Day 5: Thursday, October 8, 2015
After spending the night at Big Meadows Lodge, we were going to do some more hiking in Shenandoah National Park! A minor setback ensued, because the night before Jon had tossed and turned, making it hard for me to sleep in our tiny little lodge bed, and then I woke up with a sore throat. I still got up a bit before seven to catch the sunrise – which I couldn’t see behind the trees. Jon opted to sleep in a bit longer. But I got a cute shot of the deer eating the decorative gourds in front of the lodge. I imagine they probably just replace them every day. Strangely, these deer were the only ones we saw in the park!
Breakfast was back in the Spottswood Dining Room. I had the Big Meadows breakfast, with 2 eggs over medium, a biscuit, home fries, bacon and hot tea, with a small glass of orange juice to try to pre-empt any looming illness (ultimately, the attempt failed…). Jon had the veggie omelet, wheat toast, home fries and coffee. The food was great, and perfect to keep us full for a day of hiking.
After breakfast, we visited the Big Meadows Visitor’s Center, where we learned the truth about the residents who were removed from the park when it was created. I wrote about it in my history of the park post. A woman who was commissioned to study the residents reported that the farmers living within the park were largely poor, uneducated people who were barely able to survive, and that relocation would be doing them a favor.
Our morning hike was the 4 mile roundtrip hike to Rapidan Camp, Herbert Hoover’s Presidential retreat between 1929 and 1932. The hike has an 870 foot elevation gain and three stream crossings – two over Mill Prong, which runs by Rapidan Camp, and one over a creek that feeds Mill Prong. The ranger warned us that the streams might be higher than normal, due to the 10 inches of rain that had fallen in the previous week from Hurricane Joaquin. It ended up being a great hike through falling leaves; the highest stream came up to my mid-calves. We just wore our Chaco sandals and went one at a time – no problem!
Rapidan Camp was interesting. It was built very quickly. Hoover had visited the area at the recommendation of a friend and decided that it would be a great place to set up his retreat. The “camp” had running water and electricity, as well as telephone lines and a road to provide for easy access. The entire thing, including laying all the infrastructure, was built in about 6 months. It was mostly designed by Hoover’s wife, Lou Henry Hoover. They loved the peace and quiet of the camp and its nearby stream, and I can see why. President Roosevelt visited Rapidan Camp once after he assumed the Presidency, but found that it was too rustic for him, given his physical challenges. The camp was used as a Boy Scout camp for a number of years, and has been used from time to time as a retreat for high ranking government officials.
We got a quick tour of the Brown House – the house that the Hoovers stayed in when they were at Rapidan Camp, although all of the artifacts were not on display. The rangers had packed up all the furnishings and artifacts fearing that there would be flooding from Hurricane Joaquin. When we came by, they were unpacking it all, but the work was far from done. One of the other cabins on the site had displays detailing the lives of Herbert and Lou Hoover, and his Presidency. It was neat to see the camp; and stand where another of our Presidents worked and relaxed. What a neat experience!
We hiked back the way we came, doing the stream crossings in reverse, and a little ways away from the first crossing, came across some hikers who told us they had seen a bear at the stream and had chased it away. We weren’t sure if it would come back, so we proceeded cautiously, and Jon armed himself with a big stick. I was torn – I would have loved to see the bear (albeit at a safe distance), but a little nervous too. We didn’t encounter him.
After we finished our Rapidan Camp hike, we continued south on Skyline Drive. Ultimately, we drove all 105 miles of Skyline Drive on our two days in the park. There are so many viewpoints, that we actually ended up getting viewpoint fatigue. “Do you want to stop at that one honey?” “Nah… That looks like the same view we saw two miles ago…” Although the fall color was not at its peak on the two days we were there, there was actually more fall color on the southern part of the drive.
We left the park at the southern-most entrance, Rockfish Gap, and immediately connected with the Blue Ridge Parkway, the scenic highway that connects Shenandoah National Park and Great Smokies National Park. We traveled along the Blue Ridge Highway for a little while, checking out the Humpback Rocks Visitor’s Center. As we were leaving, a woman told us that she saw a bear at the picnic area just a few miles down the road, so we headed over to check it out.
We arrived just in time to get a view of the ranger trying to shoo the bear away from the picnic area. The bear seemed more annoyed with than scared of the ranger, and really only ran far enough to get just out of reach of the ranger before stopping and laying down. I have to admit, I enjoyed the spectacle, but from the safety of our car. What a cool thing to see a bear!
After seeing the bear, we headed to Lynchburg, our next stop. Our GPS took us on a shortcut down a little gravel road that Jon wasn’t too sure about, but we arrived back at the main highway just fine! As long as we don’t drive into any bodies of water, as other hapless tourists have done!