Going up the hill, the grassy meadows stretched far, dotted with spruce and other trees.
The sky was overcast for most of the day and the temperature was perfect for hiking. The cloudy sky was deceptive, though, and we skipped putting on sunscreen in the morning. The result later was sunburns on our necks, forearms (the upper-side mostly because we were holding poles), and on top of our heads. Usually I wear a Japanese cotton cloth bandanna called tenugui, but on this trip I thought it would be great to hike with braided pigtails. Yeah, the braids were comfortable when I was hiking, but the sunburn hurt for about a week after. Not doing that again!
I found this lovely wildflower growing by the trail. I’ve tried researching it in every resource that I usually consult – the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers Eastern Region, USWildflowers.com, VirginiaWildflowers.org – and found nothing! I will keep my eyes peeled for more information on this wildflower.
Orange Hawkweed, Devil’s Paintbrush, or Hieracium aurantiacum, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and a non-native plant that originally came from Europe. It blooms June to August in fields, clearings, and along roadsides throughout most northern areas in North America, but also some areas in the south. In five states it is deemed a noxious weed. Hence the name “Devil’s Paintbrush”!
Near the top of the hill there was a glade that was filled with the pretty little bud-like wildflowers.
Pearly Everlasting, Western Pearly Everlasting, or Anaphalis margaritacea, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae). A native flower, it blooms from July through September in dry pastures, waste places, and along roadsides throughout most of North America. They can be used in dry flower arrangements.
After slogging up the hill on Ravens Ridge Trail, we finally got to some more flat areas as we turned back on Bear Rocks Trail.
We knew that if we kept going along, we’d reach the parking lot by around 1pm, so we decided to stop off next to the river about a mile from the trailhead. We boiled some water and cooked up some Mountain House Rice and Chicken, which was surprisingly delicious.
During the last mile of our hike beautiful mist started rolling in across the hills of spruce and wide meadows. I’d been hoping to see some mist at Dolly Sods since before the first time we came because I’d seen some enchanting photos on Twitter taken by Jen Johnson and Larry Brown.
I snapped a bunch of pictures. After walking a short distance, the mist and the angle of the field would change and I’d stop and take more photos. That last mile probably took us about an hour.
The trailhead area, which is also the entrance to Dolly Sods Wilderness, is called Bear Rocks. There are huge sandstone boulders on a cliff that looks out into a breathtaking valley. On this day we could not see anything due to the mist, but when it is clear you can see several layers of mountains stretching into the distance on both sides, as well as in front of you. The last time we were there we could even identify Shenandoah National Park’s mountains as the furthest layer in the distance.
The Dolly Sods North loop is excellent both for a day hike or for a backpacking trip. The only downside is that there really is only one area with decent campsites next to water. We went on the weekend that had great weather, so it was probably one of the busiest times. Even so, there was only one other group that camped at one of the neighboring sites. I think there’s a good chance that if you go, you can get a campsite there.
Overall, it was a beautiful and memorable trip. I’d love to go back and do the loop again.