Thursday, September 9, 2010

Unplanned Greatness

    I headed out of the D.C. area after a quick breakfast Sunday morning.  Originally I was thinking of going to Gettysburg next, but Shenandoah National Park was on the way and I’d heard good things about it, so I decided to stop there first.  During lunch at a local Italian place, I called a hostel in Philadelphia to make sure they were empty enough that I could just show up whenever and I’d have a room.  Turns out they only had two nights at the end of the week available for one male, so I reserved them.
From Shenandoah Day 1 Album
    The drive into the park was quite scenic with many overlooks along the way.  I noticed one trail called something falls with a bunch of cars parked in a lot near the start of it, and since I hadn’t seen a waterfall yet on the trip, I decided to go check it out.  Most people on the trail were taking the 0.6 mile hike pretty seriously (1.2 round trip).  Backpacks, water bottles, hiking sticks.  I brought my keys, my knife and my camera. The waterfall scene was decent and I headed back up the trail (going back was uphill), part of which I jogged just to spite the trail’s determination to make things difficult for hikers.  I saw four doe grazing mere feet from the side of the trail and stopped to take a few pictures.
    I arrived at Big Meadows campground late afternoon (it’s called that because it’s right across from a um, yeah).  While driving around to find an ideal site, I passed a buck grazing along side the road and watched as it walked right in front of my car.  The site I ended up choosing was wide, alongside a hiking trail, and had a view of the mountains – I couldn’t believe it wasn’t taken.  When I went back to the station to grab it, the park attendant was talking on the phone to someone who kept asking comfort related questions.  This is what I heard, “Yes ma’am we have 240….Right, no hookups….Yes, you’d have water, but no electricity….No, we don’t have that either, but if you ask me one more question, I’ll be sure the second you arrive, someone shoves a pinecone right up your arse.”  Okay that last one I made up.  It’s probably what I was thinking at the time.  Turns out the trail that ran parallel to my site was the Appalachian Trail.
    When I got back to my site, I parked, got out and heard something in the direction of the AT.  I walked over and saw a buck grazing thirty feet away, right on the trail.  As I was taking pictures, this tamest deer in the park walked up the slope next to the trail and into my site.  It got within about three feet of my car which had the driver’s side door open (doh) and then walked across the road next to my site.  Every so often it would pop its head up when a dog barked, and eventually, one spooked it enough to make it sprint away.  Very cool experience.
    After I set up my tent, I headed over to the visitor’s center and browsed an exhibit of the park’s history.  Basically what happened (here we go again) is that in the early 1900’s (20’s or 30’s I think), there was some rumbling about setting up a couple of huge national parks east of the Mississippi to match those on the west side of the country (me too, me too).  They were looking for a large, unsettled space of land that wasn’t owned by too many people.  The area around Shenandoah wasn’t this at all, but was presented as such to the feds looking to set up the park in order get the park there and eventually attract tourists to the area.  The area was selected and the process of kicking people off their land began.  Many farmers protested (and rightly so) and the government even sent in a woman to “evaluate” the educational system in that area to attempt to prove that the people of the mountains couldn’t take care of themselves and needed to be relocated to other areas in order to receive proper education.  The park was initially going to be much bigger than the relatively (when compared to the beasts in the west) narrow strip of land it occupies now, but this thing called the Great Depression hit and the government couldn’t afford the park it initially envisioned (they were paying about $5 an acre for the land they bought).  The way in which they acquired the land is interesting to me because it’s an example of US citizens getting a taste of what it’s government does to others (no, you don’t understand farmer Joe: it’s our DESTINY to have this land).  Other things about the park: it was initially going to be littered with pools, cottages and gas stations (hurray lack of funding), it was initially segregated, and the AT was relocated so that the main road that runs through the park could be on an elevated ridge.
    After this heart warming tale of the park’s beginning, I headed over to the lodge and had a dinner of onion soup and salad to make up for the french fries I had during lunch.  Several items on the drink menu contained an ingredient known as Moonshine.  There was a little bar in the basement area and I thought maybe the following evening I’d come back and have a little taste.  This evening, however, I decided I should check out the Big Meadow.
    The meadow was wonderful.  The sun was setting, there were mountains in the background, trees were scattered about, and there were deer all over.  I ended up walking with a man who was my height and his two teenage daughters.  One daughter who was about 17, 6’2” and rail thin, walked a bit in front of us and the other one who was shorter, a few years younger and an aspiring photographer walked with me and the father.  They were traveling around to the highest points in each state.  I talked mostly with the father who worked for a coffee creamery company or something like that.  He said he recently hired on with that company and started out with only one week of vacation per year.  He called in sick for an entire week one time so that he could have some resemblance of a life worth living (he didn’t quite say it like that, but that’s what he meant).  I talked to him some about his travel experiences.  He said when he was younger, he and a other few marines hiked a fourteen mile trail without any food or water.  I think that’s one of those things you only do once.
    This day was definitely the best day of the trip so far.  The initial thought of, “Hey there’s a park and here’s a road that leads to it,” turning into a scenic drive, a hike to a waterfall, a campsite along the AT which a buck walked through right when I got there, a nice dinner, a stroll through a meadow at sunset while sharing travel tales with strangers.  Oh, and on the short drive back to my campsite at around 8pm, I saw a dark figure about to cross the road around forty yards ahead.  It was getting dark, and, at first, I thought, “Wow, that is a really big black dog.”  Then I got closer.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you finally saw a bear! And I'm finally relieved from the heavy burden that I messed up your only chance to see a bear by scaring the one away in the Smokies...;-)

-German Girl-

Ryan Fuller said...

I was really excited when I saw it, even though it was quite close to where I was camping. This "probably" won't be the last time I see a bear on this trip either ;)

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