I just returned from a trip that took me to our 5 parks on the far Western side of the state, Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park, Wilderness Road State Park, Natural Tunnel State Park, Grayson Highlands State Park and Hungry Mother State Park. It has been a while since I’ve been to any of them and for one of them my first visit ever. Over the next few weeks I’d like to take time to share highlights of my visits and some pictures I took while at each park in a 5 part series. This is part 4.
Grayson Highlands State Park are quite a challenge, but also part of the beauty of the entire trip. If you aren’t driving, you will have incredible views around every hair pin curve you take. This area is the home of Mount Rogers, highest point in Virginia, at over 5,000 feet high. Grayson Highlands is one of those places that once you find it, you just don’t want to leave. Neither this short story, nor the pictures attached can justly describe the beauty of this park.
I was greeted by Jordon Johnson at the contact station. I could tell instantly this young man had a lot going for him and enjoyed his important role at the park. It was a great way for any visitor to start their adventures at the park. He directed me up the hill and I found paradise.
My first stop was to the very top of the park to one of my favorite visitor centers. It has a nice mix of mountain living exhibits, native wildlife exhibits and a wonderful gift shop throughout consisting of homemade can goods and crafts. It was here that I ran into Evalynn Halsey in the craft shop. At first she pretended to not be a people person, but that turned into about a 30 minute conversation with her. She’s a volunteer for the park and a true asset to have on staff. She shared some wonderful stories with me about the area and even who made which products in the shop. She also told me to stop at Massey Gap as the blueberries were peaking and she said while there to watch for one of the wild ponies names “Fabio” and showed me some pictures of him.
Outside the Visitor Center the flower beds were very beautiful and I watched the butterflies dance from one flower to another as they hurried to finish their work before season’s end. The path leading up to the visitor center also had an abundant supply of wildflowers on either side with a mix of birch and spruce trees. One of the many things I enjoyed was the silence I found as I hiked in the meadow. There were no planes, no car noises, just nothing. It was very peaceful.
I took Evalynn’s advice and took a wonderful hike up Massey Gap. During my hike I ate wild blueberries and blackberries, which was quite a treat. One of my favorite things at the park and for that matter my entire trip, was interacting with the wild ponies. I had seen the wild ponies before from a distance, but never “encountered” the wild ponies. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect, but was surprised to find that they were quite friendly. I found a group of around 6 together with 2 baby ponies. As I stood about 6 feet from one of the babies trying to get a picture, I started laughing as the pony kept getting closer and closer, eventually hitting my camera lens. I guess he was curious and overly friendly. After petting him for a few moments, he returned to his mom.
I could have stayed all day in this interaction in beautiful Massey Gap, but unfortunately had to head down. On my way down I ran into the horse I had actually been hoping to see, “Fabio”. He was named that after the actor, because he has an incredibly long blonde mane. Running into this horse was like running into royalty on the mountain. Although my time at this park was running out, if you wanted to spend the night, the park offers camping, including equestrian campsites. If I had a horse, I think this would be one of those top 10 places in the nation to go horseback riding. The staff here at the park is just great at customer service, lead by Park Manager Harvey Thompson, Kevin Kelley and Theresa Tibbs. If you have never been to Grayson Highlands State Park, make sure you get out before the snow begins to fly. Although off the beaten path, it is really worth the trip.
For more information on Grayson Highlands State Park or other great Outdoor Destinations in Virginia, click here.