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Property Nature Trail

AKA – “Rabbit Chase” Nature Trail Guide

Our 25-point Nature Trail which will bring you on a woodland journey that will reveal natural treasures and local trivia that few will know.   All 25 Nature Trail markers are numbered on a black rabbit silhouette and are positioned sequentially within a stone’s throw of each other.

Point 1:   Tulip Poplar – The “Rabbit Chase” begins at this point which sits directly under a magnificent Yellow Poplar, also known as a Tulip Poplar – among the tallest species of tree in the North-Eastern Forest.  These trees can truly grow to be giants.  This native tree was introduced to Europe from Virginia by earliest pioneers and was favored for hollowing out a single log to make canoes; and for producing furniture and musical instruments.  The most obvious seasonal features include large tulip looking blooms in the springtime and yellow leaves in the fall.

Wildlife – As you begin the trail, keep in mind that countless woodland creatures lurk all around.   Among the larger common creatures are White Tail Deer, Black Bear, Raccoon, Possum, Skunk, Coyote, Bob Cat, and Fox.   Typical smaller mammals include squirrel, rabbit, and chipmunk.  You can spot all kinds of native birds – some like the blue jay, cardinal, numerous types of woodpeckers, hawks, turkey buzzards and wild turkey are here all year long.   Others, such as the hummingbird and orioles are seasonal.

Point 2:  White Pine –  The White Pine is the largest (and once the most valuable) evergreen in the Northeast.  During the colonial period these trees were prized for lumber and making ship masts.   In our region, White Pine are being ravaged by the Pine Bark Beetle which is responsible for many of the declining and dead White Pine in our area.

Point 3:  Black Birch – Note the similarity of the bark to the commonly known white birch.   This tree is often mistaken for the wild black cherry tree.   The sap of this tree can be tapped like sugar maple and used to make birch beer.   The bark and wood of these young trees was once used to obtain oil of wintergreen for flavoring candy and medicines.

Point 4:  Stream – This stream is one of two that drain Jewell Hollow into Pass Run which drains into the Hawksbill Stream… the Shenandoah River… which feeds the Potomac… and eventually, the Chesapeake Bay.   This stream represents the early phases of a critical watershed that feeds an immense amount of clear, clean water into our watershed upon which millions of Americans in the mid-Atlantic metropolis region depend for food and water.   If the stream seems calm and harmless, don’t be fooled.   After large rain events, this stream becomes a loud torrent of white water which frequently floods and makes the road impassable.

Witch Hazel – At the end of this row of boulders you will see a small tree leaning dramatically over the stream.   This special little tree is a Witch Hazel which displays little yellow threadlike flowers in the autumn and early winter (it is not uncommon to see the blooms covered in ice).  This little tree was once assumed to have magical powers which motivated earlier settlers to extract the oils from the plant’s bark and twigs and use the crooked twigs to find underground water.  Another interesting fact is that the seed pod of this tree eventually pops and flings it’s seeds up the 30 feet away.

Point 5: Eastern Hemlock Trees  – This point sits beside a young Hemlock Tree.  Across the stream from this point is one of the few giant Eastern Hemlocks remaining on the property (next to the tall White Pine).   Just several decades ago these evergreen trees were prevalent along streams throughout the Shenandoah National Park area and created a dark and mossy majestic woodland environment loved by many.  Unfortunately, a tiny white wooly aphid has decimated these trees, and most are now gone.   We are happy to still have some along the stream; however, if you look closely at the little needles of the Hemlock in front of you the fuzzy white little aphid will likely be evident.   Such is the cycle of the woodland as other types of trees and plants begin to appear to fill the voids left by these wonderful evergreens.

Point 6:  Three Kings – When we first began Shadow Mountain Escape, we named these three giant White Pine Trees “The Three Kings”.   In 2015 one of the Kings died thanks to the Pine Bark Beetle.    Please do not stand under the dead king.   We will continue to honor the dead king as long as the trunk stands… and hope that the other two hang in there for a few more decades. From this point, continue along the stream to the next point just ahead.

Point 7: The Spiritual Forest – Spending a little time alone sitting along the bank of this babbling stream, and absorbing the light and sound of the forest, make it easy to understand why we like to say here at SME “this forest is our church and the mountain our alter”.  Many guests visit to immerse themselves in the forest to help heal themselves from trying times…seeking clarity and tranquility in nature. You may see a little cross leaning against a rock or tree that was left here many years ago by a grieving family who lost their son much too early (we welcome you to pick it up and hold it in your warm hands and respectfully place it back against a tree or rock). Some of our highly intuitive guests consistently note the “strong energy” along this stretch of stream… particularly about the larger rocks.

Point 8: Cairns (Stone Stacks) – You probably noticed the many stone stacks like this one along the stream. The ancient term for a stone stack is “cairn” which is carried over from Scottish Gaelic. Cairns have been commonly used throughout the world since prehistoric times as a form of communication. Most commonly, to mark the location of caches; landmarks, burial monuments, for ceremonial purposes; or, sometimes related to astronomy. Most of the cairns along SMEs stream are the creations of guests. Once every few years during major flooding events, the stream roars out of its banks and washes “the slate clean” … allowing a whole new collection of personal expressions of natural art to take hold. Feel free to add to the exhibition!

Point 9: Boulders, Lichen, Moss and Ferns – Numerous massive boulders can be observed here as a result of ancient geological processes.   One of the remaining members of the Sours family (which were the last to practice small scale agriculture on this property in Jewell Hollow) shared with us his memories from the early part of the 1900’s when, as a little boy, he described how he played with his eight siblings on the boulders that you see all around here.  Touch the pale green lichen and the luscious green moss growing on the side of the trees and boulders.   The lichen is among the oldest life forms on earth.   When cleaning off stones in doing stonework on the property, we are always amazed that the moss releases a strong fishy scent – much like that of a tidal pool. Also at this point, numerous ferns can be observed all around.  These woodland classics remain green in the winter, produce beautiful fiddle heads in the spring, and often are collocated with numerous types of mushrooms including chanterelles.

Point 10: Monster Poplar  – Take a close look at this massive Tulip Poplar – particularly the base and canopy. An age estimation formula tells us that this tree was likely standing during the civil war and has witnessed the passing of many generations of pioneers. Note how a tree of this age and size takes on an entirely different shape and texture compared to the other Tulip Poplars… a Granddaddy of trees in Jewell Hollow to be sure! This tree appears to be healthy and we can only imagine its impact in another few hundred years. Another point of interest from here… in the neighbor’s yard directly behind the monster poplar is where the original Sours family farm complex used to stand. It burned down entirely in the mid-1900s.

Point 11:  Stone Walls – Here you pass through one of the several lines of old stone walls on the property.  Despite their simplicity, these lines of loosely laid stones are remarkable.  Keep in mind that every rock you see in these walls was dug out of the ground by hand and moved and stacked with the help of horse and cart.  These field walls on our property existed prior to the building of the Sours’ family farm (confirmed by living members of the family).   What this means is that the walls were put in place in the late 1700s and 1800s – likely pre-civil war… when the opportunity for early pioneers to profit from the natural resources on this mountain was attractive and lucrative.
Beginning in the late 1700s, these mountains began to be deforested due to the relentless need for massive timber product, metals, tanning, and agricultural product by the powers of the time.   The Wildlife was decimated for meat and for the fur trade.  It is on record from those that lived in this area in the early 1900’s that there were nearly no native deer or large mammals left.  Consider that earliest pioneers in the Shenandoah Valley reported countless herd of large deer and even Elk and Bison.  Then later, the natural resources were needed to build a young United States of America.   By the time the Shenandoah National Park was begun in the early 1930’s, much of the Blue Ridge Mountain range was deforested and very few virgin timber stands remained.  During this period, many of these walls (which are hidden in the woods now) were laying in open fields. These old walls are simply piles of rocks that were moved from the ground areas that were chosen for the cultivation of crops – corn, beans, wheat to name a few.  The walls were laid out strategically to delineate livestock areas from crops and to establish boundaries.
During the civil war the many stone walls in the Shenandoah were famously used for cover and concealment – Jewell Hollow was part of the busy Thornton Gap through the Blue Ridge Mountains which was heavily used by confederate and union scouts and cavalry.   A civil war cavalry fight occurred in this pass.   It is easy to imagine several dirty civil war soldiers, with their horses tied off nearby, laying on the shady side of these walls having a lunch break and a laugh before heading up the mountain. As the vibrant forest continues to consume these old walls, we are reminded of the conservation miracle that is our beautiful Shenandoah National Park.

Point 12:  Black Cherry – Native Black Cherry trees such as this one produce sweet dark pea sized cherries in the summer which birds and other wildlife relish.   If you can get a hold of them, they are delicious despite being mostly pit with very little flesh.

Point 13:  Persimmon Trees – Our property has many native Persimmon trees such as this one that produce a plum like fruit once used frequently to make jam.   The Persimmon wood is of high quality and is one of the best burning woods.

Point 14:  Sycamore Tree – These Sycamore Trees are common in the area and as they mature can create a striking image with their bone like trunks and stems.   From this location, you can clearly see our neighbor’s property which was the original site of the Sours Family Farm which was the last to farm Jewell Hollow.   Although old photos of the traditional white farmhouse and out-houses exist, the farm burned down completely in the mid 1900’s and today there is nothing left of it.

Point 15: Dogwood Tree  – As you pass through another heavily picked old stone wall (used to harvest the rock for most of SME foundation and wall stones) you find this graceful little dogwood tree.  Native Dogwood trees, along with Rosebud Trees, are some of our essential low-level canopy trees which usually produce a glorious show of white and deep pink color in the early spring.

Point 16:   SME Firewood Management– At this location we collect, stack and split the compound’s burning wood. During the cool months SME feeds three wood stoves, a very active outside iron firebox in the stone courtyard (used weekly to cook pizza too!), and a campfire pit. During cold winters producing enough split burning wood for the whole season can be a daunting task. All the wood we burn comes from our own trees. Generally, we harvest dying or broken trees of many species. Our favorite tends to be cherry and cedar which burns less hot and ignites easily. Others used often include oak, black walnut, sycamore, elm, ash and poplar.

Point 17:  Black Walnut Tree – The Black Walnut Tree has large compound leaves which turn a nice yellow each fall.   Most impressive is the gorgeous dark wood favored for making unique furniture.  The very large walnuts pods are filled with a very dark pulpy substance surrounding the nut that was heavily used in the past to dye fabrics and materials.   Considering the thick, heavily staining, and hard outside shell of the pod, the walnut inside is a typical edible walnut loved most by squirrels.

Point 18:  Mushrooms – At this spot each year beginning late summer a family of Indigo Milky Mushrooms appears.  These cute mushrooms with a smooth rounded cap are easy to spot as they are a striking indigo blue color.   Other typical mushrooms found on the property include the delicious Morels (mid-April through early May), meaty Boletes, spicy Chanterelles, and many more edible and toxic. 

Point 19:  Rosebud Tree – This unassuming little native tree produces the bright dark pink rosebud blooms early in the spring.   The blooms themselves are edible and tasty.  Feel free to take a handful and sprinkle them on our salad tonight… you’ll be surprised.

Point 20:  Ground Water – At this point you see the well cap for the single well that feeds the entire Shadow Mountain Escape compound cold, clean, clear water.   This well reaches nearly 300 feet below the ground into a rich aquifer of pristine ground water.   All of the water that comes out of our taps is lightly filtered for sediment and rust.   The water is clean and delicious thanks to many rainy days and this forested mountain side.

Point 21:  Norway Spruce and Fir Trees – these beautiful evergreens are not native to this area; however, a few stands of native spruce remain at various locations along the ridge line of the Shenandoah National Park.   The easiest location to access Native Spruce is at Big Meadows.   From this point, look closely across Jewell Hollow Road about 100 feet into the woods and see an old stone foundation.   This is the site of the old Jewell Hollow School which was built here in the 1800’s.

Point 22: The Gothic Tower and SME’s authentic architecture – From this vantage point the Gothic Tower can be best observed. Fueled by Ralph’s life-long passion for medieval history and architecture, we were inspired by the many ancient structures in Europe from this period. During our many journeys exploring across the European countryside, Ralph would routinely launch us off on an excursion (sometimes at our own peril) to track down and touch a rare original remnant of medieval walls and defensive towers. The Gothic Tower before you is our best effort at a form replica of a small medieval “curtain wall tower”. In the medieval period (particularly between the 11th and 13th century) curtain walls and defensive towers surrounded all important villages, towns, cities and castles. Even some large farm estates were surrounded with defensive walls an towers. Period realistic elements of SMEs Gothic Tower include the rounded tower form, the roof line, carved stonework, natural stone construction, and a bit of arching stone construction above the carved faces. The two historic granite carved faces displayed in the tower are at least 120 yrs old and were scavenged from a burned historic building in Philadelphia. They were hand chiseled and weigh 750lbs a piece. Inside the tower we strive to give a “medieval feel” to our visitors by building an authentic timber frame roof and plastering and whitening the walls (the way stone fortresses and towers were usually treated in the medieval period). Ralph thought it would add to the experience by designing and then having SMEs blacksmith (Jeff Crossman) hammer out a one of a kind iron “chandelier” to be hung inside. We encourage our guests to visit the courtyard through the lower iron gate – easily identified by the marble carved face from Carrera, Italy on the stone wall that we call “the gatekeeper”. If he looks as if he’s giving you a slight head nod… walk on in.

The Gothic Tower is true to form as part of our quest to present a traditional and authentic experience… for ourselves and our guests. All of SME’s buildings are real timber-frames… much as they would have looked in ancient times. Our walls and foundations display all-natural rocks taken directly from the old walls on our property. The timeless forms of our structures are more reminiscent of the past than the present. All our living spaces are loaded with antique and traditional décor from old Europe. If interested, feel free to chat with us for more details about SME’s vision and construction.

Another point of interest from this location: Across the street in the forest of the National Park (about 20 yards from the road) you can barely make out an old stone foundation which was the early one room, one teacher, school house in Jewell Hollow.

Point 23:  Stream – This is a good vantage point to appreciate the mountain stream which is absolutely filled with countless wildlife to include fish, amphibians, mollusks, birds, and insects.   The native brook trout is a favorite.  This small trout is very quick and difficult to spot.  It is usually 6 – 8 inches long and appears as a dark brown little shape in the pools along the stream waiting for snacks to be washed in or for small bugs to fly above.  If you are ever lucky enough to see one from the side, the native brook trout is a magnificent looking creature with pink, orange, purple, silver colors on it’s flank.  The little trout sports sharp little teeth and can disappear in the blink of an eye.  For a peek, it is best to sneak up very slowly on a pool area of the stream without triggering a change in the light.   Just watch and you may see them.   Many other small fish like suckers live in the stream.

Point 24:  Flood Zone – During rainy periods, it is here that the water from the Pond (which collects numerous springs), the water running on the ground down the property, and the torrent of stream water crash together in an explosive way.  During flash floods and major flooding, you would not want to stand near this point as most of the trees near you would be in the running water… leaving the road impassable and the surrounding landscape a mess of debris. If the ground water is high and the ground muddy, we recommend you stay on the high ground and walk directly toward the berm around the pond by the drain-out pipe. From here you can look down and see the last point.

Point 25:  Red Maples – Although some of the maples you see on the property are planted, the many native red maples throughout the forest produce the most glorious bright red and deep orange fall color.   The smooth bark and broad crown are typical of most maple trees.   From this point, particularly in the fall through early spring, one can appreciate the view of Elder Ridge above Jewell Hollow… which runs from the north to south between Mary’s Rock and the Pinnacle.   From this point, feel free to move up to the pond and take a walk around to enjoy the many critters in the pond – watch out for the snakes.