A Weekend Escape
DC, Baltimore, and Philly wake up, because you have a gorgeous weekend escape way better than the Jersey Shore or the Poconos all together. Literally only an hour and a half from DC, 4 and half from Philly, this mountain paradise is an easy getaway for the nine to fivers. I on the other hand, am not a corporate boy, which gives me even more flexibility.
Created in 1935, the park is 105 miles longs, running along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Skyline drive snakes along the ridge, giving absolutely amazing views from both sides. The labor that went into making this impressive road must have been enormous back then. The park has miles of trails, and even has 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail running through it.
Now I know I just went off on how it’s a great weekend trip, and all, but you do need to bust tail to get in the park before all the campsites are taken. I tried calling the National Park phone line for registration but it was useless. It’s mainly for the electric sites, but the British phone girl, told me that they only reserve half the sites, the other sites a first come first serve. So we drove as fast as we could, getting entangled in DC rush hour traffic, skipping dinner, and ignoring our need to get gas. Not a great thing to do when there is only one gas station in the 105 miles of roads.
We stopped at the most southern campsite, and pulled up with a car ahead of us and behind. I ran in so to get a spot, and the ranger told us to do the loop, choose a few spots, and come back to lock it in. This was starting to feel like the Amazing Race, as we jumped in the car, not wanting that couple in the white car to take our spot, punks! We did a loop, chose 3 spots, and went back to the ranger office. We were able to secure the best spot, but they were going fast. Already 90 percent of the camp was filled.
We got our tag and headed back to our site but there was a car parked in our spot. What the hell? We decided to set up our tent anyway; after all, we had the tag saying it was ours. I flagged a ranger down, and he figured someone had gone hiking and parked illegally there. He would get it towed. Now I knew this was not the case, clearly this person taught they were clever parking in the spot so no one would claim it. Well guess what buddy, we are not pushovers; this is our spot, and we were not budging. By time our tent was up, a meaty guy comes running up with his girlfriend. She shot us an evil look and kept running, looking for a new spot. He got in the car and complained that the rangers were idiots here. No apology, just anger at the staff. What a winner we have here. OF course he was trying to pull a fast one because the sites were disappearing, but his game worked against him and he must of ended up next to one of the toilets. Nothing says Karma like the sounds of flushing and the pungent smell of success I say.
Speaking of Romance, it was time to get our love machine blown up. Air mattresses are probably with worst invention ever, but I always hold the faith that they will work, and we will get a great night’s sleep. The problem with the mattress this time was that we had no electrical for our pump. I brought a car pump, but it works so slow and barely fills it up. I convinced Yvonne to go in the men’s bathroom, where the only outlet was. Now this is a very complicated procedure, because if the mattress drops down at all and hits the floor, DISGUSTING! GERMS! No GOOD! So with a lot of maneuvering, me holding the top, Yvonne walking the unfolding inflating bottom, we got it filled. As we pulled it out, a guy coming up to empty his bowels burst out laughing, at us pulling and dragging our queen out of the bathrooms.
Next problem is the tent door, which is too small for the queen size mattress. With a lot of yanking, twisting, pushing, and squeezing we finally got it in with out ripping the door. A few hours in we were in a tangled cuddle in the center. It was like a taco shell with us in the middle, our butts hitting the ground, and the sides spreading out like wings. Every time we moved you could hear “whoosh” as air slipped out an unknown leak. The next night we discovered by sleeping on the edges, as far away from each other as possible, with no one in the center, we were able to get decent nights sleep.
By time we went to the store and came back, everything was closed. As we always do when camping, we spent a boat-load of money buying things we didn’t need. New hoodies, a fire pit grill, ice cream, couple IPA’s, and matches. We headed back to our site because the actual grill closes at 7 at Elks Station, though the store closes at 8. Silly rules, I know. Even worst, the store does not open till 9, even though everyone is out hiking by 8 before the heat rises.
We awoke in the morning and debated doing a 10 mile strenuous hike,(Yvonne’s pick) and a 5 mile moderate hike (my choice). After some hardcore convincing, I talked Yvonne into doing the moderate one. After all there was a blackberry festival going on that I wanted to check out. Well thank goodness we did, because it turns out I am not in shape, and it was a good 6 hours as is. The Rose River Falls hike was gorgeous; with a well-marked trail, running along the edge of a stream, which cascaded down a series of waterfalls, and completely surrounded by trees. We found a fairly isolated pool for a dip, and as soon as I got in, a group of twenty something’s hipsters rolled in. There was a 40-foot log bridging over the rocks above our heads. The guy begins to climb up on it and I told him by no chance was he allowed to climb on the rotten log with my wife and I sitting under it. He was like, umm, yeah, I did not think of that.” Well way to go brilliance! We decided to wander to a more secluded pool to do a sketch and dry off in the sun.
Near the end of the hike was a short detour to Dark Water Falls. This was a more impressive series of falls, but the close proximity to the parking lot makes it one of the most popular spots. Meaning you have to wade through dozens of families and tour groups swimming and taking pictures. Pure maddens, not our style at all. We jetted out of there, but the rest of the hike was easy, a nice fire road. We were lucky to see some bears in the distance.
Turns out our “moderate” hike was enough to wipe us both out. We got dinner at Skyway lodge, where the décor is pure sixties rustic, not nice at all. The food had the same feel; trying to be fancy, but being barely a step up from TGIF. But at least they had some Devils Back Bone Ipa, a great local beer. After dinner we lucked out and saw some bears along the road, but I will talk about that more in the next blog.
Next day we headed out for a short hike on Byrds Nest Sheltor trail for a few miles. This is a nice hike and takes you along the Appalacian Trail and one of their shelters. Even for a short hike we were huffing and puffing. Just when you think “wow this is tough” two guys and a girl go running past us. Not only did they pass us, but shortly after they looped us. Now this trail was full of ankle breakers, steep inclines, and occasional bears. Not a place I would consider for a trail run, no thanks you. The Byrds Nest Shelter on top of mountain was cute, with a stone hut, open in the front, and a huge fireplace in the middle of a meadow. Really peaceful.
Well, it was time to head home. We went the overland route, trying to avoid Sunday traffic, but it was not long before we were in a parking lot outside of DC. All in all, it took 7 hours to get back with a short stop over in Washington D.C.
Byrd’s Nest Summit Trail 2.8 Miles
Skyline Mile: 28.5
Rose River Trail 4 mile loop
Skyline Mile: 49.4
Dark Hollow Falls 1.4 Miles
Skyline Mile: 50.7, or you can hike up .2 when doing the Rose River Trail loop
I love Shenandoah. You have to give me sketching and cartooning tips!
Best tip I can give is you just keep on doing it. Bring your book everywhere with you. I was in a meeting yesterday, and I sketched everyone around me, well, at least the ones far enough away that they would not know I was sketching them.