Saturday, May 21, 2011

Chopawamsic Backcountry - 5-20-2011

Work has been pretty stressful for a while now, so I really needed a getaway. On Thursday night I loaded my backpack and gear into the car so that on Friday I could head directly to the Chopawamsic Backcountry Area for a bit of hiking and camping.

Photographic evidence here.

Chopawamsic is one of the best kept secrets in Northern Virginia. Eight campsites on 400 acres of hardwood forest, all connected by a loop trail. You wanna camp, you gotta backpack in. Extra goodness is that there's no fee to use the area, but you do have to get a permit from the ranger station at the nearby Prince William Forest Park (part of the National Park system).

They don't make it easy either. The permit is simple (and free!), and then they give you directions. Basically, you go a few miles down a two lane road and then make a left onto an unmarked gravel road. One half mile down that and on the right is the only sign to the area, in front of a locked gate. The rangers give you a key along with the permit. Go through the gate, go a ways further and you'll come to a gravel parking lot. From here it's all on foot.

I selected campsite #7. Actually, I had the entire place to myself for the night. Along the loop trail - blazed in white - are occasional double yellow blazes along with a numbered post. From there, follow the side trail to the campsite.

At the campsite itself is another post. You have to set up your tent within 20' of the post, this minimizes the impact of many people camping in the area each year. No fires or pets are allowed either.

Camp #7 was set up on a wide ridge, and in the area is an old homestead site. This part of the forest had a fire go through in 1985. Many of the old hardwood trees were damaged and died, so by now, 25 year old oak and sycamore are standing tall, but there is still enough light coming through the canopy to allow a heavy understory of smaller trees, shrubs and bushes. Eventually those will disappear as the old trees completely block the sunlight at ground level.

I'd set up camp, and just as I was finishing dinner it started to rain. It was kind of cool because I listened to it rain for a good 10 minutes before any drops penetrated to where I was camped. When it finally did I retreated into my tent with a good book and occupied my evening with some reading and writing.

It probably only rained an hour or so, but the trees dripped most of the night. Other than the soothing sound of the water I heard a few birdcalls, and the occasional jet passing by on its' way to one of the local airports.

I was up at dawn but lollygagged around before finally packing up and heading up-trail to finish the loop.

On my way back out I came across an old cemetary. The oldest legible headstone was dated 1822, the latest 2008. The cemetary was semi-maintained and there were flowers on a few of the graves. After getting back in my car, I spied a tick on my leg. No free rides for him.

As I drove down the gravel back to civilization I came up to a sun-dappled stretch of road and something magical happened. A dozen or more of the shade spots lifted and fluttered away. What I had taken for shade were actually large dark blue butterflies, sunning themselves. Not 50 yards later, a large deer exploded out of the brush on one side of the road and, with a graceful leap, disappeared into the woods on the other side.

I returned the key to the rangers and will certainly be going back. A couple of the campsites are very close to a small reservoir and supposedly the fishing is pretty good. It felt good to be away from the phone, the computer and television, the cars, the noise and people. It felt very good indeed.


Bou said...

You have... no idea how frickin' jealous of that I am. I love camping like that and work is about to give me a heart attack. I'm in one of those zones where I need to be completely alone and decompress. (I don't blog the nits of crap like that... people don't need to hear the dark side.) I read your post and thought... I so would love that. And the butterflies at the end... how fantastic.

sheri said...

Gee, and all I did was play with that nature sound website that LeeAnn recently linked to.