Oct 28, 2008
|An overview of the most beautiful valley in America - Tuesday, October 28
We woke to a cold, windy morning and it didn’t get better as the day wore on. Driving south through West Virginia it got worse, and by the time we reached I-81 in Winchester, Virginia it was getting scary. I-81 is a truck route and big rigs seldom slow down for wind. If I kept it down to 60 where it felt marginally OK there was a steady stream of eighteen wheelers breathing down my back and pulling out to pass me. It wouldn’t have been so bad had the ones passing me been more stable, but they were weaving in the wind too. I’d look out my door window to see a semi trailer right beside me and moving toward me as the truck did a Conga line down the freeway.
Fortunately we didn’t have far to go on the interstate, and we soon turned off on the highway that runs east to Shenandoah National Park and it’s famous Skyline Drive. We stopped in Winchester to get some groceries and found ourselves next door to a Costco gas station so we filled up at an amazing 2.219 a gallon. Didn’t think I’d ever see gas that low again, but no sooner did we get back on the road than we started seeing gas as low as 2.179. Never mind, we got half a tank for fifty bucks, which at Labrador prices a few months ago would have been $125.00. Never mind again - Labrador was worth it!
We also found a Pak Mail place in Winchester and sent a package of stuff home. The RV keeps getting heavier and heavier as we travel, and it helps to lighten the load once in a while.
Back on the highway it was getting late in the afternoon and the wind had not died, nor had it warmed up any. The cold front the weather channel warned about is upon us, and they are even talking about snow. With the wind chill it already feels like the arctic out there. Nevertheless, we found the turn off to Skyline Drive and we started our ascent into the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Now it sounds insane to go higher when the weather is already bad in the valley, but we were never noted for our good sense. From the turnoff it is a little over fifty miles to the first open campground, and we were hoping to make it before dark. There is a Visitor Center not far from the north entrance and we made a stop there. We watched a short movie and took a look at their model of the park. Shenandoah National Park is a long, narrow park stretched out along the upper range of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It has the distinction of being the most visited park in the nation and it is said to be busiest in October. But on this cold, windy afternoon traffic was light.
Back on Skyline Drive, the problem now was the overlooks. There are many on this drive, and the view from every one of them is nothing short of spectacular. We kept hoping we could pass some of them in the interests of time, but every one beckoned with interesting names to match their stunning scenery. Hog Back Overview, The Pinnacles, Mt. Marshall, Hog Hollow Overview (hogs are big here). All were worth a stop and there were few we were able to bypass.
Turnouts on the west side of the mountains look out over the Shenandoah Valley, a valley so prosperous that Stonewall Jackson said “If we lose this valley we shall lose the war.” Not only is the valley prosperous, but it is as beautiful a valley as we are likely to see anywhere in our travels. At this north end both the north and south forks of the Shenandoah River flow through the valley, separated by a ridge between them. The valley floor is hilly and the farms and fields are irregular and interesting. The trees here have not lost their leaves yet, so the mountain slopes and the woods in the valley are a rich rusty orange. Add to that the blue/white/gray of a threatening sky and you have a scene you will never forget.
The campground we were headed for is called Big Meadows and it sits at 3,500 feet of elevation. Twenty miles from it we started seeing snow on the ground. The trees were not covered in it, but the floor of the woods was white and snow outlined each fallen log and branch with a delicate beauty. About this same time we started seeing deer, just a couple at first but soon they seemed to be everywhere, grazing along the roadside and into the woods on both sides of the road.
In the failing light it was hard to see them. They are whitetails but their backs and sides are dark against the foliage. Whitetail deer are usually very shy and run at the first hint of people, but these held their ground and kept grazing. Either they are park-tame and used to people, or they are so intent on bulking up for winter that they don’t care that we are near and watching. Even the bucks ignored us and kept eating. They reminded me of the Chincoteague horses that keep their heads down and seldom look up.
We found the campground and scored a campsite just at dark. On the way through the campground we passed within twenty feet of an eight point buck and he didn’t even bother to look up at us. By the time we got parked and got our thermometer out the temperature was down in the 30’s and it kept falling precipitously. Then suddenly about 9:00 it rose several degrees again. But the relief was short lived and by 11:00 it was down to 27 degrees. We pulled in the slide and huddled down for a cold night once more. There is no snow in the campground - yet.