National Park Access Free

2014 National Park "Free Entry" Dates!! January 20th Martin Luther King Jr. Day; February 15-17th Presidents Day weekend; April 19-20th opening weekend of National Park Week; August 25th National Park Service Birthday; September 27th National Public Lands Day; November 11th Veterans Day

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

#17 - Southern Hospitality - and the return to the green, green grass (er,...woods) of home!

I think I woke up before Denise Austin on this morning

When I was a runner, I would carry my running shoes everywhere I went. There was no choice but to get training runs in - and it actually turned out to be an excellent way to see a new location! I have run through Paris at dawn, Garmisch at dusk, and in many cities, suburbs, and rural areas in between. Traveling did not allow for me to be thrown off my training schedule.

My goal of hiking is similar. 50 hikes in 52 weeks does not allow for many weeks to be missed. While ideally, my hikes will be of 6-10 miles or more, in as many National Parks I can get to, there are going to be times where I pick up intensity in order to have the equivalent of a longer hike - or I'll hike urban, to see the sights of a new area.

This past week was a lot like this. While traveling and enjoying the Easter holiday with family and friends, I was still able to log 20 miles through parts of Charleston, Savannah, and here back home in Virginia.

Charleston afforded me two days of 5 miles each. Day 1 on Daniel Island; Day 2 in the downtown area. There are not many things more pleasant than covering ground in Charleston in the month of April! Try that in the July/August time-frame and it's a whole different story! Charleston is beautiful and you can cover block after block after block - never slowing down as you take it all in.


 After departing Charleston, we headed to Savannah, and an opportunity to get 4 miles in while we explored the city! Absolutely fabulous, with beautiful parks, and Spanish moss flowing from the trees! We then moved down along the river and covered the waterfront area - with huge container ships passing as we trekked along. We'll plan to do a more in-depth hike here again!

I'd be remiss if I didn't add Orlando, our destination after Savannah. This was down time. A chance to enjoy a few days with no real schedule or agenda. A day at the pool, a day at Epcot! A good down day.


Back home in Virginia, realizing all miles to that point had been asphalt, I headed out to see how Spring had arrived since my last trip into the forest. I was pleasantly surprised as I logged 6 miles along trails of green. Everything had changed from just two weeks prior - with the setting sun forcing me out before I was ready.

So, it was a full and busy week, though I was able to get the hikes in that I needed - and enjoyed all I had seen. I realize it is time to venture out again, and I look to move out to new frontiers in the weeks ahead!

Update: I'm happy to report my hiking partner was able to hike a number of these miles with me! She's following doctor's orders - as she's in it for the long haul :-)

We'll see you soon on the trails!


Sunday, April 13, 2014

#16 - Long Shadows - and Signs of Spring!

Evening Hike - Getting Started
Unfortunately, I'm unable to take off each weekend to the best National Parks our Country has to offer. It's time for Spring clean-up around the house and time to plant the fruits and vegetables that we will enjoy throughout the Summer. The good news is, that doesn't mean you can't get out for your hike! Actually, things can be so different every time you go. Yesterday was one of those times.

Getting up and hiking in the morning is my most favorite time to hike. However, waiting for the evening, when the shadows start to stretch, and the sunlight is a rich orange, you begin to notice different sights and sounds as the forest prepares for night.
At the Trail Head
Green ground cover - Ground Cedar
With all of the Cherry Trees and Dogwood's in bloom throughout the area, you would almost think someone forgot to inform the forest that Spring is here - as many of the trees are still bare. However, as I hiked along, I noticed the amount of Ground Cedar certainly seemed to be more dense, and some of the smaller trees and shrubs were beginning to show new green.

I picked the western end of the South Valley Trail to Hike, as it is an area I had never made it to before. I'm glad I selected this trail, as it was perfect for the long shadows I saw, and the symphony of frogs as I hiked along.

Western Edge - South Valley Trail

Western Edge - South Valley Trail

Western Edge - South Valley Trail
I saw a number of interesting wildlife and animal habitat along the way. The prize were two wild turkey's I came upon, and I just couldn't get my camera out in time before they were gone. Signs of beavers taking down trees, a wasp nest the size of a soccer ball (that I was thankful was not active), and a baby black snake were among the treasures for today.

Busy Beaver

Wasp Nest

Baby Black Snake

 Of course, there is always the creek, and wherever there's a creek there's Riley. She is happy Spring is here and that the water is not as cold.

Riley Swimming

We got 4 miles in, and while it wasn't a day long adventure, it was just what we needed for today. We made it back about 30 minutes before dark, as the forest and the creek were preparing for darkness. I found the hike to actually be more relaxing than strenuous. A good way to end a good day.

Keep hiking, friends...


Saturday, April 5, 2014

#15 - Occoquan Reservoir

Occoquan Reservoir - Bull Run Marina to Fountain Head
A beautiful Spring day at the Occoquan reservoir, and while I got a late start, I managed to explore a new trail that I really enjoyed! One word that defines this hike is "Hills!" My initial goal was to hike 12.6 miles, but due to my late start, I settled for eight very interesting, very hilly, miles.

It is always a pleasant surprise to hike a new trail, and happen upon the various landscape and landmarks along the way. One of the surprises today was the number of creek and stream crossings I came across. I was expecting more trail along the reservoir, however, the trail cut inland often, cutting through beautiful forest. The trail is very well maintained by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.

Occoquan Trail

Occoquan Trail
Occoquan Trail
 As I wound through the forest, back along the reservoir, and up and down hills and switchbacks, I was happy to come across Wolf Run, which allowed me a place to walk some flatter land, slow my pace for awhile, and enjoy the area.

Wolf Run

Wolf Run

Crossing Wolf Run

While I wanted to continue to Fountain Head Park, my late start kept me a couple of miles short. I made it up to Wolf Run Shoals, where crossings of the Occoquan have occurred for centuries (now replaced further downstream by I95). At this point, I found a small family cemetery and a transition in terrain. This would be as far as i would go today.

A bumpy ride - Crossing the Occoquan

Fairfax-Buckley Family Cemetery

Abandoned house at the end of the Wolf Run Shoals road
At this point I turned back to complete my hike. A great day, indeed. I just touched on 4 miles out of 20 miles of trails. I'll be back to this area, as there is much more to explore.

Garter Snake I came across

Happy hiking, my friends!