Author Archives: Jennifer G

Responsible Photography & Hiking

I am taking some time to talk about ethical photography and hiking. I have been wanting to write this for a while but just haven’t had time (hence the lack of updates recently). I was spurred on by seeing a post on Instgram. It was a photo of Falling Springs Falls in Virginia. The photographer and climbed down to the bottom of the falls for the shot and it was being shared on various accounts (the main Virginia Tourism site for one). It irked me. It is illegal to hike to the bottom and fines are involved if caught. Do people get caught? Maybe. Probably not. And maybe they don’t care about the fines but there are reasons some areas are closed off. And by sharing those photos, it encourages others to climb to the bottom.

Now, in all honestly, I have passed a few lines that said, “stay back”. I have certainly hiked off trail but usually where allowed. But when signs say, “This is illegal and you will be fined.” I respect that. Maybe I’m a noob but if all photographers ignored those signs there would be trails where there shouldn’t be and vegetation would start to fade away. I believe in ethical photography. That means respecting laws. It means staying your distance away from animals and wildlife. It means not disturbing nature and following Leave No Trace.

Speaking of Leave No Trace… apparently people are now leaving painted golf balls on trails. It started with painted rocks. Now they have progressed to golf balls. This is from the blog “A Fork in the Road” by Jim Fetig.

This is a big no-no. If you see these, please pack them out. This is from the Appalachian Trail of all places. No rocks, no balls, no painted anything should be left on trails. So many places are being destroyed, we need to be ethical hikers as well and not introduce things that aren’t native to where we are hiking. And no, painted rocks are not native. I have packed out more than one of those. If you want to paint rocks and leave them around your neighborhood, that’s fine. I think that is totally different than Shenandoah National Park.

What do you think? Do you practice responsible hiking, Leave No Trace and ethical photography?

Adventures in West Virginia

I recently completed the West Virginia Spartan Beast Last year, I had vowed to never do it again and there I was, dragging myself up the side of a mountain. I left home Friday morning so I could do some exploring. Of course, a lot of that time was spent just driving. I swear the prettiest places are so far away. Thankfully, I had one of my best friends with me so the trip didn’t seem too long.

Our first stop was at Humback Bridge. Granted, this is in Virginia but close enough, right? It is so close to the highway it made sense to stop. The sky wasn’t great for photos. It was bland and gross. There wasn’t much water so the photos are so-so. We had the spot to ourselves, though, and that was cool. Again, it is too far away to go back very often but another trip during fall would be fun sometime.

Bridge Architecture

Our second stop was the Glade Creek Grist Mill in Babcock State Park. I have seen so many photos of this place and, of course, wanted my own photos. As we neared the park, we received a heavy downpour. I was worried that we might be rained out, but thankfully it stopped just before we entered the park. Whew. I also hoped that it would provide some water for photos. We haven’t received much rain this summer (unlike last year) and I really wanted a nice waterfall photo.

We arrived and saw that there was little water. The only benefit to this was that we could skip around on the big boulders to get different compositions. We took our time and had photos in front of the waterfall – together and alone. My only wish was that I had changed my lens. I am having some issues with my normal lens. Things never quite look in focus and it showed in my photos. When a location is 5 hours away, you want the best photos possible. Granted, it is hard to take a bad photo of the place. It is incredibly picturesque. What I wouldn’t do to go back in the fall or winter (and maybe I will).

At least we had some water

We could have maybe fit in one more stop after Babcock but I felt gross and just wanted to shower. Plus, the race was the next day and I wanted to rest up for it.

Yes, I finished the race. I shaved an hour off of last year’s time and that made me happy.

Sunday, on our way back home, we decided to do the Long Point Trail that gives you a good view of the New River Gorge Bridge. We made sure to read about the hike first because we had very tired legs from the race. Thankfully, the hike is very short with hardly any elevation gain. Perfect! The walk in the woods was nice. It felt good to stretch the legs. Walking after a race like that actually helps you recover more quickly as it gets the lactic acid out of the muscles (fitness tip!). We arrived at the overlook and only one other person was there. Bonus! We set up and took a million photos. We were there in the middle of the day so once again, my photos kind of suck. The light was very harsh but whattayagonnado? The view was amazing. It felt great to take some time and just sit there and appreciate it. Eventually, we decided to back. The drive would be long. As we hiked back to the car, at least 30 people passed us. We talked about how happy we were to not be there with all of those people. Many had dogs off of leashes and kids who were yelling. Not peaceful! (PUT YOUR DOGS ON A LEASH!!)

Photo by Toni’s Photography

I always knew West Virginia was beautiful. I live so close to part of it but had never really visited that section. Last year, I did Sandstone Falls and Hinton, WV but this was way better. All I can think about is returning. Having a job and responsibilities really puts a damper on my traveling. I yearn for the days when I can just get in my camper and go!

The Most Beautiful Place in Virginia

Can you guess it?

I have been through a lot of Virginia. All of it? No, of course not. There are some famous places I haven’t been yet. But I have been to Shenandoah National Park (numerous times, obviously, if you read this blog) and to parts of Southern Virginia. When my son and I went to Grayson Highlands State Park back in March of 2018, I was blown away. I knew I would need to return, multiple times, to experience the area.

The Beautiful Mountains

The day after we hiked The Channels, we drove over to Grayson. My daughter was a big jealous we had gotten to see the ponies who live in the park. Keep in mind that she was feeling jealous while visiting The Galapagos in Ecuador… (insert laugh here) I told her we’d go and check another box before she leaves for college. When we first arrived to the park, we headed straight for the visitors center so my girl could get a shirt. I told my daughter that I expected to hear, “Wow!” at least once, unprompted. That’s how beautiful the area is and if she didn’t notice it, I’d be mad. And then we had to go to the camp store to get some pain medication for my son. Finally, we arrive at Massie Gap to start looking for ponies. We climbed up the Rhododendron Trail and on to the horse trail. We saw a white spot out in the distance and got excited. The climb seemed so easy. When my son and I hiked the area it was thick with snow and seemed to take us forever.

Rhododendron Trail at Grayson//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

We got closer and closer to the white spot and then…. it was a steer. Cows also roam the highlands and we got fooled from far away. Thankfully, as we looked over to the Appalachian Trail we saw more! Off we went! We were treated to a group of about 5-6 ponies who were happily munching on the grass and vegetation. We stood for awhile watching them. It is always a thrill to me to encounter animals on a trail and ponies are no exception.

grayson pony//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Finally, we decided to hike back. We still had to drive 5.5 hours back home on a Sunday on the dreaded I-81. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to climb higher elevation and see the mountains go on forever. I wanted to hike on to Mt. Rogers and finally stand at the highest elevation in Virginia. Basically, I didn’t want to leave. I see a lot of mountains from blogs that I read. I have visited the Rocky Mountains. The Tetons. The Great Smokey Mountains. I have been in Arizona and Yosemite. All beautiful. The Blue Ridge Mountains, though, give me a feeling I can’t quite describe.

elena with ponies//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Just two weeks left before I take her to college…. *tears*

A Return to The Channels

Three years ago I failed… I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

If you are anything like me, you plan your hiking trips to the last detail. You know where the trailhead is, you know the length, the terrain, etc. This relieves a lot of stress and anxiety when starting out on the hike. I did 99% of this last time I took my kids to The Channels of Virginia. I still ended up failing because I couldn’t find the sign that would lead us to the actual channels. We looked around but I was full of fear. I hadn’t lead my kids on a hike quite like that. We had done short hikes. Easy hikes. One really long, dumb, flat hike. This was different. We were all by ourselves in the middle of no where. There was the large fire tower looming above me and it made me a bit dizzy to look up at it. And I didn’t see the sign. We had a wonderful lunch on the top of the mountain and returned and I always felt so frustrated that we hiked all that way and missed it.

My daughter is getting ready to leave for college in three weeks. I try not to think about it too hard because I will cry. Don’t get me wrong – I’m very happy for her. I’m excited for her. But I will miss my girl. Badly. Especially when movies come out that we’d see together. Anyway… before I get too teary-eyed writing this… She plans on studying geology in college. I always told her we needed to get back to The Channels because they are a cool rock thing here in Virginia. She was a bit annoyed at having to complete the hike again. But we planned our weekend and tackled it this past Saturday.

The Trail

The trail to The Channels isn’t hard, per se. It is steep in part but not bad. I guess I find it pretty easy because I don’t have to step up to hike it. You can generally walk it but the incline can be hard at times. It will get your heart pumping. It is, however, only 3 miles. We were laughing because it felt like we made it there pretty quickly (compared to last time). It took us just about 1.5 hrs to hike there. If you’re an avid hiker you can do it in less time. While there aren’t a lot of views from the trail during the summer, it is still beautiful. If you don’t talk, you have complete peace and quiet. There were wildflowers blooming all around us. And, lots of bugs. The flies were quite annoying (no wind). I’d say wear a hat in the summer – it seemed to help me.

Once you reach the top, you’ll see the fire tower and walk past it. You should, then, see the sign. It seemed so easy this time. I don’t know how we missed it last time. There is a trail prior to the fire tower and that takes you to a flat portion of the mountain. I think I was just distracted by it. We took a couple of “three years later” photos and continued down the path to The Channels. They didn’t disappoint. They were so very cool. It was a good 10 degrees cooler in there and it was fun to walk around. You really can’t get lost as they do end from all directions. You can shimmy between rocks, climb over them, or just stand in awe of the formations. We spent a good amount of time exploring.

As we exited, there was a large black cloud above us. I ran over to the other portion of the mountain top for a few photos and we headed back to the car. Obviously, the trip back was really fast. We were sweaty. Hungry. And satisfied. I was so happy we were able to do this hike. I think she was really “wowed” by The Channels. My son did his 14 year old thing but she was really impressed and that made me happy. I can see myself hiking this trail again. I really enjoy it. I would like to plan it when the rhododendrons are blooming – they line the trail and the trail down to The Channels. I bet it would be beautiful!

You can find the trailhead at the intersection of Hayters Gap Road and Raven Ridge Road in Jefferson, VA. There is parking for quite a few cars. You’ll climb about 1200 ft in elevation and the round trip hike is around 6.2 miles (depending on how much you explore).