Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Side Trip to Shenandoah River State Park

Friday June 26, 2015
Big Meadows Campground
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia



We wake up this morning socked in fog with the prediction of rain.  This totally determines what we do today.  It looks pretty seriously crummy outside so it’s time for a day trip off the mountains.

When we found out we could not go to either Oregon or Maine this summer I made a number of reservations in Virginia State Parks.  After monitoring the weather for the past month for the farm, Shenandoah National Park and the 3 state parks and two federal recreation areas in which I have reservations, I’m beginning to get the feel for the temperatures.  It’s looking like the temperatures everywhere but the National park are no cooler than the farm.  If that’s the case then I want to cancel those reservations and pick places where it is cooler.




Shenandoah River State Park is one of those parks at which I have reservations.  So far their temperatures are sometimes even warmer than the farm.  We’re close enough to the park that I’d like to see it to determine for sure if I should cancel and reconsider it as a good place to go in a season other than summer.  

It’s still foggy as we drive out of the campground at around 9am.





It’s even foggier as we turn north on the Skyline Drive.




At one point we reach an overlook facing east where the view is fairly clear.  We stop since we have not driven as far north on the drive as we are going today.  We were hoping to see some views.





The foreground of the overlook has some lovely wild day lilies and chicory in bloom.  No fog on them.








The clouds are drifting low around the ridges and there are very dark clouds above them.  We are reconfirmed in our decision that a hike today would not be a good idea.









Big Meadows is at Milepost 51, pretty close to the half way point down the Skyline Drive.  There are four entrances to the park and thus to the drive.  There is one at each end and two in the middle.  When we come up from Charlottesville to Big Meadows we come in the entrance off of State Route 33 which is known as the Swift Run Gap Entrance at about Milepost 65.  Today we are driving North to the entrance at State Route 211 known as the Thornton Gap Entrance.  It is at Milepost 30.



I mention all of this because there is one tunnel on Skyline Drive between the Swift Run and Thornton Gap Entrances.  It is 12’8” tall which means most class A motor homes would have a tough or impossible time going through it.  Winnona is 12’8” and though she “might” fit through the very middle, it is not a chance we would take. 

In 1954 it was a very tight fit and the roof peak of the house below had to be removed in order to move the cabin from what was then Dickey Ridge Lodge to the Skyland Lodge Area.



Here is Mary’s Rock Tunnel today.  It is known as the Skyline Drive’s greatest construction challenge.  An information board just out of sight of this picture describes the process as

“Drill, blast, clear. drill, blast, clear.  For three months worker’s repeated this process carving through 600 feet of solid granite.  Twice each day workers drilled 40 holes, each 12 feet deep into the tunnel’s rock face.  Five hundred pounds of dynamite filled the holes then, detonation.   After the blast goes off with a mighty roar it requires two or three hours to clear away the loose boulders and stone and to roll them over the side….Three 8-hour shifts of about 15 men each are on duty….the machinery never being idle except Sunday….Every day 15  or more feet of solid rock are eaten away by the blasts.  In January of 1932 they broke through to daylight.












Mary’s Rock Tunnel is at about milepost 33 so we are soon driving down the mountain West on State Route 211.

All at once, at the same time we both say “Look at that Mimosa”.    We drive past it, turn around and come back.  What a gorgeous tree. 

When we bought the farm in 1978 there was a lovely Mimosa tree shading the yard where this year Carrie had her bridal shower.  It was just like this one, long arms and beautiful sweetly fragrant flowers.   It’s death was the first really sad thing that happened at the farm.   Oh how we missed that beautiful tree, the fabulous scent and hummingbirds that filled our yard for months in the summer.











This is just what my view looked like in the farm yard in a lounger when I was lucky enough to be able to recline and enjoy.




Aren’t they just stunning!  So light and feathery.  If you ever get the chance, be sure to make friends with a mimosa and smell their fantastic perfume.






We take Route 211 in Luray and pick up Route 340 going north.  My suspicions that the park isn’t at a high enough elevation to be much cooler than the rest of the Shenandoah Valley are confirmed.  Only when we are just barely outside the park do we begin to climb.

We bought a State Parks pass for Virginia when we thought we might be visiting a number of their parks during the summer.  But that proved to be impractical due to the distance from Cancer treatment and the summer temperatures.   Still it works to get us into Shenandoah River for free.

First stop, the visitor center which is a relatively new LEDS building with lovely landscaping around it.




Next to the bicycle racks is a “Pet Post” .  Pretty clear they don’t want your pet in the VC but this is the first pet post I’ve ever seen.  It has eye hooks for tying your pet’s leash.  But I’m wondering what if more than one pet is tied and they don’t get along.  Seems like this isn’t very practical but it’s cute.





Around the modern building are flowers and a man made stream complete with waterfalls and koi fish.  The flowers are labeled on rocks throughout the area.   Bee balm, day lilies, jewel weed, butterfly weed to name a few.
































Inside the Visitor Center are a number of exhibits of the flora and fauna of the park as well as this map showing all the trails.  We learn from the map that there is a trail called Hemlock Hollow and that it leads from the VC to the Shenandoah River which borders the park.  

We only have time for one trail and though we know there are probably no hemlocks left there, we want to see the river so off we go.





We find a few sick looking hemlocks but a lot of interesting things on the ground. 




The variety of mushrooms is amazing, the berries look delicious although not quite ripe, but the most outstanding sight is the beautiful zebra swallowtail butterfly who poses nicely for us.














At the bottom of the trail we reach the river and hope there is another way back that is less steep.  When we arrive we find they are working on the kayak launch but down river there are many people, mostly children swimming in a very shallow area of the river.  

This picture of the river is the last picture I take since my camera shuts down and says “change your battery”.  My extra battery is back in the car WAY UP at the visitor center.  Don’t think I’m walking back up and then down and then back up again for a battery.





But, David has a camera now so the rest of the pictures from this day are thanks to him.   He especially likes this one of what we believe is a Paw Paw.  It’s pretty hard to find ripe paw paws, which this one is not yet, in a grocery store so you won’t taste one unless you find a tree cultivated or wild and get there before the other critters who love its taste which has been described a cross between a mango and a banana with a hint of melon.




We find a lovely spot on the river for lunch and watch all the kids playing.









After lunch we walk the road back up to the Visitor Center parking lot.  It’s a shorter walk and less steep.  I hike on ahead to get the car and come back for him but by the time I drive back he has walked through the steepest area.  

Our last stop is to take a look at the campground.  We find that for some reason in this very wooded park on a small hill outside of Bentonville Virginia the campground has not one shade tree in it. 

David is driving, I’m looking at sites and don’t think to ask for his camera to take any pictures.  Sorry!  While the campground has electricity and water, being out in the full sun in July or August in Virginia doesn’t really appeal.  The river would be wonderful in the heat but we’ve been so spoiled by the mountain air and trails of the National park in summer that we decide a week here would be nice but might not be worth the drive unless we run out of things to do in Shenandoah National Park.

As you can see, the drive down to Bentonville from the park is really lovely.





As you have seen, once we were off the mountain and out of the National Park, the fog disappeared.  We thought for sure it would be gone by the time we returned hours later but not so.




Our look at Shenandoah River State Park was a fun side trip on a day when we might not have done much anyway because of the weather although it doesn’t seem to be bothering our neighbor at all.






  1. Mimosa trees! We had two beautiful ones when I was a little kid. A hurricane in the late 60's took both of them out, it was so sad :-(. Don't you just hate it when the camera battery goes out on you. It never seems to happen at the end of a day! Glad to see David id feeling well enough to be out and hiking.

  2. Is there not a limit to the amount of days you can stay in the national park, or can you move to different campgrounds in the same park?

  3. I took a photo of a mimosa tree here in Sarasota and didn't know what it was. Now I do, thanks to you!

  4. Love the Mimosa tree, I never knew they grew that big.

  5. I had paw paw trees on my property in NC and they were also in the woods going up the mountain. I had no idea you could eat the fruit! I loved collecting those big leaves in the fall. On the last 25 miles or so on the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway it's one tunnel after another. Hard on the eyes on a sunny day!

  6. I love that mimosa tree! How lucky you were to have had one on your farm. Foggy days aren't always the best days but they sure can make for some interesting photos. Glad you were able to go out for a drive and check of the state park. I love all the flowers there, especially the lilies.


  7. Oh the memories! We had many nice times at SRSP. It was close by where we lived in VA and when we were there, we felt like we were a million miles away from all the stresses of our working lives. :c)

  8. That is the most awesome mimosa I have ever seen! And I've seen a few in my time. :)

  9. I learned two things today, the mimosa tree which I have seen in Fl and the zebra swallow tail which I posted but did not id.
    We were fogged out too when we visited the Shenandoah via the Thornton Gap Entrance. But thanks to it we found a trailhead closer to Mary’s Rock Tunnel and that is where I found a variety of colorful mushrooms like you did on your hike today!

  10. We stayed at SRSP when we were still working -- a long weekend in May ... it was nice and cool in the mornings and evenings, but warmed up quite a bit during the day. I can see why it would not be a good option in July. I thought the old section of the campground had some trees, but I could be mis-remembering.

  11. We had a big mimosa in the yard of our very first home. The week before we moved it cracked in half due to the severe drought we were having. We both loved that tree!

  12. Even in the fog it ends up making for pretty shots.

  13. Make friends with a mimosa...I love that :) Beautiful tree. And beautiful drive even in the fog. Nice VC at the too warm state park. Pretty river, flowers and especially butterfly!

  14. Mimosa is one of my very favorite trees and that one is an amazing specimen! We planted one in our San Diego garden a couple of years before we sold the house and I enjoyed it immensely.

  15. I often wonder why state and national places add Koi to their waterscapes rather than native fish. Koi are imported. Just wonderin.

    Love the Mimosa! Maybe it is time for you to plant another?

  16. I love it when they take the time to label the plants in a public garden. Not all of us are familiar with the local flora. Had a love hate with our beautiful but messy mimosa tree at our rental home. That one reminds me of the giant fig tree in Balboa Park, San Diego - so majestic! Love your spot on the river (thanks David) and the views along the highway.

  17. You wouldn't have the same feeling for a mimosa if it hung over your car and the driveway! The tree may look beautiful in bloom but it drops something all the time. So you always have a dirty car. And to have a car and driveway covered in those pink blossoms isn't fun. Gee, can you tell that we had a mimosa that huge over our driveway at one time:) But that tree you found is a beauty and so huge!

    I'm so glad you mentioned the chicory. I just saw a bunch today when I was walking and I couldn't remember what it was. Thanks for taking care of that:)

  18. Yea, every once in a while you have to come off the mountain;o)) So glad you did so we got to see the amazing Mimosa Tree and the Swallowtail. Nice side trip and good info!!!

  19. No Mimosas in Wisconsin, I've never seen one before! Very pretty.

  20. You are finding the most beautiful places to explore in Virginia! I always enjoy seeing your photos of the details of your hikes (the flora and fauna) as well as the trails. Makes me feel like I'm right there with you. That mimosa tree is spectacular -- they're one of my favorites because of the beautiful flowers and because they attract hummingbirds. :-) Wonderful photos.

  21. I hope you don't have to balance Winona on top of a mountain to find cooler temperatures. Or try to squeeze her through that tunnel. Don't think I've ever seen a Mimosa Tree, absolutely love its shape.


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