Fast forward six weeks. My dad and stepmom are in town visiting from Oregon, so I took a few days of leave to spend time with them this week. I checked out the schedule ahead of time, and on Thursday, my dad and I went down to SNP to join the Park Ranger guided hike to Little Stony Man.
View from the Parking Lot
(picture doesn't do it justice)
It was an absolutely gorgeous day out. I couldn't have asked for better weather for the hike. The sun was out and the visibility across the Shenandoah Valley was extraordinarily good. Temperature was in the high 70s and it was a bit breezy, but it was nice to keep us cool during our hike.
We met up with Park Ranger Sally, who has a PhD in geology, along with two other hike participants at a view point parking lot, and after some brief introductions we headed out on the Appalachian Trail. Being a geologist, Sally had a lot to say about the different types of rocks we saw, but she also told us a lot about the plants and animals along the way, too.
rock tripe. They are edible and have a calorie content. File that one away in the "survival skills" back of your noggin. (No, I didn't try any.)
Self portrait on the AT
Trail Blazes: Here's something else I learned today. WHITE trail blazes are ONLY used for the Appalachian Trail in SNP. BLUE blazes are for hiking trails (not the AT). YELLOW blazes are horse trails. RED blazes mean you're leaving the park, turn around!
We saw a ton of Mountain Laurel everywhere we went on our hike, and it was beautiful.
Stony Man looking up to the sky
Park Ranger Sally had a lot of laminated information pages and annotated pictures in her backpack to help explain things to us along the way.
Talking with some thru-hikers
Thru-Hikers are people who are trying to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in one season. This is right about the time they pass through SNP, so we encountered several on the trail and stopped to talk with a few. These guys left Georgia on April 3rd and had hiked 900 miles by the time we crossed paths with them on June 10th.
My dad and me on the AT
Evidence of Bears
Several hikers told us they had seen bears that day. Along the way, the Park Ranger pointed out a couple of indications that a bear had been there recently. In the photo above, she pointed out that it was fresh indication that a bear had been ripping up this dead tree to eat the bugs inside. We also saw where a bear had recently removed a rock from alongside the path to eat some sort of a bug nest under the rock.
What's that in there?
Can you see it?
The Park Ranger told us that 60% of bears in SNP den up in trees, and pointed out this bear den in a tree. The two black spots on the tree in the middle of the picture are gaping holes in the top of the tree where the bears climb in and out.
In spite of all this, we never did see any bears. We did see a ~3 foot snake that bolted into the brush before I could grab my camera. We also saw a lot of tiger swallowtail butterflies, but they wouldn't stay still long enough for me to get a decent picture, either.
Evidence of Civilian Conservation Corps
We saw evidence of the projects done by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, such as the retaining wall in the first picture above and the remnant of the old emergency telephone system that ran along Skyline Drive. The post on the right is one of those things I would have just walked on past if I had been hiking this alone without a knowledgeable guide to teach us about what we saw along the way.
My dad and me under the Stony Man's nose
Self portrait under Stony Man's nose
It certainly wasn't a very long hike, but that's okay. It was a beautiful day and a nice hike, and I learned a lot from Park Ranger Sally.
After we finished the hike, we headed to the Skyland Lodge for lunch. We scored an awesome table by the windows overlooking the Shenandoah Valley. This was my second time eating here, and both times I have been very pleased with the quality of the food and the service, not to mention the stunning scenery.
They use local produce here, to include local blackberry ice cream pie. :-9 I highly recommend it! (Oh, and I recommend sharing - one slice is definitely big enough for two people.)
I'm very pleased with the two hikes I've done in SNP so far, and there are still several more hikes I would like to do.
In the Skyland gift shop, I picked up two new books:
Wildflowers in Color: A Field Guide to More Than 250 Wildflowers of Eastern North America. In case you haven't figured out by now, I really enjoy taking pictures of flowers on the trail. I'm not very good at identifying them though. I have searched a few book stores for a field guide to flowers I see, but haven't been happy with anything I found until now. This book is compact and easy to use. It has two big color photos of flowers on each page with a short text description of each.
I've also been on the lookout for a good reference for day hikes in SNP. I ordered one off the internet and wasn't very happy with what I got. It was compact but not very user friendly or informative. While in the Skyland gift shop, I thumbed through the half-dozen different hiking guides they had on the shelf, and I thought this one was the best balance of compactness versus content. It has very good maps and descriptions of the hikes, and it has a pretty long list of hikes to choose from. This was one of those cases where I was glad to put "eyes on target" and choose which one I wanted instead of just ordering something that sounded good off the internet.