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

Henry David Thoreau

A Couple of Bear Days

Wednesday June 13-Saturday June 16, 2018                                             Most Recent Posts:
Lewis Mountain Campground                                                                       Celia Puts Her Hiking Boots On
Shenandoah National Park                                                                          Carrie and Celia Visit Big Meadows

Wednesday was mostly one of these days as if the skies were also sorry that Celia and Carrie had left.  I cleaned and read and ate.  I’m able to count on Shenandoah to give me plenty of time to do these things.


Thursday the weather was great so I took a hike to Pocosin Cabin and to the Mission ruins site

Pocosin Cabin was never a settler’s home but was built in the 30’s by the CCC which explains the outside fireplace and the great stone work.   It is now for rent by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club who maintain it.   No running water and an outhouse.   Not sure where you park. As get out of my car parked on the fire road and head down along it to the cabin, I think not a long hike from here to there but pretty far to carry your things in.  I have more information and pictures about this hike, this cabin and the Mission on my 2015 blog here.

the fire road heading downIMG_4897

the cabin “drive” that you can no longer drive to.IMG_4898


path to the outhouseIMG_4908

As I pass the outhouse I wonder how many of my readers have ever used one.  Leave a comment and let me know if you did and where and when.


view of the cabin returning from the outhouse


The fire road is wide and clear to the cabin but becomes an over grown two track at the end of its driveway.


The road deteriorates significantly as I walk.  Clearly no one is maintaining it.  Perhaps it isn’t really a fire road any more.  Not sure any emergency vehicle could get down it now.

At the bottom of the road, I find the ruins.  There are more and better pictures of the mission from my 2015 post referenced above.  I’m surprised at how much it has deteriorated in 3 years.  Look and see.

IMG_4953Around the turn of the 20th century, Frederick W. Neve, an English-born Episcopal minister, embarked on an ambitious plan to build missions every ten miles along the Blue Ridge Mountains.  He found the people there deeply in need of religious instruction.  A little too much moonshine probably.

In 1902, work began on a mission at the top of Pocosan Hollow.  Far Pocosan, Neve called the post, a reference to it being deep in wild country, Pocosan is an Algonquin term for marshy land.  Neve built another mission–Lower Pocosan–at the foot of the mountain years later.  Far Pocosan was a simple affair, a schoolhouse that doubled as a church, providing folks with secular and religious instruction.  Neve’s missions also distributed necessities–food and clothes–that were often hard for many impoverished mountain people to come by.



A mission house accompanied the school-chapel at Far Pocosan.  The modest house was a cabin made from rough-hewn logs, chinked to buffer against the frigid mountain breezes.  The kitchen was an enclosed lean-to hanging off one side of the rustic house.  Here Florence and Marion Towles, two sisters, lived for years as missionaries sent not to some far off continent, but to this remote hollow on the Appalachian Mountains’ eastern slope.

I’ve mentioned before how the mountain people were described.  Outsiders, what we would call do gooders, didn’t understand them.  I read the following in an account of the Towles sister.

The Towles sisters took their calling at Far Pocosan seriously, ministering to a mountain people they saw as primitive, untamed, damned.  They were a constant source of frustration for the devout women.  Local families were dangerously superstitious. They’d have the seventh child of a family blow into a baby’s mouth to cure thrush, or not comb a mother’s hair until her newborn child was nine days old for fear of bad luck.  Fighting, drinking, general licentiousness and ignorance, all were evils to be eradicated by the word of God carried uphill by these women.

The sisters, too, welcomed and admired the inherent beauty of the mountain people, “blue-eyed, golden-haired, soft little bits of humanity,” Florence described the children, “so full of possibilities.”

To the people who served in them, these missions must have seemed the heart of darkness.  After all, rugged mountain terrain, before modern technology, was, for most people anyway, an obstacle, not an asset.  It was forbidding and marginal.  However they saw themselves, the people who inhabited this rugged backcountry were considered by others to be peripheral, and in a pre-modern society quite sensitive to class and social structure, something less than normal.


In the midst of the decay are lovely tulip poplar flowers littering the ground.  Are these the same trees that were here then?  They’d have to be 80 to over 100 years old.


I’m not quite ready to head back up to the car so I take the Pocosin Hollow Trail further on down toward the boundary of the park.  Eventually it leaves the park and becomes a road going into the area into which settlements were created for those “removed” from their lands.


I’m just walking and thinking in the quiet with no other people around.  Gold seems to be the color of the day amid all this green.




I’m not sure if this will become a Cucumber Magnolia aka Umbrella Magnolia.  If so, it is one of the largest and one of the most cold hardy Magnolias of the Eastern US and Southern Ontario.
Look at the size of these leaves.



Time is getting away from me here.  I could wander forever but the further I go, the longer the way back up hill.    On my return, I spot several wild columbine nearly hiding in the greenery.   I think they are just starting to bloom.  Soon they will be everywhere.




Swallowtails are busy.



The Pocosin Cabin comes into view on my left and I know I’m almost back.  There is always something bittersweet about visiting the mission and remembering how the people were looked down upon.  I’m not sure when the spelling change occurred but it’s not a mistake on my part.  It was Pocosan then and Pocosin now.


On Friday I learn NEVER to go hiking without my camera.  No matter how short the hike.

I climb up Lewis Mountain first thing in the morning as I often do. I do not take my camera. I thought about it and said why bother it’s such a short distance. The question should have been why not bother.

On the way the Mountain Laurel over head is in full bloom. Lots of it.  So Beautiful!

At the top I was on my way to the second over look when a Black Bear came up over the rock I was preparing to sit on.  He was as shocked as I was.  We were very close to each other.  I looked down and backed away.  When I looked up he was gone.  I probably scared him as much as he did me.

After I backed out to the first overlook, a little fawn came bounding up and did a quick turn around when he saw me and literally bounced his way out of sight.

On the way down I nearly walked into a deer thinking about how irritated I was that I hadn’t brought my camera for this one in a million morning..   We scared each other too.

Of course I missed pictures of it all. So I have Memories only, but they are very clear.  For now anyway.

Later in the morning, I took the camera to got some pictures of the cute cabins at Lewis Mountain.



The cabins are woodsy and rustic.  Just what you’d expect in this environment.

Carrie and Matthew stayed in one of them when they visited us here a few years ago.  Mostly the cabins are duplexes.  Each has a deck and access to a grille and a picnic table. 

They are located across from what used to be  Lewis Mountain Lodge which was actually a very popular restaurant when this was “the colored campground”. Interesting information on that is also in a previous blog.   Now it is a campstore where you can rent the cabins but not sites in the campground.  The store also have pay showers and laundry for AT Hikers or campers in the campground.  The cabins are rented by the concessionaire but the park rents the campsites.


From here I hiked up and through the picnic area and picked up the AT going north.  I wasn’t very far down the trail when this is what I saw in the woods ahead and off to my right.


He started toward me but was plenty far away for me not to be concerned.


He stopped and looked around



Eventually I guess he just didn’t find what he was looking for or smelling for probably since their eyesight isn’t that great.    So he turned around and head away from the trail.  I LOVE seeing bears when I’m hiking.  I LOVE that they have this place to be where hopefully no harm from humankind will come to them.


SATURDAY  I decided to try a hike to Rapidan Camp (President Hoover’s Summer White House)  I’d been thwarted one other time by rain so today I wanted to take the trail I had intended to take back, had I made it to the camp, that would have made it a loop hike.   This would just be out an back down the Mill Prong Trail since I’ve already done Laurel Prong, the other end of “the loop”.

I stop on the way to the trail head for a pictures of the mountain ridges.


One lone Cow Parsnip towers above the green in the foreground.


When I arrive at the Millum Gap Parking lot, here is what I see.  It’s nearly full.  I do find a spot but decide that about 99% of these people are taking the trail to Rapidan Camp.  It’s Saturday, I’m a bit late getting out, it will be very crowded.  For all my fiddling in the morning, it’s now after 11:am


I check out the map that is posted and decide rather than take the Yellow Mill Prong Trail to Rapidan Camp, I’ll just head north on the red AT until I get to . . . . well wherever I get to and then I’ll turn around and come back.  I’m always happy on the AT

So off I go.   Along the trail I’m passed at my 1 mph pace by several through hikers.  It’s mid June now and the recommendation is that you need to be through Virginia and to Harper’s Ferry by the end of June if you want to make Katadin before the snow flies.


When they pass me, I often ask “Are you going all the way”.  Mostly they say “Yup, to Katadin” and some stop to chat a little depending on whether they’ve a long way to go before the end of their plan for today.  One woman, Kathy, was doing “a short day”.  She had started in Maine and hiked Southto Harpers Ferry a previous year and this year was headed from there to Springer Mountain Georgia.  I don’t envy her hiking further south as it gets later in this summer.  It has already been a very hot and very rainy summer with apparently a large drop our rate for through hikers because of the rain.

She said she was going to the AT Shelter which is a few miles North of Lewis Mountain.  I told her if she’d like to make it a bit longer day, she was welcome to come and camp in my yard at the campground.   She’d have access to water, showers and a bathroom there.   She was thrilled.  She continued on South, I headed north without ever taking a picture of her.


Shortly after meeting up with Kathy, the AT crosses a gravel road named Tanner’s Ridge and I  pass by the Tanner’s Ridge Cemetery.  It is still an active cemetery in that anyone who is related to people buried in the cemetery before the park took over can also be buried here.  The family is required to keep up the property or it reverts to the park and  no more burials.

The cemetery is very tidy and has a variety of new headstones, lots of hearts and a couple of benches.  I like the bench idea.


It also has its share of old and neglected headstones.  Some just a head and a foot fieldstone to mark the place but no indication who is buried there.  It appears the decendents of the original settlers have prospered at least in terms of grave stones.



I pass on by the cemetery and reenter the woods.   I’m less than a half mile down the trail when I hear something moving in the understory.  Something big.


I stop immediately and look around.  Seeing nothing close by, I put my camera up to my eye to use it as binoculars to look on up the trail.  This is what I see.  The noise was definitely something large coming through the understory.


Up on the trail, they decide to wander in my direction.  I keep my right eye in the lens snapping zoom pictures and left eye open to see just how far away they really are.



They just keep coming so clearly they haven’t seen me since I’m standing still, they haven’t heard me since I’m making no noise and they can’t smell me.   They don’t know I’m here.


I decide since they are still coming I’d better make them aware.  I don’t really want to scare them off but I sure don’t want to scare them if they get close to me and suddenly realize I’m there.  So I clear my throat.” Ah-hem”  The larger bear stops.  The smaller bear follows.  The larger bear looks around.  I do nothing.    Apparently she decides she’s mistaken and starts walking down the trail again.  I clear my throat, she stops, and so forth.   This goes on 3 times before she decides she’ll just turn around and go the other way to avoid whatever it is.


The younger bear takes a last look.  Notice how the older bear’s coat looks brown in the sunlight.


As she turns around, more bears come out toward the trail.  There are 4 in total.  Two are up the hill to the right.


I watch and wait.  This is just fantastic!   They all follow the leader and head back the other way.




One last look back by the one bringing up the rear and they move around the curve and out of sight.   I guess it’s turn around time for me since I don’t want to follow them down the trail.


I get back beyond the graveyard when I realize I put my walking stick down in all the picture taking excitement and walked off with out it.  So back I go.


I get the stick and spy another bear.  Did they double back?  Is this a totally different one?


I watch him for a while as he moseys around and then heads off into the deeper woods. What a fantasic day!  I’m sure glad there were too many people and I skipped the Mill Prong Trail.  I’d rather have bears with me on the trail any day.   It’s been a two bear day week even with forgetting my camera Friday morning.  I’m a happy hiker.   Wonder what Celia would have thought of this?  Or Carrie for that matter.


This section of the AT is maintained by some mighty fine trail folks from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.  They’ve put down rocks along this section that is often wet and muddy. 


IMG_5146I expected to find Kathy at the campsite when I got back since I passed her hours ago. 

When she isn’t there, I think perhaps she’s decided not to come.  I fix myself some dinner and not long after I fininsh it and do the dishes, here comes Kathy.   I tell her she just missed dinner but that I’d love to take her up to Big Meadows to the restaurant. 

Her eyes light up and she says how much she’d like to have a big juicy hamburger.  She sets up her tent in my side yard near my tenting neighbors and this time I do take a picture. 

At the Wayside Diner, the waitress comes to take our order, I tell her I’ve already had dinner but I’ll have dessert later.  I tell Kathy that I’m treating her and she should have anything and all that she wants.  And she does.  That girl can pack it away.  And dessert too.

She tells me I’m a trail angel.  I tell her it was a wonderful treat for me to spend time with her.

You just never know what will happen when you are camping in Shenandoah National Park.


  1. To the best of my knowledge, I've never used an outhouse. I'd prefer to keep it that way.

    Wow on all the bears!

  2. Wow on the bears!! You really want personal stories about outhouse use among your readers?? Let's just say they were commonly used in the summer camps of my youth. My you saw some handsome bears! You probably wouldn't have gotten the picture of the 1st one when you surprised each other, boy that second bear, what a sight! Lucky you! Wow that was quite few pictures you posted on the 2015 hike - I remember it well!

  3. Lions and Tigers and BEAR...OH MY!!!! What a wonderful hike and photos of all those bear...lucky, lucky you:o)) Nothing wrong with your camera...the zoom works great!!!

    So nice that you were able to share time with the Thru-hiker. You surely made her day!!!

  4. How lucky you were to see so many bears! Great photos.

    I bet Kathy was thrilled with her meal. That was such a nice gesture.

  5. Such an amazing bear day! Of course I have used an outhouse. LOL I find it hard to imagine there are people out there who haven't. I encountered bears in the woods during my working days, but never that many at once. What a treat. However, at the risk of being a downer, I have a good friend who lost her very best friend last year to a black bear in Anchorage Alaska. Another soil scientist. It was devastating to her and her work crew, she even had pepper spray. Black bears can be more unpredictable than grizzly, just an FYI. So Be Careful. I know when you commune with nature the way you do you might seem invulnerable, but so did Tracy's friend. She loved the bears and was never afraid of them. Although, back when I was working in the woods with bears, I always thought it would be incredibly karmic to die that way.
    Be Careful!!!

    1. I am not unaware that there have been 25 people killed by black bears in the past 20 years. Just over one person per year makes it an unusual event. I am so sorry your friend was one of them.

  6. My early years included only an outhouse. If you want to see a lot more bears, you need to come to my backyard:)

  7. I find it very unusual to see so many bears together. But like Sue said be careful. They are very fast and very unpredictable and I see she had young. Your pictures are great and I do understand the excitement of the moment.

  8. Amazing you ran into so many bears, what a special treat. I didn't know they can't see very well, so short sighted of me... :c)

  9. Good gravy! I lost count of the number of bears you ran into. I'm thinking that's pretty unusual and so exciting.

    Yes. I have used an outhouse. Upstate NY. Fortunately, there was no sears catalog--there was toilet paper.

    The story of the sisters was very interesting. The things we learn when traveling. Still can't get over the number of bear you saw.

  10. You certainly hit the jackpot with the bears. They are such fun to view from a distance. I sure hope you had your bear spray at the ready just in case.

  11. I cannot believe how many bears you saw! I must admit, as much as I love seeing them, I wouldn't want to be hiking alone and encounter a bear. Your photos are fantastic, though. What a wonderful thing you did for Kathy, offering her a place to camp and treating her to a meal. You were definitely a trail angel for her! (Yes, I've experienced plenty of outhouses..let's see, there was one on a remote island off the coast of Maine, with no door and a gorgeous view. And one near Mt. Shasta that had an old resin lawn chair with the seat cut out. And a beautiful artistic outhouse with paintings and flowers in the San Juan Islands...I'm going to stop here....)

  12. Your photos are stunning. Of coarse, I especially loved the ones of the bears. What great shots and lucky you.

  13. I (we) have used many an outhouse. I would be surprised to learn of serious hikers who haven’t! And we have seen black bears on some hikes, but more on our own property even though we hike in bear country frequently. I’m sure many more have seen us than we have seen them! How unusual to see so many in a group like that.

  14. You hit the Bear Jackpot! Nice that you hung in there as they kept on coming at you on the trail. You might not get away with that in Griz Country :)

  15. Wow, wow!! How incredible to see so many bears on your hikes. I admire your courage, my heart would be beating out of my chest! I'm too young to have had an outhouse in any of my abodes. I did use one in girl scout camp. We even were in charge of cleaning them every day. Eww :)

  16. Oh, my goodness, u r alot braver than i am!!! So many of them too!!
    Re: outhouses.... yes, have used one!!! When we lived in the Willamette Valley and would come to Central Oregon to visit aunt and uncle on their farm near Redmond, they had a two seater!!! Remember many times sitting out there, talking with my cousin.. Don't know why that was the place to talk, but that is what i remember doing!!! my aunt lived out there with no running water or electricity for 8 years!!!! in the early 50's.. well almost to the 60's huh?? We always say my aunt did, my cousin and uncle did too!! haha, but think they would have been happy to just continue that way and no biggie for them!! We would bathe in the irrigation ditch!! (summer of course)

  17. Outhouse, of course we've used few in our lifetime. My folks had undeveloped property in ME that we camped out, an outhouse would have been lots better than the hole in the woods. Good for you for all the bear sightings, not sure I'd have hung around so long.

  18. Omigosh, not sure I would know what to do when I am surrounded by bears! I'd say you are so brave Sherry, for taking those great shots and savoring your encounters. Im also impressed that you spent time and money to Kathy, you are very generous. Hopefully she does the same thing someday to hikers.

  19. Such wonderful history, thanks for all the work to share it with me! I've used outhouses a couple times, but the most memorable was the one at the mining cabin in the desert with the rattlesnake in the bottom!! Your bear encounters are wonderful. They are such amazing creatures and you are so blessed to have that little time with so many of them!

  20. My grandparents and other relatives always had an outhouse on thir farms. My dad installed a regular bathroom for the grands back in the 40's and I liked that. When I backpacked for several months on the AT I was always glad to find an outhouse near one of the shelters.

  21. CCC built anything is always a work of art. Many times used an outhouse when I was a kid boat camping on the Illinois River. My favorite was a composter with no door and a wonderful mountain view. You certainly scored with all these bear sightings. Great opportunity for you and Kathy. You are a trail angel in more ways than one.

  22. The bear pictures are terrific how amazing. I imagine Celia wouldn't have remained quiet enough to keep them there. Very neat about Kathy too. How fun! Beautiful butterfly and flower pictures also.

  23. Amy and Angela have an outhouse at Javelina Hideout in Terlingua!! Love the bear pictures. Those were big ones.


Your comments are the best part of this blog for me.
I LOVE hearing from you!