Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Spring in the Shenandoahs


Dark Hollow Falls
One of my favorite National Parks is the Shenandoah National Park.  It is within a day’s drive from home along the Skyline Drive, one of the most scenic drives anywhere in the East.  The Drive offers access to many trail heads which lead down into hollows where high gradient mountain streams offer home to a southern strain of eastern brook trout.  When I first visited the park last spring, I fell in love with this rugged Appalachian landscape.  Here the forest is filled with deciduous trees rather than the hemlock and pine of more northern forests but the brook trout native to these waters are strikingly beautiful but distinct from their northern cousins.

My daughter and I started dreaming of and planning for a camping trip together in these mountains since last fall and this spring we were able work out our schedules to make it a reality.   The plan was for me to arrive in the park for a couple days of fishing and camping on my own before joining her for a couple days of camping and hiking together.  


I arrived on my first day in the park around mid afternoon.  The day was clear and a bit on the cool side (mid 50’s) with just enough time for a quick descent on the Rose River trail to fish the plunges back up to the trail headOn the descent down the trail the air was filled with what appeared to be small olive spinners, although I didn’t notice any rises.  I chose to start with my "go-to" rig for this type of water,  a Royal Wulff/green caddis pupa dry-dropper combination.  The Royal Wulff was getting most of the attention so I removed the dropper and just fished the dry.  You better be ready and on your game if you want your hook-up rate to be north of 50% because these fish are lighting quick.  The trip back up the trail was one I won't soon forget, as the low sun light filtered down through the hollow filling the air with a golden glow while the forest floor was alive with the colors of wild geraniums, bluets, and golden ragwort.  


 
Golden ragwort



Around 4am next morning, I was awakened by the sound of a steady rain falling on the tent. The air was cool (mid 40's most of the day) and a thick fog had settled over the mountains.  Rather than cook out in the rain, I decided to have breakfast in the historic Big Meadows Lodge.  The Big Meadows Lodge is a wonderful, historic lodge that was built in 1939 from local Massanutten mountain stone and native wormy chestnut by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  After reading for a bit in the lodge’s great room, I was ready to get the rain gear on and get out and enjoy the almost dream-like landscape.


White Oak Canyon; the boulder is about 25' tall

I chose to hike down the White Oak Canyon trail and then fish back up to the trail head.  The fog was so thick that visibility out on the Skyline Drive was no more than about 50-75’.   As I hiked down the trail, I was keeping an eye on the water running parallel with the lower part of the trail looking for a stretch of water to start to fishing back up the canyon.  The trail down was wide and mostly free of slippery rocks which was a good choice considering the rain.  The stream was about 15 ft wide on average and the water up and slightly off-color.  This stream was a bit larger than some of the other Shenandoah streams I’ve fished and while I prefer to fish in hiking boots, wading would be an excellent option for this water.  I put on the dry dropper rig that I had used the previous day and ended up switching the caddis pupa for a bead-head pheasant tail soft hackle which accounted for fish as did the Royal Wulff.  This canyon is littered with massive oaks that have blown down, some of which have damned up the water creating some large pools.  A few white and pink trillium were still blooming along the trail.  I didn't fish for long but it was a pleasant few hours out in the rain and fog thanks to rain gear that kept me dry and warm.


White trillium



wild azalea
The last two days of our trip, my daughter and I devoted to hiking and taking pictures.  One our first full day together, the fog was still lingering on the Skyline Drive so we opted to hike the Rose River trail.  We thought that the air would be clear at a lower elevation and that proved to be the case.  I did fish a couple of interesting looking sections on the Rose briefly but we devoted the day to hiking.  During the afternoon the fog started to move out and by the time early evening arrived the weather was bright and clear but with enough moisture still in the air to offer the promise of a memorable the sunset over these beautiful mountains.  We packed our cameras and camp chairs in the car and set up at an overlook to watch the sun go down together and we weren't disappointed.

Rose River Falls

Our final day was clear so we hiked Upper Hawksbill in the morning, the tallest mountain in the park (elevation 4050’).  On the way up we saw some wild turkey and some deer among whom was a young buck with his velvety antlers nicely backlit by the early morning sun.  The deer didn’t seem too concerned with us and we were able to get quite close.  


View from Hawksbill
In the afternoon, we finished out our stay by hiking up Stoney Man (4010’) from which we enjoyed some nice views of the Skyline Drive stretching north across the mountains.  As we descended, we paused to listen to a rose-breasted grosbeak singing high in the trees.  We had a wonderful couple days in this gem of a national park and left thankful to have enjoyed it together.

Skyline Drive stretching north from  the summit of Stony Man

Sunset over the Shenandoah Mountains

18 comments:

  1. Mark
    Of all the mountains in the U.S. the Shenandoah area is my favorite hands down. My wife and I are planning a trip there in the fall; I will carry my 3 wt. for sure. Colorful brook, with some unforgettable scenery. Thanks for sharing

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bill- have a great trip in the fall, it's a lovely time of year in the park! My daughter and I are already thinking about a fall trip together

      Delete
  2. Mark great photos. I recognize the dark hollow falls...nice fishing there.
    You had some soggy weather but you made the best of it.
    Love that place.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Alan - it is a special place indeed!

      Delete
  3. Mark, that place looks like you could really forget about the rest of the world for awhile. Beautiful photos, especially that last one, looks like a postcard.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Brad - you are even closer, might be worth a trip sometime!

      Delete
  4. Mark!! Gorgeous photographs of the fish, wildlife and the entire area. Such a beautiful place. I visited there quite sometime ago in the fall, and the foliage is just incredible!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Pete. I would love to go in the fall, I'm sure it is beautiful

      Delete
  5. You have to love the way the sunset really does suggest a "Blue Ridge". Gorgeous part of the world. I've hiked there, mountain biked there, but never fished... I need to do that!
    Will

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Will - thanks one of my favorite pictures I took on this trip! If you ever get down there again, you won't be disappointed!

      Delete
  6. Absolutely beautiful, Mark. I appreciate seeing the pictures of your trip.

    Regards, Sam

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Sam - Glad you enjoyed the pictures, I love taking them

      Delete
  7. I hope that generations of people continue to enjoy our National Parks. Shenandoah National Park is beautiful and that sounds like such a great place to visit. Great report Mark and I hope we get to see some more.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Howard - I certainly agree with you. My duaghter's generation is learning to appreciate the value of our park system, so I am encouraged that this national resource will have it's advocates well into the future. I don't really have anything more to add in terms of writing but if people are interested in seeing more pictures, you can find an album on my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004621457875

      Delete
  8. Your picture of the mountains at sunset is spectacular. Great story as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thanks Scott - that's one of my favorites too!

      Delete
  9. I appreciate your taxonomy knowledge, regarding floura and fauna. And a couple of your photos celebrate the subtlety of this planet, too evanescent to ever quite be captured, but you've done a good job of it!

    ReplyDelete
  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete