Before heading to San Francisco for spring break, my daughter and I discussed going to Yosemite. It would be a four hour drive to/from the park and it seemed like a lot. My daughter wouldn’t be able to drive the rental car so it would be all me. We originally decided not to go. However, her father kept badgering us and asking why in the world would we go all the way to California and not go.
So we decided, yes, we’d go. It was the best decision. We woke up pretty early and were out of the AirBnB by 5:50 am. We stopped along the way for gas and coffee. The scenery was beautiful during the entire trip. Once we started driving up the mountains I knew we were close. I was excited.
If you haven’t been to the park, heed the warnings. GO EARLY! We were there by 9:45 am within the grounds of the park. The problem was there was view after view of mountains, El Capitan, Half Dome, etc. We would stop for photos along the way. We crossed over a magnificent waterfall and I had to stop and try to get a good photo (fail). Finally, I said, “No more stopping!” because I knew we’d never get to hiking. (Note: I stopped two more times). I have to say that at the moment I saw the view of El Capitan, Half Dome and Yosemite Falls together, I teared up. There was something powerful and overwhelming about that view. I tried to explain how I was feeling to my daughter and she felt the same way.
Finally, we got into the valley. We wanted to make our way to the visitor center to see about hiking to Mirror Lake and maybe elsewhere. By 10:30 am-ish the parking lots were 90% full. Thankfully, we had a small rental and squeezed in a small area. We walked over towards the visitor center and our first stop was in the Ansel Adams Gallery. As a photographer, I had to go inside. There is no doubt he is one of the greatest artists to have lived. I saw one of his photos and was overcome with emotion. The worker here was so knowledgeable that he actually saved us a trip to the formal visitors center. Bonus!
We walked through the gift shop, got some tshirts, and headed back to the car. We drove towards Mirror Lake and, again, found a place to park. I don’t know how others missed the spot but I am glad they did. We started our hike. Did you know that way back in the day they used to drain Mirror Lake and put up a dance floor/area? We all agreed that letting it go natural is the best option. Obviously, the hike was amazing. It is an easy, short walk to the “lake”.
The worker at Ansel Adams let us know that it is filling with less and less water and slowly growing back to a meadow. I was really looking forward to getting some reflection photos and was a little worried I wouldn’t. Finally, we arrived and my fears were unfounded.
We walked across the meadow area and got closer to the stream that flows through the area. I could have stayed there all day. The granite rocks exploding up around us made me feel small and tiny. I couldn’t stop looking at them. My daughter really wanted to go look at the rocks along the stream but that meant wading through the water to get there. We took off our shoes and took a deep breath. That water was cold. There were boys on the other side of the stream and they were determined to get across it. It wasn’t too deep and some just took off running. Another group walked across. Their yells and hollering were quite funny. One yelled, “I can’t feel my legs!!!” They all made it though. I took in the scene of my daughter bent over examining the rocks. She wants to major in geology so this was special for her.
Eventually, we turned and walked back. As we drove out of the park, we stopped next to El Capitan. I don’t know if you’ve seen Free Solo yet (I have not – stressful!) but seeing it up close makes it even more amazing that he climbed it and did so quickly. It really blew my mind and I think that I am ready to see the movie now.
As we drove out of the park, I was sad. I love my Shenandoahs. I love the Rockies. But somehow Yosemite implanted itself in my heart and all I can think about is returning and spending years there exploring every inch of the place. The drive back didn’t feel like forever. We were high on beauty. After reviewing my photos I feel like I couldn’t capture the emotion of Yosemite. I guess this is one reason Ansel was so successful. You FEEL his photos and I didn’t do that. But I hope you enjoy them regardless.
Click to see the rest of my photos.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you only knew how long I sit around wondering where to hike, you’d laugh. I go through blogs. I open up my maps. I peruse my waterfall book. I can never decide. Maybe that’s because I have so many wonderful options? I knew I wanted a waterfall. That much was sure. This past Sunday my son and I set out for an off trail hike in Shenandoah to a big waterfall but due to my wonderful hydration bladder leaking and soaking my sweatshirt, we didn’t go. It would have made me very cold to hike with it like that and my base layer wasn’t warm enough. Ugh. We had fun roaming Big Meadows for a bit and driving Skyline.
I needed something new so I decided on Kilgore Falls in Maryland. It would be a 2 hour drive but I figured that was better than 3 hours to other ones I considered. I slept poorly and almost scrapped the whole thing yesterday morning but I saw an inspiring post on Instagram so I dragged myself out of bed and went.
As I was driving, I was willing the sun to stay behind the clouds. I felt like I had to hurry (I didn’t). I passed some beautiful farmland scenes that I would have liked to photograph but I really felt a need to get to the trail. I finally arrive and, boom, the trail doesn’t open until 10:00 am. 10:00 am? Really? That is so late. So crazy. I ran and used the port-a-potty (which I am happy to say was incredibly clean) and wondered what to do. I decided to zip on over to Conowingo Dam. I have wanted to go for a long time and figured this was my chance. I didn’t know if I’d see any eagles but had nothing to lose.
I got there and walked around a bit. I wasn’t seeing a lot of activity other than vultures. Whoopdedoo. I see those everyday around my house. And then I heard this sound. It was loud and sounded like birds could be fighting. Nope. Quite the opposite. It was two eagles getting it on (cue Marvin Gaye) on top of the electric tower. I obviously didn’t have my super telephoto lens with me but did have my 18-200mm. I zoomed in as best as I could to grab a photo. I was quite amused. When they were done, they just sat there. I guess they were being in the moment of what just took place. I figured this was a good time to head back to the trail head.
Hooray it was open! I was a bit worried about the number of cars I saw and thought there might be too many people for good photos. Thankfully, they were no where to be found except for one photographer. Walter. I thought he was packing up to go but he was interested in getting to the other side of the creek where the best photos would be. The water wasn’t super deep but it would be cold. We were both interested in avoiding that. So we walked. And walked. We followed the creek for quite a ways to see if there was a better place to cross over. Nope. It just got deeper. Like to my thighs deep. We turned around and walked back to where we started. I finally got the courage to walk up along the side of the big boulder and did get my feet wet. I thought, “I can do this!” so I walked out a bit more for a better photo. I turned and walked back and Walter decided to go. We ended up getting photos of each other in the process which was cool. As I stood there waiting, two young adults walked up and just walked across the creek without hesitation. I had to laugh. Youth. Never afraid. Bold. And it was then I knew I was walking across too. So when Walter returned we made our way across the creek. It wasn’t so bad. Cold, yes. But worth it. The other side of the waterfall was beautiful and made for great photos.
The things we do for photos…. It ended up being a great way to spend New Year’s Day. I met a great photographer (go see his work). We had fun. I saw eagles mating.
I was happy to have Indigenous People Day to get out for a short hike. I asked my daughter to go with me and she actually agreed to wake up early and go. This was exciting because it has been over a year since she’s gone hiking with me. I told her we wouldn’t go too far and it would be pretty. Check and check.
We woke up at 5:00 am to get to an overlook by sunrise. Fortunately (or unfortunately) there was a lot of fog. Since we would be in the North District for Shenandoah National Park for our hike, the overlooks were few and far between on the east side. They get better as you head south in the park. I found one and we waited. Finally, the sun came up and illuminated the fog. I had not brought my 18-200 mm lens and wish I would have for this morning. I could have gotten a better shot of the fog against the mountains. My wide shot was okay but sometimes zooming in is also good in landscapes.
We drove back towards our hiking location as I worried about the sun being too bright for a waterfall. As we started down our path, I was happy with the cover and the fact that the waterfall was located on the west side of the trail. This means the light wouldn’t reach it for a couple of hours. The hike to Lands Run Falls is very short. It took us no more than 10 mins or so to reach the falls (or the first part of the falls). Some fall colors were showing and leaves were scattered around the rocks. This made for great photos.
I am normally alone when I hike but having my daughter with me allowed me to crawl down the rocks. She handed my tripod to me and I took photos from further down. I debated going farther down the rocks but they were slippery and there was no way my daughter would know if I fell (the falls were that loud). I took some shots and whistled loudly. Thankfully, she appeared. I handed her my tripod again and climbed back up the rocks. As I climbed up, I knew I wouldn’t have made it alone.
The falls were really pretty. I think that if we had continued down the trail we would have come to more falls but I kept my promise. We hiked back up to the car. The whole hike took about an hour. Super short and sweet. On our way home, we traveled through the Virginia countryside. My girl is a lover of small, quaint towns. We drove through The Plains, Virginia and on towards Loudoun County. We had a wonderful time chatting and driving slow.
I get to go back to Shenandoah soon and I’m hoping the trees are popping with color. Fingers crossed.