Saturday, August 4, 2012

Hiking in James River State Park

Yesterday, I had the day off because of my flexible schedule that I finally have that gives me every other Friday off during two week periods where there is not a holiday.  It is great leaving work Thursday afternoon realizing that I have a three day weekend ahead.

So given a day off to myself, I decided to go hiking in James River State Park, a place that I have never been before.  It seemed appropriate, as 20 years ago on that date I started my job at the Department of Conservation and Recreation, which manages our wonderful state park system.  This park is on a bend of the beautiful James River about 95 miles driving from my house.  The James forms in the Appalachian Mountains where the Jackson and Cowpasture Rivers meet, and it is the longest river in the State.  It flows only in Virginia, and eventually meets several other rivers to form Hampton Roads, which joins the lower Chesapeake Bay.

The park is on a section of the James which looks fairly shallow under normal conditions.  It is not terribly wide there, maybe 100 meters.  I walked a loop of these trails: River, Cabell, Branch, and Running Creek.  I hiked 8.8 miles but it would have been closer to eight if I hadn't missed a couple spots, one because I went the wrong way for a short distance, the other because the map I used didn't reflect what was on the ground.  The trails are very well marked, other than the one intersection, and it was a really nice walk with some up and down, but not with the aerobic workout of Sky Meadows earlier this week.

I walked through a wide variety of habitats and trail conditions - tall, dewy grass that soaked my boots, full son, mixed open areas and forest, and dense forests.  There was also a nice nature trail on the way that looped around a small pond that I walked around.  I didn't see a lot of wildlife, but did spot a kingfisher, a great blue heron, a cottontail, and a number of gray squirrels.  I also heard tree frogs calling but couldn't find the well-disguised little beasts, and I heard a bobwhite quail eastern wood peewee singing out their names.

Here is a map showing my route, starting and ending at the purple arrow in the lower left.  I walked clockwise from there.  The red arrow shows where I went the wrong way for a short distance, and the red circle shows where I walked back and forth several minutes trying to find the trail I wanted to end up on (Running Creek).
 Here is the elevation profile of the hike.  There was only a difference of about 300 feet elevation between the high and low points of the hike, but there is enough up and down that I gained and lost about 1,200 feet during the hike.

Here are some photos from my hike on what normally would be a work day, but instead was a hot and humid day spent joyfully outdoors.

This section of the River Trail had tall, wet grass but was pleasant to walk through, although the sun was hot.
 The James River flows along, still a couple of hundred miles from Hampton Roads.
 This small wetland was where I saw the great blue heron and kingfisher.  An interpretive sign said that there is lots of beaver activity here, but I didn't see any of the large rodents.
 Speaking of rodents - well, technically lagomorphs - this cottontail allowed his or her photo but then got spooked and made a spectacular leap into the woods.
 We are in the foothills of the Appalachians here, as you can see in this view from the trail.
 You've heard of the "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska, of course.  Well, I guess this is Virginia's version.
 The Tye River joins the James at this point, flowing from the mountains from the northwest and joining the James at a right angle.  This looks peaceful, but on August 19, 1969, the remains of Hurricane Camille stalled over this area and dumped 27 inches of rain in about three hours.  The James actually flowed up the Tye for eight miles!  The flooding drowned animals up in trees and flash floods during the middle of the night killed over 150 people, many of whom were never found.

If there was less haze you would be able to see The Priest, site of my backing trip in 2010 and about 20-25 miles from here as the crow flies, just over the ridge to the right of the Tie River.  It was about 70 degrees cooler on the day that I did that hike.
 A train loaded with coal from West Virginia and headed to Europe (the coal, not the train) crosses the railroad bridge over the Tye River.  In  a couple of hours, this train will be rambling through Richmond right past my favorite lunch spot.
 The trail headed through this pleasant pine forest about a mile or so before I got back to the car.
 I enjoyed the beauty of this flower, but the bumblebee inside enjoyed the nectar and pollen.
 It would be hard to miss the eye-catching color of these trumpet flowers.
 Near the end of my hike, I spied these colorful mushrooms in the path.


  1. You sure take some beautiful hikes. So many beautiful pictures you got from this one.
    Do you prefer hiking alone? Does your wife like to hike too?

  2. Hey there! It was a really nice hike. I am glad you liked the photos. I actually prefer hiking with one or two others - someone to share the hike with and talk to. But on a Friday, it is going to be just me. She likes to hike some but only in cooler weather (i.e. no heat or bugs), plus she is not going to enjoy a nine miler.

  3. Lovely pictures, especially the mushrooms.