Sunday, April 19, 2009

April 13-19 - Hiking, Tourism - Trip to Virginia

A son of Holly's longtime friend Ann was getting married on Saturday, April 18, in suburban Washington, DC, so we decided to make a vacation of the trip. We drove to Winchester, VA, on Monday, the 13th, and stayed in a B&B there.

Since Tuesday was cool and drizzly, we visited the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester. It's a regional culture and history museum, and this visit set the stage for the rest of our week. We next headed south for Lexington, VA, stopping first at Shenandoah Caverns, another good rainy-day diversion.

We decided to stay two nights in Lexington, and use it as a base for exploration of the area. Lexington is the home of VMI and Washington & Lee University, and is a charming town.

Wednesday was still a bit gloomy and not a good day for any high-elevation exploring, as we confirmed by a short drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Many of the mountains, and even the Parkway itself, were shrouded in fog, but the views we did have were interesting for just that reason.

We continued on to Crabtree Falls, reputedly the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi. It's actually a series of 5 major waterfalls and many intervening cascades, with a switchbacked trail from the bottom to the top that gains 1380 feet in 2 miles. Up and back, it was enough of a hike for this day.

We got back to Lexington fairly early, so we visited some local historic sites, including Lee Chapel, on the campus of Washington and Lee.

Thursday dawned clear and bright, with warmer temperatures and lots of sun expected. We headed south from Lexington, toward Natural Bridge, an overpriced tacky tourist attraction with many tour buses. We would skip it, but on the way, we stopped at Foamhenge, a full-scale Styrofoam replica of the original in England. Needless to say, it was a strange sight.

It was a gorgeous day for a hike, but there are very few "destination" hikes in this area. Most are either access trails to the AT or old logging roads. We chose a short hike to the Devil's Marbleyard, a mountainside pile of marble blocks, many the size of cars. Scrambling out into the boulders provided some very nice views of the valley below.

In the afternoon, we headed up to the Blue Ridge Parkway again, and started the long drive north to Skyland Resort, on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. We had reservations for the night (at early bird rates!!), and it was about 100 miles away at 35-40 mph. There would be many superb views along the way, so many that not all were even deemed photo-worthy.

Nearly all rooms at Skyland overlook the Shenandoah Valley far below to the west, and ours was no exception. We watched the sun set from a window-side table at the restaurant, and settled in for a cool night.

Friday was another beautiful day, and we planned to climb Hawksbill, at 4050 feet the highest summit in the Park.

The most direct route was less than a mile, with only about 700 feet of climbing, and we did it in less than an hour. The views from the summit were almost 360 degrees. The shot below is away from the morning sun toward the Shenandoah Valley to the west. Skyland is located on the ridge at the right of the picture.

After the hike, we continued north to the end of Skyline Drive, stopping for lunch along the way. Now it was time to leave the mountains and head for the Washington area. After a stop for ice cream in Front Royal, we started the drive east. Since we still had extra time before our evening commitment, we made a brief stop at Manassas Battlefield and walked around a little there. It was too nice an afternoon to pass it in a hotel room.

On Saturday, since the wedding wasn't until evening, we had brunch with my daughter who lives in DC, and then all visited the National Arboretum. We were a few weeks too early for the hundreds of azaleas to be in bloom, but it was a nice place to walk around, and then drive to some of its farther reaches.

Finally, Sunday was the long drive home, 8 hours with very few stops, but some of which included the usual Pennsylvania interstate construction zones and their heavy stop-and-go traffic. Now it's time to get back to normal and enjoy springtime all over again if it ever reaches our area.

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