|I have paddled nearly 80% of the rivers in the Chesapeake Bay. The largest "desert" in my trip chart is the western shore of the Chesapeake in Virginia - some of the Potomac, the Rappahannock, York and James rivers and their tributaries. It just always seems an effort to get down there when there is so much to do closer to home.
I was all packed up and planned for a trip with friends to False Cape Virginia. The first night was to be spent at Chickahominy Riverfront Park - a way of splitting up the drive and working out the logistics of the 7 hour trip. When weather put a damper on the enthusiasm of the other paddlers, I decided to use my already packed gear and car and freed up weekend and go to Chickahominy anyway.
The most efficient route to the Chickahominy Riverfront Park where I intended to stay was past Richmond via Washington and I-95. I opted for a slower but more scenic route down US 301 and across the Potomac. This added about 45 minutes to the trip but I really didn't care. I also took a little side excursion to the boat ramp on Morris Creek which I planned to paddle the second day. There I took pictures of the ramp for the launch site listing on this site. Downstream from the ramp was this lovely cypress and my first peek at what lay ahead for the weekend.
I arrived at the park around noon. It was Veteran's Day and there were no employees there to take fees, so I just went on to the sites. Very few were occupied. The oaks were still in their fall foliage unlike the trees in the Baltimore region which had lost the majority of their leaves. I got a nice site, #50, right on the water with its own sand beach and a picnic table down by the water. There shore was lined by cypress. I settled into the site and prepared the kayak for an afternoon paddle around Gordon Island. I also wanted to paddle up into the creek on the northeast end of the island. It wandered up another 3 miles, doubling the distance of my planned route to nearly 12 statute miles.
The Chickahominy is filled with native wild rice, most of whose grains had already fallen. As a rich source of food for wild birds, there is an extensive Wild Life Management Area on the other side of the river which I planned to paddle to the next day. Here on this side there were extensive marshes of the wispy stalks, flooded by the extraordinarily high water I would experience the entire weekend. The other major plant here were cattails in various stages of seeding. The Tuckahoe and pond lilies had all abandoned their leaves and disappeared to the mud on the bottom.
I launched the boat from the picnic table beach and paddled north to the point. There a copse of cypress with knees sticking up above the waters of half tide stood as sentinels for the entrance for the creek. The water was very shallow here and my boat lurched to one side as I ran up on one of the shallow underwater roots.
Around the point were more campsites, but none of them had water access. Soon however I had reached the boat ramp attached to the campground. Launching here is $3.00 if you are not staying at the campground, whose substantial fee covers launching as well. Past the ramp there were more campsites, some of which had water access during high tide at least. There are more than 170 campsites at the park. I imagine that reservations might be difficult during the summer as the campground is not far from Williamsburg, a very popular tourist destination.
The sun on the opposite bank was highlighting a profusion of fall colors as I paddled in the shade of the southern bank. I crossed over to the other side to take advantage of the warmth of the sun.
Only six weeks from winter solstice, the sun sets early at this time of year. The lowering sun began to take a reddish hue reflecting off the grasses of the marsh as I paddled north and west around Gordon Island.
The sun hit the horizon as I was finishing the last of the creek around the island out to the main channel of the river.
Now not only was the water surface unmarked by any wind but the little waves of just fifteen minutes ago had dissipated leaving a glass like surface reflecting the outlines of cypress and oak along the bank. The sun was slipping fast beneath the horizon and the unseasonable warmth of the day was fading as quickly. Soon it would be dark. I picked up my pace so as to not be caught in complete black as I paddled the two miles back to my campsite. I arrived just as the heavy darkness fell, easily finding the little beach, hauling the kayak up to a sturdy tree where I locked it up and then ran off to the shower building for a sporadically warm shower.
The next morning I got up early and paddled out to try and catch the sun rising over the James River. I was a little late getting out there. By the time I cleared the point of the Chicahominy as it juts out into the three mile wide James River, the sun had risen above the horizon. I returned to camp for some breakfast. At my site the sun was lighting up the leaves but the ground was in shadow and it was cold.
The first evening I had seen many muskrat lodges made from the collected stems of cat tail. Here is one I could not decided if it was the king of the muskrats or belonged to it's larger cousin the beaver. The large side and open water around this impressive mound of stalks made me think it was Bucky's place. What do you think?
The cypress trees up this creek were much larger than the previous night's specimens. This pair was backlighted by the reds and yellows of "normal" trees growing on the edge of the bank. The rust colored needles of the world's only deciduous conifers had not yet started to fall. Only the seeds from the round "cones" seemed to be leaving the branches, plopping like bits of dirt into the water at the fluted boles of the trees, floating off on the surface among the strange knees.
On the way back I split off from the group which went on to the Morris Creek Launch ramp for a late lunch. I found a couple of side creeks, both of which were spectacular. Everybody made it back to camp without incident.
After the shower, the sunset provided multiple picture taking opportunities. ( P1 P2 P3 P4 P5 )
The last day started with a low fog over the campground. My shoulder was still sore, so I abandoned plans to paddle on Chickahominy Lake, contenting myself with scouting some launch sites and making the five hour drive home. I am definitely going to come here next year. There is at least a week of paddling in this river alone and another one or two paddling nearby areas.
Click for a YouTube movie of the trip....