Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Abingdon Adventure - Day 2

What drew us to the Abingdon Virginia area, and our plan for today, was to summit Mount Rogers, the tallest peak in Virginia. But we had a small disruption to our plans. By small, I mean an adorable 4 week old foster placement. I'm all for taking little ones hiking, but even I thought attempting 9+ mile trek with possibly winter conditions and a reduced window of daylight was a bad idea.

Ultimately, we kept Abingdon as our Thanksgiving adventure destination and brought baby L along with us. We decided to hike in the Mount Rogers area, but scaled the hike to something a bit more child friendly. This article suggested that the 4 mile, out and back, Wilburn Ridge Trail would be a good fit for us. While the AllTrails description and reviews were lackluster, we trusted GoHikeVirginia.org and were richly rewarded.

The specs on the trail were basic: proceed 2 miles North on the Appalachian Trail, followed by 2 miles back. Thankfully, that terse description doesn't begin to do the trail justice. For one thing, because of the unique bald ecosystem, there's no dense tree cover to obstruct views. Everywhere we looked we saw postcard-perfect vistas. In the summer, the lack of shade is no doubt a hinderance. But on our 55° and sunny day, the open area was perfect. And then there are the famous Grayson Highlands State Park Ponies.

When we've seen wild horses in the past, we were quite content to keep our distance. But these ponies, my gosh, are judiciously adorable. The group we found was interested in little more than munching grass and letting us photograph them. While the signs in the area insist that you don't touch them (they bite and kick!), of course, people were petting them. But at least nobody was feeding them. We spent quite a bit of time photographing the ponies and they were definitely the highlight of this hike.

After having a picnic lunch we continued up to Wilburn Ridge, enjoying the slightly technical trail. One or two reviews on AllTrails suggested there was some rock scrambling to be done on this trail, something I wasn't prepared to do with an 8 week old baby strapped to my chest. Thankfully those claims were over-sold. There were a couple of spots that required some extra care while maneuvering, but I'd hardly call them scrambling. Near the turn-around point there was a cool rock tunnel thing you walk through, and because it's in the shade, it was filled with ice. But even that was more fun than scary. On the return trip, out of an abundance of caution, we took a side trail around the rock tunnel.

Oddly, the hike appears to turn around in sight of a rocky summit. If we'd had older kids with us, I'm sure we would have attempted that last burst of elevation. We would have also explored the countless rock-piles we saw along the way. Baby L and Shira were happy at the turn around point, so I took the win and kept the hike as the parameters described by AllTrails.

The Wilburn Ridge via Appilachian Trail is a great example of a hike where the quality exceeds its quantity. Sure, it's only 4 miles and on paper doesn't look like much. But in-person, the combination of the unique bald environment, amazing views and ponies made it a real winner.

After our hike and a stop back in Abingdon, we headed out for an evening adventure: viewing the Bristol Motor Speedway Lights. The Speedway is in Tennessee, and while it's no longer running NASCAR races for the season, it is open for a holiday light display.

The grounds of the speedway were lit up with an impressive number of light displays. And it was sweet to get to drive both on the drag-strip as well as inside the concourse of the stadium. But the real highlight was the moment when we drove onto the race track itself. We entered on one of the crazy steep banked sides, and the what-the-heck look on Shira's face was priceless. We then got to do a lap around the track. Mind you, our lap time was just a tad bit slower than the 150 Mph record set back in 2011, but it was still a thrill to be up close and personal to such a unique venue.

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