County Hunter

The itch to continuously visit new counties kept stalking me. I did really well this year with a long road trip back from Missouri in April. Then I drove all over the Midwest in June. Finally I took the whole family through the Four Corners region of New Mexico and Colorado. My county counting tally stood at 1,425 by the end of the summer and yet I still wanted more. Unfortunately, I’d used up most of my vacation hours for the year. I needed to find the closest unvisited county and hit it on a weekend. Three options existed, all two-or-more hours away. Nothing closer remained anymore.

Pocahontas County, West Virginia

Forest Moon of Endor? No. Green Bank, West Virginia - 1
Forest Moon of Endor? No. Green Bank, West Virginia. Photo by Stephen Little on Flickr (cc)

I should be able to reach to nearest border of Pocahontas County in about 3 hours and 20 minutes. Certainly this would be too far for a dash-and-grab, stepping my toe across the border and heading back home. That would make a round trip of nearly seven hours just to color a single county on my map. Even I thought that sounded ridiculous.

Fortunately, if I decided to select Pocahontas for my excursion, I could find a couple of interesting activities waiting for me there. The media featured Pocahontas periodically because of the town of Green Bank, home of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Scientists searched for aliens with that telescope among other things. In support, the government created a large National Radio Quiet Zone around the observatory to prevent interference with its delicate instruments. Nobody could use a mobile phone, a WiFi router or even a microwave oven within twenty miles of Green Bank. The town also attracted some rather unusual residents in recent years as a result; those who believed that they suffered from electromagnetic hypersensitivity.

Elsewhere in Pocahontas I could visit the Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort. It offered year-round activities like many ski resorts do now. I could probably get there just in time to see the leaves change colors if I left sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Atlantic County, New Jersey

Atlantic City
Atlantic City. Photo by Eric Haake on Flickr (cc)

A little closer to home, 2 hours and 45 minutes away, I could be in Atlantic County, New Jersey. Theoretically. However, I’d need to thread the needle perfectly to avoid miserable traffic on dreaded Interstate 95. It could also take a lot longer. Then I’d need to add another half-hour to get to the only attraction worth seeing, Atlantic City. Can anyone believe I’ve never been to Atlantic City? I don’t know how that happened. I’ve had a number of opportunities over the year and yet I’ve never made the trip. Gambling isn’t my thing so that explains most of the reason. There are plenty of closer beaches.

Still, I wouldn’t mind strolling along the famous boardwalk, enjoying the flash of casino lights and hunting for every street from the Monopoly game. Really, to be honest, I’d use this as a springboard for a longer drive to capture Atlantic, Ocean and Monmouth Counties. This neatly aligned trio of counties remained the only ones in New Jersey I’ve yet to capture. Then I could mark New Jersey done.

Huntingdon and Blair Counties, Pennsylvania

Route to Huntingdon and Blair
Route to Huntingdon and Blair (Dark Blue)

Instead I chose Huntingdon and Blair Counties in Pennsylvania. I could get to Huntingdon in as little as two hours, the absolutely closest county I’ve yet to visit. I could push deep into Blair all the way to Altoona, the regions largest city, in about three. The Twelve Mile Circle audience won’t find out what I discovered just yet. I’ll keep readers in suspense. However, expect to see an article on Huntingdon and another on Blair in the coming days.

Green Bank and Atlantic City will be visited someday too. Maybe in the Spring. We’ll see.

Jamestown Field Trip

I had the pleasure of serving a parent chaperone for my son’s school field trip to Jamestown last week. Admittedly, the thought of accompanying two busloads of children aged nine-to-ten sounded a bit daunting and it definitely had its challenges at times. I thought it was going to unfold like an uglier and much less enjoyable version of Weekend Roady but it turned out for the best. I’m not sure what magic the teachers possess but I’d like to get my hands on some of it. The little darlings behaved much better for their teachers than they’ve ever behaved for their parents.

We are a bit spoiled in a sense in the Washington, DC area. The kids take two or three field trips a year to various sites along the National Mall and the string of Smithsonian museums. That would be the “big trip” for many schoolchildren further afield who might visit the Nation’s capital perhaps a single time in their pre-adult lives if they’re lucky.

Fourth grade provides an opportunity to explore beyond the Beltway. The curriculum shifts to state history for the duration of the school year. This draws considerable attention to various sites along the Virginia Peninsula located between the James and York Rivers.

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The students had been studying the first permanent English settlement in what would later become the United States — Jamestown – and now they were about to see it in person. Two buses rolled from the elementary school parking lot with military precision at exactly 7:00 am for the two and a half hour drive. We arrived just as the kids became restless with the chatter starting to approach slightly unbearable volumes.

The original Jamestown Settlement of 1607 no longer exits. In fact, the original location was lost to history and thought to be submerged beneath the James River until archaeologists rediscovered it in 1996. The current park is a best-guess estimate of the Jamestown Settlement and its surrounding environment presented in a living-history format. In that sense it’s a lot like its adjacent neighbor, Williamsburg (my visit)

We left the buses and followed a tour led by docents. The weather happened to be stunningly perfect: sunny and about 60°f. (16°c.). It doesn’t get any better than that in Virginia in early December. It’s an odd time of year for a tour conducted primarily outdoors and it could have resulted in an entirely different outcome. We thanked our good fortune and pressed onward.

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History curricula at these grade levels often begin with the arrival of Englishmen on the peninsula as if nothing else of consequence existed beforehand. The Algonquins of the Powhatan tribe might beg to differ, and to the museum’s credit that is where the tour began.

Powhatan Algonquin

The Powhatan Confederacy included some 15,000 people in numerous tributary groups located along the rivers of Virginia’s coastal plain. They lived in structures called yehakins built of woven mats tied to wooden frames of bent saplings. The society relied on farming and hunting, and they settled in stationary villages. The Powhatan were not nomads. Even today, four hundred years later, the Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes of Powhatan Indians retain a remnant of their ancestral lands in Virginia’s Northern Neck.

The students had an opportunity to tour through the yehakins, watch a cooking demonstration, scrape fur from a deer hide, learn about toolmaking, and pound dried corn into cornmeal.

Replica Ships at Jamestown

The tour shifted to the arrival of the English settlers on three ships led by Christopher Newport: Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery. I’ve seen reproductions of colonial-era ships before and their diminutive size always amazes me. It’s hard to imagine anyone taking something so small across an ocean. The one pictured above — the reproduced Susan Constant — is the largest of the three. Discovery measured less than forty feet long and yet carried twenty-one men on a open-ocean voyage lasting five months.

We also got a great view of the Jamestown-Scotland ferry unloading vehicles although I was probably the only person impressed by that.

The Fort at Jamestown

Next we moved on to the settlement itself, a replica of the triangular fort built to protect inhabitants from Native Americans who’d become increasingly annoyed with trespassers and interlopers. Here I noticed a considerable gender difference within our little group of visitors: while the girls seemed to find interests within the totality of the experience, the boys were all about the guns. It’s gender stereotyping, and yet, even at ages nine and ten the children seemed to fall within predictable camps.

We left at 2:00. The teachers mollified their fidgeting hordes by playing a movie on the overhead screens (all other electronics being prohibited for the entire trip): Pocahontas. One can’t talk about Jamestown without mentioning Pocahontas, right? Even this small act hid and educational motivation behind it. The historical inaccuracies of the Disney version practically jumped from the screen when compared side-by-side to the day’s events. The children had great fun poking at various errors, unprompted.

I off course felt compelled to mention the My Little Poni paradox at an appropriate spot along the highway, resulting in an eye-roll from my son. What good is chaperoning if one can’t embarrass one’s own child in front of his peers? Otherwise the return trip was unremarkable and we arrived only ten minutes late. Anyone familiar with Washington, DC traffic on a Friday afternoon will realize that this was a minor miracle in itself.

I’m glad I went. I’m also glad it was only a day trip.