Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a Road Scholar program ( www.roadscholar.org ) called "The Appalachian Experience", # 9482.  My friend, Diane, took this photo of me, with hands uplifted in thanksgiving---praising the God of Creation, for the beautiful landscape in front of us.  The scene was on a mountain top (elevation 4, 365 feet) that is about a two hour hike from Mountain Lake Lodge (www.mtnlakelodge.com ) which served as headquarters for the program. 
This area is famous for its fall foliage changing colors in the hardwood forests that cover the mountains.  The date of our program (September 13-18) was a little early to see much color change, but I was able to find at least one maple tree that was displaying its new autumn "wardrobe"!
I put the camera on automatic, and snapped this photo of Diane and me at the summit, with the Appalachian Mountains, and mist in the valleys, visible behind us.  We made the ascent as soon as breakfast was over, and before our program started at 9 am, in order to beat the heat and gnats!

When we got to our meeting room, the group was working away on our activity for the morning. 

Upon returning from our hike, we each got to make our very own "corn husk doll", and take it home with us as a souvenir!

This is our group of  crafty doll-makers, displaying their hand-made creations.  I was amused and astonished at the way our group seemed to become totally immersed in completing the corn-husk-doll-making-Appalachian tradition!

This inviting veranda was just outside the door of our doll-making room, but not one of the  participants seemed ready to relax on the veranda, until they had competed making their souvenir doll!

After lunch, we all piled into the Mountain Lake Lodge van, and started out through the back roads of Giles County, Virginia, to make our way to the remote location of our afternoon activity. 

The road took us across the New River, which (despite its name), is said to be one of the OLDEST rivers in the world!

After several minutes of driving on paved, then gravel, then dirt roads---we arrived at Buckeye Ranch. 

There we met the blacksmith, who was going to teach us about her craft, not just by demonstrating it herself, but also by letting us make an iron creation ourselves!

This photo shows me decked out in the safety gear of heavy gloves, apron, and protective eye wear, ready to "forge on" to a new experience.

With a great deal of help and encouragement, I was able to take a piece of iron, heat it to red hot in the coals, hammer and bend  it on the anvil while it was hot, reheat it, put it in a vice, then move the vice to create the twist, and "voila!"  I made an iron hook!  I have it proudly displayed in my living room!

Besides the blacksmithing classes/shop, this is also the location of the world famous "Buckeye Banjo" workshop.  This photo shows us with the artisan who makes these one-of-a-kind, custom-designed musical instruments. 

The customer can choose the inlaid design they want on the arm of their banjo---animals, plants, paisleys, initials---whatever!

You can learn more about both the blacksmith classes, as well as the Buckeye Banjos, by visiting their website at www.BuckeyeBanjos.com .

The blacksmith and banjo maker were kind enough to let us go inside their home to look around and use the restroom.  It seemed to reflect the mountain culture we were studying, including the large bass fiddle, propped up in the corner of the room!

This view from the porch of the home shows our group gathered around the outdoor kitchen that the owners use for their numerous music fests.

The group took a stroll across this footbridge, and into the nearby fields, to see the honeybee operation that we learned about.

Each of us was given a jar of the honey these insects had produced---just for us!

When we returned to Mountain Lake Lodge, we had the last of our very delicious suppers, topped off with trays of pastries and fresh fruit. 

After supper, we gathered in Mary's Barn at Mountain Lake Lodge, to hear some very talented musicians, play their banjo, fiddle, and guitar for some fantastic toe-tapping mountain music. 

On the last day of the program, I was loading up my car, and gazed out over the beauty of the valley.  The cabin on the left is where the parents of  "Baby"(Jennifer Gray) stayed in the movie, Dirty Dancing.  The mist in the valley is coming off the lake.

This fire pit was available every evening of our program, and a Mountain Lake employee dutifully built a fire, and had it available for anyone who wanted to sit beside it.  It was also the site of a "somores" culinary extravaganza, for those who cannot resist that famous fireside treat!

Just a short distance down the mountain from Mountain Lake Lodge, this overlook platform provides a place to stop and snap a photo.  My friend Diane, is shown checking out the scenery, in this photo.

This historic church is also very close to Mountain Lake Lodge, and we stopped there as we were leaving, to take a few photos.  The scene is a reminder to me to give thanks for the opportunity to attend this particular program, but especially for the last 24 hours of the program, that these photos represent.  I am using it as a visual aid for my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verse from James 1:17 that says, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow or turning."  This experience was defintely a "good and perfect gift from above", and it gave me "MILES OF SMILES"!  Tricia


Mountain Lake Lodge ( www.mtnlakelodge.com ), near Pembroke, Virginia, is a historic resort property within the Appalachian Mountain Range of the eastern United States of America.  Besides the typical resort amenities of tennis courts, swimming pool, archery, and hiking trails, it also has this gigantic chess game area on the front lawn!
The reason I was at the resort was to attend a Road Scholar ( www.roadscholar.org ) Program #9482, entitled "Appalachian Experience".  If this exterior looks a little bit familiar, it is probably because the property was the setting for an extremely popular movie of the 1980's, that was filmed here .

This cozy public space near the entrance was an open veranda when the movie was filmed, but has now been enclosed to allow for comfortable relaxing all year long.

This impressive carving near the entrance was made from a hemlock tree stump that was submerged under the deep waters of adjacent Mountain Lake for hundreds of years.  During a time when the lake was at a low cycle of its natural "up and down" lake level, it was pulled from its watery grave, and turned into a very eye-catching sculpture. The carver who worked on it calls it "The King in Waiting".   

Notice the carved inscription "THE HOUSE OF MOODY" above the fireplace.  It is a reference to Mary Moody Northen who was the owner of the resort.  This is the same family that is prominent in Galveston, Texas.  Perhaps you have visited the Moody Mansion in Galveston---same Moody family!  If it had not been for the decision to include the resort as a part of the non-profit "Mountain Lake Conservancy", it is doubtful that Mountain Lake Lodge could have survived in its present form.  The mission of the Mountain Lake Conservancy is to further Mary Moody Northen's desire to forge bonds between people and nature in Mountain Lake's unique environment. 

One way to encourage guests to get out of their rooms, and out on to the nature trails, is to not have televisions, radios, or phones in the guest rooms.  I have included this photo that shows the lounge, because it was the location of the only television in the lodge.  Folks could hang out in the lounge and see the "talking heads" on television telling about all the problems going on in the rest of the world.  Lest you think that staying there might give you an anxiety attack because of not being around a 24-hour-a-day news channel, there is free WIFI throughout the lodge, so one can check on the Internet for prn "doses" of the status of the outside world.

This photo shows our Road Scholar group in the Harvest Dining Room of the lodge.  We had all of our meals there, and were allowed to order off their regular menu at lunch and supper.  There were ample choices of beef, pork, chicken, seafood, pasta, or vegetarian entrees.  At breakfast, we had a magnificent buffet each morning, which allowed the group to choose how early, or late, they wanted to "break their fast"!

This photo of me is a reminder to say that no event calling itself an "Appalachian Experience", is complete without a "shout out" to the Appalachian Trail ( www.appalachiantrail.org ), commonly abbreviated as AT.  Although the AT does not run directly through the resort property, it is just a "hop-skip-and a jump" to get to a section of it that runs through western Virginia.
One of the things you will pass on the road from the resort to the Appalachian Trail is a Civil War Memorial at "Minnie Ball Hill".  The memorial  tells about a group of soldiers who had to leave a large cache of ammunition (called minnie balls), along with many other accouterments of war, behind at this location, because it became too much for them to transport across the steep mountains and deep valleys of this section of Appalachia.  When I first saw the metal soldier silhouettes, with the setting sun reflecting off of them, they seemed to glow and come alive!  I could almost feel their exertion, because I had felt that same exertion traversing those trails---and I was not carrying heavy artillery or being shot at!  What a sad time the Civil War was in the history of our country---a time when brother fought against brother, and love was in short supply.
Fortunately, unlike the North vs. the South of the Civil War,  there was no fighting amongst our Road Scholar group during this week of togetherness!  In fact, our leader, Rachel, told the group on several occasions how remarkable it was to be around a group of people who seemed to be so cordial and kind to one another!  It reminded me of one of my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verses from I John 4:21 that says, "He has given us this command:  Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister."  This photo shows our group at a popular overlook on the Appalachian Trail that we hiked to, called Wind Rock. 

An integral part of the Appalachia Experience is folk dancing.  Our group was able to learn a few of the traditional movements, while listening to live music being played by a local fiddler, while his wife called out the names of the square dance moves.  It made for a lot of laughs , as we twisted and twirled and got dizzier by the minute! (p.s. If I told you that we were wearing our DIRTY hiking clothes when we were doing the old fashioned square DANCING, you could say it is a clue to the name of the movie that was filmed here!)

As mentioned earlier, archery is one of the classes taught at the resort, and our leader Rachel gave us a few tips on how to hold the bow, place our arrow, then shoot at the target.  Also located near this archery range, is a ropes course and zip line.

Appalachia is famous for its musicians, and this photo shows The McKenzies ( www.mckenziemusic.com ), who have been popular performers in this area for decades.  Besides demonstrating a variety of stringed instruments, they taught us history about music in the area, and were the couple that got the group off their seats, up on their feet, and out on the barn dance floor!

This photo shows the reader the movie that was filmed at Mountain Lake Lodge---Dirty Dancing---starring Jennifer Gray and Patrick Swayze.  The building is a small museum full of memorabilia from the filming, including a constantly-running video available of the movie.  There is also a map of the resort property that shows where famous scenes from the story were shot.  One of our group's night-time activities was to watch the movie together, and enjoy some popcorn to make the experience complete!

There is a large memorial stone to Patrick Swayze, who died in 2009 from pancreatic cancer.  When I signed up for Road Scholar Program #9482, my choice was based solely on the fact that it was a week I had free in my schedule, and it was within a 24 hour day's drive.  Before that time, I had given little thought to learning about Appalachian Culture.  However, one thing I had given thought to, was the scenic location of the movie, "Dirty Dancing".  I had always assumed ( as was implied during the movie) that it was filmed in upstate New York.  It made me want to travel to upstate New York, and stay in a resort like the one in the movie.  Imagine my delight to find out that a Road Scholar program I had randomly selected, was going to have me staying in the very resort that had been in my mind's eye for three decades----that gives me "MILES OF SMILES"!!