Category Archives: Virginia Hiking

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).

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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.

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.