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Published: October 30th 2019
Sunday October 20, 2019 we made our way to Shenandoah National Park(SNP). It was a rainy drizzly day so we took our time and knew that we would be trying to stay in the first available campground only about 50 miles away. We needed supplies so we headed to our first Walmart. It took some time finding our usual "go-tos" grocery shopping in a different store and a different state...where's Hannaford?? We made out pretty well and I noticed some of the produce was much cheaper than in Maine. The most fun part was unloading our cart into the "house." Now on to Front Royal, VA, the north entrance to SNP and skyline drive. This is the main road through the park. It stretches 105 miles and joins the Blue Ridge Parkway at it's southern entrance.
Entering the park we learned another couple of lessons of driving a large vehicle (height and width). We started toward the open lane to the right. Didn't even pay attention to the awning covering the gatehouses. Fortunately the park ranger was paying attention and she flagged us to go to the center lane which she opened for us. Then we found the lane was
quite narrow and she reminded us about our mirrors(swing wider)...Phew!!! Thank goodness she was on the job! She was then so gracious to ask about our plans in the park as it was such a foggy, drizzly day, she didn't want us to go on as the view of the drive is the main draw. We explained we planned to take a few days to travel the park and planned to try to get a campsite at the first campground. She shared that shouldn't be an issue since so many people had left with the rain and cold. We bought our annual National Parks Pass and was on our way.....I forgot to mention, on the highway before getting to the gate we got a chip in the windshield from a passing truck. Glad Mike got extra glass coverage on our insurance plan!
Skyline Drive started right out with a curving climb and in dense fog. We quickly were glad the campground was at mile 22. There weren't many travelers so that was good for getting used to it. I have to say it was a little wider than I expected with white line edging and a mowed shoulder or
stone wall guardrail. The curves were not as tight as I had thought either. It is hilly, up and down. I was really happy as most of you know I have motion sickness and even in the front seat mountain roads can ruin my day. I was concerned in the planning that maybe I wouldn't be able to tolerate this road and would have to change routes to see it from the valley access points.
Self Check-In: The campgrounds in the park have limited sites for reservation. The rest are first come first serve. We arrived at Mathews Arm Campground to find no one at the gate and a wall of instructions. Fortunately after trying to get the lay of the land, the campground host happened by and explained the process to me. "take any open site that doesn't have an R or card on it, put your payment in this envelope, drop it in the slot. $15/night." Sweet! We were able to try out a couple of sites to find one we could get level on and still have our tires on the ground and called it a day. The sites were all paved and had metal food
storage boxes as there are many bears in the area. We didn't see any and "no Cin, Mike didn't try leaving food out to try to lure one in like at Yosemite! Remember that?" It stayed foggy but the rain let up so we did walk the campground that evening and there were a fair amount of people there. No hook-ups but a dump and filling station so with that feature and our generator, we are quite comfortable. It was cold though so still running the furnace...oh what propane we have gone through since the beginning of Sept.
Morning brought some sun to break up the clouds and we enjoyed a hike before we left. We were excited with our "first wildlife sighting" and then a second with a deer grazing in the woods. We hit the road and oh the views we saw....I probably took too many pictures, and even with deleting some are probably posting too many but I just can't help it! There are many turnouts and everyone has a different view. Nature's Beauty is beyond words. You can see forever, and every horizon you focus on you see another ridge of mountain tops in the
distance. Sometimes the beauty is how the clouds and fog sits and rises. Sometimes you catch a glimpse of the towns/farms below. I love the "bird's eye view of the world." The folliage was not as dynamic as it usually is according to the locals saying they are in a drought. I think it is nice and some areas are brighter than others. I definitely think the color gives you a better view of the peaks and valleys showing more depth and dimension to the mountains. I know the pictures don't show what we are seeing but hopefully you'll get a sense of the beauty.
We stopped for lunch at the Big Meadows area which is pretty much in the center of the Park. It incredibly opens up to a meadow. It reminded me of Yellowstone the only thing missing was the Buffalo and smell of the mud-pots. Just beyond there we stopped for a late afternoon hike to Rapidan Camp which was the Presidential Retreat for President Hoover. His cabin along with a couple others still stand and are in the woods where 2 streams come together. It's gorgeous. The volunteer guides were locking up by the time
we got out there. The gentleman came out and said hello. "My wife said she thought she saw someone walking around out here. We're just locking up for the day but you can come in for a quick look if you want". It was a 2 mile hike in and we didn't expect a tour so this was a "bonus!" If it weren't for fear of running out of daylight to get back to the parking lot, we could have talked to that man for hours as he was happy to share the history of this area and we were happy to take it all in. The cabin was similar to what we would see in a Maine lodge but smaller than a lodge. Wide floor planks, low ceilings, rustic furniture, huge fireplace. It reminded me of Ross Lake and the cabin of Lionel and Esther Caron my family used to visit when I was a kid. We made it back to the RV before dark and was able to catch some sunset vistas on our way to Loft Mountain Campground in the southern part of the park. We got in after dark. Same procedure as Mathews Arm, much more
crowded but plenty of sites left.
Our last day in SNP brought a return of the drizzle and fog. We took a hike anyway before we moved on to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Tuck Mountain shares a bit of the Appalachian Trail and we did see 2 overnight hikers. We don't know if they were "through-hikers" or not. It had been a cold rainy night and Mike said he thinks hiking the AT would be harder than Climbing Mt. Everest. "You hike all day, carrying all that stuff, set up camp, prepare a meal, sleep out in the rain, get up, pack up, and do it all again....I know I couldn't do it". Tuck Mountain was steep and I was so ready to reach the top. I think I started out too fast but Mike was on a tear trying to "go faster since I didn't run today". I was pretty dizzy and breathless once I reached the top. We joked about that yesterday on Stone Mountain (blog to come). It was one of those times you are happy to have pushed through to accomplish the goal. We took a "your-selfie" to mark the occasion. I bet the views
on that hike were amazing on a clear day! And we lucked out at the end because when we got back to the parking lot it started to rain much harder.
On to the Blue Ridge Parkway....
Hind sight of these 3 days in SNP, we saw so much! We did well settling in then stowing everything each day for travel. Mike says he has had to learn real fast how to drive this thing. I have used the imaginary passenger brake a few times. Exploring here during the week has made it less stressful to go slow, have plenty of outlook parking spots and camping availability. All week I had to keep checking the phone to know what day of the week it was and the date for filling out our cards for the campground. I did feel overwhelmed at one point because I wasn't writing in my journal daily (again we saw so much it felt like we were there for more than a week rather than a couple of days). You would think there would be plenty of time for that. At the end of each day after set up and eating, we would look
at the map to see where would make a good next stop and then what we could see/do there. By then, I was ready to turn the brain off. We did not have cell service in the park so no blog posting either. Barely a radio station. Mike's been keeping us entertained playing tunes from our music collection we put on the computer. Who knew he was such an awesome DJ? Shhhh....Don't tell Rowdy! (speaking of Rowdy, I forgot to mention in the Winchester post I was able to find The Original Country Gold on the radio! I was a happy girl!)
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