This was our end of season camping trip. It end up being quite a stretch as on Saturday temperature dropped to the single digits.
Anyway, we had to take route US211 to get there – that was where the adventure started: it was late at night, we were very tired and the road was like a giant hair pin, full of curves and some of them were so sharp that we almost could see our rear license plates. Then we took the beautiful Skyline Drive – a twisted road that goes around the mountains thru the park with gorgeous views of Shenandoah Valley. It was built during the great depression at the administration of President Hebert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt.
It was midnight when we arrived at the Skyland hotel; we stayed there because we were too tired to deal with choosing a camp site and setting up our tent. The hotel was a bit disappointing, it was rustic or should I say antique decorated with dust from circa early 1800s. By the time we got to bed, I wished we were in our tent; at least it was clean and free of charge. The next morning the room view was breathtaking and breakfast was delicious. They don’t have a microwave so they make everything to order. We send our compliments to the chef.
The Big Meadows Campground was about 9 miles away from the hotel. On our way there, we stopped at all overlooks, each view was unique. The deer are somewhat friendly, they almost pose for pictures. At the campground, Paulo got all excited because a beautiful Monarch butterfly land on his hand. According to Native American lore when a butterfly lands on you it means change in life but online we found that it could had been because the butterfly was tired and Paulo was in its flying path. huahauhau
Our first hike Upper Hawksbill Trail – about 2.1 miles loop. It was an easy hike. Hawksbill Mountain is the highest peak in park at 4050 feet. It was a gift from God to able to lunch at summit with stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley including Old Rag. Later we found another short trail – Dark Hollow Falls Trail – it was only 1.7 round trip. The view of 70’ feet waterfall wasn’t that breathtaking, but the way back up was. When we went down we didn’t think of the way back – it was very steep. Thursday was an easy day as a warm up for Old Rag Mountain.
Friday we were eager to hike Old Rag; the first couple of miles we were almost out of breath and could not talk to each other unless we stopped. We couldn’t believe when people walked by us chatting and laughing. We would quickly forget about the strenuous hike when we looked around us – It was a beautiful heavy wooded area even though there were lots of trees down by the hurricane Sandy. As we got higher up we noticed the trees were shorter and still had dark green leaves. We were hoping to see a buck or smile black bear*, but this trail is very popular and it was full of people – no chance of seeing any wild life. A little before hitting the mountain peak we had to jump between boulders. Paulo did it quickly but I froze. When I was about to jump another guy behind me said “if you fall there you die!” I looked down and saw a water bottle at the bottom of the gap. The thought of the 127 Hours movie rushed to my head – this movie tells the story of a guy who got trapped by a boulder in an isolated slot of the canyon he was hiking. In my mind, I could see my own rescue… lots of drama and action when the rescue helicopter hit one of the boulders and exploded… during that thought I jumped and off we went up the trail. At summit (about 3284 feet), we couldn’t believe we had made the most dangerous hike of the Shenandoah Park. We were hit by the most beautiful panoramic view of the Shenandoah forest and mountains. It was unforgettable. We didn’t know if we could celebrate or wait for the end of trail, we didn’t know how the way back would be. It’s a shame we couldn’t stay long because it was already late and we are not experienced hikers to return in the dark. We chose the Saddle Trail to come back. Going down the mountain we couldn’t figure out if the rocky steps were manmade or nature gift to us. It was a fun 8.8 miles hike with different challenges along the way. We got to do some rock climbing,( write an action/drama movie in my head) jump, (be afraid of falling – myself only), slide, (scratch my elbow), crawl,( cut my finger), squeeze ourselves around the giant boulders, fall, exercise without noticing, enjoy the sun, the fresh air… nothing like the great outdoors. Our only complaint is that there was no solitude. Other people kind of rush you to move along when you need time to appreciate the hike or think how to get across that giant gap between boulders or simply quietly appreciate the view around you.
Saturday we went to see the Luray Caverns it was a reminder of geology at high school – stalactites and stalagmites. The amazing way they grow over the years and sometimes, meet each other halfway like a strong marriage they become one. To get down underground you have to use the stairs, they have no elevator and after Old Rag my legs were hurting… then we visited the Car and Carriage Caravan
and the Luray Valley Museums, later we had the best burger for lunch at the Artesian Grill. Saturday night was extremely cold. This time I made sure to close my sleeping bag all the way up, to not repeat the White Mountain drama. We got into our sleeping bags early to prepare ourselves to our long and sad return home.
Photos by Paulo Dasilva Photography