Saturday, June 30, 2007

Elk Garden to Whitetop Mntn, Va.: A - Trail

On the 9th of June, we traveled from the town of Marion, Va. where we were visiting my wife's father, to the Elk Garden section of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. We drove down Rt#11 [Lee Highway] to Chilhowie, passing by the famous Dip Dog stand and passing through Seven Mile Ford, which crosses the Middle Fork of the South Holston River. Chilhowie proclaims itself to be the Gateway to Mt Rogers (5,729') , and it is also the primary means to drive to Saltville, Salt Capital of the Confederacy and site of a pre-historic archeological dig. For information on Mt Rogers:

We drove east on the Highway 107, which quickly turns into Whitetop Road. Whitetop Road wanders though some gorgeous bottom land before heading up to Whitetop Mountain—the second highest point in Virginia (5,520'), and the highest to drive to. The first stop was a newly constructed overlook. This overlook is identified as a Va. Birding and Wildlife Trail site, at a point where the Iron Mountain Trail goes to Skull Gap. The day was hazy, with a threat of rain in the air For more information on Whitetop Mountain: After leaving the overlook, we continued on to the Elk Garden, a trailhead for the Appalachian Trail situated on the Smyth – Grayson County Line. Elevation here is about 4600'. Heading in the direction of the grasses and horse trail will take you through Deep Gap to Mt. Rogers, about 4 miles one way. We chose to head in the other direction on the A-Trail, heading to Whitetop Mountain (a place we have driven to in the past). This is 3 miles one way, before walking towards the summit. One can continue along Whitetop Mountain Road to a national forest road to the summit of Whitetop Mountain. Whitetop Mountain Road continues south and ends at Rt 58, west of Damascus.

The A-Trail toward Whitetop Mountain is well maintained, fairly level as it progresses along the ridge, and quite green and lush. Only when we got near Whitetop did we enter the alpine environment found at these high elevations. Some of the more interesting sights along way was the incidences of brown bracket lichen—particularly with moss growing out of it. I have only seen white bracket lichen in past hikes. From Whitetop Mountain, you can easily see into both North Carolina and Tennessee.

We walked about half of the way towards the summit and paused. On the way back down, we were able to see Wilburn Ridge, located on the A-Trail above Grayson Highlands State Park, on another path to the summit of Mt Rogers—from the other side.

For the next trip, we will hike from the Elk Garden to Mt Rogers.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Shenandoah Valley Trip Day 3

Day 3 of the Shenandoah Valley Trip had several positive surprises! We continued down US Rt #11 from New Market into Harrisonburg. More interesting barns and buildings appeared.
Courtesy of the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail Book (which may be ordered from the Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries Department for $8.50, or you can view sections on-line), we became aware of Lake Shenandoah just east of Harrisonburg—just off of US Rt #33. This delightful lake setting includes a place to launch canoes, kayaks, and small boats offered quite a variety of birds and ducks. Pictures of them may be seen below. We set up our chairs and sat there for several hours. An excerpt from the website describes the trail:

“From the Atlantic Ocean on Virginia's eastern border, to the towering Mt. Rogers at its southwest corner, the Commonwealth includes every bird and animal habitat that occurs naturally between Maine and Florida. The state also offers a long history, rich culture, and tradition of warm hospitality to welcome visitors.

Within Virginia's 43,000 square miles of diverse natural habitat, you can find some 400 species of birds, 250 species of fish, 150 species of terrestrial and marine animals, 150 species of amphibians and reptiles, and a wide variety of aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates. The Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail celebrates this diversity. In fact, it is the first statewide program of its kind in the United States. In Virginia, three phases of the trail link wildlife viewing sites throughout the state.”

After Lake Shenandoah, we headed further east on Rt #33 to Elkton, Va., just short of the entrance to Skyline Drive. From here, we proceeded up US Rt #340, the “other” Valley highway. From here to Luray, you are driving alongside the South Fork of the Shenandoah River—Skyline Drive on your right, and the Massanutten Mountain on your left. This is a beautiful drive—mountains on both sides of you.

Our destination was Luray, Va., home of the Luray Caverns and headquarters of the Shenandoah National Park. Luray is also home to a birding trail—the Luray-Hawksbill Greenway along Hawksbill Creek (which comes down from Skyline Drive).

We camped at another resort-style RV campground: Country Waye. [ ] It is well set up to handle large RV rigs and has spotless, impeccable restrooms and bathhouse. It is located just two miles north of Luray proper, just off of US Rt #340 by Kimball. The site is nestled in between Skyline Drive and the Massanutten Mountain—with a 270 degree view of the mountains. Kennedy Peak is prominent to the west. You may take Bixler’s Ferry Road out of Luray and onto the road to Camp Roosevelt in the George Washington National Forest to reach a trail head to Kennedy Peak, which has an observatory overlooking the valley below.

Shenandoah Valley Trip Day 2 Part Two

For the second day and night, we ended up at the Endless Caverns and RV Resort, just south of New Market, Va. As an aside, a few miles north of New Market on Rt #11 you will find Meems Bottom Bridge, a lovely covered bridge over the North Fork of the Shendoah River. We have visited it several times in the past; the winter trip (icy) provided the best picture taking.

Endless Caverns provides very luxurious RV camping spots; with both back-in and pull through sites easily accomodating the largest class A and 5th wheel rigs. Water, 50/30/20amp electricity, and sewer are standard. We were high enough up on the western slope of the Massanutten Mountain to breath mountain air (instead of valley air)--it was quite clean.

We caught a spectacular sunset--the parking lot to the Caverns faces westward across the valley. The Caverns access and walkways were constructed when stone was quite fashionable--as shown below. Finally, for those that remember, the Civil Defense Air Raid Shelter sign on the old entrance to the Cavernts. I really liked the covered stone walkway.