Friday, May 18, 2012

A day in Shenandoah National Park

A couple of days ago I spent time with family, and future family, on a day trip to Shenandoah National Park - one of the gems of our great system of national parks. Cruising the Skyline Drive midweek is optimal if you can do it - there is little traffic and the trails have fewer folks. We come to our national parks for solitude and to connect with something beyond the hustle and bustle of life - don't ruin it by coming here with half of NOVA!

Our first stop and hike was at the Bearfence Rock Scramble, a challenging 1.2 mile circuit hike in the Lewis Mountain area. The trailhead begins with an uphill grade typical of mountain terrain and after a short walk the path crosses the Appalachian Trail. Thereafter the blue blazes directed us up and down over sometimes slick and sometimes jagged rocks. This is not a hike for small children or anyone with mobility issues or fear of heights. Dogs are not permitted. Only the foolhardy would attempt this in rainy weather when the rocks are wet and slick. Good hiking boots, with ankle support, are recommended.

The reward for climbing over rough and sharp rocks is a stunning 360° view of the Shenandoah Valley and Virginia piedmont. Seeing the rich farmland and the Massanutten Mountain in the distance, we peered through the haze (historically produced by hydrocarbons released by trees) that gives the Blue Ridge its name  Unfortunately, the haze has gotten much worse and those pristine clear days fewer because of pollution from the region and from the tall spewing smoke stacks of the utilities and industries in the Ohio River Valley. Visibility has decreased by by up to 80% in summer months because of man-made pollution! All the more reason to support the proposed EPA standards for new power plants.

We took a time for a break at Big Meadows where we toured the Visitor Center exhibits and and enjoyed a quick lunch at one of the picnic tables. Even at this usually busy location, midweek was fairly quiet. A JMU van rolled up and parked and we heard several different languages, but our visit was relaxing compared to what it must me like on a pretty holiday weekend. Big Meadows was the site of the 1935 dedication of the Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. We should celebrate forward looking progressives who thought and planned for future generations!

After lunch we hiked the Dark Hollow Falls Trail. Like our previous trek, pets are not allowed on this 1.5 mile round trip hike to a pretty 70' cascading waterfall. This is a fairly steep trail that works on old knees going down and the lungs coming back up. Take your time and enjoy the scenery while you listen to the babbling stream. You will work up a sweat, so take some water along.

Continuing our travels, we stopped at a couple overlooks to enjoy the scenery and look at Old Rag through the haze. About 40 years years ago I conquered Old Rag, but am not so sure I'd want to do it again. This popular hike is difficult and one of the most dangerous in Shenandoah National Park. Getting off the Skyline Drive at Rt. 211 we passed through Luray before finding a geocache in New Market and heading home with empty bellies and tired muscles.

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