On the mountains and below

This has been a really mild winter — it seems all December we had daily temperatures reaching the 40s or even 50s (Fahrenheit). So I decided to go “over there mountains” the day after Christmas.

The location is Shenandoah National Park. It occurred to me that among the 30-plus hikes I have done in this park, I have never done so in the winter (I guess I am more of a fair-weather hiker). Well, one of my excuses is that in the winter, usually you can see more wildlife along the coast and wildlife-viewing is one of my major interests.

But I almost got rebuffed right off the bat. I took the short Fox Hollow Trail just across the Skyline Drive from Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, and there I saw a small flock of Black-capped Chickadees. This is a very similar bird to the Carolina Chickadee, a bird that is among the most common where I live. In fact, Black-capped Chickadees are most of a norther bird, and its range in Virginia is more or less restricted to along the Appalachian Mountains. I also saw other birds, such as Tufted Titmice, Northern Cardinals and White-breasted Nuthatch. So, yes, there is still wildlife in winter in the mountains.

Black-capped Chickadee

In winter, the landscape has lost a lot of luster. The Shenandoah Valley lies in the wintry bleakness.

Shenandoah Valley

I then made a side trip to Skyline Caverns, a limestone cavern system near the northern entrance of the park. This is in fact below the mountains I just got off.

However, to be honest, I am not very impressed with this cavern because it seems to rely more on colorful lighting to have a more of a “showy” effect. I personally prefer uniform (tungsten) lighting and let the formations (stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones, etc.) show themselves; I think colorful lighting is in fact distracting. Nonetheless, I will show a couple of pictures here.

Skyline Caverns

Not quite satisfied yet, I drove back to the National Park. At one place just off the Skyline Drive, I saw some icicles draping off a rock wall — there, I got my “stalactites” in natural lighting!

Icicles off a rock wall

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