Archive for the 'Adventure' Category

Shenandoah National Park, Part Two: White Oak Canyon

White Oak Canyon: Two Novices Take A Hiking Trip

First, here’s a disclaimer: this isn’t The Ultimate Guide to Hiking. What this is is the account of a pair of novice hikers (me and my husband, Timmy) who wanted to feel outdoorsy and athletic, enjoy the beauty of Shenandoah National Park, and get some quality couple time—all while still arriving home in time for dinner.

Preparing For White Oak   Canyon: The Boring Logistical Section

 Step one, obviously, was figuring out all we could about White Oak Canyon. Foreknowledge turned out to be pretty important, because, once we got into the mountains, our cell-service was no longer reliable (or even existent).

What we discovered is this: basically, there are two main ways to hop onto White Oak Canyon trail. We could either start at the trailhead at the top (across from Skyland at Skyline Drive Mile Marker 42.6), walk down to the first main falls, and then have an uphill return the way we’d come, or we could park in the lot off of Weakley Hollow Road, draBlog--WhiteOakCanyon--Trailhead--7-14-14g our tails up the side of the mountain, and then have a steep descent back to the car. A certain amount of Googling revealed that the “best” waterfall for our viewing pleasure was located closer to the top, so we decided to start at Skyland and hike down.

We found this link to be particularly helpful:

http://www.hikingupward.com/SNP/WhiteOak/

Our White Oak Quest Gets Underway

We got on the road before 8 AM, trying to avoid being caught out in the weather if a projected late-afternoon thunderstorm materialized. (It didn’t) We also made a point of going mid-week, as we’d heard the trail is popular enough to be fairly busy on pleasant weekends.

Our first stop was at Sheetz on Rt.15 to load up on a few extra liters of Aquafina to add to our stash of homemade sandwiches and snacks. If you want a picnic lunch without the trouble, check with Sharon before you head out. We do picnic lunches, made up for you fresh in the kitchen at the Holladay House.

We figured out pretty quickly that we wouldn’t be relying on GPS to get us there. (NPS.org even made a point of warning us about it.) Skyline Drive is old school: the entrance we needed to use, Thornton Gap, isn’t actually located at a GPS-programmable address. Instead, Timmy Google-searched directions to Skyland, which is adjacent, and we used our best sign-spotting skills to navigate.

Thornton Gap: Entering Shenandoah National Park

 We made good time and reached the Thornton Gap entrance in about an hour and a half. We forked over $15 for a week-long pass, and accepted the complimentary map of Skyline Drive from the park ranger. We took a few photos along Skyline Drive (viewable in the preceding post) and made a quick pit-stop at Skyland before setting out.

White Oak Canyon: The Saga Begins!!

 Parking at the specifically-desBlog--WhiteOakCanyon--Footbridge--7-14-14ignated White Oak Canyon Parking Lot, we hoisted on our packs and set off. For the first half-hour it was a stereotypical, Ranger Rick-style nature hike. Gravel crunched like granola-breakfast-cereal underfoot, birds twittered, squirrels chattered, and the sun slanted down through the fresh green leaves overhead. I’d heard accounts of encountering bears, but we actually saw not even a single squirrel.

It had rained a few days previously, and the path occasionally grew mucky. That’s something you’ll want to think about when choosing your footwear: plan for mud, and uneven, rocky segments throughout.

About 30 minutes in, we encountered our first inkling of water: a waterfall in extreme miniature, trickling down over the smooth stones at the bottom of the creek. Here our childhood instincts to puddle-hop kicked in, and we stopped to dabble for a few minutes.

 

White Oak CBlog--WhiteOakCanyon--Falls--7-14-14anyon: “View” Of The Falls

 About one o’clock (about two hours after setting out) we veered to the left to cross a footbridge, and descended to a spot marked “View” with an obelisk. I trekked out onto the rocks above the falls and plunked down to take in the scenery: clear, cold water spilling down over the craggy faces of the boulders and disappearing again into the trees far below us. Timmy, who doesn’t care for heights, edged dutifully out after me, and sighed audibly with relief when we headed back for solid ground.

 The “Getting Back” Part Is Always The Hardest

The trail turned out to be much steeper than I’d surmised on our original descent. I had to take a few quick breathers, but it wasn’t unreasonably taxing. Despite these delays, we halved our original time and made it back to the trail-head in about an hour. This was partially because I recalled seeing a chocolate bar in the gift-shop at Skyland, and it was sounding tastier the more I thought about it. Consequently, I set a brutal pace.

Rudy’s: The Best Pizza In Sperryville, VA

After my candy splurge, we went in search of real food and wound up at Rudy’s– combination grocery store and pizzeria. Our server’s t-shirt proclaimed that Rudy’s served the best pizza in Sperryville. Not sure if this was a boast or an ironic wink, because they arguably serve the only pizza in Sperryville. Nevertheless, we thoroughly enjoyed the pizza, and give them our thumbs-up. The restaurant itself was clearly well-loved, dinged and nicked around the edges, but we liked the gritty local-pizzeria feel. The menu was clever, featuring hiker-centric pizzas such as “the Old Rag” and “the White Oak Canyon.”Blog--WhiteOakCanyon--Rudys--7-14-14

White Oak Canyon: A Summary…..

If you need a picturesque view to make your hike memorable, White Oak Canyon is your trail. Challenging without being overwhelming, and rugged without requiring extreme agility to maneuver, it combines all the best parts of hiking into one beloved old trail. If you’re like us, you’ll come back feeling “just enough” outdoorsy without being too exhausted to enjoy the rest of your evening.

Shenandoah National Park, Part One: Skyline Drive

Virginia’s Chunk of the Blue Ridge Mountains

The Blue Ridge Mountains are arguably one of Virginia’s most memorable natural landmarks, providing a panoramic background for most road-trips in the central part of the state. Clearly visible throughout many parts of Orange County, they’re every bit as much a part of “who we are” as farmer’s markets, local wineries, and Montpelier. They’re also easily accessible (Shenandoah National Park is only a little over an hour away) which is why I’m ashamed to admit that it took me 23 years to visit. However, that situation has been rectified, and I can now say: a trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains needs to be on your vacation bucket-list.

Blog--Skyline Drive--Mountain 2--6-27-14

My “Mission Statement”

 In this post and an upcoming follow-up, I’ll be talking about my personal adventure to Shenandoah National Park. Part One will focus on an overview of Skyline Drive, while Part Two will delve a little deeper into our experiences on one of SNP’s most popular waterfall hiking trails, White Oak Canyon. The posts do overlap somewhat chronologically, so you’ll need to read both to get a comprehensive view of the trip.

Along the way I’ll try to share with you a few tips I found useful and a few places I found memorable, to help you in planning your own visit.

Your Journey to Skyline Drive

 The best way to visit the Blue Ridge Mountains is to drive (or cycle!) at least part of the 105 miles of roadway that meanders up through the rocky ranges. Skyline Drive is best known for its annual display of crimson-and-gold foliage in the fall, but you won’t be disappointed any time of the year.

Blog--Skyline Drive--Mountains--6-27-14

Here’s a link to the National Park Service site, which provides directions to the 4 entrances, ticket information, and other “rules of the road” you’ll need to know.

http://www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/driving-skyline-drive.htm

Speeding Through Sperryville (And Stopping, Too)

If you travel to Skyline Drive from the Holladay House, my recommendation is to take Route 211 up through Madison (a beautiful drive in and of itself) and enter through the Thornton Gap entrance. If you do take this route, you’ll pass through quaint downtown Madison and, later, Sperryville. When my husband and I went we encountered this little gift-shop in Sperryville, which fell on the spectrum somewhere between organic and groovy and made us wish we weren’t penniless newlyweds. The inventory was hugely varied, stocking everything from a treasure trove of Beech honey and jams to handmade jewelry and quilts, to Polish pottery and knickknacks. There was even a collection of bar soaps that were touted as being edible. If, you know, edible soap is your thing.

Blog--Skyline Drive--Gift Shop--6-27-14

You’ll want to stop for a pint of their delicious apple cider, and a locally-made snack or two.

On Skyline Drive

 Once on Skyline Drive (which will cost you $15 per vehicle) you’ll want to pull off into a few of the overlook lanes to take photos of the valley, which drops off sharply beyond the wall and stretches like a rumpled blanket to the mountain ridges in the distance.

Houses are strewn across the green expanse, spattered here and there like flecks of white paint from the brush of an Impressionist. This is how Monet might have painted the Shenandoah: at once both vague and vivid, shrouded in a hazy fog that softens the outlines and bleeds one color into the next.

Blog--Skyline Drive--Misty Mountains--6-27-14

There are over one hundred miles of such scenery to browse through, ranging from the domestic view described above to stretches of pristine wilderness. Each overlook lane provides a different panorama, so you’ll want to take in at least a few.

Why You’ll Want To Go

 You haven’t fully experienced Virginia until you’ve seen what it looks like from the top. If you’re looking for a place to pop the question, folks—I can’t think of a more memorable backdrop than this. It’s also perfect for a picnic, or (if you’re in serious shape) taking a cycling tour. If you’re looking to hike, Shenandoah National Park is also home to a medley of popular trails of different lengths and difficulties, for every skill level. (I’ll talk more about that in the next post.) There’s a something for everyone–you’re not going to find better drive-through tourism than this.

A Hot Air Balloon is the best way to see the Piedmont!

 What makes the Virginia Piedmont Special?

Over 1000 feet above our Virginia Bed and Breakfast Inn

Beautiful sunrise over misty Piedmont hills

If you ask anyone who has been to Orange, VA what they thought about it, probably one of the first things they’ll say is  “It’s so beautiful!”   Indeed it is, which is one of the many reasons why Sharon and I moved here and bought our historic bed and breakfast inn! Let me explain to you why this is.

First, I shall amaze and enlighten you with  a quick and easy geography lesson. Virginia is essentially one giant watershed–that is, the water from the mountains to the west drains through Virginia to the Chesapeake Bay, and eventually into the Atlantic. This watershed is actually quite diverse and includes several topographical zones.  In the East, we have the Tidewater, so named because the rivers flowing from West to East are close enough to the coast, and low enough in elevation, to rise and fall with the Atlantic tides.  The Tidewater is characterized by low wetlands and predominately sandy soil. The eastern broder of the Tidewater is the Chesapeake Bay, and the western border is a geological feature called the Fall Line. The Fall line runs north to south, roughly along the route of I-95.  The Fall Line marks the farthest point inland where the rivers are no longer tidal, and where they historically were no longer navigable by large vessels.  Hence, this is the reason why so many Virginia towns and cities were established along this North-South Corridor (Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Alexandria, just to name a few).

West of the Fall Line is the Virginia Piedmont. The Piedmont is the quintissential Virginia landscape, filled with babbling creeks, streams and rivers flowing gently on their perpetual journey to the Chesapeake Bay. The Piedmont is best characterized by gently rolling hills, historic  pastoral landscapes, large forested areas, beautiful sprawling farms, and plenty of wildlife.  Historically, travellers and commentators have called the Virginia Piedmont “Virginia Horse Country” or “Virginia Hunt Country” because of the historical predominance of these activities here.  More recently, the moniker Virginia Wine Country has increased in usage due to the immense number of Virginia wineries and vineyards dotting the landscape.  Naturally, large expanses of vineyards lend themsevles to scenic views and romantic ideas. It is in this iconic Piedmont zone that one can find Orange, VA, and the Holladay House Bed and Breakfast.

Flight above Orange, Virginia. Our inn is in Orange, VA, which is off to the left.

Our inn is in Orange, Va, beyond this photo to the left

Continuing to the  West, the Virginia Piedmont terminates at the Blue Ridge Mountain range, one of the most scenic and picturesque natural landscapes in America. The Appalachian trail meanders through these mountains, as well as the Blue Ridge Parkway, Skyline Drive,  and numerous Wildlife Areas and State and National Parks.

The Blue Ridge Mountains then descend into the famed Shenandoah Valley, which is bordered on its west side by the Allegheny Mountains, which, like the Blue Ridge, are also part of the Appalachian Mountain chain.

The Peacefulness of . . . Hot air?

So, why the geography lesson?  Because when one understands what makes the Piedmont region unique, one will understand why I was so excited to launch a hot-air balloon five minutes from our Bed and Breakfast Inn! If you continue to read my regular blog posts, you will begin to discover why the Virginia Piedmont is a vital component of America’s history and economy. In modern times, the region still appears much like is did almost 2 centuries ago, and you cannot help but sense the essence of history when you meander across this region.  From a hot-air ballon, this sense of history, place, and natural romance comes to you with stunning clarity!

View of our balloon from the ground, taken outside Gordonsville, VA

The chase crew spotted us near Gordonsville, VA!

The rolling hills, immaculate horse farms, roaming sheep and goats, meandering rivers, historic sites, and low forested mountains are breathtaking from 1800 feet. We launched early in the morning, just after sunrise, and the mist was still nestled among the shallow valleys, with the early sun reflecting brilliantly off the moisture in the air.  The views were breathtaking. One of the most unexpected characteristics of a balloon ride is the quiet stillness one feels when floating in the air currents.  High above the human-induced bustle below, the world is peaceful and still. You have little sensation of movement, because when you are moving at the same speed as the air currents, you feel no breeze.  You are free to reflect upon the beauty of the natural world, and the stirring consequences of the history that happened on this landscape. Truly, the Virginia Piedmont is a special place, and we strongly encourage anyone to view it from the vantage point of a comfortable basket gently sailing in the air currents above.

If you wish to book a balloon ride, contact us directly, or contact Mandy at Monticello Country Ballooning. She is an expert balloonist, and a great gal!