The Approach of Winter

Although winter is not officially here yet, we are seeing signs that the transition to the season is well underway. The difference in the nature of the woods during past few weeks is stark. This is how a certain section of the trail looked two weeks ago.

This is how a section of the trail that we visited (a different one) looked yesterday morning.

It was still early in the morning when we got on the trail yesterday at Whites Ferry. It was quite cold outside, in the 30s. We are still getting used to the onset of these kinds of temperatures, fairly typical for this time of year at this time of the day. Fortunately, it was not windy. The sun was still struggling in and out of the clouds from its position low on the horizon when we arrived. There was little warmth from its presence. The weak rays of light barely reached us through the leafless trees.

The majesty of the towering Sycamore trees was once again revealed to us in its fullness: on the trail,and across the river on the shores of the Potomac.The perfect reflections on its calm and quiet waters further enhanced our views of the river, and uplifted us, on this beautiful morning.

For some reason, we encountered very few people on the trail yesterday. But we did see a few great blue herons. The herons were more skittish than I expected – like this one that we encountered early on in the walk.

Its eventually warmed up into the 50s, a more reasonable temperature to handle at this stage of our transition to winter.

The long walk that we took served well to compensate for the calories consumed during the Thanksgiving meal. It was a quiet and relaxed affair with just the family and a friend, with the kids putting in most of the effort in preparing the meal. We are thankful – for everything!

On The Streets Where We Live

People may have been wondering about the mad man driving up and down their streets, pulling up to the curb at seemingly random moments in time, and getting out of the car with camera in hand. No worries! It was only your friendly neighborhood photographer searching for locations with “optimum” lighting to take pictures from. Weather conditions and the time of day played into my efforts to capture the colors of autumn in the lighting that I thought was best.

In my opinion, our streets are the prettiest during the later part of the annual autumnal event of the turning of the leaves. Interestingly enough, none of these trees have appeared in our neighborhood naturally. They were all planted.

Here are some sample pictures.

You may have noticed that a few of the pictures have been taken with some element of back lighting. The trees actually looked quite different, and perhaps not as noteworthy, when seen from other angles. The impact of a tree’s colors often change as you walk past it. In fact, seeing the trees from other perspectives may even lead to unhappy thoughts for a homeowner. It might serve as a reminder of the seemingly unending task of the raking and removal of the fallen leaves, another noteworthy activity for this time of year.

This is my song for today.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kX3PZ_ynss

The Hiking Weekend: The Billy Goat Trail (And Other Trails At Great Falls)

The Great Falls of the Potomac river are located not too far from where we live. There are parks associated with these Falls on both sides of the river. Great Falls Park is on the Virginia side of the river. On the Maryland side, the park is considered a part of the 184.5 mile C&O Canal National Historic Park that runs from Washington, DC, to Cumberland, MD. The Billy Goat trails are located in the Great Falls section the national historic park. There is an old tavern beside the canal at Great Falls that now serves as a Visitor Center for the park. There are many visitors to this section of the C&O canal, most of them who have come to get a view of the Potomac river and the Great Falls from Olmsted island. You can see the river in all its fury as the river channel narrows and the mass of water is funneled down into the Mather Gorge.

But the adventure that drew me to this location was not the Great Falls themselves. I was here because I wanted to hike the Billy Goat trail, Section A – the original Billy Goat trail. (Sections B and C are more recent additions.)

It had been many years since I had faced the challenge of the Billy Goat Trail. It was a distant memory by this point. I remember clambering over rocks of random shapes and sizes and negotiating rocky cliffs. I remembered having to use my hands for climbing, and my butt for sliding down. I also remembered the views of Mather Gorge from the trail. I had a memory of how much fun it all had been.

The trail system around Great Falls was not well developed when I last explored the original Billy Goat Trail. I decided that I would get my miles in by exploring these newer trails also this time. I finished the day walking almost 9 miles.

This Billy Goat Trail has become more and more crowded in recent times because of of its location. This is a well populated section of Montgomery County, the place where we live. These are also the suburbs of Washington, DC – a big city and the capital of the country! The Billy Goat trail is probably the most challenging trail close to us.

In order to better manage an untenable situation with an increasingly overcrowded trail, starting in 2020, the authorities have strongly recommended its usage as a one-way trail. (Indeed, all the relevant trail markers do not indicate that this is only a recommendation!) This setup prevents one from running into people going in the opposite direction in sections where it is clearly impossible to pass each other. You are supposed to hike the trail from north to south. The best place to park your vehicle to get to the trail head as quickly as possible is at the Visitor Center at Great Falls, a location less than a half-an-hour drive from home. So, there I was!

This was the morning after the change from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time. As a result, I was at the park very early. I walked south along the canal towpath to get to the entrance for the trail.

There were other signs warning people about the challenging nature of the trail. This was not a hike primarily about climbing great heights or descending down mountains. The main challenge is keeping your footing when climbing up and down the big rocks. Dogs are not allowed on this trail!

The early sections of the hike were relatively easy, but the random rocks that you saw along the way were an indication of what was to come.The trail ran parallel to the Mather Gorge. There were certain places where you could walk up to the edge of cliff to view the gorge. This is a panoramic view of Mather Gorge early in the hike. (I “stitched” three individual picture to create this view.)From the pattern of the shadows in the gorge, you can make out that it was still early in the morning when I took the picture.

Soon we were clambering over rocks. It was easy to get lost because there was no obvious trail, and the only indication that you were headed in the right direction were the trail markers, sometimes at a distance, painted on the rocks. You had to scan the horizon (in a manner of speaking) to find out where the next marker was located since the path to be taken to get across the rock piles was not necessarily a straight one. Having said that, it would probably be difficult to get lost in this space if one kept going a generally southerly direction. The primary issue when going off-trail was probably wandering into ecologically sensitive areas and causing damage.

You had to use both your hands to climb up and down rocks, and to keep your balance on uneven surfaces. There was the occasional use of the butt to slide down rocks. The trail even went up and down the side of the cliff beside the river on a couple of occasions. I had to put my camera away in the backpack so that it would not bang on to the rocks and get damaged. I would only take it out on occasions when I sensed a photo opportunity.

It was about this time of the hike that I began to feel the draw of this particular trail in a stronger and more insistent manner. This was exciting! The adrenaline was flowing.

Here are a couple of pictures of the gorge taken a little later in the morning.
The most challenging section of the hike was the location seen in the picture below. I believe that unofficial name for this place is The Traverse.

Although difficult, the challenge of The Traverse is probably more mental than physical. You do have to overcome your fears. You will reach out with your hands and feet for something that seems unreachable. You will have to also trust the traction on your shoes as you step on the inclined rock. (Do not wear shoes with worn out soles!) In the end, people of varying abilities and of a wide range of ages seemed to be able to make it through. Of course, you would not want to try to get across The Traverse if you had some infirmity that limited your movements in any way.

After a while, the trail veered away from the river towards its termination point on the the C&O Canal towpath at Widewater. The nature of the trail changed somewhat,although there were still some rocky sections like this one.Once I was back on the towpath next to Widewater, I proceeded south to the bridge at Anglers Inn.

I crossed the bridge

and got on the Berma Road trail to connect to the newer trail system at Great Falls (that I talked about earlier). I took a random path through these trails, moving generally in a northerly direction, but also checking out as many of them as I could in the process. The Gold Mine Loop Trail appears to be the trail of note here. The trees were generally still mostly green in the woods.I was able to make my way back to The Tavern using the Overlook Trail.

I could have ended the hike at this point since I was back at the place where I had started it, but the distance I had covered at that point was less than what I had covered the other days of the weekend. It did not feel right! I compensated by walking a further couple of miles – going north on the River Trail and returning to The Tavern on the towpath.

This was a fantastic end to a weekend of hiking!

The Hiking Weekend: Seneca Creek State Park

Seneca Creek State Park is a place that I go to regularly. It is actually a part of one of my running loops that I can get on to directly from home. I typically run along the south shore of Clopper Lake, and on Mink Hollow Trail and the Greenway Trail, approaching and departing the park from the south.

You get a nice view of Clopper Lake and its shoreline through the trees when driving on Longdraft Road. The view tends to draw your attention (you might end up taking your eye off the road for just an instant😉), especially in the early mornings when the sunlight lights up the trees on the sides of the lake. From past experience, I know that this view can actually be somewhat stunning when Fall is at its peak. I had been hoping to actually see and experience this view this year. It had been a while since I took my last Autumn picture from this vantage point. A hike going through this location became a goal for the weekend’s activities.

I needed to get to the target location for the picture I wanted to take a little later in the morning, after the sun had cleared the trees. The point was to get the sun shining directly on the trees rather than have them in the shadows. Since the park was close to home, I had to make sure that I did not leave home too early.

This is a picture I got from the location of interest.My overall timing for the picture had ended up not being ideal – too late for the colors and too early in the morning to avoid shadows. This was not the picture I had had in my imagination, but it would have to do.

There happened to be a few birds in the water in that corner of the lake.
I walked along the north shore of Clopper Lake. (As I mentioned before, I am usually on the other side of the lake.)

Fall could be experienced in its full brilliance along the lakeside.But there were also other sections of the trail where all the leaves on the trees were still green. These sections tended to be a little away from the shoreline. While I was generally not motivated to take pictures of green foliage, this section of evergreens, away from the lake, did catch my eye.

I took a diversion from the lake to walk along a road leading towards the entrance of the park. I then took a trail leading down to Seneca Creek from the parking lot for the Park Office near the entrance.I ended up on the Greenway Trail which runs all along the creek, beyond the boundaries of the park itself.

This is a picture of another section of the park closer to the Long Draught Branch, a creek at emerges from the dam for Clopper Lake. The trail is called the Long Draught trail.As the pictures in this blog show, different kinds of trees dominate different sections of the park. There must be a logical reason for this.

This hike did not take too much time. I was generally zipping up and down slopes which in past years would have presented actual challenges. But I was also getting tired towards the end of the hike. I slowed down in the section south of the Great Seneca Highway closer to home.

Not having had to drive anywhere to get on the trail, and because of the relative ease of the trail, I was done with the hike rather early in the morning. I did manage to cover over over 8 miles.

The Hiking Weekend: Sugarloaf Mountain

I found myself on my own last weekend, the rest of the family – the ladies – having decided to have a weekend to themselves in NYC!

My thoughts turned to outdoor activities. This was an opportunity for me to focus on things I could do on my own, to do things my own way, and to push myself to my own limits without worrying about others.

It was too cold for biking. I decided to spend the weekend hiking. I could hopefully cover significant distances, and also tackle some challenges that I have not been able to get to recently.

I was also hoping that during the weekend I would meet with some level of success in finding places where the leaves were turning on account of Fall. (Some hopes never seem to die!) I was successful in this endeavor, but with one surprising twist. I would find areas of green, changing color, and even trees without leaves, all within within a few hundred yards of each other within a single park. There could be any number of reasons for this. Perhaps it was difference in the kind of trees in different locations in the park. It could have been the location of the trees themselves – beside a body of water, or on a hill, or in a location that was exposed to winds in a certain way. It was a “micro climate” kind of phenomena that I had not anticipated. Or, perhaps, I was being more sensitive to this phenomenon this year.

Having said all that, my focus when taking pictures during the weekend to a large extent still remained the phenomenon of Fall. How could it not be? This turning of the leaves is something that happens only once a year, and it lasts for such a short period of time. It transience is part of what makes it attractive. For that reason only, the pictures that I post will probably be primarily about Fall. The reader may get the mistaken impression that the experience of the hikes of the weekend was fully about the colors of Fall. That was not the case.

My destination for the first hike of the weekend was Sugarloaf Mountain. I was able to get out of the house very early, and was at the trail head shortly after 8 am, less than half an hour after sunrise. The temperatures had fallen below freezing during the night, and it was still cold. I was dressed warmly in a few layers.

I was able to get this picture just outside the park. The scene caught my attention as I was driving past. It has to be noted that this is a fully landscaped area with trees planted for their visual impact. This is not completely natural. But, it did have the Fall colors I was hoping to see!

I met an older gentleman at the start of the first trail I took, near the entrance to the park. From the way he was dressed up and equipped, he appeared to be a seasoned walker. As I overtook him, I made a comment about the fact that the leaves on the trees had not changed color in that area. He mentioned right away about how beautiful it had been in the Shenandoah National Park the previous weekend. He noted the bright reds of the Oaks and the Maple he had seen during his visit. Dang! We had been about three weeks too early when we made our own visit.

I was keeping a brisk pace up the mountain. I was feeling it! As I left the older gentleman behind, I was wondering what his life story was all about. His face look quite weathered. He had a Peace Corp logo stitched into his beanie, and he seemed to be able to spend his weekends enjoying the experience of hiking on his own in the mountains. These were all positive signs to me.

Surprisingly, I ran into the same gentleman in the park on two other occasions – once in the middle of the hike, and once towards the end. I was generally walking at a much faster clip than he was, but was deliberately taking longer routes. I even took a break in the middle to make a phone call to India!

Here are some pictures from the hike.

This is the extent to which the colors were turning in certain sections near the beginning of the hike.The sun was still low in the sky at this point.

My first stop was the overlook at the eastern parking lot.

The next stop was the overlook on Sugarloaf Mountain, the main peak in the park. The trails to this peak are the steepest in the park and are quite challenging. It was a good way to start the day.You can see the Potomac river and the towers of the Dickerson Power Station from the summit.

And then it was time to descend from Sugarloaf Mountain and head off towards the northern peaks of the park. This was a long stretch of hiking. I had the trail mostly to myself, very rarely running across another human being. It was very peaceful – just me, the trail, and the woods. I cannot even remember the sounds of the birds. It was quiet except for the occasional distant sound of the rumble of traffic.

The view from the White Rocks, the northernmost peak in the park, was not as panoramic as that from Sugarloaf. I took this picture to try to capture how the colors were changing in a wooded area below us.

On the way back from the northern peaks, the trail descended all the way down to the level of a road that runs through the park. (I have biked on this road before!) This was how the trees looked at that level.It felt like the phenomenon of Fall was past its peak in this section of the park.

And then it was back once again on a trail that went up the mountain. I had an opportunity to climb to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain once again, but decided not to push my luck since I was a little tired at that point. I took a trail that skirted the peak. On the way down the mountain, during the last stretch, I came upon these ruins on a short side trail.I find it interesting that a majority of of the old stone ruins that I have come across while hiking seem to have only their chimneys still standing. There is surely a logical reason for this.

I hiked a little more than eight miles on Friday. Having started early in the morning, I had time to do some shopping at the grocery store on the way back home. I was feeling good. I rewarded myself with a turkey panini from the deli. It was a very satisfying finish to the activity of the morning.

Halloween Sunday On The Trail

We started our walk from the parking lot at the Dickerson Conservation Center on Halloween Sunday. We walked towards the Monocacy Aqueduct. The colors were rather dull. It took a while for the sun to emerge.

Later on during the walk, we ran into some young people dressed up for Halloween.We saw them a couple of times on the trail. They looked like they had actually walked a significant distance.

The trail was mostly green, but we encountered a few trees with yellow. We have come to the realization that a lot of the yellow is due to the turning of the Pawpaw trees.

We crossed the Monocacy Aqueduct but did not quite get to Noland Ferry before we turned back. The river was running a little high that morning. I have taken so many pictures from this perspective that I neglected to take another one that morning.

I liked this picture of Spinks Lock (Lock 27) with its lock house. The lock lies just beyond the power station at Dickerson.

My eyes were drawn to this sight of the drying leaves of a sycamore tree up in the sky, caught in the early morning light. The blue and the white in the sky provided a nice contrast to what we were seeing on the trail.

Williamsport and Pearre, MD, On The Same Morning

It was our first weekend walk along the C&O Canal after my return from India. After our earlier somewhat less successful experiences in the Shenandoah National Park with the viewing of Fall colors, we were going to give it a shot once again. But, based on experiences of past years, I was also not expecting much success in this regard. Except for in a few short sections of the canal closer to the city, the leaves on the trees along the towpath tend to fade to shades of yellow, with perhaps an occasional tinge of orange if you are lucky, or turn directly to brown. You do not see much of the reds.

In any case, we decided to give it a try, and headed to a place that was much more north and west of where we lived, where, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Fall was well underway. We went to Williamsport.

Unfortunately, we arrived in Williamsport to find that most of the vegetation was still green.We walked south on the trail up to a section just beyond the re-watered part of the canal. At that point we determined that the colors were not going to improve. We aborted the walk, returned to the car, and decided to drive further west to see if we could have better luck in our endeavors. This part of the Sunday morning activities was totally unplanned.

In any case, before leaving Williamsport, I managed to get a picture of the restored Conococheague aqueduct from the level of the creek, something I was unable to do during our previous visit.

We drove west past Hancock. Soon after, just before the Sideling Hill cut on highway I-68, we turned south onto Woodmont Road, one of the occasional narrow local roads that run through this extremely rural section of Maryland.

(As an aside, Sideling Hill is actually a somewhat long (but not very tall) mountain ridge of the Appalachians that runs all the way north into Pennsylvania and south, parallel to the border of Maryland and West Virginia, to West Virginia. The Potomac river forms the border of Maryland and West Virginia here. At some point the river turns and cuts through the ridge. The border of the states continues to follow the river.)

This space was a part of Maryland that I used to come to by myself, to run and explore, every once in a while in the past, but not recently. This section of the Maryland is lightly populated and heavily wooded. The drive south on Woodmont Road was quite nice, and we could see some color on the trees along the way.

We ended up at the parking lot for the Western Maryland Railroad Trail (WMRT) in Pearre, MD. This parking lot used to be the western terminus for the WMRT. We discovered that morning that the trail has been further extended a few miles west.

We were able to get on to the C&O canal towpath from the WMRT using a connector between the two trails. Alas, the vegetation here was also mostly green. We took the trail headed in a westerly direction. It was less than a mile before we crossed the Sideling creek and Aqueduct.The railings on the WMRT (behind the aqueduct in the picture above) looked new from the level of the aqueduct. This was our first hint that that trail might have been extended beyond Pearre. It was perhaps more than a mile after that before we came to a place where we saw the following structure.We realized that this was the place where the extension of the WMRT on the railroad right-of-way ended. This was where the WMRT connected back to the towpath.

We decided to tranfer to the WMRT for our return to Pearre. There was a little more color to be experienced from this perspective, but not much.The trail was very nicely paved and in much better shape than the towpath in these parts.

It turned into a long morning because of our having gone to two different places, and because of the extended distance away from home that we had traveled. I was tired, and it put me in a bad place later in the day for the first music practice after my return from India.

We have not had much success so far this year in our quirky annual endeavor of trying to find places to experience the colors of Fall. It may not be too surprising to some that I have been observing the fuller phenomenon of Fall, with more of its brilliant colors, more vividly closer to home – on the local roads – in recent days. I do not know yet if I will end up taking pictures.

The Third And Last Day On The Skyline Drive

We were up early once again this morning.After breakfast, we had to pack away all our stuff into the car because we were checking out. The plan was to get back on the Skyline Drive and, instead of exploring the southern section of the park once again, head north – in the general direction of home!

It had been very quiet around the tiny home during our stay. This morning I happened to hear what sounded like birds. So I stepped out with my camera to take some pictures. The sun was rising through the trees.I managed to find the Wren that had been making the noises.

Our first stop in the park that morning was in the Big Meadows Area. This is one of the popular sections of the park. It includes a Visitor Center, and even a gas station and a lodge. Our destination for the hike was the Dark Hollow Falls trail, between the mile 50 and 51 markers. Although short, the trail was advertised as being steep and rocky with a challenging return climb. Dogs were not allowed.

The parking lot was full even though it was early in the day. The trail turned out to be quite popular. This was the first trail on which we experienced true fall colors in the park.

We descended into the woods on a trail that was challenging in places.There were older people who were having a hard time of it in certain sections of the trail, and, unfortunately, some people had even brought their dogs.

The walk was worth it. The falls were quite beautiful.
We were done with this hike quickly. We headed further north to the Thornton Gap Area. The goal was to climb up to Mary’s Rock Summit, a landmark which lay on the Appalachian trail. We would be hiking from the parking lot for the Meadow Spring trail just north of Mile 34 on the Skyline Drive. We could not find parking space the first time we drove by the lot. We could not even find parking on the other side of the road, where the trail starts.We were fortunate to find an empty spot the second time we drove past the lot. We had to drive more than a mile away from the lot before we could to find a place where we could turn around to return to the parking lot!

You could see the signs of Fall at the entrance to the Meadow Spring Trail.The trail itself was fairly steep, taking us straight to the top of the ridge, where it ended.We then headed north on the Appalachian Trail which ran along the top of the ridge. After an initial climb along the ridge line itself, we were on a trail that ran fairly level the rest of the way to Mary’s Rock. Both sides of the trail were potentially open to panoramic views on the east and west sides during this part of the hike. Unfortunately most of the view was obscured by the vegetation.

There were signs of autumn along the trail. This part of the hike was easy. We got to Mary’s Rock without too much delay. The view from Mary’s Rock Summit was spectacular!We could see the Thornton Gap below us, and we could see US Route 211, the highway that we were going to take to get out of the park, at the point where it intersected with the Skyline Drive.

The hike back to the car was uneventful.

We had not prepared lunch for the day. We ate the leftover meatballs and spaghetti from the first day of this trip, and filled our stomach with other stuff.

We were able to head back home immediately after this hike. I thought we would make it home early. Unfortunately, we hit rush hour traffic by the time we got close to the city. It was not a good combination – being tired after all the activity of the day and then sitting in heavy traffic. I was quite exhausted by the time we got home. It was a stressful drive!

The Second Day On the Skyline Drive

We woke up quite late that morning in our tiny home in Stanardsville. The previous day’s activities had worn us out more than usual. It was however still dark outside in the woods, a phenomenon to be expected at this particular time of year in our part of the world. There seemed to be no point in rushing to the park to get an early start for the activities of the day. But, at the same time, there was nothing much to do in the tiny home other than having our breakfast and packing some food for the day. We were on our way to the park sooner than I expected.

Stanardsville was close enough to the park that we were were able to get to our first destination of the day shortly after 9:00am. We were visiting a section of the park in the South River Area, close to the Swift Run Entrance to the park. This was the same place we had exited the park to get to Stanardsville the previous evening.

Once we got back on the Skyline Drive, we headed south towards the Hightop Mountain Parking lot that was close by.

It was still early enough in the morning that there was enough space in the small parking lot for our car. The place also happened to be far away from the more popular sections of the park. Perhaps there were less people that hiked this trail anyway. The goal was to climb Hightop mountain that morning. We would be on the Appalachian trail for the entirety of this walk.

The hike was challenging from the start.The mountainside was all green. In spite of all the green, there were were signs that the leaves were beginning to drop,

In the midst of all of the vegetation, we passed a few random rock formations that appeared unexpectedly beside the trail. It made you wonder how they even got there. The geology of places can be interesting. The Appalachians happen to be an older mountain range (when compared to ranges like the Rockies and the Himalayas). They have been worn down with time.There were touches of yellow on some trees in the higher reaches of the mountain.The view from the viewpoint on Hightop mountain was not exactly what I was expecting to see from my reading of the literature.I had expected something more dramatic and panoramic. We went further along the trail hoping for other viewpoints from the mountain but did not find any. It turns out that a more expansive view might have been possible from the place where we had stopped if I had gotten above the vegetation level to to the right of where we were standing. Perhaps, winter is a better time for such a view.

Hightop mountain is the highest peak in the southern section of the park.

After the hike, we drove further south into the park to the Loft Mountain area, stopping at the Doyles River Parking lot (just beyond Mile 81). Once again, there was enough place to park in the lot itself. After lunch in the car, we headed for the Doyles River Trail to see the waterfalls. The trail marker to the right of the picture below is typical of what you will find in the park.The bands around the top of the post have information about trails that intersect, and about distances to destinations.For a change, instead of heading up a hill after parking the car, we had to hike down a mountain ridge to get to our destination. After all, significant waterfalls are not likely to be found along the tops of the ridges of mountainsides.

The way down was quite steep. We knew that we were in for a challenging time returning to the car.

We had walked just a short distance before we found and took a spur trail up a hillside to the Doyles River Cabin.The Doyles River starts in the vicinity of the cabin, probably as a spring. There is a spring supplying water at the place where the spur trail to the cabin meets up with the main trail to the waterfall.

Much further down the mountain, Browns Gap Fire Road crossed Doyles River and our trail.

The trail also crossed Doyles River just beyond the bridge.

We went all the way down to both the upper falls,and the lower falls.The trail was somewhat difficult in these parts. The waterfalls were also a popular destination, but they were not too crowded.

There were asters blooming everywhere we looked, and all along the trail side.

The climb back to the parking lot from the falls was as difficult as we had anticipated.

We were done with our hiking earlier than I expected. We had been making good time on the trails in spite of the challenges they presented.

We were tired and immediately headed back to Stanardsville. We had to stop at the grocery store in town to buy something that we had forgotten to pack – toothpaste! It had been quite the experience the previous night and in the morning improvising in the absence of toothpaste! Something like this does not happen often.

Getaway had left some goodies in our tiny home when arrived the previous day, including some marshmallows that could be melted over a campfire – to be served as a sandwich with crackers and melted milk chocolate. We could buy firewood and starter material for this purpose from Getaway. (They were stored in the plastic box in the picture below.)We decided to try it out. My attempt at starting a fire was not very successful. We had to settle for one partially melted marshmallow!The wood would not catch fire! One of the logs was smoking a lot, as if it had moisture in it.

We had to abandon our attempt to sit outside beside the campfire for an extended period of time. I was a little upset about the whole experience the rest of the evening.

Dinner that evening was an Italian Wedding soup with turkey meatballs and chicken sausage that Teresa had made at home and brought for the trip. It was delicious and hearty, and went down very well with a couple of beers after the long day in the park. I actually did some reading that evening before going to sleep.

And I was also happy to be able to brush my teeth that night.😊

The First Day on The Skyline Drive

We started our short vacation in the Shenandoah National Park last Sunday.

The Getaway Outpost near the park that we were going to stay at was located closer to its southern end, just outside the village of Stanardsville, VA. My initial thought had been to drive to Stanardsville directly, driving on the main highways in order to get there as quickly as possible. I changed my mind shortly before we started out. We decided to start our explorations of the park on Sunday itself, starting at the northern end of the park. That entrance to the park, just outside of the town of Front Royal, VA, was very easily accessible to us via Interstate-66 – the most direct route to the park from Washington, DC. This was how we usually got into the park. This was also Mile 0 on the Skyline Drive.

I-66 transported us from the crowded suburbs and the unending construction close to the city to the bucolic countryside of Virginia. Soon we were approaching the eastern ridges and the hills and valleys of the Appalachian Mountains.

As we got closer to the park, we could not help but notice that the foliage everywhere was still green.

The Senior Pass that I had just got helped us bypass the longer lines at the entrance to the park. The first order of things was to stop at the Visitor center to decide the places that we wanted to visit within the park. A ranger indulged us with maps and suggestions for places to hike. The places suggested were located all along the park – starting close to the visitor center where we were beginning our visit, and extending to the place that would exit the park to get to Stanardsville (just beyond Mile 65 on the Skyline Drive) at the end of the day.

I could not help but notice that the Dickey Ridge visitor center that we were at was busy, but not overcrowded as it sometimes gets during the autumn season. People from the Indian subcontinent were present in large numbers.

Thankfully, the crowds diminished as we drove further into the park.The first stop was in the Compton Gap Area, just beyond mile 10. We hiked up to Compton Peak West from the Compton Gap Parking area. The parking lot was full but we found some space next to the road.The hike was mainly along the Appalachian trail.

We realized very quickly that this was not going to be like our typical weekend walks along the C&O Canal. The climb started right from the beginning of the trail.

The climbs were significant and persistent.This being the first of our hikes for the week, we had to take more than our usual quota of breaks to catch our breath. I did not think that the altitude was significant enough to be contributing to our troubles.

The Compton peak viewpoint itself was occupied by a group of young people who seemed to have had settled themselves in for the longer run. I had to settle for this picture.You may be able to actually make out the Skyline Drive on the ridge in front of us in the picture above (click on the picture to enlarge it). The roadway itself can be seen in one spot through a gap in the trees. You can see the road better in the zoomed-in picture below.

We did see some yellows on the trail.This being the first day of our visit to the park, we still had hope that we would see more Fall colors.

After the hike, we continued our way south into the park. We stopped at the Elkridge Wayside area and found a picnic bench where we could eat our peanut butter and cranberry marmalade sandwiches.

Along the way, we kept our eyes peeled for signs of seasonal change.

Our next hike was in the Hawksbill area. We took the Upper Hawksbill Trail from a parking lot south of Mile 46. This trail had a shorter climb to the peak than the Lower Hawksbill Trail, but was longer in distance, and also took a longer time. Our choice of trails is a good indication of our mindset when it came to hiking at that stage of our travels. We were conservative in our efforts.

The climb up the Upper Hawksbill Trail was not as challenging as the one we had done in the morning. We did see more signs of early autumn as we made our way through the woods.

The wind was picking up as we hiked the trail. We could hear it howling through the trees by the time we got to Hawksbill peak and the viewing platform there. It was even difficult to hold steady while taking pictures at the top!

Shafts of intense sunlight cut through the dark clouds moving over the valley, lighting up parts of the valley selectively.

As you can see below, the ridge line was clearly visible from the peak. If you open up the pictures below and look at them carefully in sequence, you can zoom in on an overlook on the Skyline Drive near the top of the ridge line. The overlook is on the west side of the ridge (on the left side of the ridge as seen in the picture). These pictures should hopefully give you a good idea of the scope of the panoramic view we were getting from this mountain top.

There were clearly signs of autumn in this section of the park.

This is a picture of Byrds Nest 2 shelter near Hawksbill peak. There are shelters and cabins throughout the park.Incidentally, Hawksbill is the highest peak in the park.

This was our last significant stop for the day. We drove further south on the Skyline Drive towards our destination for the evening, and left the park at the Swift Run exit just south of mile 65. We took US Route 33 East out of the park towards Stanardsville. We had to descend from the ridge on which the Skyline Drive is located on a winding road which was a little challenging, especially at the advertised highway speeds. The town was a few miles away from the park. We first did a bit of light shopping at the grocery store in town before heading out to the Getaway Outpost just outside of town.

The first evening at the outpost was a bit of an adventure. It was simply a matter of getting used to our own place in the woods.

The inside of the tiny home was quite cozy.

That evening we enjoyed a dinner of fresh pasta with marinara sauce and meatballs that we had brought with us from Gemelli’s Italian Market! I had been having a craving for spaghetti with meatballs during that period of time. It was a part of my physical and mental recovery from my trip to India.

We were quite tired from the day’s activities and crashed out soon after dinner, well before our usual bedtime.

You can read about the second day of our trip here.