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 > Belated Fall 2010 TR - Part 1 of 3 - Shenandoah

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GoinThisAway

middle TN

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Posted: 07/30/11 08:27pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

All right, time to confess. The DH and I went for a week-long trip last fall that I haven’t shared with you yet. It’s taken me awhile to put a trip report together because I was having fun looking up information on some of the things we saw and experimenting with a few photo editing tricks that I’ve admired in the posts of others here. Enough piddling though, time to post!

For this trip we had decided to drive up through Shenandoah National Park, visit Gettysburg National Military Park, and visit with a relative I hadn’t seen for many years. So we headed east through Knoxville TN on I-40, turned north onto I-81, and drove as far as daylight allowed.

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We stopped for the night at a nice city campground, Sugar Hollow Park, in Bristol VA. The next morning dawned bright and clear.

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We started the day with a quick walk around the campground. I was surprised to see that very few campers were out enjoying the lovely weekend weather. Sugar Hollow is a mile or less from I-81 as the crow flies so there was noticeable road noise at our site on top of the hill. But in our walk around the campground I found there were several sites behind the hill where there was much less road noise so you might want to pick one of these if you stop here. Most of these quieter sites have no hookups but a few do have electric if you need it.

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Before leaving Sugar Hollow Park we stopped at the wetlands one passes on the way in to the campground.

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There is a nice trail and boardwalk here.

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Can you spot the wildlife in this shot? Give me a second and I’ll wave my Whazoo wand to help you find it.

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The wetlands are located to the right in this next photo, just upstream of the large earthen dam seen in the distance. Yes, I said this is the upstream side of this TVA dam. So, where’s all the water one usually sees upstream of a dam you ask? Well, sit tight and wait for a long heavy rain. The concrete outlet, the white structure seen at the base of the dam, is too small to carry all of the runoff from a big rain so the excess water temporarily backs up behind the dam. This temporary pooling of water behind the dam reduces flood heights along Beaver Creek in the twin cities of Bristol VA and Bristol TN further downstream. Most of the time the area upstream of the dam is dry so it is commonly called a “dry dam”. Oh, and you should be aware this floods the only road in/out of the campground on rare occasions so you might want to consider the weather before stopping here. No problem on this sunny fall weekend though.

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After our walk, we got on I-81 after a quick stop to pick up some groceries. Finally, after traveling most of the day on the boring but efficient interstate we turned off onto a less efficient but much more pleasant two lane road up into the mountains.

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We soon arrived at the Blue Ridge Parkway. This scenic 469 mile long roadway (755 kilmeters long for sabconsulting and Sheriffdoug) celebrated its 75th birthday in 2010. It winds its way along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachian Mountains, from Great Smoky Mountains National Park at its southern end to Shenandoah National Park at its northern end. It was late in the day before we made it onto the parkway so we only had time for one quick stop before seeking out our next campsite.

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We arrived at our destination for the night, Sherando Lake Recreation Area, with enough daylight left to set up camp and gather a little firewood. We rarely bother with a fire while traveling but decided it would be nice for a change. (Sorry Sleepy!).

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The next morning we visited the upper lake at Sherando. This lake is above the campground and is accessed by a trail up over the dam.

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It’s a small lake but quite scenic, particularly on this early morning with a hillside of fall colors reflecting on the still water. I enjoyed spending a bit of time here trying different ways to capture at least a part of the beauty.

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After enjoying the quiet beauty of the lake, we eagerly headed back towards the Blue Ridge Parkway in hopes of seeing even more expansive views of the season’s glory.

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Our hopes were fulfilled at Ravens Roost Overlook. Even though the fall season was past its peak, the mountains were still cloaked with plenty of colorful vegetation.

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Looking west from Ravens Roost Overlook we saw the broad Shenandoah Valley. Formed by the winding Shenandoah River and its tributaries, this valley stretches for 200 miles along a northeast-southwest axis where it is hemmed in by the Blue Ridge Mountains on the east and the Ridge and Valley ranges including the Allegheny Mountains on the west. The valley is big enough to encompass half a dozen cities, wide swaths of forest, and many sprawling farms. During Civil War times, this area was such an important source of food that it was referred to as The Breadbasket of the Confederacy.

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I love these old brass plates that tell you what you can see in the distance.

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As Clattertruck noted in a recent post on his trip through this area, the vegetation at many of the Parkway overlooks had grown high enough to block the view. There was an interesting rock and timber fence at this overlook though.

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The Blue Ridge Parkway changes over to Skyline Driveas it passes through Shenandoah National Park. At the Park entrance, a friendly ranger collected our $15 entry fee and provided us with one of those classic black NPS brochures. As the DH drove, I glanced through the information in the brochure. With a gleeful smile I announced to the DH that there are more than 75 scenic pull outs along the 105 mile (169 kilometer) long Skyline Drive. That bit of news elicited a pained groan from the DH. “It’ll take us FOREVER to get to the other end!” he grumbled. I promised him that I would restrain myself from stopping at every one of them, at least on THIS trip.

We saw at least a dozen truck campers on this trip, more than I’ve ever seen during a week in the southeast. The most interesting by far was this wonderful hand crafted camper parked at the Loft Mountain Information Center. We didn’t go into the Center as it was quite crowded but I just had to stop long enough to get some photos of this handy little rig.

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Here’s my first attempt at stitching several photos together, a panorama taken from the “Talus Slopes” overlook. It came out pretty good if I may say so myself!

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Further down the road, it was time to stop for lunch. Let’s see, is there a level place where we can park with a bit of a view to enjoy while we eat? Yeah, this will do!

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We enjoyed a nice east-facing view this time. It’s easy to see why these mountains are called the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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After lunch we checked out a plaque I’d seen at the other end of the parking area. We found that we’d just eaten lunch sitting on the Appalachian Trail as it runs right through this overlook.

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Hmmmm, only three million steps from here to the northern end atop Mount Katahdin in Maine. Do you think we have time for that, Dear?

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OK, so we don’t have time for all three million steps but I couldn’t resist heading down the trail at least a little way. There’s nothing like a walk through a hardwood forest in the fall with brilliant colors all around and the crunch of the fallen leaves underfoot.

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I was even rewarded by a different kind of fall color in the form of these flowers … stiff asters I think …

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And this interesting milkweed I believe.

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Then it was back to the truck and on down the road. We passed through an area appropriately called Big Meadows. There’s a lodge and campground here but we weren’t ready to stop yet.

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It’s not often that I’m happy to see construction signs and traffic backed up but this was an exception. It was good to see that the park system is getting a share of the Recovery Act spending. They were not only repaving the road and overlooks but also dismantling and rebuilding some of the old damaged and leaning stone walls constructed in the historic days of the CCC in Shenandoah NP.

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Look, Dear, another overlook!

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A short walk took us to a viewpoint where we saw Hawksbill Mountain, the highest point in Shenandoah National Park at 4050 feet. There’s an observation tower on the summit that one can hike to but the day was hazy so we saved it for another time.

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Even without a hike to the summit we could see the Shenandoah Valley and the town of Stanley VA.

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The trees on the mountainside were not the only fall color to be seen. Even the rocks I stood on contained splashes of fall color. Some ferns and other tiny plants had staked their claim to a crack in the lichen covered rock.

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We continued down the road. “Look, Dear, another overlook!”

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We learned by reading the plaque that the ragged mountain called Old Rag is made up of some of the oldest rock in the Park, appropriately called Old Rag granite. I loved the layers of color we saw from this overlook.

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I took a closer look at a nearby mountainside, resplendent in a myriad of fall colors.

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They say one often can’t see the trees for the forest but I managed to single out one twisted snag whose days of contributing to this pallet of color are over.

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Continuing on, we reached Mary’s Rock Tunnel at about mile 32 of Skyline Drive in late afternoon. We’d checked with the Ranger when we entered the park and was told that the tunnel height is 12’ 8”, plenty high enough for our rig.

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Go towards the light, Dear!

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Just past the tunnel we came to where Skyline Drive crosses Highway 211. We chose to exit here so we could head to a campground at Shenandoah River State Park near Bentonville VA. The campground is situated on high ground a short distance from the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.

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The campground portion of the park appeared to have opened very recently. There were only a few scraggly trees left after the recent grading needed to form the amply large, level sites. Hopefully they’ll be planting some trees in the newly grassed areas soon. This new bath house was excellent though with a laundry in front, restrooms on each side, and separate shower rooms along the back.

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After settling into our site, we set out for a walk. There is a nice greenway trail along the river that one can access from the campground. Don’t expect to get too close to the water though as they are trying to establish a thick stand of native vegetation between the path and the river to protect the banks from trampling and erosion. My guess is that they’ll have to add at least a few places where one can get close to the river or people will make their own paths.

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All too soon the sun was setting behind the mountains so we turned back towards the campground where our snug home on wheels beckoned in the distance.

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And so ended our third day on the road. Here is a map of our stops and travels on Days 2 and 3. Not that it would be particularly difficult for you to figure this out on your own but it was good practice for me to make the map [emoticon] The green push pin is at Sugar Hollow Park in Bristol, VA; the yellow push pin is at Sherando Lake Recreation Area near Lyndhurst, VA; and the red push pin is at Shenandoah River State Park near Bentonville, VA.

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More to come!

Link to Part 2 of 3: Gettysburg

Link to Part 3 of 3: Eisenhower & Johnstown

* This post was last edited 11/16/11 07:48pm by GoinThisAway *   View edit history


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DutchmenSport

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Posted: 07/30/11 08:42pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

I lived in NC many years ago. I was also stationed at Fort Belvoir, VA for about 4 years, Training at Fort Monmouth, NJ, and first duty assignment at Ft. Devens, MA. I had lots of opportunities to travel. My daughter was stationed in SC in the Navy, and then later Norfolk, VA. Haven't been to, or through the Smokies, Appalachia, or Shenandoah for at least 4 years now. Beautiful country, all the way from Maine to South Carolina. I kind of miss that part of the country, even though I spent many years and many trips there. Don't have any more relatives East of Indiana any more .... so ... I sure do appreciate you photos!

Glad you had a wonderful trip!

sabconsulting

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Posted: 07/31/11 12:47am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Many thanks for the report. The scenery in that part of the US is similar to some of the scenery in Britain, but on a much wider scale. Looks lovely in the fall. Maybe next time we visit the US we should think about the fall rather than May / June when we usually vacation.

Looking forward to the rest of the report.

Steve.


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DiscoChicken

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Posted: 07/30/11 08:47pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Thanks for sharing. One of my favorite drives.


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sleepy

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Posted: 07/30/11 09:06pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

fantastic post... its been a while since I enjoyed this area... made it even more special.

Thanks for sharing

Janet and I will have to go back to school before we can post again... you are skunking us!

Sleepy


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jmtandem

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Posted: 07/30/11 10:44pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Very nice pics!


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weymard

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Posted: 07/31/11 03:08am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Great report and pictures, thanks for sharing


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nycsteve

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Posted: 07/31/11 05:29am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Thankyou for the report and pics. Something I'de like to do in thre future.





nypatnva

Amelia Ct Hse Va

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Posted: 07/31/11 05:29am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Wow! Look at the gas I saved following your trip. Great pictures.


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floridacamping

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Posted: 07/31/11 06:47am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Great pictures and great narrative! Your post made me feel like I was in the back seat!





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