I am a park ranger at Shenandoah National Park, but my blog represents my own musings and enjoyment of the NPS.
I’m proud to wear the green and grey of the National Park Service. I didn’t understand when I embarked upon this journey why people referred to it as a family. How could thousands of people spread out over 50 states plus the territories in 397 NPS units possibly be a close family? And now, two years and six seasons later, I fully understand. I still keep in touch with co-workers from the Statue of Liberty. In 2008, while manning a visitor contact station at Petersburg National Battlefield, in walked a former co-worker from the Statue. He’d just taken a position in Richmond at the Maggie Walker Historic Site. I ran into a former co-worker from Petersburg at an NCPH conference in 2011 in Pensacola. Some of us follow each other on Twitter and/or Facebook. In 2010, my first summer at Shenandoah, I met a Student Conservation Intern who was working for eight weeks as the volunteer at Rapidan Camp, President Hoover’s retreat here within the park. We took a day trip to DC one hot July day that year and now, he’s graduated and working his first seasonal at Pipe Springs National Monument in Arizona, with two of my former co-workers from my most recent duty station, Death Valley. What a small world! The staff here at Shenandoah really is my family after now starting my third summer here. I’ve made amazing friends and had so many great times. I truly felt like I was coming home and it has been a reunion in many ways. Another Death Valley co-worker is now at Yellowstone. She became a very good friend during our time together. I recently talked to a family here at Shenandoah that was traveling to Yellowstone. I sent a message to her through them. She got it and it made her day!! Two of my fellow rangers at Death Valley are now at Mt. Rainier. And that, that’s what really got me thinking.
This month our flag has flown at half staff on more than one occasion in honor of more than one NPS employee. This last week it’s flown for Nick Hall, a climbing ranger at Mt. Rainier who fell to his death while trying to save hikers that had gotten into trouble. Only 34 years old, he died doing what he loved. They still haven’t been able to recover his body. Earlier this month, we lowered it for two firefighters that were out West battling what have become massive, dangerous and highly uncontrolled wildfires. These guys and gals put there lives on the line to save resources, both natural and cultural, as well as homes and towns. And they come from all over. I remember one of my Statue co-workers heading out to wildfires in the west in 2006 and was gone for weeks. Co-workers here have been in the George Washington National Forest and Great Dismal Swamp in my seasons. And now, they are coming here. As we battle a fire on Neighbor Mt., crews have come from US Fish & Wildlife, Cape Cod and a crew is on their way from Florida. Why did Shenandoah lower the flag for a ranger most of us probably didn’t know from Mt. Rainier, in Washington state? Why did we lower it for firefighters that perished 2000 miles away? Why are we traveling to Colorado, why are Massachusetts and Florida coming here? Because, it is a family. And what a family it is.
Day 2 (Wednesday June 27)
Day 3 from US 340 (Thursday June 28)
Day 3 from Stony Man Overlook (Thursday June 28)
Day 4 from Pass Mt. Overlook (Friday June 29)
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!
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!