Jenkins Gap to Elkswallow (Shenandoah National Park)
May 11, 2016 (12 miles, 6.5 hours)
After 3 hours of driving and shuttling cars, we began our hike at Jenkins Gap. A heavy fog swaddled Shenandoah this day and intermittent drizzle was our constant companion. It was so dreary, the federal government even left the fee collection stations vacant. Traffic was light on Skyline Drive, so the federal treasury didn’t suffer too much.
It’s been over a month since our last hike and we were eager to get back on the trail. Donning rain gear we set off into the mist. Raindrops glistened on the foliage and the fragrant smell of damp earth filled the air. In our absence these past weeks, the forest sprang to life.
The forest floor flushed vibrant green. Chickweed, violets and geraniums were prevalent as we set off. Jane gets the eagle eye award on this trip for spotting a cute salamander. It’s dull red-orange coloration blended with the leaf litter. A quick check on the Internet revealed it as a Red-spotted Newt. In case you were wondering there’s no difference between a salamander and a newt. A newt is a specific type of salamander, a member of the family Salamandridae. In other words, all newts are salamanders, but not all salamanders are newts.
One of the interesting plants in full force was the yellow-brown cone-shaped Squawroot. It’s a plant that has no chlorophyll. It’s actually a parasite often found around oak trees. According to Wildflowers of the Appalachian Trail, bears love it. It’s said that in early spring tattered patches of Squawroot are sure signs of bear activity. No bear sightings this trip.
Another interesting plant was one with whirling yellow-brown flowers. We learned that it is lousewort, a semiparastic plant that derives some of its nourishment from the roots of other plants. Back in the day, it was believed that the plant hosted lice that would infest grazing cattle.
We were pretty tired at the end of the hike, and the prospect of a 3-hour return trip was not a pleasant thought. We concluded that we reached the limit of easy commuting to our hikes. From here on, we’ll have to schedule overnight stays.
On our drive back on Skyline Drive, we caught a few breaks in the fog to reveal a misty mountain scene. As we returned to our car, 3 thru hikers were camped in a foggy field. The past several weeks have been unusually rainy. It must have been tough for the thru hikers.
The one saving grace of our route home, is the good frozen custard at Spelunkers restaurant in Front Royal.