Roadtrip 2016 Day Two: Shenandoah National Park

Missed the first post? Click here for a list of all the blog posts in the series. 

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One of my favorite pictures from Shenandoah National Park.

If you recall, Tyler and I feel asleep under the air conditioning window unit in Nancy’s living room. The air conditioning was fantastic. Despite the warm sticky air outside, we were quite comfortable. The window unit itself was a bit less fantastic.

It had two modes, quiet and loud. Either mode was perfectly fine. It created white noise which Tyler and I prefer for sleep anyways. The issue is the fact that there were two modes. You see, I would be used to the quiet mode. Then, the window unit would kick into loud mode and startle me awake. After a little while, I’d become accustomed to the louder noise, fall asleep, only to be startled awake during the next cycle. Still, I much preferred sleeping in the living room with the air conditioning and ceiling fan than in the basement.

That morning, Nancy came down the stairs to wake us up. I was cozy in my sleeping bag snuggled up with Tyler, but I knew we had to hop to. Nancy and I made lunches while Tyler packed away our nest. Before long and mostly on time, we hit the road. We made a quick stop at a local cafe for freshly baked pretzels. I got a pretzel slider, which is an egg, cheese, and bacon breakfast sandwich on a small round “everything” bagel. It was so tasty!

On our way to Shenandoah National Park, Tyler rode in the back seat, I drove, and Nancy sat in the passenger seat. We had correctly assumed Tyler would sleep most of the way there, which left Nancy and I with plenty of time to chat. We talked about lots of things and caught each other up on the happenings in our lives. It was so wonderful to actually talk to my best friend in person rather than on the phone!

Soon we reached Shenandoah National Park. We paid the $20 entrance fee, which to me seems a bit steep. I was happy to learn that once paid, you could enter and exit the park freely for five days. Not that it made a difference to us because we were only going to be in the park one day, but it make the $20 feel a bit more justified.

Once inside the park, we met up with Casey, one of Nancy’s friends from D.C. Since Nancy and Casey had to get back to D.C. before evening, we opted to hike one of the first trails you encounter if you enter from the northern end. Shenandoah National Park has one 100 mile road running through it called Skyline Drive. The road follows along the ridgeline of the Shenandoah Mountains, offering fantastic views every few miles. All of the trailheads, visitor centers, and campgrounds are off the one road, so an easy way of denoting location within the park is by mile marker numbers along Skyline Drive.

We hiked at Compton Gap, which is just past mile marker 10. Across the road from the parking lot is the trail for Compton Peak, West and East. The hike follows the Appalachian trail up-hill until an obvious 4-way intersection. The Appalachian trail continues straight, with two side trails branching from either side: columnar basalt to the left and pretty views to the right.

Nancy, Casey, and I chatted as we walked up the hill. Tyler trailed behind playing with the camera and taking lots of pictures. He borrowed his parents’ nice camera that lets you choose all the settings. Therefore, we have some really great pictures! But also some blurry ones…

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Pretty flowers.
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Rocky trail, stone steps.

We decided to check out the columnar basalt first. Down the rocky hill and around to the underside of the boulder, that’s where we found the columnar basalt. It’s pretty cool that the rock formed in those interesting shapes. We stayed here for a while taking pictures and climbing on rock piles. Then back up the steep trail.

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Stone stairs down to the columnar basalt.
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Mushrooms that I made Tyler take a picture of.
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Columnar Basalt!
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More columnar basalt!
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Casey and Nancy climbing on the pile of rocks.
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Missing Tyler. We tried to take a photo of the four of us using the delay on the camera, but it didn’t turn out well. So we have this instead.
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Back up the stone steps. I make some awesome faces.

We hiked a short way to the overlook. It was beautiful. The valley below was so green and the sky was so blue, dotted with white fluffy clouds. We sat on the rocks to eat lunch and proceeded to take many, many pictures.

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Best friends forever.
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Super meta photo, I’m taking a picture of Tyler taking a picture of Nancy and Casey.
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One of the few pictures of Tyler where he is looking at the camera.
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Casey sitting on the rocks. Nancy is beside him, but she blends in with the clouds.
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Nancy was less than thrilled when I told her to pose like a starfish.
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Finally a picture of all of us.

All too soon it was time to walk back to the parking lot. Nancy and I hugged goodbye and promised to see each other again soon. How soon, we’re not sure, but as soon as we are able!

Tyler and I still had some time left in the park. I drove along Skyline drive for about an hour. Naturally, Tyler fell asleep. I enjoyed the winding road and pretty views until we reached mile marker 56: Bearfence Trailhead. When we hopped out of the car, a family was staring in the woods. There was a deer!

No joke, Tyler spent at least 15 minutes trying to get a good picture of the deer. He slowly crept towards the deer, who unperturbed munched on some leaves and moved a few feet away. I’m not quite sure how it happened as I had taken refuge by the car away from a swarm of gnats, but Tyler got an amazing shot as the deer jumped over a small stone wall. Pretty cool, right?

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After that, the deer ran off, so Tyler and I started hiking. I had chosen Bearfence because online descriptions listed it as not one of the most popular hikes with good views, and it has an awesome rock scrambling section as part of the trail!

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Tyler took lots of pictures of my butt.
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Pretty artistic light courtesy of Tyler.
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Another favorite picture. See the blue markers? That’s where the trail goes!

I don’t think we technically reached the viewpoint portion of the trail, but we did get some pretty 360 degree views on the rock scramble.

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So pretty!
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I make an “X marks the spot”. I’m on the trail.

We drank in the views for as long as possible. Then, we had to turn around. We didn’t complete the loop trail because we still had quite a bit of driving left before we would reach our campsite.

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Aww, Tyler surprised me with a kiss. 

We got back in the car and began the long drive out of Shenandoah National Park. Skyline Drive is pretty, but we were so ready to be done with driving 35 mph on curvy roads. It took us at least another hour to get out of the park.

Just after exiting, we got a little bit of service, which was nice because it let us use Google maps for directions to Sherando Lake Recreation Area. Prior to our trip I had mapped directions from our main points of interest via the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was at this point that we decided to abandon said parkway. If we had decided to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway it would take us at least twice as long to get anywhere and sometimes four times as long! I was of the opinion that I had had my fill of driving along winding scenic highways from driving along Skyline Drive.

Thirty minutes later we pulled into Sherando Lake Recreation Area. We found our campsite, A04, with our names on it; I had made reservations. It was a good thing too, because the campground appeared to be full. First thing, Tyler and I set up the tent. Quick and easy. As I’ve explained in previous post (Tsali Trip 2016), I love this tent! I was quite happy when Tyler proclaimed that the tent was cocoon-like and he was never leaving. Success!

You see, I was a bit worried about how much Tyler would like our tent. All of the times we’ve camped together, we slept in hammocks. Since then, both of us have decided that hammock camping is not for us. I’ve slept in the tent plenty of times, but Tyler had not. I wasn’t sure if he would appreciate the small two-person backpacking tent, or if he would feel claustrophobic and wish it was bigger. Happily, it was the former.

By the time we set up our tent, the sun had gone down, leaving us to cook dinner in the dark. We ate our zucchini, mushroom, ground beef, and mozzarella cheese dinner. We made it up, it has no name, but it is tasty. Also an easy dinner to cook on the stove top.

While we were cooking, our neighbors came over to chat. The warned us that bears had been active in the campground the past few nights. Apparently, the campers in our site the night before had left their cooler out on top of the bear lock box, rather than safely ensconced inside. Bears came through the campground looking for food and found a feast! All that was left from the cooler was half a tub of sour cream. Needless to say we were very careful to clean up after dinner that night.

After mostly warm showers (beware of flushing toilets!), Tyler and I crawled into our tent. Thankfully, it was actually a little cool out, which made it easy to fall asleep, despite thoughts of bears prowling through the campground.

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2 thoughts on “Roadtrip 2016 Day Two: Shenandoah National Park

  1. Pingback: An Introduction to Our non-Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip – Simple Adventures Open Eyes

  2. Pingback: Roadtrip 2016 Day Four: Grayson Highlands State Park, aka WILD PONIES! – Simple Adventures Open Eyes

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