Shenandoah National Park getaway 2018

home, for a bitI took a two-night trip to Shenandoah National Park, staying in this adorable cabin on the Skyland property, one of the oldest cabins in the park. Black-and-White Warbler (Mniotila varia) seen from the porch.


five not fourThe first day, I did a four-hour loop out of the Big Meadows area, following the Rapidan Road, Mill Prong Trail, and AT. The meadows along the Rapidan Road were quite good for our common butterflies. Once the road entered the woods, I found a lingering patch of Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). My initial attempts to ID were rather hopeless (I’ve never seen this plant before), in part because the blooms nearer the trail were on the way to gone by, and showed only four parts, not five. Field ID job #1: always check more than one individual.

free flowingThe Mill Prong was flowing generously. A thundershower kicked in as I climbed back to Milam Gap, and I had to break out my ratty emergency poncho with a hole and most of the snaps broken. Near the end of my loop, I found a flock of about 18 Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo); I think that this is the first time that I’ve seen them in fairly thick woods, rather than by the roadside. 4.2 miles, elevation change 205m.

slopeThe next day, I drove to the South District to take a loop around Blackrock. Blackrock is not so much a mountain as it is a messy talus slope. This is the view to the north. Not even a Mountain Ash has made inroads here. I deviated from my trail guide and took a short stretch on the AT. Let’s call it 2.5 miles and an elevation change of 110m, around in 2:05. On the AT, I surprised a pair of Black Bear cubs, on one side of the trail, and an adult on the other side. I backed off and clapped my hands and improvised a silly song about walking in the woods (the sort of thing that Pooh and Piglet would sing) until I was sure that the fuzzies had moved on.

I found that I was laboring in my climbs—there are a couple of reasons why that might be. So, for my afternoon walk, I cut down the loop I was planning into a circuit starting from Browns Gap, following the AT, Big Run Loop Rail, and Madison Run Road. As I approached the parking area for the trailhead, I was hailed by two noisy hikers on the roadside. I thought that they had run out of water, but it turned out they were just hoping to cadge a beer. Ah, well, trail magic takes many forms.

Climbing on the AT, I decided that this was my therapy: hot yoga forest bathing. Pause. Listen. Breathe.

patience rewardedcommon, but very niceMadison Run Road (I’ve been at the other end of this road) was good for a couple butterflies, Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) at left and Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) at right. Alas, I did not key out the fleabane. 105m elevation change, 2.2 miles, 1:35.

not a sunflowerAlong Skyline Drive, I saw lots of variations on yellow August-blooming composites. But once I stopped and got my Newcomb’s out, I found only two species. First, some patches of Tall Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), including a few flowers on Madison Run Road.

one inflorescenceleaf detailAnd then, overwhelmingly, the roadside flowers in bloom at this time of the year turn out to be Pale-leaved Sunflower (Helianthus strumosus). These photos are all from one overlook parking area, the plants are everywhere Skyline Drive. The flowers show variability in color (yellow to orange) and they change as the flower matures: the disc becomes darker, more prominent (like a coneflower) as the ray flowers begin to drop off.

I stopped for a quick run up to Betty’s Rock before I headed back to the cabin and dinner. But the trail is closed for revegetation. Just a reminder that it’s possible to love something too much, so much that you hurt it.

a driftCounting the trailside and roadside bears that I saw, I found six. That’s more bears than I’ve ever seen before in my life.

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