Hidden Valley Reflections

Thanksgiving is tomorrow.  During this time we often reminisce and reflect on what’s happened in the past year and give thanks for the good things we have in our lives.  Along the themes of reminiscence and reflection, here are some tranquil, reflective photos from a trip my son Karl and I took to Hidden Valley Lake one evening in this November.

Reflections on Hidden Valley Lake

We approached the eastern side of the lake just as a series of interesting cloud formations developed in the otherwise clear evening sky.  The lake was very still—there was no wind—and the reflections looking back toward the sun were magnificent.  (Click on any of these photos to enlarge them.)

Shoreline Reflections

The leaves had already mostly fallen, but as can be seen in the above photo, there were still oaks on the far side of the lake that clung to some of their dark auburn foliage. 

Surrounded by Clouds

We were the only two people in the valley.  There was absolute quiet except for the sound of the rushing water in the distance at the dam. 

The air was crisp and had a unique, slightly sweet scent.  I have since come to learn that Hidden Valley at one time may have been a high elevation bog.  There are some unusual plants in the valley that give off the unique scent in the late fall.  I have discussed with Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries that it may be Possum Haw aka Shawnee Haw or Nanny Berry, or it may even be the bark from some of the trees after the leaves have fallen and they are more exposed to the air and sun.

Karl and I went for a hike to explore upper Brumley Creek.  The creek’s headwaters are formed from the lake’s drainage, high elevation springs, and smaller creeks in the valley.

Upon our return, most of the clouds had rolled away.  In the stillness of evening, the lake made an almost perfect reflecting pool.  Faint light and muted features caused the scene to look like an impressionist painting:

Reflecting back on this year, I’ve spent a lot of time in the outdoors with my family.  That’s one thing, among many other things, for which I am thankful.

 

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Winter Cometh: The First Snow

Yesterday morning, November 17, we had the first snowfall in Abingdon.  It started after I was already at work, so I didn’t get any pictures of it.  It only snowed for a couple of hours; it was not a particularly heavy snow, and the ground was too warm for any of it to accumulate. 

Unlike many folks, I always enjoy the first snowfall in town, as it means we’re in the season where we’ll see more of it in the mountains as winter approaches.

Snowy Whitetop on October 29, 2011

However, the snow yesterday wasn’t the first this fall in Southwest Virginia.  In the eastern end of Washington County we had noticeable accumlation twice in October.

The first heavy dusting occurred on Saturday, October 1, 2011.  When we were camping at Grindstone last month (see my previous article), the campground host told me that it snowed all Saturday that first weekend of October, and there was significant accumulation all over the north side of Mount Rogers.

Mount Rogers and Whitetop, Late Afternoon, October 2, 2011

By the time I took the photo above, the weekend storm cleared out, the sun warmed the day back into the upper 50s°, and most of the snow had melted off of the mountains. You can still see some remnants on the summit of Mount Rogers (on the left side of the photo).  The scene earlier in the day was more dramatic; it is a strange contrast to see snow on the mountains behind the green, deciduous trees in the valley before they’ve changed into their fall colors.

The last accumulation of snow in the Virginia High Country this past Spring was May 5, 2011 (see photo here).  Therefore, even with the relatively mild fall, those who love snow only had to go four months this year–June, July, August and September–before the sight for sore eyes of a white-encrusted mountain top reappeared in Southwest Virginia.
 
 

Autumn Sun

As the sun reflects the autumnal hues of falling foliage, we no longer take the endless days of summer for granted.  Our appreciation of the sunlight grows as each day becomes shorter. 

The sun bursts through golden foliage in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.

Like most natural resources, our conscious awareness of the sun increases in proportion to its scarcity.  A whole sunny week is a nice thing.  On the other hand, a bright, sunny day following a gloomy, rainy week−now that, my friend, is absolutely glorious!

The warmth of the autumn sun is more palpable in some way, too, and parallels the warm colors of the season.  I find myself consciously glancing up to catch the sun’s rays more often in autumn, sometimes as they are cast through the trees. 

Grindstone Campground

This past October 15-17 we camped at Grindstone Campground in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.  This is one of our favorite campsites, and it is somewhat of a tradition that we come here at least once almost every fall. 

The elevation, about 3300′, and the climate here usher in a change in the foliage that is usually a few weeks ahead of the change in the towns and cities of the region. 

We enjoyed fine fall colors, with the brilliant early reds and yellows across the mountains giving way to the finer and more subtle burgundies and golds of late fall.  These are the archetypical colors of Southwest Virginia in autumn. 

Our campsite was flooded with color each morning and afternoon.  The long shadows added texture to the imagery.

Colorful Campsite

One tall oak, larger than all the others, stood sentinel over our tent, leaves and branches rustling as the wind blew through the campsite all weekend.

The autumn sun and its accoutrements−the colors, the shadows, the warm daylight and accompanying cool, crisp nights−these things make fall my favorite season for camping.

There’s a Squatch in These Virginia Woods

Bigfoot has been sighted in Southwest Virginia.  Apparently often.  Usually associated with the mountains in the Pacific Northwest, there have been encounters with bigfoot, or sasquatch, all across this country. 

Huge Bigfoot Carving in Mt. Shasta, Northern California

Earlier last month, I was finishing a hike with a client when we saw an 8′ tall, fur-covered, man-like creature stop on the trail about 100′ in front of us.  Standing but slightly hunched, it turned its head slowly and looked back at us, barred its teeth, and then quickly lumbered away down the hill out of sight. 

Neither of us had our cameras ready.  It happened so fast we were not able to get a photograph of the creature.  Dumbfounded, shocked, and in fear, we just stared down the trail and then back at one another.

Our Encounter

Actually, that’s not what really happened.

Earlier last month, I was finishing a hike with a client when we learned that Animal Planet was getting ready to film a new episode for the second season of the TV show Finding Bigfoot in Southwest Virginia.  This is what really happened:

As we were arriving at the gravel parking lot, a large, white SUV drove up to us.  The blonde driver stated,  “Hi, I’m a TV producer from Los Angeles, and I’m  trying to find out some areas to shoot footage for our television show.”

He pointed to where we were hiking.  He asked, “Do you know who owns this property?”

My client stepped forward.  She said, “I do.”  

Then, gesturing towards me, she said, “And he’s my lawyer.” 

So our conversation began.  We talked for a while, and we learned he was one of the producers of Finding Bigfoot.  

Last week, the local newspaper reported that the TV show had a “casting call” of sorts, where they interviewed individuals who believe they have encountered bigfoot in our region.  According to the Washington County News:

After a short introduction by the show’s cast, the floor was open for local residents to tell their best Bigfoot stories on camera. Most of the witnesses’ stories had the common theme of spotting an extremely tall, broad-shouldered figure while hunting in the woods. One of the hunters was a man from Piney Flats, Tenn., who told a detailed story about how a large, dark figure with long, matted hair walked up to him, looked at him for a moment, then walked away in a zigzag motion.
“With my hand up to heaven I know what I saw,” the man said after he told his story.
A teenager from Saltville told a story about how she saw the familiar dark figure at the top of a hill outside her home, and soon after she made eye contact with it she was hit by a rock that left a sizeable bruise on her right leg. She even brought in a drawing of the creature to show to the cast.

The Bigfoot Phenomenon

The phenomenon of the fascination with bigfoot is itself fascinating.  Like other paranormal phenomenons, such as UFOs, opinions on the existence of bigfoot are polarized.  Either you believe they exist, or you think those who do are freaks. 

Those who believe in bigfoot argue that bigfoot’s existence without definitive human knowledge is not that far-fetched:   There are other phenomena−far larger phenomena−that have existed without human knowledge through the ages.  For example, until the last 10-15 years, many of the world’s tallest waterfalls remained unknown to humankind (the 3rd, 5th, and 16th tallest waterfalls were only recently discovered).  If such large geographical formations could remain hidden, is it not possible that an intelligent humanoid could covertly exist in remote areas of the country?

Huge Yowie Carving, Queensland, Australia

The phenomenon of bigfoot sightings is world-wide.  Individuals around the world swear they have seen the humanoid cryptid.  In Europe the creature has been known through the ages as the “Wildman”; in Asia it is known as the “Yeti” or the “Abominable Snowman”; in Oceania it is known as the “Yowie.”

The great climber, Reinhold Messner, spent several seasons in the Himalaya and had an encounter with the Yeti.  Messner wrote a book about it, My Quest for the Yeti.  Messner ultimately concluded that the Himalyan Yeti was most likely a bear. 

Perhaps most, if not all, human encounters with bigfoot could be explained in some similar fashion−misconceptions about what people saw or thought they saw. 

Bigfoot Sightings in Virginia

In Virginia, there are several organizations dedicated to bigfoot research.  The Virginia Bigfoot Research Organization  boasts of “combining scientific methodology with shamanistic awareness in the hopes of establishing peaceful contact.”  Based in Northern Virginia, VBRO has a large list of encounters with bigfoot in the Commonwealth organized by region.  There are numerous sightings in Southwest Virginia.  Sasquatch Watch of Virginia, another organization, “conducts initial field investigations and field research within areas of reported encounters or habitual recurring encounters.” 

One website purports to map all of the confirmed bigfoot encounters in the United States.  From my review of the maps, there are more bigfoot sightings in the Eastern United States than in the West.  There are numerous encounters near New York City. 

Which brings us to the penultimate question in this article.  Hypothetically, if there are bigfoot in Southwest Virginia, where would they most likely be? 

My guess would be up on Clinch Mountain, in the Mount Rogers National Recreational Area, or somewhere near the Virginia-Kentucky state line near Breaks Interstate Park.  These are the most rugged areas of this part of the state, where the squatch could reside with fairly large ranging areas and yet hide from humans.

So, is there a squatch in these Southwest Virginia woods?  I can’t wait to hear the testimonials on the TV show and find out.  And next time you are in the outdoors, be extra aware.  Oh yes, keep your cameras ready, too.