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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
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FEBRUARY 20, 2006
"May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds."
- Edward Abbey

Puffy clouds over Race Mountain in Massachusetts on Day 100

Sounds like Mr. Abbey knew all about the Appalachian Trail, even though his books were aimed more at environmental concerns in the western United States. The description above fits the AT to a "T."  In the next three entries you'll see part of the dance between the mountains and the clouds.

The next photo essays will feature various aspects of the rich, diverse environment along the Appalachian Trail. After some thought about how to organize all the nature and landscape photos we took on the adventure run, I've decided to start with the "macro" view (the sky = infinity) and work down to the "micro" view (little jewels of nature, and close-ups).

These essays will generally focus more on photos than on text. I have a better eye for design than knowledge of science and simply don't have time to research all of these topics!


As a child I used to love watching cottony white clouds as they slowly marched across a beautiful blue sky. Like millions of other children around the globe, I'd see animals or people or other objects in the designs made by the clouds, or just enjoy the random patterns they made.

Puffy clouds over Big Bald Mtn., NC/TN on Day 23:


Then for about four decades I was so focused on my education, family, and career that I didn't do that nearly often enough.

Sure, I enjoyed the serenity of the outdoors when I ran trails and traveled around the country to mountainous races. But it wasn't until I retired six years ago that I really began watching the sky again for the sheer pleasure of it and not just to determine what weather was approaching.

Appalachian Trail hikers become VERY aware of the sky and the clouds.

They appreciate the billowy puffs that create picture-perfect backdrops to the mountains and valleys they trek. They admire the low-lying clouds that blanket a valley down below, while mountain tops peek through and infinite blue sky stretches into space. And they watch closely for gray or black clouds that portend the weather systems that may bring rain, sleet, or snow.

I'm so glad I took the time to observe interesting clouds on my trek. By the time I reached New England, I was stopping for longer periods to sit on overlooks and summits to admire the sky and the views around me.

I wish I'd done that more in the southern states.

In this essay and the next I'll highlight some of the colorful blue sky/white cloud photos I took. You've seen many of these before because they are some of my favorite AT landscape photos. Nothing enhances a valley, field, farm, mountain, river, or lake scene better than a bright blue sky and gorgeous white clouds.



The AT followed the dirt road below for a little while near the NC/TN state line, also on Day 23 - a great day for cloud pictures!

View of wispy cirrus and puffy cumulus clouds from the top of Snowbird Mountain, NC/TN, on Day 17:

From this vantage point, puffy clouds nearly camouflaged the air traffic monitor left behind when the Bedford Air Force Station closed on the summit of Apple Orchard Mountain in VA. (Day 47):


Another cloudscape from Apple Orchard Mountain, VA, Day 47:

Looking north toward the Smokies on Day 13 in North Carolina:

Cumulus puff-ball in North Carolina on Day 7, below:

Picture-perfect day at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers on Day 59:


Clouds float like cotton above a farm in Tennessee on Day 29 . . .

. . . and above another farm in Pennsylvania on Day 64:


As the Eastern seaboard becomes increasingly populated the atmosphere along the entire Appalachian Mountain chain is getting more and more hazy. You can see the haze in the photo below from Max Patch in NC/TN on Day 18:

I hate to say it, but the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina/Tennessee and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia were two of the hazier sections I ran. All four days in the Shennies were sunny but the valleys were nearly obscured by the haze, as in the photo below on Day 55, taken from a ridge a little north of Big Meadows CG. The little cloud puffs are cute, though - I was looking down on them.

Every state had hazy places when I passed through, not just the ones where the Trail passes closer to civilization. Obviously there are  atmospheric changes from day to day, making some days more clear than others (after a rain, for example, or when it's windy).

I was delighted when I got perfect, crystal-clear days so I could take some bright blue sky photos, such as the two below from Kittatinny Ridge in New Jersey on Day 90:


I love the contrast of all the colors in the photo below from Bellvale Mountain in New York on Day 92 - the reddish puddingstone, green plants, intense blue sky, and puffy white clouds:


One of my favorite scenes in southern New England is the one at the very top of this page on the summit of Race Mountain in Massachusetts. There were many other memorable views of intense blue skies in the days and weeks that followed  . . .

Puffy cumulus clouds make a pleasant backdrop to the Veterans' War Memorial, above, on the summit of Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts on Day 104:

Tranquil reflection of clouds in the pond water at Roaring Branch in Vermont, Day 105, below:

May your mountains rise into and above the clouds . . . as in this photo of a mountain seen from Mt. Baker in Vermont (Day 109):

In the next two essays, you'll see clouds that nearly engulfed me as I ran and hiked on mountain ridges, and cloud blankets that lay hundreds of feet below me - there's lots of cloud drama on the AT!

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil