Posts filed under ‘Keffer Oak’

Wildflowers at Keffer Oak

Tony Airaghi and I may have been focused on mushrooms near Keffer Oak, but it was hard to ignore the summer wildflowers. Here are some of my favorite shots. So much to see in just a 0.6 mile section of trail!

Sinking Creek Mountain - Milkweed Bug and Yellow Flowers
Milkweed Bug on Yellow Flower

Sinking Creek Mountain - Purple Flowers and Appalachian Trail
Purple Flowers, Appalachian Trail is in the Background

Sinking Creek Mountain - Orange Wildflower
Orange Flowers

Sinking Creek Mountain - Blue Purple Wildflowers
Blue and Purple Flowers

Sinking Creek Mountain - Butterfly on Flower
Butterfly on Purple

More pictures of our outing to Keffer Oak can be found on my Flickr site.

September 2, 2009 at 5:00 am 1 comment

Blackberries without Hands

When the Bucket List Meme circulated Facebook, I did have one item to add to the checklist.

“Picking and eating wild blackberries on a hot summer day”

They are tasty. They are refreshing. And when you have really earned them– when you are hot and tired and saturated in sweat– surprise blackberries can actually alter the buoyancy of one’s soul.

I was so focused on looking for mushrooms during the Keffer Oak hike, that I totally forgot about the best part of hiking in August. Unfortunately by the time we encountered the blackberries on the trail, Tony Airaghi and I had (perhaps irresponsibly) handled nearly a dozen different types of mushrooms. We couldn’t possibly use our tainted hands. Did that mean we had to be deprived of one of life’s simplest and most fulfilling pleasures?

Sinking Creek Mountain - Eating Blackberries without Hands
Tony Finds a Way to Eat Blackberries

Nope! : )

August 31, 2009 at 1:00 pm 2 comments

Opening Your Eyes to Fungi

Earlier this year, I ran across a wonderful quote by Alexander Graham Bell:

We are all too much inclined to walk through life with our eyes shut. There are things all around us, and right at our very feet, that we have never seen; because we have never really looked.

Bell’s thoughts were particularly fitting a few weeks ago when Tony Airaghi and I hiked the 0.6 miles to the giant Keffer Oak. We brought along a copy of the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms. With our eyes on the lookout, this section of trail– mind you a section I have done numerous times before– unveiled a whole other world. We found mushrooms all around us, sometimes right at our very feet.

Sinking Creek Mountain - Possible Chrome Footed Bolete
Possible Chrome Footed Bolete
Sinking Creek Mountain - Possible Chanterelle
Possible Chanterelle
Sinking Creek Mountain - Yellow Unicorn Entoloma
Possible Yellow Unicorn Entoloma
Sinking Creek Mountain - Some Kind of Cup Mushroom
Some Kind of Cup Mushroom
Sinking Creek Mountain - Walnut Mycena Mushroom
Possible Walnut Mycena Mushroom
Sinking Creek Mountain - Emetic Russula and Baby Pine 2
Possible Emetic Russula
Sinking Creek Mountain - Spindle Shaped Yellow Coral
Possible Spindle Shaped Yellow Coral
Sinking Creek Mountain - Tacky Green Russula From Side
Possible Tacky Green Russula

We found so many mushrooms, in fact, our journey to the Keffer Oak was incredibly slow. Every few steps, we spotted another specimen and began flipping through the field guide again.

Sinking Creek Mountain - Tony Looking up Mushrooms
Tony Looking Up More Mushrooms

It took us well over an hour to make it to the tree. Where, with our eyes calibrated for fungus, we discovered yet another mushroom– this one growing right on the giant oak. : )

Sinking Creek Mountain - Tony, Mushroom  Book and Mushroom on Keffer Oak
Tony with Mushroom Growing on Keffer Oak

Sinking Creek Mountain - Tony, Mushroom  Book and Mushroom on Keffer Oak (Cropped)
Mushroom on Keffer Oak

With all these new discoveries on a familiar section of trail, I have to applaud Alexander Graham Bell. When it came to fungus, I was all too inclined to walk this section with my eyes shut.

More pictures of our mushroom discoveries and the hike to Keffer Oak can be found on my Flickr site.

P.S. Do not eat anything based on my photo captions. We are beginners and have very little confidence in our identifications!

Appalachian Trail – Keffer Oak

Length: 1.2 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: There is a brief hill near the beginning of the trail, but nothing too scary.

Driving and Parking: The roads are all paved and there is a small gravel parking lot at the VA-630 trailhead.

Directions from Blacksburg, VA
Take 460 West
Turn right on VA-42
Bear right to stay on VA-42

Turn right on VA-629
Turn right on VA-630
The trailhead will be on your left shortly after passing over a bridge

August 31, 2009 at 5:00 am 5 comments

New and Old at Keffer Oak

Saturday August 15th, Tony Airaghi and I hiked up to the Appalachian Trail’s Keffer Oak, one of the largest blazed trees on the trail. A couple of things have changed since I visited last.

New Stile!
The old rickety step-ladder stile has been replaced with a new walk-through stile. (I had to do research to find out the official name of the new design. I formerly called them “Fat People Traps”).

Remarkable Trees of Virginia Project: Shooting Keffer Oak From Below
Old – Robert Llewellyn with Old Step-Ladder Stile

Sinking Creek Mountain - Tony with Keffer Oak
New – Tony Airaghi with Walk-Thru Stile

Old Branch : (
On the other side of the tree, we saw a casualty of the oak’s age. The tree has one less branch.

Keffer Oak - Long Winding Branches
Old – Lower Branch in Tact

Sinking Creek Mountain - Keffer Oak Minus One Branch
New – The Bottom Branch is on the Ground.

The hike to Keffer Oak is only 0.6 miles one way. This short little hike and this one tree demonstrate how the Appalachian Trail is always changing. It’s always a little different.

More pictures of our Keffer Oak hike can be found on my Flickr site.

August 28, 2009 at 9:23 pm Leave a comment

Off the Beaten Paths: Hikes for T.A.C.O. Week

Christina recently challenged her blog readers to come up with a list of sites in their town that are off the beaten path.  Meanwhile, September 24th – September 30th is Take a Child Outside Week (HT Ryan Somma).  Being in beautiful southwest Virginia, there is no shortage of great places outside to take a child.  The Huckleberry Trail, the Caboose Park, Pandapas Pond and the Virginia Tech Duck Pond are all very popular.  BUT– I can also recommend some outings that are a little less crowded, a little closer to nature, and still child friendly.

So here are Five Off the Beaten Path Places to Take a Child Outside.  To help illustrate the outings, there are pictures of one of my favorite hiking partners, little Penn.

Falls Ridge Preserve
In 2005 when the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club took a group hike over to Falls Ridge Preserve, some of members never even knew the preserve existed.  This is particularly surprising because this hike has a lot to offer.  There is a giant grassy field to run around in.  There is a waterfall!  There are the remains of an old furnace!  There are CAVES!  And…. you can see it all with almost no elevation gain (There is a hill to go up to the top of the falls, but you don’t have to do that if you don’t wanna).

Penn at Falls Ridge, 2 years of age

Falls Ridge Preserve

Length: You can make it as long or as short as you want

Elevation Gain: Flat, except for a hill to the top of the falls.

Driving and Parking: The final approach to the preserve is a flat gravel road.  There is plenty of parking.

Directions from Blacksburg, VA
From Main Street, turn on Ellett Road.
Turn left on Jennelle Road and cross over railroad tracks
Turn right on Den Hill Road
Turn left on Northfork
Turn right on Falls Ridge Rd.
Turn left immediately after the railroad tracks and follow the gravel road to the preserve.

Barney’s Wall
As for off the beaten path, a hiker from Blue Ridge Country described Barney’s Wall as “the region’s best-kept-secret stunning views“.  It is indeed stunning and very often secluded.  And here’s the kicker– it is a very easy hike! 

Penn at Barney’s Wall, 4 years of age

For an added treat, I suggest packing in milk and cookies

P.S. If you are your child are still thirsting for more scenery, keep driving down VA-714 to the Butt Mountain Overlook and the old fire tower.

Barney’s Wall

Length: ~1.5 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: Small downhill there, small uphill back.

Parent Stress Level: I did find this hike the most stressful of all my outings with Penn because of the sharp dropoff at the overlook.  Keep children under close supervision.

Driving and Parking: To get to the trailhead, you do have to travel on gravel/dirt VA-714.  The road’s maintenance level does vary.  I would recommend 4WD.

Directions from Blacksburg, VA
Take 460 West
Turn right on Doe Creek Road
Turn left on Paces Gap Road/Little Meadow which will become gravel
Travel roughly 5.5 miles and look for “Nature Conservancy Trail” on the left.

Keffer Oak
Keffer Oak is one of the largest blazed trees on the 2175 mile Appalachian Trail and it isn’t that far from Blacksburg.  You know the tree is impressive when it makes it in a book called Remarkable Trees of Virginia.  Estimated at over 300 years old, the Keffer Oak is 18 feet in circumference.  To a small child, it seems even bigger!  From the VA-630 trailhead, it is only 0.6 miles to tree.  There is a hill, but an easy one.  If the tree is not enough, next to the tree is a stile, which Penn loved to climb.  It was like a mini jungle gym in the middle of the woods!

Penn at Keffer Oak, 4 years of age

On the drive to the tree, be sure to take a detour on VA-601 to see the historic covered bridge!

Appalachian Trail – Keffer Oak

Length: 1.2 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: There is a brief hill near the beginning of the trail, but nothing too scary.

Driving and Parking: The roads are all paved and there is a small gravel parking lot at the VA-630 trailhead.

Directions from Blacksburg, VA
Take 460 West
Turn right on VA-42
Bear right to stay on VA-42
Turn right on VA-629
Turn right on VA-630
The trailhead will be on your left shortly after passing over a bridge

Wind Rocks
Wind Rocks is another contender for your child’s first Appalachian Trail hike!  From the parking lot, there is not even a half mile walk to the overlook.  Of course you have to drive to the trailhead, but along the way, you can stop at Mountain Lake to explore the dry lake bed or marvel at the life size chess and checkers set.  Your child will also get exposed to Civil War history, when you pass by “Mini-Ball Hill” where soldiers, weary from climbing the steep mountains, abandoned their ammunition to lighten their load.
Penn and Uncle Ted at Wind Rocks, 1 Year of age

Appalachian Trail – Wind Rocks

Length: ~1 mile round trip

Elevation Gain: There is a uphill there, but not too bad.

Driving and Parking: The trailhead is off of gravel VA-613.  For the most part the road is flat and well maintained.  There are some sections with some water damage.  However, 4WD may not be a requirement.  I once saw a Mini Cooper make the trip!

Directions from Blacksburg, VA
Take 460 West
Turn right on VA-700 and drive 7 miles to Mountain Lake
Once at the resort, turn left on VA-613.
Pass by the turn off the to Biological Station
Pass by the trailhead for the War Spur Trail
Pass the Mini-Ball Hill sign on your left.
The AT Trailhead will eventually be on your right and a large dirt parking area will be on the left.

Gatewood Lake
In this area, you hear a lot about Smith Mountain Lake and you hear a lot about Claytor Lake.  But have you ever heard of Gatewood Lake in Pulaski?  Unlike the other two lakes, Gatewood Lake does not permit gas motors.  The result?  A very peaceful and quiet lake experience where you can really concentrate on nature.  There are number of easy hiking trails that run along the lake and if you yearn to be even closer to the water, they rent kid-friendly paddle boats! 

Penn at Gatewood Lake, 5 years of age.

Gatewood Resevoir

Length: Can be as long or as short as you like.

Elevation Gain:  Flat!

Driving and Parking: All roads and lots are paved

Directions from Blacksburg, VA
Take 460 East to I-81 South
Get off Exit 94
Take VA-99 into downtown Pulaski
Follow signs to “Gatewood Resevoir”

September 29, 2008 at 1:20 am 5 comments

Remarkable Trees of Virginia

Remember the Remarkable Trees of Virginia project? The organizers of the project have traveled all across the state, logging thousands of miles, to visit and photograph notable trees. They considered over a thousand nominations as well as talked to arborists, naturalists, historians and layman, like myself, who just have a fancy for trees.

Now, all of their work is compiled into a beautiful coffee-table book!

It’s at available at Amazon, you can buy it directly from the University of Virginia Press, or if you are impatient like me, you can drive over to the Christiansburg Barnes and Noble and get a copy there.

When you do get your copy, turn to Page 78. The Appalachian Trail’s beautiful Keffer Oak made the cut! It appears in the “Community Trees” chapter:

When most of us think of community trees, we think of trees beloved by towns or cities whose residents value and protect them, but there are trees valued by communities defined more by shared experience than by home address.

[Keffer oak] is mentioned in trail guides, backpacking journals, and hiker’s blogs, and pictures of it pop up on the Internet with a frequency that would put many a beloved urban tree to shame.”

– Nancy Hugo Ross, Remarkable Trees of Virginia

Like all the other trees in the book, a photograph by Robert Llewellyn compliments the page. The shot catches a hiker and a dog walking by the tree.

That hiker is ME! That dog is HENRY! We were photographed there last October.

Henry and I are famous! And maybe, quite possibly, my underwear. 🙂 In the shot, my shirt has risen up in the back, exposing just a little bit of my midriff. Now I can’t tell for sure– but I do believe I spy a color change in the fabric around on my hips. I am also very familiar with the shorts that I’m wearing and well aware they tend to hang low. It is definitely feasible!

So there you go! This book can meet many different needs. If you want to read about and see some amazing trees, look at a beagle, see more pictures of me (afterall there are only 255 on my Flickr account) or if you are a mystery lover, you can get out your image enhancing software and decide if that is in fact my underwear!

Whatever your reason, I encourage all to buy this book!

It’s absolutely stunning!

(The book, not my underwear)

September 18, 2008 at 4:25 pm 17 comments

2nd Most Expensive Hike – Keffer Oak

What’s the best way to celebrate Jimmie’s 11th Birthday? Why, a hike of course! So on Tuesday, Sean and I took both Jimmie and Henry for an after-work outing– Keffer Oak on the Appalachian Trail. It was a short, easy stroll of about 1.8 miles. Nothing to brag about on the athletic front, but boy, it was a great day to be out and about.

The long branches of Keffer Oak

Blazed sign and in the background a blazed stile

The Keffer Oak is another example of a hungry tree— in its long life, it has absorbed barbed wire

Birthday pup finding the outing…uh… relieving

Unfortunately, on my way home from this hike, I managed to secure myself a speeding ticket. I haven’t had the heart to calculate the actual payment amount, but I know enough to believe this will be my second most expensive hike.

The most expensive would be Sinking Creek Mountain in 2004. After an 11.3 mile day hike with both dogs, I managed to skid on a gravel road and hit a tree. That damage ran around $1100.

Aftermath of my most expensive hike

Sinking Creek Mountain may hold the “Most Expensive” title for some time to come (at least, I hope so), but this tiny Keffer Oak hike has a decent chance of overtaking the “Cost Per Mile” category.

Sinking Creek Mountain Hike – 2004
$1100 car damage / 11.3 miles = $97.35 per mile

If my Tuesday speeding infraction ends up costing more than $175.03… then victory is sealed.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the incumbent…the underdog.

P.S. PassionPhish and his family are going to be spreadsheeting the financial and environmental cost of a backpacking trip shortly. Hopefully, they won’t have to add a column for “moving violations” or “body work”. 🙂

April 18, 2008 at 12:06 am 7 comments

Angel’s Rest & Evolution of the Appalachian Trail

For me, it is difficult to not feel a sense of history when I’m on the Appalachian Trail.  The trail, which winds through mountains that are over 300 million years old, was first completed in 1937.  In just in my little section in southwest Virginia, it takes you by rare virgin forests that have never been touched by loggers (the spruces found in the Mountain Lake Wilderness Area) and a tree that is over 300 years old (the great Keffer Oak).  You go by old farmlands which, although unattended, still survive (the cherry orchard south of Dismal Falls).  You see stunning views that we have Africa to thank for– sixty million years ago, the continent collided with Virginia and brought us the likes of McAfee Knob.  You pass by reminders of our nation’s wars ranging from the Revolutionary War (Tinker Mountain is supposedly named for deserters who hid there) to WWII (the Audie Murphy Memorial on Brush Mountain).  All this on a footpath that has been traveled upon for seventy-one years.

Old AT map listing the mileage as 2,007.  In 2005 the total mileage had grown to 2,174.9

Interestingly enough, the AT’s abundance of history is the very trait that lulls me into viewing it as a static being, as stationary as the sandstone formations that photograph oh so well.  I think of it as a constant.  Yet, all around me, I can see that isn’t the case.  Destroyed bridges are replaced.  New shelters emerge.  Or perhaps a new switchback blaze surfaces near Wind Rocks (what wise soul could have suggested that?).  I see hints of the trail being rerouted– a guide book note here, a covered blaze there.  And I’m well aware what was once the trail in the 1940’s is now part of the Blue Ridge Parkway (I suspect that is why that section boasts so few views– all the good parts were snatched away for the road!).  Even with all that evidence, the AT in my mind, seemed so concrete.

On Saturday, I got to see first hand how fluid the trail really is.  I took the dogs up to Angel’s Rest near Pearisburg.  It’s my favorite hike and I’ve done numerous times in the past six years.  I’ve seen that section through all four seasons and despite the changing temperatures and vegetation, the route has always been the same. 

Not anymore!  The Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club has finished a relocation!  As a result, the early part of the ascent was all new trail to me.  And… if the beautiful, brand spanking new sign at the top is correct, the AT has now grown!  Perhaps I was hiking on the AT’s newest 0.2 miles.  🙂

Picture of the old AT and the new AT.  To prevent confusion, RATC members piled brush on the old trail. 

I did lament the loss of one or two small landmarks.  And now I have no idea if my ascent time of sixty-six minutes is any better or worse than my previous personal best of sixty minutes.  But all in all, it was a thrill to see the AT change before my eyes.  Afterall, it’s the trail’s ability to change, to reroute and evolve, that has allowed it to accumulate the deceptive history it has.  🙂

One very important item remained the same on Saturday and I expect it to remain the same for years to come– the views on Pearis Mountain are spectacular:

View of Wilburn Valley (on AT south of Angel’s Rest)

View of Pearisburg, Virginia from Angel’s Rest

Remaining Leaves and Wilburn Valley

More pictures of my Angel’s Rest Hike can be found on Flickr.

November 8, 2007 at 9:25 am 5 comments

Henry and Keffer Oak

Over a year ago, I heard about the Remarkable Trees of Virginia Project.  I didn’t have to think twice about what tree to nominate— the Appalachian Trail’s Keffer Oak! 

On Sunday I got a call from the project and they told me Keffer Oak made their top 100 which will be included in a book that will be published in 2008.  Good News!

Then they said they wanted someone to pose as an Appalachian Trail hiker in the photo.  They asked if I would be interested.  Great News!!

Then a little later they called and asked, “Do you still have that dog?”

That dog would be Henry!  When I nominated the tree, I submitted a picture with Henry to provide some perspective on the tree’s size.  They asked me to bring Henry to the photoshoot.  Spectacular News!!!

And so this morning, little Henry and I got up at 5 AM.  I still had my pack in tact from last weekend’s backpacking trip (which will get a series of blog posts once I have more time), so I grabbed it and my trusty hiking boots and met up with the writer and photographer.

We hiked the shortest route to the tree (0.6 miles from VA-630) and the photographing began. 

The photographer working his magic with Keffer Oak

I’m not sure how either Henry or I did (I didn’t feel very natural) or if we will ultimately make it into the book, but it was a fun time.  I very much enjoyed chatting to both of my companions and getting an opportunity to talk highly of our local mountains.   I’m a little envious of their occupation!  Driving around, taking pictures of and talking about cool trees— that sounds awesome!

On top of all the fun, the trip was educational for me.  I learned a little lesson about myself today:

I will sacrifice my own comfort for art

Despite keeping him leashed, early on Henry found an opportunity to roll in cow manure.  And so, as is often the case, Henry was covered in poo.  At one point, Henry and I were “resting” under the tree and I could hear the writer yell a direction to me from above.

“PET HENRY!!!!” she said.

And so I did.  🙂

October 9, 2007 at 10:20 am 5 comments

ISO: Best Trees in Virginia

Clint's Cousin-in-Law, Eric Mens, sent me a copy of this article.

Looking for the top 100 trees in Virginia

The College of Natural Resources at Virginia Tech is ultimately compiling a book of the most remarkable trees in Virginia.  If you go to their website at, you can nominate a tree for consideration.

I nominated Keffer Oak!  It's the largest blazed tree on the Appalachian Trail.  It's over 300 years old and is 18 feet and 3 inches in girth.  To give you an idea of the tree's size, below is a picture of the tree and Henry the beagle.  If you think Henry looks small there, you should see how small he looked when I sent this picture to Sean's cellphone!

Big Tree Little Beagle

 There are additional Keffer Oak pictures on my website.  If you long for a different unit of measurement other than "beagle", you have "lurcher", "four year old boy" and "lurcher and four year old boy" to choose from.

May 4, 2006 at 10:41 pm 2 comments

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