Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Little Devil's Stairs/Glen Manor

We've seen more bears this year than ever; we seem to have a bumper crop and I'm starting to worry about bear-human conflict. We all know the bears won't win. Sunday was no exception; as we drove down Keyser Run road about a mile before the Little Devil's Stairs trailhead, we saw a big black bear galloping down the middle of the road in front of us for about 25 yards before going crashing into the woods next to Keyser Run.

The sun wasn't up terribly high by the time we hit the trailhead at 8:30 and the woods were even darker, especially up in the canyon that is Little Devil's Stairs. Taking photographs in this dim light was a non-starter and so there are no photographs of the canyon itself or of Keyser Run coming down through it, which is a shame because it is ruggedly beautiful.

The first half a mile from the trailhead and parking lot was an easy walk through the woods. From there, the trail climbed a thousand feet over the next mile. Trekking poles were of no use going up and Ann stowed hers. The trail, as it meandered back and forth across the stream between the canyon walls, required handholds in a few places. It took me a little while to get used to climbing with my pack on. I'm not terribly used to the altered center of gravity which is not noticeable on most hikes.

From the top of the stairs, we continued the gentle climb to the Fourway intersection with the Keyser Run fire road and continued across on the Piney Branch trail, staying to the left at each trail intersection making a big counterclockwise loop that ultimately saw us rejoin the fire road at the Bolen Cemetery, a reminder of the hardscrabble life that people led up in the hollows before Shenandoah National Park was assembled in the 1930s.

Bolen Cemetery: Life Before SNP
After gaining a thousand feet in a mile, we spent the next five miles giving all that elevation up going gently downhill along the Piney River or Piney Branch. We took a break for lunch (goat cheese, arugula, sun-dried tomato pesto, and chorizo wraps along with a couple handfuls of blueberries) just at the point where the trail crosses to the opposite bank of the creek, shortly before recrossing the creek for a quick climb up to the cemetery and a final mile of fire road down to the parking lot. The hiking sites say we did just over nine miles; our GPS said 8.5. I tend to believe the GPS; the hike didn't feel all that long.

Cooling off in Piney Branch

Hiker Lunch: Goat Cheese, Arugula, Sun-Dried Tomato, and Chorizo Wraps
Here and there through the woods, I found patches of sunshine (and flowers making use of that sunshine) for photos. Many of the following photos are iffy, the lack of light and lack of a tripod being what they are. We walked through large patches of White Bergamot, Monarda clinopdia, but I could never get the camera to focus on the very airy bloom heads in the dappled light. Ditto for the off-white bloom spikes of American Wintergreen, Pyrola americana. We were both surprised to come upon a patch of Squawroot still in bloom. In my book, it's a late spring flower, not a mid-summer one.

There were lots of Doll's-Eyes in various stages of ripening, but only one that had fully turned white and that was in a little glimmer of sunlight. Too bad they are poisonous.

Actea pachypoda (Doll's-Eyes or White Baneberry)

White Sweet Clover, Melilotus albus, Surprising in the Woods
The pale touch-me-nots have just started blooming along the stairs but in a couple of weeks, the stairs should be awash in golden blossoms. This is probably the most common plant along the moist part of the trail and at times, we had to wade through them so tight were they packed alongside the narrow trail.

Pale Touch-me-not, Impatiens pallida, All over the Stairs
For the past several hikes, I have seen lots of Geums in the woods and none in enough light to photograph. This one is missing a petal and the white bloom is blown out from overexposure in the dim light.

A Geum, probably virginianum, Missing a Petal

A Beautiful Heal-All

Moth Feeding on a Heal-All

Meadow Rue in Full Bloom

Possibly Common Nipplewort, Lapsana communis
I am surprised that this is the first and only Columbine that I have seen in bloom this year. I must be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis

Fly Poison, Amianthium muscaetoxicum, a Lily

Indian Pipe

Also Indian Pipe??
For weeks, I have been trying to get a decent photo of long-leaved bluets, which are often found trailside in the woods. The light is too low and the blooms are too small. This is the best of dozens and dozens of frames.

Long-Leaved Bluet, Houstonia longifolia

Very Few Roses Still in Bloom
We had yet to encounter any Purple Flowering Raspberries this year but all along this trail we found them almost everywhere there was a little clearing. They are a most beautiful and spineless raspberry, but sadly the fruit isn't all that good to eat.

Purple Flowering Raspberries, Rubus odoratus, Everywhere

Black Cohosh Along the Fire Road
I thought these maidenhair ferns were beautiful. Though I don't pay too much attention to the ferns growing alongside the trail, I don't recall seeing maidenhairs elsewhere.

Northern Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum pedatum
After our hike as we were heading back in to Front Royal up and over Chester Gap, Ann wondered aloud if we could go to see Jeff and Kelly. I mentioned that we were on the wrong side of the mountain, but cut across to the west side as soon as we got to the foot of the mountain in Front Royal. Soon enough, we were pulling up to a full parking lot and a jam packed tasting room. It's always good to see them busy.

Enjoying a Well-Earned Sauvignon Blanc
It seems that I knew pretty much all of the guests in the tasting room and being grubby and tired after a hike, I just wanted to get a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and head outside under the shade of an umbrella. So I just kind of bypassed a whole lot of line, gave Kelly a hug, and asked her if she would grab me a bottle of SB. And with that, we went outside to drink our wine, rest, and wait for things to die down so that we could socialize a bit.

Kelly invited us to stay for the staff blind tasting afterwards. Once all the guests had left, we all gathered on the back patio and tasting four blind wines. Had I known that this was going to happen, I would have brought a bottle along. We tasted a Virginia Rkatsiteli, a Willamette Pinot, a Piemontese Barbera, and a California Petit Sirah. Begrudgingly, we had to leave around 7:45 and got back to the house just before hiker midnight, 9pm. After a shower, that was all she wrote for Ann. Too much fun made her a sleepy girl!


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