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Appalachian Trail – GR Thompson WMA

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Hike Summary

I’ve been a terrible blogger, again. I have two drafts, sitting in the queue, that almost seem silly to try to publish. It’s been almost two months … again. Just like last year around this time, I got caught up in training, and so tired that I never seemed to find time to update.

I shouldn’t dwell upon failures though, I should just push forward.

It does bother me, though. This cycle of procrastination that I get in. If I cannot maintain my own blog, what hope do I have that my new opportunity, doing some volunteer social media stuff that maybe, just maybe might work into something real … what hope do I have that that will work?

My life is an endless series of self-sabotages. Ah well. I kinda want to just delete this all and start over with something more positive, but I won’t. Naught to do but push forward, get back on the horse, and so on.

So, GR Thompson WMA is a state-maintained park of sorts. It’s not a state park, but more akin to a state forest … but it isn’t one of those either. It’s basically a state-maintained wildlife preserve. So, if you want to fish or hunt, this is one of the places that you’d go. The Appalachian Trail also happens to go through it. I’ve actually hiked most of the AT section before – last June, during National Trails Day. I’ll be back to this same area again, this upcoming day.

Maybe I’ll be a better blogger and post about it!

So anyway, this hike starts out at the Thompson Lake parking lot, which is nice and spacious. There’s a little road that leads up to a second parking lot with handicapped parking and a boat loading ramp. I had two choices – go straight, or go left. I chose to go straight. The trail led uphill for quite a good ways, passing in and out of shadows and light. The day started out hazy and a little bit overcast, but by the time I reached the top of a ridge behind a vineyard, the sky was blue and the sun had come out nicely. It seemed like it was going to be a pretty hot day.

The ground was pretty wet in places, and on one part of the trail where it went across a stream, the trail itself had become a little bit of a river, which make going a little bit slippery, but otherwise not too bad. There weren’t too many insects out yet, but there were quite a lot of wild geranium, lining the trail with their purple blossoms.

This wasn’t actually the flower that I’d come to this place to see, but they were a pleasant surprise nonetheless. The biggest reason I’d come was to see the trillium.

Trillium grandiflorum. The great white trillium. They’re one of those wonderful spring ephemeral plants, along with Virginia Bluebells, that only have a quick window in order to be seen. I missed them last year, and I wanted to make sure that I was able to catch them this year.

At first, I thought that I had failed. All I saw were shriveled up flowers, all over the place. I was a little bit disappointed. I thought to myself that it wouldn’t be until next year that I would get my next chance, and I was a little bit bummed out as I turned into the Appalachian Trail.

However, as I hiked along, I started to see ones that were in better and better shape, and then I saw an almost perfect one. I was pretty happy. I also encountered a few AT thru-hikers, all of them a bit faster than my dog and I, especially since I have a habit of stopping often to take pictures.

Trillium weren’t the only flowers out this day. I also saw mayapple in bloom (you have to look under the large leaves to see the flowers!) as well as jack in the pulpit and showy orchis. There were even plenty of violets and some blackberries in bloom – I may have to make a late summer blackberry picking trip.

I stopped at Dick’s Dome shelter for lunch  and chatted with another thru hiker who wasn’t sticking around very long. He asked me for the weather forecast, which I happily provided (chance of thunderstorms, which never materialized.) I backtracked to the side trail that led back to the lake.

You can tell that this trail is rarely maintained, because I ran into quite a few deadfalls, one of which required getting on hands and knees (and fairly muddy) to get through. There was no real way around it otherwise. One of the things I did notice though is that, even when a tree is knocked over, it does still try to reach its way back up. I guess that’s something I should remember myself.

GR Thompson WMA

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

Sugar Knob – GWNF

Hike Summary

This is a tale of two hikes. The first hike was on a Thursday, and it was a nice, chilly morning when I set out. Autumn is definitely in the air. I took my dog and started to hike up the Pond Run Trail, which winds its way alongside Pond Run, crisscrossing it several times.

I was only about a mile into the hike when my dog started limping after a crossing. Concerned, I mad him sit, and he still favored his paw. I decided to head back to a campsite I’d seen a little bit of the way in, and see if he would get any better.

He didn’t seem to. I kinda hemmed and hawed, and was filled with indecision. Should I keep going and run the risk of him being unable to walk, midway through a 12 mile hike? Or should I just go home?

I decided on the going home. Of course, by the time I got back to my car, he seemed perfectly fine, so I was a little annoyed at myself and him. I decided that it was definitely better to be safe than sorry, however. GWNF is wilderness, and the phone reception is pretty bad all the way out in WV, so I didn’t want to push it.

So, I went back the next day!

One of the nicest things about getting up early to hike, besides avoiding the heat, is the way the sun breaks through the forest. Morning light is some of the best light, it paints everything in a way that makes it look ethereal and otherworldly. It’s soft, and gentle. It caresses the plants and the trees. It’s easy on the eyes as well. Afternoon sun is always so harsh by comparison, until sunset. Afternoon sun is unforgiving and relentless, and paints everything in long shadows, that seem ominous.

I’m trying to spend as much time as possible in GWNF this month, come October I won’t be able to hike around here at all, due to hunting season. I could hike if I wanted to, I have the orange blaze stuff, but the forest will also be pretty crowded, and I like the solitude of the forest for the most part.

So again, Pond Run Trail (full name is Tuscarora Pond Run Trail) winds up  and around and over Pond Run, up to the ridge. The water was traveling merrily down and along the run, with lots of little cascades and eddies. It was a pleasant feeling to be around the water the whole time. My dogs paws seem much recovered from the previous day, and he didn’t seem to mind the easy water crossings. I would imagine things are quite a bit more difficult in the springtime when the water is high.

Eventually, near the top of the ridge, we came across a boardwalk that spanned a boggy area. I read in my guide that it was the work of some Forestry Service rangers and volunteer hikers that build the plank walkway, and I was very thankful for it. I can only imagine the muddy, sticky mess that it was before the boardwalk was there. It was around here that I saw the only other person that day, another hiker who was off towards Mill Mountain, and it looked like he was going to be doing some fishing. After our friendly greeting. I decided to take a break and eat a snack, so as to give him some space ahead of me.

There are a lot of good campsites in the area, and I found a very comfortable place to sit. There was supposed to be a viewpoint near this junction and campsite, but there didn’t seem to be a clear way to get to it, so I didn’t put too much effort into it.

The Tuscarora Trail in this section was mostly fire road/4WD trail, and it was a pretty easy hike up along the ridge, passing by several intersections. At one point the trail veered off to the north from the fire road part, and I took the branching.

I was hiking along, keeping my eyes open but pretty relaxed, when I hear a sudden, thunderous CRASH from  ahead of me on the trail. This large crash was followed by smaller crashes as a pretty large Black Bear shambled away from me. Luckily, my dog didn’t give chase. GWNF is an area where it’s ok to have your dog off leash, and I usually let him have his freedom.

Anyhow, the smell of pine sap was thick in the air from the crushed vegetation, and I didn’t really want to linger in the area, so I hitched my dog up to his lead so I’d have better control of him and we set a quick pace to get out of there. I am still getting used to the idea of sharing the forest with bears, and I prefer to give them a wide berth when I encounter them. I also sing loudly and off key, in the hope that my terrible singing will make them go away.

Eventually, we reached the important intersection where I turned down Racer Camp Hollow Trail. There were also nice campsites here, and I stopped and ate some lunch. I started off in what I thought was the right direction, but realized quickly wasn’t. It’s an example on how, even at a 4 way intersection, it’s easy to go the wrong way. The woods can be very disorienting.

Luckily, it was a mistake soon corrected, and caught because I saw on my GPS that I was veering in the wrong direction from the route I’d put in.

Racer Camp Hollow Trail is a pretty awful trail for the first half. I need to look up and see if it has a PATC maintenance crew, because they need to give it a visit, as there are a lot of blowdowns. It’s more than the blowdowns though. It is eroded and rocky, and made me a little bit cranky, but I think that’s because I was a little fatigued. I need new hiking boots, or new liners for my boots, I get sore big toes about halfway through my hikes nowadays, and I know I’ve complained about the lack of grip. The grip wasn’t much of an issue this time despite all the river crossings.

This late in the summer, there aren’t as many wildflowers as there have been in the past, it’s mostly wood asters, which aren’t all that showy of flowers. I did come across a nice meadow of spotted touch-me-nots, which are always a nice sight. I saw a few wild basil as well.

Eventually, Racer Camp Hollow Trail evened out into more of a fire road, and I was out of the chilly woods. The sun shone and warmed me up, and there were some nice views over the trees and the meadows. Eventually, the trail intersected with the Old Mailpath trail, which descended downhill and started to signal to me the almost end of my hike.

There was still plenty more trail though. Old Mailpath was exactly that at one point, linking West Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. It wound down through evergreen forests, and then eventually also started to follow some water. It was much muddier down here, and squishy and slow going. It was also pretty rank.

I was taken by surprise when out of the foliage appeared a set of benches. I was at the trailhead for Old Mailpath, and there was a nice helpful map and some more pretty touch-me-nots growing around. There were also blackflies though, so I didn’t linger, but I did pick up a paper map, as I really like their version of the trail system compared to the National Geographic map that I have. One can never have too many maps on hand is my opinion!

The rest of the way back to my car was gravel roads, but I saw some nice wildflowers. There were some Oxeye daisies lining the path, some poisonous but pretty Pokeberry, and some interesting caterpillars that I liked, they looked like little bundles of ribbons, sitting in the shelter of some leaves.

One the way back home, instead of my usual stop at Spelunker’s, I decided to stop at the Woodbine Farm Market. This is one of those typical farm markets that one sees all over the place in the rural parts of VA and WVA. It had a pretty typical selection of fruit, with some nice peaches, but what caught my eye were the cookies.

Sadly, no pictoral evidence of these cookies exists from me, because I was so hungry that I ate them all. They have a lot of different flavors though, and the next time I stop there (and there will definitely be a next time) I will correct my lack of pictures. The Heath Crunch cookies were the best.

Sugar Knob A
2013-09-07 Sugar Knob

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

Appalachian Trail – VA 605 to Rod Hollow Shelter

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Hike Summary

The Appalachian Trail, or the AT, as most people who are familiar with it, winds 2000 miles from Georgia to Maine. Most of it lies within driving distance of much of the population of the east coast.

Sometimes I’m a little surprised that more people don’t know about it, but then again, most people don’t hike as much as I do, or aren’t into hiking as much as I am. I was recently listening to the Nerdist Podcast where they were interviewing Michael C. Hall (of Dexter and Six Feet Under) and I was a little surprised when the host seemed unaware of what kind of hike the AT was.

Unfortunately, because of Mark Sanford and his infamous “I was hiking the Appalachian Trail” remark during his scandal, the AT trickled into the consciousness of pop culture as the butt of a joke. I cannot tell you how many times  I’ve mentioned to people that I’m hiking on the AT, only to get references to Sanford or other giggly responses.

The AT is so much more than that. It’s a trail, yes, but sometimes I think it’s much more than that. It’s a link that crosses all those states and although it often goes over terrain that really just wasn’t wanted, it goes through some remarkable places, and affords wonderful views.

Although on this particular day, I didn’t really hike anywhere that was all that remarkable, view wise. I hiked a section of the AT that is famous (or infamous) amongst hikers: The Roller Coaster.

The Roller Coaster section (or, the part I hiked of it, about half,) winds up and down hollows, in an area that’s more or less unremarkable. There aren’t really any views at this time of the year because of the leaf cover, and it’s mainly just a hike of endurance, knowing that beyond one hill is another hill, over and over until the other side. It’s sort of numbing, even with a day pack, I can imagine it is probably pretty unpleasant for thru hikers.

Still, let not my description fool you, there’s still plenty of things of interest along the way. It’s getting on in the summer, but there are still wildflowers about, particularly in the wetter areas. Berries are starting to ripen, but not along this area, I’m sure there are more to the south in Sky Meadows and GRT.  There are some solid rock formations, and I found a nice one and a shaft of sunlight to sit in for a time while I was out. I didn’t actually want to leave the spot, it was so pleasant. Those big jutting rocks must have been awful for farmers, but I find them now to be like little islands amongst the sea of foliage. They bring to mind gongshi, Chinese scholar rocks.

Hiking overall is a bit of meditation for me. I leave the modern world behind. I (for the most part) put the trappings of civilization away, or at least stow them in my pockets or pack, unused except to take photographs or find my way. I generally try to avoid using my phone except to keep loved ones updated with my status.

I leave my mind open, quiescent. Whatever trickles into my thoughts does so, and I try to look at it and then let it go. This way it helps my mind to decompress from my stresses and frustrations. Sometimes I wish I could spend all of my time on the trail, because of that sense of tranquility I get. I am often envious of the thru-hikers I encounter, although I suppose they’re just as envious of the ability I have to go home and take a shower and sleep on a mattress.

After the Roller Coaster section of the trail, I went a little further to Rod Hollow Shelter, one of the many shelters along the AT. I’d been here before back in March, and it was for the most part unchanged. A little dryer, a little stinkier, but still a pleasant place to stop and eat a snack. I saw some gorgeous Cardinal Flowers. They’re fairly ephemeral, but when seen they really are quite a show.

The return trip was much the same. The same up and down undulation of hill and hollow, with just myself and my dog. The other hikers I’d encountered were long gone, on their way to Bear’s Den or other points north on the trail. I wish them well on their journey to Katahdin.

For me, it was a trip back home, although I found a new ice cream stand to stop at. It’s called Bears, and it’s in the middle of downtown Marshall. It wasn’t stupendous, but it wasn’t bad. Ice cream, in my opinion, is like sex or pizza: Even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. They did have some pretty awesome street art for their place, although it didn’t … quite match the name.

2013-08-09 Ashby Hollow

Kennedy Peak – George Washington National Forest

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Hike Summary

There was a narrow window of good weather this week when I checked, only a Tuesday would be good for hiking. I dithered quite a bit making a decision on where to go.

I seem to have this problem lately, I have a terrible time choosing between options. It’s called analysis paralysis, and it’s something that comes and goes in waves with me. It just is a simple struggle to make a decision, and I often find myself asking others to make that decision for me. It makes me feel childish and childlike. I suspect it has some deeper roots in my overall life situation, and is something I hesitate to go into deeper at the moment.

Eventually, I just declared as I was walking upstairs that I would go to Kennedy Peak, partially because I wanted a hike that took me through Front Royal on the way home, because I wanted to test my hypothesis on whether the burgers at Spelunkers are really as good as my starving self said they were the last time I was there. More on that later.

Kennedy Peak is in the Southeastern section of the ridges and folds that make up Massanutten Mountain. The ridge runs along the boundary between Shenandoah and Page counties.

Once I got to the trailhead, I set out on the Stephens Trail, which leaves from one end of the parking lot. The trail winds gradually through Redbud and Maple and other broadleaf trees that I’m still learning to identify. I do now know what Sassafras looks like, and saw quite a few of those as I made my way along the trail. The trail was fairly rocky and definitely seems to be a favorite of horseback riders, as I saw quite a few piles of horse droppings along the way.

Then, I started encountering the blackberry bushes. It’s starting to become the season where berries are ripe, but the canes are everywhere, and they were growing closely along the trail. By the time the hike was over, my left leg was scored all over (my right being more shielded because of my walking stick) and I still have scratches all over, a week later.

As I said, the blackberries were starting to ripen, and I picked a few as I went along. I wished that I had a basket or bag or something to carry them with me, as I have a very nice recipe for Blackberry Blondies that I made a couple of weeks ago, and I’d like to try with some wild berries this time.

Stephens trail makes a turn up the ridge and eventually intersects with the everpresent Massanutten Trail, which of course goes along the ridge. As I was hiking along, I encountered a rider with the most gorgeous horse. She said it was a Tennessee Walker, which is one of my favorite breeds of horse. It was a fantastic color, with a black and silver mane and tail. I only later realized I never took a picture, and I wished I had. I often still have problems asking strangers for things like pictures when I’m out, it’s that social anxiety kicking in. I’ve gotten better but still have miles and miles to go in that department.

So, the trail went on up to the top of the peak, where there’s a wooden observation tower that is need of some serious repairs up top. The bench section of the tower has split apart somewhat and is hard to get a comfortable seat on, and the railings were starting to crumble. There also seemed to be a hornet’s nest somewhere around, but I managed to luck out, and the hornets weren’t being particularly aggressive. (It was actually only later, when I was home, that I realized that they were hornets that were occasionally buzzing around me.)

I stopped to have a snack and to look out at the views. There really is a great view of the valley to the East, with the south fork of the Shenandoah River, and pasturelands out towards Luray. Birds wheeled in the sky, gliding on the thermals. The sky was blue and streaked with clouds, so that the day passed from bright to dark, heralding the storm that would pass through later that week.

I sat and jotted notes in my journal, and then we headed back. At the junction to go more downhill, I saw wild grapes growing, which are always an enjoyable sight.

As the trail started to descend, it became wider, and probable was following an old road. I saw a lot of what I believe are woodland sunflowers, but I have discovered that there’s quite a bit of fiddly identification associated with these flowers. When I later posted some of my pictures on iNaturalist, one of the botanists there shared the difficulty in their identification, something she’s written a helpful blog post about. I love learning about this sort of thing, so the next time I’m out, I’m definitely going to have to do some work!

I noticed along this part of the Massanutten trail, there are a lot of excellent campsites, and it seems like it would be a great place overall to camp. Hopefully one of these days I’ll actually be able to do that.

The trail eventually runs out to Fort Valley Road, and there’s a great viewpoint right at the border of Page county, looking out towards Luray. It took me a moment of looking around before I figured out where the trail went, in the opposite direction, downhill. It wanders down switchbacks, going back and forth across a power line clearing, before winding up back at the opposite end of the parking area.

I was pretty glad to be back, my hip had actually started to get sore going downhill, so my steps were starting to become painful.

After, it was a little drive up some back roads to get to US 340. As I was going along one of the back roads, I looked up to the west and saw Kennedy peak poking up out of the landscape. It was a nice framing moment for the day.

Once back in Front Royal, I did indeed stop at Spelunkers again, and it was no fluke. Their burgers really are that good. If I hadn’t been so hungry, I’d actually be a more responsible blogger and post a picture of these delicious items, but they are just so good that I don’t want to stop to snap a photo.

Next time, I promise I will!

2013-07-30 Kennedy Peak