Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park
Welcome to Shenandoah National Park! This park is in the western part of Virginia. Activities include hiking, horseback riding, canoeing/kayaking, and photography. There are several places to eat, get gas and shop. There are three visitor’s centers. There are two lodges, and five campgrounds in the park. This park was once home to many people. The national government turned it into a park in the 1930’s, and visitors can see the remains of homes, pastures, a hotel, cemeteries, and even a village. We think it is one of the prettiest places in the eastern U.S.
On our way here, we passed through Virginia. Deciding to stop for lunch in Manakin, we passed the Field Day of the Past. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open! But it looked so interesting! Old fashioned gas stations, a train, farm buildings, old trucks and cars, really had us wishing it was open for viewing! We did have lunch at Bill’s, a delightful little barbeque spot that claims it has been there for 75 years! For $10.75 we each had a BBQ Beef sandwich with a side of cole slaw.
Serendipitously, we arrived for our visit on a “fee free day.” If you aren’t as fortunate, the fee is $15 for a seven day pass. There are overlooks every few hundred feet, and each view is beautiful. We arrived at Loft Mountain Campground in time to set up our site, and hike from the camp store down to the Appalachian Trail. Although it was moderately strenuous, we enjoyed every step! Wild raspberries lined the path for a sweet treat. The campground has a store with groceries and camping supplies, laundry, and showers. Bathrooms are modern. The price for a basic tent site is $15. We grilled burgers, portabello mushrooms, and beans over the fire! Bliss! A deer wandered by to say “Hello.’ A bunny scampered by. A little bird tried to share our meal.
We had some excitement today! We’ll get to that soon! The day dawned fine, we cooked breakfast on our camp stove. Bacon, eggs, toast, mushrooms, and coffee. We mapped out our day, and commenced the first hike. This was a view and then a u-turn in to the woods to the source of Hawksbill Creek. As we followed the path to the view, a four foot long timber rattler raised his head and came towards us! We backed off, and he didn’t act aggressively, but moved on. We took in the beautiful views, and then made the u-turn to go into the woods. There on the path was the rattlesnake. We froze; he froze, head in the air. We tapped our walking sticks, but he remained still. We stamped our feet and moved, and he leisurely crossed and moved up into a pile of branches and dead leaves. He was a handsome one, don’t you think! The creek source is at David Spring, but the area is so overgrown that we couldn’t actually see the spring. We could see the creek, a mere trickle there, but a full stream further down. The walk was a pretty one. It’s a rather long drive from Loft Mt. to the Great Meadows area where the next hike was, and by the time we were almost there, we were ready for a little snack. Two sandwiches, some chips, and a perfect picnic spot on a rock made lunch an event.
Dark Hollow Falls, our second hike, is across from the Byrd Visitor Center at Great Meadows. It’s an easy half mile walk down past the cascades. It’s cool and shady. The pools have mountain trout swimming in them, but no fishing in the park! It’s a very pleasant place to picnic, or rest and enjoy the scene. The strenuous part is coming back up. Dark Hollow Falls is so pretty that the walk is worth it! It is the closest falls to Skyline Drive. Make sure that you have plenty of water with you while hiking since you’ll get thirsty quickly.
Finally, a short walk to the A. T. hut at Powell Gap. The Appalachian Trail has huts for backpackers so they can sleep in a sheltered area. This is a very easy walk, and a good one to just stretch your legs. There’s a little brook to see near the hut. It began raining just as we reached the car, and continued to rain all night! We secured the tent as best we could, and drove back to Great Meadows for supper. For an appetizer, we each had a bowl of tasty French onion soup. This was a soup day! Greg chose a pork chop with ginger=soy marinade. MaryJo had a mountain trout. Both came with steamed veggies and rice. Bread was served. We shared the blackberry cobbler with blackberry ice cream, a specialty. Everything was wonderfully delicious!
The morning the rain had stopped and the sun was trying to shine, but we were damp! Everything outside – the chairs, table, tablecloth – had been thoroughly soaked! We bought coffee and muffins at the campstore and enjoyed our picnic breakfast overlooking the Shenandoah Valley. After drying out our things, we wandered around Big Meadow, the biggest meadow in the park, marveling at the diversity of colors, and all the wildflowers. There is an outcropping of rocks in the meadow, making it a focal point, so we explored. We appreciate the natural beauty.
The next hike was a short one to Betty’s Rock. Beautiful views of the valley, a good rock scramble, and a cool walk through the forest make this a good walk to stretch the legs or see a bit of scenery in a short time.
Lunch was at Skyland, where we are spending the night. It was very generous. Greg had a BBQ sandwich: MaryJo had the hot turkey, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sandwich, which she couldn’t finish. Everything tasted very good! We had a window seat and looked out over the valley.
The weather was getting cooler and the sky was overcast, so we drove down to the town of Luray. We wanted to see Luray Caverns, a historical landmark. The caverns were discovered in 1878, and have been attracting visitors ever since. They are really beautiful, with many types of formations: stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, soda straws, and/They are amazing shapes and sizes. We learned that it takes 120 years to form one inch! The caverns themselves are about 450 million years old. Some of the more interesting formations are Pluto’s Ghost, Dream Lake, the Bride and Groom, and the eggs. A pipe organ in the Cathedral Room uses the stalactites to play music! Weddings have taken place there. The Hall of the Giants was impressive! Our ticket gave us admission to the Carriage and Car Caravan, a museum of carriages, wagons, bicycles, and antique cars. It was very interesting, especially the Conestoga Wagon, baby buggies, and Morgan! The Morgan was an early race car. Our combination ticket was $21 each. The tour is self guided because everyone gets a headset, and markers along the way tell which segment to play. A Garden Maze is available for an extra $6. Luray also offers canoeing and kayaking, shopping, historic site.
On the way back, we had a thrill when a bear cub nonchalantly wandered along the road tasting grasses! Several cars stopped to watch. One foolish person got out of the car to get closer. Wild animals are wild! Eventually, the cub disappeared into the woods.
Skyland was our choice for dinner. Greg decided on Caesar salad appetizer and a ribeye for the main course. MaryJo selected the Caprese salad appetizer, and the Chicken Riesling for her entree. Both came with veggies and rolls. Blackberry Sundae was our shared desert. Everything was flavorful and attractive. Our total bill was $58 before tip.
Our room here at Skyland is very nice, and offers a spectacular view! There is a coffeemaker, and television. Sitting out on the balcony and sipping wine or morning coffee is very romantic. In order to conserve, soap, lotions, etc are in dispensers. There is no internet service in the rooms. Wi-fi is available in the lobby and the restaurant lobby.
Breakfast at Skyland with a window seat again! Greg chose the Shenandoah Special, which consists of eggs, bacon, potatoes, biscuit with gravy, and coffee. Eggs, toast, potatoes, ham, and made up MaryJo’s Virginia Breakfast. Both were $18 before tip.
More excitement! On our trail ride, we saw several deer, and a bear was sitting by the trail. We talked loudly, as our wonderful guide Kim suggested, and the bear moved away. Our ride was the first in the morning, and was lots of fun. The horses are gentle. The ride lasts about an hour, and for both of us, the ride cost $63.
We had to leave Shenandoah. On the way to West Virginia, we strolled around Luray, a historic town. Lunch was in Harrisonburg, another historic town.