Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Shenandoah River State Park, Bentonville VA

We did another plan B hike on Sunday for our 12th hike of the year. We had to get a relatively quick hike in before attending the spring barrel tasting at Glen Manor Vineyards, so we intended to hike Big Devils Stairs in Shenandoah National Park beforehand. We tried this hike back in the fall before another event at Glen Manor only to encounter a busload of seniors with the same idea. Sunday, as we approached the entrance to Skyline Drive, we saw that the park rangers had it closed for a bicycle event. Who knew? What are the odds?

Big Devils Stairs is the closest hike to Glen Manor which is why we keep trying to do it before Glen Manor events. It's also a short hike, leaving us plenty of time for the event. It is apparently not to be. Our first stab at a plan B was to drive past Glen Manor into Browntown and try to find the Browntown trailhead so clearly marked on our NGS Appalachian Trail map. The Browntown Trail intersects the AT at Gravel Springs Gap right where the Big Devils Stairs hike commences. We could walk into the park and continue on our hike, if we could just find the trailhead. Despite spending a half an hour searching, we could not find it. If we had just had some cell signal, we could have found GPS coordinates and put them in the Garmin. No luck. No service.

On the side of the road, we evaluated other options and discarded each in favor of a return visit to Andy Guest State Park over on the Shenandoah River. Twenty minutes and one wrong turn later, we pulled up to the entrance gate, paid our fee, and got a trail map. Having been here before, I knew just where to go for a shortish hike of 7 miles.

Shenandoah River State Park: Hike 12
Before getting into the hike proper, I thought I'd throw in this quick snap of one of the robins from our yard. They, a pair of mockingbirds, and a pair of doves are nesting simultaneously at three corners of our pergola. The tomato cages just outside our sunroom window make great perches for the robins as they spy out bugs to eat. This robin entertained us while we packed and coffeed up for our hike.

Coffee with Robins
Our hike went thus: we started at the horse barn, walked Bear Bottom Loop to Big Oak Trail to the start of the Redtail Ridge Trail where we spent a few minutes at the observation point overlooking the river. Then along the ridge on the Redtail Ridge Trail to the Shale Barrens Trail which descends the bluff and dumps out on the gravel road named Culler's Trail. We followed that left to the start of the River Trail which we then followed right and back downstream and around the big bend before rejoining Culler's Trail and following that back to the horse barn where we parked.

Bear Bottom Loop starts in dry upland woods and then gets a bit darker and moister as it winds in and out of creek bottoms. There were no wildflowers to speak of until we got to the damper places and then the trailsides were littered with woodland flowers.

Annie Checking Out a Dogwood

Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida

Trails are Well-Marked

Wild Pink, Silene caroliniana

Star Chickweed, Stellaria pubera

New Fern Growth Unfurling
What looks like a fruit tree (Prunus) and kind of blooms like a Viburnum with waxy 5-petaled blooms? I now know that this very handsome shrub is a Black Haw, a Viburnum.

Black Haw, Viburnum prunifolium
Soon after we started hiking, we came upon an orange and white marker on the trail. No stranger to orienteering, I thought that there was perhaps some kind of orienteering contest happening. A mile or so down the trail, we saw and heard a bunch of people who told us that they were doing an adventure race, hiking/running, canoeing, and biking. We found six of their markers during our trek, but fortunately for our serenity, sometime after 11am, the competitors had moved on from our section of the woods. The last marker we encountered was at the observation point on the Redtail Ridge Trail as we stopped to eat a banana and take in the river vista.

Adventure Race Marker at Observation Point

Shenandoah River Panorama
The observation point is a shale outcropping atop the bluffs overlooking the river. The trees are thin, the locale is much more sunny, and the soil is dry, creating a microclimate for wildflowers dissimilar from all the other microclimates in the park. The buttercups aside, we saw the following flowers only on the shale barrens. And as for the buttercups, I think there are something on the order of 600 species and I am not going to even try to take a stab at which this is. Ours at home in the back yard just started blooming this week and I noticed that Ann had picked herself a bouquet and put them in a vase on the counter.

A Buttercup, Ranunculus spp.

Black Raspberry, Rubus occidentalis
Up on the observation point where the soil is very dry, the ground was covered in blooming penstemons, spiderworts, buttercups, and ragworts.

Gray Beard-tongue, Penstemon canescens

Virginia Spiderwort, Tradescantia virginiana
This is the very same Prickly-pear that I photographed back in July. You know the ground is pretty dry when you find these cacti. Compare the photo with that in July.

Eastern Prickly-pear, Opuntia humifusa
In my post last week, I mentioned that ragworts like to have wet feet. So here I am today eating crow with a photo of a ragwort growing happily on a shale barren in a sunny, dry location. My experience with ragworts until Sunday was that they grew on stream banks. The Shale-barren Ragwort is here to make me look a fool.

Shale-barren Ragwort, Packera antennariifolia
From the ridge above the river, we walked the aptly named Shale Barrens trail down to the sunny flats beside the river where the flora is entirely different from up in the woods.

Common Star-of-Bethlehem, Ornithogalum umbellatum

Juvenal's Duskywing, Erynnis juvenalis on Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata

Dame's Rocket, Hesperis matronalis
Quite sadly, we came upon a dead weasel along the river. I have seen far too few of these voracious predators (and other mustelids) in my life. Even dead, this guy is amazingly beautiful. Quite sad that it is dead.

Long-tailed Weasel, Mustela frenata noveboracensis
While we were looking for Red-headed Woodpeckers (of which we saw a few, but none in close enough range to photograph), Ann heard this Eastern Kingbird call. I expect to see them further downstream as the trail moves into the fields, rather than riverside, but riverside they were.

Eastern Kingbird, Tyrannus tyrannus
This Red-winged Blackbird. Would. Not. Shut. Up. Nor would any of the dozens of others building nests down in the grasses and weeds alongside the river, but this one in particular kept circling and yapping at us. He never would give us the full throttle demo of his red epaulets, though.

Red-winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus

Celandine Poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum

Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica

Dame's Rocket on the Shenandoah

Beautiful Composition

Floodplain Along the Shenandoah
As we walked further back toward the car, we came across a place where clearly people lived before. The non-native escaped flowers include paperwhite narcissus, Vinca minor, Ajuga reptans (an invasive pain in the butt as far as I am concerned), and an unloved wisteria.

Escaped Narcissus

Escaped Ajuga reptans and Vinca minor

Escaped Wisteria
Further on, the road/trail is lined with fences, cedars, and birdhouses. Although I imagine the houses were set out for bluebirds, the swallows have claimed them. We did see a female bluebird sitting on an owl box a bit later on, but none in this half-mile stretch of nesting boxes. Just about every other fencepost was topped with a swallow as you see in the photo below.

Great Swallow Habitat

Resplendent Tree Swallows, Tachycineta bicolor

The Massanuttens Across the River
Taking leave of the floodplain, we climbed up through the woods back to the car, passing through some dry woods where I finally found a rattlesnake weed in full bloom and in enough sun to photograph. This is a flower that eluded my camera all last summer. Elusive today were pink wood sorrels: I saw them infrequently, but none of the blooms were open yet.

Rattlesnake Weed, Hieracium venosum
Just as we popped out of the woods, an Eastern Phoebe made a fleeting appearance on a branch above the trail. I really like these quiet little flycatchers.

Eastern Phoebe, Sayornis phoebe
We finished our hike around 2pm and headed to Glen Manor for our 3pm tasting, winding along Bentonville and Browntown roads, arriving about 2:25. We both got glasses of the fantastic 2016 Sauvignon Blanc and settled into the two armchairs to wait for our cellar tasting.

Relaxing at Glen Manor
Down in the cellar we tasted two wines at each of three stations, each wine paired with a bite of food. The first station featured two distinct barrels of Merlot and the second two, two barrels each of Cabernet Sauvignon. Each pair of barrels was different only by the yeast used in fermentation. One barrel was fermented with commercial yeast and the other was a natural fermentation of the yeasts on the grape skins and floating about the winery. It was a great opportunity to taste the difference yeast makes on a wine.

Tasting in the Cellar with Jeff
For the food pairings, I did three and David Gedney of Apartment 2G in Front Royal did three. The two below, I did for the Merlot: a smoked mushroom pâté with pickled blueberries for the naturally fermented wine and chicken rillettes with blueberry compote for the wine fermented with commercial yeast.

Smoked Mushroom Pate; Chicken Rillettes

After our tasting, the winery cleared out very quickly, letting them close at their posted 5pm closing time. When does that ever happen? Our friend Karen and her friend Linda did the tasting before us and met us upstairs afterwards and Kelly introduced us to Leo and Ann, B&B owners from Berkeley Springs where we hiked last weekend. I'm a little hazy on how it all came together, but we all ended up at Pavemint in Front Royal for burgers and beer before heading home.

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