Monday, August 14, 2006

Yes, Virginia. Part One.

Obbie and I decided, thru mumbled early morning conversations and distracted phone calls last week, that we needed to get away. Go someplace and spend some time just chilling out. Of course, we didn't know where we were going, just that we needed to go. Since the camping stuff was still in his truck from the last time, we figured that we were ahead of the game.

Saturday morning, early (as usual) I got up, did laundry, dishes, and took out the trash. (I hate coming home to a mess) packed, fed the cats, and all the other pre trip stuff. Obbie had worked until 3am, and was much later arising than me. No problem.

We still didn't know where we were heading when we hit the road around 8:00 for coffee. We knew we were going South. But where exactly was the mystery. With caffeine in hand, we decided to just head down 81. I had grabbed the 'South' file before we left. (Quick note: We are obsessive information hogs. At highway rest stops, we load up on literature about places to go and things to see. All the travel stuff goes in a big box, and in some cases, in file folders.)

We had picked up a bunch of stuff about West Virginia last time we were out and about, but somewhere around Hagerstown, MD, I said, SKYLINE DRIVE!! And so it was.

Skyline Drive is a 105 mile long rambling road in the beautiful Shenandoah National Forest. Along the ridge of the mountains, it was built in the 30's by the CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps. The whole thing is bordered by low stone walls, which are perfectly level. Those walls amaze me. And only in a few places are the walls in need of attention. Wildlife is abundant (more on that later) and since it is summer, the road is very busy. The speed limit is 35 miles per hour. You seriously do not want to go faster because of wandering wildlife, traffic and the ever present, ever vigilant park rangers. They WILL pull you over and ticket you. That would suck. There are lots of motorcycles, lots and LOTS of motorcycles, and sometimes many RVs. We didn't see many this trip. Some pull along trailers, but no land yachts which I hate with a passion.

500 miles of hiking trails are available for use. From little short ones that have narratives about nature and the area, to long, hard uphill climbs that reward you at the end with breath taking scenery. There are five organized campgrounds on the Drive. One is just for groups, but the other four are for anyone. RVS and tents. When registering to camp, you're informed there are bears in these areas, and that safety is a must. Rangers come to your site regularly to check that you're following the rules for your own good. We did not camp on the Drive, because they were full. I think you can make online reservations thru the Park Service, for one of the campgrounds. They fill up fast this time of year. Fall? Fuggetaboutit. Everyone in the universe goes to see the leaves change, and it's nuts. Count me out.

We got on the Northernmost end of the Drive, in Front Royal, Virginia. (A mere 120 miles from my front door) For future reference, it is $15.00 to drive the Drive. Because SNP is a federally funded park, they need the money. 15 was kind of a shock (Not that long ago it was $10) but thats one of those things I will only bitch a little bit about paying. The 15 bucks is a seven day ticket. So you can drive to the first 'get off', and re-enter by showing your receipt. You can also buy a year long pass, and it's not that much more.

Obbie had never been on Skyline Drive. I was sort of surprised, but then realized that some people don't even know it exists. SD leads to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the two are my favorite drive ever. BRP is longer (469 miles) Stretching from Virginia to North Carolina. When I have a week to burn, I'm doing the whole thing. I can't help it, it's something I've always wanted to do. Not just driving straight to the end, but getting off and exploring. There are lots and lots of stuff to see and do right off the road. Wineries, shopping, civil war battlefields, museums, factory tours, caverns, and so much other stuff. Who needs Disney?

TOMORROW: Part Two, the drive and camping! (with pictures) Stay tuned!!

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