Yesterday, my partner and I took a day trip to Shenandoah National Park. I usually work Saturdays and often work Sundays, but I had this Sunday off and spent all week stalking the weather, hoping it would be a good day to drive through the mountains. We had rain earlier in the weekend, but Sunday’s forecast was perfect: sunny, windy (to keep the clouds away), and 50s.
The last time we made a trip to check out Shenandoah was last October. I mentioned before that this was our “hurricamping” trip – one very cold, wet, and gusty night at the Lewis Mountain campground, followed by about 60 miles of driving and stopping at every scenic overlook just to see a breathtaking wall of solid, white fog.
Here is a taste of what hurricamping looks like:
The one brilliant thing about hurricamping is that very few people want to do it. And that’s enough make me want to do it. However, most people do want to enjoy natural beauty when it’s sunny and clear (you know, when you can actually see what’s surrounding you), so we had to mentally prepare ourselves for a much more populated experience. But I was determined to see the vistas we had missed last year, so I got up (relatively) early, made coffee, packed a couple tuna sandwiches, and layered up, though not quite as dramatically this time.
Despite my best intentions and a moderate amount of effort, we didn’t arrive until nearly 11:00. By then, we had already been following a line of cars with the same day trip idea for about ten minutes. Within the first few miles, most of those cars had pulled off at one of the scenic overlooks, but we cruised by, hoping to find a spot with fewer people. Our plan worked fairly well, and we soon found some overlooks with enough wiggle room.I don’t want to sound snobby, but I honestly was disappointed. The drastic drops were pretty cool, but there was not nearly as much color as I expected for late October, and most of the overlooks overlooked shitty Virginian houses instead of wild land. The map said that there were rivers running throughout, but we didn’t see any water except a couple of irrigation ponds.
We decided swallow our distaste for crowds and find somewhere to take a short hike. We ended up at the Upper Hawksbill trail and parked in the grass on the side of the road because the lot was full. The hike really was short, and it should’ve been easy too, but being accustomed to the oxygen-rich life at around 39 feet above sea level, we huffed and puffed our way to the highest peak in the park, elevation 4,049′. Despite the lack of oxygen, the air was clean and smelled sweetly of decaying leaves. The view at the summit was nice, although again, disappointing foliage, but I pretended the town below was covered in a big lake, and that made it really quite beautiful. A daring Bichon Frise walked right up to the edge of the mountain and sniffed its approval.
Although I was generally unimpressed with the vistas, I must admit the drive itself was lovely. We saw many trees with bright yellow leaves along the way, and when the sun hit them just right, the effect was stunning. The sky was blue, the air was cold and fresh, and the ground wasn’t flat. There was ledge, there were trees, the milkweed was silky and putting to seed.
I refuse to lower my expectations for beauty, mostly because I do know it is out there, because I’ve seen it and I know others have, too. If it were at every turn, I would probably stop chasing it. But I don’t mind looking around, seeing the failures of what’s before me, but also accepting the triumphs.