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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

Overall Run/Beecher Ridge – Shenandoah NP

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Hike Summary

This really has been the best summer since I’ve moved to Virginia. It’s been nice and cool, almost like where I grew up, in California.

The hike of Overall Run starts out at the end of a road, which turns into a private drive for about 3/4 of a mile. Along the road I saw mounds and mounds of spotted touch-me-nots. I had thought that they were just solitary flowers, from the ones I’d seen before, but here they were everywhere along the road.

Everything seemed like a jungle that day as I got to the trail itself and made my way in. As the trees closed around me, the world went quiet. There was a lot of dampness from previous rains, and the sun filtered in in little rays. The forest seemed to give me that same feeling that you get when you go into a cathedral or large building of worship – that feeling of silence. I imagine the feeling of the stillness of nature is possibly one of the things that influenced architects in the first place; we want to go back to where we came from, in the trees.

There was a fruity perfume in the air again, I am not sure which plant or wildflower causes it, it might be the blackberries that are nearing the end of their run perhaps, and fermenting on the vine.

The trail starts to climb, gently at first, meandering alongside Overall Run, which was a little dry at this time of the year, despite the rains. I came upon a brilliant purple flower out of nowhere as I was going along. I still haven’t gotten an ID from it, but its color was startling to behold out of nowhere.

The trail continues up on switchbacks, and I took some time to stop at a nice campsite to eat a snack. Continuing on my way, I got to the top of the ridge, and the view was clear out across the valley towards Massanutten mountain. As I stopped to take some pictures, I was joined by a pair of hikers making their way down. From this point on, for a good while, it was a rather busy hike as the trail comes very close to Matthews Arm campground, and there were a lot of campers getting in a last summer vacation in Shenandoah.

A little bit further on, the Overall Run falls were in view, but they were a tiny bit disappointing. As I said, even though it had rained, it was still a mere trickle due to it being late in the summer. I’ll definitely have to repeat this hike next spring.

Continuing with my hike, I made my way along towards Matthews Arm, and then the trail split off to go downhill. From this point on it was again pretty quiet, with fewer hikers. The character of the forest was a little different as well. Gone were the tulip poplars and oaks, and there was a drier, more piney forest.

I made my way around a bend and I heard a sudden crashing. I stopped, and I saw retreating from me two black bear cubs. Not wanting to have any encounters with their mother, I started to hike along much more swiftly, singing in a loud voice about how I was not very edible to bears, and that my dog and I were both rather stringy and not appetizing. This seemed to have done the trick.

I continued on, down the gentle decline of Beecher Hollow trail. About halfway down the descent, I encountered the two hikers again. Seems that we were both taking the same route, but in opposite directions. I gave them some assurances about the route back, and then blurted out some food recommendations, in case they were not familiar with the area.

I felt kind of silly about it afterwards, I often feel like I have a tendency to blurt out things at the wrong moment, or at an inappropriate time. I worry that I’m inserting myself into conversations in the wrong way, and worry that people thing I am making things all about myself. I’ve never had many friends, and I often wonder if this is why.

The trail made a right turn at the bottom of the hill and started to ascend again. It felt almost like the hike was already over, even though there was a way to go before I turned back off of the loop. The trail follows the river here, and eventually there’s a big swimming hole, which I didn’t partake of, there were people there and also some dogs. I had to set a pretty swift pace to keep ahead of the ones that had left the swimming hole the same time as I.

Retracing my path, I arrived at my car and set off for home, with a stop at Spelunkers and some Red Velvet Cheesecake frozen custard.

2013-08-21 Overall Run Beecher Ridge

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

White Oak Canyon & Cedar Run – Shenandoah National Park

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Hike Summary

With the previous week having been so hot, I had been worried. Would it be another sweltering day? Would the weather just not cooperate?

The weather exceeded my expectations. It was so mild that I actually thought I might need a sweater when I awoke, and tossed one in the car, “just in case.”

It was just such a fantastic day, it was as if someone had smiled upon me and gave me beautiful weather because it was my birthday, and they knew it was a special hike.

White Oak Canyon trail is probably one of the most popular trails in Shenandoah National Park. You get to see one of the prettier waterfalls, and it has multiple cascades. If you’re a fan of water falling vertically downhill, this is the best trail to go on.

I started out from the bottom, at Berry Hollow. The trail winds through forests before starting an ascent ever upward. There were quite a few hikers, even during a weekday. I wasn’t totally surprised, because it was the first gorgeous day in a couple of weeks, and it is the most popular trail in the park.

Even though it’s midsummer, I saw plenty of wildflowers, and was stopping pretty often to take pictures. I leapfrogged along with a pair of hikers up to the lower falls, which were quite pretty.  There was another group of hikers, a family, behind me, but they turned around before the upper falls, which surprised me.

The upper falls were quite beautiful as well, although I don’t like going near cliff edges too much, I was able to take some pretty shots. It’s a testament to how popular this place is, that there are paved steps along parts of this upper trail. There are also signs warning people that the hike is strenuous (which it is) and to not overdo it. One of the things I did enjoy was for me, how much easier it seemed to get uphill compared to the other hikers. This was a change from Big Schloss, where I felt like I was the slowpoke.

I passed a couple more hikers and pointed out the nice vista to them as I went along. Once I got to the big junction of trails, I decided to take a route that was longer than normal, and continued up White Oak Canyon trail, until it intersected with the Limberlost trail.

The Limberlost trail was quite pleasant, gravel with a lot of benches along the way. I stopped at one of the benches to eat a snack, and I watched an Eastern Comma butterfly flitting around the sunny area. At this point I really didn’t see any other foot traffic at all, and in continued along the way, turning on the Crescent Rock Trail.

One thing I had done with this hike, because I wanted to go on a longer track than most of the hiking sites around, was modified the route to include these extra trails. I was a little bit nervous about doing this, because it seemed like there were slightly complicated intersections, but it seemed that I got it really almost perfectly. All the turns that I put in there were at the right places, and my GPS unit beeped it’s reassuring chime, alerting me that the trail I was on seemed to be on the right path.

I reached Skyline and started to cross, and about 500 feet away, a pair of black bears decided to do so as well. I pulled out my camera, but unfortunately all I got was a brownish blur in the distance. The traffic along the road got a much better look, and I think I’m pretty happy I wasn’t any closer, to be honest. I’ve had the good luck to have had all my encounters to be at a safe distance.

I crossed and took a connector down to the AT. As I ventured down below the Crescent Rock overlook, I saw quite a few pretty wildflowers, including a Purple Flowering Raspberry, which has one of the prettier flowers out there.

The trail wound out of the sun and into the gloom, and the footing was rather rocky but overall pretty even. I wasn’t on the AT for very long, cutting over at Hawksbill and heading down Cedar Run Trail.

Cedar Run Trail is pretty similar to White Oak Canyon trail, although to me it felt much steeper. This might also have been because by this time I was starting to get a little tired, and sometimes it feels like going downhill when tired is actually more difficult than going uphill.

The one major difference is Cedar Run’s falls are more swimmer friendly. There are quite a few swimming holes along the way, and I saw swimmers both leaving and heading to the falls. Since it was later in the day, and I had no swimming suit with me, plus a dog who isn’t enamored of the water, decided not to partake.

However, there was at least one crossing of Cedar Run that made me decide to take my boots off and wade across. The water was ice cold! It did feel good though, and I took my time and enjoyed the feeling of cooled off feet before I put my boots back on. There’s even one swimming hole that has a natural waterslide, hence the nickname “the slide.”

Finally, the trail leveled off and I was back to the parking area, where I saw a stand of wineberries which I ate a few of. It was a long hike, and I think the next time I will pare it down from 10 miles to the shorter 7 miles, but it definitely deserves its reputation as being one of the best hikes in the park.

2013-07-25 White Oak Canyon & Cedar Run

Little Devils Stairs – Shenandoah National Park

Hike Summary

This was probably the most challenging hike I’ve done since I started hiking, with the exception of Sky Meadows (which I made before I started tracking things, and before I was really prepared.)

Getting to the hike itself was a little bit of an adventure, as it doesn’t start from Skyline Drive, but at the end of Keyser Run Road in the back of random neighborhoods near Washington, VA. Part of the hike itself consists of what used to be the continuation of that road before the area was turned into a park.

So, the hike. It starts out more or less gently for about the first quarter mile, but then becomes increasingly difficult up until around the 2 mile mark. The hike parallels Keyser Run up a narrow gorge, so even though the trail is mostly well marked, it’s almost impossible to miss the trail because there’s nowhere else to go.

There were points where I had to do hand-over-hand climbing, and at least one spot that I had to boost the dog to help him up a ledge that was too high for him. He’s a medium, 50 pound dog, so most things don’t bother him, but this particular part was a little challenging.

The challenge was worth it, though. Although I suspect it’s nicer in the springtime when more water is flowing, almost every few feet there was a little cascade, waterfall, rill or some other vista of falling water. There was a constant gurgling, trickling sound. I almost got tired of taking pictures.

It was rough going for a bit, I had to take constant breaks so that I could catch my breath. Even though the temperature was in the 70s F, it felt as warm as some of the hotter summer hikes due to the exertion. I was definitely glad when I hit the junction called Fourway.

From Fourway, it was pretty much smooth sailing and downhill all the way to the end, down fire roads. I did encounter an equestrian doing laps on the road, for which she apologized. I told her I was perfectly fine with her riding up and down the road, although my dog had never seen a horse before. I think he thought it was some sort of large dog, and he wanted to make friends.

I am doubly glad she was there because she mentioned that there was a group of four bears along the trail ahead of me, but her horse had scared them off. I am a little nervous about bear encounters, as though where I grew up was next to and surrounded by National parks, there haven’t been any bears repopulating them.

I passed by a cemetery along the way as well, it was very well maintained. It made me a little sad to think about all the people who used to live within the bounds of the park that had their land seized and were basically kicked out, but on the other hand it was for a very good cause, and most of the time you can’t really tell that anyone ever lived in Shenandoah.

The leaves are just starting to barely turn up here. Hopefully soon, I will be seeing spectacular colors on my hikes.

More Pictures of Little Devils Stairs