|It had been a couple of years since I hiked some of the trails at Shenandoah National Park and over the last two weeks I went twice, the second time after having so much fun during the first hike.
I first I hiked a modified Rose River trail so that I could see both, the Dark Hollow and the Rose River falls. As much as I love waterfalls, it is the smaller cascades that I love seeing and the Rose River has a number of them tumbling down moss covered, timeless boulders, with the green color of the moss accentuating the gray rocks in the sunshine. The following week I hiked the South River trail at the very south end of the Central District of the park. The South River water fall is the third largest in the park but again, it is the smaller cascades rushing down the canyons that appeal to me.
Having lived in the Washington Metro Area for a lifetime, I am well aware of the growth and the resulting changes that have occurred over the last 30+ years but I still marvel at the population density along the way to Shenandoah. I traveled west on I-66 (and then Rt. 29 and 211 on one of the trips) at about 7:00AM and for forty mails – forty miles! – traffic was crawling east-bound towards Washington, bumper to bumper, a numbing journey; at 7:00PM when I was coming back home, the same volume of traffic was crawling back, west-bound this time. Next day it would be the same again. Vienna, Manassas, Gainesville, and Warrenton – all points west of Washington – are unrecognizable from a decade ago.
I can go on decrying the sameness of the towns along the way – malls with the same stores, the same gas stations, the same junk food joints as anywhere else (mostly) – but shortly after Warrenton, the “Virginia is for Lovers” motto becomes real: rolling hills, tree half-canopies over the road, vineyards – a great way to make Virginia even more lovable – farms, horses, still more vineyards and cellars, a lot of history and by the time one reaches Amissville, the mountains are right there in front of you.
It was still early when I reached Skyline Drive. Because the higher altitude in the mountains, summer arrives just a bit later than at other places so the trees were still in the process of dressing for summer time and the ferns along the road were still uncoiling, unwinding towards the sky.
Lots of history there too: the park was created when government accomplished things, when it had not been declared a “problem” yet, when the roads and facilities in the park were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), created by the government to provide jobs to young mean during the Great Depression. That’s the good side; there is bad, too: many locals were forced to leave the area to create the park.
Most hikes in the Shenandoah have one thing in common: they start at Skyline Drive on the spine of the mountains and from there the trails descend, in some cases more than 2500 feet, which makes the return to the car quite challenging. In these two hikes the altitude difference was only about 900 feet each but still, the last few hundred feet on the return leg seemed forever.
Bad things can happen on these trails as some are very rocky, and when one is used to walking on nice, smooth, flat sidewalks in the city, we forget to lift our feet with every step we take so it is easy to trip on rocks, tree roots and fallen branches. A fall on these sharp rocks, if nothing else, is gonna hurt a lot. And there is the danger of miscalculating your level of fitness and how slippery the rocks can be. Garrison Keillor in his News from Lake Wobegon monolog talks about his people, the Lutherans of Scandinavian ancestry and inhabitants of the fictional Minnesota town of Lake Wobegon, and how they manage negotiating icy places by being blessed by a low center of gravity, as he put it, and that’s a good approach on the slippery trails: low to the ground; more like dragging your behinds over the rocks in my case!
But the rewards are immense: streams, waterfalls, birds singing, wild flowers – mountain laurel, wild azaleas-, etc. All of the reasons why to go to the mountains.
And I have the pictures to prove it!
Making Smiles into Memories