I could feel it from the second I walked out the door to walk the dogs at 6:30 in the morning: the damned humidity was gone! It was like a breath of fresh air stepping out of the house to find it cooler and drier outside than inside. After weeks of suffocating heat and humidity, what a wonderful surprise! We were out of the house by 7am and after gas and coffee (which I spilled on myself) at the local Sheetz, we were on our way south.
Once up into the park at Thornton Gap, we drove along Skyline Drive to the parking area at mile marker 37.8 where the Corbin Cabin Cutoff Trail intersects the AT. All along the drive from the gap, I saw large stands of Joe Pye Weed along the road. Two weeks before when we had been at Big Meadows, there was no blooming Joe Pye Weed to be seen along the way. Now it is everywhere in shades of mauve and white. There are several species of Joe Pye Weed that grow in this area and those who do taxonomic things with them argue about which is which. All I can say is that they are highly variable but all add really pretty color to the August landscape. You guys argue; I will just look at them.
|Joe Pye Weed, Eutrochium spp.|
Climbing up the next ridge south, the trail opens up along the western side of Skyline Drive beneath the Stony Man Overlook. Although we had the trail to ourselves in the early morning, the sound of cars passing very near us (at places not 20 paces away) was incessant. The opening in the forest canopy gave me ample opportunity to photograph a lot of flowers, many with the heavy morning dew still clinging to them.
|Aster Covered in Dew Drops|
|Another Group of Asters, Stony Man Overlook|
|A Lot of Starry Campion Along the AT Here|
|Pale Touch-Me-Not Covered in Dew|
|Unidentified Milkweed, Perhaps A. variegata|
|White Snakeroot, Ageratina altissima|
|A Stunning Sunflower|
|Shenandoah Valley From the AT at Stony Man Overlook|
|White Bergamot, Not Very Common Here|
|Staghorn Sumac, Rhus typhina, Showing Color Already|
Just after we turned west on the Passamaquoddy, we started seeing Sedum growing amongst the rocks, some starting to flower. This is the first large sedum that I have really noted growing in the wild. I've seen a lot of the smaller forms here and there, but none in bloom. A few yards further along, we could see brilliant blue sky through the trees, beckoning us on to see the view. Ann was thirty paces ahead of me as I photographed the sedum and I heard her exclaim as she stepped out into the sunlight.
|A Wild Stonecrop, Sedum spp.|
|Brilliant Blue Sky|
|Great Views of Luray and the Valley|
|Little Stony Man Left, Stony Man Right|
|Harebells Growing on the Cliff|
|A Hawthorn, Perhaps?|
When we got to Skyland proper, there wasn't any really well marked trail. We knew we need to get to the amphitheater/horse stables on the south side of the property, so we just kind of winged it and headed along any trail that seemed to be heading south. In no time at all, we popped out on a nice mowed lawn 75 yards distant from the amphitheater and started looking for the Miller's Head trailhead. We never did find it, but we found an access road that ran parallel to the trail and we cut from there through the woods to the trail proper.
|Glorious Sunflowers at Skyland|
|More Sunflowers at Skyland|
|Harebells on the Miller's Head Trail|
|Many, Many False Foxgloves on Miller's Trail|
|Ann Ascending to the Miller's Head Overlook|
|Turkey Vulture at Miller's Head|
|Looking South from Miller's Head|
|Looking West from Miller's Head|
|Also West; Ann's iPhone Camera|
|Soapwort at Miller's Head|
|Columbine at Miller's Head|
|Beautiful Spot for Lunch; Ann Attacks a Fig|
|Artichoke Pesto, Grilled Chicken, and Arugula Wraps|
|Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Knapweed|
|Black Swallowtail on Common Milkweed|
|A Tiger on a Sunflower/Jerusalem Artichoke|
|Turk's Cap Lily (with Bindweed) at Skyland|
|Chanterelle Mushrooms Everywhere|
|Cool Shelf Fungus|
|Fly Poison, AT, Stony Man Parking Area|
|Looking South at Skyland|
|Looking Northwest from Stony Man|
|Looking West from Stony Man|
|Looking North at Little Stony Man|
Alas for us that we got behind a threesome of inconsiderate hikers who would not yield the right of way as we worked down the switchbacks to the intersection of the AT and the Passamaquoddy, where we were earlier in the day. In the confusion at the junction, we managed to slip around the slower threesome, only to get behind another large group of young adults and children talking quite loudly in another Eastern European language that I did not recognize, all while swilling beer and creating quite the stink of cigarette smoke.
We lost them at the Little Stony Man parking lot where they left the trail and that left us in peace for the couple mile walk back to the car along the AT. Ann was still feeling the effects of her nasty encounter with a virus the week before and was quickly running out of steam. I could tell that the last couple of miles were no fun for her. I goofed and planned a hike that was just too long considering her state of recovery. Oops.
All in all, we had a wonderful hike with just amazing views. I would love to do this hike again sometime in the winter when all the crowds are gone. After our hike, we made the 50-minute drive into Front Royal for beers at PaveMint where Ann enjoyed Allagash White and I drained a few Green Flash Tangerine Soul IPAs, one of the better beers I have had this summer. I leave you with a shot of one of my favorite flowers, taken on the way back to the car.
|Rose Along the AT, Vicinity of Stony Man Overlook|