Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ah... Virginia

A couple of the things I love so much about Virginia (and central Virginia in particular) are its seasons, and the proximity to some of the most serene and beautiful mountains this country has to offer... the Appalachians. My recently retired father and I took the opportunity to do a quick backpacking trip in Shenandoah National Park, part of the Appalachian Range that runs from Georgia to Maine. We both love these mountains, and try to get out to them as often as we can, so it was indeed a treat to escape for an overnighter in the Park.

On this first trip, I decided not to bring my DSLR camera, but rather opt for my small, convenient, and much lighter point-and-shoot camera. It takes great pictures, but I found myself longing for my DSLR at times... so much so I decided to return following my DC trip to hit the same trails again!

I'm getting ahead of myself, however... back to the the overnighter. Dad and I took off last Wednesday morning and made the 1-1/2 hour drive out to the Shenandoah National Park entrance near Afton Mountain, and quickly made our way up to the Blackrock Gap parking area. We started towards Blackrock Summit after a quick sandwich we'd packed, and made our way up the polkberry-lined Appalachian Trail (AT), enjoying the beautiful colors of changing hickory, gum, dogwood, oaks and maples that surrounded us.

In no time we were at Blackrock Summit, an amazing trail running around a peak consisting of massive boulders ranging in size from your doghouse to your backyard shed. We circled the peak, and of course, I needed to scramble up to the top to take in that amazing 360 degree view of the Shenandoah National Park, and beyond into the Valley. It was here that I was convinced I wanted to return the following week with my DSLR, in hopes I'd catch the leaves even closer to peak.

Wanting to make it to our destination, Furnace Mountain, a couple of peaks away, we set out down the series of trails that would take us there. The 2.5 mile trip took just around an hour, with plenty of time for us to set up camp, make some dinner, and plop down on an outcropping of rock that marked the termination of the trail at the peak of Furnace Mountain.

The show we witnessed would rival any Broadway blockbuster in my mind. While the sun set behind us, out of view from where we were facing, the dropping shadows against the mountains and changing colors of the North-Eastern view were gorgeous; the darkening sky and emerging stars bloomed into a full-blown light-show, complete with meteors, constellations and a clear view of the Milky Way; and as an encore: about an hour after sunset, the moon rose over the mountains in the Eastern sky. I was cringing that I'd not brought my XSi, but even if I had, it would have been tough to capture the beauty. I slept out on that outcropping, and woke to an equally beautiful, spectacular sunrise. Looking back, it was definitely one of the best overnighters in recent memory....

We broke camp after breakfast, and made our way back through the trails that had led us there, past Blackrock Summit, and on to our car. The hike back was just as enjoyable as the hike in, and we enjoyed the sights, sounds, and smells of being in the forest.

My return trip the following week didn't include an overnighter. I left Washington the following Tuesday morning early, made a quick stop into Harrisonburg and my alma mater, JMU before entering the park for some day-hiking and shooting along the same trails Dad and I had traveled the week before. It was time well spent, and though the weather wasn't quite as inviting as the week before, the color was indeed closer to peak, and worth the decision to come back.
My remaining time in Virginia was spent with family in my hometown of Richmond, and was a great way to unwind after a phenomenal 6 week trip. I've just arrived home in San Jose, and am looking forward to sharing some final thoughts about my travels in a blog I'll post in the coming days. Thanks to Jet Blue for the incredible offer, and to you for following me on my journey! :)


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