Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Browns Hollow Loop: Flowers and Waterfalls

Michael, a friend, and I took a break from cycling this weekend to get out for a nice, long hike. We went out to the south part of Massanutten Mountain in the George Washington National Forest. It was an absolutely beautiful day. We started seeing early spring wildflowers right away. The hike started at the erstwhile Massanutten Visitor Center. We followed an old nature trail down to the Browns Hollow Trail, which slowly climbed up to a saddle between Short Horse Mountain and Big Mountain. Along the way, we saw several very nice waterfalls. We had lunch at the foot of one that was nearly 20 feet high. Since the trail was quite a ways above the creek, it was an interesting scramble down to the falls.

After reaching the top of the saddle, we then lost nearly all of the elevation we gained, only to have to re-climb it on the Roaring Brook Trail. Several steep switchbacks put us on top of Big Mountain, where we had views through the trees. The we descended to the bottom of the next valley to the Massanutten Trail. The Massanutten Trail follows a gravel road in that section. No shade and a steady climb made for a surprisingly warm climb for a spring day. Since it was April, it was pleasant, but it would be a miserable climb in July or August because of the lack of shade.

Eventually, the trail returned to the woods and we were rewarded with a beautiful overlook to the west, only about 1.5 miles from the car. We noted the fact that, in spite of the proximity to the road, there was very little trash and no graffiti. When we finally left the overlook and continued on our way, we found out why. It is, indeed, only about 1.5 miles from the road, but it is a tough, steep, rocky climb. We didn't mind, since we only had to hike down it.

Massanutten is one of the unnoticed areas to hike around here. We saw one group of backpackers and one lone hiker. It was a really pleasant hike that I definitely would do again.
These Viola pedata (Birds Foot Violets) were right along the trail.
We startled an Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulatus). Eastern Fence Lizards blend in with tree bark really well. Click to enlarge.
 A fiddlehead along the trail.
This is the 20-foot waterfall, although it doesn't look like it in this picture. It was tough to get an angle that showed the scale.
 A butterfly (I don't know the species) on Mountain Laurel on top of Big Mountain.
The Massanutten Trail follows this gravel road for a few miles. At this point, we were fairly high, so the trees hadn't begun to leaf out. Everything is several weeks behind where it has been in the last few years. I've been out this time of year and the entire canopy had grown in, but this year, it was basically still winter up here.
 The craziest thing we saw along the trail were these massive ant hills. You can see my hiking pole in the bottom of the photo for a little bit of scale. This thing was easily four or five feet in diameter and two feet high. There were ants everywhere.
 A close-up of the ants (you'll have to enlarge the picture to see all of the ants).
 A bootshot from the overlook. This is looking west towards Great North Mountain.
 Michael at the overlook.
 Uvularia puberla (Mountain Bellwort). This one was a new species to me.
Allium tricoccum (Ramps). We saw these along the way as well, which was a big surprise, since I generally associate them with higher elevations. Any guesses? I'll post the answer later this week.


  1. I'm suspecting the green leaves might be from yet to bloom Lady's Slippers. Where were they in the hike?


    1. I thought they were orchid leaves as well, from a distance. They are actually ramps. I was surprised to see them that low.