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Bull Run-Occoquan Trail: Bull Run to Hemlock Overlook

Hike Summary

This was another one of those mileage building hikes I’ve been trying to get done. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m trying to get into shape for the One Day Hike, coming at the end of April. I hiked 12 miles the previous week, so I decided to try for 14 this week.

There was still a lot of mud and a lot of traces about from when Bull Run was at high water a few weeks back. It made for some very messy hiking, with my feet getting constantly stuck in mud, and a bit of slipping and sliding on the trail.

The trail had quite a different character compared to the summertime, when it was green and lush, with lots of shade and rustling of trees. This day it was stark and monochromatic, which sometimes made for depressing hiking. There really wasn’t a whole lot to see, but there was a lot of birdsong in the winter trees, and I also was able to revisit my favorite graffiti art at the railroad trestle.

At some point I wasn’t fully paying attention and ended up on a side trail that followed the river a little more closely than the blazed trail. It wasn’t really that terrible of a mistake, although with the river overflow it had created a few deadfalls that were tricky to get around. The PATC will have its work cut out for it the next time they do maintenance.

The hike was pretty uneventful, although on the way back, I spotted a Mourning Cloak moth. It was one of the few living things I’d seen on this hike.

2013-02-15 Bull Run Occoquan

Bull Run-Occoquan Trail – Bull Run to Rt. 28 (Plus Bluebell Loop)

Hike Summary

This is the last hike of Summer for me, a summer that has been long and unbelievably hot. I am actually very happy that Fall is almost here, because (in my opinion) it is probably the best time of the year in Northern Virginia. It isn’t quite freezing yet, but the energy-draining humidity is finally gone. That means plenty of great hikes are in store, especially when the leaves start turning.

I grew up in a small Northern California town, so I am not so used to the dramatic changes of the seasons. There, the changes are much more subtle — one season almost blends into the other, with mainly the amount of rain really being the sign whereby you can tell the difference.

I’ve been wanting to hike the entirety of the Bull Run Occoquan Trail, but I want to hike it in segments first. That way, I have an idea if I am even ready to be able to do the whole thing.

So this first section was pretty easy compared to the section I had hiked a few weeks ago. There’s almost no elevation change, and the trail more or less sticks to the route of Bull Run the entire way, passing through broadleaf forest. I was able to go at a pretty quick pace as well, almost as fast as I walk when I go on my morning walks. It is mostly well-maintained, although there was one river crossing on a very rickety bridge that scared me quite a bit. I am not a fan of narrow bridges without railings, and especially ones that are tilting at an angle. The bridge was sound however, and it was a little less scary on the way back.

This also seems to be a pretty heavily used section of the trail, there are a lot of spots to go fishing along the way, and numerous side trails leading over to the spots. I saw a group of people fishing, as well as a trail runner. One thing that angered me a little was the numerous tire tracks of mountain bikes. This is supposed to be a conservation area, and bicycles aren’t allowed on the trail, but of course this doesn’t prevent them from going  anyhow. Of course, this use by bicycles has caused the trail to become rutted and very muddy in spots.

I have a fairly long history of dislike of mountain bikers, both as a pedestrian and as a driver. I grew up next to Mount Tamalpais, which is where a lot of mountain biking got its start, and unfortunately, I have met a lot of very rude bikers, both on the trail and on the road. I know that there are plenty of responsible bikers out there, but I do very much wish that they would follow the rules. I follow the rules with respect to dog use on trails, even though there are 2 parks close by that I would love to go hiking in, but since they don’t allow dogs even on leashes, they are closed to me.

On the way back, I decided to take a side tour and go on the Bluebell Loop, which is supposed to have spectacular views of bluebells in the springtime. I will definitely have to come back to check them out in the spring. It’s much the same as the rest of the Bull Run-Occoquan Trail, passing through the same forest.

Bull Run Occoquan Trail – Rt. 28 to Pope’s Head Creek

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Hike Summary

The lesson I learned this day is “be careful of biting off more than you can chew.”

I was somewhat surprised that it seemed a little difficult for me to find information about the trail and park online. Perhaps my googling was particularly weak, but I still couldn’t find either a map nor good directions to the Route 28 bridge.

I found it, of course, after some inspecting of maps. It was a beautiful day for a hike. The early morning clouds had burned off, leaving things warm, but not too warm. It had rained a bit over the previous few days, which left the water flowing, and occasionally some muddiness on the trail, but those things were pretty minor.

I had looked at the maps I could find, as well as the hiking guide that mentioned the trail (but only the full length, which is about 18 miles from Bull Run Park to Fountainhead Park,) and I thought that hiking from Route 28 to Hemlock Overlook park would be a long, but doable hike.

It was doable, but barely. I encountered, yet again, the drawbacks of less than accurate distances, and what I thought should have been a 7 or 8 mile hike was much longer by the time I was done. Even my 2 different GPSes (I track on my phone as well) disagreed as to the overall length.

I ended up turning around when I’d seen that I’d gone 5 miles.
The hike itself was very nice. I was disappointed at times that the trail didn’t stick as close to the river as I thought it would, but the little forays into the various stream and creek valleys were nice, and the little crossings over the creeks were entertaining not only for me, but for my hydrophobic dog.

The first time he encountered these stones, he wasn’t quite sure of them, and ended up fording the river. Soon enough though, he figured out that if he followed me across them, he wouldn’t get wet. It was rather comical to see him gingerly jump from one to the other as I waited for him. We also encountered a box turtle as we went along, as well as numerous birds (that I could hear but not often see) and plenty of deer.

I also encountered another “Pet Rock Pile.” I am unsure what the significance of these are, and a cursory googling didn’t yield much in the way of info.

These things leave me conflicted. One one hand, I appreciate the sentiment — so often with pets, there’s no real place to have a memorial to them. I have the ashes of one of my dearest cats sitting on my nightstand (as that’s where he liked to hang out,) but sometimes it feels like I should have had another place for him. So, I can understand how cairns are good memorials.

On the other hand, it encourages people to tear up the trail and move rocks around, and that can cause erosion, as well as add a man-made item to what we like to pretend is a natural, unspoiled setting.

It definitely wasn’t the only sign of human influence. I need to remind myself to pack along something to take away trash, as I often saw gum wrappers and other things along all of the trails I’ve been on. It does bother me sometimes that people that want to enjoy natural settings often don’t think of the impact that they’re leaving behind.

That being said, something I encountered near the turnaround point of my hike did touch me, and it was entirely human in nature.

There’s a point where the train goes over the Bull Run, so of course there’s a bridge. Underneath the bridge, even here in a (somewhat) isolated area, there was artful graffiti. I don’t know exactly why it touched me the way it did — but that is art. Art is what gives you that feeling you can’t quite put words to, and hiking around the bend, with the smells and sounds of the river and nature and seeing this, it gave me an electric thrill.