Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Lazy Afternoon

We haven't had a lazy afternoon at home with a bottle of wine in months. And boy was it good to be lazy on Monday afternoon! I was off fairly early, Ann was home early, we were both tired from our long hike on Sunday, and we just needed a break.

I had already brought home a goat cheese from Cherry Glen Goat Cheese Co over in Boyds MD (near where I used to live in Germantown) on Saturday. Ann asked me to bring wine, bread, and some salame. I grabbed a bottle of the fabulous 2013 Gary Farrell Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from Costco on the way home. 2013, a cooler vintage in California, turned out some phenomenal wines and this is no exception.

Pinot, Salame, Focaccia, and Goat Cheese
Our figs are just starting to ripen in quantity. Although we have a huge crop of figs, none were ripening and I was worried that we wouldn't get them in before frost in another 4 weeks. So about three weeks ago, I cut the tops out of each of the major branches to stop vertical growth and to focus the bush on ripening its fruit. It appears to have worked well. These figs fresh off the bush are so much better than the fresh figs that have been coming in from California. They have an almost peach undertone that is fabulous. A fig bush in our climate here in northernmost Virginia is quite a luxury. I planted the 7-year old bush five years ago and we are just now reaping the reward for our patience.

Ann Brought in Some Figs From the Garden
What to do while lounging around noshing on cheese, salame, and figs all while drinking remarkable Pinot Noir? Why, play old school Battleship, of course! Ann kicked my butt two games to zero, payback for the last time I beat her 2-0.

I Lost 0-2. Boo.
I went on to make udon with chicken, ginger, pickled stem mustard, shiitakes, and snow peas later for dinner. What a great way to end our lazy afternoon than with a great soup!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Cedar Run/Whiteoak Canyon

We well and truly got our asses kicked by a trail yesterday. Because of other commitments, illness, and injury, it's been a few weeks since we did any real hiking (Blackwater Falls doesn't count as it was flat) and it showed. Still, even if we had been hiking every weekend recently, this hike we did yesterday have been a bitch, with 2200 feet of elevation gain in 2.5 miles.

While the weather was still warm enough to get in the water, we wanted to go back to Whiteoak Canyon and hike the loop in reverse, going up Cedar Run to Skyline Drive, then parallel to Skyline Drive for a couple of miles, and then back down Whiteoak Canyon. Earlier in the spring, we hiked Whiteoak Canyon to the bridge at the upper falls before turning around and descending back to the car. That hike was a bitch back then. Yesterday was more of the same.

Yesterday, it was all we could do to get to Skyline Drive from the bottom of the hill. The middle section along Skyline over to Whiteoak Canyon was a nice respite, but we were good and tired by the time we hit the upper falls and the hike back down the canyon on rubbery legs was not all that fun. And the scenery wasn't there for us either: the leaves are falling, the water level is way down because of the drought, are patches of wildflowers that were blooming in June are now all burnt up.

Despite a really late start (Ann didn't stir until 8am), we were among the very first cars in the parking lot when we arrived just shy of 10am. After saddling up and checking in with the rangers at the little shack in the parking lot, we headed up the trail, forking left to hike the circuit clockwise. The primary interest in going this way was to check out the famous waterslide. I was a little worried about the waterslide because of the lack of water in the creek; it has been weeks since we have had any rain.

After a strenuous uphill climb, we came to the lower waterfall on Cedar Run where some girls were jumping from the rocks some 12 feet above the water. The depth of the pool in the picture below looked to be about 7-8 feet. You can see Annie surveying the action at the top of falls.

Lower Waterfall on Cedar Run
After another steep climb that left both of us breathing really hard (that's the bitch about waterfalls: you have to have steep terrain to have them at all), we came to the famous waterslide just as another group was leaving. We had it all to ourselves and took a nice break here to catch our breath. There isn't much water coming down the face of the rock, but it was enough.

The Waterslide

Working up the Nerve
While I stood at the bottom, Ann climbed up and tried to get up the nerve to move over into the cold water and start sliding down into the pool at the bottom that was about six feet deep. Going down that first run, she overcorrected and started down sideways, creating a huge tidal wave of water at the bottom.

Ooh! Bad Form!

Points Off for Lack of Style!
The second run was a lot better and she maintained her victory salute all the way into the water, crazy girl!
Round Two: Styling!

Victory Salute All the Way in!

Sugar Maple Leaf on the Water
Above the waterslide, we struggled on, stopping briefly for Korean pulled pork wraps on the way up. The final mile to the top, though much less steep than below, was tough. It took all we had to slog on, but we did. I can't tell you what a tease it is being able to hear cars on the parkway above for several minutes of walking.

It's that time of year. The time when rain has been scarce for weeks, when the leaves on the trees (especially the tulip poplars, black locusts, and some of the maples) are starting to fall, and when wildflowers are starting to fade. We saw a very few random sunflower-type plants blooming here and there. But this is the time of year for asters and we saw several types blooming all up and down the mountain.

Random Sunflower
We really didn't start seeing a lot of color until we had reached about 3000 feet after climbing all morning. Once we cleared this magic threshold up the mountain, we started seeing large swatches of goldenrods that don't look anything like our lowland goldenrods. I am pretty sure that these are Roan Mountain Goldenrods. They were in the company of lots of asters and other more common-looking Solidagos.

Roan Mountain Goldenrod, Solidago roanensis

Asters Blooming Everywhere

Phenomenal (Poisonous) Doll's Eyes/Baneberry, Actaea pachypoda

Hepatica americana

Beat Up Pearl Crescent, Phycoides tharos

Cabbage White, Pieris rapea, a Common Garden Pest
I saw rafts and rafts of beautiful chicken of the woods mushrooms just ripe for the picking. We Left No Trace, but I couldn't help but think how delicious these are in parmigiana, in lasagna, and as mock schnitzel. Pretty much anything you can do with chicken breast, you can do with these mushrooms that have the texture and flavor of chicken breast marinated in lemon. I have been accused of serving chicken by more than one vegetarian visitor to the restaurant.

Super Delicious Chicken of the Woods, Laetiporus sulphureus
After the long, tiring climb up to Skyline Drive we headed north in the direction of Skyland on the Skyland-Big Meadows bridle trail, which is clearly not used much by the equestrian set. There were no horse apples at all to be seen along this trail or the Whiteoak Fire Road onto which the bridle trail dumped. We followed this gentle road across and down the hill to the intersection with the Whiteoak Canyon Trail at the bridge just above the upper falls.

When we got to the ford just below the bridge, there was almost no water coming through, about 18 inches less than when I rockhopped the ford back in June. This lack of water would really make the falls less striking than earlier in the year. Contrast the photo below with the photo in the June blogpost in which Ann is doing her warrior pose in this same place with ample whitewater tumbling over the cliff behind her, the cliffs clad in lush green.

Upper Falls, Whiteoak Canyon
I've just got to say that while going up is tough on the heart and lungs, going back down, especially with rubber legs, is also very tough in a very different way. Though the camera flattens the perspective in the photo below, Ann is about 20 feet ahead of me and already about six or seven feet below my feet. Going down Whiteoak Canyon is steep and it hurts the knees, burns the quads, and works the calves pretty hard. Our trekking poles really helped. Ann had them on the prior trip but I had yet to get some. I was thankful for mine yesterday.

Brutal Downhill
Here is the view from the exposed clifftop that is my favorite part of the trail. Back in June this whole clifftop was covered in gorgeous wildflowers. Now it is a sea of burned up plants and with the falling leaves, giving a much clearer view of the mountains to the south.

My Favorite Part of the Whiteoak Trail
You may notice not as many photographs of the creek as in June. This is due in part to two things. First, although the lack of leaf cover makes the falls much more visible now, there just isn't any water in the creek and not much to photograph. And second, after a brutal hike, we were both thinking (though I don't think either of us expressed it verbally) "Fuck the waterfalls; let's get to a beer!

Lower Falls, Whiteoak Canyon
And get to a beer we did after a long 50-minute drive in to Front Royal for our post-hike celebration at PaveMint. Ann had an imported beer from Avery Brewing in Colorado, a wit called White Rascal. I had a native beer from Old Bust Head in nearby Warrenton, a left coast IPA called Graffitti House. We are both sad to say that the new menu at PaveMint isn't as good as it was in the spring and the food is not executed as well either. Nothing we had yesterday was salted at all.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

White Beans with Potato and Chorizo

Damn, I've gone and done it again. I created a dish that is really comforting, really tasty, and according to Weight Watchers, shitty for you.

White Beans with Potato and Chorizo
Weight Watchers and I tangle every so often. In general, any system that gets people to be accountable for what they eat and to be cognizant of choices is a good thing. But the one-size-fits-all points system unnecessarily penalizes some good things in its crusade against fat and carbs. I don't like the way that they penalize high-fiber good carbs such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas. Ann does Weight Watchers and we get into it now and again. Things were going along really well with this dish until the dreaded points were calculated. Then it became food non grata. I'm still going to make it again, hence my writing this post so that I remember it.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow potato, unpeeled, in 3/8" dice, about a cup
2 3-ounce Salvadoran chorizos, skinned
8 cloves garlic, minced
2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, washed and drained
1 large sweet red pepper, in 3/8" dice
1 bunch green onions, sliced
1/2 medium red onion, small dice
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
salt and pepper to taste

In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil, then add the yellow potato cubes and cook until they are brown and crispy on about three or four sides. Season as you go. Remove half of the potatoes to a salad bowl. Return the remainder to the heat and pull apart the chorizos in small bits into the potatoes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until the chorizo is just cooked through. Remove to the salad bowl. Add the drained cannellini, red pepper, red and green onions, and the smoked paprika. Stir well and season to taste.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Dogfish Head AleHouse, Chantilly VA

Sunday September 11, Ann and I were going to reprise our hike of Whiteoak Canyon, but her plantar fasciitis acted up again. We had been saving a trip in to REI Fairfax to try out some new gear for a rainy day and her lame foot provided that proverbial rainy day, so after a leisurely pot of coffee, we headed in to Fairfax.

As we drove to REI, I found it very eerily coincident that we drove directly by the building where I was hunkered down with dozens of others in the first floor gym, glued to the television, fifteen years earlier as we watched in absolute horror the second airliner plowing into the Twin Towers. I hadn't been by this building in 15 years, yet the memories are still intensely vivid.

Although we got a new backpack for Ann, the trip in to REI for my part was a bust. I wanted to look into some clothing, but they had nothing in my size. We were done shopping right around 12:30 and neither of us having eaten breakfast, were pretty famished. I had picked out a promising Chinese restaurant nearby for lunch, but that was going over not at all with my lovely spouse who kept saying the word "margarita" over and over.

Consulting the Garmin and going through the list of nearby restaurants, Ann chose the Greenbrier Dogfish Head AleHouse and so off we headed up to route 50 and west towards Chantilly. It was such a gorgeous day that we sat outside on the patio which quickly filled up with football fans looking to watch the games on the huge flatscreens and drink a beer or two.

Photobombing the Dogfish Head Sign
Ann started with a Namaste, a Belgian-style Wit that she had liked previously on tap at PaveMint. She didn't like this one as much and subsequently switched a big-girl mug of Festina, a Berliner-style Weiss flavored with peaches. I started with a big mug of 60-Minute IPA, a very known quantity to me. None of the other beers on tap seem to do it for me. Dogfish can be a little nutty when it comes to beer.

60-Minute IPA
I let Ann pick the food and soon arrived at the table a plate of fried calamari, andouille Cajun egg rolls, pork belly tacos, and some chicken wings. All the food was better than I expected. The calamari was well fried but really needed some salt. The egg rolls were kind of blah, seasoning-wise, with no apparent andouille. It's a really good bar food idea that just didn't approach in execution what it could have been. The pork belly tacos, by contrast, were fabulous. The server told Ann that the wings were indeed meaty in response to her query, but clearly we have different ideas about meaty. They were scrawny, grilled, and mostly left uneaten.

Calamari, Andouille Cajun Egg Rolls, Pork Belly Tacos

"Meaty" Wings
We enjoyed a nice leisurely drive back out route 50 to home past Dulles. It's a road I haven't taken in 15 years and I was shocked at the development and all the changes. I was kind of dumbfounded at the three roundabouts at Gilbert's Corner replacing the single traffic light. It seems pretty damned stupid to me, but then what do I know?

Monday, September 5, 2016

Labor Day: Douglas Falls/Siriani's

The morning of Labor Day Monday saw us hike more of Blackwater Falls State Park. In the afternoon, we left the park in search of nearby Douglas Falls, which I am sure the vast majority of visitors never see. First, they don't know about it and second, it takes some effort to find. The marquee falls at Blackwater Falls State Park are on the Blackwater River proper, while the exceptionally beautiful Douglas Falls are on the North Fork of the Blackwater River just two miles as the crow flies west north west. The North Fork joins the main Blackwater about two miles below the main Blackwater Falls, just west of Pase Point to which we hiked on Monday morning.

As we were checking out of the Lodge on Monday morning, we asked for directions to Douglas Falls because we really couldn't find much of anything on the web and nothing on Maps or the Garmin. One of the women at the desk gave us a sketch of how to get there, but the landmarks were a little crazy and some even suspect, her directions quite rambling.

Sketch in hand, we left the park for nearby Thomas WV. Our first try found us making a big circle through Thomas. On our second loop through, I found a turn that I misinterpreted the first time through and we ended up even further out in the boonies, still really unsure of where we were or where we were headed. Then we crossed a bridge over what I guessed was the North Fork of the Blackwater, and I decided to turn left on the dirt road beside it, for not much of any reason except I guess I thought I would follow the water. And I'll be damned if we didn't find first the coke ovens that were a landmark on our sketch and a railroad bridge that was another landmark on our hand-scrawled map from the Lodge. As we pulled into a makeshift parking lot, another couple was heading towards us and they confirmed that we were in the right place. Talk about getting lucky!

The long and short of it is head through Thomas on Douglas Road. Once you cross the river, turn immediately left on Rail Falls Road, a dirt road. Follow the dirt road just over a mile. You will come to an old railroad bridge and then it may dawn on you that you are driving on an old abandoned railroad bed. While there is a parking area on the far side of this bridge, if you're not in a 4x4, you would be best served to stay on the near side: this bridge is not in awesome repair and was quite rough, even in our Jeep. The falls are just a bit further down the road past a gate, on the left.

Driving along the river on the dirt Rail Falls Road (also listed on Google Maps as Blackwater Canyon Trail, for the road peters out into a hiking trail just at Douglas Falls), I had no idea what was beside us until we drove past this clearing and I got a sight of this aquamarine pool. I had no clue whatsoever. Stunning, just stunning!

Imagine Driving Along and Seeing This

Second Little Falls
Further along, after we parked, we walked into the woods on the trail which apparently continues on down into Blackwater Canyon following the old railroad bed. Following the sounds of a torrent of water, we scrambled thirty or forty feet down an embankment to find this incredible sight. I worked my way out into the middle to get this and dozens of other photos. Even at this distance, I was getting spray all over my lens. Can you believe that people kayak over this fall in high water?

Postcard Pretty Douglas Falls

Waterfall Detail
Annie found out just how refreshing the water was when she took a dip in the pool that was maybe five feet deep in the middle. I think she was glad that our walk back to the car was in the direct sunshine so she could warm up. I shot a few frames of some wildflowers on the way back to the car.

The Water Was Brisk

Bouncing Bet/Soapwort by the River

Appalachian Gentian, Gentiana austromontana

Elderberries Ripe for the Picking
On the way back out, we stopped by one of the abandoned coke ovens of the Davis Coal and Coke Company in the area that was known as Coketon, which at its heyday contained about 600 of these coking ovens. This oven is about halfway down Rail Falls Road. The coal mining in this area led to a lot of acid leaching into the water and this accounts for the rusty color of the rocks in the river. I'm not sure why the water is aquamarine; my guess is tiny particulate matter in the water.

Abandoned Beehive Coke Oven
As we were wrapping our day up, we wanted to grab a beer before heading back to Winchester so we headed into Davis to find both Blackwater Brewing and Stumptown Ales both closed. We went into Siriani's to get our beer and while we were there, we also ordered a pizza. Though people rave about it, I guess I'm not stylistically in tune with their pizza. I found the sauce a bit sweet for my liking and the dough too puffy; I like a bit more elasticity in the dough. It was uncomfortably warm inside as well, but I imagine it is a fun place to have dinner and beers after skiing all day.

Eclectic Siriani's

Siriani's Pizza

Never Seen Bell's in a Can Before

For future reference (and for anyone else reading this), Google has Douglas Falls on its maps:



We had a wonderful overnight at Blackwater Falls. I can truly say that West Virginia gets a really bad rap. It is one of the most phenomenally beautiful states in the country and there's an argument to be made that it is the most beautiful state in the country. Almost heaven is pretty appropriate. Our trip to Blackwater Falls and Douglas Falls only reinforced that it is a really special place.

Previous: Part Three of our Labor Day Getaway

Labor Day: Elakala Falls/Pase Point

Monday, Labor Day itself, was day two of our overnight getaway to Davis WV and Blackwater Falls State Park, one of the great outdoor treasures of this country. After a night in the Blackwater Falls Lodge, built in 1957 and showing its age a bit, a night of enduring screaming children running up and down the halls and other loud noises, I was up before dawn and up two-and-a-half hours before I woke Annie.

While the sun was getting up, I had plenty of time to google around for things to do on day two using the lodge's piss-poor WiFi. I really shouldn't complain. I didn't expect WiFi at all. Ann had mentioned the afternoon before that she would like to go visit Pendleton Lake on the other side of the river and perhaps see Pendleton Falls. She showed me a really intriguing photo of Pendleton Falls the evening before, but when I started looking into it, I saw that Pendleton Falls is where the outflow from Pendleton Lake meets the Blackwater some 200 feet below on the canyon floor. Moreover, to see the falls is a bushwhack with no maintained trail and a very, very steep bushwhack at that. Ann's left foot isn't 100% or I would have gone for it. But I really didn't want to get all the way down in the canyon and she not be able to walk out.

Backpedaling on Pendleton Falls, I looked around for other amusements in the area and quickly came upon Elakala Falls and Douglas Falls, both of which I had heard Ann mention the night before. I found that Elakala Falls is a series of falls on Shays Run right next to the lodge while Douglas Falls was a couple of miles from the park. The pictures of Douglas Falls had me salivating: we had to go there.

After a coffee run down to the lobby of the lodge (free coffee!), we got showered, packed up, checked out, and our stuff packed into the Jeep. Then we walked across the front of the lodge and into the dark hemlock Hansel und Gretel woods just to the west. Not 100 yards later did we hear a waterfall and then suddenly we came to a wooden footbridge across a creek. We were standing on top of the first of a series of four falls on Shays Run collectively known as Elakala Falls as they make their way down the canyon wall to the Blackwater below.

Elakala Falls
A group of photographers had left a rope going down the hill to the first set of falls and we very gratefully used that to get down where we took these photos. The photographers were down below at the second set of falls so we had the top fall to ourselves. It was quiet, beautiful, and surprisingly, not at all slippery. I imagine that with a little rain, that all changes, and the rocks would be incredibly tricky to navigate. Call us lucky.

And a Slower Shutter Speed

More of Same

Elakala Falls Up Close
We descended to the top of the second fall and watched the photographers down below with their high-dollar equipment mounted on tripods. It must be nice but I don't have the budget or the inclination to lug a lot of equipment into the woods. For me, it's about getting outdoors and recording the memories, not making the best photos. I would have liked to have gone further down and seen more of the falls, but I was very worried about Ann's foot, which fortunately, didn't bother her too much.

On our way back to the lodge, Ann spotted the gleam of water in this sluice. Although on rare occasion she remarks that I sometimes spend too much time taking pictures, she's really good at pointing out things I should photograph. I hustled upstream to see what the sluice was all about. I still don't have any understanding of why it is here but it is pretty cool, especially because it makes the big right-hand bend that you can see in the photo.

Sluice on Shays Run
From here, we decided to go to Pendleton Lake, look about, walk over to Pendleton Point, have a look-see at the way down to Pendleton Falls, and make our way out to Pase Point per the ranger's suggestion the day before, leaving Douglas Falls for the afternoon before heading back. Starting at the parking lot by the lake, we walked southwest along the lakeshore through the trees and across a big open lawn to the Pendleton Point observation point just opposite the Lodge. The views from this side of the canyon were just as good if not better than the views on the other side where we were the day before.

The short traverse through the open woods led us through an area with many small shrubs with lots of berries, shrubs with which I am not at all familiar. This area was also full of high-bush blueberries, tall purple and tall white asters, and lots of other flowers. I certainly expected to see lots of deer in the open woodland and I would not have been surprised to surprise a bear feasting on the berries, but we didn't see a single large animal the entire trip, though Ann said she saw some deer dropping near the lake.

Unknown Berries: Another Harbinger of Fall

There Should be Dozens of Deer Here

The Lodge from Pendleton Point

Blackwater Canyon from Pendleton Point
Backtracking through the open woodlands and berry scrub, we made our way back to the lake and across the dam, headed in the direction of Pendleton Falls and Pase Point. The fully sunny open ground around the lake was a great place to shoot wildflowers, with about 25-30 species in a single area.

Pendleton Lake

Lilies, The Water Shield, Brasenia schreberi

Unopened Milkweed Pods

Ironweed, Vernonia spp.

A Really Nice Snakeroot
And the woods along the Dobbin House and Pase Point trails were good for groundcovers. We saw a lot of running cedar, a club moss, along the Dobbin House trail (and a whole lot more of a slightly different kind near the bogs on the Yellow Birch trail the day before). When I was a kid, my mom would send me out into the woods to gather running cedar with which to wrap our banisters at Christmas. I also saw a fair amount of wintergreen as I have all summer, but this was the first I've seen with any berries.

Running Cedar, Diphasiastrum digitatum

Wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens
There were also very large patches of a groundcover that is unknown to me. It almost looks like a shiny-leaved strawberry, but it has little prickles on the stems. It's not really a vine and not a shrub. I'm perplexed.

An Unkown Groundcover
After a few minutes of gentle walk, we came to the end of the Pase Point trail where the turn-off to the overlook was flanked with twin rock cairns. From here, it was maybe thirty yards to some pretty breathtaking views. Pase Point is the most western point along the canyon on the north side of the Blackwater, situated high above the confluence of the Blackwater and the North Fork of the Blackwater.

Cairn at Pase Point

Looking Southwest, North Fork Merges on Right

Photographing the Photographer

Enjoying the View

Blackwater River from Pase Point
We took our lunch here at Pase Point which we had pretty much to ourselves. It was quite delightful to get away from everyone. As much as we enjoyed the view, we needed to get on to see Douglas Falls before starting on the drive back to Winchester, and so we made our way back along the fairly flat trail that skirted along the cliff edge to the lake.

Six-Leaf Whorl of a Joe Pye Weed

Basketball-Sized Joe Pye Weed

On the Dam: Rudbeckia, Red Clover, Queen Ann's Lace

A Hypericum on the Dam
We really enjoyed our time at Blackwater, but after a pit stop in the Nature Center at the lake, we headed out to try to find Douglas Falls, leaving behind Blackwater Falls State Park for good. But more on that in the next post.

Previous: Part Two of our Labor Day Getaway, Next: Part Four of our Labor Day Getaway