Sunday, April 4, 2010

Fourteen Miles of Waterfalls and Wildflowers: Dark Hollow Falls and Rose River Falls

Yesterday was the perfect spring day.  We spent it hiking with a friend in the Rose River area of the Central District of Shenandoah National Park.  It started out just a little cool, birds were singing, flowers were blooming and the waterfalls were still full from recent rains and snowmelt.  The wildflowers make spring one my favorite times of the year for hiking.  We followed the Rose River Fire Road 6.4 miles as it lazily winds its way up from the valley to Skyline Drive, passing Dark Hollow Falls along the way.  Seriously, this might be the easiest hike up to Skyline Drive in the park.  We then turned right onto the Skyland-Big Meadows Horse Trail and followed that for half a mile, where we turned right onto the Rose River Trail.  That took us past Rose River Falls and back to the Fire Road.  All said and done, it was a 14 mile day.

As we pulled into the parking area, I noticed that Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman's Breeches) were blooming along the roadside.  Once parked, I hopped out of the car to take pictures of them before even putting my boots on.  It was clearly going to be a good day.  There were a few people in the parking lot who were there to fly fish on the Rose River, but we would not see another person until we were nearly to Dark Hollow Falls. 

Along the lower reaches of the Rose River Fire Road, the path was lined with D. cucullaria, Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot), Dentaria lacinata (Cut-Leaf Toothwort), the occasional Hepatica nobolis (Liverwort), and a few different violets.  We also found what may be the first blooming Trillium grandiflora (Giant Trillium) in a ditch along the old roadbed.  We crossed a bridge over a pretty tributary of the Rose River and then came across an old cemetery in the woods.  It was a fairly large cemetery, which, along with the stone walls and the daffodils, is a reminder of the people who lived here before there was a park.

Shortly after that, we passed the junction with the Upper Dark Hollow Trail and then began some long switchbacks.  Along one of them, we spotted a spring flower that is new to me:  Caulophyllum thalyctroides (Blue Cohosh).  It is a tall, rather dark flower.  It takes its name from the bright blue berries it produces.  We stopped for a quick lunch before heading on to Dark Hollow Falls.

All of a sudden, there were people everywhere.  Dark Hollow Falls is only a half mile below Skyline Drive, making it a popular stop for those on the Drive.  The Falls are beautiful and definitely worth the stop.  After taking several pictures and climbing up to see the upper falls, we continued a mile up the fire road to do the Rose River Loop, another popular short hike for people on the Drive.  Just before reaching Skyline Drive, we turned down the Horse Trail, which connected to the Rose River Trail.  We thought we had long since left the wildflowers in the warmer valley below us, when we rounded a corner to find clumps of purple H. nobolis.  We spent a little time enjoying the cool mist of Rose River Falls before continuing on.

At the confluence of Hogcamp Branch and the Rose River, there is an old copper mine.  The tailings are clearly visible and there is a short path up on to one of the mounds.  There isn't much to see there, but it is an interesting part of the history of the park.  Hogcamp Branch has beautiful waterfall after beautiful waterfall, cascading over bright green moss-covered rocks.  It was warm enough that, on a short break, we dunked our heads in the water to cool off.  As we continued on, I was just about to say that this would be the first hike since the end of November without any snow, when I looked up and saw a small remnant snowbank.  There isn't much left of it, but there it was, snow at the beginning of April.

After reaching Dark Hollow Falls, we returned down the Rose River Fire Road to the car.  As we hiked down the mountain, we made our way our of late winter into early spring.  One of the joys of getting out into the woods often is you get to see the forest slowly wake up after the long winter.  This week, most of the wildflowers were in the first 1.5 miles of the trail.  Next week, they will be a little higher. 

We couldn't have asked for better weather or a nicer hike.  Even with all of the stopping to take pictures, we cranked out 14 miles in 7.5 hours, definitely earning the ice cream we had in town.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman's Breetches)

Cardamine concatenata (Cut Leaf Toothwort)

Trillium grandiflora (Giant Trillium).  This was the only one blooming along the road, although others were coming up.  This is pretty early for them.

Anemone americana (Liverwort)

Caulophyllum thalyctroides (Blue Cohosh).

Upper Dark Hollow Falls

A pretty clump of A. americana along the Skyland-Big Meadows Horse Trail.

Rose River Falls.

Rose River Falls

The remnant snowbank.  We have not had a snow-free hike in the mountains since the last weekend in November.

A large Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot) on the fire road on the way down.