On Shenandoah Mountain

A colorful curve on Shenandoah Mountain.

What a difference just a few days make. A friend told me that the colors on Shenandoah Mountain were exceptional. A man I could trust, I took his comments to heart.

Viewing the colorful leaves of autumn is a long-standing tradition for me. Of course, living most of my life in Ohio’s Amish country spoiled me. I was surrounded by brilliant colors nearly every fall without having to leave home.

The view from our backyard at our former Ohio home in Amish country.

I needed to satisfy that desire to participate in autumn’s color fest. The Saturday morning after my excursion on Skyline Drive, I headed west on US 33. It’s not just the main route west out of Harrisonburg, Virginia. It is the only roadway west that traverses the Allegheny Mountains into West Virginia.

The drive to the summit of Shenandoah Mountain takes about half an hour from my home. I headed out mid-morning, and as I reached where the road runs parallel to Dry River, the main waterway of Shenandoah Mountain, I changed my course. It was evident that the afternoon light would better illuminate the beauty of the leaves.

Not wanting to waste my attempt, I turned into a locally popular park, Riven Rock. In the summer, families go there to cool down from the heat and humidity by playing in the clear, placid waters of the braided stream. Here the morning sun proved me correct. Only the southernmost leaves were highlighted while I stood in the shade on the eastern bank. I decided to try again in the afternoon.

The Dry River, Riven Rock Park, Rockingham Co., Virginia.

Before venturing out again, however, my wife and I attended a high school marching band concert at nearby Bridgewater College in the town from which it derives its name. We watched our second grandson and his bandmates perform a great show. So did some of the sugar maples on campus.

Our grandson after the performance, the marching band, and sugar maples.

I headed out again just after 3 p.m. I planned to drive to the top of Shenandoah Mountain, where there is a parking lot for a trailhead. On the way up the twisting road, I noted places where I could pull off to photograph nature’s glory. And I could see that the higher I went, the richer the colors. I was pumped.

Vehicles nearly filled the small parking lot. I wasn’t surprised. It was a great day for hiking and enjoying nature’s beauty in the George Washington National Forest. The trailhead leads from the parking area to the only remaining fire tower on Shenandoah Ridge. The hike up to High Knob Fire Tower is popular. The crowded parking lot said plenty of hikers were on the trail.

Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

I took a few photos at the top of the mountain and returned to my car to capture the beauty. Going down showed me just how right my friend had been. The trees along the two-lane winding road were gorgeous.

Nature was in her glory, and so was I. I stopped in the few safe places I had spotted. The afternoon sun bathed the crimsons, golds, yellows, and reds. I tread carefully along the narrow, curvy roadway as cars and trucks whizzed by.

I rejoiced in my good fortune. The colors were incredible. The leaves that the afternoon sun backlit also caught my attention. I happily snapped away.

After only a few stops going a fourth of the way down the mountain, the colors drastically faded. Just as meeting people on Skyline Drive energized me, knowing that I had reached my goal of capturing the turning of the leaves filled my spirits.

Fall is my favorite time of year, and these experiences are why.

Autumn’s glory along US 33 on Shenandoah Mountain, Virginia.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

An Afternoon on Skyline Drive

The long view from Skyline Drive.

I was hoping to see the Blue Ridge Mountains painted in shades of red, yellow, and orange in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. What I discovered were only splashes of brilliance here and there.

Most of the mountain forests were dull in color. I was a bit early.

Of course, I wasn’t alone in my quest. Others were out and about, cruising the roadway for the same reason. I spotted vehicles from several states and even a Canadian province at the various overlooks where I stopped.

The day was bright and beautiful. The park’s early afternoon temperatures were in the 60s and high 50s. The bright sunshine warmed lower elevations in the Shenandoah Valley 10 degrees higher.

The excellent weather and a good report from a morning doctor’s appointment put me in an exceedingly good mood. The people I met wherever I stopped only increased my joy. Everyone seemed to be in a jovial mood.

Folks were snapping selfies with the coloring trees as their background. I took time out from my photography with offers to take portraits of couples, families, and a woman with her dog. Of course, engaging conversations ensued as they thanked me.

It didn’t matter what state of origin or type of vehicle they drove—Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Georgia, or Ontario; camper van, motorcycle, Mercedes, or clunker. Everyone seemed to be on the same emotional page. That connectivity made the day and the scenery even prettier than they already were.

The first family I came across was from the deep south. They were on their way to Williamsburg and wanted their two boys, 17 and eight, to experience at least a little of the storied national park.

I asked the younger one if he knew he was walking on the Appalachian Trail. Indeed, he did. I told him he could go back to his second-grade class and report that he had hiked the AT and see if they knew what that was. He just giggled.

I started at the southern entrance to the park at Rock Fish Gap. Go north, and you will be in the park. Go south, and you travel the Blue Ridge Parkway. Either direction, it’s a beautiful, leisurely drive that soothes the soul and eases the mind. The 35 miles per hour speed limit contributes to that cause.

That’s what the woman with the dog was attempting to do. She drove southeast from Philadelphia towards Charlottesville for the parkway. When she realized Shenandoah National Park was so close, she changed gears and spent a night camping in Big Meadows, nearly in the center of the park.

As we chatted, she voluntarily confessed that she had turned left out of Big Meadows without realizing she was going in the wrong direction. Reality caught up to her when she arrived at the park’s northern entrance south of Front Royal, Virginia.

Undaunted, she merely turned around and headed south. She laughed at herself for trying to rely on GPS when there was little to no cell phone service in the park. She was happy to know she could get internet at Waynesboro, her destination for the night. The next day, she could begin her journey on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

A retired couple on a motorcycle was thrilled with the photo I took of them with crimson leaves of oaks, maples, and dogwood as the backdrop. They seemed most pleased, however, that I had included their bike in the photo.

Ironically, the colors dulled as I cruised north and to higher elevations. Only patches of sunlit staghorn sumac brightened the roadside.

I had stopped at most overlooks, snapped many photos, and talked so much that it took me three hours to drive the 40 miles to Swift Run Gap. No matter. It was an afternoon well spent and one I’ll remember for a long time.

Staghorn sumac caught the fall fever.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

A Weekend with the Grandchildren

Maren serving.

On my way out of the old gym, I walked across the wooden floor and put my arm around Maren, where she had gathered with some of her volleyball teammates. Her seventh-grade team had just lost an ugly two games against a team they had beaten only two days prior. Maren’s eyes met mine, and her tears flowed. For once, I knew words weren’t necessary or even appropriate. I lovingly squeezed her shoulder and smiled through my eyes behind my Covid mask.

Before the match began, I sat with Maren’s brother, Davis. I showed him some photos I had taken the previous night as the marching band lined up to play the National Anthem before the Friday night football game. I also had a few I took during the band’s creative halftime show. I had Davis point out where he was in the formations so I knew where to look in the photos. Even with my camera’s long lens, it was hard for this old guy to recognize his grandson. All the tall band members looked similar to me in their striking blue and white uniforms. Giant feather plumes flowed from their headgear. In those few moments, Davis graciously explained the music program, the instrument he plays, and where he was positioned as the band changed formations.

Davis is out there somewhere.

Before I left, his father asked me to take care of their family dog in the evening while they drove to Richmond to watch our oldest grandson, Evan, pitch a scrimmage game at his university. Of course, I agreed but was called off with a text from Davis just as I was about to leave for their house. They were already on their way home from the game. Daryl told me in a text that Evan pitched one great inning and then struggled with his control in the second. I could relate.

The college grandkid.

My wife and daughter visited grandson Teddy in Rochester, NY, while I held down the homeplace. I had scheduled my third Covid booster before Carrie headed north to see her nephew for the first time. Of course, Neva volunteered to go, and I supported her decision since I didn’t want our daughter driving seven-plus hours by herself.

They kept me in touch with their visit by sending lovely photos via text messages of Teddy with various people. First came a shot of our friend Dick Beery holding Teddy and smiling in my place. I was envious but not jealous. Dick and Sandy had moved from Ohio to Rochester for the same reason we moved from the Buckeye state to Harrisonburg. They wanted to be close to their only granddaughter. They live a mile from our son and his lovely wife and enjoy hosting us when we visit Rochester. This time it was Carrie and Neva that enjoyed their hospitality.

Other photos filled my text thread over the next few hours. The first was one of Nathan carrying Teddy on his shoulders the way I used to hoist him. Nathan was smiling at the joy of lifting his son into this crazy world. Nathan once sarcastically asked me why people have children. Nathan’s broad smile showed that now he knew.

Teddy and his happy father.

Teddy looked more astonished than pleased at four months in some of the shots. After that came precious photos of Carrie and Nathan with Teddy and one of just Carrie with Teddy basking in the morning sunlight. Soft sunrays kissed their faces, illuminating their already brilliant smiles. Photos of Teddy and Nana and a family photo ensued.

Though I longed to be there, my fatigue and the soreness in my left arm told me I had made the right decision to stay home. I had spent time with Davis and Maren. Plus, revisiting the photos in the texts, I realized I was as happy as if I had taken them myself.

I enjoyed my weekend with the grandchildren, in person and virtually.

The gang in Rochester.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

A Barn (Wood) Owl

Please click on the photo to enlarge it.

While visiting the Marbry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Meadows of Dan, Virginia, I spotted this creature staring back at me. The knotty apparition in the weathered barn wood sure resembled the face of a real Barn Owl.

For comparison, here’s a photo of a real barn owl.

What do you think? Does it look like a Barn Owl to you or perhaps some other creature?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

The Morning’s First Ferry

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I was hoping for a decent sunrise when I walked onto the dock at Lakeside, Ohio recently. Turns out, my timing and the sunrise couldn’t have been better.

Just as the sun broke the horizon on Lake Erie, the first ferry of the morning slid into view. Sailing north from Marblehead, Ohio, to popular Kelleys Island, the ferry provided an additional center of focus for this shot.

You can see passengers on the upper deck enjoying the gorgeous show. The sunrise alone probably made the price of their tickets more than worthwhile.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Back Out on the Trail

Crossing the Mill Prong on the Mill Prong Trail, Shenandoah National Park.

It had been too long. I missed hiking regularly.

I had several excuses as to why I hadn’t hiked: I was traveling; the weather was too hot and humid; it was too rainy; I had family obligations. I could list more, but you likely don’t want to hear them.

So, I gladly agreed to lead a group when an opportunity to hike came along. A friend and several of her female friends hike local trails weekly. The Mill Prong Trail in Shenandoah National Park was on their radar, but they were unfamiliar with it. My friend knew I had hiked it.

I chauvinistically asked if men were allowed in their hiking entourage, and I was quickly admonished. They wanted to hike and wanted me to lead the way.

The Mill Prong is a side trail that juts off the Appalachian Trail (AT) at mile marker 53 on Skyline Drive in the park. The trail leads to the Rapidan Camp, the summer home of President Herbert Hoover and First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.

My trail app on my iPhone listed it as a moderately strenuous 3.7-mile hike round trip. We wouldn’t be going that far. Since all in our group were in their 70s, our goal was to hike to the intersection with the Mill Prong Horse Trail. That is exactly one mile.

This day was much cooler than the previous weeks of hot, sticky, and sometimes wet days in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. When we arrived at the parking lot where the AT crosses Skyline Drive, my van’s thermometer read 60 degrees. It was perfect hiking weather.

To access Mill Prong Trail, you must walk across the roadway and then a short distance on the AT. Soon you’re at the Mill Prong Trailhead.

I had told the ladies that this wasn’t the most scenic hike. They were more concerned with the trail’s difficulty and elevation gains. Having hiked it previously, I knew that the Mill Prong was a comparatively gradual decline to the horse trail. We had no intention of going to Rapidan Camp. A two-mile roundtrip hike down and back would suffice.

The Mill Prong Trail has two stream crossings. Trail-keepers conveniently placed large rocks for hikers to successfully cross both without getting wet. That is, as long as you don’t slip and fall. I was the only one who did.

The trek down the Mill Prong trail was similar to my earlier experience. The walk was eerily quiet. I only heard a lone Downy Woodpecker along the mostly dirt path down and back. We saw no other hikers until a young woman passed us as we were nearly finished, and she was just starting.

We took our time, enjoying nature’s stillness, the verdant forest floor carpeted with ferns, grasses, and wildflowers. We respectfully observed the colorful fungus and the four-foot northern water snake soaking in the morning sun on a large moss-covered rock in the middle of the trickling stream.

We took a break just after passing the horse trail, precisely one mile from the trailhead. We ate our snacks, inspected the snake, kept our distance, and hydrated.

Then it was time to head back up the gradual incline. The trail effortlessly wound its way past outcroppings, back across the two forks of the Mill Prong, shaded all the way by a mixed hardwood forest. It was already shedding some of its leaves.

Just before we reached the intersection with the AT, birds and pollinators began to appear. Jewelweed bloomed everywhere, especially in a triangle between the AT and Skyline Drive. Hummingbirds zipped left and right, and a few Monarchs and Tiger Swallowtails flitted here and there.

Despite our tired old bones, smiles dominated. It was a perfect ending to just the kind of hike the ladies like to take. Me, too.

Stepping stones.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

September’s 1st Sunset

Please click on the photo to enlarge it.

I was out watering plants and trees last evening since we haven’t had any rain for several days. Suddenly, the western sky turned bright golden.

I quickly wrapped up my watering, grabbed my camera and iPhone, and headed to a close location with an open view to the west. The golden glow had faded. The sun disappeared behind the Allegheny Mountains, but dramatic color remained.

The farmer had already cut the enormous cornfield and had turned loose steers to forage for spilled corn cobs. With Mole Hill to the left and the sunset’s remnants still lingering above the mountains, it looked like a scene out of the old west, not the Shenandoah Valley.

The vista was a beautiful way to close out the first day of September.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Sunset Grazing

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I searched for a decent location to photograph the latest lovely sunset in the Shenandoah Valley. I stopped when I came upon this scene of young steers grazing.

The Black Angus scattered in the rolling pasture filled the foreground, while the local landmark of Mole Hill, an extinct volcanic core, dominated the background. The sunset orange-tinted cloud hovered over the Allegheny Mountains in the distance. I imagined old Mole Hill had exploded out of eons of dormancy.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Capturing the Moment

Have you ever intended to photograph one subject and instead captured something entirely different?

That’s what happened to me last evening. I wanted to shoot the full super moon rising over the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. As soon as I left home, I could see there might be a problem. A large rain cloud hovered over the park, right where the moon was calculated to appear.

Hoping the cloud might move on or dissipate, I kept driving. I am so glad I did.

A full moon always rises as the sun sets. In the Shenandoah Valley, the sun sinks below the Allegheny Mountains that mark Virginia/West Virginia state lines to the west. It rises over the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east.

As I drove east, the last of the day’s sun rays illuminated the clouds over the national park. The closer I got, the more the clouds transitioned from white to peach to orange.

I arrived at my photo destination in time to capture the moment’s beauty. For me, this easily made up for missing the moonrise.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Leaves

My wife and I recently visited some friends in eastern Pennsylvania. Since we all love flowers, they took us to a local greenhouse that was more like an arboretum.

The wide variety of leaves attracted my attention. The Rising Sun Redbud leaves, however, are from a tree in our backyard.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

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