The past two or three months have been rather stressful for us. I'll
talk about some of the reasons in upcoming entries, but for now, suffice it to
say that both Jim and I needed some nature therapy today.
We found just what we needed during a refreshing hike on the Appalachian Trail
west of Roanoke.
It has been an absolutely gorgeous fall season in southwestern Virginia,
one of the prettiest in the six autumns we've been here. Even though we spend
most of our time in other locales now, we return to our house for several weeks in the spring and
fall -- when it is the prettiest in Roanoke -- to check on our
property, conduct some business, and reconnect with friends.
On trips into town this week I realized that
many of the foliage colors were peaking in the Roanoke Valley at about
the 1,000-foot elevation. Dogwoods and sourwoods are among the first trees to morph
into bright reds and purples; they have mostly peaked already. Next come
bright yellow to orange ash, beech, and poplar leaves, bronze hickories and
oaks, and my favorites: brilliant scarlet red maples -- these are
just spectacular right now. In November we'll get to enjoy a final burst of
color as all the Bradford pear leaves turn crimson.
It's not as spectacular as New England (we don't have as many maples
trees here) but it's one fine show from the valleys to the mountain peaks in
the southern Appalachians!
Today's weather prediction was for sunshine and warm temperatures. The
next few days will probably be cooler, wet, and windy, bringing down
many of the colorful leaves that are now barely clinging on.
I've been planning a trip up to McAfee Knob before we leave for the
Southwest. We decided we'd better do it today if we wanted to enjoy the
foliage in the Catawba Valley at its peak.
Jim and Cody join part of the crowd on McAfee Knob
Problem was, we made this decision about 9 AM and by the time we got
ready and drove an hour to Catawba Pass it was late morning. We
couldn't believe how packed the parking lot was! It holds a lot of vehicles,
but folks were already having to get creative. When we came back down to the
parking area almost three hours later, cars were parked all up and down the
Lots of other people had the same idea as we did. I've never seen so many
people on any trail at any time in my life, other than a race. We really didn't
mind, though. It was great to see so many folks, from little kids to seniors in
their 70s or older, enjoying the fine autumn day and gorgeous scenery.
McAfee Knob, a series of large rock outcropping that jut out over the Catawba
Valley, has always been a popular destination for locals, as well as visitors.
It is one of the best-known and frequently photographed spots along the entire
That's Jim and Cody peering over the side in the photo above. It's a long way
down (over 2,000 feet).
section hikers, thru-hikers -- everyone loves to hang out on "The Knob"
for a while, soaking in the scenery and distant views north to Tinker Cliffs
the long ridge the AT follows on Tinker Mountain,
northeast to Carvin's Cove and the Blue Ridge Mountains,
west to North Mountain (below), and south to Dragon's Tooth.
The AT rises rather gently over 3½ miles
from about 2,000 feet at Catawba Pass to 3,197 feet at the Knob. Although there
are some wooden and rock steps to negotiate along the way, there are no steep
grades. That's another reason this trail is so popular with people of all ages
Most of the "rock bridges" (wooden steps built over boulders and rock ledges)
are in the first part of the Trail from Catawba Pass. Since
steps are getting hard for me to negotiate (down, not up), and since Jim is dealing
with a nasty case of plantar faciitis in one foot, we chose to hike the first
mile and a half on the dirt forest service road that parallels the Appalachian
Trail. It is smoother and has no steps.
Silly me. I thought we'd pretty much have that trail to ourselves but we
didn't; there was probably as much foot traffic there as on the AT below
The Roanoke AT Club uses this road to haul supplies to work sites along the
AT on Catawba Mountain, and we also used it when we enjoyed the Full Moon Hike last fall with
other club members. We didn't realize so many other people knew about it, though.
About halfway up to the Knob we turned off the dirt road onto the AT
(below) and followed it the rest of the way to the summit.
Our first view into the Catawba Valley on our way
up to McAfee Knob
Not only were there lots of people on the trail today, there were also lots of
dogs. Cody had plenty of canine company. Most of the dogs were off-leash and
all were well-behaved.
We came back down the same
way. These scenes are almost as nice as the
ones in our "back forty," aren't
Our timing was perfect for peak foliage color from 1,000 to 2,500 feet but
higher up on Catawba Mountain there were fewer and fewer leaves on the trees as
we approached McAfee Knob. It almost looked like winter up there.
are even higher at Mountain Masochist in another two weeks. Usually the colors
are quite pretty there the first week of November. I think the leaves peaked
earlier this year than usual and MMTR will be less colorful than most years.
Three happy hikers!! (Happy we didn't fall 2,000
foot off that rock!)
Our hike mellowed both of us out, helping us face the week ahead.
Next entries: our new running realities and revised
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil