Front Royal, VA/Shenandoah National Park
|View of the Shenandoah Valley from Hawksbill Summit in Shenandoah National Park|
Scott's Nespresso company picnic was scheduled for Thursday, August 27th, just two days before our anniversary, at a park in the middle of New Jersey. Planning to attend the picnic, we took advantage of the short "work day" along with already being out of the city at the end of it by renting a car in the morning in Newark (the usual). We then drove to the picnic ourselves rather than taking the company sponsored shuttle bus from the city, which allowed us to depart from central New Jersey by 2 pm, when the picnic was winding down, and get on the road headed for northwestern Virginia on the early side.
We had a pleasantly uneventful drive through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia and arrived at our one-bedroom rented cabin in the woods before 8 pm. Dubbed the "Cozy Cabin" (by the owners, not by us) and located down a long, private, gravel driveway, our VRBO accommodation for the weekend was a bit rustic and very secluded, boasting an excellent location just outside Shenandoah National Park.
|Dusk on the Shenandoah|
|Our "Cozy Cabin"|
|Morning coffee view over the Shenandoah|
|Skyline Drive vista|
|Skyline Drive overlook view of the Shenandoah Valley|
|Busy bees at Shenandoah National Park|
During our tour of Skyline Drive, we also had the wonderful surprise of seeing our first black bear of the trip! While driving along the winding and heavily forested road through the park, I spied a bear approaching the road from the woods. After we sped by, Scott turned the car around as quickly as possible to circle back so he could see it too. We were treated with the opportunity to watch it cross the road and lumber off into the forest on the other side.
|Sadly, our bear "lumbered off" a little too quickly to get a decent photo|
After driving for a bit, we reached the trailhead for the Hawksbill Mountain hike that we'd selected after talking with a friendly, young park ranger (wearing trendy yellow nail polish, at that!) at the visitor center and set off on the moderately strenuous hike. A largely wooded walk, the hike began by following a portion of the famed Appalachian Trail.
|Scott admires an over-sized rock formation on the Appalachian Trail section of our Hawksbill Mountain hike|
It was our second time hiking a portion of the AT in less than 12 months, the previous time being on our trip to Maine last October, where we hiked the wilds of Baxter State Park. The fact that I am even mentioning this makes us real hiking nerds, I suppose!
|Typical Shenandoah National Park trail marker|
Upon reaching the summit, we were rewarded for our efforts with lovely views of the surrounding Shenandoah Valley.
After an exhilarating but tiring day in the park, we returned to the cabin, where we relaxed with drinks on the deck as we watched the sun sink into the horizon. This simple end to the day was made all the more pleasurable by the lack of cell phone service or wi-fi at the cabin, allowing us to simply enjoy each other's company and the quiet beauty of our surroundings.
|A relaxing end to the day|
|Scott fires up the grill! Not having had any outdoor space for the past 3 years, we were pretty excited to make use of the Cozy Cabin's grill!|
|Distant paddlers on the river, tempting us to action (Morning Coffee View)|
After donning our swimsuits and packing a lunch, we drove a short bit up the road to the Downriver Canoe Company, one of three area boating and tubing outfitters. It was a Saturday and the line that had already formed when we arrived was a bit daunting, curving back around on itself in the small rental office. However, the line moved quickly and the friendly and highly competent employees assured us that the crowds were mostly tubers. We had no problem renting a canoe, sans reservation, and after getting outfitted with paddles and life vests (and virtually no wait at all!), off we went in the shuttle van with the one other couple who was also canoeing. Without ceremony, we launched ourselves (after I embarrassingly had to ask which direction to face while sitting in the boat) into the river from the sandy bank and we were off!
|The glassy Shenandoah|
|A lazy day on the Shenandoah|
On our final day in the valley before driving home on Monday, we returned to the national park for an additional hike. This time, we chose the Dark Hollow Falls trail, a steep but short hike to - you guessed it - a lovely waterfall. Before setting off, Scott waited patiently while I paused in the trailhead parking lot to take more photos of all the beautiful butterflies flitting about in the field of wildflowers there.
|Dark Hollow Falls traihead|
|Dark Hollow Falls|
As we watched, one of the bears methodically made its way down the tree, looking like a giant teddy bear, clinging to the tree trunk, its sharp claws hidden in big furry paws as it lowered itself towards the ground.
|One of the two black bears we were delighted to see, trailside|
|My final shot before we decided it might be wise to head back to the safety of the parking lot|
|The vines at Rappahannock Cellars in the late afternoon light. The grounds were pretty but the wine, while passable, was uninspiring.|
On Monday morning, it was time to pack our belongings and clean up the cabin before hitting the road. At 11 am, we said farewell to the Cozy Cabin, and climbed in the car heading for home after dropping off our used linens, trash and recycling at the caretaker's house just up the road.
As is our habit, we left on the early side so we could stop along the way, if anything of interest crossed our path. This time, we took a different route, opting to follow I-95 north through Virginia, Maryland and Delaware before arriving in New Jersey, where we would drop off our rental car before returning to Manhattan. Traffic wasn't excessive and after skirting Washington DC and Baltimore we entered Delaware.
We proceeded to drive south on I-9 down the east side of the state that follows the Delaware River, thinking we might see some nice scenery. But sadly for Delaware, until you get to the far southernmost portion of the state where the river empties into the Atlantic Ocean, its view is of the smoke stacks and power plants of New Jersey.
|Delaware's Augustine Beach looking across the Delaware River to New Jersey. "Delaware: Where the View is New Jersey." Poor Delaware.|
|The entrance to the desolate and dusty Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge|
|Early migrators at Bombay Hook|
|Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge|
In our efforts to see something of value in Delaware (and still not quite sure whether we succeeded), we spent a little longer dallying than we should have. After leaving the wildlife refuge we drove like the wind back north thorough Delaware and into New Jersey to drop off our car and take the airport bus back to Manhattan in time for Scott to return to work on Tuesday.
|Crossing the rather striking bridge over the Delaware and Chesapeake Canal on our way back to New Jersey.|
And although it is a more subtle sort of beauty than that which you tend to see in the national parks of the western US, we thoroughly enjoyed the relative solitude and quiet loveliness of Shenandoah National Park and the surrounding Shenandoah Valley. While not located within the park itself, the proximity of the Shenandoah River to the park adds an enjoyable and unique layer to the park experience and we would welcome an opportunity to return to the area one day, making even more memories together.
|Our Cozy Cabin in the woods, as seen from the gravel driveway|
|Our Cozy Cabin companion, located above the door to the deck|
|Not fancy, but the cabin's bathroom had what we needed|
|Typical view from Shenandoah National Park's Skyline Drive|
|Skyline Drive was quiet at the end of August|
|Skyline Drive views|
|Bumblebees and butterflies were in abundance in the park|
|Hawksbill Mountain hike|
|"I'm hiking the Appalachian Trail!"|
|This rocky section of our Hawksbill Mountain hike was reminiscent of the La Luz Trail, an old favorite of ours in New Mexico|
|Hawksbill Mountain Summit|
|Taking a load off at Hawksbill Mountain Summit|
|One of the numerous interesting insects we spotted during our visit|
|View of the Shenandoah Valley from Hawksbill Mountain Summit|
|Hawksbill Mountain Summit|
|Moody clouds over the valley|
|Hawksbill Mountain wildflowers|
|Just another sunset over the Shenandoah...|
|Making happy memories at the Cozy Cabin|
|This Walking Stick hung out on our window screen for the better part of two days!|
|Paddling the Shenandoah|
|The Shenandoah River rapids we just crossed, looking less daunting in the rear view!|
|Lunch on the river|
|Pastoral river view|
|This pretty little guy (or gal) was already dead when we discovered its shell in our driveway :-(|
|Scott and his new friend at the cabin|
|Grillmaster Scott, making bbq chicken, an old grilling favorite of ours, for our anniversary dinner|
|Shenandoah Deck Life|
|Dark Hollow Falls trailhead parking lot|
|Dark Hollow Falls trailhead parking lot|
|Shooting the butterflies at Dark Hollow Falls trailhead parking lot|
|Dark Hollow Falls|
|Dark Hollow Falls, Caroline's turn|
|Bear in the treetops! That black blob in the top third center of the photo is a bear|
|And down it comes!|
|Posing for the camera|
|Getting our soft-serve fix in Front Royal|
|Relaxing at the cabin|
|So long, but not goodbye, Shenandoah!|