Monday, October 31, 2016

Hiking Most of Buzzard Rock, Enjoying the Whole Trail

This past weekend we tackled most of the Buzzard Rock hike found in the George Washington National Forest. I say 'most' because as will become apparent below, we spent a bit too much time exploring the area around the trail head and didn't leave ourselves enough time for the actual hike itself. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First off, I'm amazed at how easy it was to get to the Elizabeth Furnace Day Area, which not only hosts the hike to Buzzard Rock, but a handful of others as well. So not only did we get a great hike in, but we learned about a jumping off point for even more hikes. Bonus!

Second of all, the day's weather was beyond glorious. We had fall foliage with springtime temperatures, who could ask for more?

And finally, we did the hike with friends who brought along their dog. It's the first time I've done anything resembling a back country hike with a dog, and the results were surprising. The dog was equipped with a GPS collar so she could go off leash, and our friends would know where she was.

We pulled into the Elizabth Furnace Day Use Area, picked what appeared to the be the correct trail and started on our way. Within a half mile (through perfect scenery), we realized we were heading the wrong direction. D'oh. Back to the parking lot. This time we found the trail and proceeded to follow it. Again, another half mile in and we realized we'd again taken the wrong trail.

The confusion: the directions we were following referred to a parking lot, but the day use area was closed so we had to park in an outer parking lot. Further more, the instructions refer to the trail in the "top left side," of the parking lot, which isn't especially helpful considering that's a relative direction. Here's the thing, finding the trail isn't especially hard. Here's what you do:

You're going to turn off Fort Valley Road into an outer parking lot. Then, you may proceed over a bridge into a larger parking lot, or in our case, you won't be able to. Either way, don't sweat it. When you turn off Fort Valley Road into the outer parking lot start looking for Orange and Blue blazes. There will be some in the outer parking lot.

At this point you'll have two options: follow the blue and orange blazes across Fort Valley Road and climb into the woods, or follow the blue and orange blazes over the bridge and towards the main parking area. Take the latter option. As long as you follow blue and orange and don't cross Fort Valley Road, you're good to go.

If you're going to get lost disoriented around a trail head, I'd very much recommend doing it in the Elizabeth Furnace Day Area. The trails around it follow a picturesque stream, tramp through beautiful woods, take you across an impressive looking bridge and drop you off into a historic area. Not to mention the Furnace area itself, which takes you through the ruins of the Furnace and give you a sense of how it operated.

When we were finally on our way, the hike was well marked and a pleasurable one. The first two miles are through tree cover and the second two miles are along a ridge. While we didn't make it to Buzzard Rock itself, we did still take in spectacular views on the ridge. And as I mentioned above, the fall foliage was a an absolute sight to see, with bright orange, reds and greens abounding.

The leaves weren't the only thing keeping me and my camera busy. Our friends pup was quite the photography bonus. It's like bringing along a precious little kid; everything the doggie did was cute and she didn't mind one bit when I snapped photo after photo of her. I've got no experience with dogs in the wilderness, but man, did she have perfect behavior. When we saw other hikers, she had no problem going back on leash. And when we had the place to our self, the dog ran with such wild abandon it was hard not to just smile at the sight of it all. As a non-dog person, I've got to say, I was really impressed with the whole experience.

I do look forward to coming back and completing the whole hike. But the section we did was the perfect way to a spend a fall Sunday.

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