beach. 15 million years ago the whole area was covered by a warm, shallow Miocene sea that was teaming with marine life, including 20 species of shark who were constantly shedding their teeth only to fall to the bottom to become covered in sediment. We spent quite a bit of time looking for fossils, especially the large teeth of the giant Megalodon shark. Unfortunately we only found some of its smaller cousin's teeth.
One of the more exciting parts of our trip was a guided kayak tour. Although the skies were gloomy when we put the kayaks in the water, the weather was otherwise calm. There were about 15-20 people on the trip and soon after we left the landing the winds came up and so did the waves. Water was coming into the kayak and we were getting soaked; I was afraid the water-proof bag would not protect my camera from the salt water, but it did. We were lucky compared to others, several people ended up in the water and had swim to shore. The ranger ended the trip early and had us beach the kayaks underneath Horsehead Cliffs, where you are not normally allowed to go. The cliffs are fragile and have a tendency to slough off huge hunks of earth, sandstone boulders and large trees. The weather never calmed, and we ended up having to abandon the kayaks and walk back to the landing, but this gave everyone something to remember and an opportunity to look for more fossils.
I was hoping to see some fall colors while we were there, but things had only entered the early stages and were still mostly green, but green is a color too. Nevertheless there were plenty of things to look at including Baccharis in full bloom, fruiting deciduous hollies, wild rose hips and native Viburnum.
My next post will take us to Stratford Hall, a place I have always wanted to visit. If you would like to see the rest of my Westmoreland Park photos, you can visit my Flickr page.