Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

A Day of Great Finds

Sunday August 9, 2015                                                                    Most Recent Post:
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?



  1. WOW! What a fabulous hike you had! I liked the rattlesnake sighting...and the columnar joinings....very cool...

  2. You certainly had a special day with many wonderful finds!! Just glad the rattlesnake didn't find either of you. I have never seen a rattlesnake in the wild and would be glad to bypass that one. However, the Columnar Joining would be a very wonderful find in my book:o))

  3. Perhaps there are not enough volunteers to do trail maintenance to 'groom' the views?

    1. Judy, I don't expect them to be "groomed", I just think the views advertised should be available. Seems it is the current supervisor's "park policy" not to do anything and let things grow. If the overlooks all become overgrown on the drive it will definitely have an adverse effect on the tourism and dollars coming into the park.

  4. Great pix of that rattlesnake. I hope you were using your zoom lens...

    You had a wonderful day, so many great finds. Thank you for sharing them!

    Don't feel bad about forgetting your camera, it happens to the best of us. The other day when we went to NYC for the day, I grabbed my camera and put it in my pocket. Imagine my surprise when I reached into my pocket for it to take a picture and out came my MiFi. Duoh! ;c)

  5. Ooooh, I've never seen a timber rattler! It looks so much darker than the western rattlers.

    The columnar basalt is amazing! That is such a unique grouping, that you can see it from underneath! Cool!

  6. Wow, terrific finds! Being a geology nut myself, I really liked the Columnar Basalt. The burl wood was pretty amazing as well. I think the dog tops it all :)

  7. I have seen plenty of rattlers, but they still give me a startle when I first see them. There are lots of the column formations in the west but I have never seen any with the colors like you saw. Beautiful.

  8. It could be that the budget cuts to the NPS budget prevents a lot of maintenance such as tree trimming. I love seeing snakes, especially rattlers, although I always hope I see them from several feet away before I stumble upon one. I almost hate to visit a VC anywhere these days because I can't get past the book section or the T-shirts!

  9. We stopped at a rest area on I-10 East of Houston and there were 2 vans of men out on the ground praying. I don't remember if this was at night or early in the morning. This was years ago before all the problems we have now but we decided we didn't need to use the rest room after all.

    I think it would make me nervous walking in all those rocks knowing there were rattle snakes. I have never seen a picture of one that dark.

  10. Beautiful day, but I am afraid the snake would have ended it for me..............I am so fearful.

  11. Great finds! Glad Dad could see the view that was there and that you got to see the columnar basalt. 25 miles on trails...why not just go run a marathon for fun...for me, not going to happen! Beautiful wooden colors in the visitor's center. Neat map and chestnut husks. Definitely an interesting assortment of people and animals that day!

  12. Unless they were speaking Arabic or similar language, those women in burkas could have been from anywhere in the world, from any nationality -- including US; converts from any religion. What I found interesting is that they stopped for their afternoon prayers. I thought this was interesting because Islam in fact allows for the suspension of the "namaz," or the shortening of it, when you are traveling. There are varying thoughts on this of course, but technically, the people you saw didn't have to publicly display their faith in this manner, and could have done their prayers in the privacy of their accommodations later in the day.

  13. I liked the rattlesnake photos (never saw one in all our years of hiking in the east) and of course cute little Tiffany!

  14. I've never seen a timber rattlesnake but I know they are around. When our house was built 12 years ago, a carpenter working on a house nearby was bitten and he died which is rare. I know others who have seen them recently in our area. I assume your up close shots were taken from a healthy distance. I love geological formations - especially since spending time in the western canyon lands. Didn't see anything quite like the hexagonal columns.

  15. I love the column rocks & the burl pix the best... I have a question what do you take for your lunch to keep up your energy while you were on these hikes?

  16. Terrific day! That's interesting that the snake didn't rattle as you approached. No warning would worry me. Boy, he was so much darker than the snakes in the west. The columnar joining is gorgeous! How totally cool! I'm glad you stood with it to show its size because I thought it was much smaller at first. Great stop! That burl is just beautiful. It is easy to see why people want them. But, yes, poaching them is a problem in the west. That was certainly a super lunch with a view spot:)

  17. Y'all were on a roll. I haven't hiked very much on the northern end, and I really want to do this hike now. I've got to see those rocks. I wonder if Mr. Rattler lives there or was just passing through. I'm not anxious to make his acquaintance. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Bummer forgetting your camera but David did a good job. Good thing you had the map for the unprepared runners. Gorgeous patterned snake but not sure I'd feel comfortable only 5 feet away. And the columnar rock patterns are the best, seems unusual to be looking up at it. I like the burl best on the tree. Not so impressed with Tiffany. A great day for great finds.

  19. I've only seen columns like that in pictures, never in person.

    The snake's quite a find... I've seen snakes here off hiking trails, but then those ones are non venomous. Rattlers are very rare in Ontario, and confined to a few isolated areas.

  20. Again the photos are beautiful, but oh that snake............

  21. That was quite a day of varied adventures (but not unusual for you two!). Those columnar rocks are spectacular, and your photos provide great perspective. I've never seen a rattler that color -- I appreciate snakes, but I don't like coming upon them without them giving me some warning. And those chestnuts are so cool! That makes at least three things in this post that I've never seen in person. :-)

  22. Your snake was beautiful and certainly stands out with that dark coloring. The columnar rock from that perspective was an amazing find. Cracked up at David's view versus your non-view. Yep, that's my world too :-) Religion and clothing is so interesting to me. Catholic women are supposed to wear something on their head in church, while Jewish men are the ones who wear it in temple. We've seen the most cultural diversity in the national park - like Disney's Small World in real life with all the various languages, dress and customs. Love it. Agree the map and the chestnuts were a great find. Tiffany? Poor dog.


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