Big Meadows Campground A Surprise Visit and Nectar Seekers Abound on the Way TO Jewell
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Well I’m not very happy when we get to the trailhead for starting our AT hike today and I realize I’ve left my camera in the chair by the door. But there’s no going back so today’s pictures are brought to you by David’s camera. We’re headed for Compton Peak where we are told we can find the best example in the park of Columnar Joining.
Of course the trail starts out up hill and rocky. Is this beginning to sound like a broken record?
We are ascending up the slope of North Marshall to 3368 feet.
We’re going from the blue arrow in the south to the one in the north.
We find nice views at the top. We’re looking west and somewhere straight out there is the Shenandoah River and Shenandoah River State Park which we visited and I posted about previously (see it here).
The trail flattens out for a while here before heading back down.
Even though it’s early August, we are beginning to see signs of fall. Acorns are all over the ground and the ever so popular wrinkle leaf goldenrod is in full bloom <achoo>.
As we head down the other side of North Marshall, a pair of trail runners comes up behind us. We step to the side and they run on by. We barely get a shot of their backs. I have visions of slipping on the rocks and tumbling down to a broken ankle.
About 20 minutes later they come walking back toward us and I think OH NO. But nothing seems to be wrong. They stop to chat this time and we find out they are from Leesburg Virginia and intended to run 25 miles today but somehow got on the AT by mistake and are having to go back to where they think they made the wrong turn. That was before they passed us and is a fair way back. All they have is a written set of directions so they aren’t really sure where they went wrong.
Since I have an AT map for this section of the park, I get it out and figure out a way for them to take a different trail to their original halfway point so they can pick up their original trail. They are very happy. I’m feeling tired just thinking about the idea of running what is now more than 25 miles today. They definitely look like runners. And they are smiling about it too.
Between the first and second time we saw the runners, we cross Skyline Drive and on the other side come to what is clearly the foundation of a building. My Appalachian Trail Guide to Shenandoah National Park tells me this was an old comfort station from the early days of the park and that “a close inspection of the foundation” will reveal an entrance on the side facing the Skyline Drive. We’ll take their word for it.
On to our first great find. Well we thought it was great. I know Gail won’t think so. David spotted him right on the edge of the trail. He’s a timber rattlesnake.
He has a beautiful pattern.
Check out those rattles. He didn’t rattle or coil up or put his head up as David stood about five feet away. They were each being very patient until eventually the snake moved on..
From here we climb up to Compton Peak
Of course there are berries on the way.
At the peak there are two blue blazed trails. One goes up to a view to the East. The other to the outcrop of columnar basalt. I arrive before David and start to leave him an arrow message showing that I’m going to the basalt trail. He shows up as I’m finishing it.
We’ve been warned that the trail is ungraded and steep with rough footing. The description is apt.
We’re going down down at a pretty steep slope. At this big rock David says he thinks he shouldn’t go any further since he has to climb back up. So he gives me the camera and I continue alone. He waves good bye.
But I’m still within talking (well shouting) distance to him when I spy what I assume is the eastern viewpoint from the description. The Columnar Joining is beneath this rock. David only has to come a little further to at least see the view so I call up to him and he comes on down. David’s camera is having a lot of trouble with the light today.
I’m up on top when he comes.
But I don’t see any view. This has happened so many times in the park that it’s starting to irritate me. I am told to go to a spot with a view but the view isn’t there any more. Doesn’t anyone ever update the information?
However perhaps it’s me and not the information. This is the view David, at ten inches taller than me, gets when he climbs on top. Discrimination against the short I call it.
To see the columnar structure it is necessary to climb down below the rocks via a rough rocky steep trail to the left of the outcrop.
David stays behind. I tell him he doesn’t have to wait for me. He starts back up at a slow and careful pace.
The trail is rough, it is steep and it is rocky but it is also shorter than I expected. I reach the bottom and really think David could do this, slowly. I call back to him. He’s out of hearing distance.
What I find is amazing. I’m so sorry I suggested he start back. I’m tempted to climb back out to get him but it was a rough climb down and I don’t really want to do it twice.
This is the most fantastic geologic features I’ve ever seen. What a powerful example of the phenomenon of Columnar Joining. We have seen other examples but not so huge. We learned that millions of years ago plates on the Earth’s surface began pulling apart, and lava oozed up out of the Earth and through the cracks between the plates. At first it was black colored basalt, but eventually it metamorphosed into the greenstone I’m looking at today. As the lava cooled, it shrank into intriguing six sided shapes down through its depths, forming columns. Thus columnar joining. WOW!
Look at the size of this stuff in comparison to me.
It brings to mind stacks of petrified cordwood. This definitely puts the rattler in second place for great finds today. You just have to marvel at this unbelievable planet we live on. Long may she spin with or without unappreciative us.
I catch David on the climb back up to the AT to finish the hike. A couple of trees to hug make nice stops for him.
My tree has a beautiful burl. I rub it like a crystal ball. It doesn’t tell me the future though.
A burl results from a tree undergoing some form of stress. It may be caused by an injury, virus or fungus. Burls are highly prized by furniture makers, artists and wood sculptors, particularly for bowl turnings. According to Wiki they are so highly prized that in National Parks in the west they are being poached. (of course they are). Be sure to find out where any burled thing you may find or buy was obtained.
Really gorgeous, a great find!
Having seen lots of views and had lots of disappointments we skipped the other piece of trail and we want time for doing one more thing we want to do today.
It’s all down hill from here to the parking lot at Compton Gap elevation 2415. On the way down, we see lots of people going up for the view but none of them says they are going to see the columnar joining. The view may or may not be there but skipping that structure is a big mistake. You can see from the map how close the two yellow arms are off the AT from the parking lot.
Actually we have two more things today and the first is lunch. We want to see the Dickey’s Ridge Visitor Center since we are in the Northern Section of the park. We’ve decided after visiting Mathews Arm campground that without a water tank fill up or a dump station and having no possibility of internet or phone anywhere within 3 miles, we won’t be taking Winnona there. So while we are within 5 miles of the VC, we want to see it.
Conveniently they have a beautiful oak shade tree with a lovely bench beneath which makes the perfect lunch spot.
While we are lunching, Tiffany and her owners walk up. David pulls out his camera and they come over to chat. They are quite used to folks taking Tiffany’s picture. We learn that she has a very extensive wardrobe and attends church every Sunday in Browntown in a different dress with matching hat. We see some pictures of Tiffany in her church attire on the woman’s cell phone. I wonder what Tiffany really thinks of all this.
Today she’s a motorcycle mama. The 3 of them have ridden up to the park from nearby Browntown for the day on their Suzuki.
Everyone thinks she’s just so cute and numerous people come right up to get her picture. Is Tiffany a great find?
Among other who have stopped at the Visitor Center are a group of 3 men and 3 women of, I assume, some Muslim faith. I always find the freedom of the men and the confinement of the women very interesting.
I try to be discreet in taking these pictures. I assume they are here to drive the Skyline Drive rather than to hike in this attire.
I am very surprised to see such a light skinned woman under this covering. I always expect to see Middle Eastern skin tones. Perhaps in my ignorance I don’t realize that some Middle Eastern people are light skinned as some native Irish and Italians are dark and some are light. But I do have to laugh as one of the women hurries by to see that underneath she has on blue jeans. I wonder why they aren’t covering enough to suit the religious dictates.
Then I must admit I am shocked to see the men and one of the women begin their bowing prayers at exactly 3:00. They are in the field next to the bathrooms. Out of respect for their beliefs, I take only this one picture to prove to myself that this actually happened.
Lunch finished we head over to the Visitor Center which is much smaller than Big Meadows but is built out of Native Chestnut.
It has beautiful stone fireplaces, a ranger information desk, short films, a small exhibit and a fantastic topo map.
The way the map is set on the table makes it difficult to get a picture of it. This view shows the southern part of the park on the left. You’ll enjoy it more if you click the picture to make it larger. Notice the button in the bottom right of the platform
The buttons light up various features. Push one and the Skyline Drive lights up. Another lights the Wilderness areas of the park, and this one below lights up the AT. There are 3 other buttons but I forget what they light up.
In this map the left side is the South so that you can see that the AT begins in the park there but goes out of the park before the Drive ends in the North. As it goes out of the park, it is on its way to West Virginia and North. Now this is a great find.
We talk with the friendly rangers about our hikes and our love of the chestnuts which he shares. He gets into a drawer and pulls out these chestnuts for us to see. In the rear is the nut as it falls off the tree. There is an empty husk and a husk with the chestnuts still in it. They sure do protect themselves with their spikey husk. You have to be very careful to pick them up delicately or you’ll stick yourself.
COOL BEANS! Another great find!
We wander into the bookstore where I take this picture of the AT Thru Hiker book I’ve talked about several times in previous posts. I include another book that might be of interest to Karen and Gypsy.
We each find a piece of attire to try on for fun. They suit us don’t you think.
Time to head out the door after another great day in Shenandoah National Park. How many Great Finds do you think found us today?