Monday August 3 and Tuesday August 4, 2015 Most Recent Post:
Big Meadows Campground What a Pile of Rocks – Blackrock Summit
Shenandoah National park
Today we move from Loft Mountain, where both internet and cell phone were extremely difficult, back to Big Meadows where we can walk up to the lodge and nearly always get a signal. Someone took my favorite campsite C 137, just before we got here. So we take the one next door thinking we will perhaps move over but once we are set up, I check out the date on their post and they too are here for the next 14 days. Oh well. That’s actually the first time I’ve seen someone else here for a full 14 days. He’s in a class A bigger than ours and has no solar so I hope he knows what he’s doing as far as his batteries go. My experience is that 14 days on house batteries even with a generator is very likely to take your batteries too low and shorten their life since a generator alone will never top them off.
I do not find Big Meadows sites as nice or as quiet as Loft Mountain but the ease of phone and internet is a big plus. Guess you can’t have everything everywhere.
Today I want to fill in a short gap in my AT map. Previously David had picked me up at the Skyland Stables after a hike from the Rock Spring Cabin. See that post here. Today he drops me off at the Stables and takes the car up to the Stony Man Trail Head where he will meet me. It’s not a long distance for me on the AT, only 2.4 miles, just a hole in my map. Because many many of the trails in Shenandoah use the AT for part of their distance, I walk odd parts of it with David and then fill in around it with longer solo hikes and some little pieces like this one.
Today’s part of the AT on the road to Stony Man is appropriately stony.
When I walk up, David is checking out the map for the hike up to Stony Man. He picks up a trial guide for this nature walk. We never pass up an opportunity to learn about the natural world especially information specific to the place we current are.
We set out through ferns that come almost to my shoulders
We come upon a tree in the process of splitting a rock apart. Just give those trees an inch and they’ll take a mile. Maybe it should be rock/paper/scissors/trees. Another tree makes a nice friendly bench in its similar determination to get to that sun.
We stop at each numbered post and read the information from the booklet. Here at stop #5 they remind us that Stony Man’s forest changed forever when all of its large chestnut trees were attacked by a fungus and were killed by the early 1930’s. Because chestnut wood contains tannin, a natural preservative, the wood is resistant to decay. This is the first time we’ve been absolutely positive a downed tree that we have seen is a chestnut. It’s so sad and just amazing that the skeletons of these trees are still here 85 years later.
Up up we go on the stony trial. At post 14 we find that the rocks here are very ancient. 570 million years ago, there was tremendous volcanic activity in this area until a total of 12 lava flows, over millions of years, eventually added 1800’ of volcanic rock. How DO they figure this stuff out from so long ago? This rock was later metamorphosed by the heat and pressure of mountain building and it changed composition from basalt to greenstone which is the rock on Stony Man today.
Nice artwork by the lichens here.
At 4011 feet, Stony Man is the second highest peak in Shenandoah after Hawksbill which we’ve already visited. That post is here. He gets his name because viewed from the north, Stony Man Mountain resembles the face of a bearded man. He appears to be reclining on the slope of the Blue Ridge, gazing out over the Shenandoah Valley to the west.
After hiking on to little Stony Man cliffs we plan to drive to the Stony Man Overlook and see what he looks like from a distance.
We face the city of Luray and the distant ridges of the Massanutten Mountains. To the left is Skyland and to the right are the cliffs of Little Stony Man where we’ll be going next.
It’s very exciting to see this sign even though we don’t see the birds. Peregrine falcons were nearly wiped out by DDT. Shenandoah National Park has the longest and most successful history of peregrine falcon restoration of any site in Virginia. Stony Man is one of the major sites for nest building along with Hawksbill summit. These links will take you to short articles on their restoration here in the park. Shenandoah should be very proud. Link1 – Link 2.
Stony Man has been a destination for tourists since prior to the creation of the Stony Man Camp, now known as Skyland, by George Pollack in the late 1800’s. I can’t find anyone who knows where the name Stony Man came from but it’s obviously very old. Even today, on a Tuesday (but then it is August) the forehead of Stony Man upon which we stand is filled with people.
David is pointing down to the Skyline Drive heading north.
We wait out all the people none of whom seem to stay anywhere as long as we do. I’m now able to take this picture of the approach to Stony Man and the views with no one in them.
“Backfire” and “Spider” come up to join us. They are thru hikers who set out from Springer Mountain Georgia to hike to Katahdin but have decided to modify the hike and do it in two pieces rather than one. So they are nearing their end for this year in Harper’s Ferry West Virginia. They say they much prefer the slower pace and not having to push through bad weather if they don’t want to.
Stony Man and Little Stony Man, like our hike Sunday to Black Rock (post here) are on the AT which is how they happen to be here. And also, they are up here to make a cell phone call for a pick up in Luray. They’ve booked a B&B for their wedding anniversary. Now that’s how to hike the AT.
After chatting a while and finding out, among other things, that their packs weight 28 and 23 pounds respectively, e leave them to it. With one look back we head on toward Little Stony Man which has no face and in my opinion should be called Stony Cliffs.
It’s a little over a mile to Little Stony Man. David decides he’d rather go back and get the car and drive it to the Little Stony Man parking than to walk the miles back to the Stony Man Parking after we’ve seen little Stony Man. So I continue along the AT and he’ll walk up from the parking lot to Little Stony Man to meet me.
It’s another lovely hike on a section of the AT.
We’re coming from two different ends to Little Stony Man. Here’s my first view coming up the AT from the South.
There is only one person here when I arrive and he is so quiet that I don’t even notice him until I have walked the entire length of the cliffs. Fantastic! It’s beautiful and quiet here. I take a few pictures of the views and spend some time at the wet weather pond where the tadpoles are pretty good size.
Taking this view, I spy a darling little transient pond.
Someone else is also enjoying the water. Does he eat tadpoles? Or is he just here for a drink or a bath? He sure blends in well.
Down below are other outcroppings with the Skyline Drive in the distance.
These beauties are blooming on the rocks.
When David has not yet arrived, I head out and down the trail to look for him. It is a very short drive but I don’t know how long a climb up.
Unfortunately shortly after leaving the cliffs I hear the weed eater and pass a trail maintenance person headed up. The outrageously loud noise and exhaust totally destroys the tranquility of this beautiful spot. I know they need to keep the trails open but as I watch it is pretty clear to me that this trail doesn’t need any trimming at all and I wonder what she’s doing here.
I meet David about half way down the trail and we take our time coming back up hoping she’ll be gone by the time we get there. She’s cutting off a lot of nothing we notice as we go but we don’t hear the noise of the machine.
We arrive at the top to find that we didn’t hear her because she’s taken a break and is now strapping the thing back on. She starts it up and ultimately she gets far enough down the trail that we don’t hear her.
I contemplate the return of silence and this gorgeous spot. All I need is a book and a chair and I’d just stay.
David checks out the little pond and then climbs down to the edge. I do not follow.
I like it better when he’s back on top.
We’ve had the cliffs to ourselves since the weed whacker left and just before we head back to the car up comes what we think must be a guy setting up for rappelling. We watch for a while. I take a few pictures of his gear and of him wrapping his straps around the rocks. I’d really like to stay and see him head down but we’ve already been here quite a while and he looks like he still has a lot more to set up.
Heading down the mountain we take a right to the car rather than a left to continue on the AT. I’ll have to come back to this point and start north on another day.
At the parking lot the trail head sign for Little Stony Man tells me that in the early 1900’s an “excursion” to the cliffs was one of the most popular activities of visitors to Skyland. I can just see them, the women in their long skirts with picnic baskets and an elaborate picnic up on the cliffs.
We drive down to the overlook which looks out again on Luray. Not so interesting. But the butterflies are furiously working over the thistle and other plants along the rock wall.
The wildflowers here are thick and at their peak. The intricacy when you look closely is just stunning.
I’ve never been a real fan of sumac or goldenrod but today they look beautiful in these bouquets.
When we finally take our eyes off the wildflowers and butterflies we look up at Stony Man’s face. I see him but I don’t see the descriptions from the Trail Head signs or the booklet we were given. Perhaps all of those were printed years ago. They say he has a long rock nose and a space for his eyes with a tree-covered beard. Looks like the rock nose is now covered with trees to me. David’s picture is one end of the parking lot and from a distance. Mine is from the other and closer up He looks a little more like Big Foot to me with what look like rocky teeth.
I’m thrilled to see, on the signboard in the parking lot, this vintage photograph of just what I was picturing, women in long skirts atop Little Stony Man. Then and now ladies attire for a visit to Little Stony Man. Things have changed a lot for women in the past 100 years.
Time to head back for dinner. It’s been a great day being among the most recent of centuries of visitors to the Stony Men. I’ve had a wonderful time and like happens so often, wish I could have stayed for hours.