The other day I lit off early in the morning for Shenandoah National Park to gather some info and whet my thirst for the road. The plan was to meet with Patrick Fritz – a knowledgeable park employee and great fellow who gave me more maps than I knew what to do with along with some info on an out-of-print trail guidebook that is pure Shenandoah gold (see our March issue for your share of that little nugget) – and afterwards to perform some field recon of my own.

I was driving south on Skyline Drive from the Thornton Gap Headquarters and I knew it was going to be a good day of solitary wandering when I suddenly slammed on the brakes of the car because I spotted a Golden Eagle (pretty sure) scouting prey from a dead pine just off the highway. Giddy with excitement to photograph the gorgeous raptor perched just yards away from me, I over-zealously grabbed my camera from the backseat – naturally making too much movement – and scared him off. But the sight alone was enough to put a smile on my face so I pressed onward satisfied.

About 30 minutes later I parked alongside the Big Meadows area to do some field hiking and came across a herd of grazing deer. Unlike my ol’ eagle pal, these guys were not camera-shy. In fact, I’m pretty sure they liked getting their photo taken because they kept moving closer to compete to be the center piece in the shot.

Deer at Big Meadows

Deer grazing at Big Meadows

Big meadows is a great place to hike. Even in December. The fields have a dark reddish hue complimented by the dominating browns and greys of the leafless trees that border the horizon and the deep greens of the scraggy, wind-barren pines that dot the meadows. The wind was cold but it felt good as it dried the sweat I had built up.

From Big Meadows you can park and take a number of trails, camp, eat lunch at the wayside (when it’s open, I believe March-November), or do whatever you need to do. There are some very popular trails in the area like the Dark Hollow Falls trail which features a 70′ waterfall. A trail that is as short as it is is sweet, it was also one that I had been deterred from after Fritz had shared his story of watching a prissy woman in high heels get out of the car and hike it. Not to deter anybody else from taking the trail, the falls are supposedly quite good, but I decided to put it on the back-burner for another day. So I hiked the Lewis Falls Trail to gather some notes for an upcoming article, and was not disappointed.

Just a short ways into the woods I ran across this guy.

A buck in cautiously watches me in the woods of Shenandoah

Hiking in the woods was chilly, crisp, and refreshing. I hiked out to the 81′ falls and took some photos for the magazine and breathed in the fresh air. Hiking out I remember thinking it had been a pretty good day in the woods but secretly I was hoping to run across a black bear to complete my fauna quota for the day. Unfortunately they were bumbling about somewhere else. Probably a good thing anyway.

So I leave you with this in place of the bear: You can get your hands on all the maps you want, you can study the guidebooks through and through, you can look at my photos, but the only way to really figure anything out is to just get out there and figure it out for yourself. It just so happens that that’s also the most enjoyable and rewarding way to learn about the ways of the woods.  And that’s why I’ll be heading back up to Shenandoah quite soon. Gonna find me them bears.