On opposite ends of my time in the Smokies, I spent two great weekends in my beloved and beautiful Commonwealth of Virginia! The bookends, if you will, of my trip. I just wanted to use this post to share a few highlights from my two weekends.
As I’d be in Blacksburg for a full day on Sunday, my friends had the obvious idea to go
hiking. I mean, what else would I do with my day? On this day, our hike was to Dragon’s
Tooth, a famous location on the Appalachian Trail in Catawba. However, we decided to take the road less traveled. The typical way to hike to Dragon’s Tooth is from a spur trail from route 311 in Catawba, which meets up with the AT not far from Dragon’s Tooth. It’s the shortest way to hike there. However, my friends and I decided to hike from the AT crossing at Miller’s Cove Road, about 5.4 miles south of Dragon’s Tooth on the AT (10.8 miles round trip). This section of trail offers views rarely seen by your average hiker in Catawba (mostly Virginia Tech students). The trail, starting deep in a valley by a stream, ascends steadily until it hits a ridge. At the ridge, there is immediate, and as far as I know, unnamed outlook. There is a small rock outcropping there that my friends have dubbed “Crispy Rocks.” From Crispy Rocks, it is just up and down along the ridge to Dragon’s Tooth.
We enjoyed taking this route because we had not done this section of the AT past Crispy Rocks before. It offered a few surprises and alternate views. The cool part of the day however, was hiking for quite a stretch with a young thru-hiker (just out of high school), trail named “Mountain Mime.” He seems to be way ahead of the pack, as he told us he wants to try and finish at Katahdin by June 2nd. In my experience, I had seen most thru-hikers in VA in May, and in NH in June and July. This was early-ish mid-April, and he already well on his way in Virginia. As for his name, he is a trained and practicing mime, and was kind enough to show us some of his moves. It was nice to hike with him and share some stories. I donated him some of my food I didn’t need, and after Dragon’s Tooth, off he went. Good luck to him.
This hike was a rude awakening in two ways: 1. It was clear I had a very indulgent winter and was out of shape. I would need to get my act together if I didn’t want to struggle my way through the beginning of my time in New Hampshire this summer. Thankfully, I got my trail legs back under me in the Smokies, and have committed my self to regaining my fitness since. 2: I was unaware how hot it would be. Going from Connecticut to Virginia in roughly a day, the climatic difference was incredible. My body was not prepared, and the heat got to me just a little.
Overall, a great dayhike with the best of friends, and a wonderful return to southwest Virginia. The next day, I was off to the Smokies.
Just like that, after 4 great days in the Smokies, I was back in Blacksburg, VA for another weekend. Saturday, a day on which we planned to hike, my friends and I woke up to a serious case of couch potato syndrome. None of us seemed particularly motivated to get out on the trail, and the heavy cloud cover that day didn’t help sway us in another direction. After lounging around however, we all agreed that staying inside all day was no fun, and there’s no reason why we can’t be couch potatoes, but outside couch potatoes. Rather than walk a trail for a few miles, we decided to take a ride down to the New River Junction, by the New River (the second oldest river in the world). There is a spot down there, atop a rock outcropping, high above the river and traintracks, that we like to call “Crow’s Nest.” Or maybe we call it “Eagle’s Nest.” “Hawk’s Nest?” I don’t know, I think it changes every time. To reach this spot, is not so much of a hike as it is a scramble among loose rock and dead limbs. Whatever it is, it’s short but steep, and you can certainly work up a sweat. However, when you reach the top (“top” is subjective, as there are various locations at different heights to which you can climb), the payoff is big. From this location, you can see and hear the train tracks on both sides of the river as well as the snakelike meander of the river in the distance as it wraps around the the bases of mountains and hills. It is a sight to behold. However, in continuing with the theme of slowing down to sit and appreciate, like I did on LeConte (see post “Smoky Mountain Magic”), my friends and I stayed at the “Crow’s Nest” for over two hours. We hung out, gave ourselves in to the view, conversed, and even napped. It was nice to spend all that time in nature, but not even feel the urge to move. Upon descending, my buddy Nick and myself took a pretty chilly, but refreshing dip into the New River. I think my legs appreciated it after my time the Smokies, as the river felt like an ice bath.
By early Sunday morning, I was out of Blacksburg and off to Charlottesville to spend the evening visiting with my younger cousin and friend from home (both at school at UVA). However, the early rise was not done in order to rush to C-Ville, but to get an early start on the trails of Shenandoah National Park. Despite combing the map of Shenandoah before and during my travels, I could not decide on what to hike. So instead, I got to the park that morning, checked the time, pulled to an overlook, and pulled out the guidebook and map once more. I decided then and there. The hike I chose would be a fine example of Virginia’s falling waters. I started at Doyles River trailhead, intent on making a ~8 mile loop (connecting with the AT), passing by 3 major waterfalls marked on the map. Little did I know how spectacular these falls would be. The trail from the trailhead to the first falls is obviously very well used. Upon my return in the afternoon, the lot was full. Thankfully, I got out early enough to avoid the crowds and enjoy a cool morning with crystal clear skies above. The first falls, Doyles River Falls #1 is excellent, but just a preview of what’s to come. Doyles River Falls #2 is spectacular, and my favorite one of the day. It is tall, voluminous, and down in the gully below it, it’s loud. I had to stay and admire this falls for a good while. After snapping a few
pics, and getting refreshed by the spray of splashing water, I ascended back to the trail. The trail between Doyle’s Run Falls and Jones Run Falls is absolutely excellent. It is far less used, as most people do out-and-backs to Doyles River Falls. The trail is narrow, streamside practically the entire time featuring many mini-cascades, and displays of many pretty wildflowers. I really enjoyed this section of trail, as the sun passed through the leafless branches to the forest floor below. I approached Jones Run Falls to see a few visitors enjoying it. I stepped to the side as they took photos, but enjoyed watching the waters crash over the dark rocks. I liked this one a lot too. From this point on to the trailhead at the road, the trail was also well used (due to the short out-and-back capability). Just beyond the trailhead, I met up with the AT to head north back to my car. The AT here is fairly flat as it criss-crosses Skyline Drive. This section offers a few views as it passes man-made overlooks, but as there were no leaves out, I enjoyed some additional viewing opportunities. What I find interesting about the AT in Shenandoah is the trail markers. They are unlike any I have ever seen before. But I like them, as they seem durable and easy to read, unlike some of the dilapidated wooden signs in most places.
After finishing earlier than expected, I realized I had some extra time before I had to head in to Charlottesville. I drove back south on Skyline Drive, and stopped to make the quick 3 mile round trip jaunt out to Cavalry Rocks to sit for a while and enjoy a view overlooking the Shenandoah Valley, and further off the Allegheny Mountains. Just to sit for at the rocks for a minute, imagining people farming, driving, bustling around, playing with their children, etc. down below in the valley was a nice feeling.
This was an excellent weekend in VA. Shenandoah filled me with wonder, and the hike I highlighted is essential for any waterfall fanatic.
I’m glad Virginia was able to support my trip both on the going side and the return side of my trip to the Smokies, just like bookends.