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Tuscarora Trail to Kepler Overlook – George Washington National Forest

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Hike Summary

This particular day for this hike was forecast to be such a nice day that I felt it was criminal to not go for a hike. So, despite a little bit of ankle pain (from ODH training) I picked a region I hadn’t been in a while.

Good old George Washington National Forest. You are my old and I think bestest friend, followed closely by Shenandoah and the AT.

GWNF, with your obscure trailheads, your barely visible blazes, your rules allowing me to let my dog off the leash. Your rustic sensibilities, your frequent campsites, your dirtiness. Who knows what manner of moonshiner or pot grower lives within you, as long as they don’t decide that I’m an intruder.

Finding the trailhead was an adventure, as trailheads usually are here. There are some really nice cabins and houses back in these obscure folds of land in Virginia. I assume that a lot of them are seasonal hunting lodges, or just people who like living somewhere that there aren’t people out to bother them. The first part of the drive up from Woodstock, up Zepp road, was pretty, with nice views. Then at some point it devolved into almost single-lane gravelly road, which is totally fine with me (although probably not so much my car’s alignment.) Finally, we end up at a pretty decent parking area with campsites, and a little connector trail/gate gravel road out to the Tuscarora Trail.

I really do want to backpack the Tuscarora Trail someday. It is a trail with a lot of character, the way it goes over the various ridges and makes a big western arc to and from the AT. It took over the path of several other trail names, so it retains those names in its own name as it makes its way through VA and WVA before turning east into PA. There are a few shelters like for the AT, but it’s mostly pretty much on your own for finding places. I’ve noticed quite a lot of camping spots though, so that seems pretty easy.

The day started out pretty grey and overcast, but warmed up as I went along. The first part of the hike is pretty easy, and there’s a nice campsite along Cedar Creek where I cross it. The trail follows an old ore road up the mountain, and then there’s another extremely … creative bridge over the creek again.

My dog has more sense than I and just fords the water. I hold onto the railing and make my way across the rickety thing, worrying all the while that it’s going to fail on me and I’m going to fall in.

This is not to be. I am safe and sound as we continue up the trail. Things look like they’re all thawed, but then I encounter an area that is pretty much all still snow covered. It’s a little slow going, as things are icy and even with my nice boots things are either slippery, or like hiking through sand dunes. Eventually though, I make my way through the winter wonderland and up to the top of the ridge.

There’s an excellent view of the Shenandoah Valley from here, along a ridge/cliff of rock. There are several campsites along the area, and someone has helpfully nailed a thermometer to a tree, allowing me to check out the current conditions.

58F. Not bad.

It was still pretty hazy up there, but the sun was coming out here and there through the clouds, so I spent at least an hour relaxing up at the top, enjoying the view. I scribbled in my journal, taking notes on the hike so I don’t forget when it comes time to sit down and write. There’s a really nice fire ring with seating there, so it made it extra easy to linger.

I thought about adding some extra miles to the hike, but my ankle was still a little sore from the hike (plus the next day I foolishly went for another hour long walk instead of doing nothing,) so I figured it was a bad idea to push things. It was time to head back.

On the way out of the area, I decided to try to find Van Buren Furnace, which is another one of those pig iron furnaces that dot this region. I found it, but oddly there was a “No Trespassing, Private Property” sign. It struck me as odd, because it’s supposed to be on an acre of forestry land. I suppose the locals were just trying to keep people like me away.

Kepler Overlook

Going For a Drive – Skyline Central Section in Shenandoah

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The wind howls, shaking the branches in the trees in the neighborhood. This, combined with the temperature, kills any hopes I had of doing any hiking.

I sigh. There’s been too many weeks of this. I’m tired of winter. I’m tired of snow, and bitter cold. I’m tired of my knuckles bleeding from dry skin. I’m tired of having to wear my hiking boots everywhere.

There’s no use complaining. Complaining isn’t going to make the wind die down. I load up the dog and my pack into the car. I suspected that this was going to happen, so I was prepared to go for a drive.

So, into the car, and out 66 towards Front Royal, and Shenandoah National Park.

I’ve been having pretty back luck with the park as well. Every time I think of coming out here for a drive, Skyline has been closed. Sometimes this has resulted in more interesting drives, sometimes it just annoys. Some of my attempts to go down Skyline have come from times when I couldn’t hike as it was, doubling the frustration. It’s not the fault of the NPS. They’re just trying to keep people safe. Seasonal closures are to be expected.

Still.

This day is of course, no different. I roll up to the booth and the ranger informs me that they have someone checking the conditions, it might be a while. I’m welcome to pull over and wait and see.

15 minutes later … The North District is closed for now, but the central part is open. Time is ticking, and I really want to go drive in Shenandoah, so I do the next best thing and I get on US 340, which goes from Front Royal to Luray.

It’s quite a nice drive, actually. It cleaves closely to the course of the Shenandoah River, so you do get some nice views as you go, as well as access to Shenandoah River State Park, which I’ve mentioned before.

I spotted a historical marker on my left, and decided to stop and take a look. It’s a set of markers describing the historical bridge here, as well as the nearby town of Overall, which used to be called Milford, where a number of battles took place during the Civil War, the Valley Campaign of 1864. The battlefield itself is on private property, so other than the markers, there’s no point in me lingering.

Finally, I make it to the central entrance for Skyline, and of course, the North District is open again. I briefly consider heading north, but I’ve driven it before, and even though I’d like to see it again, I’ll settle for the central district.

After getting my passport stamped, I head in and stop at the first rest stop, which is also the trailhead for a short jaunt up to Mary’s Rock if one is so inclined. For about 30 seconds I entertain the notion of going for a quick hike up there, but as my hands start to go numb and my nose gets cold from the biting 20mph wind, I change my mind.

Sadly, this is a theme that repeats itself throughout the drive. I knew it was going to be too cold because of the forecast, but you know, if the opportunity presented itself I’d at least try. It was way too cold to try.

So, I had to be satisfied with seeing the park from the comfort of my warm car, with occasional jaunts outside to take some pictures.

It is fun to drive along and see some of the parts of Skyline that I’ve only seen a few times from crossing it on foot. It showed me a different perspective, and it brought a smile to my face every time I recognized a crossing. Same thing with the overlooks. It was great to see Old Rag again from high up.

It was also nice to finally see Big Meadow, even though the visitors center and campgrounds were all closed, and the wind was still much too cold and bitter. I was able to get out of my car for a little bit, and I ventured out and looked around some. It looked lonely, but I’d love to take a weekend and stay at the lodge, and be able to wander the meadow.

Back in the car and driving along, seeing the snow scudding along the road, swirling and making little snow devils. I see a few deer occasionally and slow down. They have no fear of me or my car whatsoever. They’re almost tame.

I can’t wait for spring to finally get here. I’m tired of the winter.

Eventually I hit the southern entrance of the central district. Part of me wants to keep going, to head a little further. But I was advised that not all of the southern district is open anyway, there were some road hazards. So, homeward I head.

Skyline 02/27/14

Driving, not hiking

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So, I promised myself that if I wasn’t able to go hiking this week, that I’d at least go for a drive, and that is what I ended up doing. It’s a pity in a way, because if I’d planned a little better in advance, I would have gone hiking on Friday when the weather was finally above freezing.

Such is the way of things though, and weather is always fickle and unpredictable. Even checking the weather now, it looks like next week is going to be mostly terrible again. I just seem to have the worst luck lately.

I had a plan and a backup plan. I would go check and see if Skyline Drive was open, and go drive down it if it was. If it wasn’t, I’d go down US522 instead, as I hadn’t really gone down that road much, so I wanted to see where it would end up, other than intersecting with US211. I’d passed by the junction a few times on my way to hikes in the Sperryville area, so I wanted to see where it went.

That’s something I picked up from my mom. She has always liked to say, “I wonder where this road goes?” and then find out. It can be a useful way to find out more about a place, and going down random roads is something I’ve always enjoyed doing with her.

I trundled along through lovely Front Royal and on to the toll gate at the start of Skyline Drive. I didn’t look up at all but started to immediately dig in my pack for the entrance fee.

“Road’s closed” the ranger said, and I looked up to see the gate across the way. Silly me. We chatted a little bit about the weather and when it would be open again. It seemed the little 1/8 of an inch of snow we’d had on Tuesday was enough to turn everything to ice again, making the road unsafe.

I pondered my options. As I mentioned, I had planned on immediately going down 522, but I decided to take a detour to Shenandoah River State Park instead. It’s only about 10 miles from the Skyline Drive entrance, so down the road I went.

It was open, but oh so cold. Still too cold to hike, although the day was starting to warm up a little bit. The sky was clear and blue. I got out at the overlook and snapped some pictures, my fingers quickly numbing in the chill air. I let my dog wander around a bit, and we got back in the car and headed down to the visitor center. There, the little creek they have circulating around the building was iced over, but it was very pretty still. The visitor center is very nice, and has a gift shop and Wifi access, which is one of the only places in the park where there’s any signal.

I decided since I’d come all this way already, we’d head down to the river itself. I parked down by the canoe loading area, where the little side part was frozen over. The banks were very icy and cold, and the water was a deep grey. There was a whispering, slithering sound as the ice and water ground against each other. It was very beautiful, but also a little sinister.

Back in the car, we headed back to Front Royal and down US522.

I really need to learn to stop and take pictures while I am driving. I have a hard time figuring out where a good place is to stop, and I hate inconveniencing cars behind me or becoming an impediment to traffic. I think this is because of where I grew up. Growing up in a tourist town makes one extra sensitive to doing touristy things. I think it is also some of my still-ever-present anxiety. It’s hard to figure out of I pull into someone’s driveway whether they’ll get mad or something. I just need to let go. This is my little apology/excuse for why there aren’t any pictures of the drive itself.

Chester Gap was beautiful, with the hills on the left side crisp with snow, undulating down to the valley. The road was windy but not overly so, dotted with farmhouses and country estates. I entered Rappahannock County, which is becoming quite the wine area, with several vineyards along the way (sadly closed) before I rolled into the town of Flint Hill.

It was lunchtime, so I thought that this might be a good place to stop and find some. I stopped at a likely looking place, a nice old building with a lot of flags and an interesting sculpture out front: a metal bull. I had arrived at The Flint Hill Public House.

It was quiet inside, (The parking area was pretty much empty) but they were more than happy to see me and sat me down in one of the front dining rooms. The decor was bright and shiny and modern, with comfy leather chairs and some half booths. As far as I could tell I was one of the only people there, although there was some sound coming from the bar area further on in.

The menu was expansive but not overly complex, featuring a good variety of dishes, from burgers and sandwiches to grilled items and quite a few vegetarian options. I’d classify it as nice Mid-Atlantic Pub style food: not too fussy, but also not too casual. They also were featuring a special menu celebrating chili week (probably because the Superbowl was coming up) and I saw something there that I just had to have.

Chili Nachos.

I ordered and they were quickly brought, a nice pile of warm tortilla chips, red chili, cheese and salsa and sour cream. it reminded me very much of the way my mom taught me to enjoy chili: served over corn chips, that good old frito pie. I tried not to wolf them down too quickly, they were very delicious. The dining room was a little chilly so the food did cool quickly, but I hadn’t really realized it in time to ask them to make it warmer, so it’s not really anything to blame them for.

Another thing I was impressed by was their wine list. There was the usual selection of popular California varieties, but most of the list contained wines from all over the local area, most of which were within 10-30 minute drives. I always love when restaurants embrace their place.

I considered ordering a dessert glass, but I decided that since I was the only person driving, it wasn’t a great idea. Instead, I ordered something more substantial.

I’m a sucker for desserts, and particularly anything involving chocolate. The Triple Chocolate Brownie that was presented to me was no disappointment. There were three layers of chcolately deliciousness as promised, plus sprinkled chips and a little bit of ice cream to cut the chocolate. I was very happy and satisfied.

Service was very friendly, with my server (whose name I unfortunately completely forget; I am terrible with names) being awesome and chatting with me about the hiking in the area.

Flint Hill Public House is in my opinion, definitely worth a return trip (or several) and is on my short list of places to consider for the upcoming annual Mother’s Day lunch.

Anyhow, it was time to roll on. I was using a slightly new to me navigation program, and it decided that I was on my way home (pretty much true at this point.) It directed me on Ben Venue road instead of straight out to 211.

This is another of those times I wish I’d had the fortitude to stop and take photos, you will have to rely on my words I suppose. Ben Venue Road is tiny and windy, going around and through several apple orchards on the way out to 211 at Ben Venue.

The sky was a rich, deep blue, and the bare apple trees were stark and black against the sky, their branches reaching up almost like claws. Spring seemed like a long way away. The drive was lonely, there were no other cars on the road. Nothing but hillsides on the left, and farms and orchards on the right, with hills in the distance.

Eventually, Ben Venue Road, as I said, met US 211, and it was time for a rather uneventful drive back home. 6 more weeks until Spring. Hopefully the weather will cooperate more than it has so far.

Jan 30, 2014

Shutdown Hike #1 – Bear Church Rock – Shenandoah NP

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Hike Summary

So, the government is shut down, and that means that the National Parks and National Forests are … technically closed.

This isn’t exactly stopping anyone from going out and hiking, myself included. I consider this an act of civil disobedience, and if caught I’ll comply with the authorities and remove myself. I understand the risks. I just want to go out there and hike, and I’m not going to let some jerks in our legislative branch keep me from doing so.

So, that’s that. I’d planned on doing some hikes that start from Skyline Drive, in order to take advantage of the beautiful foliage changes at this time of the year, peak season for Shenandoah, but alas, that’s proving somewhat difficult.

So, alternatives must be found. There are plenty of places where the trailheads are outside of the park, and so I drove out to almost the limit of my distance from home (within 90 minutes) to check out this hike, in the central section, down below Madison.

It was quite warm as I set out on my hike, no need for a jacket this time. It was a little hazy and overcast, but pleasant. I followed the trail along the Rapidan River, and caught some pretty reflections of the water in the morning light. The Rapidan is a cheerful little river at this point, full of trout waiting to be fished.

Soon, there was an intersection ahead, and I followed the Staunton River trail uphill, which unsurprisingly, follows the Staunton River, another pleasant little cascade. There are lots of rocks and things for it to fall over, making a very musical sound as it winds its way downhill. There’s supposed to be a swimming hole along the river at some point, but I wasn’t quite sure where it was.

The trail was lined with pretty purple asters, and some other late season wildflowers. I saw blue lobelia and even some blue phlox, which is a flower I haven’t seen much since April.

Along the way, I saw a strange sight. I’ve seen plenty of rock walls and remnants of foundations and such during my hikes, but these were different. They almost seemed like retaining walls, or fortifications or something like that. I did a little research, but I couldn’t find anything in particular anywhere on the internet about these rock piles, so they’ll remain a mystery.

The trail came to an intersection, and a very steep uphill climb. As I was making my way up, I saw a little toad making his way along, and I held out my hand. He hopped right up on my hand like it was no big thing, and stared at me for a while, allowing me to catch my breath some. I set him back down and he made his way into the drift of leaves, never to be seen again.

I decided to make a side trip for a good lunch eating spot at the Jones Mountain Cabin, which is owned by the PATC. It’s situated about 2/3 of the way up to the top, on a little side trail that’s about 1/3 of a mile. It would make a great afternoon hike and basecamp for exploring the other trails in the area. There’s a privy and a spring nearby, and some lovely trees that were changing color. There’s also a spicebush right next to the cabin, which lent a nice, fragrant smell to the immediate area.

After eating my snack, I set back out. The hike up to the top has a lot of switchbacks, and it seems forever with the steepness of the trail. There was one section lined with Mountain Laurels that had a slightly creepy look with the way their twisty trunks outlined the trail. If it hadn’t been such a nice day, it would have felt almost menacing.

Finally, after what seemed like the hundredth turn, I reached the top. It was a remarkable view. It wasn’t quite peak color yet, but the views were still glorious. So glorious, that I forgot to take pictures with my normal camera, and only took two with my phone! I am still kinda kicking myself over that one.

The only drawback was there were a large number of stink bugs up there, and although they’re pretty harmless, they’re also annoying, and they kept bumping into me, and attracting attention from my dog, who wanted to snack on them.

As I made my way back down, I encountered a couple of hikers. They were government workers who were on furlough, and decided to take advantage of their unexpected vacation by going for a hike. This was one of the first of several encounters on the way back. I ran across more hikers this day that I think I had in the previous month of hiking.

I decided to take an alternate path back instead of back down the Staunton River Trail. I had been tempted to extend my hike even further by hiking past Bear Church and heading up to the connection with the Rapidan River Trail, but I decided that that would have been a little too much hike.

All in all, this was a great day, and I think that Bear Church Rock, although somewhat far, is probably one of my favorite hikes in Shenandoah.

2013-10-04 Bear Church Rock

Stony Mountain – Shenandoah NP

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Hike Summary

Stony Mountain is a section of Shenandoah NP that is pretty off the beaten path as far as hiking goes. It’s out behind Syria, Virginia, which is a great little town that is home to Graves Mountain Lodge. You can get apples, a place to stay, and a nice breakfast or dinner. I’ve been there a few times for Mother’s Day, and the food is quite excellent!

So, up past the lodge, at the end of VA670, the road terminates at a locked gate. The hike continues as a fire road, winding its way up. Unfortunately, this first part of the hike really wasn’t all the picturesque. It was chilly in the morning, enough so that I had to wear my jacket again, something that will be happening pretty often I imagine, as the summer transitions to the fall and we get lots of cold nights and warm days.

I somewhat regret not extending the hike up to Dark Hollow Falls, and I’ll probably make a return trip here soon to do it as an out-and-back perhaps.

So, as I said, the beginning portion was mostly fire road, and then up near the highest elevation point of the hike, the trail goes off towards the Rapidan Road. At the intersection where the trail met the road, there was a nice little meadow clearing, and I decided to lay my blanket out and relax.

The ground was dotted with red clover, and I could hear the bees buzzing. It was nice to be able to just relax in the sun on this last week of summertime. The sky was a deep, clear blue with only a few fluffy clouds drifting overhead. The bees and butterflies busily attended the flowers.

After munching on a snack and drinking most of my tea, I headed back down. Again, it was a good chunk of mostly fire road, which was pleasantly in the sun after the chilly forest ascent of the Rose River fire road.

There was one spot which was supposed to be a decent view, but was blocked by leafy trees. I’m sure it’s much more clear in the wintertime.

The oddly named Upper Dark Hollow trail (to me, the name made no sense, it was below the falls) turned off from the Rapidan road, and I was finally on what felt like a “real” trail again. It was pretty steep on the way down, and I think it might have been recently maintained to help with water runoff, as there were a lot of dug up sections of trail, forming channels for water to go off of the trail itself. The shade was pleasant this time.

Upon rejoining the Rose River fire road, I noticed that there’s a nice swimming hole. I think that would make for an excellent stop during the hotter summer months, but it was a little too cold and I kinda wanted to get home by this point.

After heading out, I decided to make a stop at the Graves Mountain apple packing storefront, where you can buy apples that are in season. I decided that since there were plenty of Winesaps there, I couldn’t help but get a big bag of them! I still have them, 2 weeks later, although I’ve baked 3 cakes with them so far. My favorite of these cakes has been the Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Glaze.

2013-09-20 Stony Mountain

Nicholson Hollow/Corbin Hollow – Shenandoah NP

Hike Summary

I haven’t been up this way since the day I lost my last hiking staff. This was the hike I was supposed to have done that day. It was very wet and foggy. Everything was damp, and as I approached the stepping stones across Hughes River, I realized that a panic was in danger of setting in. Last time I’d been to this spot, my dog had fallen into the icy stream, and I had to wade in and fish him out, putting an end to our misadventure for the day.

I tried not to worry as I crossed the stream, but I could have sworn that the rocks were super slippery. I’ve been having a lot of footing problems as of late, and I really do need to replace my boots soon, hopefully with something that is a bit more surefooted.

I steadied myself with the staff and made my way across. I breathed a sigh of relief, and felt better, but my heart was still racing, still pounding. It put me in a slightly cranky mood for the next couple of miles, but the nervous energy also seemed to give me some extra push, and I made some pretty decent time up the first portion of the trail.

This route on my trail guide was referred to as Corbin Mountain, but it really isn’t so much. Only about half a mile of the hike spends time on Corbin Mountain trail itself. Much more of it is spent on the Nicholson Hollow Trail and other connecting trails. I’ll have to venture out and do a shorter hike on the Corbin Mountain trail itself. It would make for a shorter loop, and perhaps isn’t all that picturesque, but it would be something different. Besides, I need excuses to hike trails down in this area, as Carousel will be closing in October for the season, and I have to get delicious ice cream while they’re still making it.

On the way up, I didn’t see a ton of flowers, I did see quite a few spotted touch-me-knots, and what I have now discovered is New York Ironweed (the same purple flower I couldn’t identify on my last hike.) I came across two girls who were trying to get to Old Rag, but they had a bit of a long hike ahead of them – I think I was about 3/4 of the way to Corbin Cabin when I encountered them. I showed them my map and gave directions on the fastest way to get there from where we were (likely back the way I’d come already.)

I came across another crossing of Hughes River and saw a very fine swimming hole, and stopped to eat a snack. There are a lot of nice swimming holes and campsites along the river, would be a pleasant place for a weekend camp.

Even more pleasant, however, would be Corbin Cabin, one of the PATC cabins that are available for rent that are in Shenandoah and elsewhere in the region. I’ve stopped here before, and although it’s locked, it makes an excellent place to stop and take a lunch break. There’s a nice, wide porch not unlike an AT shelter, so I can put my pack down without worrying about something crawling into it and hitching a ride. Having flat ground is nice as well, and a clean spot to sit down that isn’t a rock or a damp stump.

I am no Chanel camper, or someone who thinks the best idea of camping is a hotel room, but it is nice to have a dry behind when you’re trying to gnaw on a Clif bar.

I sat there, getting a little warmth from the bit of sun, and watching my dog nose around the container holding his treats. He’d come up to it, poke it with his nose, and then look at me, as if to say, “It is time for you to dispense with the treats!” Of course, I had to oblige him. He hikes just as much as I do.

I sat and mused on writing. I think I might have finally gotten a character in my head and a story that is starting to form around him. I’ve jotted some notes down in my notebook as the thoughts have struck me, now I just need to get them onto paper (or into a document I suppose.)

Break time over, I headed out again up Indian Run Trail, where things grew steeper for a while. I thought for sure all this hiking would end up making me sore later on, but even this uphill gave me little soreness the rest of the week. I’m not sure how I’m going to make things harder, short of taking up rock climbing (which is not really something I’m all that interested in in the wild, since my dog can’t come with me on that.)

I hiked on through the gloomy trees, until I spotted some cluster of berries growing close to the ground. I was having trouble holding my camera steady, and I moved my hand over to give myself more support. Stupidly, I stuck my hand right into the middle of a stinging nettle plant. Sharp zings of fire went up my arm immediately, and my fingers swelled up a bit. It seemed I didn’t do too much damage, as the pain went away fairly quickly. I was thankful I didn’t have to go looking for some mud to stick my hand into.

I went on Old Rag Fire Road for a ways, and then turned down Corbin Hollow trail. There, I saw some fields of giant ferns, and I encountered another hiker, who seemed completely flabbergasted to see another hiker. “I’ve been hiking this trail 15 years,” he said, “and this is the first time I’ve ever seen another person on it.” He then advised me that he had spotted no less than 3 copperheads on his way up the trail – something that could be a bit of a danger to my dog. This resulted in some additional anxiety for me as I made my way down, keeping my dog tethered closely. I almost wish he hadn’t told me, but I was definitely better off knowing.

Eventually, I hit Weakley Hollow Fire Road and the most interesting bits were over. Fire roads are pleasant strolls, but they don’t feel all that much like hiking to me, particularly Weakley Hollow, which is a thoroughfare for anyone heading up to Old Rag.

2013-08-30 Nicholson Hollow-Corbin Hollow

Piney Branch Trail – Shenandoah National Park

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Hike Summary

Piney Branch Trail is a trail that is close by to Little Devil’s Stairs, a hike that I did sometime last year. The route I took starts out in the same parking area, down near Gidbrown Hollow.

It was a pretty chilly day, I actually brought a sweater with me, although I ended up not wearing it. I tend to be a little overcautious sometimes and want to pack everything, just in case something should arise. I’m sure if I had the means, my backpack would end up being stuffed with all sorts of things I don’t actually need, and my Amazon wishlist is full of things like titanium sporks and so on.

A titanium spork could come in handy if I were to ever go on an overnight hike, so I don’t think it would be all that useless.

So, I set off up Keyser Run Fire road, which is a pretty steep ascent, or so it felt to me that day. It winds through pretty unremarkable territory and then makes its way up to Bolen Cemetery.

I’ve been past here before, but this time I decided to open the gate and take a look inside. I saw a little monument that was separate from the gravestones, a little memorial to those who lost their land to the park. It always makes me feel sad to know that those people had their land taken away, and still people often picture them as being ignorant hillbillies, which I think is unfair. They were people, just like the rest of us.

The Piney Branch Trail itself goes off from Keyser Run and winds up alongside Piney River. There are quite a few nice campsites along the way, in shady groves. Piney River is a pleasant little river, with lots of little cascades and waterfalls.

As I was hiking along, I started noticing some interesting plants, that gave me a little bit of a shiver. They were bright red stalks, poking up out of the greenery. On the end of these stalks were … eyeballs. It was a little bit disconcerting to me to see these plants, seemingly looking at me as I hiked along. Also known as White Baneberry, they are extremely poisonous to humans.

I made my way up to the highest point, where the trail rejoins Keyser Run at Fourway. From this point, one can go up to Skyline, or down via Little Devils Stairs. I gave some other hikers some directions and made my own way down Keyser Run.

I started to notice an abundance of blackberries along the way as I hiked. It seemed to be almost at the peak season, so I got a container out of my pack and started to pick berries as I hiked, remembering how I had been kicking myself for not doing this at Kennedy Peak. I also noticed several butterflies along the way, some of which I hadn’t seen before. I added Pearl Crescent and Silver-Spotted Skipper to my list of new butterfly sightings, along with the ubiquitous Tiger Swallowtail.

Once home I set out to bake. I used the recipe I tried before from Baking Bites for Blackberry Blondies, and had excellent and delicious results.

2013-08-15 Piney Branch