Freezeland

Freezeland Rd to VA Rt. 50

March 27, 2016 (10 miles, 5.5 hours)

We were using the 2-car shuttle technique on this trip. Frost was on our windshields when we started the hour and a half ride to our end point at Virginia Route 50. By the time we got there the temperature was 50 degrees. But as we shuttled to our starting point on Freezeland Road, the inspiration for the name became readily apparent. The thermometer dropped down to 43 degrees as we gained about a thousand feet of elevation to our starting point.

early bloodroot
Bloodroot just beginning to bloom.

The trailhead is located in the G. R. Thompson Wildlife Management Area. It’s one of the best places around to observe wildflowers. We visited the park several times in the past, especially to see the magnificent trillium blooming in April.

On this late March day, a brisk wind brought a chattering to our teeth and remorse for not bringing gloves. Fortunately the sun beamed down on us in the leafless forest and the cold dissipated as we quickened our pace. But compared to last week, it was a bit like walking back in time. The plants at this elevation were just starting to bloom. The bloodroot here was just beginning to open up.

This portion of the AT crisscrosses a variety of trail and lanes. It’s a relatively easy section to hike, especially trekking south to north taking advantage of the mostly downward slopes.

Jane looks up plant crop
Trailside plant identification.

The temperature warmed as the day progressed and we descended to lower elevation. Jane noticed a green-speckled ground cover that became more prolific as we continued on our way. Finally she spotted a tiny yellow bud that prompted her to sit down and pull out the guidebook. The verdict—trout lily, in the earliest stage of blooming. The name derives from the leaf coloration that resembles the speckled coloration of trout. We’ll keep a lookout on our future hikes to see how the plant progresses.

 

Trout lily just beginning to bloom
Trout lily just beginning to bloom

It was in this area where we met our fist thru-hikers, a young couple from Kentucky. They started in southern Pennsylvania and were on their way to Georgia. Once there they plan to return to their starting point and pick up their northbound trek to Maine.

Bloodroot juice
Tincture of bloodroot.

We took our lunch at Dick’s Dome shelter. A partial geodesic dome nestled beside a beautiful rock-strewn creek. Here we experimented with bloodroot. We plucked a plant, cleaned off the soil, and Jane rubbed the meaty rhizome on her palm. The result was a reddish glaze. It reminded me more of mercurochrome on a scrapped knee than menacing red war paint. Do they still make mercurochrome?

We observed a few woodpeckers thumping away, but the surprise find was this little rascal slithering in the leaves. It’s an eastern garter snake.

 

Eastern garter snake
Eastern garter snake

After climbing the hill from our lunch stop, we encountered a large patch of overgrown trail that looks like a haunted briar path. Then we crossed into the beautiful Sky Meadows State Park. Here the vista opens up to a managed meadow. Golden stalks of tall grasses glowed in the sunlight. We took the half-mile Ambassador Whitehouse side trail to an overlook of the village of Paris, VA nestled below.

Paris Overlook
View of the village of Paris, VA.

From there it was only about 2 miles back to the car on a mostly downhill slope. We were both feeling pretty good and not tuckered out. With only a 1,200-foot elevation gain on this section the ten miles went by quickly and we had plenty of energy to stop and explore along the way.

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