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A Trip to Difficult Run

One of my favorite places to visit is Difficult Run near Great Falls National Park. I know this place gets a lot of visitors but I still think it is one of the hidden gems of our area. Difficult Run cuts through large rock formations and down into a gorge. I have been in the fall, spring, and now winter and it never disappoints.


Difficult Run in the Fall

Difficult Run

Difficult Run in the Spring

My son and I headed out yesterday to hike through the mud. It was all worth it because even with no leaves on the trees the sights were still incredible. As you walk down the path you’ll come to cascade after cascade. And I guess one section isn’t technically a “waterfall” but it is the size of many.  There are also a lot of places where you can crawl out onto the rocks and get very near the running rapids and it is pretty exciting.

Full waterfall with cascades

Looking Up the Gorge

There is a place on the trail where it cuts off to Ridge Trail to the left. This trail will take you to Great Falls National Park. We didn’t go that way yesterday as my son had fallen and cut his leg open on a rock. He had kept going after I bandaged it (always carry a first aid kit!) but I knew he was hurting. However, the views are spectacular and worth a hike.


Close to the Rapids

Instead of going left, we took a right and headed down to get close to the rapids. Even with high water there are great locations to set up a camera and grab long exposures. Or just look at how the water creates the gorge. You won’t be disappointed.


Heading Towards Great Falls in Autumn

It was a short trip but enjoyable. I never get tired of photographing this area and am already excited for spring.

Back to Burke Lake

Saturday morning was a flurry of activity in my house what with two toilets overflowing… I had thought about going to shoot the sunrise somewhere but alas, that didn’t happen. After all of the cleaning was done I needed some stress relief. I considered driving out to Shenandoah but I have been itching to get back to Burke Lake and hike the whole perimeter.

The day was sunny. The previous night the weather reporter guaranteed that there would be less wind (liar!!). I didn’t dress as warmly as I did for 5 degree weather in the mountains and I somewhat regret that. The temperature didn’t seem to get to the predicted highs and the wind was still pretty strong. Note to self: Always bring a scarf.


Burke Lake Marina


I was pleased to see the parking lot fairly empty. Burke Lake is a very popular place (for many good reasons) but I really needed some solitude. The past two-to-three weeks had been very stressful and, well, not happy. There was nothing specific but let’s just say that hormonal changes in us, ahem, older women aren’t fun. I parked and decided to go counter-clockwise around the lake. I always go the same way so had to mix it up a bit. The best part was I was totally alone for at least an hour.

I often wonder if the average person out on a trail or at a park notices much of anything. I know that I look around, look up, stop, listen and have a tendency to be aware of birds and other wildlife. This paid off on Saturday as I looked up and there on a branch not 20 yards away from me was a big, fluffy Red-tailed hawk. It was gorgeous. As it turned its head and looked at me I wondered if it would fly away. I creeped forward a little bit and still it sat. In fact, it didn’t move the entire time I stood there and took photos. I heard people across the lake and worried they would walk to my spot and scare it off. Thankfully, they detoured and headed to a nearby parking lot. The beautiful bird allowed me to take several photos. I eventually moved on and took a few more from across the lake.


Hawk from across the lake


One thing I have always taught my kids is to not yell and be boisterous in nature. While on a trail, I try to talk in a normal voice, not yell up to my kids (if possible), or just be loud. I think keeping voices down wile on a trail is polite. It seemed few people felt the same way on Saturday. Regardless of how sound travels, I shouldn’t be able to hear a full conversation from 100 yards away. Just a note: be aware of others who may want some peace while hiking or trail running.

I continued around the lake and was able to see my first Merganser ducks. They are comical looking ducks. Their heads are enlarged a bit and their eyes appear tiny. I was pretty thrilled to watch them for awhile and take some photos. My timing was pretty bad because it seems they would dart just as I took a photo.

As I made my way further around the lake I was able to spot some deer, various birds, and another hawk (this one more skittish). Again, wondering if I was the only one to ever see them. Others seemed intent on chitchatting (perfectly fine) or looking down. By the time I reached the marina again, I felt really great…and cold. A large number of geese had gathered at the marine and they were so loud. They would fly in and land on the ice and then slide for a couple of feet – such talent. The ice, blue skies, and sun made for wonderful reflection photos.


Seagull with great reflection


Eventually, I decided to head home. I really wanted a hot shower. If you live in or near Fairfax County and have yet to go to Burke Lake – get there. It is such a wonderful place and has plenty to do (at least in the warmer months).  Next visit: running the perimeter!


Goose on ice

Is It Spring Yet?

I hate cold weather. I don’t mind end of October when it is like in the 50s & 60s. I mind when it dips down to low 40s and below. I grew up in Michigan so I always get asked, “Don’t you like the cold?”  Nope.  I am writing this with a coat and large, bulky sweater covering my lap because my office is so incredibly cold.

I have a tradition of going hiking on Veteran’s Day. It is a day I have off of work but my kids still have school. I enjoy having the day to myself. This year, I almost didn’t go. I woke up and it was cold. Too cold.  I got up and decided I would at least drive to Shenandoah to see if the colors had improved. I also wanted to stop at Buck Hallow Trail to photograph the stream that runs through that trail since it had rained a lot earlier in the week.

While I was photographing the stream it wasn’t too bad. I had on my hat, coat and gloves and was fine. If I had been hiking I would have been nice and warm.  I figured, “Why not go and find a hike?”  I drove along Skyline Drive wondering which trail to visit. I kept referring to my map and wasn’t deciding on anything.  I started on one trail and the wind just about blew me off the mountain. I turned right around and went back to my car.  Eventually I happened upon Little Stony Man. I got out and looked at the sign.  It was a short hike to the view point so I decided that would be my hike. As I walked up the side of the mountain I warmed up nicely. The wind was minimal in that location. It only took me a few minutes to reach the Little Stony Man lookout area.  And that’s when the wind hit me. It was far stronger than the other trail because you’re basically standing on the side of a mountain with no coverage. This is also the first time I’ve been on a rock formation in Shenandoah and didn’t want to look over. I presume this is why people go to climb. e

View from Little Stony Man

Skyline Drive from Little Stony Man



I took a few photos and headed back to my car.  I blasted the heater and drove home.  As I was driving I decided to stop at Ellanor C Lawrence Park. Someday I will explore more of this park as I generally hang around the creek and pond.  The wind was still blowing but because of coverage it wasn’t too bad. I wandered around looking for something to photograph. I found a cool trail that I will probably explore at a different time. I was just too cold so I headed back towards my car.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a Blue Heron. They are probably my favorite bird. I have quite a few good photos of them.  I went in all directions to photograph this bird. I got pretty close and have some beautiful shots of just its head.

Eventually I decided I would leave the bird alone and made my way back to my car.  Because I hadn’t done a big hike I had time left in my day to relax.  I do enjoy hiking in the winter. I like that posion ivy dies and I have more confidence to go off trail. I like finding birds without the leaves on the trees.  But I really want spring to return because I am already tired of being cold.

Exploring Lake Accotink Park


I have had my eye on Lake Accotink for quite some time. It isn’t too far from my corporate office but just far enough that I can’t just scoot over there during lunch. Well, I’m glad I waited until I had more time to go and see what it is all about. I’ll spare you the history of the space but know that it was first inhabited by the Algonquians. Of course they were ran out of their own land when the railroad moved into the area. And then the original track of railroad that goes over the dam area was burned down by the confederacy. Damn, confederates! It was rebuilt and is still in use today (in fact, two trains went by while I was taking photos).


Train Overhead


While Lake Accotink doesn’t really have its own trails many run through the park. I was disappointed to see that there isn’t a specific trail around the whole lake. That seems like a lost opportunity. You can ride, walk, or run from Wakefield Park all the way to Lake Accotink. The Cross County Trail also goes through the park. So while it doesn’t really have its own trails – many connect to it.

Mushroom family

Mushroom Family


Cute little toadstools

You can do a variety of activities at the park. They have canoe and kayak rentals. They also have a pontoon boat that does a little tour. I really wanted to do this but the next one was too late for me and my schedule. There is a small mini golf course and an “antique” carousel as well. And, of course, picnic grounds.

I walked one of the trails that runs along the lake and it was very pretty. I saw a variety of mushrooms and dragonflies. People were fishing and out on the lake in their boats. I felt completely relaxed. I sat for a time at the edge of the lake attempting to get a photo of a dragonfly in flight. Not an easy task. I finally was a bit successful even if the photo isn’t a masterpiece.


My “Masterpiece”

Eventually I received the text from my daughter that said my time was up and I had to leave. I didn’t really want to though. I guess it gives me a good reason to go back. If you’re in the Fairfax area, I definitely recommend going and checking out the park. Entry is completely free and the rentals are cheap.

Lake Accotink

Lake Accotink