“What did you guys do for fun when you weren’t working?” I ask the guy.

“Any girls we could find!”

Hoots and giggles fill the Bathhouse at Hanging Rock State Park, where one Dr. Harley Jolley is just about done regaling us with tales of life in the Civilian Conservation Corps, which sent him to Yellowstone during the Great Depression and built the stone structure we’re sitting in for his presentation.

Harley Jolley on the PBS movie about the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Harley Jolley appears in "Civilian Conservation Corps," an American Experience episode on PBS. Credit: PBS

Hanging Rock has been there for a billion years, I suppose, but the park named in its honor is a more recent innovation, dating to 1936. A reunion and celebration of the park’s 75th birthday on Saturday spanned generations of people who built the park and readied it for recreation. Last year more than a half-million people came to Hanging Rock.

This morning I googled Dr. Jolley and found out he’s published a book on the CCC and appeared in a PBS “American Experience” episode devoted to the Civilian Conservation Corps. (Watch it here).

He’s quite a remarkable guy: Pearl Harbor survivor, retired professor of American history, authority on the Blue Ridge Parkway — and deft performer. He knew when to be funny, when to be poignant. He worked the room without a microphone, nobody had any trouble hearing.

Harley Jolley and a CCC veteran

Professor Holley, left, with a guy who was posted at Hanging Rock State Park with the Civilian Conservation Corps. Didn’t get his name.

I saw all this after I’d finished an excellent 5.5-mile hike to Moore’s Knob, where the view is always worth the climb if the weather cooperates. It was sunny and pleasant, ideal hiking weather, with splashes of fall color starting to light up the hills.

Here’s how you can tell you’re at a great park: Every time you think it’s as good as it can get, it gets better. I’d done the Moore’s Knob hike at least a half-dozen times, but this time I took a detour around the park lake for some views I’d never seen before.

Then I strolled through the campground, soaking up the aroma of all those open-fire breakfasts, found the trail and huffed to the top of the Knob, marveling at the contrast between the greens, reds and yellows.

Then I came back down, joined the Friends of Sauratown Mountains, and caught a history lesson from one of the people who lived through one of the most fascinating chapters in U.S. history.

That’s within a percentage point or two of perfect.

Let’s see some pictures:

Hanging Rock Lake

You really get a feel for the fall-color transition here — still lots of green, but plenty more colors coming in.

Lake, with Bathhouse on opposite shore

Here’s a look at the Bathhouse from across Hanging Rock Lake. This is the first time I’ve seen it from this perspective.

Wild berries

These look like holly berries; can anybody help me out here?

If you take the path around the lake, take note: you’ll eventually come out on the park road, which leads to a left-turn on the campground road. You follow the road till it ends — look for the “Trail” signs, first on your right, and then across the road on the left.

This counterclockwise route is the shorter, faster and steeper way to Moore’s Knob. The trail markings intuitively guide hikers on a clockwise route with a more gradual ascent to the top. In theory this makes sense, especially for beginning hikers, but in reality I find it just drags out a long climb that I’d prefer to get out of the way ASAP.

On the other hand, it’s much harder to find your way on the counterclockwise route — it’s easy to miss the turn-off and confusing when you reach the campground. But if you’ve got your park map and feel adventurous, it’s worth checking out.

More pix:

Moore's Knob

Wanna know the definition of lucky? It’s being able to stand on a place like this, get all “been there done that” for about 60 second, then realize “wow, this really is worth the climb.”

Sauratown Mountains

The Sauratowns, a mountain range of our very own.

View from the Fire Tower
OK, this shot is better with people in it.

Now, back to the trail:

Color on the trail

Color up close.

Riot of color

And from a distance. Standard advice for photography is there should be one object of focus in the image. Great thing about having your own blog: you can ignore standard advice when the urge hits.

OK, that’ll do it for this week.

Links for this hike:

Google map

View 10-8-11 Hanging Rock State Park in a larger map