(Sep. 1 – 3, 2007)
Labor Day seems to bring
good luck to my travel plans: In 2005 I flew out to
Saturday, September 1, 2007
alarm goes off at 4:15am! We need to be at the
nonstop flight to
After a 45 min drive to the Eagle Rider shop we park our one rental vehicle and load the 3 bags from the car onto the motorcylce.
Since everything has been paid online in advance we just sign a few papers, pick out some helmets and jackets, and soon we are on the I66 highway going West.
about 11:45am we reach Front Royal, the Northern entrance portal to the
also gives us the opportunity to explore the park history and study its maps in
a contrast to
Soon we’re on the road again riding further South into the park, stopping frequently at the numerous overlooks.
We continue to drive for another 20 miles or so before reaching our first destination, a parking lot that marks the beginning of a nice hiking trail called “Little Devil Stairs”. This 3-4 hr trail descends from the ridge down to the valley, following a little creek down a somewhat rocky and steep ravine.
the bike and locking everthing away is a bit more effort as with the car, since
we need to change clothing and lock away everything in the cases, incl.
helmets. Finally we’re beginning the hike – strange how you wake up in the
morning in South Florida and then a few hours later you’re of
Lush green forest, mostly dry creek beds, lots of butterflies greet us on the way down.
There are several steps and big boulders we need to walk down, but there is a well maintained path so it’s not too difficult.
will serve as our last hiking worth mentioning prior to our attempt to
After hiking to the bottom of the trail at the edge of the Shenandoah NP and then back up to the trailhead we reverse the process and get dressed for the Harley ride again. The next couple of miles are some of the finest you can imagine: Spectacular colors in the late afternoon sunshine, very clear visibility, comfortable temperature, hardly any traffic, instrumental music from the built-in Harman-Kardon stereo system on the Harley, and of course a curvy road of dreams. Look for yourself at the next overlook:
On both sides of the ridge we stop to enjoy the view.
The sun is getting low and we’re trying to reach the Skyland lodge before sunset. We check in at the office and decide to get inline for a dinner table. During the ½ hr wait I already move our bike to our room, where I lock up the Harley for the night.
our room it’s about a 5 min walk up the hill to the dining room. There we have
a spectacular view over the forest and down towards the
We’re lucky in that a table right along the window frees up and so we’re treated to a spectacular sunset, with all shades of blue, yellow and purple filling the sky. I press the camera against the window and take a picture without flash, hoping that the long exposure won’t create a blurry picture:
When was the last time you had dinner with a view like this? Not to mention pretty good food for hungry hikers like us!
One more highlight worth mentioning is the extremely clear view of the night sky up here at an altitude of 3600ft. When I step outside on our balcony, I’m just amazed at how many stars we can see and how clear the structure of the milkyway is visible tonight. The rain of the last days must have helped to create exceptionally good visibility in very clear and now dry air. I haven’t seen this many stars since the days after hurricane Wilma in October 2005 or the trip to Yukon and Alaska back in 1999.
Sunday, September 2, 2007
We get up early for a good breakfast in the dining room again. The Skyland area near mile-marker 40 on a plateau up on the ridge has been established in the late 1800s, and by 1910 there was a number of cabins and some growing tourism industry established already.
Our plan for today is to drive the Skyline Drive all the way to its Southern end (total length = 105 miles), then ride back to an area for a ½ day hike and finally return to the Skyland lodge (see arrow).
But first, immediately after starting the ride, we need to wait for single horsepower travelers…
lodge offers horseback excursions in the area near the lodge, following the
These are some of the finest miles I’ve ever done on a motorcycle. The road offers spectacular views in many places, lots of turns and ups&downs, and to my surprise and delight, there is hardly any traffic! Just about the only slight complaint I have is that for a length of about 15 miles there is loose gravel on the road, which makes me drive extremely carefully and takes out the fun of the ride.
After several hours of riding we’re finally back to the parking lot with the selected trail-head, having stocked up on fresh water and some cereal bars from one of the few stores up here on the ridge.
We park our bike in the corner of the crowded parking lot and get ready for our hike.
path will be a loop trail, first descending along a creek with two waterfalls
down to a valley, then ascending along a different valley and finally returning
to the start by following the
trail reminds me of the rain-forest in
Not much later we reach the 3rd waterfall along this trail on the way up the second leg. Well, not much water this time of the year:
After about 2.5 hrs we reach the top of the ridge again and connect with the famous Appalachian Trail (AT) as shown on these sign-posts.
Along the 3 mile return walk, there are only a few ups & downs, but plenty of nice views.
We get back to the trail head in under 4 hrs (time listed was 7 hrs). We now have another 40 mile drive ahead of us to get back to the Skyland lodge. Not that we mind the beautfiul views along the way…
also pass along the Big Meadows area with another
The rest of the day is pretty much a repeat of the previous evening, with dinner in the nice dining room and some walking around after dinner with the beautiful night sky. I could get used to this J
Monday, September 3, 2007
Labor Day. We wake up to a still mostly blue sky, but with some haze and high clouds. Well, for today we plan a short hike in the morning to the local hilltop, called Stony Man Trail. Its peak can actually be seen right from our cabin door:
first get another good breakfast – yup, the blueberry pancakes again – and then
leave on foot for a short morning hike. The Stone Man Trail follows the
predicts I would take another panorama shot, but my feel is that with the
limited visibility compared to Saturday it wouldn’t come out all that great.
Nevertheless, the view to the North reveals the
We return back down to the lodge; on the way we see two deer standing very close to the trail, hardly visible due to their camoflague fur color, only noticed due to the noise when they move. We have time to freshen up a bit and then pack our stuff and load it onto the bike prior to checking out around 11:00am. The drive passes through one tunnel near the Thornton Gap.
our initial plan, we decide on short notice to visit the Luray Caverns just a few miles outside
the park in nearby Luray. This cave system is the 4th largest cavern
There is a well-marked trail (wheel-chair accessible) with many lights and guides narrating the various formations and history of the caverns. Here is an area they call the fish market:
The guide quips: “What happens when there is an Earth-Quake while we’re in the cave? Well, then you got a good deal! Where else can you get buried for just $19.-?” Or he continues, they got a great insurance, when the cave collapses, then they’ve got you covered J
Flat water creates interesting reflections against the ceiling.
Another fairly unique feature is an organ with pipes built out of the natural stalagtite formations. The piano looks like that of a church organ, except the pipes are quite different. For different scores they wired different stalagtites with the right size / frequencies. A recording is played and we all listen to the eerie sound coming from various corners of the cave. As they say: Real “rock” music from the “stones” (hope they’re not “rolling”).
After the caverns visit we ride back up to the ridge and follow it to its Northern end, pretty much backtracking Saturday’s ride down South. We stop one more time at the
here we ride down to Front Royal and then hop on I66 to drive the 50 or so miles
As we have about 3 more hours of time before we need to return the car at the Washington Reagan airport, we decide to visit the nearby Udvar-Hazy Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
The museum is essentially a set of very large hangars full of airplanes.
It is situated at the end of one runway of the Washington Dulles airport. You can go up to the tower for a nice panoramic view from about 200ft.
It features a great collection of flying machines, including a SR-71A Blackbird, a Concorde, the Global Flyer in which Steve Fossett set his solo nonstop around the world record, and many more. One side hangar is dedicated to space travel and features among rockets and satellites the Enterprise Space Shuttle.
the fore-ground, the Lockheed SR-71A, which on its last flight broke the
coast-to-coast speed record from
Always worth a trip, but soon it is 5:30pm, the museum closes and we need to get back to catch our return flight from the Reagan airport at 8:00pm.
returning our car and checking in we stroll the airport and have dinner. The