Monday, July 2, 2012

A Shenandoah Odyssey: Act 3

Okay, I'm going to play around with the timeline a little here.  Why?  Well, for one, I could say that I can't seem to catch up with the trip here (I'll again nod to the 1300 words about a gas station from yesterday).  Another optional answer is that some days weren't exactly as full of high drama as that first 20 hours was.  Oh yes, those first two posts covered just about exactly 20 hrs...mercy.  But I'll give the most pretentious answer instead:  this is an "odyssey," and of course everyone who's everyone knows that Homer played with chronology in the Odyssey, telling large chunks of the story via flashback...a true innovation in Western literature.  Then I'll remove my tweed jacket, set down my calabash pipe, and give a little "harumph" before settling in to a nice brandy.

The rest of the journey was pretty mundane by comparison.  The drive down the final 200 or so miles of U.S. 50 was as expected, and made for a lovely drive on what turned out to be a beautiful afternoon.  There were significant power outages all the way through West Virginia, but by the time we got closer to the eastern end of the state things started looking more normal.  We managed to get our first real meal in 24 hours in Clarksburg (a Panera Bread with functional lights never looked so good), and neurotically topped off the tank again in Romney, WV.  The town was very acommodating to whatever we believed in at the

A couple of things I'd like to illustrate about the trip along 50 into Virginia:

1.)  None of the civil engineers working that job took a college course with the word "linear" in the title:

The speedometer plus the faint green line on the GPS (old "Maybe You'll Get There" Magellan) should tell the story here.

2.)  Maryland--which our path took us into for about ten miles--has pink roads.  I don't understand why, but there it is.  If anyone out there knows, I'm all ears, but that is decidedly rosy.

Not much more needs to be said about the trek in...I think I've covered that pretty well.  Wait, here's a quick parting view of the Blennerhassett...much creepier at night, but she's an elegant old pile in the daylight.

At last, right around dinner time on June 30th, we reached our home base for the trip, the charming Inn at Narrow Passage, in "the other Woodstock."  The oldest parts of the place were built in 1740, at the "narrow passage" point on the Great Wagon Road, now Route 11, and Stonewall Jackson used it as his headquarters during the 1862 Valley campaign.  Ed, the innkeeper, is the easiest man in the world to talk to, and is a valuable source of information about the area...but his iphone photography skills could use some work.  Those shots of us near the fireplace will not be appearing here, but I won't hold that against him.  Some nice mood-setters of the Inn.

 If I can double back on the Stonewall Jackson thing, as anyone with a mild case of Civil War buffery (buffoonery?) knows, the Shenandoah Valley played an enormous role in the war.  It was one of the South's breadbaskets, and also a strategic highway straight into the North.  The campaign that ultimately led to Gettysburg got there after months of skirmishing up and down the Valley.  Everywhere you go here, you see those brown "attraction of historical significance" signs with the site of a battle or a memorial or other important reminder of the war.  But they all tend to run, at least outwardly, toward a simple and solemn commemoration of the conflict.  This differs dramatically from other places I've visited in the South, most notably Charleston, SC, where it seems like every street corner and park takes to chance to honor the glorious rebel dead, and give a sound F-you to the Yankee aggressors.  It's a nice change, and makes us Yankee aggressors feel much more welcome.

Of course, one of the primary destinations for this trip is Shenandoah National Park, one of the largest in the East.  The centerpiece of the park is Skyline Drive, which, Cincinnati folks, contains not a SINGLE instance of the thing you're thinking of...what the hell, right?  You can't make that marketing connection?  The road is 105 miles long and bisects the park, while running along the tops of the mountains.  Something like 75 scenic overlooks are dotted along the route, and our first full day here, we stopped at something like 25 of them...


Most of those shots were taken by the wife...she's the expert.  Here's an example of the author trying to Cro Magnon his way to a decent photo:

By the way, those are in fact wildfires you see burning in the background of a few of those shots.  There is one going in the George Washington National Forest (seen in the top photo above) that has burned 5000 acres and was nowhere near contained (started by "some dumbass who threw his cigarette butt out the window," according to our horseback guide Shane...more on him later), and a smaller one in the park itself started a week ago by lightning strikes.  That one is being worked, but was on a difficult slope to get to, so they're bringing in the big guns...

OK, so the picture doesn't necessarily capture the "big" nature in question...
That was our first day in the park, driving a few minutes, getting out to take some pictures, driving some more, lather, rinse, repeat.  It was a great way to capture the immensity of the park, but didn't feel all that "naturey."  So the next day we came back for a little day hiking.  We managed to hike some of the Appalachian Trail, 100 miles or so of which runs through the park.

This much, we hiked just about this much of the Appalachian Trail.  So no, dear, we can't get one of those "AT" stickers for the car.

We took one fairly challenging trail down to Dark Hollow Falls (sounds either sinister or gross, depending on what type of person you are), which helped us feel more like we'd "experienced" the park a little more.

Sorry, these photos are mine...the wife's are better.
Every time I visit one, I relearn the fact that the National Park system is a treasure.  Smooth, well-maintained roads, knowledgeable and available rangers, and some of the most pristine and awe-inspiring places on the continent, for $15.  And that lets you stay there more or less continuously for a week if you want.  Why is it that the NPS always seems to be fighting for funding?

Anyway, that's enough for a day, yes?  Tomorrow, Shane Who Speaks Truth, Buddy the Tailgater, and the greatest fried chicken...and pie...and cinnamon've ever had.

1 comment:

  1. Attempted scientific explanation of the "pink" roads: the reddish hues manifest from iron oxides, which are endemic to the local composition of Terra Firma. When these iron oxide rich solids are combined with bitumen to create the composite material known as "pavement" and subsequently weathered, a rosey-pink appearance ensues, i.e., dem rocks in da road is perty.

    Alternative explanation: someone painted all of the roads in MD pink for April 11th (

    Either one seems plausible, but don't trust me, I'm a Doctor. -Z