October 15-17, 2016 Southern section of Shenandoah National Park
It’s been 4 months since we were last on the AT. We couldn’t have ordered more perfect weather to complete our last section in Shenandoah NP. We left Frederick at 7:00 am on Saturday and arrived at our intended endpoint, Wildcat Ridge, at 10:30. The plan was to hitch a ride 10 miles up Skyline drive to our starting point at the Jones Run Trail.
This was to be our last venture at hitchhiking, and we were eager to get going. It was also our most unsuccessful experience. We waited over an hour and watched 23 cars passed us without getting a ride. We decided to change our plans and hike northward to Jones Run and look for a ride back to our car at the end of the day.
The trail traverses the west side of the park. The trees were still leafed out with just a hint of mostly yellowish fall color. There was a posted warning about aggressive bears in the area, and Tinkerbell’s daypack with it’s attached bear bell jingled as she walked. We didn’t encounter any wildlife over the weekend, although there were reports of sightings by other hikers.
Black Rock overlook provided a spectacular panoramic view of the mountains and valley to the west. A kind woman hiking with her infant in a backpack took a nice photo of us. We encountered several young families on the trail slinging kids every which way in front packs, backpacks, and leading them by hand. We even encountered a woman who had a back carrier for her 30 lb. dog.
There’s always something interesting in the forest if you take the time to look. Believe it or not there were several flowers in bloom. A white aster was prevalent along the trail along with golden rod.
This is also a great time of year for mushrooms. I added a few to my growing collection of shroom photos. I think it would be fun to forage for mushrooms (of course, not in a National Park) but also under the guidance of a knowledgeable expert.
At the conclusion of our 9.5-mile hike, a couple from Arkansas had room for one in their car, and Michael was able to ride back to our vehicle and pick up Jane on the return. We drove into nearby Waynesboro, VA and had dinner at the friendly Jakes café in town, then returned to our stuffy room at the Quality Inn.
The next morning we had a hearty breakfast at Weasie’s Kitchen, a local favorite for the past 4 decades. We enjoyed the friendly service and chat with the waitress and other patrons. It’s experiences like this that make our adventure so interesting. As the sign outside says, Weasie’s is where friends meet to eat. It’s also a place where you do not go away hungry. The ample portions will fill any appetite. We were sorry we didn’t get a chance to return there for dinner and their very tempting homemade pies.
We drove up to the Skyline Drive on the second day starting at Wildcat Ridge and hiking south 10 miles to Beagle Gap. The trail meandered through lots of ups and downs, but had few scenic vistas. An exception was Calf Mountain summit. The high point is in the middle of an open meadow with nice panoramic views. Jane immediately laid down and propped her head on her daypack to take in the view. If it wasn’t for a chilly wind, I’m sure it would have been a prime napping spot.
The trail passes a power line clearing. The hissing and crackle of current snapped through the overhead lines. The utility company was in the process of upgrading their transmission line. Although there was an effort to establish native plants in the break, it’s still an ugly sight. It made us wonder how the utility easement through the park came to be. Were the power lines there before the establishment of the park?
Looking at the orange sign Dominion Virginia posted at the site, there was an intriguing link to a website with the keyword “Dooms.” I checked it out and see that the right of way is actually outside of the NPS boundary. The Appalachian Trail passes through a narrow right of way to connect with the Blue Ridge Parkway farther south. It makes you appreciate how big an impact protected land like National Parks have on the landscape.
Perhaps the best aspect of the weekend was the clear sky and a full moon. We decided on a picnic dinner on Sunday to take in the view. We found a local Panera in Waynesboro and got some food to go. We drove back up to Skyline Drive racing against the clock to travel the 20 or miles before moonrise. On our way to the overlook, we were greeted by a gorgeous sunset off to the west. This one of those evenings where both the sun and moon were visible in the sky at the same time.
We perched on the northern side of the Moormans River overlook which had a panoramic view of the valley and a small ridge off in the distance. We initially had the place to ourselves, but later another couple parked at the far end of the lot. Once they turned off their lights we had only fading sunlight, the caw of cows, and rising moonlight sprinkled with stars. Occasionally a car would sweep past on the drive requiring a moment to re-acclimate to the dark. We used the Star Walk app on our phones to locate constellations and planets. I believe we saw the International Space Station wiz by. It was a very bright object slowly traveling in a southeasterly direction low on the horizon.
Tonight’s moon was called a super full moon, because it was closer than usual to earth. It came up behind the ridge as a dark orange orb, slowly climbing into the sky. The scattered wispy clouds picked up the color of the moon glow and also reddish hints of the sun setting in the west. As time passed, Luna’s color grew yellower and brighter. Later in the evening it had lost most of its reddish color.
We like the spectacle so much that we decided to get up before sunrise and drive to an overlook to watch the sunrise.
After our picnic breakfast on Monday we drove to our starting point at Beagle Gap to start the last section in Shenandoah NP. It was chilly in the morning with hoar-frost on the ground but we felt fine once we started moving our legs. It was only 8:00 am when we hit the trail, so the strong raking light added interesting sparkle to the scene.
This was probably the least attractive section we hiked. At the top of a hill was a large complex of 5 gigantic communication towers. We couldn’t figure out what the black objects on he towers were. They looked like black climbers ascending the towers. The access roads and construction disturbed the native growth and the area was loaded with invasive plants. Other areas seemed like an evil forest full of dead trees and think thorny vines.
Nonetheless, we completed hiking the 105 miles in beautiful Shenandoah National Park. Our next section, is just a few steps away, where the AT enters the Blue Ridge Parkway.