Liz’s Birthday 2023, Day 6: Hiking Mary’s Rock Summit and Byrd’s Nest #3 in Shenandoah, Shopping in Downtown Luray, Walking the Grounds at Glen Gordon Manor, Dinner at Houndstooth

I always forget to take photos of where we’re staying right when we arrive. Instead, I remember a few days later when our room is very lived-in, and all our stuff is everywhere.


Living room. The couch was a bit uncomfortable, as there was a heavy bar in the middle. This is actually a fold-out bed that we didn’t end up using.

A view of the bedroom and bath.

We also had a small kitchen area, which was pretty great. Fridge, along with a microwave and stovetop. We ended up having a bit too much food (lots of leftovers). And we only ever cooked breakfast once – which was today.

Our go-to breakfast place, Gathering Grounds was closed on Thursdays. I’m… not sure why. So we ended up grabbing coffee at Broad Porch and got two biscuits to go. And made ourselves some eggs for breakfast.

Today, our goal was to hike Mary’s Rock Summit. It may help to look at this PDF, to see the trails.

It was a shorter drive to our destination, going from Luray to the Meadow Spring Parking Lot. This destination was a bit closer to the Thornton Gap entrance, so Liz and I were worried we’d end up seeing more people on the trails.

Looking back at the small parking lot.

The start of the trail. For reference, we did the Alternate hike, that still takes you to the summit… but is about a mile less than the path that starts near the Thornton Gap entrance. Also just compared the elevation gain, and the alternate is also less. I would definitely recommend the alternate route.

The trek was incredibly steep from the get-go.

Lots of big steps. I kid you not – Liz and I took a lot of breaks, as we made our way up. There was definitely a constant incline for that first hour, plus. A lot of steps… a lot of breaks.

All the remains.

A old chimney, with a bit of wood.

Very cool looking. And a sign nearby, indicating that camping here was not allowed.

Nothing like a little limbo contest, mid-trail.

And… more inclined steps.

Can’t recall the name of these flowers, but guessing Liz knows.

Another break along the trail.

A pretty fun rock formation.

Liz scrambled up.

I took a turn on the other side.

Still an incline, but not quite as steep.

A teaser of the view we’d soon get.

A small clearing.

A lovely opening, where we rested and just looked in awe over the trees. I think we were maybe 30-40 minutes away from the summit at this point.

Liz took a panorama photo, which turned out pretty cool. View a larger version of this image.

Me, clutching anything nearby due to my fear of heights.

Hard to believe it gets better, but… it gets better.

We didn’t know it at the time, but this was the summit (looking at it from the South).

A small marker, indicating the path to Mary’s Rock Summit. We’ve been walking along the Appalachian Trail for a while.

More incline. Whenever I would pause to complain about how steep things were, Liz would just shout out “Summit!” as a reminder.

A glimpse from the summit. That small stretch of road down there is the Thornton Gap entrance.

Along the South side of the summit was this large rock formation. We scrambled about halfway up, and settled in here… with a great view of everything, and a cozy spot to have an early lunch.

Me scrambling down (slowly) to retrieve Liz’s jacket.

This was a great spot. We had an incredible view, but also felt like we were out of the way for other hikers… and weren’t crowding the main lookout areas, below.

There were 2-3 groups that we saw on the trail, who were leaving the summit. And while we were up here, there were 2 individual hikers who showed up, and mostly hung out quietly along the rocks below.

There was also one couple who showed up, but we only ever saw the woman. Her companion (a male) mostly yelled from a distance, and we never saw him. The woman tried to encourage the man to come to the summit for the view, but all we could hear was him yelling “I can see it from here!”

He hiked all the way, but never made it out to the summit. His fear of heights must be even worse than mine, which I didn’t think was possible.

It was early, but we ended up being very hungry.

Lunch view.

While we were sitting, we saw several peregrine falcons flying around us. And a few were even seemingly at ground level to where we were sitting, which was amazing. I highly encourage you to view the video below full-screen.

I’m not great with heights, but I was mostly ok the whole time were on the summit. As I was looking out, I saw all this green… and it registered like a wide swath of rolling meadows and fields.

After staring a bit, it would slowly dawn on me that the green I was seeing was not grass… but in fact the actual tops of trees. And on suddenly realizing how high up we were, my knees then immediately turned to jelly.

I was able to fool myself for a bit, here and there. But wow, were we really high up.

Walking back, we arrived at a crossroads. We could return back the way we came…

or we could press a little more South to visit Byrds Nest 3. We weren’t sure what it was, but it wasn’t overly far.

From here, it wa about 0.7 miles, which means going there and back would end up being another mile and a half. Liz and I still felt like we had some energy, so we decided to push ahead and explore. So off we headed, to Byrds Nest 3.

Thankfully, it wasn’t a huge incline. There were some ups and downs, but it was more like a normal trail than what we experienced at the start.

Liz had some sharp eyes. And who am I kidding really, she’s perpetually on the lookout for animal friends nearby.

She was talking to this guy, and I’m confident she convinced him to stick around for the photo op.

We came across a turn in the trail, that had a lovely opening/view. We stopped for a breather, and another chance to look out over all this gorgeous distance.

Along this area was a series of strings, with some colored pouches attached. I wasn’t sure what they were, and Liz said that we could open one up to find out.

I reeled at this, and told her that we clearly have been watching different horror movies. And opening up one of these guys was the surest way to get hexed/cursed.

I’m still very curious what these were all about, and haven’t found any info on them at all.

At best, I’m reminded of some scene in my head of the Himalayas, and these string decorations at high altitudes. I may just be remembering some random documentary or movie, though.

On arriving at Byrds Nest 3, we realized it wasn’t a scientific research station (we both assumed that it was). In fact, it’s a day-use shelter, for people who are camping in Shenandoah.

Bear storage locker.

Serious storage.

Additionally, some food poles where you can hang your supplies. There were several of these around the area.

Not pictured, but somewhat nearby: an outhouse. Though we were definitely not interested in using it, I imagine it would be something of a welcome sight for travelers.

A small area for a fire.

A water fountain/supply, but it looked empty/dry.

Byrds Nest No. 3.


A view of the shelter itself. A raised platform for sleeping, as well as a fireplace that looked recently used.

A note about the shelter. It’s intended for use by campers who are out for at least three nights. And campers are technically only allowed to stay one night. The hut is on a “first come, first-served basis” though there are several other camping spots available nearby.

Above the fireplace, I found this small log book inside a ziplock bag.

View a larger version of this image.

View a larger version of this image.

View a larger version of this image.

View a larger version of this image.

Stopping briefly, for another look.

Still convinced these pouches contain human remains, but I guess we’ll never know.

A rock that looked dangerously close to toppling. I give it 5, 10 years max.

Another opening, where we ventured out to take in the view.

On our way out, Liz captured “Mary’s Rock Tunnel,” which is a few minutes south of the Thornton Gap entrance. This is us, on our way back.

Back in Luray, I went to go get some more coffee while Liz stopped in to a few shops. I took a few photos inside Mama’s Treasures, which had an impressive amount of glassware.

This glass column and vase was incredibly impressive in person. The photo doesn’t do it justice.

I spotted this photo of Warren “Mac” McConnell, and immediately felt a wave of sadness and loss as I read over his life. This was a random encounter, but I was very moved reading about Mac’s life.

I encourage you to read about his very full life.

At another nearby store. I regret not purchasing this for Liz.

For dinner, we had reservations at Houndstooth, the restaurant located on the grounds of Glen Gordon Manor.

We arrived a bit early, as I wanted to have a drink and walk the grounds a bit.

Looking around inside, at a side room.

We were taken through the kitchen with our drinks, and led to a side door… where we started walking towards the stables.

A big draw that I knew Liz would enjoy: their chickens.

We had a fun time walking near them, and even got a few interested parties coming to us near the fence.

We kept our distance.

Inside, taking a few photos of the dining area before all the guests arrive.

A really lovely room.

Each night’s dinner only seats a few tables. I was fortunate in that, when I contacted the restaurant… they were able to give me a reservation in advance. I wanted to have a special dinner here on Liz’s birthday day (which was today), and was glad they could accommodate us.

Inside one of the sitting rooms, which was incredibly lovely.

Peeking down the hallway, where all the rooms are located.

An adjoining room, which I’m guessing is for breakfast.

Looking out at the pool area.

Down another hallway, with more rooms.

Back in the main sitting area, where we were relaxing prior to dinner. A very lush, lovely space.

Fun tidbit: at the bar, we came across a local whisky called Courage & Conviction. On top of that, it was cask strength, and aged in a Sherry cask. Since I was driving, I opted out of this one… but Liz ended up getting it, and really enjoyed it.

We both aren’t overly fond of American whiskies, but this one was really something special. Liz definitely liked it, and noted that it really opened up as the night wore on.

One small thing: I loved the space, but was annoyed at the clientele. Right when Liz and I walked into this room, there was an older couple. They seemed to catch one look at us, and immediately exited the room. I say this as someone who is not prone to snap judgments: they clearly left on seeing us.

To top it off, they left their drinks on the table. Points I guess for them actually using coasters, but it seemed like such a pompous, entitled thing to do. Partly because it simply assumes the staff will clean up after them; partly because such a move indicates a complete disregard for anyone else staying at the manor.

You can buy quality, but you can’t buy class.

Our meal to come.

My lovely date for the evening. Incredibly lucky to have her in my life, and so incredibly excited to celebrate this special day with her.

Golden baby beet salad, port dressing: with goat cheese, almonds, melba, aged balsamic, and micro radish shoots.

Roasted red pepper soup: with creme-fraiche espuma, micro croutons, and chives.

Foie gras torchon: with house brioche, and cumberland

Smoked prime striploin romesco: with pomme galette, haricot vert, wild mushrooms, heirloom carrot, and crispy red onion.

Broken chocolate egg: with chocolate mousse, passion fruit curd, phyllo nest, linoncello sponge cake, cassis sorbet, and almond granola.

While we were near Front Royal, and could have taken the long way home through Shenandoah… we opted to get home normally, in about half the time.

A long, long day – but an incredibly memorable one. Sights as well as tastes. And easily so far, one of my favorites days this year… with my most favorite person of all.

Liz’s Birthday 2023, Day 1: Red Arrow Antiques
Liz’s Birthday 2023, Day 2: More Antiques, and a Return to Chicago
Liz’s Birthday 2023, Day 3: Travel to Luray
Liz’s Birthday 2023, Day 4: Hiking Rose River Falls and Dark Hollow Falls in Shenandoah, Dinner at Watch and Warrant, and an Unexpected Illness
Liz’s Birthday 2023, Day 5: Copper Fox Distillery, Dinner and Ice Cream in Front Royal, Driving Through Shenandoah National Park at Night

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