I thought that everybody had heard of the shenandaoh, but apparently not.  i told a friend about going to skyline drive, and she said “what’s that?”  the shenandoah national forest is the most widely-visited national park we have.  it encompassed part of the blue ridge mountains, and the skyline drive runs the length of the park, 105 miles. there are a two lodges, a bunch of cabins, and five campgrounds.  part of the appalachian trail runs through it, plus there are many other trails in the park.

as we were driving there, i read in a VA guidebook that there can be traffic jams up the mountain in October, because so many people clamor to see the fall foliage.  uh oh.

we didn’t run into any traffic jams, though; there were just a lot of trucks, some of which tailgated annoyingly close to us.

we finally reached the skyline drive at mile marker 65.  our plan was to camp at the Loft Mountain Campground, mile marker 79.5.  First, though, we had to drive along the ridge, stopping a lot to get out and take pictures of the scenery below. there were gobs of turnouts to stop, and we stopped at every one.

it took us quite a while to get to loft mountain because of all the stopping.  this was a VERY BIG campground, with about 140 sites, and there were lots and lots of people there.  when we pulled up to the entrance, there were a couple of serious, hard-core appalachian trail hikers walking through.  they stopped to look at the map, and they talked to each other, but they didn’t even glance over at us, didn’t make eye contact; clearly, they didn’t want to mar their experience with interacting with us SLACKER CAMPERS pulling our popup.  kevin says that maybe they were so exhausted that they couldn’t speak.

we started driving around the campground looking for a spot.  the places around the perimeter looked good, but most of them were taken.  in order to go back around and look again, we had to leave the campground every time.  we did this a few times and finally found a nice spot on the outer ring that wasn’t too far in from the entrance.  a tent was set up in the space across from us, and there was a popup a couple of spaces down.

it had been a warm day, up in the 70s, but it got cooler when we got into the park, plus a gale-force wind started blowing.

this is deceptive; it looks like we’re out in the middle of nowhere, but there are campsites all around us.  well, that’s why we picked this spot – in back of kevin, there’s nothing, except for some walk-in tent campsites down below.  the next morning a family pulled up to the parking spaces nearby and started carting their stuff down to one of these places.  they had a huge tent, and the father carried blown-up air mattresses down.

if you want to to see a map of the campground, here it is.  we were down in the lower-right corner, at A7.  looking at the map again, i remember now that there wasn’t a site right next to us on one side because there was parking for those walk-in sites.

Loft Mountain Campground

it was very pretty, and really, it wouldn’t have mattered if people around us had been loud because the wind made it almost impossible for us to hear each other, not to mention other campers.

this was the marker right next to our site.  we were excited about the prospect of walking on the appalachian trail in the morning, starting just a few feet from where we camped.

we had to buy firewood because there, like at most other parks, they don’t want you to bring in wood because of the evil ash borers that are killing lots of trees everywhere.  in the list of camping rules it said it was ok to pick up dead wood from the ground but not the trees.  when we were driving around looking for a space, though, there was this couple walking around carrying huge stacks of wood they’d scavenged.  at one point the guy, who looked like a serious camper/hiker, was pulling a huge piece of dead branch off a tree.  YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO DO THAT!  THE RANGERS ARE GONNA BOOT YOU OUT! is what i wanted to yell at him.  when we were leaving the next day, we saw them again, stacks of wood piled up in their arms again.

kevin did start a fire that night but because it was ridiculously cold and windy, we ended up just staying inside our camper.  it wasn’t very warm because there were no electrical hookups in the campground, plus they wouldn’t have done us any good because our little space heater had broken when we were at the other campground and we’d forgotten to buy a new one.  we stayed toasty warm underneath our big down comforter, though.

some people in a van pulled up next to us after it was almost dark out.  people kept pouring into the campground.

the next morning, i saw people circling around by eight a.m., looking for empty spaces.  it was funny, being there, because it was a little bit like camping at disneyland or something.  it wasn’t that crowded, of course, but frequently there were people walking along the road in front of us carrying big coffee mugs, walking their dogs, whatever.  it’s not that crowded on our own lane at home.

when i woke up i didn’t want to get out of bed because of the cold.  the wind had died down, and kevin was out making another fire.  mollie started barking and barking and barking, and finally i called out to kevin to make her be quiet.  there were strict rules about that kind of thing.  i finally staggered outside.

kevin had been trying to call out to me, but i hadn’t heard him.  a few deer had gotten closer and closer to the site, and this deer got within a few feet of kevin.  clearly he wanted a cup of coffee and a doughnut.

there were all kinds of signs and warning about NOT FEEDING THE WILDLIFE, but obviously people were feeding the deer like crazy.

when i walked over to the bathroom, just up the road, i looked at the many, many RVs and popups and tents.  they mostly seemed empty; i think everybody was out hiking around.  i did hear some music coming from one camper, though, and i had to go investigate.

it had a screened room attached to it, a big american flag flying on a flagpole, and a cute little fence around the back.  a little dog was playing inside the fence.  the music didn’t sound exactly like live music, but it didn’t sound like a recording, either.

inside the screened porch, an old guy was playing his fiddle along with a CD.  nice.  i’m pretty sure i took a video of it, and that means you’ll get to see that video in about, oh, a year or so.  i’m still working on my scotland videos from last year, so this one will take a while.

we set off hiking.  the day before had been spent in the car, so i was feeling pretty good, but i quickly felt completely out of breath when we started to hike.  this didn’t stop me, though, because i WANTED TO HIKE ON THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL.

this is one of the white blazes they have along the whole length of the appalachian trail, from georgia to maine.  there were lots and lots of these blazes.

it was a lovely morning for a hike, and we were gone for about an hour and a half.  at about 11:40, i remember saying that i thought i’d read somewhere that we were supposed to check out of the campsite by noon.  that wasn’t going to happen, because we’d been hiking for almost an hour, but we ended up leaving by one and no rangers were around to yell at us.  when we got back to our camp, though, there were even more people driving around looking for a space to camp.  i’m sure our spot was snapped up quickly.

when we’d driven on the skyline drive, we ran into a guy who had told us to go on the doyle’s river trail, that there were lots of waterfalls there.  when we hiked, the sign said this was the doyle’s river trail, but after hiking for a while there was a sign saying we’d reached the BEGINNING of that trail, and the trail itself was a couple of hours.  we couldn’t do all that, so we didn’t get to see any waterfalls.  i kind of wish i’d done better research before going; if i’d known this beforehand, we could have driven to the start of the trail and seen the waterfalls.

but on the other hand, there was something very satisfying about just walking out of our campsite and walking down the appalachian trail, if only for a little bit.