Every spring Jim's Rotary district has their district meeting at The Homestead. He sits in meetings all day and I get out and hike the miles of lovely trails. The exercise enables me to enjoy the food without putting on (too many) pounds.

Ski slope

We arrived on Friday morning. My plan was to take the guided Cascades gorge hike, but the heavy rains earlier in the week had flooded the path. So I grabbed a map and headed out on the local trails.

The first point of interest was the ski area, now closed for the season.

This is one of the original VA ski areas. I remember in college hearing others make plans for weekend ski trips to The Homestead. At that time I had not caught the bug.

North Trail 1 The resident naturalist had suggested that I stay on the South Trail, but I had hiked it on an earlier visit, so naturally I sought out the North Trail instead.

It was a cold windy day with occasional snow showers. I was glad to be in the woods much of the time.

North Trail 2 Because of the recent (and much needed) rain, all of the mountain brooks were in full babble mode.

In a couple of places in fact, the trail was doubling as a stream bed. Luckily the water was never deep, so I was able to pick my way along without getting my feet wet.

No, this is not a picture of the trail.

1766 Golf Course Eventually the trail came out of the woods and ran along the golf course for a while. The views were nice, but the wind was wicked. I was glad when the trail ducked back into the forest.

Although the Homestead claims to have been founded in 1766, most of the existing facility was built in the early 20th century after a fire destroyed the older hotel building.

Deer Lick trail The North Trail joined up with the Deer Lick trail. I had been specifically warned against this trail both because of the climb (750 feet vertical) and the wet ground.

Yes, it was a stiff climb, but after slogging through muck for the first 50 yards or so the trail was fine.

Not so much greenery this early in the spring, but there were numerous varieties of moss and lichen along the path.

Lichen There were some pretty impressive lichen colonies.

The next day my guide for the Cascades gorge told me a great story for remembering the composition of lichen. Click the link to learn about Freddy Fungus and Alice Algae who took a "liken" to each other and lived happily ever after.

Deer Lick Trail The path was dry and rocky as it wound through the trees. At one point I was puffing through a steep part when a runner came up behind, politely greeted me and trotted past.

Well, he was a lot younger! And no doubt MUCH fitter.

Homestead Overview This overlook was as far as I had time to spend on this trail. I'll have to save the rest for another trip.

I was told that this is a popular spot to see the sunset light up the Homestead and the mountains behind. On this cloudy day there was no hope of a sunset and besides, I had a date to keep with Jim.

Deer Lick Trail Even with the switchbacks some of the steeper sections took a toll on my knees. It's always harder to go down than up in my estimation.

This was a lovely way to spend the afternoon - and there was the Cascades hike to anticipate for the next day.

It certainly was nice to get inside and warm up though.

Beaver damage The next morning dawned chilly, but at least the sky was blue and the wind had died down.

The Cascades hike was a go. Since I had a time constraint on this day, the lead naturalist arranged a separate guide for me thinking that we could go quicker that way while he took the larger group.

We started at the lower part of the cascade where there is a beaver lodge & dam. The dam had been washed away by the recent rain, but beaver activity was evident along the stream.

Lower cascade As we climbed up we saw other evidence of beavers. But a natural landscape is always changing and it is pointless to blame the beavers for doing what beavers gotta do.

I had to recall, however, when beavers colonized the Washington Tidal Basin to the detriment of some ornamental cherry trees. Their removal prompted a not-so tongue-in-cheek protest by Rep. Helen Chenoweth of Idaho.

No beavers right here, though. Just water!

Boardwalk No one is quite sure when the gorge began to be visited by tourists, but there are pictures of Homestead guests dating back to the late 19th century.

The resort maintains walkways for places where the rocks don't allow for a path.

One advantage of visiting in the winter or spring is that the surrounding rocks can be more easily seen without the shade and vegetation. There are places, for example, where we could see fossilized shells left when these sedimentary rocks were formed millennia ago.

All times of year have their own particular beauty, of course, and I'd jump at the chance to visit in every season.

Walking fern

This unassuming little plant is a botanical marvel: a walking fern.

Unlike most plants which stay, well, planted, this little guy uses vegetative reproduction to migrate across territory. New clones sprout where the lance-like fronds touch a suitable habitat.

Additionally, like most ferns, it uses asexual reproduction by the use of spores.


Although the resort adverises "13 waterfalls" in the gorge my guide said that technically it is a single cascading waterfall that extends over a considerable distance. Whatever it's called, it's lovely throughout.

We didn't find the path flooded on this day although there was one place that was under water. The flow is considerably higher than normal.

Looking down Like ski slopes, whitewater looks scarier from the top looking down. This view is looking down from the top of the two previously pictured cascades. It doesn't look nearly as tame in this view.

Dead hemlocks The mountains of Virginia have been infested with the Wooly Adelgid, an accidentally introduced pest that is destroying the native hemlocks. It may turn into as dramatic an upheaval as the chestnut blight in the last century.

The death of the hemlocks is significantly changing the ecosystem in the gorge by allowing more light and more undergrowth.

Vigorous research continues to explore ways to control this pest.

Crown of ferns Nature has created a lovely garden in this gorge with little help from humans. My guide and I shared memories of people who have attempted to produce "natural" gardens without success because the selected plants just didn't like the places they were put.

This shady and damp region of the gorge is very favorable for moss and ferns. Other areas had rhododendron, mountain laurel and other varieties with specific requirements.

Tree roots This is a close up of the tree in the previous picture.

It has had to struggle to find a toehold for its roots in this rocky location, but its roots will eventually break the rock apart to find nourishment.


There was one picture I wish I had taken. My guide pointed out a little willow tree - maybe 18 inches tall - he had discovered as a tiny sprout some years before. It was growing in the crevice of a rock.

Over the years he had been able to see it put out roots over the rocks in search of nutrients. Many of the roots had died due to exposure. Others found a congenial environment. Someday, if it lives, it may look like the tree in the picture above.

Or it may grow large and fall over pulling the rock with it, which would require the Homestead to rework their path!

Meanwhile, the beauty of the gorge continues.

Ferns Ferns have colonized every surface of this rock that is capable of holding a little soil.

Top of the falls Here we are almost at the top of the gorge. Ironically we were supposed to make the trip faster than the larger group. Didn't happen. We spent so much time looking and chatting about what we saw that the others caught up to us right about here.

Initials Fools' names like fools' faces are often seen in public places....

Back in May of 1871 someone felt compelled to carve his or her initials in this beech tree. Subsequent growth has distorted some of the letters (check how the "M" has spread out), but the 1871 date is quite clear.

Cascades golf course At the top of the gorge we find the clubhouse of the Cascades course. The clubhouse, which can just be seen in the background, was the residence of stockbroker Jake Rubino, who sold the land containing the location of the course to the Homestead in the 1920s. It's a beautiful Italianate mansion.

Spring The stream running through the gorge is spring-fed. The source of the spring is the hillside out of sight to the left in this photo. It descends trhough the golf course in a series of lakes before tumbling down the gorge.

Note that the base of the willow tree shows fresh evidence of beaver munching. There are plans to protect it with chicken wire.

This was the end of our gorge hike.

Falling Spring After leaving the Homestead the following day, we drove down toward Covington. This waterfall, known as Falling Spring Falls, is located right by the highway.

The stream, according to a display at the site, once had a slightly different course, which led over a 200 foot drop, but mining operations forced its relocation to the current position where the drop is only 80 feet. Nevertheless it is impressive.

We wanted to drive through Covington to stop at a favorite Mexican Restaurant - San Juan. It is really good!

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