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Sleepy Creek WMA: A 9.4 Mile Circuit Hike Including the Tuscarora Trail

Bear Track on the Tuscarora Trail near High Rock

Bear Track on the Tuscarora Trail near High Rock

Tempting as they usually are, our usual haunts really aren’t all that tempting on a holiday weekend.  Granted, I’m relatively sure the Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area was pretty crowded in the vicinity of the lake, but a 9.4 mile circuit that I’ve been wanting to hike near the southern end of the WMA turned out to be a great (and quiet) alternative to fighting crowds in most places.

Great Eastern Trail sign and Tuscarora Trail blue blaze

Great Eastern Trail sign and Tuscarora Trail blue blaze

This hike had a familiar starting point, as I parked on the Hampshire Grade Road across from the Beacon Hill trail head.  From there, Candee and I walked 1.5 miles (on Beacon Hill/Tuscarora) that we’d seen in 2014 before turning left on a forest service road toward Pee Wee Point.  We stayed on the road (Pee Wee Point Trail) for about a mile before taking an abrupt right onto a poorly marked connector trail (.8 miles in length) that displayed one very lonely red blaze on the way to the bottom of the mountain.  The connector proved to be very difficult to follow, but our directions assured us that everything would be okay as long as we kept heading downhill.

Passing a wild turkey habitat area on the next forest service road

Passing a wild turkey habitat area on the next forest service road

The next stage consisted of another mile on a forest service road, as we passed a wildlife clearing before taking a right in the middle of a second clearing onto the white-blazed High Rock Trail.  This trail hosted our hike between the 4.2 and 5.1 mile marks, and after crossing a nearly dry Brush Creek, we headed up a steep hill to majestic High Rock and a sharp right onto the Tuscarora Trail.

Crossing Brush Creek, which was pretty easy  during the dry season

Crossing Brush Creek, which was pretty easy during the dry season

For the next two miles, the blue-blazed Tuscarora Trail follows a pair of forest roads, the second of which is a sharp right (leading to Pee Wee Point) that closes the circuit portion of the hike.  At that point, a left turn reunited us with the Beacon Hill/Tuscarora Trail and a 1.5 mile up-and-down back to our roadside parking.

An imaginative blaze on the High Rock Trail

An imaginative blaze on the High Rock Trail

There were a few highlights on the 9.4 mile circuit (with an elevation gain of 1700′).  The first, as mentioned, is a solid, uphill workout on the High Rock Trail.  This was followed by numerous bear signs along the Tuscarora Trail heading away (north) from High Rock.  We met the only two hikers of the day at about the 6.5 mile mark, and as we heard them talking on the ridge above us, a large animal thundered through the woods on our left.  Was it a bear (or possibly bears, as there appeared to be a mother with at least one cub in the area)?  That’s difficult to say, but it’s a definite possibility.

From this vantage point, High Rock Trail drops off to the left and the Tuscarora Trail continues straight  along the ridge

From this vantage point, High Rock Trail drops off to the left and the Tuscarora Trail continues straight along the ridge.  We, however, were heading in the opposite direction.

The Tuscarora Trail and the trails that branch off of it are well-maintained but less crowded than most of our area’s other options.  The Tuscarora itself was created as an alternative route for the Appalachian Trail, and like the AT, it has many rugged stretches.  Unlike the AT, the Tuscarora isn’t a household word, and we were thankful for that over the holiday weekend.

A partial view of High Rock at the 5.1 mile mark.

A partial view of High Rock at the 5.1 mile mark.

A Walk in the Woods (Yeah, now we’re doing movie reviews)

AT symbol in Maryland

AT symbol in Maryland

Tom’s Review:

In spite of mixed reviews, Candee and I couldn’t wait to see A Walk in the Woods, and not surprisingly, our own reviews are mixed.  I have several minor gripes regarding the movie, and I’ll start by saying that much of it was filmed in Georgia, so a lot of the trail’s diversity was lost in translation.  I could go on and on, so that’s exactly what I’m going to do!  Why do Bryson and Katz have hiking poles strapped on their backpacks that they never use?  If the movie is 104 minutes long, why did it take a good half-hour to get the characters on the trail?  What species were those two behemoths that were used in the bear scene?  Even as a weekend dayhiker, I was left groaning on more than one occasion.

However…

How can you not like a movie about two goofballs floundering their way north on the Appalachian Trail?  In spite of a few “slightly” annoying moments, I think Nick Nolte’s comic relief works pretty well throughout, and Robert Redford is okay as the straight man.  In spite of all of the hijinx, my favorite scene occurs as Bryson and Katz are talking about being unhappy on the trail, but then they suddenly crest a mountain and are left speechless by the view.  Is there anybody out there who has ever taken a walk in the woods who hasn’t had a similar experience?  I think that moment in the film captured why we torture ourselves every Sunday in the first place.

Appalachian Trail officials think that the movie will inspire record numbers of people to take on the thru-hiking challenge.  I really don’t think it’s that kind of movie, but you never know.  In all, I was entertained throughout and would give the film a solid 8/10.  Candee’s rating is considerably lower, and I hope she logs on at some point and says why.  Maybe we were seeing two different things.  If you’ve seen the movie or plan on seeing it, please weigh in.  The reviews are mixed, and that alone should give rise to some lively debate.

Candee’s Review:

I am SO disappointed! We went to see the movie, ‘A Walk in the Woods’ tonight and I didn’t like it…at all! Based on the book by Bill Bryson, of the same title, it tells the story of two, middle-aged, out-of-shape men who rekindle their friendship while hiking the Appalachian Trail. If I’m completely honest, I didn’t really like the book either, but I thought the hiking scenes would win me over. Nope. It didn’t happen!

Robert Redford played Bryson and Nick Nolte played his bumbling, womanizing friend, Katz. I can’t believe that I’m actually going to write this, but I don’t think Robert Redford’s acting was all that great. In fact, he was quite dull and boring–maybe that was the point, but then that doesn’t say much for Bryson’s personality! (Ouch!) Redford is 79 years old and he was playing someone who was supposed to be in his mid-forties. The willing suspension of disbelief can only be pushed so far!

Unlike the movies, ‘The Way’ and ‘Wild’, where the cinematography leaves the viewer in awe of the scenery, this movie had very few sweeping landscape shots, instead favoring “underwhelming’ tree-lined trails. Although I’ve hiked on several small portions of the A.T. (Which I’ve loved), I didn’t leave the movie with the feeling that I HAD to hike it. (Although I already want to!). I did however, feel that way after watching the movies that I mentioned above.

I very unhappily give it a grade of C-. I really wanted to like this movie…but it fell short…very short! Thank goodness for Nick Nolte! He did add a few laughs!

Knob Mountain Summit: Out-and-Back in Shenandoah National Park

Entering the northern end of Shenandoah National Park

Entering the northern end of Shenandoah National Park

There are times when thinking does little more than make my brain hurt, and finding an interesting circuit hike just isn’t worth the trouble.  Today was one of those days.  In prior trips to Shenandoah National Park, I had enjoyed walking on the Knob Mountain Trail (as part of the Elkwallow Circuit), and going a couple of miles further on this path just seemed like a really good idea.

One end of the trail is reached by following a service road downhill for .7 miles from the Matthews Arm hiker parking area.  From there, it’s approximately 4 miles out to the summit, making for a 9.4 mile round trip.  Beside the simplicity of a straight out-and-back, there was also the fact that we had seen eight bears between Matthews Arm and the junction of the Knob Mountain and Knob Mountain Cutoff Trails on previous trips to the park.

Hanging a left from the service road onto Knob Mountain Trail

Hanging a left from the service road onto Knob Mountain Trail

The hike got off to a promising start:  about a mile in, we heard a loud rustling off to the right, and by the time we had walked another half-mile, we caught sight of bear in the shadows on the left side of the trail.  The bear’s ears went straight up, and it stared at us for at least fifteen seconds before bolting down the hill.  Things looked extremely promising!

Little did we know, but that would be the only bear sighting of the day, even though the 2.2 miles heading to the top of the mountain produced several piles of scat.  The ascent to our turnaround point seemed to be pretty gradual, and it wasn’t until heading back that the extent of our climb revealed itself.  At the end of the day, we had accomplished a respectable 1200′ of elevation gain.

On the Knob Mountain Trail, which proved to be a hopspot for seeing black bears in SNP

On the Knob Mountain Trail, which proved to be a hotspot for seeing black bears in SNP

It’s hard to be disappointed with any hike that produces a bear sighting, but I was expecting to see a few more.  Nevertheless, seeing 13 bears in the month of August was the thrill of a lifetime.  August is supposed to be the best month for spotting bears in Shenandoah National Park, but I can’t imagine that September and October aren’t pretty good as well.  Hopefully, that will be the case.  I’m getting greedy and want to see more!

The yellow-blazed Knob Mountain Trail

The yellow-blazed Knob Mountain Trail

 

 

My Favorite Tree–a Gift From My Student

Sometimes it’s the little things in life that catch you off guard and mean the most–a smile, a wave, a kind gesture from a stranger. Recently, I received a gift from one of my students. It was the kind of gift that doesn’t have a price tag, but yet, is extremely valuable.

I’m an Academic Coach and I have been working with a 3rd grade class on writing instruction.  To encourage word choice and emotion in writing, I often share stories about myself, including funny stories from my childhood, as well as my hobbies and interests now that I’m an adult.  Hiking, happens to be one of my passions, and you can find me out on the local trails almost every weekend, so I tend them to tell them lots of “when I was out in the woods” stories.   My friend Tom and I volunteer for the C&O Canal Association and we pick up trash on Level 52 of the C&O Canal.  We have walked this stretch of the trail more times than I can count, and I fell in love with a particular tree that I started calling, “My favorite tree.”

My Favorite Tree on the C&O Canal Happens to be on Our Level, Level 52!

My Favorite Tree on the C&O Canal Happens to be on Our Level, Level 52!

 

In a conversation about nature and hiking, I told my students about my tree, and how I lost it in a particularly bad storm a few years ago.  I shared the sad emotions I felt after I realized that my giant sycamore was no longer standing.

It was just a simple story, at least that’s what I thought, to illustrate whatever point I was making that day.   A few weeks later, one of my students wrote a letter to me which said something like,  “I wrote a Haiku poem for you.  Can you guess what it is about?”

 

A hard storm will come

It can knock over a tree

And then you are sad

Can I guess what it’s about?  It’s about my tree!  I could hardly believe my eyes! He had only briefly heard about my tree, and he hadn’t even seen a picture of it, yet it had inspired him. I brought in my special art supplies and I invited him to have lunch with me.  We talked and enjoyed ourselves as he created the art work to match his words.  I’m so lucky to be a teacher!

IMAG3574

This picture gives you a good idea of how big the tree was....I'm standing inside the trunk!

This picture gives you a good idea of how big the tree was….I’m standing inside the trunk!

Check out the Original Posts:
My Favorite Tree: Part I (Still Standing)
My Favorite Tree: Part II  (After it Fell)


Cacapon Mountain Overlook (Cacapon Resort State Park)

First things first: going to the lodge to get a map

First things first: going to the lodge to get a map

We’ve been interested in taking a hike in Cacapon Resort State Park for a while.  For starters, it’s a short drive from Martinsburg, and it also has twenty miles of trails–including the Ziler Loop/Central Trail combination.  It’s regarded as a fairly difficult walk on the side of a mountain, and there is plenty of elevation gain.  In all, a trip to Cacapon sounded like the perfect way to shake off the winter blues and get our respective acts together.  We have a number of difficult hikes in the planning stage this year, and this looked like a great place to get the ball rolling.  Well, maybe.

Upper Lake, Cacapon Resort State Park

Upper Lake, Cacapon Resort State Park

Okay, so we had the map and devised a plan to catch the lower end of the loop on the other side of the upper lake.  However, the first thing we saw after parking could best be described as a “leaf devil,” which is basically a mass of swirling leaves spinning in a circle in a strong gust of wind.  Strong is actually putting it mildly: the weather report called for a constant 20 mph wind with gusts up to 50.  Sometimes I’m a slow learner, but when the howling wind blew the map out of the Jeep and deposited it in a ditch 100 yards away, Candee’s advice to devise a Plan B made sense.  Today wasn’t a great day to be traipsing around on the side of a mountain on a narrow path.

Heading up the mountain

Heading up the mountain

After driving around the park for a while, we parked the car near the tennis courts and took a closer look at our now bedraggled map.  We noticed that the Cacapon Mountain Overlook was about five miles up the road, and a couple of gates in between were locked for the season.  I’m not fond of walking on roads, but it seemed like a safer alternative to hitting the trails.  Besides, even this wasn’t going to be an easy walk: there’s an elevation gain of roughly 1450′ from the bottom of the park to the top, and after several recent trips to the much flatter C&O Canal and Antietam, it was going to be quite a workout.

Cacapon Mountain Lookout descriptive sign

Cacapon Mountain Lookout descriptive sign

Actually, the road is pretty relentless!  We haven’t had a constant ascent like this one since the Mountain Bike Loop in Green Ridge State Forest.  Even the AT’s Roller Coaster has its share of downs to offset the ups.  Nevertheless, the mountain shielded us from the howling wind until we reached the highest point on the road, which is just beyond a pair of cellphone towers.  From there, the wind howled ferociously, and it was kind of frightening before reaching the open area near the overlook.

Cacapon Mountain Overlook, side view

Cacapon Mountain Overlook, side view

The overlook itself is one of the best we’ve seen in recent memory.  We agreed that only the “Paris View” in Sky Meadows State Park may be a little bit better.  Cacapon Mountain (at 2400′ above sea level) is the highest point in West Virginia’s eastern panhandle, and the overlook (2285′) offers a view that takes in four states (West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania).  During the warm season, it’s an easy drive to the top of the mountain, but the view was certainly worth the walk.  Nevertheless, I’m hoping that next Sunday will be less windy.  If it is, I think a return trip to Cacapon to check out the real hiking trails is in order.

Cacapon Mountain Overlook

Cacapon Mountain Overlook