A Day With Shay – Part 1 Cupcakes, Giraffes & Stone Mountains

6:18PM February 17, 2018
Written by Pam Vance

Article Written by Shay Wilson, Breaks Interstate Park

We’re starting off 2017 by adding a new string of blogs called “A Day with Shay!” If the title is any indication, my name is Shay and this series is my own personal introduction to the Heart of Appalachia. While the natives of southwestern Virginia know all the activities or locations that make this area so amazing, people like me who are visiting, passing through or recently moved here don’t have that information readily available. Over the course of this year, I’ll be headed on this adventure of discovering the seven counties and the City of Norton that make up the Heart of Appalachia.

A proper introduction would probably make the most sense. As I said, my name is Shay, I’m 24 years old, from Baton Rouge, Louisiana and moved to southwest Virginia in November 2015. The question I always receive the second I mention where I’m from is, “well, how’d you manage to find this place?” I was introduced to this area through a community service program known as AmeriCorps. Long story short, AmeriCorps has a bunch of service programs for each state depending on what the state needs. For my two terms of service, I served and worked at Virginia State Parks, my region of focus happened to be in the southwestern part of the state. And as crazy as it sounds, I fell in love with the mountains and the unique culture surrounding the area. It seemed only natural to make the move a little more permanent.

I started out my adventure by exploring parts of Scott County, beginning the day, unsurprisingly, for a shot of caffeine and sugar at The Family Bakery. Walking inside just immediately made me smile. The set-up of the bakery just makes you feel at home, and if I could have, I would’ve spent all day to try everything on their menu. You’re in luck though, you could close your eyes and point at something and I guarantee it’d be delicious! Whether you start out with something savory like their homemade potato soup or, like me, immediately went for something sweet like their Peanut Butter Cup cupcake. The frosting-to-cupcake ratio is perfect and every bite is like a dream. And no matter what type or flavor of coffee you get, it somehow pairs perfectly with your cupcake.

Once I was geared up with coffee, got the sleep out of my eyes, I went further into Gate City and found a zoo, Creation Kingdom Zoo to be exact. At first, I’ll be honest, I was skeptical. How could there possibly be a zoo in the middle of the mountains? I thought it was all a hoax, conjuring in my mind that it was someone’s farm with cows and horses but yet again, I was proven wrong. Creation Kingdom Zoo creates one of the coolest and most exotic zoo experiences I’ve ever had. Within the first five steps, you’re surrounded by animals, Wildebeests roaming to your right and parrots enjoying the shade of a little pavilion. At the time, Creation Kingdom had just gotten a baby giraffe, Tucker, and oh my gosh, he was adorable! Awkward and graceful at the same time, Tucker put on a show, running around his pen then shyly walking closer to the fence to try to figure me and the other guests out. After taking a million and one photos, I managed to pull myself away from the giraffe and stayed in awe as I roamed around finding every kind of animal possible from tigers to Sloth bears to types of monkeys I’ve never heard of to the ever majestic llama.

To end my first day of exploration, I was driven out towards Lee County for my first ATV experience with Spearhead Trails on Stone Mountain. A growing trend in this blog is that I never think much of an activity, not in a bad way, but that I never really considered why people thought certain things were “fun”. I used to help build sustainable hiking trails so the idea of an ATV running up and down a mountain seemed counterproductive to my service’s agenda. Though when we walked in, getting strapped up and ready to ride, it was explained that Spearhead Trails makes sustainable trails catered to ATVs and off-road vehicles. With my own personal issues aside, we hit the trail! Now when I say I laughed and screamed the whole way up and down the mountain, I’m being totally serious. You manage to feel free while bumping and sliding around your seat and every few moments you think you’re going to crash but you end up spinning around the tight corners and have the time of your life. Even with the dust caked on my face and in my hair, I finally get why so many people love riding ATVs. It’s an adrenaline rush you cannot replicate with anything else!

I was more than exhausted, ready to pass out the second we got in the car to head back, but it was totally worth it! This might seem like a lot to do in one day, but it’s easy to make it into a weekend full of fun. Go to the zoo on a Saturday then conquer Stone Mountain (or one of their other trails) on Sunday. Either way, this was a great first step into finding out what makes the Heart of Appalachia so special to the people who live here. And honestly? I cannot wait for what’s to come next!

Every month, we’ll be posting a new part to this series so please be on the lookout for more tales of this outsider finally getting a chance to look inside southwestern Virginia! Maybe you’ll follow the same adventures or create new ones for you and your family! Stay updated on any wonderful events happening in the 7-county region throughout the year by checking out our website’s travel blog or our Facebook!

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