July 17, 2012 [LINK / comment]
On Saturday, Jacqueline and I went for a quite rigorous hike in the St. Mary's Wilderness, about 15 miles southeast of Staunton. We had been there only once before, and that was before the area was devastated by Hurricane Isabel in September 2003, making it all but inaccessible. This time, ironically, there was also quite a bit of damage in the wake of the freak "derecho" wind storm which we endured at the end of June. (About twenty years ago I went backpack-camping in the upstream portion of St. Mary's Wilderness, with my brother John and then-roommate Mark.)
The trail head is a little hard to find, but there were already several cars in the small parking area, evidence that it is a popular recreation spot for folks in this area. The St. Mary's River passes through a steep forested canyon, with plenty of shade and a few scenic views, as seen in the montage below. What makes it difficult are the frequent river crossing and large rocky areas, requiring careful steps and sturdy hiking boots. As we began, it was cloudy, but later on the skies turned clear blue, just perfect for taking photos. Jacqueline and I finally reached our destination, the St. Mary's Falls, where we encountered a dozen or so youths (and a few dogs) cooling off in the river. After resting and munching on snacks, we headed back. We covered about four miles altogether, I estimate. There were hardly any birds that day, but we did see a swimming reptile that I later identified as a Northern Water Snake. It's a non-venomous species, but it can be aggressive and does bite. To my surprise, there were hardly any mushrooms either, but the scenery made it a very rewarding day in the great outdoors.
More photos from that hike, and one of the track side of the Staunton train station, are on the Summer 2012 photo gallery page.