Monday, May 7, 2012

Vacation from my staycation: Shenandoah

Week one of my staycation was amazing, if slightly less productive than I'd hoped. I did get a lot of documents scanned and organized, I put in a few really good runs, and I cleaned my apartment top to bottom. I even started inventorying my meager collection of possessions using a nifty app I found. It's called "Home Inventory" on the Apple app story and it downloads to your computer and lets you use your iphone as a camera/bar code scanner as you wander through your house - it completely rocks and I would recommend to all FSOs or frequent movers.

After spending a week enjoying my solitary time in the apartment, Saturday we headed for the hills for a quick mini-vacation at Shenandoah National Park. Just a couple hours from DC, Shenandoah NP is a little slice of heaven. Skyline Drive stretches the length of the park and lets you view both east and west from a solid 3,000 foot vantage point, no hiking required. However, if hiking is your thing (and it's totally my thing), the park has some really amazing hikes through dense green forests and across craggy summits.

Before getting to the park, we got distracted by several of the many wineries that dot the valleys of Virginia. Drawn in by clever names on roadside signs, we discovered two solid wineries and spent a few hours sampling their products, chatting with the owners, and enjoying the sunny day wandering through the vineyards, playing bocce ball, and relaxing by a stream in a hammock.

Life at a Virginia Winery
Once we got to Shenandoah, we checked into one of two historic lodges located directly on Skyline Drive and the only one open this time of year. Skyland Resort dates from 1888 and offers a 1950s family vacation vibe, with a large dining hall and accommodations spread among dozens of cabins and small lodges. According to the website, "If you are looking for 4 diamond, luxury accommodations with all the amenities, Skyland is not the place for you.  The absence of in-room phones and WIFI only enhances the quietness of the surroundings.  Skyland lets you leave the hi-tech world behind so you can immerse yourself in the tranquility of nature." Yup, that about sums it up. 

On Sunday, after a relaxing breakfast on our porch overlooking what must have been a gorgeous view (we couldn't tell since the clouds/fog were so thick we couldn't see the cabin 40 feet away), we picked a couple of nearby hikes to try. The first took us up a short and easy trail to the second highest spot in Shenandoah, Stoney Man peak. The view came and went as the clouds swirled around.

Shenandoah Valley below the clouds.

The second hike was a 6 mile steep trek through a misty, dreamy forest of streams and ferns. The destination was White Oak Canyon Falls, 3 miles down from Skyline Drive. The walk was gorgeous through the mist, though after several hours of hiking, the clouded view of the falls made the uphill 3 mile return a little less rewarding. That being said, the grey weather kept the usual crowds away, so for most of the day Shenandoah felt as isolated as the North Cascades or the lesser known trails of the Olympics. Coming back to DC, back down out of the clouds as it were, was a bit sad after such a nice break from reality. 

Rock formation in White Oak Canyon
Spring flowers in the mist
A misty view of the falls

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