OK, we’ll admit it. Sometimes we plan our hikes based on places we want to eat and drink afterward. Last weekend, we reallllly wanted some good southern BBQ. We have two favorite places for that in Virginia: Jordan Springs Market, near Winchester (just a bit northwest of DC) and the BBQ Exchange in Gordonsville (northeast of Charlottesville). On this occasion, we opted to plan a short hike in Shenandoah National Park near the Swift Run Gap entrance specifically so that we could swing by the BBQ Exchange soon after we were done. (It just so happened that we somehow also managed to find time to visit Barboursville Vineyards between the hike and our BBQ dinner).
The BBQ Exchange does not, in fact, exchange any barbecue. (Its name is related to the fascinating history of Gordonsville and to its proximity to the railway exchange in town.) What they do is amazing food — lots of it — served with casual Southern hospitality. There’s very minimal table service here. They describe their service style as “quick-counter,” and they also do a brisk take-out business. The counter is manned by a brigade of 3-4 servers who are knowledgeable about the menu and friendly. Pop in line, check the menu board, choose your meat (or meats) plus sides, decide if you want cornbread, pumpkin muffin, or roll with your meal. We usually go with the 2-meat + sides or 3-meat + sides platters. It’s a great way to sample several of their smoked offerings.
The order-taker will mark your sturdy paper plate with shorthand that designates your choices and pass it off to the meat server. If you’ve ordered chicken or brisket (“chopped or sliced?“), they’ll plate it right there. If you’ve ordered something like pork belly or ribs, you’ll likely get a number and they’ll bring your meat to the table when it’s ready. The meat server will pass your plate to the sides server, who will then pass you on to someone to ring you up. You’ll have to pass the gourmet cupcakes in the dessert case to get to the register. Be strong. If by some miracle you have room after eating your meal, you can always come back for one. You can opt for sweet tea or lemonade (of course), or bottled beer, soda, or water from a case near the counter.
Butter, honey, plastic cutlery, and other niceties are on a station just around the corner from the service counter. Once you have your food, find a table — inside or out. Either place, you’ll find picnic tables covered with plain white paper and adorned with six-packs of various house-made sauces and a roll of paper towels. You will want to use both. This is old-school, slow-cooked barbecue (you’ll have noticed the smoking shed behind the restaurant when you parked and came in). They offer pork shoulder, ribs, brisket, pork belly, and chicken. Sides include collard greens (Henri’s favorite), mac & cheese, Brunswick stew, baked beans, pepper cabbage, spicy cole slaw, homestyle cole slaw, potato salad, macaroni salad, house-made pickles, and more.
While the owners, Craig and Donna Hartman, encourage you to “save room for dessert,” we’ve never successfully done so. Portions are generous. The cornbread — amazing with some butter and honey drizzled on top — is a big ol’ chunk. Everything we’ve sampled here (on more than one occasion) is flavorful and tender, with that incredibly satisfying BBQ “bark” on the outside. The sauces and sides are homemade and just as worthy of praise as the meats. The BBQ Exchange also does family dinner meals (designed for 2 adults and 2 children) on a “to go only” basis, as well as meats by the pound.
The restaurant is housed in a whitewashed building with tin siding and sits at the southern end of Main Street in downtown Gordonsville, Virginia. Be sure to check their Facebook page for information on Porkapalooza!
Who could have predicted that the unassuming, iconic NPS arrowhead emblem — ostensibly innocuous, familiar, and dear to so many of us who frequent the National Park Service system — would become the earliest symbol of conscious rebellion against U.S. government censorship under the presidency of reality television star Donald Trump?1 It seems like the stuff of fiction. Yet, it appears to be exactly what has happened in the past week.
By now, just about everyone knows the story of how the Badlands National Park Service tweeted out climate change information in direct defiance of an order from the Trump administration banning the NPS from posting about such things on Twitter. (The ban followed two NPS retweets: one of a photo that compared Trump’s inauguration crowd size to that of President Obama’s and one pointing out that references to climate change had been removed from the official White House website when Obama left office.)2
@AltNatParkSer was probably the first “alternative Twitter account” to pop up soon after the Badlands tweets were removed. The Alt-NPS Twitter account began by reposting the Badlands NPS tweets that had been deleted. Its bio reads, “The Unofficial #Resistance team of U.S. National Park Service. Not taxpayer subsidized! Come for rugged scenery, facts & 89 million acres of landscape.” Several other “alt” Twitter accounts soon followed — @RogueNASA, @AcutalEPAFacts, @AltForestService — each with similar explanations in their bios. The idea behind each of these accounts seems to be that employees can tweet out facts and information anonymously that they would be banned from sharing on the official accounts. And people are following these accounts! As of 25 January 2017, the @AltNatParkSer account had almost 2X more followers than the official NPS account.
As of this writing, over 50 such “alt” accounts have popped up on Twitter. Of course, it’s important to note that there’s no way of knowing what individuals are actually behind any of these “alt” accounts. Time will tell how many of them are benevolent superheroes seeking any means to keep America educated and how many may turn out to be attention-seeking imposters or nefarious predators. In any event, we think it’s all worth watching and learning.
The good news it that no one needs to try to follow each of the “alt” accounts on Twitter individually in order to keep up with them, thanks to Alice Stollmeyer. She has been curating a public list that she calls Twistance (a play on resistance and Twitter, of course). Instead of following each individual account, Twitter users can subscribe to Alice’s list to check out all of the tweets from the various alternative accounts.
In the meantime, it seems as if the National Park Service may want to update its History of NPS Visual Identity page to note that the humble arrowhead emblem has swiftly become a new logo of resistance against oppression, and a welcome reminder that some things are worth fighting for.
This Forbes article from 25 January 2017 does a nice job delving into the sticky business of trademark and use of official logos/emblems on social media. Be sure to check out the update at the end of the article.↩
A really pretty day-hike in Shenandoah National Park, with lots of varied terrain and killer views at the top of Mary’s Rock. Popular (read: crowds) at the top, but combining the Buck Hollow loop along with it makes up for the lack of solitude at Mary’s Rock itself.
hiked on 15 January 2017 Shenandoah National Park, Near Sperryville, VA
10 miles (with our improvisational detour…see our Hike Notes, below)
difficulty rating, access information, terrain map & more: Hiking Upward Link
Sperryville has been one of our favorite hiking destinations for years, starting when Old Rag used to be our go-to hike. It’s near the beginning points for several great trails in or near the Shenandoah National Park system, an easy hour and 15 minute drive from our base camp in Fredericksburg, VA (though we usually tack on 15 more minutes to stop at a Wawa on the way for coffee, breakfast and hiking snacks).
Parking for the Buck Hollow loop is a bump-out off Rte 211 that accommodates probably up to a dozen cars (depending on how economically people park). There were 7-8 cars there when we arrived at 10AM this Sunday, though we didn’t see very many of their drivers on the Buck Hollow portion of the trail.
Sperryville, VA on 15 January 2017
As we drove out to Sperryville, we noted a pervasive haze and began to despair that we wouldn’t get great views (or photos) on this hike. We should have realized that it would dissipate by the time we were on trail. But it’s good that we worried for a bit, because that was how we discovered SNP’s Air Quality Webcam and Air Quality Information Page on our smart phones. What a great real-time weather/visibility tool! As it happened, we were concerned for no good reason. By the time we had parked and were hitting the trail, the haze had cleared and the sun came though. It turned out to be a gorgeous day to hike, with great visibility at the top of Mary’s Rock.
The usual day-hike prep: Henri’s orange Osprey Daylite pack and Fergus’ trusty North Face, filled with a few snacks, water in Nalgenes, basic first-aid supplies, and space to pack layers if we needed to shed them. We figured on a 5.5 hour hike (with half an hour stop for snacks and photos at the top).
On this hike, we played the Layers Game, wherein it started off cool, but then we found ourselves quickly warming up and stripping off down jackets and beanies in favor of sweatshirts and ball caps…then putting the warmer layers back on again as the wind picked up and the temperature went down toward the top.
OUR HIKE NOTES
There are a couple of much shorter routes to get to Mary’s Rock, if that is a visitor’s main focus. Mary’s Rock is quite popular and rates pretty low in our “solitude” category. Though not quite as crowded as Old Rag can be, Mary’s Rock tends to be crawling with people on weekends. That’s not typically something we love, but we’d never checked it out before, so figured it would be OK to do a busier hike, if we coupled it with Buck Hollow loop — known to be somewhat less popular.
The route we took followed Hiking Upward’s trail notes almost exactly, except for a one-mile detour that we took when Henri was in the lead and not really paying attention to signage or blazes (it happens). All-in-all, we hiked about 10 miles this day. The hike is usually about 9 miles, split more-or-less evenly: 3 miles on Buck Hollow Trail up to Skyline Drive, 3 miles up to Mary’s Rock and back down to Skyline (includes a short stretch on the Appalachian Trail), and 3 miles down on Buck Ridge Trail to the parking area.
The Buck Hollow trail up to Skyline Drive is gorgeous, and we don’t mean just the scenery and views (though they are). The actual trail is just…well, pretty. Often a trail is merely dirt and rocks, but the Buck Hollow trail can be described as idyllic, kind of lovely with moss, rocks, and roots conspiring to create the sort of underfoot pathway usually reserved for Disney films. It doesn’t hurt the ambiance that you spend a good deal of the first 3 miles following a stream with burbling cascades.
As you turn away from the stream on Buck Hollow trail, things go up steeply. The first three miles of this loop are definitely UP. You’ll reach a parking area on Skyline Drive at the top of the trail, which is one place a lot of people park and hike up to Mary’s Rock. The trail gets more populated from here on. We saw maybe 3-4 hikers on Buck Hollow. By the time we were at the top of Mary’s Rock, we had lost count of our trail mates.
It’s more UP from Skyline Drive to Mary’s Rock, including a portion of the Appalachian Trail, which is rewarded with some gorgeous views along the way. Altogether, the elevation gain for this hike is about 2,600 feet. We stopped along the way to take a photo for two young women hiking together, and they returned the favor. It’s sort of rare to get a couple shot of Fergus & Henri to share in a post!
Mary’s Rock, itself, offers some stellar views. There’s a ridge of boulders that you can climb to see the valley and hills from various angles and heights. The top was pretty busy with visitors on this Sunday, reminding us quite a bit of climbing Old Rag, but it’s easy to see why it’s popular. Shorter hikes with closer parking areas can bring you to these vistas with little effort, the pay off is just stunning, and the boulder climbing is comparably easy.
Leaving Mary’s Rock, Henri took the lead and — not paying careful attention — followed the crowd headed along the AT connector trail steeply down toward the Thornton Gap parking area for about half a mile before Fergus noted the discrepancy. Whoops! Back up we went to the AT itself, and back on true trail the rest of the way. We tacked on about a mile and maybe 30 minutes to our hike, but it was still pretty and the views were great, so no complaints.
Back at the Skyline Drive parking area, you’re faced with a decision about how you’d prefer to return to the Buck Hollow trailhead. You can go left and follow the same trail you took up to this point, or you can go right and follow the Buck Ridge trail to the trailhead. Because this was our first time on the loop, we opted to see what Buck Ridge had to offer.
This 3-mile portion of the hike is mostly down, quite steeply so in the last half mile, and features some cool boulder formations and pretty trail flora. We noted quite a bit of scat that was unmistakably bear…but also unmistakably several days old. No fresh scat and no bear sightings for us on this trip. As with Buck Hollow, the ridge trail had only a couple of other hikers on it, returning us to relative solitude. You miss out on the pretty stream going back this way, but the variety of terrain and vegetation makes it worthwhile, along with the views from the ridge.
Hiking Upward says “the last 0.5 miles of the Buck Ridge Trail is very steep on loose rock,” but we’re not sure when that was written. The last half mile IS steep, but rather than loose rock, we found it to be made up of a well-maintained winding stairway that had been meticulously cut into the hillside. It’s quite something to see and we marveled when thinking of the process it must have taken to construct it. The stairs wind down in a series of tiny “switchbacks” from the ridge to the hollow, where we crossed back over Thornton River to the parking lot at the trailhead.
OUR FAVORITE BITS
Varied terrain that both held our interest & provided some challenge.
My mom died this past July. She was 86 years old (would have been 87 a bit later this month), and had chain-smoked most of her life from adolescence on, so her passing was not so much a surprise to us as was the fact that she had managed to live as long as she did. Fergus took this photo of me paddleboarding on the little lake near my mother’s retirement community while we were ‘back home’ in Michigan with my 4 sisters, awaiting the inevitable and filling the long summer days out on that water whenever possible.
When I first saw this shot, I thought of Dylan Thomas’ famous poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” And I thought about how uncharacteristic it would have been for mom to “rage rage” against anything at all, least of all the dying of the light. It was not in her nature to fight or strive. Though I loved her, I have lived most of my own existence in purposeful opposition to my mother’s. We may ask ourselves what makes us seek adventure and want to push ourselves to try new things, learn new skills, grow to new proportions. In my case, a big part of the answer is that my mother never sought to do any of those things, and that fact has bothered me my entire life. I have never understood it.
The world’s big and I want to have good look at it before it gets dark.
When I read those words by John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, I thought, “Ah yes. That’s how I feel exactly.” The world is vast and amazing and there’s only so much time. I want to see and do as much as I can, and then some, before the dying of the light.
So, we just signed up for the “Adventure Series” of the 52 Hike Challenge. We’re starting with the first hike we posted on this blog, which is also the first hike of Henri’s 48th year on the planet (having turned 47 on November 20). Seems like a fitting starting place.
We’ve already knocked off several of the Adventure Series Objectives:
5 Waterfalls (even if they are dry) — 2 DOWN in Hike #2
1 Forest (if not possible, go to National Park/ Site) — All 3 to date have been in Shenandoah National Park, but we’re likely to get a few hikes in at Prince William Forest Park too.
1 National Parks, Monuments, Preserves, Recreation Area or Historic Trail — see note above
2 Hikes to bodies of water: Lakes, Rivers, or Ocean
1 Stewardship hike (pick up trash or join group to help with a restoration project)
1 Group hike (if you are regular to one group, visit a new group to meet new people)
1 Introduce someone new to hiking (on an easy trail)
1 Hike from your Bucket list (somewhere you have always wanted to go) — we hiked Sedona a few years ago, but we’ll look for a new BL one for this year!
3 Reflection hikes (journal at the beginning, middle, and towards the end of your challenge). — all the hikes we put in the blog count, we think