Some of us chose to celebrate the 4th of July this year together, camping and wheeling and seeing fireworks from a vantage new to us all. Life complications and weather dissuaded a few, but some of us went out anyways.
We stayed until 10 watching large fireworks being fired from about 30 locations across Harrisonburg in the valley in front of us.
- Andrew and Cherie Taylor (members) – Silver Nissan Xterra
- Kathryn Taylor (guest) – riding in the Xterra
- Keith Graybeal (guest) – Green Ford Ranger
Kathryn flew in from Indianapolis Thursday to go with us for the weekend, and after loading the Xterra to the brim (including our new hitch cargo carrier) we swung by Keith’s house and he fell in behind us as we caravanned down to George Washington National Forest, just west of Harrisonburg. We looked for an available campsite along Skidmore Fork Road (off of US-33) somewhere along the way up to Flagpole Knob. After poking our hoods into a few to find they were occupied we found a secluded spot that required 4-wheel drive just to get to, and we setup camp. Our campsite would earn the nickname “Campsite Seattle” during the weekend due to the constant rainy and wet conditions and the fact that it appeared to be in a hemlock grove!
Friday morning after breakfast we piled in our vehicles and headed off to explore some trails new to everyone. We first started up Dictums Ridge Road from 33 only to find that what we had read online was true, the southern entrance to this trail is closed about 150ft up the trail.
Back down on 33 we had a brief chat and decided to head into Harrisonburg for some handheld radios since Keith’s CB wasn’t working, and then we’d head toward the north end of Dictums Ridge from another direction. After getting radios we headed to the east end of Long Run Road, aired down, and eventually got to the northern trailhead of Dictums Ridge.
Dictums Ridge was a fun drive, although overgrown in some spots but passable in a stock SUV, and we enjoyed the trail the whole way to the closed gate approaching the southern end. We walked down the trail further to discover that in addition to the new gate there is also a large tree that was felled diagonally across the trail just to further dissuade anybody that had the idea of going around the gate. We turned around and by the time we got back to the trailhead it was getting late in the afternoon so we decided not to do 2nd Mountain Trail which is right next to Dictums Ridge. Instead we decided to checkout Gauley Ridge Road which is a nice wide dirt road with several nice views and despite what Google Maps shows eventually does end up back on pavement. Once on pavement we worked our way back to camp. That night we relaxed, told stories, and enjoyed camp food and a warm campfire happy with our exploration.
Saturday morning after a leisurely morning we again packed into the vehicles, this time to head south to the southern trailhead of Shoe Creek Trail.
After airing down we headed onto the trail. It was a beautiful summer day and the moss covered rocks were at their peak brilliance, with light fog over some of the many stream crossings! It was apparent to those of us that had done this trail just a few months ago that someone had recently come through and done some trail maintenance, making some of the stream crossings and other spots a little easier. However, that trail maintenance which will in 2 months or so appear natural again was adding to the muddy conditions the day we went. With the recent rain we found that some of the clay mud added to the shelf of a road along one part of the trail was a little slick. Keith lost traction on a hill on this clay at one point and after trying a few times to move forward had gotten precariously close to the edge of the trail. We wasted no time hooking him up on one end of a recovery strap and us to the other end and gently pulled him back up the trail to safety. His knuckles seemed to regain some color once back away from the edge!
Shortly after the hill climb and another stream crossing Keith’s Ranger was struggling to get up a rocky hill. We realized that Keith’s 4-wheel drive didn’t appear to be working. After disengaging and reengaging it though it appeared to be working and he went right up the path. This likely was part of the problem earlier, something to look into once back at home. We paused for lunch on the trail only to discover Keith had forgotten his lunch at camp. No worries though, we had plenty for 4 (apparently we over packed) and so no one went hungry.
We casually kept working our way along the trail, stopping at a few points that had been washed out recently where a spotter was helpful. It was amazing to see how this trail had changed in just a few months since the last time we were here in February. By the time we got to the end of the trail we decided instead of continuing on to Big Levels that we would rather head back to camp and leave us time to get to Flagpole Knob to watch fireworks. We aired up at a little Country Store a few miles from the trailhead at the Montebello Camping and Fishing Resort. We’ll have to remember to stop there again in the future as the store had everything from forgotten camping gear to fresh food made by the locals. After airing up and getting snacks we headed back to our campsite back in George Washington National Forest. On the way back to the campsite we did stop by Switzer Lake and take some pictures, and taught Kathryn how to skip rocks.
Around 8pm, following dinner, we headed out to drive up the road/trail to Flagpole Knob. The road was in good condition but was a little bumpy since we were still aired up from our drive back from Shoe Creek. Also, we came across many trees that had fallen across the road and had since been cleared. Some were cleared better than others, with some forcing you to get close to the edge of the road and potentially a good drop down into the valley! We got up to Flagpole right at 9pm to discover several other groups already up there to enjoy the fireworks.
We stayed until 10 watching large fireworks being fired from about 30 locations across Harrisonburg in the valley in front of us. Had it not been for the light fog we maybe would have seen even more. It was a pretty spectacular way to enjoy the 4th! By the time we got back to camp we were beat and all headed straight to bed.
Sunday morning we had breakfast, and then dragged our feet on starting to pack up. We didn’t want the weekend to end. It took a little longer than usual to pack up since everything was wet (and bees had made many hives in front of our tent overnight). We were taking different paths home so we said goodbye to Keith and he left just a few minutes before us. That was of course after he snuck a bluegrass classic rock CD into our vehicle, which we got to enjoy on the way home!
Trail report written by Andrew Taylor. Pictures courtesy of Kathryn Taylor, Keith Greybeal, and Cherie Taylor.