Roadtrip 2016 Day Four: Grayson Highlands State Park, aka WILD PONIES!

As usual, if you missed any of the previous posts in the roadtrip series, click here

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Hands down, this was my favorite day of the trip by far, though it didn’t start off that way. At some point in the night it started raining. All of our towels and wet clothes we hung up before bed became even more soaked, although at the time I wasn’t thinking about that. I was wondering if our rainfly would hold.

The rainfly on our tent is full coverage, so it works really well. What I had found out on a previous trip is that you must make sure no part of the rainfly touches the tent, or water will seep through the fabric. This is trickiest at the corners, but we set up the rainfly well and nothing leaked. Tyler and I fell back asleep.

I slept alright with the rain. Normally, rain makes a soothing sound dropping on the tent. However, great gusts of wind came and went. Our tent was situated under some trees, so whenever the wind blew, lots of rain fell on our tent at once, creating periods of very loud rain and periods of soft rain. It was reminiscent of sleeping under Nancy’s window unit.

Sometime later, I was startled from sleep. This time not from the rain, but from Tyler! On the short ends of the tent, there are mesh panels. In his sleep Tyler stretched and brushed his foot up against the mesh. Water had condensed on the mesh. When his foot touched wetness, he startled awake thinking that our tent was leaking.

Thankfully, it was not leaking. I even went outside and checked all the corners where I thought it was most likely to leak. Tyler fell asleep quickly, but I did not. As I lay there trying to sleep, I noticed that I would feel mist every so often. It wasn’t raining too hard, but when the wind blew, large drops would fall on the tent. This pinged the rainfly. Water had condensed on the underside of the rainfly, so when big droplets fell, the condensation misted over me.

This was somewhat unpleasant, and I didn’t fancy the idea of having wet sleeping bags. Eventually, I rallied and left the safety of the tent to dig out the big green and white tarp from the car. I draped the tarp over the tent, completely engulfing it. Getting back in the tent was a bit of a struggle. As I laid down, I was satisfied. The tarp made the rain much louder, but at least condensation was no longer splattering on my face.

Later that morning, Tyler and I woke up for the day. It was still raining. We hadn’t gone to the store the day before, so we still didn’t have breakfast foods that didn’t require cooking. Instead, we ate carrots while sitting in our sleeping bags.

When the rain let up to just an occasional sprinkle, Tyler and I left the tent and discussed options for the day. First up, stopping by the country store to see if they had paper towels, AAA batteries for our headlamps that started dying the night before, and ice. The little old man running the store was sweet and helped me find everything I needed. As we were checking out, I added the little trail guide booklet.

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The night we arrived at the park we couldn’t even tell this was an overlook due to the heavy fog.

Second stop was the park office. I had made reservations for one night at Grayson Highlands State Park, but Tyler and I decided that we wanted to stay two nights. It would be nice to not have to breakdown and set up camp every day. I paid for our second night and asked the nice lady if there was a town nearby with a grocery store and a laundromat. She gave me directions and said it was about 45 minutes away.

I walked back out to the car. By this point it was around lunchtime. The sky had cleared up. Tyler and I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and go hiking now, rather than trying to drive into town. Washing and drying our towels would be nice, but I really needed to get somewhere with service or wi-fi because I needed to reply to an urgent work email.

I made us some lunch while Tyler planned our route. The main reason why I wanted to come to Grayson Highlands was because of the wild ponies! The Appalachian Trail travels a short distance through the park and this is where the wild ponies make their home. The ponies were originally introduced to control vegetation on the balds of Virginia.

We decided to hike the AT approach trail, continue along the AT until it intersects with the Rhododendron Trail, and take that back to the car. We estimated it was about 3 miles of hiking. Tyler and I started off hiking in jackets. It was that cool out, but soon the sun peaked out behind the clouds and warmed us up.

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The weather was just perfect for hiking here. For the most part, we hiked along the exposed balds. The high elevation meant that it was cool. There was a slight breeze, but not too windy, and the cloud cover meant that we weren’t roasting in the sun. It was one of the most comfortable days I’ve ever had while hiking. Pure bliss.

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All over the trail, there were blueberry and blackberry bushes. Some of the blackberries and most of the blueberries were ripe and perfect for snacking. The blueberries were incredibly small compared to the ones we usually get in the grocery store. They reminded me of the tiny blueberries I ate when I was in New Hampshire last summer. Though to be honest, these blueberries were not as good. Most were pretty sweet, but a significant portion were kind of sour.

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Tyler and I walked all over the balds in search of the wild ponies. Tyler especially. He would find a little side track and follow it until it inevitably petered out. We walked down the “wrong” way on the AT for a bit hoping to see ponies. Then, we walked back and followed the AT to the Rhododendron trail. The trail guide said that the ponies can typically be found on Wilburn Ridge, but on the map Wilburn Ridge is kind of a vague area.

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Alongside the trail, there were numerous piles of boulders. Naturally, Tyler and I had to climb them. One, to see if we could see a herd of ponies in the distance, and two, because who doesn’t want to climb to the highest point of a jumble of rocks on top of a hill? The views from up there were just absolutely stunning.

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As I mentioned in the previous post, Tyler loves finding snakes while hiking. He was super excited when I found a little one curled up, sunning himself on the rocks. We tried to take a picture but he slithered away.

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After climbing nearly all the rock-crowned hilltops, Tyler and I spotted movement on a far off hillside. It looked like a group of people. And maybe ponies? Horseback riders are allowed on a trail that crossed through this section, so we debated at first whether it was just a group of riders or if they were the ponies we had been searching for all day. Clever Tyler used the zoom function on the camera to take a picture of the ridge. We found the wild ponies!

Tyler and I hiked as quickly as possible up the hill to the ponies. We needn’t have worried though. The ponies were quite content to graze among the group of people. We found the ponies right along the Appalachian Trail just where it exists the park. On the other side of the fence some bovines grazed.

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Bovines!

It seemed as though the ponies can often be found at this location on Wilburn Ridge. There were benches and signs that reminded you to not feed or pet the ponies. There were not such benches and signs on other portions of the trail. Although the ponies are free to roam, it was clear that they favored this hilltop. The grass was cropped very short!

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See those peaks in the distance? We hiked all the way from over there!

The ponies were calm and didn’t seem to mind people walking among them. They weren’t interested in us really at all. They would walk right by you as if you were nothing more than a tree. The ponies are definitely ponies and not horses. They were short and squat with rotund bellies.

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The babies were so cute! Some of them still had their super fuzzy baby fur. The foals followed after their mom, sometimes nursing, sometimes trying to figure out how to graze. The foals were so tired that when their mom stopped for a moment to graze, they plopped down on the ground and promptly fell asleep. Usually, when you think of foals sleeping, you think of them all curled up. Well, the babies were so exhausted from following their mom around all day, that they often fell asleep laying on their side with their legs outstretched. Sometimes it looked as if they were dead! The cutest thing was when the foals woke up and realized that their mother had moved on without them. They frantically trotted around and whickered until they were reunited. So precious!

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After a long while of watching the ponies and taking pictures, we decided it was time to head back to the car. We still had to drive into town so I could send that email! We walked back on the Rhododendron trail, where we saw a bunny hiding under a tree. We passed by lots of blueberries bushes and even stopped for a few minutes to pick some. We intended to eat them with dinner, but wound up eating them all as a snack on our walk back.

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If you hike this same loop, AT approach trail, the AT, and Rhododendron trail, be advised that the Rhododendron trail spits you out at the Massie Gap parking lot. It is pretty close to the backpacking parking lot where we parked, but it took us a few minutes to figure out where we were.

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Tyler and I had an amazing day hiking, but we were ready to be done. My guess is that we actually hiked closer to 5 miles with all the extra exploring we did rather than the 3 miles we had originally planned. After our big hiking excursion the day before, our feet were tired! When we got back to camp, we made dinner from two dehydrated backpacking meals and some plums. I’m glad I brought the dehydrated dinners along, since we didn’t go to the grocery store as planned the day before. The dehydrated meals were pretty good, though we were super hungry so I think most things would have tasted good. Tyler had the spaghetti, which I think was the better of the two. I had beef strogenoff.

After our quick dinner, it was time to drive into town. I needed just the smallest bit of signal to send my email. We followed the directions the nice lady at the park office had given me. We drove for an hour before we came to the small town of Independence, VA. However, I still had no signal. Nor had I gotten any on the hour drive over here.

Then, Tyler had the bright idea to check for wi-fi that wasn’t password protected. That’s when we saw that Xfinity had signal. Hooray for Xfinity! It took a few tries, but we finally got the email/password combination right. I accessed my email account and tried to send my email, but the wifi signal had faded. Oh no!

We drove very slowly around town until we found where the signal was strongest. Then, we parked on the side of the road and waited there until my email sent. I also sent a copy to my mom to make sure that the email went through. While I waited to hear back from her, Tyler and I caught up on the happening on the internet the past few days. We had brought our soaking wet towels with us in case we could find the laundromat and stick them in the dryer, but it was not to be. We looked up the only laundromat in town; it closed at 3:00 in the afternoon. Ah well, it was worth a try. At this point it was getting dark, so we began the hour long drive back to camp.

By the time we got back to camp, it had started to sprinkle. We were both excited about taking a warm shower, but less excited by drying off with wet towels. I hopped into my shower; it was blissfully warm. Then I heard a knock at the bathhouse door. What? It was Tyler checking that I was the only one in the bathhouse. He had (somewhat) dried his towel using the hand dryer and brought it for me to use! He took mine to dry out and use for himself. He is so sweet. It was nice to be able to actually dry off with a towel before putting on my pajamas.

It was a little difficult getting into the tent with the green and white tarp still drapped over it. We had intended to actually up it up using the poles and such, but with the long drive into town, we didn’t get a chance before dark. Tyler and I snuggled into bed and fell asleep with the sound of rain plopping above our heads.

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2 thoughts on “Roadtrip 2016 Day Four: Grayson Highlands State Park, aka WILD PONIES!

  1. Pingback: An Introduction to Our non-Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip – Simple Adventures Open Eyes

  2. Pingback: Florida Trip 2016: Dehydrating Dinners – Simple Adventures Open Eyes

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