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"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you
as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you,
and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."
~ John Muir
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.

Let's go!

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 highway, too.

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 AT.

That's Jim and Cody peering over the side in the photo above. It's a long way down (over 2,000 feet).

Local hikers, 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

and 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 3 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 and abilities.

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 us!

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 they??  <grin>




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.

Elevations 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 winter plans

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil