I am a husband and father which means I spend a lot of time thinking about the forces that impact families. I am a runner which means I love to compete and participate in big events. I am also a life-long student of history and anthropology which means I spend a lot of time studying major happenings and dissecting the motivations that cause people to do the senseless things they do. This week, it may be understood why I just needed to write about nature.
It is critical for me to quell the confusing noise in my head from time to time. For that, I head to the river. One of my favorite places is R. Garland Dodd Park at Point of Rocks. It is one of the gems in Chesterfield’s park collection. It has many of the amenities one would expect in a suburban park: soccer and baseball fields, tennis and basketball courts, picnic shelters, restrooms and a playground. What sets it apart from other parks is its beautiful setting on the Appomattox River and its braided network of natural-area trails that follow the banks of the river and Ashton Creek.
The park’s natural area is one of the most pristine in the Richmond area and as close to wilderness as it gets without driving two hours to Shenandoah NP. The trails are enveloped by a mature hardwood forest and some boast huge mountain laurels that form tunnels of green, ivory and violet that completely encircle hikers and bikers. Along the river’s edge it is common to spot bald eagles, red-wing blackbirds and kingfishers. The trails also nod to the past, as some are nearly paved with prehistoric pottery and stone tool fragments.
It is usually difficult for me to choose my favorite part of a natural area park but, here it is pretty easy. The freshwater tidal marsh at the mouth of Ashton Creek is the kind of destination that is seen on postcards. It is accessed by a floating boardwalk that rises and falls with the water and provides the best views in the park. The marsh has broad stands of arrow arum and pickerel weed that stretch out of sight and form huge nurseries for amphibians and reptiles. I am always looking for spots with few or no modern intrusions. The only modern thing visible at this place is the boardwalk that gets you there.
This week I had an urgent need to escape modern interruptions, so I went to Point of Rocks. I took a camera with me – so there was one modern intrusion. I am not a gifted photographer but these images are a decent representation of what I saw and I did my best to describe how it made me feel.
Where to go:R. Garland Dodd Park at Point of Rocks, 201 Enon Church Road, Chester, VA 23836
It took less than five minutes to assemble these pieces of the past. The trails at Point of Rocks are covered with these stone flakes – the waste material from the creation of Native American stone tools. Note the flat edge where the piece was struck by another stone and the rounded bulb where the percussion traveled through the material causing it to flake off. Bit by bit, stones were reduced in this fashion to reveal the spear point, arrow head or tool in the middle.
The mouth of Ashton Creek at Point of Rocks. The confluence of the creek and Appomattox River forms a large tidal marsh that hosts wetland grasses, arrow arum and pickerel weed. The water remains shallow most of the time so predatory fish cannot reach the young amphibians and reptiles that find shelter in this nursery. The floating boardwalk undulates as you walk across it.
Yes, this is in Chesterfield County. Like I said, I am not a gifted photographer. I took many pictures of the Appomattox River and this was the best one. There are a handful of places in the Richmond area where one can go to completely escape the urban environment. This is one of them. Note the lovely lack of anything made by humans.
This was the best shot of the bunch. I caught our state tree at just the right moment – it wasn’t moving. Point of rocks has many flowering dogwoods. They are much more cooperative photo subjects than the state bird, the cardinal. I tried to snap a shot of the bird several times but it got away. The dogwood doesn’t have a choice.
Another great feature at Point of Rocks is this broad meadow – a haven for butterfly watchers. Come back in a few weeks when the flowers are in bloom and you will witness the fluttering courtship of winged lovers. I stood in this silent meadow for over 30 minutes. I did not see another person.