A handful of intrepid hikers was treated to a view about a week ago that few people have seen in decades. It was a nighttime panorama of the New River valley, surrounding peaks and the modest lights of small towns from the summit of Mount Jefferson.
The night hike began just as Mount Jefferson State Natural Area was closing for the day. Hikers and their vehicles were carefully counted and escorted to the summit parking lot for the outing led by Ranger Tom Randolph. It was a leisurely two miles round trip, and timed for the group to reach lofty Luther Rock just after sundown. It gave a radically different perspective of the mountain that became part of the state parks system in 1956.
Mount Jefferson is pretty much a “free-standing” mountain, its 4,683-foot peak abruptly rising alone more than 1,600 feet above the surrounding mountain landscape. This allows for some spectacular views that are all the more dramatic after sunset. The group perched on the ledges of Luther Rock, listened to Randolph’s stories of the mountain’s geology and history and watched full darkness gather into the mountain hollows below. A string of flashlights threaded the way back to the trailhead.
A hike with a park ranger has always been a sort of right of passage for people who love the outdoors and the parks. In recent years, rangers have devised many variations on this, engaging visitors to use all their senses while on the trails. These have included astronomy hikes, “silent” hikes (where talking is discouraged), walks augmented by music and storytelling (talking encouraged) and canoe hikes on the larger lakes.