Posts Tagged With: Luray

Skyline Drive – Day 2 (or, Oh Deer!)

Today started off pretty crisp and chilly (I had to zip up my fleece and everything) but still a lovely sunny morning.  We began by climbing to Stony Man Summit which is 4010 feet high, all before ten o’clock in the morning.  Okay, so the car park is pretty high up as well and we didn’t do the whole 4010 feet on our own feet.  The views from the top were stunning, although somewhat breezy.  There was one other hiker already at the top, hanging perilously off the edge of the rocks so I made a mental note of his appearance in case he fell off.  Although I suppose my description probably wouldn’t bear much resemblance to any squished remains found at the bottom.

Next we took a trip down to Dark Hollow Falls, which was deceptively easy to start with as it was downhill.  Unfortunately this meant it was uphill back (see, I’m good at geography too).  Let me tell you, it’s really not a good idea to hike down to a waterfall when you need to go to the toilet.

We scored quite highly on the wildlife sightings today.  The most impressive sight was four deer (a herd?  A prancing?) which trotted across the road and hung about for a bit in the trees looking adorable and Bambi-like.  We also saw quite a few chipmunks which are surprisingly small and a lot more slender than their cartoon counterparts would have you believe.  Then again, the ones we saw didn’t sing in a high-pitched voice either.  Weirdest of all was the bat that flew around us in the forest in the middle of the afternoon sunshine.  Still no bears though.

By the early afternoon the sun was well and truly out and we were back to blazing hot sunshine in a clear blue cloudless sky again.  See what I mean about Virginia weather?

Finally we took another leisurely hike up Blackrock Summit which gave us yet more stunning and memorable views.  After four days of this, we’re starting to get a little bit blasé about it all.  The two parks we’ve been in certainly have some of the best scenery we’ve ever seen in our lives, and I can’t imagine what future sights will live up to it.

We covered about another mile or so of the Appalachian Trail today, but I also discovered that it is in fact 2,184 miles long, so I’ve now got to complete another 183 miles more than I thought in my quest to complete it.  Might save that for a while then …

We drove most of the remaining twenty  miles of the Skyline Drive without getting out of the car but just stopping at a few of the scenic overlooks.  Then off to the 7-Eleven for a 7-Election Coffee, where you cast your vote by choosing either an Obama or a Romney cup.  As I’m not eligible to vote over here, I can only cast my Obama vote via the medium of coffee.  Back to our hotel for a bit of food and an early night as we’ve worn ourselves out!  By the time we get home tomorrow we will have travelled over one thousand miles.  I need a rest!

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Luray Caverns & Skyline Drive – Day 1 (or, Underground, Overground, Wombling Free)

Today we started with a trip underground to Luray Caverns, which is, as the name suggests, erm, a set of underground caverns in Luray :).  It was pretty spectacular, we walked about a mile and a half around the network of caves looking at gazillions of stalactites (growing down from the ceiling) and stalagmites (growing up from the floor – see I still remember the lessons learnt in primary school).  My favourite part was Dream Lake, which is a small pond with stalactites growing above it.  Because it’s underground and there is nothing to disturb the surface of the water, it’s completely flat and like a mirror, so you can’t even see the water; the reflection creates the illusion of another set of stalagmites below it and is mindblowing.

The other highlight of the caverns was the Stalacpipe Organ.  It’s a traditional organ but instead of normal pipes it’s connected to the stalactites so that each note played on the organ is sounded by hitting a stalactite.  After the big build up (as it’s the USP of Luray Caverns) it was actually rather quiet and underwhelming.   Weird, yes.  Kitsch, certainly.  And just a little bit freaky.  But still not quite Phantom of the Opera enough for me.

The only thing to spoil the tour was the actual tour guide, who had the most annoying whiny high pitched stage school voice ever.  This isn’t me being anti-American.  In fact several of the Americans on the tour also felt the same way.  The difference is that they were very happy to grumble loudly about it, whereas the reserved Brit just seethed inwardly.

We then spent the afternoon on the northernmost 40 miles of the Skyline Drive.  As the name suggests, I think this is more of a drive than a hiking opportunity, although there are some well hidden short hikes along the way for the day tripper.  We stopped off at many lovely outlooks to take photos across the Shenandoah Valley.   The Drive parallels the Appalachian Trail (for the serious hikers) for much of its 105 mile length and today we completed maybe a mile or so of the Trail at different points.  So, only another 1,999 miles to go before I can tick the Appalachian Trail off.  The highlight of the Drive today was the 1 mile trek to Little Stony Man Cliffs which gave us some brilliant views of the red trees across the valley and also down to the tiny road far below that we had just driven along.

Today was the first time that’s it’s actually felt autumnal here for me.  (What’s the American word?  Fallish?)  I’ve been finding it incredibly difficult to believe that it’s halfway through October.  Only 9 days ago I was sunbathing in a bikini on the beach near where I live.  Although we are currently a couple of hundred miles north of home, this weekend has still been full of blazing hot sunshine and around 20 degrees.  Today it was quite cloudy to start with (which gave the brilliant sensation of being above the clouds when up in the mountains) and there are quite a lot of leaves on the forest floor here, so it finally felt a bit more “normal” for the time of year, at least for me.

It was pleasantly sunny up on Little Stony Man Cliffs and I was even regretting not having taken my sunglasses up there.  Ten minutes later as we got back into the car we noticed a few spots of rain on the car.  As we pulled into a visitor center a mile or so further on, from out of nowhere there was a huge flash of lightning and plenty of thunder preceding a torrential downpour.  Another half hour later, the sun was back out again and we saw some lovely rainbows.  As they say, if you don’t like the weather in Virginia just wait fifteen minutes …

We took the opportunity for a coffee break and I was most disappointed to discover that in the middle of all this lovely nature they only serve Starbucks!!!  It gets ruddy everywhere 😦

We checked into our hotel (not as nice as last night’s, but far superior to the first night!) and then went in search of some food.  We’re staying in Luray which feels like proper smalltown America and is utterly charming with the spectacular backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains to frame it.  After the alarming number of posters across the state proclaiming that “Virginia is Romney Ryan Country” it was very heartening to see a big Obama campaign office on the main street in Luray.  Anyway, we found a little independent Italian restaurant which didn’t look that promising but BOY did it deliver.  For the last two months when eating out I have been desperate to find a restaurant that offers a simple dish of pasta with tomato sauce.  Nothing complex, in fact I think it’s the most basic thing that restaurants in Italy always offer.  For some reason, none of the big chain places we have been to have been able to provide this.  Tonight’s little place totally succeeded where all others have failed.  Full tummy, happy me.

And now I’m tucked up in my hotel bed with Flashdance on the telly.  What’s not to like?

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