In the Virginia Woods: Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, USA
Wild Geraniums (Geranium Maculatum) on the Ivy Creek Overlook Trail
Even on a hot spring day, there is plenty of shade to be found in the woods of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
Whatever else one might say about the US, driving there is a pleasure. Whether you are speeding along the main highways, or winding down the back roads, you’ll find things well signposted – and the many National Parks and other places of interest are easily accessible.
My husband and I have covered a lot of territory across the US in rental cars in the past several years. Last May, as an adjunct to visiting with family scattered over three states, we drove the length of the Skyline Drive, Virginia’s National Scenic Byway.
Because of mountain bends and wildlife, the maximum speed along Skyline Drive is 35 mph (56 kph). So, it takes at least three hours to drive the whole 105 miles (169 km) from one end of the Shenandoah National Park to the other – that’s assuming you don’t hit traffic, go for a hike, or stop at any of the 75 scenic overlooks.
Established in 1935, the park was cobbled together from more than 1000 privately owned tracts of land, and now encompasses 300 square miles of the Blue Ridge Mountains – a physiographic section of the larger Appalachian Mountains range. It boasts in excess of 500 miles of hiking tracks, including 101 miles of the famous Appalachian Trail, which runs through 14 states from Maine to Georgia.
As is our habit, we ended up with less time than we had originally hoped for. But, we still allocated a full day: entering the park from the north at Mile 0, Front Royal Entrance Station, late one afternoon, and crossing onto the Blue Ridge Parkway (more about that some other time) at Mile 105, Rockfish Gap (South) Entrance Station, in the afternoon of the next day. That allowed us time for a short walk each day, generous meal stops, visits to National Park Visitor Centers, and plenty of scenic stops at a selection of the many overlooks.
Join me for a scenic drive and a couple of short hikes.
Mama black bear was too fast for me! A mobile phone shot of her two cubs through the front windscreen was the best I could manage before they disappeared into the woods. (iPhone6)
View from Dickey Ridge
The Dickey Ridge Visitor Center near the North Entrance has all the information one might need about the park and affords long views across the Shenandoah Valley.
Information Signposting – Dickey Ridge
All of the “Scenic Overlooks” have sign-posting with facts about the view, the wildlife, or the broader park itself.
The park is 95% forested. In spring the deciduous trees are multiple shades of fresh green with their new leaves.
North Mount Marshall Viewpoint Track
It’s a short walk, just off Skyline Drive from the Mount Marshall Parking Area, to the Marshall Viewpoint.
Wild Geranium (Geranium Maculatum)
The ground either side of the track is covered with spring flowers.
Bluets (Houstonia Caerulea)
North American Millipede (Narceus Americanus)
Millipedes were all along the track – and could move surprisingly quickly when they noticed us!
View from Mount Marshall Viewpoint
Virginia White-Tailed Deer – Cervidae Odocoileus Virginianus
In the darkening woods, a white-tailed doe watches us as we return to our car.
Methodist Church – Sperryville
We slipped off the Skyline Drive at the Thornton Gap Entrance Station to spend the night in nearby Culpeper, Virginia. On our way back to the Shenandoah National Park the next morning, we stopped at the charming town of Sperryville.
Some of the architecture in Sperryville is classically beautiful – like this private family home built in 1890.
The tourists shops in Sperryville are stocked with traditional Appalachian crafts, …
… artisanal foods, and local artworks. (iPhone6)
Thornton Gap Tunnel
Back on the Skyline Drive, our first stop was at the Thornton Tunnel Overlook.
Leaves – Thornton Gap
New leaves wave overhead …
… and the mountains roll off into the distance.
Stony Man Mountain Overlook
Can you see the man’s face on the side of the mountain?
Blue Ridge Mountains
Haze blankets the farmlands that dot the Shenandoah Valley.
Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Worker
A statue dedicated to the memory of the workers from the CCC, a public work relief program that operated during the Great Depression. These workers helped build this National Park. (iPhone6)
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes Aura)
We didn’t stop at every one of the 75 overlooks – but we did stop at quite a few.
Ivy Creek Overlook
Our last stop was at the Ivy Creek Overlook, …
Virginiana Spiderwort (Tradescantia Virginiana)
… where we went for another walk through the Virginia woods, along a short portion of the famous Appalachian Trail.
A signboard at one of the overlooks describes the many moods of the mountains and valleys, and how they change at the different times of day or year, reacting to different temperature and weather. It quotes Heraclitus of Ephesus:
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
We’d drive it again – more slowly next time – in any season.
Until next time,