We frequently visit Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia around Memorial Day weekend. It offers some of the best hiking trails in the area around the northwest corner of North Carolina, where the state meets Tennessee and Virginia.
This year, as in many past visits, we were joined by our friends Alan and Maureen, and their dogs Moogie and Django. You can almost see the four of them in this picture. Our friends have a mountain house near nearby Troutdale.Rebecca named the house Alemo after Alan had named our mountain house Bunky’s Hill. (Actually I think Alan called it Bunky Hill.) You may detect a martial element here, which is pretty ironic given our shared political inclinations.
All agreed this was one of the most nearly perfect holiday days we’d experienced. The weather was perfect, as clear a day as we’ve seen there, and the temperature was ideal for hiking. The trails at Grayson Highlands are exposed. Although the lack of trees makes for great views – Mount Rogers easily reachable just to the north, the familiar
profiles of Grandfather Mountain, Mount Jefferson, and the ugly condo atop Sugar Mountain to the South and West – it also provides no shade. At 4000 feet, give or take 500 feet in elevation change, you can be hot or cold, or both, on a given day. We’ve hiked to the top of some of those rock outcroppings on a warm day in early spring when snow was still packed two-feet deep on the north side.
There were other bonuses. The area is home to a large herd of wild ponies that help keep the vegetation down.
The ponies are not afraid of people, and you’ll see at least a few of them on every visit. This year we saw more ponies than ever. Alan counted something on the order of 50 adults and eleven colts. (Are baby ponies called colts?) These were not just your run-of-the-mill adolescent colts, either. Some were practically brand new. At least one wasn’t even born yet, but we didn’t count that one. You should definitely watch the video I plan to insert at the end of this entry.
We had a nice lunch of Rebecca’s chicken salad at the park’s picnic area. We got another reward when we discovered several ladyslippers by our picnic table. This led to a claim by Alan that there was a place near Alemo where you could see 80 ladyslippers. Absurd, you say? Perhaps a bit of hyperbole, anyway.
So after lunch we drove back over to Alemo, which is actually hikeable from Grayson Highlands, but a half-hour’s drive by car. A few years ago we got a lift from their neighbor Don to the park and hiked back. The trail went through a massive blueberry patch, and it was blueberry season. We ate our fill. Part of the path back to the house had been discovered by horsepeople (people who ride horses, not centaurs), so the hiking on that stretch was somewhat less than pleasant.
The hike to the alleged ladyslipper patch was not as long, nor as strenuous, as had been the hiking at Grayson Highlands, but adding a three-mile round-trip to a five-mile round-trip, in neither case flat, was a nice day’s workout. Moogie might disagree; she was pretty bushed by the end of the day.
Turns out Alan’s was not an exercise in hyperbole. In a very small triangle between the fire road and two converging creeks live a thriving colony of ladyslippers. I counted at least 60, and didn’t get them all.
So all in all, as all agreed, it was a pretty amazing day. Still, even with ladyslippers, views, and trillia, the gamboling of baby ponies took the cake. (To get a bigger view click on “Watch on YouTube” and go to full-screen mode.)