Category Archives: Virginia Hiking

Cool Spring Battlefield

Sometimes I debate with myself if I should share a place or not. Many of us photographers are not disclosing locations of photos because those locations can be overran with people hurrying to get a photo. I do hikes that I don’t share but I decided to go ahead with this post. Why? This is conservation land that is protected and I want people to know what is possible. This wonderful nature preserve sits next to Shenandoah River and is in Clarke County.

Shenandoah River as it runs through Clarke County, VIrginia
Shenandoah River

Cool Spring Battlefield sits on land that, just a few year ago, was a golf club. When a friend told me about it ages ago, he said, “you know, the old golf club.” Well, I am not a golfer so I wasn’t sure. I did some research and located the area and headed there last year. I loved it. The care of the land is under Shenandoah University. They use it for learning but are also allowing the land to grow back to its nature habitat. There are paved trails that were once for golf carts and some unpaved trails. And the place is huge. I only went a little ways my first time there. This time, I wanted to go to the end. It was well worth it because there is a section that climbs quite a ways and you have a beautiful view of the rolling countryside located on the opposite side of the river.

Beautiful View

I went pretty early in the morning and was blessed with a mostly empty park. The peacefulness was needed and I enjoyed the silence. While walking, I passed a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron. I was sad to have disturbed it. I attempted a photo but it was just a bit too far away and behind some tall grass so I couldn’t get a good focus. More on the herons later… As you reach the far end of the trail you’ll hear a waterfall. While it is not very large, it is pretty. I’m excited to return to photograph this waterfall in the spring and then again in the fall. I think the scene will be even better! It started to snow pretty heavily while I was attempting photos of the falls so I eventually had to stop. The flakes kept landing on my lens and I couldn’t wipe them away fast enough.

Waterfall at end of former golf course

The trail continues on past the waterfall. There is a ranger/park sign structure with a sheet of paper and pen. You are required to sign your name and state where/how far you’ll be hiking. This is a safety requirement and everyone should comply with it. The River Trail eventually meets up with the Appalachian Trail. I’m definitely going to be returning for that section of the hike.

If you like birds, one of the highlights of the park is the Great Blue Heron Rookery located across the Shenandoah River. It is quite a beautiful sight. When I have been there, the sky has been gray so they look like vampires hanging out on the branches with their nests. I counted 13 along with several nests. It is a sure thing that you’ll see herons when you visit this park. As always, please respect them and give them their space.

Heron Rookery with great blue herons and nests
Heron Rookery

What I love about this place is that it is a wonderful example of land conservation. Closer to me, in Loudoun County, Goose Creek was a golf course. I saw just last fall that it closed. They will be building houses on the land now and have already built a storage unit. This golf course ran right next to Goose Creek (duh) and it, too, could have been conserved instead of being turned over to more development. Granted, Cool Spring was a historic area due to the battles that took place during the Civil War and that probably went a long way in protecting it from development. However, this is a great option for future golf courses that go under. Let the land grow back naturally and preserve the trails for runners, bikers, hikers, etc. I found out, after emailing a word of thanks to those who administer the land, that there are thousands of acres of land protected around the former course and across the river. I think it would add up to close to 4,000 acres. That is remarkable.

If you decide to visit Cool Spring Battlefield, please respect the rules. Your dog stays on a leash. You Leave No Trace. No fires. Respect the land and stay on trails as much as possible Let’s keep the land pristine and beautiful.

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Outside with my Son

If you have read my site regularly you’ll know that I have had issues getting my son to get outside with me. He always loved to go hiking and exploring with me and then this past spring he announced that he didn’t like it at all and only went with me to make me happy. While it is sweet he wanted to make me happy – it also stung.

Last weekend we had a free afternoon. His soccer game got canceled so I announced to him that he was going with me outside and that was it. He couldn’t say no. He said, “Okay.” and gave no other argument. I feel like that is a small win. I didn’t have big hiking plans. I honestly wanted to get outside, take some photos, and wander around. Some of our most fun times have been when we just wander from spot to spot.

Cows

Mooooooo

We ended up at Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane, VA. We’ve been here a few times and I promised him he could go fishing at the pond. We first stopped and visited the cows. I like cows and think they are funny creatures. I wasn’t too successful and getting them to moo as I usually am but it was fun taking their photos. We headed down a nearby path and honestly, we turned around. It was boring even to me (I had thought it was a different trail). This is what happens when you’re so confident and decline a map.

Strolling in Fall

Walking the trail

We decided to drive to a different portion of the park. If you leave the main area and go back to the road, you turn left and there is an old farm across the road with more trails. It is called the Lost Mountain area. We parked there and headed down a path. I guess if I really wanted a nice, pleasant walk I would return to this trail. It was flooded from all the rain and muddy. That really wasn’t an issue but it made it difficult to walk and, again, not much to see. So we turned back, again. I will make a note, though, to return and hike to the top of Lost Mountain.

black white barn

The old barn

I took photos of the barn and we headed across so my son could go fishing at Turner Pond. As we drove up, a man was taking photos of a large bass he had just caught. That gave us hope that he would also catch something similar. So we fished. And fished. And moved around. The older man kept catching fish and we caught nothing. But it was a lot of fun trying.

Fishing at Sky Meadows State Park

Fishing at Turner Pond

Again, we wandered down a trail that is marked as the start of a 5K. I was more interested in the barns behind the trail and wanted to see if I could get a good photo of them.

small barn

The larger barns were nice but I preferred this

As I headed back, my son was on one of the ParCourse things (sections along a trail that allow for exercises). He was trying to balance on a pole and I finally saw glimpses of the boy who really loved the outdoors. He yelled at me, “Quick! Take my picture!” He reminded me of a photo I took years ago at Scott’s Run Nature Preserve where he wanted to “meditate in nature”. I was more than happy to take his photo. We ended up exploring and wandering for about 1.5 hrs and that satisfied me. I love spending time with him outside and seeing how excited he gets. I don’t think he realizes how much he likes it. He commented that the sun was too hot and he didn’t enjoy that. And so perhaps as it cools down he’ll be more open to going with me.

david one with nature

Inside he is telling himself not to smile and let me know how much fun he’s having. haha

If you haven’t visited Sky Meadows State Park in Virginia, definitely put it on your list. The views are beautiful. They have wonderful trails and you can hike on the Appalachian Trail.

Hike to Blackrock Summit

Blackrock Summit in Shenandoah National Park has been on my list for a long time.  The southern portion of the park is sometimes hard to get to as it is over 2 hrs from my house.  However, I was driving home from Charlottesville this past Saturday so I knew it was the perfect opportunity to stop.

I enjoyed a leisurely drive to the parking area from the southern most entrance to the park.  I tried to take some backroads up from Charlottesville and think it is a wonderful way to see parts of Virginia most never do.  As I curved around one back road I came upon an old church. This is the Afton Chapel, built in 1898.  Would I have preferred to have better lighting for this photo? Of course but I still think it is very pretty. If you’d like to know a bit of history about the area, click here.

I stopped at a few overlooks as I made my way to the parking area for Blackrock. I just can’t help myself. Each view offers something a little different. A different mountain. A different valley. It was such a beautiful day that I lingered at many. I was also hoping to spot a monarch or other butterfly at one of the stops as the milkweed was blooming.

 

 

I reached the parking area of Blackrock to the sounds of a screaming child. The poor thing had fallen shortly before returning to the car. I offered any assistance (they had first aid kit – good job, parents!) and chatted with the family a bit. I am always warmed when people are friendly at the park. I would say 90% of the people I’ve encountered are and that’s how it should be. The place should make everyone happy.

The trail to the summit it short. I pushed myself to hike it quickly to get in a short workout. And then, you walk out where the rocks form a river, and are encountered with one of the most beautiful views in the park (personal opinion of course). The mountains go on forever. The trees so lush and green they appear to be a blanket laid ever so careful over the ridges. I was in awe. Again, I was met with the sounds of screaming. But this time, it was just a family screaming to each other from their positions on the rocks above. It was jarring. I try very hard to not be a snob while hiking. That defeats the purpose of it being relaxing. However, I find yelling like that in parks unnecessary and rude. As I climbed the rocks, I found that they were not far apart. They were just yelling. I secretly willed them to leave.

I carefully made my way further up the river of rocks. I saw small spiders scurry as I stepped on their favorite spot in the sun. As I climbed higher, the sounds of yelling grew quieter. I found a spot to sit and the family of 10 filed out of the area. Yes, they were still yelling. I softened a bit because they seemed very happy and how could I be mad at that. I will not deny having a huge sigh at the peace I enjoyed five minutes later.

 

 

I don’t even feel like my photos do the area justice. The sunlight was harsh for late afternoon. I don’t particularly like my angles but hopefully they will still show how amazing the view is. I sat on a large rock for quite some time. Another couple eventually climbed up near me and it was just the 3 of us for over 30 minutes. I sat there and debated how long I wanted to stay. I had over two hours before the sunset would even start and I was supposed to get up early in the morning for a hike elsewhere in the park. I finally decided to leave. I’d had a long day and knew the 11 miles on Sunday would be very difficult if I didn’t get some rest (funny… I ended up having bad asthma, didn’t sleep, and didn’t hike). I am looking forward to getting back to Blackrock for both a sunset and a sunrise. The views are amazing and with a 270 degree view, perfect for both. A highlight as I left… I saw a mama bear and her two little cubs. I was thrilled because I never see bears in the park. And then just a couple minutes later, I saw another big bear alone along Skyline.

Little Stony Man Sunset with a Middle Schooler

Where has June gone? It seems to have flown by and I feel lost without hiking. I feel like I had a lot more time to hike last year and I need it more this summer.  Finally, I told my son that we were going to Shenandoah. I didn’t care what we did or what we saw but I needed the mountains.

As we drove there, we encountered a massive downpour. The kind where you can’t really see 10 feet in front of you. And then, as fast as it arrived, it left leaving blue skies and sunshine. Alas, no rainbow where I was.  We continued on to the park and arrived at an overlook. I got excited, grabbed my camera and realized I had no memory card. GAH! As I silently cursed myself, I suggested we head to Skyland and see if it was still open. Thankfully, it was and I bought two tiny, overpriced memory cards.  We made our way back to the Little Stony Man trail stopping at a few overlooks along the way.  If you have never hiked up to Little Stony Man, I highly recommend it.  It is a nice, short  half mile hike.  You can continue on to Stony Man or the Passamaquaddy Trail.

I was happy that there would be some clouds for the sunset. While we were on the trail, he let me know that he hikes with me to make me happy not because he enjoys it. My heart quietly broke. I know I should feel good that my son does something just to make me happy it also makes me sad. I felt like I was instilling a love of the outdoors in him and now I feel like a failure at that. All the times he was excited to plan our spring break hiking trip… the times he wanted to go explore… I thought he loved it. Maybe it is his age. He is 13 after all. I hiked in front of him trying not to cry (just as I am writing this right now). I attempted to focus on the “happy” part and kept going. We reached the small clearing at the cliffs. My son threw down the blanket and stretched out knowing he would have time to just chill while I snapped my photos. At first there were beautiful sunrays filtering through the clouds. It looked amazing even though I don’t feel like my photos do it justice. When the sun made an appearance, it was blazing bright. Almost too bright. I tried some new composition ideas (new to me) and am very pleased with how they turned out.

 

overlooking skyilne

Skyline Drive from Little Stony Man

I finally switched my lens so I could get some close-ups. In the past, I’ve cropped because I never think to bring my zoom lens for sunsets. They are some of my favorite Shenandoah photos. I will repeat it over and over:  I love the ridges and layers of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I am so happy with my shots and can’t wait to make prints.

colorful ridges

So in love with this

My son finally joined me at the sunset. He sat on the rocks and looked out. We saw a Peregrine Falcon flying around and he couldn’t hide his thrill at seeing it. It wasn’t long before he went back to laying down. He has a fear of heights and the rocks turn into cliffs at that location. I went to set up my tripod and realized I had forgotten the nub for my camera. I swear I take photos on a regular basis! Truly I do! For some reason, I rushed packing my equipment this time.  I had a specific idea for photos after the sunset but will have to return another time for those.

On the way home, I reflected on what my son said. I think I don’t believe him.  I think he does love the outside. He may not enjoy long, difficult hikes, but I remember how excited he was for spring break. I know how happy he is when we’re out exploring. It wasn’t long before he was asleep and I drove home content with our afternoon and evening.