Day 4: Wednesday, October 7, 2015
We were going hiking! Hiking days are usually Jon’s favorites, but we were both excited to see Shenandoah National Park!
We drove into the park about 9:30 am, after packing up and having breakfast at the hotel (and Jon went for a run). First thing as we drove in – my obligatory entrance sign picture. This pic is one of my favorite pics of me! Our first stop was the Dickey Ridge Visitor’s Center, for stamps, postcards, and a t-shirt! We also talked to the ranger and got some advice on which hikes we wanted to do. We got a great recommendation on a couple and then set off to find the first one.
Our first hike was the Compton Gap Trail. The hike was two miles roundtrip (it would have been 2.4, but we missed one of the side spurs to another viewpoint, which ended up being ok, because we weren’t short on mileage that day).
We hiked along the Appalachian Trail for about a mile of this hike. The Appalachian Trail is an approximately 2,200 mile scenic trail, that goes from Georgia all the way to Maine. Hikers can hike sections, or they can attempt to thru-hike, which means you hike the entire length of the trail in a season. The idea of the Appalachian Trail was first conceived in the 1920s and was completed in the 1930s. The first documented thru-hike was completed in 1948, and in 2014, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy reported that 653 hikers completed a northbound thru-hike, with 76 completing the more difficult southbound thru-hike. As intriguing as it sounds, this is not on my bucket list…
Back to our Compton Gap hike – about a mile up the trail leads to a wonderful viewpoint, with a vast tree canopy, and a river in the far distance. It reminded me of the tree filled views at home, only with deciduous trees instead of conifers. Also rewarding was the fact that we were alone for the majority of the hike! The total elevation gain on this hike was 835 feet, so it wasn’t too strenuous. I enjoyed getting a taste of the rocky terrain; we passed by several huge boulders, and the trail was made up of rocks too!
There wasn’t much wildlife aside from birds who didn’t hang around long enough to be found or photographed, but I did find this caterpillar – I didn’t touch him. I guess their hairs can be irritating to your skin; we only have orange and black woolly bear caterpillars at home – I had never seen a white one! We also saw a millipede, which is probably only notable for me because we don’t have them back home.
After Compton Gap, we had lunch at the picnic area at Elkwallow Wayside, and listened to a few Appalachian Trail hikers swap stories of their experiences. There was a little store there that sold hamburgers and a few other hot food meals, so I’m sure it was quite a popular stop for hikers who had been in the woods for days!
Our next hike was Jon’s choice for the day – the Mary’s Rock Trail; it departed from the aptly named Mary’s Rock Trailhead at milepost 31.6. It was a 3.7 mile hike up to the top of – you guessed it – Mary’s Rock. The trail was similar to the one we already hiked, with gigantic boulders and smaller rocks making up a lot of the trail. It was longer and steeper though, with a 1,210 foot elevation gain. The rocky trail made for careful hiking, because you wouldn’t want to twist an ankle!
The Mary’s Rock hike had a lot of switchbacks, and was a little steep in places. However, the view at the top made it all worthwhile – it was amazing! There is a giant rock outcrop at the top that gives you a 360 degree view if you climb up on it. Despite my fear of heights, I scrambled up the rock, and was really glad I did. We sat up there for awhile, and saw a couple of turkey vultures soaring over the treetops.
Although we had already done two hikes that day, we had more we wanted to see and do! I’ll tell you about the rest of the day in my next post!