After our sunrise hike to Hawksbill, my daughter proclaimed she wanted to return to see a sunset. She, amazingly enough, had a free Saturday this past weekend so off we went to Shenandoah National Park. This time through I bought the annual pass! I should have done this the first time I went earlier in the summer. It is well worth it when making return trips.
There are a couple of different ways to reach Stony Man Summit. You can park at the overlook and do a longer hike or drive to Skyland Resort and pull into the parking lot that’s immediately to your right as you turn off of Skyline Drive. This makes for a very short and easy hike. We chose the shorter version since we’d be coming down in the dark. The trail map says the hike is 1.6 miles round trip. It does have some elevation gain but it is very minimal. This is why many say it is a perfect hike for families.
As we drove to Shenandoah National Park I was worried about rain. It had rained off and on for three or four days. It was supposed to have cleared up by Saturday but didn’t. The mist still lingered in the air. The rain started to fall, lightly, when we were about 20 mins from the park. I asked the kids if they wanted to proceed and to my delight they said, “Yes! Let’s do it!” I offered up some alternatives in case it was raining. We could hike to a waterfall or just roam around the resort area until we saw if it would clear up for the sunset. My son was intent on hiking to the summit while my daughter wanted to see a waterfall. I figured I’d decide once we got up into the mountains a bit.
Sperryville, VA lies right outside of Shenandoah National Park. It is a small, picturesque town with a creek that runs beside it. I saw a pull-over area and asked the kids if they wanted to hike down to take pictures next to the creek. They agreed until we walked to the edge. Unfortunately, that pull-over seemed like an unofficial dumping ground for the area. Tires, dirty diapers, socks, sunglasses, and more were strewn all over. I often have a bag for trash but did not this time due to the short hike. We did our best to get past the trash and made it to the gorgeous creek. I attempted to take some pictures of the kids. I failed miserably but I did get some good ones of the running water.
As we drove up into the mountains the clouds were parting and there was sun and blue skies. I was so happy and relieved. We reached the parking lot and started our hike. It didn’t take us much time at all to reach the summit. I was a little disappointed to see it so crowded. I thought, perhaps, the rain would have kept people away. Taking photos was difficult. However, it wasn’t too long before they all left. The clouds were like a blanket over the mountains below us. At times it felt like you could jump and land on a big, comfy pile of clouds.
Sitting alone this whole time was a single dude. I felt bad for the guy. I’m sure we disturbed him a lot. My son kept messing around and I kept yelling at him. How peaceful… He didn’t seem that angry as he didn’t move. We explored the rocks and climbed around and attempted to take cool photos. I’m still a photographer-in-learning so some look great and some look stupid. And then the sun began to set. It was really beautiful and I know my kids loved it. Even my son took an amazing photo.
The wind began to pick up and it got chilly. We were prepared this time and put on gloves and my daughter wrapped herself in a blanket. The single guy stood as if to fully take in the whole sunset. He pulled out his flip phone and took a couple of pictures. And then he left. Then we did, too.
We hiked back down the short trail. My daughter looked like a warlord with the blanket billowing behind her with her light of her flashlight outlining the edges. My son felt the need to ask for photos along the way with the flash illuminating the whole area (and somehow kept his eyes open). At the bottom we piled into the car to drive to an overlook. We wanted to see the stars while we were there. We ended up at the Stony Man overlook. The sky had turned a beautiful color which I attempted to capture. And soon the stars flooded the sky. It is overwhelming to me to stand and look at the stars like that. Soon the Milky Way appeared above us. I laid down in the parking lot to fully immerse myself. Amazing. I don’t have the right instruments to take a night photo to show what I saw so you’ll just have to believe me.
Finally, we started the drive home. 8:40 pm. It felt like midnight. My son had been struggling with hiking with me recently – even telling me he didn’t want to go anymore. So this trip made me incredibly happy. Not only because they wanted to go but even when it was raining they wanted to continue. I may end up with outside, adventuring kids after all!
Since Veteran’s Day of 2015 I have been working towards a 52 Hike Challenge. The idea is that you hike once a week to get outside, get some physical activity, enjoy nature, etc. I figured I was outside a lot and loved hiking so this would be a fun challenge. I thought I wouldn’t have any issues completing all 52 hikes. Well….
Here it is the third week of September and I have 11 hikes left. How did this happen? Partially it is because my son’s soccer practices were moved. They used to be at a location where I had access to a variety of trails. It made it easy. Now once a week he is at a very suburban location. There is a trail at the other location but it is very small and not too exciting. I use it for trail running however and trail runs count (I checked).
Granted, it isn’t the end of the world if I don’t get all 52 hikes done but I aim to finish what I start. I made a point to get out to a nature preserve that is near me last night. I was happy to have it be just me and the birds at one point. Because we have been in an alm0st-drought I could walk through the brush and stand on the edge of a pond. There isn’t a path out to it so I wasn’t worried about anyone else coming out there. The water had dried up a bit so there was plenty of dry sand. I didn’t sit because of bugs but I was there for quite some time just feeling the peace. I saw a heron, crane, hawk, and probably a turkey vulture fly over me. I heard many other birds and saw a fish jump. A dragonfly flew past me more than once. It was amazing. And that’s why I hike. That’s why I spend time in nature and committed to doing it 52 times this year.
I have 9 weeks left to get 11 hikes finished. I think I can do it. I may have to double up on a couple of weekends but I will do it! My last hike will take place on Veteran’s Day – 1 year from when I started (just about). I have a special hike in mind but am weighing my options. And when I reach that summit on my 52nd hike I will rejoice and start all over again.
The last time I hiked Hawksbill I had planned to get there before the sunrise. That just wasn’t possible although I had captured the sunrise at an overlook (I don’t know that it turned out very good). Hawksbill is the highest point in Shenandoah National Park and you get about a 270 degree view at the top. I figured this was perfect.
The kids agreed to get up at 3:30 am for the drive out to the park and then the hike. As we arrived at the first visitor/restroom area we realized how windy it was. Hurricane Hermione was off the coast a bit but perhaps the winds were reaching the mountains. We took some time to stop and look up into the sky. My kids had never had the chance to see the sky with so many stars. It was a bit overwhelming. The last time I had seen a sky like that was when I went to Mexico on a work trip in college (many years ago). The sky there was even more magnificent but the kids were appropriately wowed. As we drove down to the trailhead I started to worry that perhaps it was too windy for hiking in the forest area. There were small branches down on the road and the last thing I wanted was to be hiking in the dark and not being able to see branches falling.
When we got to the trailhead I left my car lights on and walked out onto the trail a bit to assess the situation. I didn’t see any branches – small or big – along the trail so I decided to make a go of it. We gathered our packs, flashlights, and headlamps and started up the steep trail to Hawksbill. This was our first time hiking in the dark. It was just about 5:45 am and there was no one else out there. I had my SPOT (GPS locator and SOS device) ready and was prepared with bear spray and my knife. Perhaps overkill but I wasn’t going to let anything happen to my kids. At one point my daughter and I heard something in the distance. To me it had sounded a bit like coyotes but I’m not so sure they hang out in the Shenandoahs. It didn’t really sound like bears either. It freaked her out a bit but she decided it was the wind so we carried on.
The hike up Hawksbill is not long but it is steep. We had to wait for my son a bit as he started to complain (par for the course with him). We usually grab his hand and help him up the mountain. It didn’t take us long to get to the top. First light allowed us to put away our flashlights. The wind was insane. The gusts were probably upwards of 40-50 mph and it was chilly. Normally, it is fun to scramble around the rocks a bit but I chose caution over risk that morning. One wrong step and you’re down the mountain – having a gust of wind wouldn’t help. So we hung around the look-out area wondering if the sun would come up. I looked out and only saw clouds. I had lugged my tripod up in my backpack and it is a good thing. The lack of light made photos difficult (as I’m just a newbie and have no clue what I’m doing) and the tripod at least helped me get them in focus.
My kids huddled down together to stay warm as I roamed around looking for good places for photos. Needless to say I didn’t do great. Eventually, I couldn’t feel my hands anymore. Working the camera was difficult and it didn’t look like the sun would be up for quite a bit of time. The clouds were very high. So we decided to head back down the path. We made it about 10 mins down and the sun decided to appear. I contemplated going back up the mountain again but the looks on my kids’ faces said it all. They were frozen and hungry. So I took a forest shot of the sun and headed down the path. I wasn’t happy. I was pretty sad and disappointed because it is not easy to get out there for sunrises.
We made it back to the car and my son realized he couldn’t find his phone. Alas, he had left it at the restroom we stopped at on the way into the park. Thankfully, it was there and we drove all the way back to get it. All I was hoping was that no one else would visit the restroom and find it before we could get there. Whew. We hopped in the car and returned back on the road to return to Skyland Resort for breakfast. The dining room was beautiful and the food was fantastic. The windows offered great silhouettes although I couldn’t quite get what I wanted with my kids. They played along a couple of times but usually grow tired of me asking them to pose for photos.
On the way back we stopped at various overlooks for photos. There are quite a few that didn’t make it into my album. I need to add them because it shows us having fun and goofing around. Finally we reached the road to go home and made the 1.5 hr drive back to the house. All-in-all we had a good time. My son loved hiking in the dark while my daughter was freaked out about it. We agreed that we would try again in the future so that we could see the sun actually come up and bless the mountains with its light.
All photos can be seen by clicking the link below:
The area known as “Algonkian” in Loudoun County is one of my favorite places to visit. I’ve written about it before and have an album dedicated to it. There are numerous trails to pick from and all of them are special.
Someone I follow on Instagram posted photos from the Algonkian Nature Preserve. I kept thinking she was in one area of the park but as it turns out there is a whole section dedicated to the preserve. The trail I ran on all last fall passes a playground and I would stop at the playground for Spartan Training. I had never noticed that the path kept going and boy did I miss out. I was excited to go and stay on the trail this time.
I finally reached the Preserve. What a special parcel of land. It is very marshy and swampy and they have done a beautiful job of creating the trails. In fact, the evening I was there, a man was out weed-whacking the trail. I thanked him for volunteering to do that and was amazing at how much he had done (a half a mile at the very least).
I spent a lot of time just exploring and waiting. I was hoping to see some wildlife – anything. While I did see some squirrels and a turtle I didn’t get to see any beavers or wild turkeys. I was also on the lookout for birds. I did see some cardinals and blue birds but nothing bigger than that. While I didn’t see any mammals or birds I did see nature in all its glory.
The trails (as I mentioned above) are very well maintained. They are wide which makes it nice when others are running or passing by. There are also a lot of great trees. I saw one that was just huge (my photo didn’t do it justice) and some that were just interesting. I took a photo of the one pictured below because it was unique in how the branches grew in comparison to all the other trees.
As the path winds its way to the Potomac River you will happen upon a picnic table. The location was just so pretty. And as you look out over the water you see a variety of floating docks with grills on them. Yes, grills. I didn’t see anyone using them but it seems like a fun idea.
The sun had started to set as I was leaving. I wanted to stay for the full sunset but I hadn’t been feeling well and thought I should get home. I definitely want to return for a sunrise and a sunset. I saw plans from 2015 for a boardwalk out into the marsh area. I don’t know what happened to that because I definitely didn’t see one anywhere. I think that would be a fantastic idea. The marsh area in my hometown has one and it is a fantastic way to view swampy area.
I definitely will be heading back here often. The Nature Preserve is a great place for walks, hiking or trail running (very flat).