Our first stop when we head for a National Park is almost always one of the main Visitor Centers. Of course we want to pick up our enamel pins, but visitor centers are also a great place to discuss your park goals with a ranger, and get advice on where to go. When I visited Everglades, they gave me information on where to go to find a crocodile; when we visited Congaree, they gave us trail updates that kept us from running into impassable trail and having to backtrack.
After visiting the Big Meadows Visitor Center, we sauntered across the street to the appropriately named Big Meadows. It had been threatening rain for about an hour, and as we set out it began, dampening our hope that we would be able complete our hike with our cameras. One benefit of the rain though – we had the Big Meadow all to ourselves.
Or, so we thought. As we continued walking along the little paths that cut through the meadow, we began to see that there were deer scattered throughout – some off on their own, others in small groups. We could also see that some had tiny fawns at their heels. We continued following the well worn single-path.
As we walked, we spotted a single doe and her fawn standing in a shallow pool off the left side of the trail. She watched us quietly before turning her attention back to her baby, who was completely unfazed by our presence, darting and dashing around the pool at play before settling in to nurse.
We stayed still and calm for the longest time watching them both, in awe of this rare moment. It definitely ranks among one of the most magical moments Ive experienced, and ended up being the defining moment of our Shenandoah trip.
After a while, the mother grazed away, her fawn frolicking in the grass at her heels. We stayed until they disappeared into the deep grass before we continued on our own way.
I realize I haven’t done a write up on this magic beast yet, but this is my Atlas Athlete, one of the most crucial parts of my photography kit. It enables me to carry a heavy load of camera gear for hours on the hiking trail while keeping everything safe and organized. You can see that it’s quite damp from the rain, which at this point had subsided, but all my camera gear was safe and dry. It even comes with a rain fly in case the going get really rough – we carry everything we need to keep our gear dry, but we would definitely be wet by the end! I have a small emergency poncho stored in my pack, but honestly my greatest concern is my gear – I can withstand a little bit of rain.
There were so many little trails that cut all around the field. I’m not sure if they’ve all been cut by humans, or if some of them might be little deer trails, but regardless, we hiked all over the meadow, pausing to take photos of interesting plants and flowers along the way.
We also found a small group of button bucks in a similarly small puddle not far from the original doe and fawn. The eligible bachelors hang out in their own herds during the non-breeding season, as the old adage goes, safety in numbers.
After a few hours in the meadow, we made our way back to the Jeep, but not without first coming upon a different doe and her teeny tiny fawn. This one must’ve been only a week or two old, tottering along on spindly legs.
I can’t promise a similar afternoon if you visit Shenandoah, but I would bet that any afternoon spent in Big Meadow would not be wasted – I’m sure that there are always encounters with nature to be had.