I love a day like today - taken off guard by how you think things will be, vice how they turn out.
I awoke this morning expecting a bitter cold day, with plenty of mud from the recent rains. I wasn't totally off the mark, as when I took Riley for a walk this morning, ice made for slippery footing along the wooden planks leading towards Government Island, and we bypassed an area or two due to muddy terrain.
But, whereas Riley had to settle for a 1.5 mile hike this morning, I wanted to get out for an 8-12 miler; too much for a well-loved, seven year old Golden Retriever, who's top end these days is 4-5 miles.
I knew where I wanted to go. As I wind down my "Fifty Hikes", I had to go close out Prince William Forest Park. You see, while the park is very small compared to any other National Park (just 37 miles of hiking trails), I have hiked Prince William in the cold and barren weather of Winter, watched new life blossom and grow with Spring, hiked it's shade and cool streams in the heat of Summer, and saw it's color of Autumn. I was back one last time, to hike one last section I had missed.
I stopped in the Visitor Center, as I wanted to hike a loop vice an "out and back". The Ranger pointed out two loops, one 9.3 miles, the other just over 10. I chose the latter of the two.
The loop started at the Oak Ridge Campground and would bring me back along the most westerly portion of the South Valley Trail. For the first time, I would see some of the damage and re-growth from a fire that burned 318 acres in 2006.
The sun was beautiful and it made for spectacular views. Temps reaching near 50 made for excellent hiking weather. I have come to realize that whatever the weather, it's always perfect for the hike that day. When I have hiked in cold - it was perfect! In heat, rain, snow, fog - always perfect for the hike that day!
The hike started on Oak Ridge Trail. A cemetery, and wooded trails to get things started.
Oak Ridge Trail transitioned to Old Blacktop, which was plenty wide, with a few runners and bike riders. From there it was to a narrower Taylor Farm trail, and on to South Valley.
I have hiked South Valley before and it is one of my favorites. I enjoy the views of the South Fork of Quantico creek, particularly with the bright sunshine shining through.
As I looped back up toward the campground, 10+ miles under my boots, I entered the area where the forest fire had occurred 6.5 years earlier. Few remnants remain, though the forest is noticeably thinner, with some blackened and burned trees and stumps remaining.
Some of the new growth comes in the form of loblolly pines. With the Holiday's around the corner, it seemed the perfect time of year for them to show their bright green colors in the sun.