This is the first installment of several posts chronicling my vacation at Shenandoah River State Park. At this writing the park has a small tent campground (only ten sites) but new cabins and a campground are scheduled to open in 2010.
My husband and I are blessed to live where nature is abundant. Our home is on a man made pond and our yard is a certified backyard habitat with the National Wildlife Federation. Nonetheless, as David and I sat on the edge of the Shenandoah River last Friday we wished we could trade it all for this special place.
I asked David what made Shenandoah River State Park different and his answer was quick – because where we live the nature was developed, here it was created. I knew what he meant. Our little neighborhood has nature but Shenandoah River State Park, especially the part of the Cullers Tract where we were sitting, is pretty much untouched. Well, as much as anything that man visits or passes through can be untouched.
As I sat and watched the River flow lazily north I knew my enjoyment was more than the beauty of the nature but the very thought that I was sitting immersed in nature and away from work and the everyday responsibilities at home. I spend my days (and way too much overtime) helping other people enjoy their visits to Virginia State Parks in many indirect and some direct ways, and now I was getting to enjoy one myself. The “being away from it all” feeling was compounded by the fact that my Blackberry has not the faintest signal at this rural retreat.
We just finished our third day at the park – my husband David, dog Yoda, and I. We had a campfire on the river bank this evening after a special dinner off the grill but let me share the highlights so far. We arrived early evening on Friday, unpacked the car and left poor Yoda in a strange place while we went for dinner and some limited grocery shopping. We drove south on Rt. 340 to Luray and ended up at Brookside’s a family restaurant on the outskirts of Shenandoah National Park on Rt. 211. I was disappointed that they had just sold their last slice of blueberry upside down cake. David enjoyed the blackberry cobbler.
Saturday we relaxed over breakfast. It was hard to pull myself away from the view of the river, but we finally got under way. We drove the rest of the length of the Cullers Tract to the edge of the construction area and back to Route 613. It was a beautiful day for the drive. We also crossed the low water bridge across the river, mainly so we could take pictures of the river from the bridge. Then we headed into Front Royal, visited the quaint historic area, had lunch, and found a grocery store. While David shopped I confess I booted up my laptop and checked my e-mail and Twitter. While online I scoped out the local wineries and found one just a few miles south of Front Royal on Rt. 522.
Chester Gap Cellars affords a beautiful mountain view and their tasting room, which appeared relatively new, leads out to a great deck with a mountain and vineyard view. We tasted six wines. We bought two bottles. The winery cat and dog relaxed on the deck with the fabulous view. My husband is not that fond of wine but he humors my enjoyment of visiting wineries. Chester Gap Cellars is open weekends most of the year and is worth a stop.
Sunday we spent a lazy day. The highlight was a delightful afternoon wading in the river. David had procured a cheap pair of athletic shoes for the purpose and I had my pool shoes from the Y. Yoda seemed happy with his bare paws. The bottom is very rocky with some sand and the river not very deep here. I enjoyed watching folks in canoes, kayaks and tubes routinely get stuck on the rocks in this bend of the river. I enjoyed wading to my waist and staying close to the shore. David and Yoda ventured half way across. David found a rock ledge that made a nice chair in the water. Yoda enjoyed swimming and taking rests on the rocks. I managed a few pictures of the river while I was wading but had to put the camera away for its protection.
Monday, Labor Day, we headed into Front Royal and picked up brochures in the Visitor Information Center on Main Street. We had lunch next door in the Old Mill Restaurant/Main Street Tavern. We have eaten here before and always enjoy the food. Today was no exception. David did some more shopping. [Ok, we live one mile from the store at home and don’t do a very good job of picking up all we need in one trip]. I snuck in a few minutes on line.
The rest of the afternoon we enjoyed thirty miles of the Skyline Drive. We stopped at every overlook between the northern terminus in Front Royal to the exit at Thornton Gap on Rt. 211. It was not a clear day – lots of haze – but we both took many pictures. We chanced on a young man doing some rock climbing at one overlook and watched him take a variety of routes thirty to forty feet up a rock face. We have some nice pictures of his fun. I enjoyed the fact that it was Shenandoah National Park so I didn’t have to worry whether what he was doing was kosher or not. In spite of the haze we had a delightful drive. There is a $15 fee for a 7-day pass so we plan to go back and hopefully find some clearer views.