Hungry Mother

“I don’t really get along with kids,” I told the sweet young staff member who was trying to find someone to fill in for her on Campfire-and-Marshmallows night.  “I mean, I do have one of my own, and I love him a lot–heck, I would let him have the last piece of pizza–but most others really get on my nerves.”

“That’s OK,” she replied without batting an eyelash at my curmudgeonly confession.  “Most of the campers who show up are adults.”

It turned out she was heading to Florida to help with Hurricane Irma clean-up efforts.  It is one thing to be a bit of a grouch.  It is quite another to be selfish in the face of selflessness and not do your part in providing assistance on the home front.  So, I accepted the task.

Besides, the evening would have one slice of saving grace:  part of my job would be to talk about the Legend of Hungry Mother, the legend that gave this fine state park in southwest Virginia its name.  And I do love history.  And stories.  And the challenge of unraveling a strand or two of truth from the tapestry of an engaging tale.

The event turned out just fine.  Several couples came with their children.  We enjoyed s’mores over a roaring fire and had a nice informal session where I talked a little about the park and its namesake legend.

Thanks to an idea that came from Miss Joyce, campground boss-lady extraordinaire who runs the office with the efficiency of a school teacher tempered by the grace and hospitality of a true southern lady, we started the evening with a perfect ice-breaker of a game.  That afternoon, Joyce and I had been discussing variations on the legend that gave Hungry Mother State Park its name and she reminded me of the childhood game where you whisper something into one person’s ear, they pass it along to the next person, and so on and so on, until the last person announces what they heard.  It is inevitably quite different from the original.

So, that evening around the campfire, I began our chain-whisper-legend with the first listener, whispering into her ear:  “There’s a 10-point stag up on Molly’s Knob waiting for a flat-footed bear to bring him a cheese and pepperoni sandwich.”

After completing the circle of whisperers, it had morphed into:  “A four foot man is bringing us a cheese and pepperoni sandwich.”  I was surprised we didn’t get a pizza by the end.  Perhaps if the chain had been longer and the participants hungrier, we would have.

For those of you who were not around the campfire that evening, here is the park’s version of the Legend of Hungry Mother, rooted in early American folklore:

Native Americans destroyed a settlement in a valley south of where the park currently is located.  Among the survivors taken to the raiders’ base camp to the north was a woman named Molly and her small child.  Molly and her child escaped and wandered through the wilderness eating berries to survive.  Molly finally collapsed and her child wandered down the creek until he/she found other settlers.  The only words the child could utter were “hungry mother.”  When searchers reached the foot of the mountain where Molly had collapsed, they found her, dead.  The mountain became known as Molly’s Knob, and the stream, Hungry Mother Creek.

A less exciting version (Indian raiders being totally absent) has a woman and her child living alone in a cabin on one of the mountain knobs in the area.  She apparently suffered some very hard times and starved to death.  When fellow settlers discovered her body, they found her child had survived because of the food the mother had left behind.

When the state park was developed in the early-to-mid 1930s, the creek was dammed to form Hungry Mother Lake and much of the surrounding area became park land.  As completion neared, there was great controversy over what to name the park.  Several options included:  Forest Lake State Park, Walker State Park, and Southwest Virginia State Park.  Thank goodness more imaginative heads prevailed.  A local newspaper referred to it as “Hungry Mother Park,” after the creek and the old legend, and the name stuck.

Complaints poured in over the name.  Many thought it terribly ugly.  One local news editor/historian lamented the choice, saying they might as well call it “Starvation Park.”  It was built and dedicated during the height of the Great Depression, so I can see how that might be a sensitive point.

Mack Sturgill, in his 1986 book, Hungry Mother:  History and Legends, concludes that key developers and promoters of the park gave it the name and promoted the accompanying legend as an advertising ploy.  Sturgill likens the stunt to “putting an old tale in a new bottle with a provocative label.”  He points out that the legend was not even widely known locally until after the park claimed it and that there are serious doubts about the content of the tale.

Whether you want to criticize or praise the park’s name, let alone delve into history to challenge the legend itself, you have to admit that the name, Hungry Mother, is catchy.  Consuming.

The tale also goes to show one feature of historical “fact” that has not changed over the course of time…


. . . Capture the imagination, you create memory . . .  Craft it through repetition, you manufacture truth.     CE-9/20/17




Virginia State Parks website, link:;

Sturgill, Mack H., Hungry Mother:  History and Legends, 2nd Ed. June 2001 (reissued by Friends of Hungry Mother State Park and sold at the park gift shop);

Linford, Margaret, genealogist and columnist for swva today, April 14, 2014 article, “String of Pearls:  Mystery and Controversy of Hungry Mother State Park’s Name.”  I can’t get the link to work but you can easily find it by googling key words.


Dawny and I have broken out of our rut and have taken a few day trips–some with friends!–into east Tennessee and far southwest Virginia these past couple of weeks.  This post shares some gems we have found for fellow campers interested in this area.  I put links to the parks at the end of the post for the convenience of interested readers.

First, we finally made it to the little campground in the mountains that we have been wanting to see since we arrived in Tennessee back in June.  Rock Creek Park Recreation Area is located in the Cherokee National Forest a few miles outside of Erwin, Tennessee.  The day-use area has a swimming hole carved into a hollow where the creek naturally flows, and there are nice hiking trails throughout the park.  Camping sites are thickly shaded and have electrical hookups.  Potable water is available from a shared spigot and there is a dump station.  Three campground loops contain a total of about three dozen camping sites.  They are on gravel pads, very roomy, and mostly level.  Sites are non-reservable and are rented on a first come, first served basis.  At just $20 per night, I would call Rock Creek a charmer of a deal.

FullSizeRender-1542For more primitive types (not meant as a personal crack but aimed at campers seeking a more natural experience with few amenities), the Horse Creek and Paint Creek Recreation Areas have small campgrounds with no hookups for just $10 per night.  Also located in the Cherokee National Forest, they lie south of Greeneville, Tennessee.  They provide gorgeous spots for picnicking, hiking, and creek swimming/wading.  Like Rock Creek, these campgrounds are also first come, first served.  Modest sized RV’s can fit on many of the sites, but they are heavily treed and hilly so the longer, taller rigs might find navigating and parking challenging, if not impossible.  In addition to there being no electrical or water hookups, there is no dump station.  For the more adventurous, minimalist camper, however, Horse Creek and Paint Creek are absolutely lovely.

FullSizeRender-886East of Greeneville is a state park campground attractive for history buffs and fans of Fess Parker alike.  Cue music…  Davy, Davy Crockett…  Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park in Limestone, Tennessee is unusual for state parks in this neck of the woods because it offers full hookups (Electric/Water/Sewer) as well as pull-through sites.  Perched on the banks of the Nolichucky River, the park boasts some nice hiking paths, picnic areas, a small boat ramp, and a pool.  A replica of the cabin Davy was born in and a visitors center/museum round out the experience.  Camping sites range from $13.50 for tent sites, $22.50 for E/W hookup (suitable for smaller RVs), and $27.50 for full hookup sites that can accommodate larger rigs.

Cautionary note:  Tennessee is so very, very proud of dear Davy that they actually have not one, but two state parks bearing his name.  The other one is David Crockett State Park in central Tennessee.  I don’t know if state authorities are just messing with our heads or they simply lack imagination.  In either case, take care to pick the one you actually want if you make reservations.

Heading northeast towards Virginia, Warriors Path State Park in Kingsport, Tennessee is very convenient to I-81 and about 20 miles from the Virginia border.  For RV campers, sites with E/W hookup run just $20 per night.  There are two dump stations.  Sites vary in size, with some suitable for smaller campers and others big enough for larger rigs.  Although the campground is cut into the side of a hill, most sites are fairly level with a good mix of sun and shade.  The campground is situated above the Patrick Henry Reservoir on the Holston River and offers loads of activities, including boating, hiking, picnicking, and fishing, with a pool, a golf course, and riding stables nearby.

Since we are so close, let’s make one stop in good old Virginia.  It’s a sweet one, trust me.  North of Kingsport, cross into Virginia on I-26/23 and head towards Big Stone Gap.  On the way, you will stumble upon Natural Tunnel State Park (Duffield, Virginia).  As is the case with all Virginia state parks, the camping fees are on the steep side ($35 for E/W for non-Virginia residents, $30 for residents), but it is a unique and beautiful place.  There are two campground loops on top of a mountain.  Sites are spacious and pretty level; some are shadier than others.  They also have rental cabins and a pool.

FullSizeRender-1535About halfway down the mountain is the Natural Tunnel day-use area and visitors center.  Several trails branch out from there, including a couple that go up the mountain and one that goes down.  One of the upper trails leads to Lovers Leap, the final launching point of a couple of Native American Romeo & Juliet types (alas for boundless, timeless–but not weightless–ill fated love).

For $4.00, a chairlift will take you safely to the bottom, but I did not trust that Dawny wouldn’t kill us both by hurtling over the lap-bar should they even let us on the thing in the first place.  So we took the trail.  At the bottom we met a cheerful little river (actually, now it is just a big creek) that worked together with ground water to carve a massive tunnel over 850 feet long, up to 100 feet high, and 200 feet wide through the guts of this mountain range over a million years ago.  Stuff like this just boggles my mind…  I love it!  In the late 19th century, entrepreneurs and engineers laid a railway line that accompanies the creek through the tunnel.  It is still in operation.

That ends today’s tour through this little patch of America.  Whether you be one of those sturdy tent-camping types or you pull a 40-foot fifth-wheel trailer, I hope you found something worthwhile.  Below are direct links to the parks I mentioned so that you can easily investigate details specific to your interests and situation.  Happy trails!

Rock Creek Park Recreation Area:

Horse Creek Recreation Area:

Paint Creek Recreation Area:

Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park:

Warriors Path State Park:

Natural Tunnel State Park:


Faith and Warm Fuzzies

You know you are nice and relaxed when you stop obsessing about the things you love to obsess about.

I have always loved maps.  Tracing winding roads and scaling dark green mountain ranges with my fingertips is a joy.  The advent of such miraculous technology as Google maps and its wondrous ability to switch from a road map to satellite imagery to street view can send me into a virtual rabbit hole for hours at a time.  While I miss the tactile experience one gets from thumbing through good old Rand McNally, zooming and zipping all over kingdom come with my little cursor gives McNally an excellent run for the money.

So imagine what a gentle shock it was as I lay in bed tonight trying to get to sleep and I realized that Dawny and I have a long road-trip day tomorrow and I haven’t completed my travel notes.  In nearly two years on the road, I have faithfully planned each leg of our trip with the aid of Messers McNally and Google.  My yellow legal pad is filled with directions down to the tenth of a mile accounting for each turn in each road leading to each stop on the way to the next destination.

Not this trip.

Maybe that has something to do with what a great visit it has been.  My son, his lady love, and some of his friends have graced me with many visits.  He is a wonderful young man and I am so very proud of him.  Old friends (I lived in this area for 30 years before hitting the road in 2014) have come by and shared many lovely walks, talks, and meals.  My workamping job went really well and I am getting to know the people here better each time we come.  They are a good bunch, and I feel like we belong.  All this great stuff adds up to give me a case of the warm fuzzies.  And distracts me from my maps.

But that’s OK.  I can take a quick look at Rand McGoogle before pulling out in the morning.  That will get us to our first stop just fine.  After all, it’s a route we’ve taken before, just in reverse.  How hard can it be?  All we need is to have a little faith.

I think faith is the opposite of obsession.  And warm fuzzies help to feed faith.  And friends and family feed the warm fuzzies.  All is good with this little corner of the world, with my heart and my soul, with my life in this moment.  I gratefully accept that gift as I look forward to the next leg of our journey.

(For any campers looking for a beautiful campground in the DC suburbs of Northern Virginia, Pohick Bay Regional Park is in Lorton, VA, about 10 miles south of Mt. Vernon.  It is a wonderful place for families with children (water park, mini-golf, playgrounds) and for people who love boating (boat ramps, boat rentals, fishing).  They also have an incredible network of wooded hiking trails.  For anyone interested in checking them out, here is a link to their main website: