We left the Raleigh area on May 1st and began our journey back to Michigan through New England. When we began our life as full-time RVers we never planned to visited every one of the 50 states. However, last year we realized that we only had thirteen left and it became a goal (at least to me!). When we ended 2016 in Tampa, FL we only had six states left and they were all in New England. As we made out plans for 2017, we decided to check off these last six states.
From North Carolina we planned to drive through Norfolk to go to Delaware (#1), then to New Jersey (#2), through Connecticut (#3), then Rhode Island (#4), spend Memorial Day in Massachusetts before driving to New Hampshire (#5), and camp near Grand Isle in Vermont (#6). We wanted to be back in Michigan by mid-June so some of the stops would be only 1-2 days, with longer stays in other areas.
The Hampton Roads area of Virginia is full of military installations from all services and offers a variety of military campgrounds to choose from. We decided to try the Sea Mist RV Park at Oceana Naval Air Station near Virginia Beach. We really had no plans of what we would do in Virginia Beach, other than going to the beach. We stopped at the Virginia Welcome Center on our way to Sea Mist and picked up some brochures. At the base Information Tickets and Travel (ITT) office we got more information, purchased passes for a cruise of the Norfolk harbor, and spent the rest of the day planning.
The campground was nice, with full hook ups and only a short walk to the beach. The next morning we enjoyed our morning walk by walking along the beach and then back through the base to our trailer. We saw all kinds of sea gulls, a couple of sting rays that had washed up on the beach and a couple of dolphins playing offshore – a very entertaining walk.
After cleaning up we visited the Cape Henry Lighthouse at Fort Story. The Cape Henry Light was the first federally funded, public works project of the new United States, commissioned in 1789. President George Washington personally reviewed the requirements and contracts for the construction. It is one of nine octagonal lighthouses that exist today. As a lighthouse fanatic, this was a “must see” for me.
After the lighthouse we enjoyed a rather breezy lunch on the patio of CP Shuckers (the food and service were great!), and walked down to the Virginia Beach Boardwalk and former Coast Guard Lifesaving Station.
Wednesday, May 3rd we drove to the Norfolk Naval Station. Pat had found that tours were offered of the base, which is the largest Navy Base in the country. We figured we could just drive around and do the tour on our own. We stopped in the tour office and I was pleased to see it was run by the Navy. After checking my ID card they showed me the tour route, pointed out some specific things we may want to see, and sent us on our way. They mentioned that the aircraft carrier, the Gerald R. Ford was in port. “How great is that?” I thought. President Ford was a native of Grand Rapids, MI. The Ford is the first of its class and will replace the current Nimitz class carriers. The Ford was launched in 2013, is undergoing sea trials, and scheduled to be commissioned this year. We drove along the piers and were able to find a parking spot near the carrier and walked along to pier to see not only the Gerald R. Ford, but the George Washington and the Abraham Lincoln, both Theodore Roosevelt class carriers.
I found it fascinating to wander along the pier and watch the work going on each vessel. As we walked we would see a ship I didn’t recognize and Pat would Google the ship’s number to find out more information – what a great way to tour a Navy Base! After the piers we stopped at memorials for the USS Iowa, the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack (CSS Virginia) that took place right off shore from the Norfolk Naval Station, and the USS Cole, that was attacked and severely damaged in Yemen on October 12, 2000.
After a quick lunch, we drove to Norfolk to tour the harbor on the three-masted schooner, American Rover. We arrived well before our departure time and wandered along the riverfront. We walked past the new Waterside District, a restaurant and entertainment venue, that would make its “soft” opening in a couple of days. It was too bad we were scheduled to leave before then, it looked like a great place for dinner.
A short distance away was Nauticus, a maritime-themed science museum. Its https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/museums/hrnm.htmllargest artifact is the battleship, the USS Wisconsin. The Hampton Roads Naval Museum is on the second floor of Nauticus and is free to the public.
The American Rover cruise was a great experience. We motored past several commercial shipyards with their dry docks, filled with assorted ships being repaired, as our captain described them. He delivered an ongoing commentary of the activities and facilities along the shore, such as the ships of the Navy’s Reserve Fleet (transport ships in storage that can be brought to an operational status in a matter of days) and the Portsmouth Naval Hospital, the largest in the country. At the mouth of the Elizabeth River the crew hoisted the sails and we sailed back to our dock near the Waterside District.
On our last day we traveled south to the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. We hiked along the beach for a distance before turning inland to hike through the wetlands between the Atlantic Ocean and Redhead Bay. This barrier island is a habitat to many native wildlife as well as migrating birds. We saw turtles, egrets, heard Clappers (a bird whose cry sounds like two rocks being clapped together), and saw our first Redwing Blackbirds. After circling back to the Visitor Center, we launched our kayaks into Redhead Bay. We had hoped to paddle along the barrier island and explore some of the small coves we had seen on our hike, but the winds had grown in strength and, rather than wear ourselves out fighting them, we made it a short loop and headed back to the launch.
In hind sight, we probably should have planned to spend more time in the area. As we packed up we talked about returning to explore the area in more detail on another trip.
On Friday, May 5th we headed north to Bethany Beach, DE.