Tag Archive | Shenandoah National Park

Virginia 2015: Rapidan Camp

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! 

Can I get some coffee to go with my gourd and my mums?

Can I get some coffee to go with my gourd and my mums?

 

Aren't I pretty?

Aren’t I pretty?

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. 

My breakfast at the Spottswood Dining Room

My breakfast at the Spottswood Dining Room

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!

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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.   

The outdoor fireplace at Rapidan Camp - many a political deal was struck here, I'm sure.

The outdoor fireplace at Rapidan Camp – many a political deal was struck here, I’m sure.

 

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! 

The Brown House - where the Hoovers stayed at Rapidan Camp

The Brown House – where the Hoovers stayed at Rapidan Camp

 

A view of Mill Prong from Rapidan Camp

A view of Mill Prong from Rapidan Camp

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.

I look like I'm dancing a jig, but really I'm just concentrating on my stream crossing.

I look like I’m dancing a jig, but really I’m just concentrating on my stream crossing.

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.

The sign for the Blue Ridge Parkway!

The sign for the Blue Ridge Parkway!

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! 

We saw a bear! He was not pooping - he was being shooed away by the ranger.

We saw a bear! He was not pooping – he was being shooed away by the ranger.

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!

Virginia 2015: Dark Hollow Falls and Big Meadows Lodge

Day 4: Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Our last hike of the day was the Dark Hollow Falls trail. We had already hiked the Compton Gap Trail and to the Summit of Mary’s Rock, and wanted to see something a bit different.  This hike took us 1.4 miles roundtrip down the hill to Dark Hollow Falls, one of the most accessible waterfalls in the park. It is a moderate hike, with a 440 elevation gain on the 1.4 mile round trip.  The trail goes along the stream, oddly named Hogcamp Branch (catchy name for a stream, right?), with a series of small cascades next to the trail.

The stream on the Dark Hollow hike

The stream on the Dark Hollow hike

The falls aren’t that high (about 70 feet), but they are pretty. I like the photos I captured of the falls in the late afternoon light.  The sun was sinking lower in the sky, so we didn’t have too much time to dawdle in the woods on this hike. But considering that we hiked downhill on the way out – we had to go uphill on the way back!

Dark Hollow Falls

Dark Hollow Falls

 

A downstream view, past Dark Hollow Falls

A downstream view, past Dark Hollow Falls

Dark Hollow Falls was very close to our destination for the evening. We were staying at the Big Meadows Lodge, one of the historic lodges within the park! The Big Meadows Lodge was built in 1939, with stones hewn from nearby Massanutten Mountain, and native chestnut paneling – sadly this variety of chestnut tree is now nearly extinct.  The lodge has traditional lodge rooms in addition to detached cabins on the property. 

We got checked in and saw our room, which was a historic traditional lodge room with an outdoor entrance and a screen door so you could let in fresh air.  The room was teeny and rustic,  with no TV or Wifi service (the lodge common areas do have Wifi though), but it was neat to stay in a historic lodge.  We knew it would be small, opting for the least expensive room, knowing that we wouldn’t be spending much time there!  Our room was very hot because the previous occupants had left the heat turned up all the way!

Room 10 (on left), our humble abode for the night at Big Meadows Lodge

Room 10 (on left), our humble abode for the night at Big Meadows Lodge

We relaxed for a little while, then headed into the Spottswood Dining Room – the restaurant at the Lodge. I had the Spottswood Turkey – with dark and white meat, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, mixed vegetables (carrots, broccoli, cauliflower), and cranberry sauce, along a glass of the Chateau Morrisette Vidal Blanc. My meal and wine were delicious! Jon had the catfish with cajun sauce, and an IPA from a Williamsburg brewery (with a fancy name that we both promptly forgot – perhaps the Drake Tail from Alewerks Brewing Company?).

Spottswood Turkey Dinner and Cajun Catfish at Spottswood Dining Room, Big Meadows Lodge

Spottswood Turkey Dinner and Cajun Catfish at Spottswood Dining Room, Big Meadows Lodge

After dinner we sat in the main lodge for a little while and then headed back to our room. It took awhile to fall asleep because it was still so hot, but what a fantastic day in Shenandoah National Park!

The common room at the Big Meadows Lodge, Shenandoah National Park

The common room at the Big Meadows Lodge, Shenandoah National Park

Admission to Shenandoah National Park: $20.00 per vehicle for a 7 day pass – free with my National Parks Annual Pass. 

Driving Distance for Day 4: 49.8 miles – Front Royal, VA – Big Meadows Lodge

Hotel for the night:  Big Meadows Lodge – you are paying for the convenience of being in the park, and staying in a historic lodge.  The accommodations were rustic.  The meals were outstanding!  The meals were not included in the price of our stay, but they did have packages that included breakfast (buying breakfast was a little cheaper for us).  

 

Virginia 2015: Compton Gap and Mary’s Rock Hikes

Day 4: Wednesday, October 7, 2015

We were going hiking! Hiking days are usually Jon’s favorites, but we were both excited to see Shenandoah National Park!

We drove into the park about 9:30 am, after packing up and having breakfast at the hotel (and Jon went for a run).  First thing as we drove in – my obligatory entrance sign picture.  This pic is one of my favorite pics of me! Our first stop was the Dickey Ridge Visitor’s Center, for stamps, postcards, and a t-shirt! We also talked to the ranger and got some advice on which hikes we wanted to do. We got a great recommendation on a couple and then set off to find the first one.

Me posing with the Shenandoah National Park Sign

Me posing with the Shenandoah National Park Sign

Our first hike was the Compton Gap Trail. The hike was two miles roundtrip (it would have been 2.4, but we missed one of the side spurs to another viewpoint, which ended up being ok, because we weren’t short on mileage that day).

We hiked along the Appalachian Trail for about a mile of this hike.  The Appalachian Trail is an approximately 2,200 mile scenic trail, that goes from Georgia all the way to Maine.  Hikers can hike sections, or  they can attempt to thru-hike, which means you hike the entire length of the trail in a season.  The idea of the Appalachian Trail was first conceived in the 1920s and was completed in the 1930s.  The first documented thru-hike was completed in 1948, and in 2014, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy reported that 653 hikers completed a northbound thru-hike, with 76 completing the more difficult southbound thru-hike.  As intriguing as it sounds, this is not on my bucket list…

Jon hiking ahead (as usual) on the Compton Gap Trail

Jon hiking ahead (as usual) on the Compton Gap Trail

Back to our Compton Gap hike – about a mile up the trail leads to a wonderful viewpoint, with a vast tree canopy, and a river in the far distance. It reminded me of the tree filled views at home, only with deciduous trees instead of conifers.  Also rewarding was the fact that we were alone for the majority of the hike!  The total elevation gain on this hike was 835 feet, so it wasn’t too strenuous.  I enjoyed getting a taste of the rocky terrain; we passed by several huge boulders, and the trail was made up of rocks too!

The view at the top of the Compton Gap Trail. Trees, as far as the eye can see!

The view at the top of the Compton Gap Trail. Trees, as far as the eye can see!

There wasn’t much wildlife aside from birds who didn’t hang around long enough to be found or photographed, but I did find this caterpillar – I didn’t touch him. I guess their hairs can be irritating to your skin; we only have orange and black woolly bear caterpillars at home – I had never seen a white one!  We also saw a millipede, which is probably only notable for me because we don’t have them back home. 

The cute Wooly Bear Caterpillar I found

The cute Wooly Bear Caterpillar I found

After Compton Gap, we had lunch at the picnic area at Elkwallow Wayside, and listened to a few Appalachian Trail hikers swap stories of their experiences. There was a little store there that sold hamburgers and a few other hot food meals, so I’m sure it was quite a popular stop for hikers who had been in the woods for days!

Our next hike was Jon’s choice for the day – the Mary’s Rock Trail; it departed from the aptly named Mary’s Rock Trailhead at milepost 31.6.  It was a 3.7 mile hike up to the top of – you guessed it – Mary’s Rock. The trail was similar to the one we already hiked, with gigantic boulders and smaller rocks making up a lot of the trail. It was longer and steeper though, with a 1,210 foot elevation gain.  The rocky trail made for careful hiking, because you wouldn’t want to twist an ankle!

Me on the Mary's Rock Trail

Me on the Mary’s Rock Trail

 

Jon waiting for me to catch up on the Mary's Rock Hike

Jon waiting for me to catch up on the Mary’s Rock Hike

The Mary’s Rock hike had a lot of switchbacks, and was a little steep in places. However, the view at the top made it all worthwhile – it was amazing! There is a giant rock outcrop at the top that gives you a 360 degree view if you climb up on it. Despite my fear of heights, I scrambled up the rock, and was really glad I did.  We sat up there for awhile, and saw a couple of turkey vultures soaring over the treetops. 

Me embracing my inner nerd on top of Mary's Rock

Me embracing my inner nerd on top of Mary’s Rock

 

A Turkey Vulture Soaring above the trees at Mary's Rock

A Turkey Vulture Soaring above the trees at Mary’s Rock

Although we had already done two hikes that day, we had more we wanted to see and do!  I’ll tell you about the rest of the day in my next post! 

 

 

 

Shenandoah National Park History

Shenandoah National Park provided a challenge for the National Park Service.  Unlike many of the parks they had created in the west in vast, open spaces of largely uninhabited land, Shenandoah National Park had thousands of people already occupying its boundaries.  Hundreds of small farms dotted the landscape, their residents making a living from the land with crops, orchards and animals.  The park was authorized in 1926, but it wasn’t until December 26, 1935 before it was established.  Between those two dates, the Commonwealth of Virginia purchased some of the land from residents, and condemned other parcels of land through the process of eminent domain.  Over 500 families were ultimately relocated out of the park, and a few other residents were allowed to remain until they died. 

Looking down at the Shenandoah Valley from Skyline Drive

Looking down at the Shenandoah Valley from Skyline Drive

Unfortunately, as was all too common during that era, the Park Service relied on some flawed information to make its decision to displace residents.  They hired a woman named Miriam M. Sizer to conduct a study of the resident population.  Her assessment was that the area residents lived in basically squalid conditions, unable to care for themselves, and were completely devoid of education or culture.  In her opinion, the government would be doing these folks a favor by removing them from their homes and relocating them where they would be better off. 

The reality was somewhat different.  Although the region had not been adequately served by the Commonwealth of Virginia’s education system, residents had banded together to create community schools.  There was poverty, but many families enjoyed a rich, cultural existence.  Ms. Sizer’s study has contributed to continuing stereotypes and sweeping generalizations of the residents of Appalachia as a completely backwoods, uneducated population.  The Park Service features an exhibit in the Big Meadows Visitor’s Center addresses this “study” and its impact on the people who once lived here. 

Also interesting is that unlike parks in the West, Shenandoah has a history that began with segregation.  In the 1930s the park had multiple areas that were “whites only.”  Only one campground and picnic area within the park was designated for African Americans.  World War II changed all that – concessions closed and park usage went way down.  After the war, the Park Service mandated that facilities be integrated; the mandate was fully accomplished in 1950.   

Me posing with the Shenandoah National Park Sign

Me posing with the Shenandoah National Park Sign

Today the park is long and narrow, with its most prominent feature being the 105 mile Skyline Drive, that traverses the entire length of the park.  The park encompasses 79,579 acres (124.34 sq. miles), and spans eight Virginia counties.  The rocks making up the mountains of Shenandoah are some of the oldest in Virginia, over a billion years old.  Over 40% of the park is designated wilderness, and 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail run through the park.  It is home to white-tailed deer, black bear, bobcat, raccoon, skunk, opossum, groundhog, red fox, gray fox, coyote and eastern cottontail rabbit.  The park also provides habitat for over 200 species of birds and thirty-two species of fish. 

Due to its location so close to major population centers, 1,209,883 visited the park in 2011, making it one of the more popular parks in terms of numbers.  And when you visit, it is easy to see why.  I’ll share our visit with you next! 

Have you been to Shenandoah National Park?  What were your favorite parts?