RSS Feed

Category Archives: Drives

Going For a Drive – Skyline Central Section in Shenandoah

Posted on

The wind howls, shaking the branches in the trees in the neighborhood. This, combined with the temperature, kills any hopes I had of doing any hiking.

I sigh. There’s been too many weeks of this. I’m tired of winter. I’m tired of snow, and bitter cold. I’m tired of my knuckles bleeding from dry skin. I’m tired of having to wear my hiking boots everywhere.

There’s no use complaining. Complaining isn’t going to make the wind die down. I load up the dog and my pack into the car. I suspected that this was going to happen, so I was prepared to go for a drive.

So, into the car, and out 66 towards Front Royal, and Shenandoah National Park.

I’ve been having pretty back luck with the park as well. Every time I think of coming out here for a drive, Skyline has been closed. Sometimes this has resulted in more interesting drives, sometimes it just annoys. Some of my attempts to go down Skyline have come from times when I couldn’t hike as it was, doubling the frustration. It’s not the fault of the NPS. They’re just trying to keep people safe. Seasonal closures are to be expected.

Still.

This day is of course, no different. I roll up to the booth and the ranger informs me that they have someone checking the conditions, it might be a while. I’m welcome to pull over and wait and see.

15 minutes later … The North District is closed for now, but the central part is open. Time is ticking, and I really want to go drive in Shenandoah, so I do the next best thing and I get on US 340, which goes from Front Royal to Luray.

It’s quite a nice drive, actually. It cleaves closely to the course of the Shenandoah River, so you do get some nice views as you go, as well as access to Shenandoah River State Park, which I’ve mentioned before.

I spotted a historical marker on my left, and decided to stop and take a look. It’s a set of markers describing the historical bridge here, as well as the nearby town of Overall, which used to be called Milford, where a number of battles took place during the Civil War, the Valley Campaign of 1864. The battlefield itself is on private property, so other than the markers, there’s no point in me lingering.

Finally, I make it to the central entrance for Skyline, and of course, the North District is open again. I briefly consider heading north, but I’ve driven it before, and even though I’d like to see it again, I’ll settle for the central district.

After getting my passport stamped, I head in and stop at the first rest stop, which is also the trailhead for a short jaunt up to Mary’s Rock if one is so inclined. For about 30 seconds I entertain the notion of going for a quick hike up there, but as my hands start to go numb and my nose gets cold from the biting 20mph wind, I change my mind.

Sadly, this is a theme that repeats itself throughout the drive. I knew it was going to be too cold because of the forecast, but you know, if the opportunity presented itself I’d at least try. It was way too cold to try.

So, I had to be satisfied with seeing the park from the comfort of my warm car, with occasional jaunts outside to take some pictures.

It is fun to drive along and see some of the parts of Skyline that I’ve only seen a few times from crossing it on foot. It showed me a different perspective, and it brought a smile to my face every time I recognized a crossing. Same thing with the overlooks. It was great to see Old Rag again from high up.

It was also nice to finally see Big Meadow, even though the visitors center and campgrounds were all closed, and the wind was still much too cold and bitter. I was able to get out of my car for a little bit, and I ventured out and looked around some. It looked lonely, but I’d love to take a weekend and stay at the lodge, and be able to wander the meadow.

Back in the car and driving along, seeing the snow scudding along the road, swirling and making little snow devils. I see a few deer occasionally and slow down. They have no fear of me or my car whatsoever. They’re almost tame.

I can’t wait for spring to finally get here. I’m tired of the winter.

Eventually I hit the southern entrance of the central district. Part of me wants to keep going, to head a little further. But I was advised that not all of the southern district is open anyway, there were some road hazards. So, homeward I head.

Skyline 02/27/14

Driving, not hiking

Posted on

So, I promised myself that if I wasn’t able to go hiking this week, that I’d at least go for a drive, and that is what I ended up doing. It’s a pity in a way, because if I’d planned a little better in advance, I would have gone hiking on Friday when the weather was finally above freezing.

Such is the way of things though, and weather is always fickle and unpredictable. Even checking the weather now, it looks like next week is going to be mostly terrible again. I just seem to have the worst luck lately.

I had a plan and a backup plan. I would go check and see if Skyline Drive was open, and go drive down it if it was. If it wasn’t, I’d go down US522 instead, as I hadn’t really gone down that road much, so I wanted to see where it would end up, other than intersecting with US211. I’d passed by the junction a few times on my way to hikes in the Sperryville area, so I wanted to see where it went.

That’s something I picked up from my mom. She has always liked to say, “I wonder where this road goes?” and then find out. It can be a useful way to find out more about a place, and going down random roads is something I’ve always enjoyed doing with her.

I trundled along through lovely Front Royal and on to the toll gate at the start of Skyline Drive. I didn’t look up at all but started to immediately dig in my pack for the entrance fee.

“Road’s closed” the ranger said, and I looked up to see the gate across the way. Silly me. We chatted a little bit about the weather and when it would be open again. It seemed the little 1/8 of an inch of snow we’d had on Tuesday was enough to turn everything to ice again, making the road unsafe.

I pondered my options. As I mentioned, I had planned on immediately going down 522, but I decided to take a detour to Shenandoah River State Park instead. It’s only about 10 miles from the Skyline Drive entrance, so down the road I went.

It was open, but oh so cold. Still too cold to hike, although the day was starting to warm up a little bit. The sky was clear and blue. I got out at the overlook and snapped some pictures, my fingers quickly numbing in the chill air. I let my dog wander around a bit, and we got back in the car and headed down to the visitor center. There, the little creek they have circulating around the building was iced over, but it was very pretty still. The visitor center is very nice, and has a gift shop and Wifi access, which is one of the only places in the park where there’s any signal.

I decided since I’d come all this way already, we’d head down to the river itself. I parked down by the canoe loading area, where the little side part was frozen over. The banks were very icy and cold, and the water was a deep grey. There was a whispering, slithering sound as the ice and water ground against each other. It was very beautiful, but also a little sinister.

Back in the car, we headed back to Front Royal and down US522.

I really need to learn to stop and take pictures while I am driving. I have a hard time figuring out where a good place is to stop, and I hate inconveniencing cars behind me or becoming an impediment to traffic. I think this is because of where I grew up. Growing up in a tourist town makes one extra sensitive to doing touristy things. I think it is also some of my still-ever-present anxiety. It’s hard to figure out of I pull into someone’s driveway whether they’ll get mad or something. I just need to let go. This is my little apology/excuse for why there aren’t any pictures of the drive itself.

Chester Gap was beautiful, with the hills on the left side crisp with snow, undulating down to the valley. The road was windy but not overly so, dotted with farmhouses and country estates. I entered Rappahannock County, which is becoming quite the wine area, with several vineyards along the way (sadly closed) before I rolled into the town of Flint Hill.

It was lunchtime, so I thought that this might be a good place to stop and find some. I stopped at a likely looking place, a nice old building with a lot of flags and an interesting sculpture out front: a metal bull. I had arrived at The Flint Hill Public House.

It was quiet inside, (The parking area was pretty much empty) but they were more than happy to see me and sat me down in one of the front dining rooms. The decor was bright and shiny and modern, with comfy leather chairs and some half booths. As far as I could tell I was one of the only people there, although there was some sound coming from the bar area further on in.

The menu was expansive but not overly complex, featuring a good variety of dishes, from burgers and sandwiches to grilled items and quite a few vegetarian options. I’d classify it as nice Mid-Atlantic Pub style food: not too fussy, but also not too casual. They also were featuring a special menu celebrating chili week (probably because the Superbowl was coming up) and I saw something there that I just had to have.

Chili Nachos.

I ordered and they were quickly brought, a nice pile of warm tortilla chips, red chili, cheese and salsa and sour cream. it reminded me very much of the way my mom taught me to enjoy chili: served over corn chips, that good old frito pie. I tried not to wolf them down too quickly, they were very delicious. The dining room was a little chilly so the food did cool quickly, but I hadn’t really realized it in time to ask them to make it warmer, so it’s not really anything to blame them for.

Another thing I was impressed by was their wine list. There was the usual selection of popular California varieties, but most of the list contained wines from all over the local area, most of which were within 10-30 minute drives. I always love when restaurants embrace their place.

I considered ordering a dessert glass, but I decided that since I was the only person driving, it wasn’t a great idea. Instead, I ordered something more substantial.

I’m a sucker for desserts, and particularly anything involving chocolate. The Triple Chocolate Brownie that was presented to me was no disappointment. There were three layers of chcolately deliciousness as promised, plus sprinkled chips and a little bit of ice cream to cut the chocolate. I was very happy and satisfied.

Service was very friendly, with my server (whose name I unfortunately completely forget; I am terrible with names) being awesome and chatting with me about the hiking in the area.

Flint Hill Public House is in my opinion, definitely worth a return trip (or several) and is on my short list of places to consider for the upcoming annual Mother’s Day lunch.

Anyhow, it was time to roll on. I was using a slightly new to me navigation program, and it decided that I was on my way home (pretty much true at this point.) It directed me on Ben Venue road instead of straight out to 211.

This is another of those times I wish I’d had the fortitude to stop and take photos, you will have to rely on my words I suppose. Ben Venue Road is tiny and windy, going around and through several apple orchards on the way out to 211 at Ben Venue.

The sky was a rich, deep blue, and the bare apple trees were stark and black against the sky, their branches reaching up almost like claws. Spring seemed like a long way away. The drive was lonely, there were no other cars on the road. Nothing but hillsides on the left, and farms and orchards on the right, with hills in the distance.

Eventually, Ben Venue Road, as I said, met US 211, and it was time for a rather uneventful drive back home. 6 more weeks until Spring. Hopefully the weather will cooperate more than it has so far.

Jan 30, 2014