I've got a gift of two years in Charlottesville, Virginia.
On my list of subjects to explore (other than, umm, managerial accounting):
- wineries (and breweries)
- hiking trails (and vistas)
- food (restaurants, markets, artisan anything)
My first weekend here, I set out to find a trail. I figured I'd just go through one of many lists online and check them off, see where I ended up and what dazzled me.
Mint Springs Valley Park was my first foray near Charlottesville. It's just 20-25 minutes to the west, beyond Crozat, down winding wooded roads certain to make you pull over at least once and consult your map. It's amazing how quickly you leave the land of Target and 7-Eleven and reach open pastures.
Mint Springs Valley Park supposedly had two lakes for swimming, plus trails. I got there before the lakes opened at 11 a.m. Yes, they open. They are fenced off and, well, really resemble ponds more than lakes. (Look closely...)
When I first pulled into the park, a cluster of deer were grazing by the side of the gravel road. I stopped in astonishment. They lifted up their elegant necks, stared at me a moment, and leaped gracefully into the woods.
I drove on to a parking spot, where I sat for a minute or two in the car gathering my things into a backpack. I hopped out, shutting the door rather loudly, and then realized with a start that the deer had returned, just a few yards away, and were now scattering back into the woods.
One lone deer remained. He seemed like a buck to me, all serious stare and giant ears, just watching me. What would I do next?
I walked slowly to a nearby tree and sat down, waiting and watching and hoping that all the deer might return to graze.
No such luck. After a minute or two, he bounded into the woods.
And I set off for the opposite side of the woods, where the trails were clearly marked.
Mint Valley Springs doesn't have the incredible vistas of other areas, but it does have a thick forest with few other hikers around. The trails are relatively short — a half-mile or maybe two miles. They make for comfortable wandering in the woods, under the brilliant canopy of green.
I liked how well the trails were marked. Free maps are available at an information board at the forest entrance. They show all the different named trails, the length, plus landmarks like a giant tree.
I met only a few other hikers on the trail — a father with his two kids. All else was quiet, peaceful except for rustling of leaves and the chirps of birds and insects. It was a bit disconcerting and eerie for someone used to the soundtrack of town life.
My favorite bits were the trees that seemed to shape themselves into modern art. Check out this wooden work. Can't you just see it in a fancy gallery with an undecipherable title?