Chasing Waterfalls

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Hiking is so much better without the crowds…

…and when running water is involved.

A recent Shenandoah hike, Whiteoak Canyon, was the perfect trail to start the New Year. No resolution needed, simply a desire to get outside and check out some nearby wilderness that I hadn’t experienced during my previous foray into the park.

I pulled off the Blueridge Parkway and set out into the crisp winter air. This particular trail followed the Robinson River the whole way, ending at the top of a series of waterfalls. I admired the flowing water that cascaded beside me, tumbling over rocks, under fallen logs, and around natural curvatures in the land. When I stopped to regard the landscape, a tiny field mouse crept right up to my hiking boot, sniffing the air. No “stranger-danger” alarms must have gone off in his little mouse-brain; he proceeded to munch on fallen seeds, ignoring my presence while bustling around. I felt like a Disney princess.

 

 

Continuing on, the river began to gain in both speed and volume. My knees weren’t used to the downward tilt of the land, and I was reminded of how long it had been since I’d done any mildly strenuous hike. Too long, I decided.

Downward I went, stopping at one point to creep out onto a rock that made me feel like I was in the middle of the rushing river. The surrounding mountains formed a chute, ready to careen me forward to be launched into the air. I noticed Old Rag Mountain off in the distance, a steady presence on the eastern Shenandoah landscape.

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Serenity now

Then I saw the waterfall.

It wasn’t the most awe-inspiring one I had ever seen, but it was still gorgeous. I noted the way the water flowed in and around. All waterfalls are special in their own way, unique in how the H20 molecules fall alongside of rock, dirt, and organic debris – shaped by the landscape but also shaping it. This particular one looked like a water slide, which I briefly considered attempting. Nope. Frigid water and bruises wouldn’t be worth it.

At this point, the trail continued down for many more miles, so I had a quick snack before turning around to come back up. Then, just for fun, I decided to walk down a couple more yards to see what else was around. Little did I know that I almost completely missed the fantastic viewpoint! I was so caught up in my little patch of earth near the falls, that I failed to recognize that I was only partway down the flow of water. Perhaps I was too content to settle for a sub-par experiences. With a teensy bit more effort on my part, there was much more to see.

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The actual waterfall viewpoint. Hard to put into perspective, but it’s sizable.

I feel like there’s a life lesson in here somewhere.

The hike back up was was peaceful. I let my mind wander and relished the crunch of the rocks under my hiking boots, the sound of birds floating through the trees. Two red-tail hawks swooped in close and I was caught off guard for a glorious moment. At the end, I savored the keen sense of satisfaction I felt upon completing this 5 mile hike.

I got in my car, drove a mile down the road, and did another one – just for fun. 🙂

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Hawskbill Summit (hike #2 of the day)
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Billy Goat

The crowds of people were easy to maneuver: a hop here, a jump here. I skittered across the rocky portions of the trail, surefooted like its namesake. Those whom I jauntily passed by were scrambling slowly and uneasily through simple sections of uneven rock. One lady had a mild panic attack; I coached her through a slick section of rock amidst her protests and cries of despair. While I was helping her move sluggishly along, the trail built up quite a bottle-neck. A round of applause greeted the poor lady when she finally made it through, those in the crowd cheering their own eventual headway rather than a stranger’s actual progress.

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On my way to the Great Falls overlook

I had managed my expectations before setting out to the Maryland side of Great Falls to hike Section A of the Billy Goat trail. And rightly so – one of the most popular hikes in the Northern Virginia area can take hours to complete due to the hoards of well-meaning individuals who underestimate their own abilities. Given the immaculate fall weather, it was worth it. Solid hiking boots allowed me to trek around the crowds on the path less-traveled when necessary.

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Soaking up some sun

There were numerous overlooks, all of them involving moving water. The cascading Potomac made me think of my hikes in the Smokies. The trail portion along the canal was reminiscent of my time biking the towpath in Cuyahogo Valley National Park. And the general autumn weather? Definitely à la Tetons. With that being said, Great Falls and the Billy Goat trail had its own special feel. The leisurely views filled me with a warm-fuzzy feeling, the intense sunlight adding to the overall effect. I breathed deeply, soaking up this natural place and relishing the feeling of being outside.

Yes, there was lots of chatter I overheard.

Yes, there were people who didn’t follow proper trail etiquette.

But this view definitely made it worth it.

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Rocky Mountain Moments

My rather impromptu Colorado visit landed me in Rocky Mountain National Park once again, a few days shy from a year after my first go-round. Back then, I trod eagerly through many sections of the park, exploring multiple lakes, ecosystems, and wildlife via a wide variety of hiking trails. As I once again stood within the alpine climate – 12,000 feet above sea level – I took deep breaths and let the happy memories of the previous year rush in.

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Two cuties in the Rockies (Kate and I)

Heading down the east side of the mountain range, my friend and I had one main agenda: hike trails with water. This turned out to be a rather easy goal, since so many streams, rivers, and waterfalls undulate throughout the park.

Day 1 was a hefty 8-mile hike to Fern Lake, passing by some gorgeous cascading rivers and a not-too-shabby waterfall on the way.

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Pretty and peaceful Fern Lake

Day 2, after more camping, boasted one of the best waterfalls in the park: Ouzel Falls. While only 5 miles round-trip, my poor feet were screaming to be let out of my hiking boots. A lazy summer in flip-flops had apparently spoiled them to laborious trekking.

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Ouzel Falls

While my life has taken on a rather consistent rhythm now that I’m back home and off the road, I appreciate the fact that I can still have miniature adventures in the outdoors. Life’s too short to stay indoors. 🙂

“A pilgrim is a wanderer with a purpose.” – Peace Pilgrim

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Chattanooga Choo Choo

Note: this post has absolutely nothing to do with trains – I simply wasn’t able to get the song out of my head whilst traipsing about the city.
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The view from Coolidge Park

I couldn’t resist a 2-hour drive from Knoxville to check out this hip little city. Chattanooga boasts some of the most gorgeous city parks, trendy boutiques, quaint diners, and accessible outdoor activities. From arrival to departure, Chatt Town didn’t disappoint, particularly with its fresh energy and eclectic gatherings.

On the edge of Lookout Mountain, I spent some time in a state park hiking. It was quite pleasant descending into the gorge and seeing smatterings of boulders as I made my way to a couple of waterfalls. The geology was incredible, making me wonder why exactly Earth looks like it does.

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The human is for scale

Well done, Chattanooga. Let’s meet again!

Running Water

No, I’m not talking about that convenient spigot full of fluoride-infused water that most Americans take for granted – I’m talking about rivers, streams, runs, brooks, creaks, and “cricks”. Great Smoky National Park is full of running water, flowing rapidly (yet sometimes leisurely) from the mountain crests.

I’ve been pretty spoiled to be able to hike along numerous streams, observe waterfalls, and even camp next to a river. The sound alone of cascading water is enough to make you feel like everything is all right in the world. I have come to the conclusion that running water is crucial, both to the various ecosystems dependent on its flow and to my own well-being.

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The picture doesn’t do it justice!