Firsthand Report: Snapshots from Shenandoah 10
Author thumbnail By M. Scott Smith, DCSki Editor

On Friday, November 2, I went hiking at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Temperatures were chilly (ranging from freezing to the mid-40’s), but the sun was bright, and the colors were beautiful.

I drove to Shenandoah on Thursday evening and spent the night at the Hampton Inn in Front Royal. The hotel was excellent - clean and quiet with a friendly staff. As a nice touch, in addition to providing breakfast, the hotel provided “to go” bags including breakfast bar, apple, blueberry muffin, and bottled water. Staying at the hotel allowed me to hit the trails early Friday morning - after scraping ice off my car’s windows.

In the past year, National Park fees have risen. An annual pass valid at all National Parks is now $80 (up from $50). This is the busiest time of the year at Shenandoah; on weekends, Skyline Drive can be bumper-to-bumper with leaf-peeping visitors. On Friday, the Park was not crowded - weekdays are always the best time to visit. I only saw a few other people on the trails.

During my visit, I hiked - a lot. Over 8 miles, while carrying a heavy backpack, across large elevation changes. At times I was wishing a ski lift would magically appear around the next bend. But the chilly temperatures were perfect for hiking - I even managed to break a sweat with the temperatures in the upper-30’s. There is also nothing more relaxing than spending an hour at the side of a bubbling stream, casually taking photographs as leaves fall gently through the air and squirrels scamper through the forest collecting nuts.

Some photographs from the hikes are provided below.

Bench at Dickey Ridge Visitor Center.

A chilly morning view from Dickey Ridge Visitor Center. Temperature was in the upper 30’s.

A leaf floating at the top of Lands Run Falls. Lands Run Falls is reached by following a fire road from Mile 9.2 on Skyline Drive.

Robo Squirrel. Shortly after I took this picture, a small black bear lumbered off across the trail and into the trees. This is at least the fifth time I have seen a black bear at Shenandoah, but I have yet to get a photograph. They are very skittish and quickly run away - which is a good thing. One thing I noticed is that the bear smelled - they have a distinctive stench. During this trip I saw a bear; lots of squirrels, chipmunks, deer and birds; a raccoon; and a skunk.

A view from the top of Compton Peak. To reach Compton Peak, park at the Compton Gap parking lot and cross the street. Hike the Appalachian Trail about 1.2 miles. You will then see a concrete marker, where you can take a spur trail to the right or left. The right trail leads to the view above. By now the temperature was in the low 40’s.

Hiking along the Rose River Loop Trail. This is a fairly strenuous hike (especially when carrying a 20+ pound backpack), a 4-mile loop with lots of elevation change. Park at Fishers Gap Overlook (mile 49.4 on Skyline Drive), cross the street, and head down the Rose River Fire Road a brief distance until you see the trail entrance on the left. After 2.9 miles, you’ll reach a junction with Rose River Fire Road. From here, you can take the fire road back to Fishers Gap, or take a 0.6-mile out-and-back hike to the base of Dark Hollow Falls.

These photos were taken along Rose River, shortly after the ruins of an old copper mine.

OK, I cheated a little. This photo was taken at the base of Dark Hollow Falls. And, it was almost dark. I briefly “painted” the red leaf with a red LED flashlight during the exposure.

This is an unusual picture. The sun had set and it was almost completely dark. You can get a sense of how dark it was by looking at the sides of the picture. There were two deer grazing at the side of the trail, straight ahead. I briefly illuminated the scene with my flashlight. The flashlight is a SureFire ( flashlight; I believe SureFire makes the best flashlights in the world. This photo shows how clean and uniform the beam is.

A close-up of a deer at night. This strange shot was achieved by pulsing a flashlight several times while the camera shutter was open. The exposure was about 7 seconds.

Another shot of deer at night. It might look light out, but it was pitch dark. This was a 9-second exposure. It was a little spooky hiking back in pitch dark, especially when I passed the old Cave Cemetery on the left, off of the Rose River Fire Road.

This was a 30-second exposure. A long exposure can pull any remaining light out of the sky.
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About M. Scott Smith

M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.

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Reader Comments

The Colonel
November 3, 2007
Thanks Scott.
I especially liked the picture of the valley with clouds or ground fog below you.
The Colonel
November 3, 2007
Thank you Scott. The Shenandoah Valley is a true treasure, and your picture taking skills are excellent. Its good to see the leaves are changing, and hopefully we will have a decent winter.
The Colonel
November 3, 2007
What kind/brand/model camera were you using?
It obviously has a great low light capability.
The Colonel
November 3, 2007
On this trip, I was shooting with a Nikon D200. It's a great camera, but with a metal body, it sure is heavy. I used two lenses: the Nikon DX 18-200mm VR, and the Nikon Micro (macro) 60mm. The true star, though, was my new tripod: a carbon fiber Gitzo GT1540. That tripod is rock-solid, and less than 3 pounds. Another great feature of the tripod is that you can reverse the column, allowing the camera to be very close to the ground (albeit upside down). In fact, most of the close-up shots near water were taken with the camera upside down in this manner. It made it easy to get right at ground level, but it made it a bit tricky to make camera adjustments!

Out of all of these shots, the only ones that were taken without the tripod were the top two pictures (bench and foggy mountain view) and the photo of the squirrel.

The weight of all this camera gear adds up, and since I often end up hiking alone or at night, I bring enough gear/food/water to safely spend a night or two in the woods. Thus, my pack is HEAVY. And there's two types of trails at Shenandoah: ones that start by going up, or ones that end by going up. Nature photography should probably be an Olympic sport.
connie lawn
November 4, 2007
Breathtaking! You convey the sense of what it is all about, and why we in your Web family share your intense love of nature. Yours, Connie Lawn
November 5, 2007
What great shots. Dark hallow falls is fast trail down and steep trail up, but the falls are a great reward. The high meadow areas up there are really unique and interating. Pretty good food and stunning views at the lodge.

The weekend before, we visited the southern Virginia Blue Ridge. The Poor farmers Market in Meadows of Dan is the best place to buy molasses and sandwiches. After quick picnic and tour at Mabry Mill, up the parkway to Rocky Knob which has a fine network of trails. After a few hours hiking peaks looking over Rock Castle Gorge, we moved on to supper and bluegrass at the famous Floyd Country Store, and finished the day at ... the Hillsville Hampton Inn.
Woody Bousquet
November 7, 2007
Thanks for posting these fine fall photos of the Shenandoah Valley, Scott. You captured a marvelous variety of perspectives from sweeping landscapes to intimate closeups to those techno shots of the deer. (Never heard of painting a photo with a flashlight before.)

A great way to show off the colors of the season. You've inspired me to head off to Shockey's Knob here in Frederick County, Virginia.

November 7, 2007
Great pictures! I was just up on the drive last week on my Harley. It is a beautiful place, and so close. It is a hour away but I feel like I am years away from work. Now my bike is away for the season,and my skis are getting waxed.
November 7, 2007
Thanks for sharing Scott. Your eye for framing is quite unique. I especially enjoyed the close ups and "flashlight" shots. Hope to see more of your "work" on DCSki!
December 3, 2007
Hi Scott,

Karen and I both really love the photos. Please let us know if you want to go hiking or backpacking sometime.


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