The mountain air was fresh and cool as we stepped out onto the trail. The afternoon sun was bright overhead and a gentle breeze pushed by us as if it had plans to be somewhere else. We hiked south along the Appalachian Trail, visiting with the wild ponies who live with in Grayson Highlands State Parks boundaries. The highlands that dominate the landscape were filled with knee high grass, the ponies looked well fed. As we made our way farther down the trail we decided to make camp before the sun completely set. We found small site on the edge of the woods that would offer protection from any wind if it were to pick up, minutes later our shelter was pitched and the idea of dinner was large in our minds.
Golden hour set in and cast our campsite in deep crimson light, we visited with the ponies as we waited for our dinners to warm. The small herd of ponies that we had passed earlier in the day had settled on the side of a nearby hill, the foals danced around their mothers as if they were not ready for the day to end. As dusk settled in we made our way back to camp and quickly ate our dinner in silence. Soon, it was too dark to see beyond our headlamps so we moved towards bed, Ryan began journaling and I picked up a ebook on my phone.
Morning came early on the side of the mountain, the sunrise striking its way into our tent at 6:05am. Even in summer the morning air was brisk, the promise of coffee and breakfast made the decision to leave my sleeping bag easy. The campsite was quiet as I quickly put together my stove and filtered the days water. As the stove roared to life Ryan appeared from the tent, ready for the day and the offering of a warm meal. Breakfast concluded we slowly tore down camp and returned our equipment to our backpacks.
The sun was well and truly up by the time we left our campsite. The wind picked up as we began the hike, storm clouds soon enveloped the surrounding mountain peaks. The ponies must have sensed a brooding squall because they were nowhere to be seen as we hiked alone along the highlands, a stray mares neigh gave away their position deep within the protective forest. The trail ahead narrowed as the growth of blueberry bushes and rhododendron trees filled in the landscape. We slowly climbed towards a rock outcropping that gave us a stunning view of the highlands and surrounding mountains. The undergrowth in time gave way to a clearing where we parted from the Appalachian Trail proper and took a spur trail down to the parking lot and awaiting car. We silently descended into a forest carpeted by ferns, the air was much cooler here. Soon enough we arrived at the car and quickly packed our things away. We were headed home.