The Ponies of Grayson Highlands and the Milky Way from the BRP.

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It was a great week! The ponies were great. The weather was perfect.
I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday.

Signs Signs, Where the hell ARE the signs?

I usually choose somewhere to go form my birthday that I feel would typically be asking too much of my hubby who does these photography/waterfall hikes because he loves me, not because it’s something he’d really like to do.

I said I’d like to see the Grayson Highland ponies, and Cabin Creek Falls, that is also in the park, then possibly on the way back to WNC, stopping at Whitetop Falls, Straight Branch Falls, The man-made falls at Damascus Mill, and Alvarado Falls. Go big right? The main reason was just spending time together and seeing the ponies. 360 miles later, we ended up just doing the first two. and it was a wonderful day.

 

Between my headache/migraine issues, the weather, and work schedules we picked August 28th. I woke up with a big crick in my neck and couldn’t look left or right but I didn’t have a headache so off we went.

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The weather forecast varied from no rain and sunny to 50% chance of rain and cloudy. Even the temperature was all over the place from 60 to 84. I tried to find a point forecast for Grayson Highlands Park. At the park, there was a sign that said to use the Mount Rogers forecast. Good to know. We drove the 177 miles in mostly rain. I was irritated at myself for not throwing rain jackets in the car. I mean we had the whole backseat available. We did pack lunch, snacks, some extra clothes, jackets and hats and printed maps and directions in case we had limited cell service.

https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/blog/4-favorite-falls-of-virginia-state-parks

Photography wise, I decided on my Mindshift backpack to carry the extra jacket, and my new Veo tripod (that I like). I took my fz300 that is more weather-proof than the fz1000.  I could’ve kicked myself becaust I put my camera on jpg on like my second shot for the day to zoom in more and forgot to put it back in RAW! So much for gaining highlight and shadow detail back in my mid-day shots. Hubby suggested putting it back in RAW right after my shot I put it in jpg for… what a concept. That is like me saying don’t overthink a golf shot. 🙂

The wet windshield with rain and fog pica in the video was in Virginia not too long before we turned left into the park entrance.  I had printed off instructions but hubby followed the car GPS instead, which I think may have been the way my directions said to go home, but I’m not sure of that. When we paid and entered we stopped to use the restrooms and the girl with the tattooed forehead told us she had not heard anything about where the ponies were that day. The car said it was 60 degrees.

A little history. In the 1950’s Bill Pugh began to breed the small horses as “Virginia Higlanders.” In 1974 he retired, and Wilburn Ridge Pony Association (WRPA) took over ownership. They round them up once a year, do a vet check and auction off some of the young stallions in autumn. Mount Rogers is the highest peak in Virginia at 5,729 feet. I wondered if they offered horse trail rides since they have stables? I read that sometimes you’ll see longhorn cattle grazing. I was going to be happy if we saw a few ponies, so I was ecstatic with seeing so many.

Growing up, I had equine before feline 🙂

Misty was my first pony. A Shetland pony my parents brought home in the back of the station wagon. I still love horses and would still love to ride. I had a large pony/small horse that was feral that came from Virginia. Nothing like having a horse you are never allowed to ride. Daisy (the one with her ears unhappily back) couldn’t be ridden and if you tried to brush her or clean her hoofs she’d just as soon bite you in the back as not. I don’t remember how long we had her, but even a young horse lover will grow tired of just feeding and caring for a horse that was never tamed enough to be ridden. I sure didn’t know how to gentle a horse.

 

Okay, back to Grayson Highlands.

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We parked at Massies Gap in the Backpackers upper parking lot. We went straight ahead down the grass and thru the gate on to the Rhondendon Trail (blue). FYI the Appalachian Spur trail is also blue. We walked up that trail and it turned to orange blazes, which is the Horse Trail (East and North). We walked thru low grass/trail area toward Wilborn Ridge (top photo) but didn’t go past the rock outcropping. I had in my notes to also walk South on the AT towards Mount Rogers, across Wilburn Ridge and Rhododendron Gap for the best chance to see the ponies but I felt we’d already had great luck and wanted to see the waterfalls too.

Oh, how I would have loved to pet the ponies! but we refrained, even after this one, who was larger than all the others we saw, came up to me and softly touched me with his nose, then went past me to hubby to see if he’d have any better luck with him. Hubby got a head butt and this one lip nibbled at his water bottle hanging from his hip. I could see all the old nip and bite marks on him. We saw 15 or 16 different ponies, including 3 foals, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t see Fabio unless he was the water bottle nibbler?

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I’m not so sure wild or even feral ponies is the correct term anymore. I really wanted to pet them, but we obliged the signs and backed off the ‘trail’ several times so they could pass. However, we did see people petting them, including the foals. 😦

The weather,  view, and landscape were all so beautiful! I took one wobbly video standing on what we thought was Wilson Ridge. I should’ve taken the time to get my tripod out and set up to do a 360. When we got home and looked at Gaia, we saw we were not yet to the ridge, just an outcropping of rocks. That is them in the photo below and what we are both standing on in the photo above that we each took a photo of the other.

Grayson Highlands 08-28-2019 12.26.55-sm

So many of the mares looked huge, like they were pregnant and due any day. I don’t know how long pony gestation is but winter will be here before you know it. We found it odd how all the pony manure would be in a pile in the middle of the trail. It’s like they all decided to make that the main bathroom stop and add to the pile. Not that there wasn’t manure scattered around too.

Now on to Cabin Creek Falls.

No yellow blazes anywhere, no trail sign saying which way to the horse trail. We went back thru the gate we started at for the ponies and walked down a gravel path following the fence, beside what looked like new bathrooms and a closer parking area. Still no blazes or signs. We kept going because it looked like we were headed in the right direction on the paper map.

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We passed one of the zig-zag gates for no horses even though the sign “no” part was faded out. No blaze there either. Didn’t see anything else so we walked past it farther down the gravel path, then back and walked through that to a trail. Finally saw some orange/yellowish blazes. They did have an orange blaze elsewhere for the Horse Trail, but this one had a tad more yellow in it.

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We finally got to an information sign, but all the paint was worn off right where we needed to read. On their printed map, North was pointing to the right instead of up. On this sign, North was pointing to the left. I was a bit turned around before we realized they didn’t print their maps the same. The sign-in log was falling apart, there was trash stuffed in the empty map holders. We kept on following the yorange blazes. We got to a sign that said Ceder Creek Loop. We took the loop to the left, so clockwise. We walked along the water and saw several cascades. Hubby even spotted fish in several of the pools.

We had all of Cabin Creek Falls and Wilson Creek to ourselves, actually other than seeing some horse riders back at the start we never saw any other people on the entire waterfall trek.

The map showed the waterfall right at a “point” in the loop. It was not at the point, it was on the left well before the sharp turn back to the right and this is what caused a bunch of frustration.

After the falls, we got to a Y in the path. On the map it looked like the sharp turn back to the right. There was a sign. Massies Gap to the right, which is where we parked, or straight ahead into the woods to Falls Overlook. The straight-ahead or left according to the sign was not a trail but did follow the water and just pointed left to “falls overlook”.

I was on the lower part of the loop trail, having past what I thought was Ceder Creek Falls awhile ago when I took the photo. It was a true point in the trail.

 

What did we not see the falls already? Maybe that was just another cascade and the falls is still ahead of us. Hubby accidentally turned off Gaia at the falls so we have a gap until he checked it at this sign and turned it back on. What to do? Well, we came all this way and we didn’t want to miss the largest falls so we start up the rock/dirt/rocks following the falls overlook arrow. Next time I’ll try to get a better look of the falls we are going to see, so I know when we’ve found it.

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The terrain is no longer a trail, but nothing looked well maintained for a state park so we kept on. Still seeing lots of cascades we go on for quite a bit. We did pass a little snake that I saw while hubby was going ahead at a faster pace to see if there was another larger waterfall. Hence all the back and forth after the gap on our Gaia map.

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Finally, we gave up and decided that their map, and their signs were wrong. We turned around and went back to the sign. That sign should’ve been turned 90 degrees and that sharp right back, that the waterfall was not at, was indeed the point in the loop.

Back at the large information faded sign where the trail was worn off, I looked more closely at the waterfall photo and decided that indeed we had seen Cabin Creek Falls. We didn’t go back to the Zig Zag path. We took a right at the sign back to the gravel path. Back on that gravel path I was just sure there would be a sign to the Cabin Creek loop trail. Nope nothing. If you were not looking you wouldn’t even see the sign. The sign is in the photo below, in the woods with no path.

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We were both feeling frustrated and about done for the day but hubby picked one of the falls from my list to stop at on the way home. Actually, all were in that direction. We didn’t see the pull off and the directions to the falls I’d printed off where form the other direction.  We gave up and headed home.


  

The second time shooting the Milky Way I came away with a better understanding of what to look for, where to look, and got some pictures that I’m thrilled with. Even did a little light painting and saw a shooting star. Now, I’ve seen so many truly awesome Milky Way shots but I’m going with just comparing to myself, even if I truly admire other photographers shots. I captured better shots than last year so I’m pleased, on the flip side, I took a long exposure with the lens cap still on 🙂 #neverstoplearning

It was a perfect night! Cloudless, moonless and cooler and we didn’t have to be out until midnight. Which is great because hubby again went with me, we both get up early so we go to bed early.  We left early enough to see the sunset. I was so caught up in photographing the Milky Way on a clear night that I forgot sunsets look best with clouds.

Oddly enough the last time we were out past our bedtime to photograph the Milky Way, we went through a police security check while they had a manhunt out for Tommy Bryson’s murderer. This year we went through a state police license check. It amazed us both times how many people are out that late.

I had better luck capturing the Milky Way than I did the Perseids meteor shower, but then again I only ventured to our driveway with too much light pollution at the wrong time of night for that.  The tower with planes in the sky is the Frying Pan lookout tower. I’m not sure what town I could see in the valley. I’d like to go back and shoot star trails here too even if I know some are going to have to be trashed due to headlights from both directions.

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Frying Pan Tower at Night 08-30-2019 20.44.11-sm

Milky Way 08-30-2019 20.55.58-sm

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Milky Way 08-30-2019 21.15.22-sm Milky Way 08-30-2019 21.21.16-smMilky Way 08-30-2019 21.19.49-sm Milky Way 08-30-2019 21.30.04-smMilky Way 08-30-2019 21.25.24-sm

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Even did a little light painting and saw a shooting star.

Light Painted Mtn side at night 08-30-2019 21.40.06-sm

Milky Way 08-30-2019 21.49.41-sm

 

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3 thoughts on “The Ponies of Grayson Highlands and the Milky Way from the BRP.

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