Shenandoah National Park, Virginia – Climbs & Falls!

June, 2015 – The Blue Ridge Parkway connects Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina with Shenandoah National Park in Virginia where the Parkway morphs into Skyline Drive. The difference between the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive is very subtle, as both of these long drives is a winding, hilly road under a canopy of green trees.

RV driving Skyline Drive Shenandoah National Park Virginia

Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park

As we drove on Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive, we began seeing more rock faces on the sides of the road, and there were more open areas where the views opened up.

Unlike the Blue Ridge Parkway where many scenic overlooks actually have no view at all because overgrown trees stand in the way, Shenandoah National Park’s scenic viewpoints all feature a real view. We saw some lovely vistas of mountains fading off into the distance. This difference may be due, in part, to the fact that the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is managed by the National Park Service, is free for all travelers to use, whereas Shenandoah NP, which Skyline Drive traverses, charges the usual National Park fees.

Mountains in Shenandoah National Park Virginia

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find that
going to the mountains is going home.” — John Muir, 1914

When all the great national parks in the western states were being built in the early 1900’s, there was a desire in the eastern states to create a similar park that set aside beautiful lands and made them available to people for recreation. The tricky part was that most land was already privately owned. Shenandoah was created in 1935 through government acquisition of private land by eminent domain. Before it was even officially open, the crowds arriving from Washington, DC, and other nearby cities to enjoy the great outdoors were staggering.

Traffic in Shenandoah National Park Virginia

A Shenandoah scenic overlook circa 1935

The crowds can be overwhelming today too, and at a few of the hiking trailheads we found it was nearly impossible to find a parking space. Just like the Blue Ridge Parkway, this is a road that is loved by motorcyclists as well as motorists, and we saw many groups of them out having a ball on these twisty mountain roads.

Motorcycles on Skyline Drive Shenandoah National Park Virginia

Skyline Drive is a favorite with motorcycles

There is still plenty of peace and quiet and wildlife in Shenandoah, however. We saw lots of deer, including one that sprinted across the road in front of us. Even more exciting, on one of our hikes Mark spotted a black bear just 100 feet from the trail. We both tried like crazy to get a good photo, but he kept his rump to us and a thousand skinny tree branches obscured our view of him. Oh well. It was still really cool to watch him going about his business in the woods.

Deer crossing Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park

We saw lots of wildlife in Shenandoah

We decided to do one waterfall hike in Shenandoah to wrap up our waterfall theme on this leg of our travels. We had just about had our fill of waterfalls — who would have thought that was possible back in the Smokies? — but we had room for one more.

Dark Hollow Falls is a beautiful waterfall that has an upper section and a lower section. We hiked down from the top (although lots of people came via a different, easier route), and the view looking up at the upper falls was wonderful.

Dark Hollow Falls Shenandoah National Park Virginia

The upper falls at Dark Hollow

We were there on a Sunday, and the crowds were thick. People waited and took turns getting photos of themselves standing on the rocks at the base of the waterfall, and the trails were loaded with people of all ages.

The hike down from there to the lower falls was easy and the lower falls were very pretty too.

Dark Hollow Falls Shenandoah National Park Virginia

Dark Hollow Falls lower waterfalls

Dark Hollow Falls Virginia Shenandoah National Park

The lower falls at Dark Hollow

Dark Hollow Falls Virginia Blue Ridge Parkway

Lower waterfall at Dark Hollow Falls

We also hiked to Mary’s Rock. This time we went midweek, and we were the only ones on the trail. There was a lot of activity in the woods around us, however. Squirrels made noises in the underbrush and songbirds filled the air with beautiful warbling.

Hike to Mary's Rock Shenandoah National Park Virginia

The hike to Mary’s Rock goes through some wonderful woods

Ferns in Shenandoah National Park Virginia

A trio of ferns against a tree

Leaves

Beautiful leaf patterns

We came across a strange rock chimney standing in the middle of the woods. There was no plaque or marker on it. Just the chimney standing there. Adding another odd note to this weird orphaned chimney, we found a brand new Keene sandal sitting right in the middle of the trail. Hmmm… something old and something new!

Mary's Rock Summit Hike Chimney

We came across an unexpected chimney and a new lone Keene sandal

After taking a left turn near the end of the hike, the trail suddenly opened up, and we were staring at Mary’s Rock and the vast rolling green hills beyond and far below.

Mary's Rock Summit Shenandoah National Park Virginia

The summit of Mary’s Rock

There were lots of big boulders all around, and we had fun scrambling to different peaks and pinnacles.

Standing atop Mary's Rock Summit Shenandoah National Park VIrginia

There are great views from the tippy top!!

Mary’s Rock is at the north end of Shenandoah National Park, and this hike was our last foray into the ribbon of national park lands that stretches nearly 500 miles from Cherokee, North Carolina to Front Royal, Virginia.

Summit of Mary's Rock Hike Shenandoah National Park Virginia

Happy hikers

We had finished our nearly four week trek north along this unique strip of lush mountains, and as we put away our hiking shoes and camelbacks for the last time, we knew we’d barely scratched the surface of this rich area. We’ll be back for sure! But for now, it was time to switch mental gears to get ready for our upcoming summer RV adventures that awaited us far to the north.

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Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia) – Waterfalls & Rhododendrons

May, 2015 – As we took our RV north through Virginia, hopping on and off the Blue Ridge Parkway, we followed the blooming of the rhododendrons as they blossomed first in the south and then in the north. In fact, we followed the rhododendron bloom all the way from the Smokies to northern Maine over the course of five weeks! We also decided to contine the travel theme we had begun in the southern part of the parkway in North Carolina: Waterfalls.

Rhododendron selife Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Lavender rhododendrons and stairs defined our Blue Ridge Parkway waterfall hikes in Virginia

Seeing waterfall pics is very inspiring, but actually getting to them on a hiking trail usually involves a lot of vertical hiking, either climbing up to the top of a waterfall or scrambling down to the bottom of one. We got some great stair-stepping workouts on our quest for beautiful waterfalls in the Virginia portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway!

APPLE ORCHARD FALLS

The first waterfall we went to was Apple Orchard Falls. This hiking trail crosses the Appalachian Trail, and we were astonished as we approached the intersection with the Appalachian Trail to meet a fellow who was spending his summer hiking from Georgia to Maine!

This hiker, Brian, was traveling light for a 4 month walk in the woods, but he said he was doing great. Unlike most of his fellow hikers, he hadn’t had to replace his hiking shoes yet, and he’d knocked out 770 miles of the trek with another 1,400 or so to go before he reached Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

Appalachian Trail Through Hiker Brian (Porkchop)

Brian is walking from Georgia to Maine this summer, and we met him 1/3 of the way into his trip.

We bounded down the trail to the bottom of Apple Orchard Falls after that encounter, so excited to have met an Appalachian Trail through-hiker in the middle of his journey. At the bottom we found a pretty waterfall cascading over the rocks.

Apple Orchard Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Apple Orchard Falls

Better yet, there were rhododendrons blooming all around the lower part of the waterfall and even more along the stream that fell loosely over the rocks into the woods. We were in seventh heaven running around taking pics. In no time we were in our own worlds, totally separated. It was long after we were out of sight of each other that we realized we’d left our trusty two-way radios in the truck. I had no idea where Mark went, but I followed the rhododendrons!

Rhododendrons Apple Orchard Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Rhododendrons were blooming all over the place

Rhododendrons are a magnificent flower, and I crouched and crawled and snuck under branches along the river banks to try to find places to get pics of them with flowing water. I couldn’t believe they grew wild in such abundance. Everywhere I looked, they were in all stages of bloom:

04 406 Rhododendron blooming 1

05 406 rhododendron blooming 2

06 701 Rhododendron blooming 5

07 701 Rhododendron blooming 6

When I’d had my fill of rhododendrons and waterfalls, I hiked back to where I’d last seen Mark at the bottom of the falls. I searched around there for a long time wondering where he’d disappeared to along the creek. I yelled his name, bunches of times, but there was no answer. Oh no!

The return hike to the truck was a one and a half miles or so straight uphill. This trail was STEEP, and I was torn. Should I stay at the bottom? Should I go back to the top?

I finally decided to take the chance that he had gone back to the top. It was late, after all, and if he couldn’t find me I figured he’d return to the truck up top. I hiked nervously straight uphill, sweat pouring down my back.

What if he wasn’t at the top? I wondered. Would it make sense to go back down to the bottom to look for him? And what if I couldn’t find him down at the bottom? Should I then hike back up again?

At exactly what point would I try to get help? And how many miles away would help be? And would those helpful people then hike to the bottom to look for him this late in the day or wait til tomorrow? What if he’d gotten injured and couldn’t move? My imagination ran wild.

Apple Orchard Falls Blue Ridge Parkway VIrginia

Apple Orchard Falls

I continued yelling for him periodically, morosely envisioning the headlines, “Dead hiker found at waterfall, two-way radios found in truck.” How foolish of us!

As I hiked the last 100 yards straight uphill I craned my neck looking for the truck. When I finally caught a glimpse of it just beyond the last tree, I saw the door was open and Mark’s smiling face poked out from behind it and we both ran and gave each other a huge hug. What a relief!

Fallingwater Cascade Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Fallingwater Cascades — with overhanging rhododendrons

FALLINGWATER CASCADES

The next hike proved much more straight forward. Fallingwater Cascades is just five miles away from Apple Orchard Falls, and is a much shorter and easier hike.

Fallingwater Falls rhododendrons Virginia

Fallingwater Cascades

The rhododendrons were blooming here too, but I stayed on the trail this time. The waterfalls were lovely.

Fallingwater Falls Virginia

Fallingwater Cascades

CRABTREE FALLS

Our final waterfall hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia was Crabtree Falls. When we saw the name of this waterfall we did a doubletake because we had already hiked a Crabtree Falls in the North Carolina part of the Blue Ridge Parkway a week or so ago.

12 406 Fallingwater Waterfall Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

So we were surprised when the gal at the visitors center who told us about Crabtree Falls in Virginia had never heard of the one in North Carolina. However, the Virginia falls is the tallest waterfall in the east, a claim to fame the North Carolina Crabtree Falls doesn’t have.

Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia lower waterfall

Crabtree Falls — Lower falls

We found out that when you hike the tallest waterfall in the east, you are in for a LOT of stair climbing. Crabtree Falls consists of three waterfalls sections that are each unique, and between each section there are staircases and some steep trails.

Crabtree Falls hiking trail Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Not only is this hike steep, but there are a ton of stairs!

Each staircase brought us to more waterfalls.

Lower Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Crabtree Falls

And then we climbed more stairs!! Some stairs were built into the trail. Others were just plain old staircases!

Hiking trail stairs Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

In some places the stairs look natural, and in some places they are just staircases.

After the stairs we saw another bit of the waterfall. Different shape. Same falls!

Middle Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Crabtree Falls

As we climbed higher, we got more and more tired. And obviously the rangers did too, because up near the top they quit building stairs and just let the tree roots be the stair cases!

Root staircase Crabtree Falls Virginia

Nature’s Staircase!

At the very top of the waterfall, the stream flowed between the rhododendron bushes and then fell right out in front of them. Just beautiful. And this time, since we had started the hike at the bottom and had climbed to the top, we gleefully ended our hike by descending down the stairs instead of trudging up!!

Top Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Crabtree Falls

If you take your RV along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the parkway itself is fine for driving except for two low bridges at the far south end in North Carolina.

No matter where you drive in this area, be prepared for steep hills. We were very grateful driving in these hills to have recently outfitted our truck with a diesel engine tuner to improve its towing power and to have outfitted our trailer with electric over hydraulic disc brakes.

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Blue Ridge Parkway Highlights (Virginia) – Mills, Music & Farms!

May, 2015 – As our RV travels along the Blue Ridge Parkway took us north from North Carolina over the border into Virginia, we stopped at the Mabry Mill. This beautiful old mill was built by one Edwin Mabry who used it to grind corn and saw lumber for his neighbors in the early 1900’s.

RV and Mabry Mill Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

A motorhome passes the Mabry Mill in Virginia

We arrived in in the third week of May, just as the rhododendrons began blooming. There is something about an old wooden building like this with flowers and a paddle wheel outside that just begs to be photographed. Especially when water is splashing off the paddle wheel!

Mabry Mill Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

The rhododendrons were just coming into bloom

We found out that this mill is one of the most photographed buildings on the whole Blue Ridge Parkway! So, we we had to add ours to the mix…

Mabry Mill selfie Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

A serene setting…

Mabry Mill Virginia Blue Ridge Parkway

Inside the mill, an old fellow showed us how a very long lever arm is used to start and stop the flow of water over the paddle wheel. This effectively turns on and off the power that the wheel generates. It also explained why, when we were outside taking pics, the paddle wheel would periodically turn and dump some water and then stop spinning and sit still for a while. The guy inside was showing people how it turned on and off!

Inside Mabry Mill generating power

A long lever arm controls the water flow to the paddle wheel.

Edwin Mabry used the power from the mill to do all kinds of things that electricity would do today

Visiting places like this always makes me marvel at how easy so many things are today. What a huge effort it was to grow grains, harvest them, separate out the seeds to be ground, take a bag of them to your neighbor’s mill to get it ground, and then go home and bake some bread. I would cherish every slice of that loaf!

Mill saw inside Mabry Mill Virginia on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The old mill saw — powered by the paddle wheel!

As we drove on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we found that much like the Smoky Mountains a little further south, the views out across the mountains and valleys form layers that fade into the distance. “Smoky” and “Blue” are very apt names!

Blue Ridge Mountains on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia

Blue RIdge Mountains

Just a bit south of the Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we visited the Blue Ridge Music Center. This fantastic little museum is maintained by the National Park Service, and it explains the history of bluegrass and mountain music. We discovered that bluegrass is an amalgam of all the musical traditions from the people that were living in these mountains over a century ago.

I had never known this, but the banjo is an instrument that was brought over from Africa! The lyrics, patter and general style of bluegrass music can be traced to traditional Irish folk songs. And the purely vocal harmonizing has its roots in German liturgical music. All of these different kinds of musical traditions blended together here in the Appalachian mountains, and over a period of time, bluegrass music emerged.

Old photo of blacks playing banjo and guitar

The banjo came from Africa!

The best part of the Blue Ridge Music Center is that it’s not just a museum. It’s a place for enjoying music! Every afternoon from noon until 4 pm, musicians perform for free in the breezeway which is a big open room right next to the museum. It has a large barn door that can be left open to make the room airy and breezy or can be closed. It’s very informal. Folding chairs are set up in front of the performers, and people come and go, enjoying the music all afternoon.

Live bluegrass music at Blue Ridge Music Center_

Scott Freeman & Willard Gayheart perform bluegrass music for tourists courtesy of the National Park Service. Different musicians play for free for 4 hours every day!!

We saw Scott Freeman & Willard Gayheart while we were there, and we were floored by their wonderful playing. For those who want more music, the Blue Ridge Music Center hosts a complete outdoor summer concert series that takes place on a stage in front of a big lawn.

Just 40 miles away in the town of Floyd, we found that there is all kinds of blue grass and old time music going on for free, or close to free, in the Floyd Country Store (blog post here) — and what a great time we had there!

Republic of Floyd Virginia

Quietly defiant Floyd Virginia hosts free bluegrass concerts. They sometimes spill out onto Main Street, even though it’s a major state thoroughfare!

We traveled on the Blue Ridge Parkway itself a little, but we did most of our driving on the roads that criss-cross the parkway and run parallel to it. This is an extraordinarily hilly area, and we found ourselves constantly driving either up a steep grade or down one, which made us very happy we had done the disc brake conversion upgrade on our trailer a few months ago in Texas.

It seemed to be a daily occurrence that Mark suddenly blurted out, “I love these new brakes!”

As we approached Hillsville, Virginia, on Memorial Day Weekend, we found ourselves not only in the hills but caught up in some really crazy traffic as the whole town put an enormous yard sale as part of their Memorial Day Flee Market!

Traffic and hills in Hillsville Virginia

Crazy traffic and steep hills on Memorial Day in Hillsville Virginia

But as we ventured north, taking in some of the highlights of the Blue Ridge Parkway, whenever we got away from the cities and towns, the countryside became wonderfully rural, and we passed one beautiful farm after another.

Farm in southwestern Virginia near Blue Ridge Parkway

We saw lots of farms as we drove around.

Virginia farms

Picturesque farms in the countryside

We even passed an old RV parked next to some very tidy rows of vegetables.

RV on a farm in Virginia

A vintage RV with new crops coming up.

This is a pretty part of the country!

10 771 Farm in southern Virginia

Virginia farm near the Blue Ridge Parkway

More lovely Virginia farms…

16 701 Blue RIdge Parkway area farm in Virginia

If you take your RV to the Blue Ridge Parkway, you’ll find mills, music, farms and much much more!

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New River Trail State Park – Galax, VA – Pizza, Beer and Biking!

May, 2015 – After seeking out the waterfalls of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, our RV travels took us over the border into Virginia to the town of Galax (pronounced “Gay-lax”) where we planned to see two famous Parkway attractions: the Mabry Mill and the Blue Ridge Music Center. However, when Mark spotted a microbrew pub in town — Creek Bottom Brews — our truck automatically steered itself right to the front door!

Creek Bottom Brews Galax Virginia

Creek Bottom Brews welcomes us in.

Inside, Mark found himself in craft beer heaven. The walls at one end of the brewpub were lined from floor to ceiling with individual craft beers from every brewery he’d ever heard of, and even a few more. What’s better, the bartenders were pouring pints of unusual craft beers from around the country as fast as the tap handles could go. The place was filled with very happy looking customers.

We ordered a pizza to go along with the Thunder Bay Brewing pale ale they had on tap. I don’t know if we were starving or what, but that was by far the best beer and the best pizza we’d had in a really long time. What a great place!

We never ever do this, but we went back again the next night for the same exact thing, and then we went again for a third time the night after that! We became Creek Bottom Brews regulars in just three days!

Beer selection Creek Bottom Brews Galax Virginia

Is this beer heaven or what?

As we happily sat there enjoying this truly awesome pizza and beer each afternoon, we noticed that lots of the folks around us were dressed in cycling duds. What was going on? Many of them just buzzed in to get their growlers filled or to pick up a six pack of something exotic. Apparently this was how these Virginia folks rehydrated after their rides!

It dawned on us that there must be a trail or something nearby, so I asked the next gal I saw in a cycling jersey where she’d been riding. “On the New River Trail,” she told me. “It’s a really great Rails-to-Trails ride that starts right across the street from here in Galax”

The next morning we hit the trail!

New River Trail State Park Galax Virginia

The New River Trail is wide and flat and easy to ride on.

Oh my, what a terrific Rails-to-Trails system this New River Trail is. We were blown away. It was one of the best Rails-to-Trails rides we’ve done, right up there with the 72-mile Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes in Idaho. It is wide and flat and winds along the New River for 57 miles. And for such a great trail, we were amazed that on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend there weren’t all that many people on it.

The fun thing about this really scenic trail is that it passes by all kinds of interesting things. We came across a small waterfall and stopped to take pics.

Riding the New River Trail State Park bike path

We enjoyed a small waterfall along the way.

And we stopped at the old Cliffview Station depot building.

Cliffview Station New River Trail Galax Virginia

Cliffview Station is an old depot that makes a fun stop.

There was also a very cool wooden bridge that was fun to ride across.

Bridge on New River Trail State Park Galax Virginia

We loved this curved wooden bridge.

Much of the trail went along under a canopy of trees, but there were lots of open areas too where we saw horses grazing in the fields.

Horses in fields Galax Virginia

There was lots of interesting stuff to see along the way.

What I loved is that this is a trail for everyone. We saw families out biking on cruiser bikes and we saw more serious folks on fancy mountains bikes. Some people were even out there on road bikes. The trail was wide and flat and smooth enough for any kind of bike. And of course there were walkers and joggers too.

Bicycles on New River Trail State Park Galax Virginia

We saw families and old folks alike out on the trail.

The New River Trail is part of the Virginia State Parks system, and we got talking with a ranger and learned that this trail was actually donated to the state by the Norfolk Southern Railroad back in 1986. Political wrangling got in the way of its management for a while, but now it is a true jewel in Virginia’s state park system.

Bikes on the New River Trail in Galax Virginia

Every kind of bike rolls well on this trail.

We were amazed to learn from him that even though they operate on a shoestring budget compared to other states, Virginia State Parks has been rated the top state park system in the country. The care with which this trail is maintained is proof of why.

Wildflowers New River Trail State Park

I can never resist the wildflowers!

The trail has several campgrounds along its length, and we passed one of the campgrounds on our ride. What a fun place to pitch a tent! We saw quite a few cyclists who were touring with panniers on their bikes, and we met one couple who was doing a three day, two night ride out and back on the trail!

Cliffview Campground New River Trail Galax Virginia

Tents set up at Cliffview Campground, one of several campgrounds on the trail system.

We did about 20 miles round trip and then we just had to go back to Creek Bottom Brews. After all, that’s how the cyclists around here rehydrate after their rides, and we needed to rehydrate too!

As we sat there enjoying their out-of-this-world pizza, we joked that Galax, Virginia, needs a motto:

Come for the Blue Ridge Parkway, Stay for the Pizza, Biking and Brews!

Mountain bike on New River Trail Galax Virginia

We sure were glad we stopped in for a beer — what better way to discover a cool bike trail?!!

If you take your RV along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the vicinity of Mabry Mill and the Blue Ridge Music Center, take a little time out for a bike ride and a brew in Galax!

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Floyd Country Store Bluegrass Music Jam – So Much Fun!

A few days ago over Memorial Day Weekend, our RV travels took us to southwestern Virginia where we were treated to an absolutely terrific musical experience: the Sunday Music Jam at The Country Store in Floyd, Virginia.

It was a free bluegrass jam session in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains — what a thrill!

The Floyd Country Store Floyd Virginia

Where is this country store?

We had heard that there were fabulous free bluegrass music gigs at this unique store in the Virginia mountain town of Floyd. But when we walked down the main street under the storefront awnings, we weren’t quite sure where the store was!

We saw lots of people walking around with ice cream cones. I even saw a funny sign on a storefront that said “Loitering Allowed.” I snapped a pic with some folks sitting under the sign eating ice cream while Mark walked off in search of the country store.

The Country Store Floyd Virginia Loitering Allowed

Loitering allowed!

Where the heck was that country store? We just couldn’t find it — until we crossed the street and looked back and saw that The Country Store was that funny place where loitering was allowed. Silly us!! So, in we went.

Candy Aisle The Country Store in Floyd Virginia

Inside the Floyd Country Store.

Inside we found a classic old fashioned store, with creaky old oak floors that had been walked on by thousands of feet, an old embossed tile ceiling overhead, and big barrels of candy right in the middle with all kinds of interesting little trinkets for sale on wooden shelves on the walls.

They even had musical instruments for sale on the wall behind the cash register.

Musical Instrumnets at The Country Store Floyd Virginia

There were all kinds of things for sale.

On the other side of the store they were selling ice cream and desserts and coffee. Sales seemed very snappy behind that counter. I noticed that for every person that marched away from the register licking an ice cream cone, another one got in line!

The Jingle Tap in Floyd Virginia

The ice cream on the other side of the store was very popular!

But it was at the back of the store where the music action was happening. We didn’t hear anything at first, but when we walked back we saw rows of chairs filled with people, many with fiddles, banjos and guitars in their laps, and there were musical instrument cases of all sizes and shapes leaning against the walls.

Suddenly, without any announcement or fuss, they all began to play — and what an upbeat and happy sound that was!

The musicians sat in a huge circle, all facing each other, and the folks that weren’t playing sat in rows behind them.

Sunday Bluegrass Music Jam The Country Store Floyd VIrginia

Holy smokes — it’s a huge crowd of people making music together!

We stood against a wall with great big grins on our faces — what an absolute ball this was!

Suddenly, the song came to an end, and there was a little murmuring between a man and a woman up front. Then a new song began, and the whole group jumped right in again. No one had sheet music, yet they all played in perfect harmony. How cool is that!

A little girl started bouncing around in her seat, and her mom leaned over and explained to everyone around her that she was fidgeting because she wanted to dance. An energetic white haired lady sitting next to me hopped up, took the girl by the hands and danced with her, to the utter delight of everyone watching.

Dancing at the Sunday Music Jam Floyd Virginia Country Store

Happy feet!

The music went on, song after song, and even after the little girl and her gracious dance partner sat down, the rest of us toe tapped and bounced our heads in time to the music, jigging along with the carefree melodies.

We had just gotten warmed up when the music stopped and all the musicians began to pack it up. Oh no! But then a new group of musicians came in, sat down in those same chairs, and began to play.

Bluegrass musicians jam at Floyd Virginia Country Store

The bluegrass jam session begins. Host Ben Silcox is on the right.

This time the sound was a little different. The first group had been an old-time music jam, and this group was playing bluegrass songs with vocals. The host, Ben Silcox, asked each player in the circle to lead the group in a song. Lots of people in the audience knew the words and sang along under their breath.

The high spirits in this place were infectious, and we just couldn’t wipe those grins off our faces. The instruments were wonderful — mandolins and dobros along with fiddles, guitars and banjos — and these folks could all play really well. They made it seem effortless. Their fingers flew all over the place with ease!

Bluegrass music on a mandolin_

There were mandolins…

The host, Ben, told us that one member of the group was 86 years old. He was happily fiddling away.

Bluegrass music on a dobro and fiddle

…and there were dobros and fiddles. This fiddle player is 86!

Ben had a great sense of humor, and he loved joshing his friends between songs. He told the crowd that one of the banjo players was an expert luthier who makes beautiful fiddles. He held one up to show the crowd and then wise-cracked to the banjo player, “So how many of these have you made?”

“Oh, 15 of them,” his buddy responded.

“And how many are for sale now?”

“Um…15.” His friend shrugged.

Holding up a fiddle at a bluegrass jam session in Floyd Virginia

Ben teases his buddy about the fiddles he makes.

A few minutes later that same banjo player took off on a wild tune that was dizzyingly fast. Ben quipped afterwards, “If you liked that, this guy has blank CD’s for sale in the front of the store!”

The Country Store has been around since around 1910, but it was in the early 1980’s that it became a haven for music lovers.

At that time, two of the store’s owners were in a bluegrass band that used the store for band practice on Friday nights after the store was closed and locked up for the day. Folks walking by outside kept knocking on the door asking to be let in so they could listen, and after a while the store owners decided not to lock up but to keep the doors open so people could stop in and enjoy the music.

Bluegrass music on standup bass and guitar

The Friday Night Jamboree started in the early 1980’s!

A young store clerk told me she remembered going to those Friday Night Jamborees when she was a kid in the 1990’s, but that the store had been a bit run down. In 2007 new owners totally renovated the building, put lots of fun goodies on the shelves, began serving tasty snacks, and the crowds swelled.

On the big music nights now, she said, the store is often packed and is standing room only!

Banjos and guitars Sunday Music Jam Country Store Floyd Virginia

The old-time music jam was a hoot!

If your RV travels take you into southwestern Virginia and you want to hear some authentic bluegrass music played in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, check out the schedule of events at The Country Store in Floyd, Virginia. It is a rare treat. Many weekly music jams are free, some cost a few bucks — and the ice cream is delicious!

I had hoped we’d find some true mountain magic when we pointed our RV towards the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia, and when we got to the tiny town of Floyd, Virginia, we sure did!

I got a snippet on video — here it is:

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Blog posts from our RV travels in the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia: