September 20-25, 2019
We FINALLY got to do our slow(ish) wander down Skyline Drive. We had attempted this when we first rolled out in the fall of 2013. We had long played with the idea of starting our journey at Front Royal, Virginia and wandering at our own pace down Skyline Drive, onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and eventually coming out way down in Cherokee, North Carolina.
It was a great plan… right up until the government shut down and the gates to Skyline Drive were locked. We had to divert and wander through Shenandoah Valley until we were able to hop onto the top of the Blue Ridge Parkway. So we missed that whole top section. Life rolled on until this year when we were traveling from Maryland to Charleston, SC for our annual Phoenix Cruiser Travel Club Reunion. We had a bit of time and the gates were not locked so the trip was on.
Our first campsite was at Matthews Arm. We planned to hike all the trails around the campground as well as several within a few miles north and south before we moved on down the parkway. We got a bit of a surprise when we checked in – large warning signs about bees. Evidently there were swarms of bees making nests in the ground UNDER the trails. Your steps on the trail were like thunderous knocks on their little bee doors so they would pop out of their holes and swarm you. The volunteer hosts told us they already had one medical evacuation due to excessive stings. Hmmm, no hiking at Mathews Arm for us.
However, swarms of bees did seem to interest the bears. If we had chosen to hike those trails we were warned to watch for large, deep holes in the trail where the bears had found the bees, dug them up, and ate their larvae. Ewww. To each his own. The upside of all this is we got to see several black bears that were in the area, probably due to the bee buffets.
Skyline Drive runs the ridge of the mountains. You curl around the peaks from side to side and up and down the valleys and gaps. Dozens of pull offs allow you to get out, stretch your legs, take a deep breath and immerse yourself into the gorgeous views, smells and sounds of Shenandoah.
Shenandoah Mountains (Skyline Drive at left middle of photo)
There’s even free entertainment to be had. We spent quite some time watching these playful ravens swoop, dive, and chase each other.
Ravens Cavorting above Shenandoah valley
The Appalachian Mountains are steeped in History. Down the side of the mountain is a cemetery with a plaque telling how the National Park Service took the homes of the mountain people to turn it into a park. Many years ago we hiked to this same cemetery and read that same plaque. The mountain people tell how they were pushed from their beloved mountains and forced to relocate to the valley. The visitor center at Skyland Resort tells this tale and you can read the stories of the mountain people that used to live here. It is a sad tale where the government hired someone to “evaluate” the ability of the people to live in the mountains. It was determined that they were such simple people that they could not survive on their own and should be moved. Two huge items to note: (1) They had been living and surviving in these mountains for generations; (2) The woman that evaluated them was not a trained sociologist and was to be paid by the government ONLY IF they were found to be unable to care for themselves and to forcibly relocate them.
While I feel sad this happened, I couldn’t help but think about the Native Americans that lived in these mountains before them. They are the first people that were pushed from their beloved mountains and forced to live elsewhere… by the mountain people whose descendants were later evicted by the government. The Native American tale seems to be missing from the visitor center.
We hiked to several waterfalls while we were wandering the mountains. It was fall so the flows were low but several were still very beautiful, peaceful and relaxing. It’s wonderful to find a log, sit, relax and stare up into the sun dapples leaves as the creek sings you lullaby and washes your worries away.
As a side, RV Maintenance, type note, our black tank had gotten quick stinky and needed a thorough cleaning. None of the methods we tried seemed to work for us until we drove that road. We used Skyline Drive as our tank washing machine between campgrounds. We would dump and flush our tanks, fill them with water, add Dawn dish detergent and Calgon, dump in a big bag of ice then drive – up and down and round and round and round. There had to be major sloshing back there. When we reached the next site, we’d dump the tanks (ice melted by then) and use them normally until it was time to move and repeat the process. We rolled out of the southern end of the park with a nice clean tank. So if all the above awesomeness isn’t enough to entice you to take a slow drive through the Appalachian Mountains, maybe the thought of clean tanks will get you there.