I decided to leave West Virgina on Tuesday, in part because I wanted to stay at a developed campground where I could get a shower, and because I was getting awful tired of the narrow, steep roads of West Virgina. I’m sure not every road is awful in West Virginia, but it sure seems like I have been driving up them – from Dolly Sods Road to Spruce Mountain Road – to say nothing of the somewhat larger but much heavier traffic of US 33 as it crosses Judy’s Pass to Franklinton then again over Shenandoah Mountain. I just hate the steep climbs, the descending in low gear, and the traffic wanting to blast pass.
Shenandoah National Park was on my list to see. I figured if I was going to be in West Virginia, I better also swing east to Skyline Drive and the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. I was generally heading that way from Grandy Creek, the other alternative was to head south to WV 22 and out that way, but I wanted to see Spruce Mountain, which there is a road that takes you up 4,823 feet to the highest point in West Virginia. You certainly can’t drive that high anywhere in New York on a public road, and only the highest of high peaks take you up there. The summit of Spruce Mountain is remarkably beautiful and mostly undeveloped besides a narrow paved road that takes you to the top, a small picnic area and observation platform. The drive down Spruce Mountain was so steep though.
US 33 was quite the climb and descent over the two mountain ranges from where I was to Virginia. It was steep but once you reached the Shenandoah Valley, US 33 cuts through a beautiful section of the George Washington National Forest without a bend in miles. You quickly forget the awful drive you just made over Shenandoah Mountain. To make matters worst, US 33 was being repaved over Shenandoah Mountain, so I ended up getting stuck at the bottom weighting for the pilot car to bring me and a long line of traffic up the three miles up it on the West Virginia side. The Virginia side was just as as steep, but the lanes were wider and despite the hairpin turns,seemed much more navigable.
Harrisonburg, VA is a pretty large city. I had no idea until I arrived downtown and had to fight traffic on six lane roads. The Shenandoah Valley was pretty with a lot of chicken farms and some dairies, but this general area was also rapidly suburbanizing, with houses abutting farms. I’m sure that leads to a strained relationship at times between the farms and the suburbanites. Smelled somewhat like farm country, not unlike around Lowville or any of the great agricultural valleys in New York. Harrisonburg sucked to drive through, but once you got 5 miles out of town it was a four lane road with occasional traffic lights and a fairly heavily volume, but eventually it became open, rolling country. US 33 drops down to 2 lanes with occasional passing lanes as you entered the park. I would like to get down and see more of the Shenandoah Valley away from the city. Maybe tomorrow or Friday.
When I first arrived at Shenandoah National Park I was under-impressed, as the section of Skyline Drive north of US 33 isn’t immediately impressive despite the overviews. The wonderful weather of Tuesday morning had turned to clouds as I headed east into the the front. It might have been sunny and beautiful in West Virginia, but by the time I was east in Shenandoah Valley it had gotten cloudy and hazy. The Shenandoah Valley also suffers from a major air pollution problem, which is somewhat less in West Virginia in the very rural area around Spruce Mountain. The wilderness area around Spruce Mountain and Dolly Sands is very impressive, some of the views at Shenandoah were less impressive.
I decided to camp at Matthew’s Arm Concentrated Camping Operation, the farthest north campground along the parkway – 21 miles from the northern start of Skyline Drive. It was a nice campground although it was fairly rustic. It has flush toilets and running water in the bathrooms, but it refill water containers, you had to drive to the trailer dump station and water filling area (separate faucets, obviously). One thing this campground lacked was showers, which was a disappointment. But they recommended you visit the pay showers 15 miles down the road at Big Meadows. This campground was $15 a night with no taxes or fees, it did not have electricity in the campground. They had heated bathrooms with running water. No hot water at Matthew’s Arm but they did have hot water at Loft Mountain. I had dinner and a few beers and was in bed by 9 PM. They openly allow (and sell alcohol) at the Shenandoah National Park campgrounds which is kind of nice. Still having neighbors and having to keep the music down and being brief with idling the engine to keep the batteries charged, is less nice.
I had to get up early to go to the bathroom, and ultimately decided to get up around 6:45 AM to drive over to one of the overlooks to watch the sun rise. While a somewhat cloudy morning, it was a beautiful start to the day. Broke camp around 9:30 AM and started south on the parkway, stopping at several of the overlooks, then when I got cellphone service, uploaded some photos to share with people, along with previous nights posts. Stopped at Big Meadows Visitors Center and also at the showers at Big Meadows around noontime.
In the nicer weather, spending more time on the parkway, showed how beautiful many of the views are along the parkway. The haze wasn’t as bad in the clear, drier weather, although still notable across the valley. Some of the overviews from Skyline Drive are remarkably beautiful, others less so. The leaves aren’t peak everywhere, but there is some nice colors showing up in various directions. Got a campsite at the Loft Mountain Concentrated Camping Operation. Picked a site high up on the hill, hoping to get cellphone reception and at least good radio reception. The cellphone reception was pretty marginal from camp, but I did have good radio reception for listening to any local radio station within reason. Watched the sun set from one of the overlooks. I retired to bed around 10 PM. Nice flush toilets, hot water, and heated bathrooms. Showers just down the road.
Today’s plan is to head further down Skyline Drive until I reach the Blue Ridge Parkway. I will probably go a ways down the Parkway, and hopefully find some place to camp at a campground along it. When I reach Interstate 64 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I will take that west back to West Virigina and on Friday night camp on at site along one of the roads in West Virigina. From there I will take I-99 in Pennsylvania to Wellsboro and the Grand Canyon Country, overnight there, and return to Albany on Sunday afternoon.