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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

March Photo Walk - Grayson Highlands State Park

Several months ago, friends of mine that are members of a local photo club (I'm not a member because it is for the 50+ crowd only.  Bummer.) told me about a state park in Virginia they visited with the club.  They also mentioned two magical words.  Wild.  Ponies.  I have wanted to visit Grayson Highlands State Park since I heard those magical words.  Finally, on Monday, my friend, Deanna, and I set out for Mouth of Wilson, Virginia.  I chose the route that took us through Shady Valley, Tennesse.  It was a beautiful drive.  We had such a perfect weather day and the sky was a deep, gorgeous blue.  When I told Mike we were driving through Shady Valley his first concern was whether we would be on part of The Snake.  The Snake is a super duper curvy road that is a 33 mile stretch of US 421 that runs between Bristol and Mountain City and encompasses 3 mountains and 489 curves.  Yes, 489 curves.  It's similar to the The Tail of the Dragon, if you are familiar with that stretch of highway. Both are known for their curves and both are known as destinations for motorcycle enthusiasts who attempt to take the curves as quickly as they can.  We only crossed The Snake, but I think that was enough for me!  Hwys 91 and 58 were curvy enough for me!  However, while crossing the snake we found a great little country store in Shady Valley.

Not far past the country store we stumbled upon Backbone Rock Tunnel in Cherokee National Forest.  I remember Mike telling me that he used to camp at Backbone Rock with his dog, Rowdy.  It has been coined "The World's Shortest Tunnel."  A hole was blasted through the rock so a train could pass through.

I noticed there was a railing on top of the rock and we searched for our way up.  This sign wasn't so promising!

Looking down from the top at my little blue Vue.  Thank goodness for that handrail!

That's Deanna way over there on top of the tunnel!

We made our way off of the tunnel and continued on our journey.  We drove through the quaint little town of Damascus, Virginia.  I was bummed when I got home and realized I didn't take a single picture in Damascus.  I was too busy attempting to drive the posted speed limit of 25 through the entire town.  Suzy the Vue and I don't usually drive at a pace of 25 mph!  We finally made it to Grayson Highlands and the views were exquisite.

We headed for the visitor center only to find that it was still closed for the season.  And then we were sort of escorted back through the gate by a park employee - apparently we weren't supposed to drive through the partially opened gate.  I asked the employee if the ponies were out anywhere close-by and he told us he had just recently seen them down a campground road.  So that's where we went.  No ponies to be found, but we did find this chubby, little bird.  It was doing this weird bobbing action with its body.  We weren't sure what it was doing.  Upon further research when I got home, this little guy is an American Woodcock and, contrary to our belief at the time, not dying, but searching for worms!  Check out that awesome camouflage!

Having found no ponies we went back to the Massie Gap parking lot to have a look around.  First thing we spotted was this cool mountain with three distinct formations on top.

Can you spot the people near the rocks?

We considered hiking to the top of this peak, but it was 4.5 miles - we need to work up to that!  Instead, we hiked the 1.2 mile round trip to Cabin Creek Falls.

Looks easy right?  Well the first third was easy.  The second third was pretty steep in spots and downhill (read not so fun on the way back up), not to mention the multiple switchbacks crossing the creek.  The last third to the falls had several narrow spots covered with a thick layer of leaves that hid the rocks and tree roots.  Yeah, we tripped a lot.

The beginning of the trail was lined with rhododendrons.

This would be me trying to balance act my way across the creek.  I decided to just walk through it, after all, my boots are waterproof!  Deanna had on sneakers, so she walked next to me on the branch holding on to my shoulder - that's a picture I would have loved!

We spent most of the hike down looking for the "cabin."  This is what we found!  Um, it's a bench, with a roof.  It wasn't until we got back to the head of the trail that Deanna re-read the sign to find the words, "where it used to stand."  Oh.  

Finally made it to the falls!  Worth it.

The reward of our hike - chilling in front of the beautiful falls.

Checking out my shots.

Back at the trail head.  I had such a hard time trying to stop taking photos of this area!

I'm already planning a trip back to Grayson Highlands around the end of May to see the leaves and grass all filled in and a trip in the autumn to see those mountains in all their fall foliage splendor!  With hopes to see those elusive wild ponies!

Sutherland Community Church in Shady Valley, TN.  I thought this was such a cute, neat looking church I had to stop to take its picture on the way home.

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