Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Cacapon State Park, Berkeley Springs WV

Ever have a day that just doesn't turn out as planned? For us, Easter Sunday, April 16th and the day of our 11th hike of 2017 was just such a day: very little went according to plan. The plan started to fall apart immediately and just kept falling apart during the day. That doesn't mean it wasn't a successful day; it just means that we were executing plan B a lot during the day.

Our main plan for the day was to drive from Winchester the short 26 miles to Cacapon State Park just over the VA-WV border in Morgan County WV, with the closest town being Berkeley Springs WV another 10 miles up US-522. First things first. I had to ask when I first arrived in this area 25 years ago. It is kuh-KAY-pun. We did arrive at the park, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the mid-1930s, without incident, but after having executed plan B for breakfast.

This is a Gem of a State Park
Saturday, as are all spring Saturdays, was busy at the restaurant and found me hopping from task to task all day, without time to consider food for Sunday. I usually make us something for breakfast and/or lunch, but that just wasn't in the cards this weekend. So I thought on Sunday that we could hit Steamy's Café on the way out of town, have a cup of coffee, a breakfast bagel, and get Lenny to make us a couple of bagels for lunch. The only concern was that it was Easter Sunday, so I checked his web site and Facebook page to see if he mentioned being closed for the holiday. No mention.

Sunday morning, we got the dogs walked (the brown dog hopped in the bed at 6:30 just to make sure we were going to get up and feed her) and packed up in short order and arrived in downtown Winchester about 8:15. Sure enough, Steamy's was dark with a small CLOSED note on the front door. No worries: I had actually formulated a plan B in advance for just this case. We walked two blocks down Piccadilly Street to Lloyd's Tropical Island Coffee where Lloyd was just opening up and welcomed us with his trademark warm smile.

Hanging at Lloyd's Tropical Island

Jamaican-Owned Business Much?
Ann got the full treatment for her coffee, both maple syrup and sweetened condensed milk. As a black coffee drinker, I cannot abide any sweetener in my coffee, but clearly she enjoyed hers. We decided to grab some patties for lunch and for breakfast. What else to do in a Jamaican joint? After a couple cups of coffee waiting for the patties to cook, we bought two vegetable patties and two beef ones and took our leave. I ate my vegetable patty in the car on the way; Ann took a couple of bites and I could tell she didn't really like it. To be fair, it wasn't fully baked (I suspect they rushed them for us) and the filling was really gloppy. We both ate our beef patties, with the trademark saffron yellow crust and a much tastier beef filling, for lunch on top of Cacapon Mountain.

Not Fully Baked Jamaican Veggie Patty
Clearly, luck smiled on us and we hit peak Redbud bloom for our hike and the drive up to Morgan County. For miles, the sides of the road were swathed in a flaming pink hedge, a glorious sight to behold. This is one of the things we are going to miss when we relocate to the West Coast. As we turned off 522 onto the park entrance road, we changed from rolling valley to shady woods and lichen-covered boulders. This park, with its Robert Trent Jones golf course, swimming lake with white sand beach, rental cabins, and 20+ miles of hiking trails, is a gem.

As we pulled into the parking lot at the Lodge, just shy of the golf clubhouse, the day was turning warm in a hurry and we had all the windows in the Jeep down. We were wearing just shorts and t-shirts, a big departure from what we have been wearing this spring. I made sure to put on sun block before I left, but I got distracted and failed to do my arms. I would come to regret that later. We were both really warm standing around in the sunshine getting geared up, a harbinger of things to come.

The Day That the Redbuds Were in Full Bloom

Redbud Close Up, Cercis canadensis
A quick walk down the paved road found us at the Laurel Trail trailhead between two of the rental cabins. We quickly entered fairly sterile woods with nothing in bloom except for random red buds and cherry trees. On the ground were just a few purple violets and a few random bluets. Other than that, it was just brown leaves, still dormant trees, and blazing sun.

This Was our Hike: Brown Woods and No Views
It was an easy walk to the Central Trail and then south to Ziler Loop trail, the trail that climbs up and along the ridge of Cacapon Mountain before descending and coming back down by the reservoir. Even before we started to truly climb, I could tell that Annie was not doing well in the heat. Even though it was only about 80 degrees (with very high humidity from the thunderstorms the night before), you have to put that in perspective. The very hottest day this year that we have hiked has had highs almost 20 degrees cooler; to say that we have not yet had time to become habituated to higher temperatures would be an understatement.

First Dogwood, Cornus florida, of the Spring!

Beautiful Cherries in Full Bloom

Baby Cherries
I could feel the heat of the sun scorching me as we walked through the largely leafless canopy. Once we had climbed a few hundred feet, there were no leaves at all. This did make for some good opportunities to watch birds, including this little chickadee that flew right up and started giving us what for.

Chatty Cathy Carolina Chickadee, Poecile carolinensis
In a surprise, as we started to really climb (and the Ziler Trail is pretty steep in parts), we started hearing the first Eastern Towhees of the year (dinosaur that I am, I still call them Rufous-sided Towhees, though scientists have moved on from that nomenclature). They are the bird that we most frequently encounter on our hikes, but which we never see. I went all last year without being able to get a usable photo of these colorful birds who love to skulk in the leaves on the ground. I finally was able to get two males to hold still for me long enough to snap a few frames. I had help with this first guy though: his interest was firmly held by a nearby female to whom he was singing.

Eastern Towhee, Pipilo erythrophthalmus

Another Male Towhee
Thankfully, part of the time there was stiff breeze blowing that helped cool us off. It was hellish warm when that breeze stopped though. But the breeze was just right for a lot of Turkey Vultures that were cruising the hillside.

Lots of Vultures Cruising Cacapon Mountain
On our way back down from the top, a little Chipping Sparrow was busy proclaiming his turf. This was the first one of the year for me, so I guess they're starting to migrate back through. Each year, we seem to have a pair that nests in the crape myrtle in our front yard. I was lucky enough to get a frame of this tiny sparrow singing away.

Chipping Sparrow, Spizella passerina

Chipper in Full Voice
The views from the trail were scant and not very good as a rule and when the leaves get on the trees, there really won't be any views at all, so it is hard for me to recommend anyone going out of their way to come hike this trail. If you're in the area, of course, by all means hike it. But honestly, I'd rather walk the golf course: it's a lot more beautiful and you have a chance to see red and flying squirrels along the course. Alas, you'd need clubs in hand and have paid greens fees to do that.

Sleepy Creek Mountain from Trail
From time to time, we got glimpses of the wonderful Robert Trent Jones-designed golf course in the valley below. About fifteen years ago, this was my quasi-home course and I have played many a round here. It's a thoughtfully designed course with its share of quirks, including the vast double green shared by holes 4 and 8, the par 3 number 15 that is two clubs downhill and the site of my best par rescue ever, and the long par 5 number 18 that often plays straight into the wind, necessitating hitting a 2-iron off the tee rather than driver. Geese are a problem here and I actually hit one once with a drive on number 18.

Fifteenth Green?
Enough reminiscing and back to the hike. Climbing the steep hill in the heat really got to Annie. The heat really plays havoc with her health and I could see that her finishing the hike was seriously in question. By the time I pushed on ahead of her to see how far we were from a bailout trail back to the Lodge, I was pretty certain she couldn't climb any further and she even posted such to Facebook while I was gone. It turned out that we were only about 500 yards from the bailout trail with only 200 yards of climb left.

We debated, but ultimately, it was three-quarters of a mile shorter back to the car by finishing the climb rather than turning around. So, yeah, her day was definitely not going as planned and we were planning to execute the plan B bailout trail. Fortunately, clouds were starting to form in the sky and she got about 15 minutes of cloud cover that let her sit, rest, eat a little, get hydrated, and then push on with me to the top. I left my gear at the top and slack-packed it back to her and back to the top again.

A Great Place to Rest
Up at elevation, we saw a few more flowers than down below, but still, not many. My favorite of the day had to be the all blue Birdfoot Violet that reminded me of a Dwarf Crested Iris.

Dwarf Cinquefoil, Potentilla canadensis

Trailing Arbutus, Epigaea repens

Birdfoot Violet, Viola pedata

A Crested Iris-Like Birdfoot Violet, Viola pedata

Common Violets (Viola sororia)

Rue Anemone, Thalictrum thalictroides

Pussytoes in Pine Straw, Antennaria spp.
There is a bench at the intersection of the Ziler Loop Trail (the one we were hiking) and the Ziler Trail that bails out straight down the mountain. Our original plan was to finish the loop but with the overheating, we were looking at bailing down the Ziler Trail. But, sitting on the bench and looking at the topo map, bailing out would mean giving up 8-900 feet of elevation in a half a mile or so and that is wicked steep. Continuing on would mean a little longer walk, but more a more gentle descent (though it would prove to be steep in some sections). Having rested, eaten lunch, and cooled off, we decided not to bail out and to finish the loop as planned. My knees are thankful.

Down the hill, we started to lose the breeze and it was starting to get warm again. We needed to find water for Annie to cool off in and we quickly came to the reservoir and the creeks feeding into it.

The Reservoir at Cacapon
While I was shooting this photo, Ann asked, "Isn't that a goose over there?" meaning the very far right of the frame below. And sure enough, it was a goose sitting on her nest. The gander seemed uncharacteristically far away at the far end of the reservoir, but I imagine he could still get to the nest in a hurry if she were threatened in any way. If you have never had the pleasure of encountering a pissed off goose/gander protecting goslings, may you never have that particular pleasure.

Cattails and Pines

Eagle Eye Annie Spotted This Goose

Ecstatic to Have Found Water
Once our hike was over, I wanted to drive to the top of Cacapon Mountain to the overlook from which you can see Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and of course, West Virginia. The road is gated in the winter, keeping vehicles from making the nearly 5-mile drive to the top. However, we found out from a couple in the parking lot that the gate had been unlocked since the first of April and we were in luck. This is one part of our day that didn't involve plan B (driving up to Panorama Peak would have been plan B). The view, by mid-afternoon with it mostly cloudy and spitting rain drops, wasn't as fabulous as it could have been, but how many other times and places can you stand in a single location and view four states?

Sleepy Creek Mountain

Sign Shows the Four States in View
From the park, we drove north to Berkeley Springs to have a post-hike beer at Berkeley Springs Brewing, but we found them dark, in spite of wording on their web site that lead us to believe that they were indeed open on Easter Sunday. Plan B, once again. We headed back to Winchester to have nachos, share a burger, and try some beers at 50/50 Taphouse. The nachos sucked so never again for us, but the Gouda burger was one of the best we've had there.

Ann is still branching out trying to discover what she likes in beer. I had two pints of Blue Mountain (Afton, VA) A Hopwork Orange, an orange-infused IPA. Ann had two different beers: Derrig the Giant, an Irish red ale from Chaos Mountain Brewing in Callaway, VA, and a Scotch ale from Brothers Brewing in Harrisonburg, VA. I'm not a fan of big malty beers, but Annie sure seems to like them.

Annie Goofing with the Nachos
And there you have the tale of our Easter Sunday that didn't go as planned but was still a great day. Any day on the trail is a great day!

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