Property Nature Trail
Point 1: “The Starting Point”
The trail begins by the Colorado blue spruce (Looks like a Christmas tree) at the edge of the north side of the Bear Dance Lodge lawn (step off the steps of the Lodge and look left). At the entrance of the trail you will see a sign hanging on a tree signifying the beginning of the trail.
Point 2: “Old Rock Wall”
About 50 feet from the beginning of the trail you will pass over an old loose laid natural stone wall – walls like this originated in the 1800’s and early 1900’s when some of the Hollow’s earliest settlers stacked stones to create barriers for live stock and to remove the rocks from the ground to allow for planting crops. Typical crops included fruit trees, corn, squash, and beans. A local “old timer” once explained to us that most of the rock rows found throughout the mountain slopes of the region were built by “parties” of men and boys who would assemble together to more rapidly clear the rocks and build the walls… with a little help from some of the local “mountain dew” (moon shine). Most of the rocks used in the stonework found throughout SME came from this loose rock wall. At close inspection you will note a vast variety of rock types of many different colors and textures… this is due to the very old and complex geology of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Put a few rocks in your hands and notice their many different colors and textures!
Point 3: “New Forest”
Before you cross the electrical easement, take a moment to notice the wooded area you just passed through which is comprised of typical “new forest” plant life to include cedars, young poplars, wild cherry and aggressive low canopy plants such as wild grapes, bitter sweet, blackberries and wine berries (native raspberries). In the first half of the 1900’s this part of the property was nearly clear and used for growing crops. Along with a variety of crops, there used to be old apple trees and pear trees here – all are gone except for a couple wild growing winter pear trees. This scrubby woodland area is very popular with deer who seek refuge in the dense underbrush. It is not unusual to find their fawn loitering on this part of the property due to the quality of cover and concealment and relative security. You will also hear and see many varieties of birds here throughout the seasons due to the numerous berries associated with the plants here and the thick foliage. Remain still for a moment and see if you can pick out the song of different birds!
Point 4: “Old Forest”
After you pass across the electric line easement, you will enter into old forest with many trees dating back one to two centuries. You will also immediately pass through a stretch of trail surrounded by very large boulders. These boulders and the many rocks you’ll see in the old forest are products of the dynamic affect of erosion due to water. This corner of the Hollow is the head water for Pass Run which empties into the Shenandoah River (you’ll pass over Pass Run on route 340 as you travel north out of Luray). The water of the Shenandoah drains into the Potomac River and then into the Chesapeake Bay and then into the Atlantic. Note the almost magical atmosphere under the canopy of the old forest. The old forest is host to many unique plants and mushrooms… our favorite are the ferns and mushrooms. In spring time we harvest morel mushrooms and, after a good rain, from September into November Bolet, Cep, and Chanterelle mushrooms are our favorite. Take a moment to put your hands on the bark of the different giant trees – feel the pleasant and distinctly different textures. Take in the aroma of the old forest and look up to the sky through the giant canopies (day or night) for a magical perspective!
After you pass by the large boulders you will see a branch of the trail which leads over a simple bridge to the stream. If you stay on the main trail and do not branch off to the stream, advance to “Point 7” on this guide. Use the wooden bridge to cross the small stream bed which is the drainage way for on of our many natural springs. Be careful walking over the bridge and along the stream as the way can be rocky and slippery. For those who are a little “less sure” on their feet, we recommend staying on the main trail. Once you pass over the bridge you enter a native stand of evergreen hemlock trees mixed with white pine and some native varieties of hardwood trees. The hemlocks, unfortunately, are slowly being destroyed by a pervasive type plant scale (insect) – look closely at some of the hemlock branches and look at the small white “cotton looking” specks. Those are bugs that suck the life out of the trees. Fortunately, there are still numerous big and small hemlocks living relatively healthy along the stream bed – hopefully they will outlast the scale infestation. The National Park has begun treating the ground around hemlock stands with a chemical solution that is slowly defeating the scale insects. Unlike the former native giant American Chestnut trees, obliterated by blight and over harvesting, hopefully the beautiful hemlocks will rebound for future generations to admire.
After you cross Hemlock Bridge, you will be looking into the clear clean water of the stream which drains off the side of the mountain into Jewell Hollow and becomes Pass Run. Much of the water that runs here flows from natural all season springs – therefore, the stream never becomes dry. During rainy seasons, the stream frequently floods and can become immense. The water coming from the mountain runs all year long – it is cold, clear, and tasty. Because of the purity of the water, the stream is home to protected species like the Native Brook Trout. Other creatures found in and around the stream include crayfish, salamanders, snakes, frogs, and many waterborne insects. Go ahead and carefully dip your feet or hands into the stream and poke around in the rocks – you’ll be surprised at what you will find. Spend a few minutes sitting on a rock or log along the stream and take in the tranquil sounds of the restless water for a soul cleansing experience! Once you arrive at the stream, make a right and follow the trail along the bank until you link back up with the main trail.
Point 7: “Thistles”
As you continue along the trail and reemerge at the electric easement, note the many thistles and wild flowers (spring through fall) that grow in the sunny open areas. Typical thistles include Bull Thistle (purple, tall and thorny) and Mullein (yellow with big fuzzy leaves). We promote much of the thistle and wild flower growth as they attract numerous insects (particularly butterflies) and birds to the benefit of the natural habitat. Feel free to pick a small handful of colorful wild flowers and put them in a vase in your cabin to brighten your day!
Point 8: “The Pond”
Walk to the pond and enjoy the many creatures that reside there. This pond is fed by three small springs and the stream. In the summer, during dry spells, the stream stops flowing into the pond and the water may recede as much as two feet. The pond is 8 feet deep on the south end and four to five feet deep on the north end. It provides a good home for blue gill, catfish, carp, snapping turtles, snakes, and a whole lot more. From spring to early fall throw some fish food in the water and watch the how fast the fish react – bait the water lightly first and then throw in a large amount of food in the center to attract the large catfish which often come up from the bottom to gorge on the fish food! During the cold months, marvel at the mirror image of the sky and surroundings in the ice and pond water!
Move from the pond to the lower grassy area along the stream. Walk north on the trail along the stream (our home fence line will be on your right side). From spring into early fall stand off behind a tree and look carefully – in all these pools are brook trout. They spook easily, are fast as lightening, and are very hard to see because of their natural camouflage. In almost every case, they will be facing the current waiting for insects to pass by them. The largest are 9-12” long. Most are 2-6” long or smaller. From the side view, they are magnificently colored fish. From the top they are nearly indiscernible from the stream bed. In the spring and summer, when you’re in no hurry, look for a May Fly or Stone Fly hatch (evident when many small flying insects are hovering over the water in what seems to be a loose cloud). Find a comfortable inconspicuous spot and just watch for a while – you may get the special treat of watching a brook trout spring completely out of the water and snatch a fly from the air! Do your best not to disturb these fish – they are a threatened species.
Point 10: “Garden Plot”
When the trail breaks to the right away from the stream (following the direction of the fence line of our home), you will notice the Shadow Mountain Escape garden on the high ground next to our home to your right. In late spring through fall we’ll begin to harvest a variety of crops from this small garden plot to include potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, squash, herbs, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, onions, and more. During heavy production periods, don’t be surprised if you are offered freshly picked vegetables to add to your evening barbecue!
Point 11: “Old School”
Directly across Jewell Hollow Road intersection, look very closely and you’ll see an overgrown stone foundation (on national park property). This used to be the Jewell Hollow School. We have a fantastic old photo from the early 1900’s of several locals, as small children, standing in front of the school when it was functional. Not surprisingly, many of the pupils attending the one room school house (for all grades) were of the Jewell and Sours family – families still heavily associated with the Hollow and represented throughout Page County and beyond. Go ahead and walk across the road and see if you can identify it!
Point 12: “Black Bear Lane”
Walk back towards the stone planter at the top of the entrance driveway and follow Black Bear Lane (the loop gravel road that connects SME cabins) back to your cabin. It is no mystery where the lane got its name! Black Bear are often spotted strolling down the lane before they quickly fade into the surrounding forest like ghosts. By the way, if you see a black bear – move away and observe from a distance. We have personally witnessed their tendency to stumble directly toward you … as if to test your resolve! That’s a significant life event you need not experience! If at any time a Bear begins to show any signs of aggression (like “huffing” in a deep voice, shaking his head, hair standing up), no matter how far away he is, leave immediately and go to a safe location and inform the owners. Remember, they look slow, but are actually very, very fast and even a small bear can easily over power a large human.
Hope you enjoyed your stroll with nature and history!
* See owners for directions and access to Shadow Mountain Escape’s “Church Bell Hill” hike – from SME, a four mile up and back journey along country roads, to a secluded wooded hill top. *