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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.

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Visiting Virginia’s Newest State Park

Aquia Creek

Last Friday, as I have for the past few years, I decided to #optOutside rather than hit the stores that morning.  I had wanted to visit the newest state park in Virginia:  Widewater State Park.  The morning was chilly but there was little to no wind so it wasn’t bad wandering around the park.

The park is small.  And it is a little difficult to find. I would suggest reading directions on the Virginia State Park’s site or using Google Maps.  The other map services didn’t have quite the right location. Once you arrive you end up next to the Potomac River and Aquia Creek.  If you like water, this is a great park.  There is a location to launch a boat and, when it is warmer, it will have paddling available.  When we entered the park I noticed there were no envelopes available.  Also, I did not see any park rangers working so there was no way to pay the fee.  Hopefully, they will have envelopes in the future because I always want to pay my way at State Parks.

Once we parked, I noticed there was also no large map on a sign anywhere.  It made it difficult to know where the trails were. Thankfully, we had seen one on our way in and walked to that. It is a short trail at only 1 mile.  It is currently the only trail available in the park. It winds by Aquia Creek, into a small wooded area, next to a pond, and back to the parking lot.  We also went off trail a bit just to get some more steps into our day. 

Looking back at the map online, I see that we could have driven to an alternate location on the Potomac River. I would have liked to do that as we did see two eagles fly overhead. Maybe we could have seen more over on the river. 

Overall, the park has great potential. It was completely quiet.  My friend and I were the only two at the park.  When it warms up, however, I think the park will be busy.  Hopefully they will add more trails to the park because the land is beautiful.  When you get a chance, I definitely suggest heading out to check out the park.

Lands Run Falls

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.

foggy sunrise 2

Morning Fog

morning

Overlook Illuminated

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.

waterfall

Towards the bottom of the first drop

cascade2

Cascades at the top

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.

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.