SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK
As our luck would have it, we had bad wind storms chase us out of our next planned stop, and we booked it all the way to Shenandoah National Park. We were going to spend five days at New River Gorge in West Virginia, but after sleeping with freight trains in the Smokies, we decided that will have to be a place to come back to later in life. Hopefully when we are in better shape, anyways, because it is very hard to haul our chunky butts up rock walls at the moment. Turns out mac and cheese and beer does not make for a great physic.
We were hoping to get into camp before the storms started in Virginia, but alas, they started early. Driving into Shenandoah was very reminiscent of Skyline Boulevard out in the Bay area, as the road was named Skyline Drive and was completely fogged in. As soon as we got into the camp ground, the rain started and only got worse. With 40 degrees and dropping, we picked out a first-come-first-serve campground and got to work setting up the tent. The wind and rain picked up and started pummeling us at a nice 60 degree angle and the fog was collecting on all of out dry items anyway. Just transferring the bedding into the tent was a tricky operation. After enduring 2 hours of this horrible set up, we still hadn't eaten dinner, so we took our fancy dinner of peanut butter and jelly and headed to the only dry building structure out of the cold to eat; the women's bathroom.
Ahh, bathroom dinner, I know your jealous. Well, it was warm and out of the wind, and we didn't have to get everything wet in the tent. We changed out of our soaking wet clothes and ran back to the tent after 'dinner' in our ponchos and underwear, hurried under the tarp, threw ourselves into the tent, and quickly put on our warm base layers.
Needless to say, we were happy to be relatively safe and dry, but our discussions of upgrading our setup were increased because of this event. We spent the next 10 days hiking around and talking incessantly about what we would want, how much money we could spend, what would be luxury, what would be necessity, pros, cons, etc. I was so burnt out from these discussions I had started to get bored with hiking because I knew it would inevitably lead to more logistics.
One item that did give a bit of relief to the planning side of our trip was the 'Your Guide to the National Parks' book we picked up in Mammoth Cave. This book was a savior at least for just the full size park map because, apparently, Shenandoah is so low on funding they have to print out the park map on printer paper in 13 different sections! It was a nightmare. We had no expectations for this park (except for me to sing Take Me Home, Country Roads at all times of the day) and we decided to compare the book recommendations to the Ranger recommendations as to where to spend our time. The book proved to be well laid out and the trails were well described as we pieced together difficult hikes, scenic drives, short walks, and viewpoints throughout the park.
We did get one day with a high above 75 degrees, which we took advantage of by hiking out to a waterfall pool on the White-oak trail and hung some hammocks in the sun and dipped our feet in the freezing water to cool off. We hiked that same trail, but the full circuit a few days before, and were treated to a variety of flora, fauna, and waterfalls. After seeing so many bear from our car, it took us both a minute to realize we should be a bit scared when along the trail wondered a mamma bear and two cubs. At first, we were like 'wow how cool!' and then realized there was no fence, no car, just open forest between us and this bear family. We also had snacks in our bags, so we hurried down the trail as quietly as possible.
Shenandoah National Park encompasses the ridge line of the Shenandoah mountains, on one side is the Shenandoah valley and on the other is the Virginia Piedmont leading to the coast. The valley and river side was exceptionally beautiful from above, and our drive into Charlottesville was equally stunning. Driving down from the ridge on the brink of a season change was like driving from winter into spring. Virginia has rolling green hills and large cattle farms with quaint barns and small towns spread out in the Piedmont region. If it wasn't for the raging racism in the area, I would be considering Charlottesville as a possible place to settle.
Speaking of racism (always a great start to a sentence), Shenandoah has been the only national park that has discussed African American history and segregation throughout the park in the early years. It was interesting to read about the separate campgrounds and picnic areas along the scenic drive, and how the park service eventually desegregated before the surrounding state parks, although slowly due to reluctant vendors operating inside park boundaries. Not a great part of park history, but at least it was acknowledged.
We finally took time to participate in a Ranger program as well in this park. I was looking forward to getting some birding help, and Eric tagged along to practice his wildlife photography. The birding walk was lead by one of the park's ecologists and it was extremely informative and exciting looking for all the gems flying around in the bare winter tree branches. We both enjoyed the program so much, we want to make a point to join a few more throughout our park travels. I also got to ask a ton of questions on how to become an ecologist, turns out I need to practice my bird calls....oh darn 😉
At the end of our 9 day stay, we felt we had seen a good portion of the park, and although we enjoyed it immensely, we probably wouldn't travel back there specifically. We also had a pretty good idea of how we wanted to change our camp set up going forward. Stay tuned.
10/10 would camp again (if I had to and it was close)
Song: Take me home, country roads – John Denver