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