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First Landing State Park, VA
Friday, November 8, 2002 - 9:00am by Lolo
169 miles and 3.5 hours from our last stop - 2 night stay
This was not our first time to First Landing—so I guess you could call it our Second Landing. We had discovered it back in 1999 during our first year as RVers and had vowed to come back. Now, the perfect time had arrived. The kids had 4 days off from school, and our best friends, the Bleakleys, had just moved to Virginia Beach, in walking distance to the Park. Also, being it was November, we figured the best direction to head was south.
First Landing is truly a unique place with an amazing amount of diversity in such a small area. The park is divided into two halves by the fairly busy U.S. 60, also known as Shore Drive. On the north side of the highway is the campground and the Chesapeake Bay. Some of the campsites have great views of the bay and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The southern side of the park has a totally different feel to it. Most of this section is made up of marshlands, lagoons, forested dunes, and bald cypress swamps, and the only way to explore it is along the 19 miles of hiking and biking trails—just the way we like it.
We weren’t meeting our friends until they got off from work that evening, so after selecting a campsite overlooking the Bay, we jumped on our bikes and headed across the road to the Cape Henry Trail, which is the only trail open to bikes. We absolutely love this trail, and it is probably our major reason for wanting to come back to First Landing. Along its 6 miles, it wanders through a forest draped with Spanish moss, alongside the tannin-stained waters of bald cypress swamps, and eventually out to the Narrows, a narrow strip of water that eventually leads winds back to the Chesapeake Bay. It is truly one of my favorite bike trails. Along the way, Herb tried to perfect his video-recording while riding technique, in which he holds the handlebar with one hand and the camera with the other and just films without looking through the eyepiece—a bit risky, but if successful, the results are great. Watching it makes you feel like you’re still on the ride. Andrew ran over what he thought was a twig, but turned out to be a small snake. He’s the kind of kid that wouldn’t hurt a flea, so he felt really bad watching it wriggle around. Herb said its neck was broken, which probably isn’t good for a snake, considering all they are is neck.
There are also several hiking trails to stop at along the Cape Henry Trail. My favorite is the Bald Cypress Swamp Trail, which goes out along a boardwalk over a particularly beautiful swamp where bald cypress trees stand draped in Spanish moss.
That evening the Bleakley’s came to visit us at our campsite. We barbecued, walked out on the beach, roasted marshmallows on a campfire, and had a great time just catching up on each others lives. It had been a couple years since we had seen them last, but we just seemed to pick up where we left off. Their two boys were almost the same exact age as our two and had practically grown up together. It took only a few minutes for them to get reacquainted and comfortable with the new, more grown-up versions of each other again. As always, we had some great laughs. After making plans to spend the next day together, the Bleakleys left. Unfortunately, as they were waving goodbye, Scott backed over the low wooden post at the edge of our site, producing a very unpleasant sound from the bottom of his new car. Fortunately, there wasn’t much damage.
The next morning, Scott and Donna picked us up early and we went to the boardwalk along the Atlantic Ocean in Virginia Beach. Virginia Beach is very different from the shore areas we’re used to in New England and even some parts of the Jersey coast. There were high rises as far as the eye could see. I must say that I definitely prefer the more natural type beaches, but this one was kind of interesting for a change.
We strolled along the boardwalk taking in the sights for awhile and then had a very nice lunch at Mahi Mah’s, right on the boardwalk. After lunch, we went back to the campground to relax and play on our beach on the Chesapeake Bay. The kids flew kites and played football, while Donna and I got a chance to drink a glass of wine and catch up on old times.
That evening, our last in Virginia Beach, we walked down the beach to the Bleakley’s condo to have dinner. Scott made us some amazing Margarita’s first, which almost made me forget how good dinner was. Good thing we were walking home. After dinner, we played a rousing and rather loud game of Catch Phrase, an old Gaidus vs. Bleakley classic competition. We’re both pretty competitive families, so it can get pretty embarrassing sometimes—not the kids, but the adults. I’m happy to report that the Gaiduses won, or at least that’s the way I am reporting it. They can report it any way they want to on their website, if they have one.
First Landing State Park is located in Virginia Beach at the tip of Cape Henry, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Chesapeake Bay. The name of the park was changed from Seashore to First Landing to memorialize the fact that this was the site where Captain John Smith first touched land before settling further up the river in Jamestown.
The park’s 2,888 acres of marshlands, lagoons, forested dunes, and bald cypress swamps contain a unique mixture of northern and southern ecosystems. This is the furthest north that Spanish moss is found growing on trees.
The park is split into two sections by US 60. The smaller northern section is located on the Chesapeake Bay. It contains a beach (swim at your own risk) and a 235-site campground. Many of the sites have views of the Bay.
The majority of the park is located south of the highway and has a totally different feel from the section along the beach. It is bounded on the south by Broad Bay and on the east by Atlantic Avenue, along the Virginia Beach strip. Hiking and biking trails lace their way through the park. There are nine walking trails totaling about 19 miles. The most popular one is the Bald Cypress Swamp Trail, which goes along a boardwalk over the tannin-stained waters of a swamp where bald cypress trees stand draped in Spanish moss. The longer, less crowded Long Creek Trail meanders 5 miles through bird-filled salt marshes. The only trail open to bikers is the 6-mile Cape Henry Trail, which cuts across the park to the Narrows.