Monday, May 18, 2015

The Dismal Swamp

May 12-13

Days 182-183

The AICW actually offers two different ways to get from the Albemarle Sound to Norfolk, VA. The quickest way is to travel closer to the Atlantic by way of Great Bridge and then on to Norfolk. The slightly more adventurous route is through what is known as the Dismal Swamp. Of course we chose the latter of the two options in the hopes that we would see more wildlife along the way. The Dismal Swamp is the oldest operating man made waterway in the United States. The canal was constructed in the early 1800's, mostly with slave labor. In its hay day it was used as a major transportation route for passengers and commercial vehicles. Today, it is mostly used by pleasure crafts as the alternate Intracoastal Waterway. Jess and I quickly decided it was just what we had thought it would be. While a busy highway now runs parallel to the canal most of its 40 plus miles, the feeling of being in a very remote area still exists. Trees and bushes crowd the banks on both sides of the narrow channel, making it necessary to be constantly on the lookout for overhanging branches and deadfall in the canal. This in no way diminished the peacefulness of the trip, as we slowly wound our way through the canal. Wildlife is abundant here, including many of the slithery kind. This little side trip turned into one of our favorite spots along the AICW, at least so far. Who knows what tomorrow may bring?

The trip through the swamp was necessarily slow, in order to avoid the many logs and branches floating down stream. We never bumped, and going slow through this beautiful area gave us the opportunity to enjoy all the sights along the way.

Passing De De on her way down stream was totally unexpected. We had met Henry and Diane on their hand made boat when we stopped in Apalachicola last December. That is one of the great things about this adventure. You never know when you will run across people you have met along the way. De De had mechanical problems that had required her to miss this section of the Loop, so she was traveling the Dismal Swamp to Albemarle Sound and then north to complete her trip. Loopers certainly don't lack perseverance!

Our first lock since leaving the Tenn-Tom. Might as well get used to it because there are many more coming up. The two locks in the Dismal Swamp are small and the attendants are extremely helpful.

After locking us through, the lockmaster then hops in his truck and sprints down to the bridge to open it for our passage. What an interesting job description!

The Dismal Swamp Visitor Center is the first highway rest area that I have ever seen that also provides free dockage for boats. This is a very nice facility, with employees that seem to be very happy that you are there. They provided us with everything we needed for our short visit, including a warning about ticks. Which we discovered later was not unfounded.

Across the canal is the Dismal Swamp State Park. They have a very informative little museum giving a history and ecological background on the swamp. There are also several hiking and biking trails throughout the park. We found this guy tucked under a log, as we strolled along the boardwalk that takes visitors out into the swamp.

What an unexpected moment! As we hiked through the woods, Jess looked over and saw a doe just at the edge of the trees. About that time this little guy spotted us and came over to check us out. He had absolutely no fear and acted like he would have gladly followed us anywhere.

This is a little difficult to see, but if you look closely you will see our new friend next to Jess as he tries to continue down the trail. We had to go in opposite directions, so that he couldn't figure out which way to go. Momma finally decided it was time to retrieve her wayward child, coming through the trees to convince him to follow her off into the woods.

Blackberry bushes are in full bloom. It looks like there is going to be a bumper crop this year. Wish I was going to be around when they are ready for picking!

This is a replica of the boats used to transport cedar shingles made from the white cedar trees growing in the swamp. They were a favorite roofing material because of their resistance to moisture and decay. These boats were poled along the towpaths beside the canal. When the canal system was first built it was only about 10 feet wide, making it possible to litterally drag these small vessels to market.

Obviously the swamp was not just a haven for wildlife. The remoteness of the area provided the perfect location for a variety of money making opportunities. Most legal, but not all.

The Superintendent of the canal was provided living quarters. It was probably quite nice in its day.

Deep Creek Lock takes us back down to the river level, as we come close to the end of our trip through the swamp.

The lock tender here is very helpful. He took the time to give us some great tips on what to do when we get to Norfolk. Without his suggestions we would have missed out on a really nice visit to Portsmouth. Robert has worked for the company running these locks for 21 years and his pride in his work certainly shows.

Coming to the end of our voyage back in time. Before heading on to our stop in Portsmouth, we went around the corner to Top Rack Marina for one night. They are famous for the best fuel prices around, and it is time to top off the tanks. They also have a Dock & Dine gimmick that provides boaters a one night free stay if we eat in their restaurant, the Amber Lantern. What a great excuse for dinner out! No regrets, probably the best prepared meal we have had on this trip. I had a seafood pasta that was very good, but Jess had a steak that was absolutely perfection!

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