Thursday, June 8, 2017 (Day 36)
Today was glorious! I passed through many stony corridors of green and pink. The rhodedendrons are in bloom. It was like walking through little secret passageways to another world. Each time there was a bend in the trail and the walls of foliage fell away, stunning views of rolling mountains and clear sky extended far into the distance like soft waves of green and blue.
I spotted some ponies and colts! The ponies within Grayson Highlands State Park and the adjoining Mount Rogers Recreational Area are managed by the Wilbur Ridge Pony Association. The Forest Service began buying land for the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in the late 1960s. Land managers soon discovered that when left unattended, the open high country re-seeds and begins to fill with trees and shrubs. That’s where the ponies come in. The ponies graze the high country and keep the land open for scenic and recreational ises. The ponies are hardy enough to survive the harsh winter. Each year the ponies are rounded up and checked to ensure good health. Ponies are sold, when needed, to manage herd size.
As I entered Jefferson National Forest, I learned the history of the landscape. The first pioneers to the area found much of the land thick with virgin forests, except for the “bald” areas on top of White Top and Elk Garden. Soon the commercial value of tumber was recognized, and thus logging began. With all the open areas available after logging, farmers soon moved in. The lands were used for grazing livestock. The farmers used fire to maintain the land for grazing. Farmers grazing cattle in the region used the mountainous area as a place to gather, weigh, and sell their cattle. They had quickly learned that the cattle weighed less after walking down the mountain. The animals brought the best price with their “high country” weight. Over time, this high country exchange became known as “The Scales”.
A little bit of rain came in the afternoon as I was gathering water just off trail. It did not last. I hiked into the night and came to a campsite hugged by a stream, thickly lined by bushes of rhododendrons. I could see the light of the moon. I did not expect it to rain in the night. I believe I was visited by a mouse. I seem to encounter them most often when I am camping immediately beside water.