A couple weeks ago while doing deliveries with Mark we heard a story on our local NPR station about Government Island down in Stafford. During the early days of Washington DC when they used rock from the quarry to help build the US Capitol and White House. George Washington had L’Enfant find a near by quarry to get rock. He chose Government Island because of its proximity to the city and the quality of stone that came from the quarry. When I looked up its location, it was literally right down the road from my house.
This Saturday was perfect hiking weather. After I got some chores done around the house I headed to the island for the 1.5 mile walk. The trail starts off paved and turn to a raised deck over a marsh before finally turning to dirt when you get to the island itself. The first portion is easily accessible by the handicap and the entire trail is pet friendly. If you like to fish the paved portion of the trail follows a small creek where I saw numerous fish swimming around. They are really small but I have a feeling that further down the creek you can find some decent size fish.
I got some good shots of the creek with the trees starting to bloom and when I reached the marsh a cardinal was very photogenic, allowing me to get some close shots with my telephoto lens. While on the island I did a little exploring and found a trail to the outer edge of the island. Here I spotted an osprey nest high in a dead tree. All day you could see them circling high overhead. While taking a few shots of some tree blooms I could hear one in the nest. I decided to setup camp for a while, eat some lunch and smoke a cigar, hoping to get one of the adults as they landed or took off. Unfortunately they didn’t cooperate at all. All I got was one blurry picture of a wing and some of the nest. :(
On the northern part of the island you can find two of the quarries used to extract Aquia sandstone. Back when it was used, trenches had to be dug by hand and eventually the large blocks would be undercut to remove them. You can clearly see several trenches dug by hand, just barely wide enough for a person to stand it. You can also find many flat walls and the chisel marks left by tools. Its amazing to think all this had to be dug by hand and transported to Washington DC by boat.
While I didn’t get the shot of the osprey I wanted, I did get many other good ones. The weather has been real funky this year but spring is here and I love being outside this time of year. There is just so much to see and the weather is absolutely beautiful right now. Flowers and trees are blooming, clear skies and cool temperatures, I love it! Nature is coming alive after the dreary months of winter.
My first attempt at this hike didn’t necessarily fail, I just didn’t make it to the falls because of poor weather. Second time around my friend Jeremy and I successfully made it to our destination. Just like the first time around the weather was pretty bad, but fortunately it only rained in the early morning and late in the afternoon. In fact as we entered the park is when it started to rain, never heavy, but enough to be annoying. As we drove the 21 miles towards the parking lot the rain fortunately subsided the closer we got. After parking we evaluated the likelihood of heavy rains and determined if we did get rained on it would only be a sprinkle and worth venturing into the woods.
The hike from the parking lot proceeds mostly downhill with few challenges along the way. I was unable to take many photos as I find that to be a task best suited for solitary adventures. I did however notice some big changes along the trail from just a few weeks before. The floor was greener and the trees filled in their foliage nicely. Less spring flowers seemed in bloom, on the other hand I saw more nature that finally started stirring with the warmer days.
When reach the falls lots of people were already camped on the ledge overlooking the 91″ falls which was a little disappointing. We simply headed down a little to enjoy our lunch and catch our breaths. When we headed back up the mountain we could finally get close to the ledge and have a look at the falls. Unfortunately from our vantage point we couldn’t see much because the underbrush was pretty thick, obscuring our view for the most part. As we headed backup the mountain I started to curse our time heading to the falls. Every time I start a hike from inside the park the first thing you do is hike down the mountain which is easy. I get lured into thinking I can hike further than I should, its only until I head back to the top of the mountain that things suck. Jeremy and I had to take several breaks going up the mountain to catch our breath.
The rain started again, and pretty heavy, just as we got near the parking lot. I had to quickly stow away my camera and we jogged the last few hundred feet to my truck. We could not have planned the trip better if we tried. It stopped raining just as we started hiking and started again as we got to within sight of the parking lot. Round trip was 7.25 miles which took us several hours to complete, but was worth the time. When I got home Nancy even had a home cooked meal waiting which was fantastic.
Last week I had my first concert of the year and this past weekend I got my first real hike of the year. I went to Leesylvania State Park in April but that was not a challenging hike by any means. On Sunday I packed up my gear and headed for the mountains of the Shenandoah National Park to do some real hiking. The weather was going to be cool, the low 70’s, perfect hiking temperature. The spring bloom has already come and gone around my house but I was hoping the higher elevation would delay the bloom in the park. There was a possibility of rain in the afternoon by which time I hopped to be finished. But just in case I planned according and brought rain gear for such an occasion.
I was excited when I set off just before 9am for the hour and a half drive to the park entrance at Front Royal. I know it is Sunday and I should be in church, but I decided to view the spender of God’s work first hand with a stroll through the park. When I got to the gate the place was pretty deserted. I would have thought being a nice day the park would have been smash but there was no line getting in and I ran into few cars along the road. I did pass a lot of cyclists who where taking the opportunity to get one last ride before things turn hot and ugly. For the next thirty minutes I leisurely drove up the mountain to the parking lot at MP 21 at the head of Overall Run trail.
Prepping for my hike it was windy and chilly. This parking lot is at the crest of the mountain so the winds were strong for the first few hundred feet along the Appalachian Trail. You are on the Appalachian for maybe a 1/4 to a 1/2 mile before taking the Overall Run trail. I could have parked at Mathews Arm Campground and cut the trip down, but I wanted to do some serious hiking. The remainder of the hike was mostly downhill which is always nice and other than a little discomfort with my knees it was pretty easy. I always find going downhill harder, takes less energy sure, but it is certainly more stressful on my knees.
As I continued the weather started to change rapidly. The wind picked up and I could see thick clouds starting to roll in across the valley. Having not reached my goal of the Overall Run Falls I stopped and contemplated my next move for 10 minutes. I was easily halfway to the falls and didn’t want to turn back. There was plenty of daylight left and I have been trying to get to these falls for over a year. But then there was the weather. The mountains can get nasty very quickly and I didn’t want to get caught at the falls and hike all the way back, up hill, in the rain. As I am standing in the middle of the forest all alone, I start to notice the birds singing. It was silent when I first stopped, but I was serenaded as I made my decision. I was suddenly struck by the solitude of where I was, this is one of the major reason I trek out into the forest as often as I do. I erred on the side of caution and headed back to my truck. No sooner than I got within sight of the lot and it started to rain.
It was still early so I took the time to stop and eat lunch. After refueling my body I headed further into the park, hoping to drive past the weather and hit another trail. I stopped at the Elkwallow Wayside and headed for the Cutoff Trail. Here again you first hike part of the Appalachian Trail before turning onto Cutoff Trail. Its amazing how many trails involve this behemoth of a trail. As I descended the mountain I ran into several other hikers and backpackers coming up the trail. It started to drizzle again but I was determined to not let the rain stop me this time. Everyone I passed must have known the weather was turning once again and heading out of the valley. Certainly the river I was headed for would be running deep from the recent days rain. I was prepared of course for the change in weather and put my camera in my back and broke out my rain jacket. I hiked several more miles in the rain, crossing the stream which was quickly rising, and headed up Knob Mountain.
Several hundred feet into the climb I finally decided to turn around and head back to my truck. The rain had finally gotten to me and I had enough. It was not the rain that did me in, I could live with that. My problem was I couldn’t hear anything with the hoodie over my head. The sounds of nature faded to white noise. Yes most of the birds and other wildlife were hungered down for the rain. I would have been more than happy to just hear the sound of water falling on the leaves, but it was not to be. The hike backup the mountain was daunting but accomplished in about an hour. Things really got nasty by the time I made it back to my truck. The top of the mountain was fogged in and the rain was constant and heavy.
I drove deeper into the park, headed for Thornton Gap and Sperryville. The driving was treacherous with the dense fog that blanketed the mountain. As I would come around corners I sometimes couldn’t see the next curve. Thankfully all the bikers were off the road which eased my mind a little. It was not till I made it to Sperryville that the fog was finally gone. The drive home was calming as I drove through the rural counties of Madison, Culpeper, and Fauquier. It was still raining and overcast, but I was happy. I was able to get out for my first real hike of the year and even though I never reached the falls and it rained half the day I had a blast.
I can’t remember the last time I went hiking, it certainly would have to be in the fall of 2010. If I can’t remember the last time, I know I needed to get out and I have been itching for months now. I tried to hike Seashore State Park in Delaware over the long New Years Even weekend but my hangover killed that idea real quick. Now that spring is coming my opportunities to hike are getting better as the weather turns warmer.
On Saturday after my biology lab, I decided to hike Leesylvania State Park. A friend fishes here regularly and talks often about it so it was about time I check the place out. It was suppose to be a fair weather day, no rain and good temps. Class was going to be short so I would have plenty of time to get a good hike in before getting ready for a wine tasting at Rob’s house later that night.
Looking at a map the park is rather small and doesn’t offer many trails of any significant length. For the first trail I decided on the Lee’s Wood Trail at just over 2 miles and an adjoining loop trail. On arriving at the park it certainly is a multi-use park with plenty of picnic areas, camping, a boat launch with access to the Potomac River, fishing pier and miles of shoreline. You can even bring your dog for a lazy afternoon at the park.
I totally forgot to make a post about my recent, well over two months ago at this point, hike to Whiteoak Canyon in the Shenandoah National Forest. Since my hikes early in the year to Prince William Forest in late winter and Pinckney Island while on vacation to Hilton Head, I have not been able to get out and enjoy the spring weather. During spring the weather was not sure what it wanted to do. Some days it was cold and other times it was mid-summer hot. Once day it broke a record and reached temperatures over 90 degrees. Throw in unpredictable rain and it made for a pretty bizarre spring.
After much debating I was determined to get out and hike somewhere, anywhere for an afternoon. I couldn’t have picked a worse weekend to try and get outside, but with my busy schedule I can’t be to choosy. I set out early Sunday morning for Old Rag and the weather was not looking good. My house was suppose to get rain in the afternoon and the Shenandoah looked pretty clear all day. I decided to take my chance and make the 2.5 hour drive regardless of the weather. I figured it couldn’t be that bad and if things did turn south at least the drive would be nice. The whole drive West the sky was filled with dark clouds and a cool breeze, but no rain. As I passed Sperryville down 231 it started to drizzle and I was getting worried. By the time I got to the parking lot for Old Rag there was a pretty steady rain and I decided to drive a further south to Whiteoak Canyon and try my luck there. I was hoping that further South I drove the weather would be more cooperative.
When I arrived at Whiteoak Canyon, I was surprised to see a good number of people in the lot. They, like me, were not going to let a little rain ruin their opportunity for a hike. I was able to get a parking spot close to the trail head and started hiking soon after getting my gear organized. I decided to travel extremely light this time just in case the heavens did decided to open up beyond an annoying drizzle. This unfortunately meant most of my camera gear stayed in the truck, my 18-55 lens was all I brought.
The clouds never broke and the temperatures remained rather low all afternoon. Fortunately the heaviest rain passed well north of my location so a mild drizzle was all I got. I snapped a few photos and did a little adventuring near the lower waterfall. There is a little creek that flows into the main body of water just before the waterfall. I have passed it numerous times and finally decided to do a little explorer. The creek leads into a small valley that is strewn with boulders of all imaginable sizes. I did my best to climb up them, but eventually I gave up and tried climbing the steep raven walls. This little adventure caused me a lot of trouble, I had numerous battle wounds when I finally got back to the main trail.
When I arrived at the waterfall I climbed to the top and enjoyed a packed lunch. That last little hike up to the top of the waterfall is steep and took it out of me. The cool temperatures allowed me to cool off while I ate my lunch and get a little entertainment. I watch three guys climb down the side of the mountain from the top of the waterfall, instead of taking the trail. The trail might be longer, but it certainly is safer then walking straight down the hill.
After enjoying the solitude for a while I made short work of the hike back to my truck. The weather condition where certainly not ideal, but I needed to get outside so badly I didn’t care what the weather was like. As I write this post it has been over two months to the day sense this hike and I am jonesing for another. I will be traveling to Portsmouth, VA with a friend for MMW at the Norva Theatre followed the next day by Phish at nTelos Pavilion. Hopefully I can squeeze a hike in between the shows. If not, I know I will certainly have the time when I am up in Saratoga Springs, NY for a weekend filled with yet more Phish shows.