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.