The Department of l’Intérieur

Springtime usually propels me into cheerful exuberance, but this year my mood has been more inwardly reflective. Several hikes have already been cancelled this spring because the chosen date turned out to be rainy and cold, and as it turned out the forecast promised the same today. However, we resolved to hit the road anyway, and strategized for the best possible circumstances: leave before dawn; go north (to stay ahead of the storm as long as possible); and be ready to get wet.

An early departure on a chilly day with rain to come meant we could choose a route that would normally be more crowded than we prefer. The Rose River/Dark Hollow loop in Shenandoah National Park is popular for good reason: the streamside hiking is some of the best in the park, and Dark Hollow Falls truly is impressive. We headed down the Appalachian Trail from the Big Meadows parking lot into a hushed forest just beginning to show glimmers of green. In Richmond spring unfurled her finery in all its glory several weeks ago, but Appalachia is still working on it. It is definitely a happening thing, though:


We took the Rose River Horse Trail and descended toward the river. The encroaching drear made the pockets of green ferns and tiny white wildflowers pop against a palette of grays and browns. The river tumbled over rocks with abandon, but even its voice seemed muted on this quiet day. Encouraged by the gentle burble of the river, my thoughts likewise tumbled further inward and began to form a mental spirograph. Our pace was smooth and steady.

unnamedWe stayed in blissful silence for some time, until my meditative state was briefly interrupted. No matter the degree of solitude, you are never too far from evidence of “civilization” in Shenandoah National Park, as we were reminded in “How to Wreck the Backcountry 101” by an unknown instructor who hung a full can of Vienna Sausages from a branch for the local wildlife. Oh, the humanity.

vienna sausage

After packing away the sausages we pressed onward to Dark Hollow Falls, a long, twisting drop of a cascade that cannot be captured in a single photograph. Most stunning are the upper falls, seen here from a midway vantage point:

dark hollow

As we ascended alongside Dark Hollow, on this cold, gray spring hike that almost wasn’t, at the end of a winter that felt like it might never end, my slightly existential mood was perfectly complemented and then transformed by a surprising and magical turn of events: Friends, it started to snow. Ready for a cold, hard rain, we instead trod uphill amid soft, drifting flakes that might have maddened us a month ago–and it was exactly lovely and right.



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