Deep thoughts (and photos) by M. Scott Smith

Snapshots from Shenandoah 🔗

On Friday, November 2, I went hiking at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Temperatures were chilly (ranging from freezing to the mid-40's), but the sun was bright, and the colors were beautiful.

I drove to Shenandoah on Thursday evening and spent the night at the Hampton Inn in Front Royal. The hotel was excellent -- clean and quiet with a friendly staff. As a nice touch, in addition to providing breakfast, the hotel provided "to go" bags including breakfast bar, apple, blueberry muffin, and bottled water. Staying at the hotel allowed me to hit the trails early Friday morning -- after scraping ice off my car's windows.

In the past year, National Park fees have risen. An annual pass valid at all National Parks is now $80 (up from $50). This is the busiest time of the year at Shenandoah; on weekends, Skyline Drive can be bumper-to-bumper with leaf-peeping visitors. On Friday, the Park was not crowded -- weekdays are always the best time to visit. I only saw a few other people on the trails.

During my visit, I hiked -- a lot. Over 8 miles, while carrying a heavy backpack, across large elevation changes. At times I was wishing a ski lift would magically appear around the next bend. But the chilly temperatures were perfect for hiking -- I even managed to break a sweat with the temperatures in the upper-30's. There is also nothing more relaxing than spending an hour at the side of a bubbling stream, casually taking photographs as leaves fall gently through the air and squirrels scamper through the forest collecting nuts.

Some photographs from the hikes are provided below.

Bench at Dickey Ridge Visitor Center.


A chilly morning view from Dickey Ridge Visitor Center. Temperature was in the upper 30’s.


A leaf floating at the top of Lands Run Falls. Lands Run Falls is reached by following a fire road from Mile 9.2 on Skyline Drive.








Robo Squirrel. Shortly after I took this picture, a small black bear lumbered off across the trail and into the trees. This is at least the fifth time I have seen a black bear at Shenandoah, but I have yet to get a photograph. They are very skittish and quickly run away — which is a good thing. One thing I noticed is that the bear smelled — they have a distinctive stench. During this trip I saw a bear; lots of squirrels, chipmunks, deer and birds; a raccoon; and a skunk.



A view from the top of Compton Peak. To reach Compton Peak, park at the Compton Gap parking lot and cross the street. Hike the Appalachian Trail about 1.2 miles. You will then see a concrete marker, where you can take a spur trail to the right or left. The right trail leads to the view above. By now the temperature was in the low 40’s.





Hiking along the Rose River Loop Trail. This is a fairly strenuous hike (especially when carrying a 20+ pound backpack), a 4-mile loop with lots of elevation change. Park at Fishers Gap Overlook (mile 49.4 on Skyline Drive), cross the street, and head down the Rose River Fire Road a brief distance until you see the trail entrance on the left. After 2.9 miles, you’ll reach a junction with Rose River Fire Road. From here, you can take the fire road back to Fishers Gap, or take a 0.6-mile out-and-back hike to the base of Dark Hollow Falls.



These photos were taken along Rose River, shortly after the ruins of an old copper mine.





OK, I cheated a little. This photo was taken at the base of Dark Hollow Falls. And, it was almost dark. I briefly “painted” the red leaf with a red LED flashlight during the exposure.




This is an unusual picture. The sun had set and it was almost completely dark. You can get a sense of how dark it was by looking at the sides of the picture. There were two deer grazing at the side of the trail, straight ahead. I briefly illuminated the scene with my flashlight. The flashlight is a SureFire (www.surefire.com) flashlight; I believe SureFire makes the best flashlights in the world. This photo shows how clean and uniform the beam is.


A close-up of a deer at night. This strange shot was achieved by pulsing a flashlight several times while the camera shutter was open. The exposure was about 7 seconds.


Another shot of deer at night. It might look light out, but it was pitch dark. This was a 9-second exposure. It was a little spooky hiking back in pitch dark, especially when I passed the old Cave Cemetery on the left, off of the Rose River Fire Road.


This was a 30-second exposure. A long exposure can pull any remaining light out of the sky.

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