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SHEN: Compton Peak

A cache by RocknRngr Send Message to Owner Message this owner
Hidden : 8/11/2009
3 out of 5
4 out of 5

Size: Size: other (other)

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Geocache Description:

This cache is located in Shenandoah National Park. Parking is available at Compton Gap, mile 10.4 on Skyline Drive. This is a strenuous hike (mostly uphill - an elevation gain of 835 ft.) with a beautiful overlook and a rock scramble that leads you to some exquisite columnar jointing! This is a 4-stop multi-cache.

For 100 years, the National Park Service has preserved America’s special places “for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” Celebrate its second century with the Find Your Park GeoTour that launched April 2016 and explore these geocaches placed for you by National Park Service Rangers and their partners.  

Waypoint #1: N38 49.311 W078 10.225 From the parking area, you must cross Skyline Drive and get on the Appalachian Trail(AT). The AT enters Shenandoah National Park about 1.5 miles north of this point. You will only be hiking 2.4 miles (round trip) on the AT. However, it continues on for 101 miles before leaving Shenandoah. The AT is one of the world’s longest continuous hiking trails that is marked and maintained. Currently, it stretches 2,178 miles from Maine to Georgia. The length of the AT can vary slightly from year to year due to trail maintenance. This section of the AT takes you uphill approximately .8 mile until reaching a cross trail. You will notice this section of the AT is beautifully shaded. Along the way, think about the changes that have occurred over time in order to bring you the picturesque view around you. Nature is always changing due to either human or natural impact. The human impact of trail maintenance causes slight alterations in the AT, while geologic forces are at work slowly changing the rocks. Other natural phenomenon cause still more changes in the forest. As you are standing at waypoint 1, take a look around at the many fallen trees. Winters in Shenandoah can be brutal. Although the intensity of storms varies from year to year, Shenandoah often experiences major ice storms that cause damage to many trees in high elevations. Winter ice storms are not the only forces that bring trees down. Many of the trees affected by the gypsy moth outbreak of the 1980s are just starting to fall. They have remained standing for over 20 years. High winds eventually take their toll on these dead trees. Some also fall as the tree structure weakens over time. As you walk, continue to scan the landscape to see the enormity of the impact these natural forces have on the forest. The forest goes through many cycles of destruction and rejuvenation. Dead trees will decompose and seedlings will take root as nature begins its renewal process after a period of devastation.
The Earthcache is guiding you to an exquisite overlook and a spectacular display of columnar jointing. On your way to these features, you will notice large boulders on either side of the trail. These boulders show evidence of the Catoctin lava that forms the crest of Compton Peak. Weathering and erosion have been relentlessly wearing down the peak. You will be able to see greater stages of disintegration in these boulders the further along the trail you go. Whereas trees can be brought down in a matter of minutes, transformations in the rocks take millions of years.

ASSIGNMENT: * In your opinion, which of these forces of change has had the greatest impact on the forest? Be sure to include a reason why.

Waypoint #2: N38 49.100 W078 10.536 (Waypoint #2 is a reference point only with an optional assignment. This assignment is not required in order to log the cache.) This waypoint guides you to a cement marker at a crossroads in the trail. The trail to the right takes you to the peak (.2 mile) and the trail to the left takes you to the columnar joints (.2 mile). The hike to the peak is relatively easy, while the hike to the columnar joints is rough and rocky.
SAFETY WARNING: Please be advised the trail to the left is steep, rough, and rocky. The average hiker would consider this trail quite challenging! A short, downward rock scramble is required in order to view the columnar joints. Sturdy shoes are a must!

Optional Assignment:What processes do you think were used in order to get the cement markers into place?

Waypoint #3: N38 49.233 W078 10.542 You have navigated to Compton Peak and are standing on the Catoctin lava that formed this peak. Looking north, the Blue Ridge Mountains stretch far in the distance. You can also see the Skyline Drive on the near side of Dickey Ridge. Dickey Ridge can be identified by the Federal Aviation Administration radio beacon that sits atop its peak. Construction of the Skyline Drive began in 1931. The Skyline Drive has made possible many positive changes in the area now known as Shenandoah National Park. President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated, at the dedication of Shenandoah Park, “We are preserving the beauty and the wealth of the hills, the mountains, the plains, the trees and the streams.”
If you have binoculars, check out the valley below in more detail. The town that is visible directly in front of you is Front Royal, VA. To the far left, you can see a section of the Shenandoah River. To the far right you are looking out into the Piedmont and the foothills of the Blue Ridge. The view you see from this peak changes its appearance over the course of the year. If you are hiking in the spring or summer, you are looking out into a vast expanse of lush, green forest. Autumn would bring a beautiful view of leaves changing color on the peaks and in the valley, while in winter, one would observe leafless trees and possibly snow cover. The rock outcropping, known as Compton Peak, is subjected to various forms of weathering throughout the year. Visitor impact, as well as harsh weather conditions at high elevations, cause changes over time.

ASSIGNMENT:*What season are you observing as you peer over the peak? Describe the view, at the time of your hike, and take a digital photo of your caching party. What do you find to be the most remarkable, seasonal aspect of the view? What is it about the view that makes you stand in amazement of Shenandoah?

Waypoint #4: N38 48.974 W078 10.464 To reach this waypoint, you must return to the intersection with the AT. Instead of taking a left toward the parking area, you will go straight across the AT (at the cement marker) toward the columnar joints. This .2 mile trail is steep, rough and rocky. Hikers are advised to use caution. It is definitely worth the effort for those who are able to tackle the rock scramble, steep slopes, and loose rock footing. The spectacular columnar joints are the most impressive in the park! On your way down the trail, you will follow the blue blazes and stay to the left. You must also tackle a short rock scramble in order to make your way to the bottom. The beauty of these columnar joints is awe inspiring! Some of these honeycomb-like formations measure 30 inches in diameter. These columns are called so because their length, on average, is 1.5 - 3 times their width. Their formation began approximately 570 million years ago when basaltic lava contracted as it cooled. The cooling process caused the lava to crack into these prismatic columns. These columnar joints were tilted to their current angle by the forces that pushed the mountains upward. As you gaze at these phenomenal structures, try to put into perspective the length of time it must have taken for nature to form something so magnificent!

ASSIGNMENT: *Explain the process that forms columnar jointing. *Have you ever seen columnar jointing elsewhere along your travels? If so, where? *Now that you know what columnar jointing is, look for another example along the trail that perhaps you missed on the way in. Mark the location of it with your GPS unit.

*Appalachian Trail websites:,
*Badger, Robert, 2004, Geology Along Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, VA, p 18-19, 36-38, and 55-59
* Exploring the Real Thing: A guide to Educational Programs at National Park Sites in Virginia,, p179
*Bates, Robert L. and Jackson, Julia A., 1984, Dictionary of Geological Terms: Third Edition, p 99, 405

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115 Logged Visits

Found it 104     Didn't find it 2     Write note 8     Publish Listing 1     

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Coordinates are in the WGS84 datum

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