Dwight Peck's personal website

Summer 2021

A photographic record of whatever leapt out at us



You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

The waterfall in St Mary's Wilderness, without the waterfall

We heard about this one by word of mouth, just recently, and it sounded like a walk that needs to be walked.

We're in the trailhead parking area of the St Mary's Wilderness, part of the Washington and Jefferson National Forest, about 7km (4.4mi) northeast of Steeles Tavern on US 11, aka the Lee Highway. Technically we're in the civic jurisdiction of Raphine, Virginia. (25 May 2021)

Our walk, meant to be about 4½ miles up and back, follows a gorge northeastward into the Blue Ridge mountains, with an insignificant elevation gain of only 300 feet.

A well-manicured path for getting started with

We're mostly following alongside the St Mary's River, though along the way there seem to be some small tributaries or by-channels.

-- Which way now? [Straight ahead]

-- Mind the rattlesnake.

Muddy shoes, for sure

The sides of the gorge loom overhead in many places, as here, but in many other places the steep slopes are covered with the rock debris thrown down from the manganese and iron mining higher up in the early 20th century.

That's probably the St Mary's River. But who knows? It could be a branch or a tributary, or whatever -- we're just guests here. We'll just follow the path wherever it may lead us.

The reason for our doubts is that the river seems much broader and more vigorous farther up than this little embarrassment.

We're entering the realm of some marvelous flowers along the path and throughout the woods.

Flowers, and slopes of mining debris behind

That must have made a thud when it came down.

Back into the gorge

The St Mary's River, and no convenient bridge over it

At least we know now that this is the veritable St Mary's River -- the trail description included a mention of four river crossings.

-- Your turn!

A helpful trail marker -- there are only a few, but they're placed where they're most welcome.

-- Well spotted!

The next river crossing

Those in our party who are wearing excellent new hiking-worthy shoes are annoyed (but already soaked through, anyway), but Kristin doesn't care in the least.

The mighty St Mary's River from midstream

Kristin's 'hiking sandals' let the feet breathe and she's crossed glaciers in them, sort of like this . . .

Kristin: "What did you say? I can't hear you."
Dwight: "You're standing on top of a small river!"

And next, still another crossing.
-- Come on in, the water's fine.

The gorge is becoming a bit more gorgey as we progress.

We may soon burst out upon the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Mind the step.

-- Oh, damn.

Virtually at a gallop

A floral alley

Where are all the botanists when we need them? These are probably well known to all flower fanciers, but it's a closed botanical guidebook to me.

Matters are becoming more serious now.

We even fancy that we can hear the waterfall from here.

Round the next bend, we fancy.

Or the next one.

Ah. Well. The path seems to ascend up this rather muddy patch, and we're remonstrating with each other about having neglected to bring our skipoles with us. There is a kind of diminution of will seeping in here.

That could very easily be the predicted St Mary's swimming hole, at the foot of the falls, but we're wondering if we're too old now to try sprinting up those rocks to find out.

A quick recce up the muddy slime may help us to recreate a game plan.

A consensus is likely to escape us here, so . . .

. . . we'll happily agree to bag it here and come back soon with our skipoles. We'll just hand-to-hand it on the trees back down the slimy part, and set off back down the flowery trail to the carpark.

It might be worth noting that at this point we're probably about 1½ miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway, but of course it's straight up.

It's been a splendid walk, and the return will be just as rewarding. Subsequent consultations with a good map suggest that we turned round about 100m from the famous waterfall itself; someday we'll come back to confirm that.

Another pesky rattler -- ignore it, just hurry along.

Overcome with chagrin about the likely fate of our newish Duluth Trading Company serious-walking shoes, we pause to gather our composure and resume.

Taking them off and carrying them across, however, was never an option. So, as with all such adversities, we have to discipline ourselves and bear it.

More gorgeyness

The second of our river re-crossings, and . . .

. . . the third recrossing. These may be Duluth Trading Company walking shoes, but we'll be lucky if they ever recover. Could 'hiking sandals' really be the answer here?

-- Stop sniveling and try to keep up.

We're vigilant here for our earlier rattlesnake, in case he's waked up and got rowdy.

Kristin, with manganese and iron mining debris

Nearly there

A little more nearly there

Pretty much there now. It's a splendid walk (even without the grand finale of the waterfall), and took us a mere 2¾ hours of easy walking. Winter or bad weather would be another story, but for these conditions it's majestic. We've spoken to a few others who've done the walk, and they turned round where we did, so they probably forgot their skipoles, too. We'll come back. With our skipoles.

A lovely, roughly 3-hour walk in The Nature deserves a special sandwich, and one of our party knows just the right place to get hold of one . . .

. . . at Peck's Bar-B-Que just outside of Staunton, VA. (Those of us who don't care for BBQ will wander about for a while in the parking lot, taking photographs.)

Like this one. Betsy Bell on the horizon, a venue for some of our short excursions when ambition deserts us, and still another hugely patriotic car dealer's flag flapping in the breeze.

On deck: A domestic interlude, and the Upper Shamokin Falls

Summer 2021


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 20 June 2021.


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