Our lives literally revolve around the sun. Regardless of how we may try to fight the morning light with blackout curtains and eye masks, or how we attempt to silence the birds with ear plugs and loud fans, our bodies desperately want to wake up and wind down with the sun.
In the ongoing fight against nature, we maybe be missing out on some of the most magical experiences of life:
Sunrises and sunsets!
They may not be as hyped as solar or lunar eclipses, but they occur every single day – TWICE! And some would argue that they are far more interesting.
TOP SPOTS TO WATCH THE SUNRISE
1. McAfee’s Knob in Catawba: This is the stuff dreams are made of, and it’s less than half an hour from the edge of the New River Valley. Being so close to this landmark summit means one doesn’t have to thru-hike the entire Appalachian Trail to see its celebrated sunrise. It is an 8-mile hike, so a mountaintop campout may be the best way to be there. Thru-hiker Carey Kish, who caught every single sunrise from Georgia to Maine, says that watching the McAfee’s Knob sunrise was one of the greatest experiences of his entire life.
2. The Meadow in Blacksburg: Arguably the highest point in Blacksburg, The Meadow was recently inaugurated as an official park in the Town of Blacksburg. This patch of paradise has gorgeous east-facing views of High Top Mountain, making it the perfect place to catch the sunrise. Plus, there is no strenuous mountain to climb. The Meadow boasts beautiful walking trails that weave through 300-year-old oak trees and showcase abundant flora and fauna. Every year, several members of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Blacksburg come here to camp out and watch the sunrise on the winter solstice. For its ease of access, this spot at Nellie’s Cave Park can’t be beat.
3. Buffalo Mountain in Floyd: A steep trail of about a mile, this hike rewards everyone with a gorgeous sunrise view over the Blue Ridge Highlands and Floyd County. The summit of Buffalo Mountain offers a near 360-degree view of the surrounding area, making for a spectacular sunrise sky experience. For those who can spend the day in Floyd, Chateau Morrisette Winery is a lovely place to sip Chardonnay and watch the sun dip behind Buffalo Mountain later in the evening.
TOP SPOTS TO WATCH THE SUNSET
1. Bald Knob in Giles County: A wonderful place for both sunrise and sunset watching, Bald Knob is situated atop the Mountain Lake Conservancy, and the steep incline of this one-mile trail gets you to 4,365 feet elevation in a jiffy. Bring binoculars because the overlook offers expansive views of the New River Valley, with a bird’s eye view of Lane Stadium to the west. The small rock outcropping is fun to climb around and explore, too.
2. Heritage Park/Rising Silo Brewery (Glade Road Growing) in Blacksburg: For a surreal sunset experience in solitude, grab one of the benches atop Heritage Park and bask in the glory of the setting sun as colors sweep over the hills. Should you prefer to experience a sunset surrounded by good people and good beer, walk across the street to Rising Silo Brewery on a Saturday evening. From square dancing to stargazing, the Rising Silo Brewery’s unique farm setting makes it wonderfully entertaining. Have yourself a sun-down-hoe-down.
3. Claytor Lake in Pulaski: There is just something about being on the water as the sun sets that soothes the soul. For those who don’t have a boat or a friend with a boat, rent a paddleboard at Mountain 2 Island and head out for a Sunset Paddle Tour. It would make a memorable date night experience, and it’s much cheaper than buying a boat!
Can you spot the difference between a photo of a sunrise and a sunset? Look at the colors. The setting sun, mixed with the settling of the day’s traffic and air pollution, gives way to more pinks and purples, whereas the crisp clean air of morning lends itself to more yellows, reds and oranges.
Bring a headlamp. Any time you venture out into nature in the wee hours, you’ll want something to illuminate your path. After all, dawn and dusk are peak times for curious critters to stir, and you don’t want to be caught in the dark with a creature you can’t see!
Layers. The temperature is going to change as the sun goes either down or up, so wearing layers is a smart way to make sure you can stay comfortable as the temperature changes.
Check the time. Though winter hiking is certainly less common, there is one benefit: you can catch the sunrise as late as 7:20 a.m. For those who like sleeping in, this is ideal. It is also one reason that catching a winter solstice sunrise is a popular activity.
Photos. Whatever you do, don’t forget your camera.
Text by Emily Kathleen Alberts