Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Blue Ridge

The Old Pair of Jeans, and YumYum, have taken a new trip. This time we drove the crest of the Blue Ridge, from Front Royal, VA to Cherokee, NC. As it turns out, most of the trip we had no cell coverage, not to mention wifi. Thus this edition is not a day-by-day journal, but rather a summary of the trip in two or three installments.

The basic route consisted of driving the Skyline Drive (105 miles), which is part of Shenandoah National Park, and the Blue Ridge Parkway (469 miles). The total trip took a little over eleven days, and with three exceptions we stayed in National Park campgrounds ($7.50 - $8.00) every night.

To begin, we drove (mostly interstate) north to Front Royal, topped off the fuel tank, and drove into Shenandoah NP about 3:40 in the afternoon on Sunday, 16 June. We immediately left the bustle of the "real world" behind us and found ourselves following a two-lane road through the deep, green forest that covers the Blue Ridge. Skyline Drive is the only road that runs the length of the park.We saw very little traffic. There is the occasional overlook which reminds you that you are in the mountains.

We chose June in order to view the spring wildflowers, and we were not disappointed. The flowers that you see are going to vary according to latitude and elevation. You may see a flower in full bloom, and a few miles later you are at a different elevation and the same flower may be just beginning or already finished.

Perhaps our favorite -- and most seen -- flower was the mountain laurel. We were able spot stands of it from time to time on the whole trip.

 We pulled in to a campground (Matthews Arm) and set up for the night.  National Park campgrounds have no hookups. You do what is called "dry camping," that is you live off of whatever utilities you carry with you. So there isn't much to set up --- basically we turn on the propane (which we keep turned off while traveling for safety reasons), switch the refrigerator to gas, and turn the navigator's seat around. Unfortunately, the fridge wouldn't run on gas. Big problem -- but not a trip stopper. We turned on the generator and ran it for an hour to chill the fridge down good, then turned it off so as not to disturb the quiet for the other campers (and ourselves). We discussed our options and Jean pointed out that we could continue on relying on ice.

National Park campgrounds have widely-spaced campsites (for the most part), along with lots of grass and trees. There are flush toilets (but no showers,) dump stations, and potable water available. And lots of quiet and nature.

After a good night's sleep in the cool mountain air, we headed out next morning. We took the next road off the mountain (there aren't many) and went in to Luray, VA. At the Walmart we bought a cooler and some ice. Then to McDonalds for lunch and wifi to do some necessary business.

Back on the Skyline, we were admiring the woods and flowers when we spotted a black bear cub beside the road. Black bears are common in these woods, but they are very shy and you seldom see one. We saw lots of deer and turkeys, but only one bear in the entire trip.

We stopped at Big Meadows, which has a lodge and camp store. The Appalachian Trail passes near here and there were a lot of hikers with backpacks around. We picked up some bug spray and ice cream. We sat outside and ate our ice cream while looking at the extensive meadows that give the place its name.

We continued on and checked in at Loft Mountain, the last campground in the Shenandoah National Forest. Tomorrow we will connect with the Blue Ridge Parkway. On this trip we did something different for us. In the morning we put away the bedding and converted the bed in the back to a sofa with ottomans. It was a warm evening, so I opened the rear doors and zipped in a screen that covers the whole opening. We relaxed on the sofa and enjoyed cheese and crackers along with cold Cuba Libres while gazing at the trees and grass and listening to the quiet. It doesn't get any better than that.

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