This week was a very quiet one for me being outdoors. Monday through Thursday I was unable to get outside for photography just because of the sun setting too early in the day now for a trip after working hours to be worth the effort. On Friday, my girlfriend Ruth & I were heading up to Charlottesville, Virginia to stay for the weekend and do some hiking...and also so that I could pull a surprise proposal at the top of Spy Rock just outside of Montebello in Nelson County (I'll try to hit the highlights since this is technically a nature blog). In the plans for quite a while, I had picked out an engagement ring two weeks prior while my mother was in town visiting, and Friday was the day I finally got to pick it up. Naturally, it wasn't there at Noon like it was supposed to be, but after a short panic, it did arrive at 2 PM, so I was able to grab the ring and get it home before Ruth got home so I could hide it in my backpack for the weekend trip. We headed up to Charlottesville around 6 PM or so on Friday evening, and thanks to some truly awful traffic on I-64 up between Newport News and Williamsburg, we didn't make it til close to 10 PM. We grabbed a quick dinner at Ruby Tuesday and settled into our Comfort Inn hotel just southeast of the city proper. On Saturday morning, we were up and out early, before 7 AM, and headed up I-64 westward towards the access at Rockfish Gap / Afton Mountain to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Still shrouded in darkness, we headed south on the Blue Ridge and got to see the sun just starting to rise over the eastern horizon from several of the overlooks. Plenty of people were already up there probably trying to photograph the sunrise as well. We drove past my favorite overlook, Twenty Minute Cliff, and then caught the road that heads eastward down and out of the mountains towards Montebello & Crabtree Falls. Along the way, now with light on our side, it was evident that a good amount of frost had piled up on the ground, and the temperatures must have still been in the 30s or 40s at the highest. We parked at the country store near the small trout fishing pond, and then started walking down the road towards the Virginia Station Fish Hatchery entrance road (the trailhead is just beyond the fishery parking lot but up a very poorly maintained mud road, hence why we walked from further out). Ruth was not very enthused with how cold it was, and for a few minutes I thought I was going to have to rethink my proposal plans.
I went to great lengths to conceal that I was going to propose up top of Spy Rock, so I was happy when as we headed up higher, it got warmer, and our blood started pumping from the vertical change. I can't say for sure whether the wildlife just wasn't there, or if I wasn't noticing it since my nerves were a bit anxious, but we didn't really see anything on the trip up. Well up at the top, my plan was to get ahead of Ruth enough so that when she climbed up the last little bit, I'd be there holding the ring, however, the hike was a lot more exhausting than I remembered and I couldn't get out too far ahead, so we were both at the top and I just decided to get the ring out of my bag then. It was inside it's box, wrapped up in a wool sock, inside of a plastic bag (to protect from condensation from the water bottles in the backpack). Ruth thought I was pulling out a snack of some sort, but instead I kneeled down & proposed. I honestly thought she was expecting it over the trip, but she was clearly caught completely offguard, and teared up for a moment before saying "Of Course". A couple of folks up top overheard and were nice enough to come over to take a photograph of us in our celebration. Having finished the proposal, my nerves went away finally and we go to enjoy the beautiful views from up top of Spy Rock. The leaves were well beyond peak, and most of the trees had already shed all their colors, so we missed it by a week or two unfortunately. Looking back in my logs, I was here about 6 days prior 2 years back and seen vivid colors, so just proof that every year is different.
We headed back down the mountain together, and I was trying to get used to the idea of referring to Ruth as my fiance instead of my girlfriend, which probably will take some time since I have over 4 years of the latter engrained in me at this point. The weather was now absolutely perfect out, feeling more like a summer day than a late fall one. On the way down I did finally get some looks at wildlife as many sparrows (White-throated, Chipping, and Song) were seen hopping around next to the trail. Also, a few American Goldfinches, and some warblers that I couldn't ID (potentially Palm or Orange-crowned but not sure) were also seen. Around the fish hatchery, plenty of Black & Turkey Vultures were set up in the trees and soaring overhead. When we finished the ~5 mile hike and got back to the car, we headed down the Crabtree Falls Highway back into the Rockfish Valley and had lunch at the Devil's Backbone Brewery & Restaurant. That was it for our outdoors adventures on Saturday as we were totally worn out from the mountain hike. Sunday, we made it back about 12:30 PM to Virginia Beach, and it was another absolutely gorgeous day, so we went up to Pleasure House Point and did our first hike here as engaged folk. There was a number of people there as always, some of whom were much to loud and obnoxious for my tastes (the only downside to city parks that are easily accessed). We heard a number of Clapper Rails, and I did spot some sparrows, which were either Nelson's or Saltmarsh though I didn't get clear photos to verify with certainty. We did have a Cooper's Hawk fly across from the marshy islands towards the beach and continue on into the interior of the park, and we saw one juvenile Bald Eagle soaring over the same area. Plenty of gulls and terns, and skimmers were out on the mudflats, with a few Oystercatchers, Willets, and what looked to be Greater Yellowlegs as well. We just did one quick loop of the park before heading home since we had a lot of chores to do, and I was just wore out from the weekend, so got to relax on the couch. It was a great week & I'm very proud to be able to announce our engagement!