Posts filed under ‘Wind Rocks’

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.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tgaw/2440238745/
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

Season Compare: Wind Rocks

It wasn’t a coincidence that I went up to Wind Rocks when it was brown. I was seeking out another season compare coupling. 🙂


Wind Rocks – August 27, 2006


Wind Rocks – April 23, 2008

More pictures of Wind Rocks in the Summer and Wind Rocks in the Early Spring are available on my Flickr site.

April 25, 2008 at 10:01 am 1 comment

Is Wind Rocks the Hike for You?

Wednesday, I squeezed in another quick after-work outing. I took Sean and the dogs up past Mountain Lake and Miniball Hill to the Appalachian Trail’s Wind Rocks. I think Wind Rocks is a great return on investment hike. You get a very nice view just 0.30 miles from the parking lot. Because the stroll is so short, I think it is a good hike for children. In fact, when Penn was tiny, tiny, tiny, this was one of his first outings.


TINY Penn on the shoulders of his Uncle Ted at Wind Rocks

In the interest of full disclosure, I do have to admit that Sean was not impressed. Unlike the the valleys we drove up from, on Salt Pond Mountain the leaves were not opening yet. “Everywhere I look, it’s brown,” Sean said. What Wind Rocks lacked in leaves it made up for in flying insects, which all seemed to take a liking to… Sean.

Between the brown and the insects, Sean concluded that this hike “ruined all that is good about a spring day.”

But…uh… I still liked it. So I guess, like a movie, take the varied reviews into account and make the best decision for you. And you should also peruse previews:


[Brown] View from Wind Rocks


Sean’s silhouette at WInd Rock


Dark Ridges from Wind Rock

More pictures of this [brown and buggy] Wind Rocks hike can by found up on my Flickr site.

April 25, 2008 at 9:43 am 2 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

Something the Thru-Hikers Miss

Each year over a thousand hikers embark on hiking the whole Appalachian Trail. I think there is roughly a 20-25% completion rate. These hikers, even the ones who don’t manage to finish, gather up memories of the trail that I, as a mere day-hiker, can only imagine. I certainly enjoy my showers and hot meals, but I do envy the unique experiences those hikers must have. Parting with all the daily obligations of their lives, all the views they see as they travel through fourteen states, the comradery they have with other hikers and finally, the fulfillment they must feel 2000 miles later when they have completed their challenge.

Yesterday, Bill and I made a trip down to the Butt Mountain Overlook. It was a quick trip– We headed that way, admired the view, took some pictures, watch Jimmie take three dumps and two hours later we were back home. Last night when I was looking at one of my pictures of the view, I recalled I had a similiar shot from a July trip with Mike E. It was neat to flip back and forth and look at the difference.

Then I was reminded… The thru-hikers who pass through this area each year certainly have a wealth of experiences that I do not have, but there is one thing I have one thing that they don’t. I get to see this area year-round. I get to see the same spots through different seasons and different weather conditions. I get to see the blooming rhododendrons in June and I get to see them all curled up in the winter, adding a green contrast to the white snow. I know that Angel’s Rest is best in the fall, the Cascades are the prettiest in the winter* and Wind Rocks is so very haunting in the fog. In the early spring and winter I get to see extra views before the leaves are on the trees that you would never notice in the warmer months (for example you can see only Mountain Lake from Bald Knob when there are no leaves) when the thru hikers are passing through. And then when the leaves are there in the summer, I get to marvel at the beauty of all the green along with all the other hikers.

I’d say the score is still about 1279 to 2 (I’m also counting “Sitting in Larry’s Hot Tub Afterwards” as a point for me). But for what it is worth, here are some samples from my hiking photos of similiar shots in different seasons (Note: Not all are Appalachian Trail hikes). Enjoy!

Butt Mountain

Winter


Summer

Bald Knob

Spring – You can see Mountain Lake in the upper right


Summer – No Lake Visible

Falls Ridge

Winter


Late Fall

McAfee’s Knob

Spring


Summer

Cascades

Strong Winter


Mild Winter


Spring

Carvin’s Cove

Spring


Summer

Pearis Mountain (Past Angel’s Rest)

Spring (this was my 30th birthday hike!)


Summer

*The Thru-Hikers would certainly struggle to know Cascades is prettiest in winter seeing as how it isn’t on the AT.

January 29, 2007 at 1:26 am 13 comments

Well Rounded Weekend

One of my contract work projects recently went live. Without that ongoing obligation, I had something that resembled free time! I got a number of things done:

  1. I started a cleaning effort of our house– knocking out two bathrooms, mopping the kitchen floor and preparing the carpets to be shampooed later in the week (that’s a fancy phrase for “vaccuumed”).
  2. I caught up on some letters. Kicking off that effort– a lengthy letter to my cousin Adam who recently arrived in Iraq. Another cousin, Allison, also made my list.
  3. Installed new showerheads in two bathrooms.
  4. Replaced a broken toilet seat… unfortunately, I was under the impression our toilet was white. Once home, it was painfully clear the the toilet is in fact beige. Regardless of color, the white toilet seat is slightly more presentable than a toilet seat with a big ole crack in it.
  5. Contract work — I didn’t escape it all, but my obligations were such that I only had to work in the evenings!

And finally– Hiking! I didn’t go on the 20 mile hike (and wouldn’t you know it– the other hiker reported seeing 4 black bears), but my shin and I were able to sneak in a 4.6 mile hike this afternoon with Jimmie, Henry and Mike E. We went down the War Spur Trail to the AT Connector Trail to the AT and then to Wind Rocks. Not a toughie– but a wonderful outing.

Some pictures:

(Jimmie enjoying the view at Wind Rocks)


(Mike E and I have hiked hundreds of miles together, but this is the very first picture that features both of us.)

The rest of the pictures of our War Spur-Wind Rocks hike are on my website.

August 27, 2006 at 10:26 pm 1 comment


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