I am a park ranger at Shenandoah National Park, but my blog represents my own musings and enjoyment of the NPS.
I remember being in school (K-12 and college) and waking up Friday morning knowing that the weekend was only hours away. I grew up in a house where my Mom was a homemaker (and trust me, she worked 7 days a week) and my Dad frequently traveled, often leaving Monday morning and returning Friday afternoon. According to my baby book, my first sentence was “Daddy go away.” Friday evening was a night out for my family and we used to each get a turn picking where we wanted to eat dinner. Inevitably I picked Ponderosa because I loved the idea of making my own sundae at the end of the meal. This was not my parent’s ideal choice, but to be fair, they let me have my way. In college, the weekend meant going to the game, playing intramural softball, making some money waiting tables and of course, the occasional party or bar. Then I entered the “real world.” My weekends are non-traditional these days and I call Monday “my Friday.” It used to bother me, knowing I couldn’t attend festivals, concerts and a myriad of other events that take place on Saturday and Sunday, but I’ve learned to embrace it. I can schedule appointments, go to the bank, pay bills and avoid weekend shoppers without taking time off from work. The best part is that my boyfriend and I share one day off. How can this be the best part? What a special day it is and we cherish it.
Like my parents, my boyfriend and I alternate choosing the day’s activities. It was my turn this week. I found myself in a conundrum as I started to plan. A hiking group that I had joined in the winter of 2010/11 was doing a hike in George Washington National Forest from Veach Gap to Elizabeth Furnace, a place I hadn’t explored yet. Now, my boyfriend and I both love the outdoors and this normally wouldn’t be an issue, but this particular hiking group consists mostly of retired people. It’s pretty typical for me to associate with older people as I’ve always been pretty reserved and grew up among my parent’s friends. I had reservations about asking him to tag along, assuming that the speed and frequent breaks would make him crazy. I broached the subject over dinner Monday night and he agreed to come along since it was a new place for him as well and was a 7.7 miler. I made him promise that if he hated it, he would never do it again just to appease me. We got up Tuesday morning and after getting our packs together, headed to our normal coffee spot, Daily Grind. Pumpkin Pie Latte in hand, we headed to the forest and met the rest of the group at Veach Gap. Only six of us today, perhaps the typical crowd being deterred by the length and 1200’ climb. I introduced everyone to my boyfriend and off we went.
The other reason I was excited about the prospect of hiking in this particular area was my interest in fire ecology. Earlier this summer, about 2000 acres or so burned in this area, a fire sparked by a lightning strike. The importance of fire in a forest is something I studied extensively last summer in preparing for a new campfire program. It was quite evident that the fire was low to the ground, thereby allowing the trail to become a natural fire break. We also saw evidence of what we assumed to be bull dozer tracks where they had gone in to create fire lines. The trees were all burnt on one side, green on the other.
But the forest comes back quickly, and lots of new, green growth blanketed the forest floor.
We also found a ground nest of wasps that looked like it had been recently disturbed, probably by a bear. I think Winnie the Pooh was around looking for his pot of honey. The wasps didn’t seem interested in us, and no one indicated that they were allergic, but what a dangerous combination that could have been. We later came across some firefighting gear that looked like it had been forgotten and/or destroyed by the fire. As we continued to ascend, it became noticeable that the fire was burning quite hot in some areas. We stopped at a spot that had a great view of the Shenandoah River for lunch.
Just a ways down the trail, we came upon two other wonderful overlooks. We also saw some elaborate campsites where people had not only built fire rings, but used the rocks to create chairs and even an entryway at one location. It was neat to see, and made a deep impression on me as this is not allowed at a National Park. It seems that the Forest Service is a little more lenient on their views of keeping nature natural. Our descent was steep and quite rocky in some areas and concluded with a stream crossing.
I hung back with my friend Maureen during the hike, and had noticed right from the start that my boyfriend was getting on famously with the other men in the group. They kept a fair distance ahead of us most of the time, stopping to let us catch up. Even though the hike probably would have taken him and me less than 4 hours, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that he thoroughly enjoyed himself. I hope that he had enough fun to go again in a month!
After going to the gym and taking showers, our “date” continued at Outback Steakhouse in Winchester. We are big proponents of going to locally owned restaurants, but my choice was determined upon the other plans I had and time. We had discussed two movies that we each wanted to see and I was hoping to make that our final activity of the day. Based on the time of the movies, I opted for Outback because it was in the same plaza as Alamo Drafthouse. As chains go, Outback probably is one of my favorites. I had a Forbidden Fruit Tini to start, followed by a blackberry sangria with dinner. I usually let my boyfriend choose the appetizer and he opted for spinach & artichoke dip. We both chose wood-fired filets with sautéed mushrooms for dinner and I had a baked sweet potato and green beans with mine, while he chose sweet potato fries and asparagus. The food and service were wonderful and the timing couldn’t have been better. We paid the bill and made our way across the parking lot to see “Trouble with the Curve.”
First things first. My boyfriend doesn’t sit still well and therefore movies are not usually in the plans, but he is a Clint Eastwood fan as well as a big Justin Timberlake fan. Up to this point, he had not seen a JT movie and since we both love baseball, I thought everyone would be happy. I don’t want to give away the plot, but the movie basically revolves around a washed up former pitcher (JT), an aging scout (Clint) and his overly ambitious lawyer daughter (Amy Adams). I enjoyed it from both the baseball angle and the fact that it was a “chick-flick.” I know he enjoyed it too, so that made me happy. The other neat thing about this movie theater is that it’s a restaurant. I had checked out the menu ahead of time, and we are conscious about what we eat, so bar food didn’t sound appealing to me. However, we were interested in having a drink and since it’s a “drafthouse” it does have lots of options. Needless to say, it was a great day overall and I look forward to next Tuesday!
Hiking … I love hiking! I went on my longest solo hike last week. It encompassed a waterfall and almost 2000’ feet in elevation change. It was almost 10 miles in length. And … it was awesome!! I took advantage of my easy access to Shenandoah National Park and parked at Mathews Arm Campground. I used the Traces Trail to access the Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail. I saw some beautiful Wild Columbine blooming along the trail.
Pretty soon, I approached the 29’ initial cascade. I saw a lady enjoying her brunch sitting on the rocks, and she insisted I stay, that it was the best view. I tell you, it wasn’t bad!
The morning started off cloudy and cool, but as the day went on, the weather was perfect for hiking. The sun came out and it warmed up just enough. After moving on from the first cascade, I continued down (literally) to the overlook to the highest waterfall in the park, 93’.
It was too bad that I couldn’t play in the water, but I enjoyed taking in the views. Virginia is sure different from Death Valley!
As I continued on down into the hollow, I wondered how long I would be descending, knowing full well that at some point I had to go back up. After departing from the Tuscarora Trail (which goes up into Pennsylvania) I found a wonderful place for lunch. I got to sit on the rocks and stick my feet in the water while watching some swallowtails sipping the water in a puddle.
I followed the stream pretty much all the way along the hike. At one point, it was clearly evident that a fallen tree was, in fact, the trail.
As the trail continued, I crossed the stream many times. I saw lots of wildlife, including a bear that clearly saw me first, as he only attracted my attention in his haste to get away. My eye did spy a juvenile praying mantis and that was actually cooler than the bear.
By the way, this was on the ascent, so I was happy to stop and watch him for awhile. My trip took me along the Heiskell Hollow trail as I made my final approach back to the campground and my reward of a caramel flavored yogurt (limited time only Dannon flavor). It took me six hours to hike this 9.5-mile loop. I was happy with the time I made and excited to have finally, after having already worked at the park for two summers, seen the highest waterfall. Hopefully I’ll get to enjoy some more of these longer treks in the North District this summer!
It’s a fact that some of the best teachers can be your co-workers. I got to join fellow Ranger Lee on one of my days off and learn a little more about the forces of nature here inDeath Valley.
The geology of this park has been studied and written about over and over. Truth is the experts are still fighting over the actual geologic history ofDeath Valley. It’s a very complex park, but this makes it interesting and creates the perfect backdrop for critical discussion or, in our case, a very engaging ranger led program. The group that would join in on my adventure was full of wonderful questions and highly intrigued to find out how powerful Mother Nature can be. It was noted immediately that the path we were walking on appeared to be broken asphalt (as noted in the picture above). A road had been built in the 1920’s and 30’s to take people closer to the red wall called Red Cathedral. Improving nature … always a questionable endeavor. As many of you know, either from experience or from your knowledge of even the most basic weather history, nature will win in the long run. This road was washed away in 1976 by a massive 4-day rain storm. Here in the desert, the fine, silty sand (aka dirt) is much like, well, let’s say, a duck. The ground is more like oil and the water just rolls right off instead of being absorbed. And there is very little vegetation to suck up water either. So, a canyon such as this becomes the outlet for water coming down the hills. It’s been carved out over years as the softer rock erodes away more quickly. And, well, the powerful wall of water that comes down a canyon like this, can, indeed, rip up a road and carry it away. Mother Nature didn’t like it, so, she got rid of it. With this type of power firmly embedded in your mind, remember not to hike into a canyon if there is any threat of rain. We were granted a beautiful day and as we went about ¾ of a mile up the trail, we studied the rocks. The bleached out (golden) rocks were indicators of the inland sea that used to exist here.
Known asLakeManley, it was gone long before any modern humans came toDeath Valley. The rocks are mostly sandstones and limestones, easily eroded and the presence of a slip-fault in the area explains the extreme angles that these rocks sit at. And then you see the conglomerates, where rain storms have pushed various size rocks together and they’ve been cemented in “mud.” What about those massive red rocks that don’t fit in. Just look up and you’ll see the iron oxide rocks that were above the lake level and you’ll see how this puzzle fits together. At some point in history, that rock fell from up there. You can even see the borates in the rock layers, either in “root” like cracks in the rocks where the water seeped in and evaporated, leaving the white mineral substance, or in crystals formed between two layers of the ancient lakebed.
The geology is remarkable and I think the visitors would have spent all day with Ranger Lee. Alas, he had other duties to attend to, and we were left to explore at will. I had planned to make a lengthy trip out of this program, so I continued on.
Next stop, Red Cathedral and you can get right up to this drywall. A magnificent structure and it’s no wonder it got the name it did.
After reaching the wall, I turned around and headed back to the trail junction what would take me across the Badlands (no, I didn’t walk all the way to South Dakota) to Zabriskie Point. This hike kicked my little butt as it had been awhile since I did anything quite so strenuous. The elevation change for my whole trip was 960 feet and most of it was in this next mile. I stopped below Manly Beacon
to drink some water and discuss, briefly, Tim Wakefield’s retirement with my boyfriend. Wakefield started his career in my hometown and for those of you familiar in any way withWatertown,NYorWakefield’s minor league career, let’s just say this was when they were still a Pirates affiliate. (As a side note, to this tangent, I watched most games after the Pirates pulled out and they became an Indians farm club and for the last 10 years or so, they haven’t had a team at all. My point is thatWakefieldhas been around a while.) Anyway, I pondered his lengthy career while I regained my energy and finished my trek to Zabriskie Point.
Once I reached the parking lot at Zabriskie Point, I stopped for lunch and enjoyed the thought that the rest of my journey would be down hill. I headed back down the wash to Gower Gulch and eventually down to the valley floor and back to the parking area. It was a 6.5-mile loop and well worth it. What a fun trip, but if you plan on taking this hike, keep an eye on the weather and be sure to have plenty of water, some food, sunscreen and a hat. You could also position a car at Zabriskie Point and only hike one way. It’s a beautiful journey through a geologic puzzle. As you enjoy the scenery, feel free to explore and discover your own geologic theory.
This morning I met three of my co-workers and took my first trip to the western side of the park.
The drive across thePanamint Mountainsand throughTownePasswas beautiful. It was unusual for me to be a passenger and the curves and steepness added to the allure of my views. We pulled off CA-190 onto a pretty rough dirt road. I was glad that I had left my little car at Stovepipe Wells and was in a diesel pickup truck, but if you’re careful, any standard passenger car can traverse the road. We parked and then began our journey through the canyon.
Soon, we saw water and lush green vegetation. What a change! We splashed through the mud and climbed along some rocky areas. This is a fairly short hike, only .9 miles to the waterfall, with a few stream crossings and lots beautiful birds singing. At the waterfall you’ll find cattails and watercress growing.
If you’re adventurous, you can scramble up the rock walls to see more of the waterfall, but professionally I wouldn’t recommend it, as I don’t want to hear about any of you getting stuck up there. Just the sight of a waterfall is intriguing enough inside this desert park.
After returning to the car, we decided to go up to Father Crowley Point. It’s a wonderful vantage point overlooking the valley.
We then headed back to Panamint Springs for some burgers. I had a black bean veggie burger with Swiss cheese and sautéed mushrooms with a side of barley soup. It was delicious!!! The ice tea left a lot to be desired for a girl that came here fromVirginia, but a tasty meal nonetheless.
What does it mean to be 282 feet below sea level?
Well, I don’t know what it means anywhere other than inDeath Valleyand here it means salt. Lots of the good ‘ol NaCl. BadwaterBasincan sometimes fill with water, but most of the time what you’ll see on the desert floor ofDeath Valleyis the glaring whiteness.
When it’s sunny out, which it usually is, it can be blinding. This is, however, a don’t miss on your travels to the park. It’s not everyday you get to stand on the ground and look up at the cliff above to see that you are, in fact, below sea level.
Imagine what this means in almost any other place in the world. That you would, literally be under water. Actually, millions of years ago, you would have been underwater here as well. LakeManleywas the name given to the prehistoric lake that filled this basin ages ago. The two mountain ranges, Funeral Mountains and the Panamint Range, on either side rise above a basin that continues to descend further down. This subduction zone is still in flux and maybe one dayDeath Valleymay indeed be the lowest point on the entire planet.
Your walk out onto the salt flats can be as long or as short a hike as you wish. You may even be tempted to taste the salt, and you can, but I encourage you find a place off the beaten path. In fact, a fellow ranger of mine likened the salt flats to yellow snow. A fine comparison in my book. While you stand out there, looking up to sea level (I’m sorry, it’s so cool), think about what it must have been like to work or travel through here a hundred years ago in the sweltering summer heat. No wonder it’s calledDeath Valley!! Keep this in mind too … on average less than an inch of rain falls here each year, but the evaporation rate is 100 inches per year. Keep hydrated, bring sunscreen and sunglasses, and come experienceBadwaterBasin!
I almost feel like the name Death Valley is a misnomer. It makes it sound as if there is nothing to see or do in Death Valley. How very inaccurate that is! There are a multitude of things to see and do upon your visit to this beautiful National Park. Today, I hiked into Natural Bridge Canyon.
The entire hike is only about 2 miles roundtrip, but the trail is quite gravelly. Some of the outstanding geology of the park is found in this short hike. There are mud drips on the wall, stains of evaporated water.
There are rock cutouts that once were home to waterfalls.
Water, the life support of the park, can quickly become dangerous in a place like Natural Bridge Canyon. The rocks have all been cut down by this powerful force and although rain doesn’t fall very often in this desert, hiking in a canyon or wash is no place to be when a storm is brewing. Standing among the walls of the canyon, it was completely understandable how dangerous it can be and how quickly a flash flood can occur. The bridge itself is an area of rock that has withstood the elements, being more durable than the rock around it.
Going all the way to the end of the trail brought me to a magnificent iridescent green rock formation (which I believe is schist). It was almost as if the water that had come down this canyon was frozen in time.
If you come to the park and you want to do some hiking but don’t have much time or are looking for something short in length, Natural Bridge Canyon is a wonderful choice. It’s easy to get to, just a few miles north of the Badwater parking area on a dirt road. Many of the unpaved roads in Death Valley are only accessible via 4x4 high-clearance vehicles, but my little Mazda had no trouble traversing the mile of this particular dirt road. Pack your hat, sunscreen and water and enjoy winter in the desert!
Now that I live in Nevada, I refuse to miss the opportunity to see the sites. My first “real” weekend provided me the chance to explore the oldest state park in the state: Valley of Fire.
Unfortunately most things require a bit of a drive, but it was well worth it. The spectacular landscape of this park is a photographers dream. My first stop was the visitor’s center so that I could find out the best places to hike and utilize my time. They had wonderful exhibits on the history of the people that inhabited this part of the Mojave Desert. The archaeology of the park is rich and has provided ample evidence of the history.
In 1935, Valley of Fire became Nevada’s first state park. In fact, the Civilian Conservation Corps helped in this endeavor and their cabins are still available for you to see.
Tourists flocked to places like this with their new cars. It was obvious why. I hiked a few of the shorter trails, with the opportunity to see petroglyphs as well as an old movie set.
The remains of the hacienda from 1965’s “The Professionals” is located along the White Domes trail. I had my first encounter with a bighorn sheep in the wild.
There was a woman trying to get up close and personal with this guy. He didn’t seem bothered, but please, when you see wildlife, remember the “wild” part. Animals can attack with no warning and some of our smaller critters out there are poisonous or carry disease. Take a picture, from a distance, and don’t try to pet OR FEED these animals.I also saw plenty of my favorites: ground squirrels (known in the east as chipmunks). While they are technically a different animal, few would be able to tell the difference.
At the eastern edge of the park, I climbed up to elephant rock, where I caught a glimpse of Lake Mead in the distance (a journey for another day). The whole park is filled with rocks just begging for someone to climb up on top. And the name, Valley of Fire, comes from the red rock that dominates the landscape.
Geologists have determined that the red hue comes from the iron found in the rocks and the black “desert varnish” is where iron and manganese have leached out to form a veritable chalkboard (perfect for those petroglyphs). This is a site to see if you’re in the Las Vegas area, even if you aren’t one for hiking, just simply driving through is a treat. Welcome to Nevada!
My hiking group had our Christmas party on December 4th. A great time was had by all and the homemade eggnog was a big hit.
We had our last hike before Christmas on Friday the 9th. Our original plan to hike Big Devil’s Staircase from Skyline Drive was thwarted by the weather. Therefore we met at the Front Royal entrance and hiked part of the Dickey Ridge Trail. It was a bright sunny day and the rain we’d received the previous day provided a lot of flow in the stream. It provided a lot of mud, too!
We only hiked a couple of miles since the January 6th hike is along the Dickey Ridge Trail as well. It was an enjoyable morning however and the fact that my afternoon involved getting a Christmas tree gave me two reasons to vacuum my car. Stay tuned for some musings on my Christmas trip as well as another big adventure in the New Year!