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Cocooner 28th September 2017 18:35

Of Virginia mountains and Delaware beaches
30 Attachment(s)
My first attempt at writing a travelogue,
Been postponing this due to work backlog.
Will I be able to do justice to this?
Well, your time is money, and patience gratis.


A coffee table book lies on my coffee table (imagine that!) called "The Most Scenic Drives in America" <>. It's primary purpose is to serve as a reminder that I'm currently based in a country with a decent highway network, nice cars to drive and pretty places to visit. While I've driven around a fair bit over the last 3 years that we've been here, it's (ironically) my lack of patience that has prevented any documentation of those drives. Hence, the prosaic question in the first few lines.

Moving on then. The idea of driving around the Shenandoah Mountains was actually a compromise (can you believe that). We live in North New Jersey and I've been toying with the idea of driving through the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the Great Smoky Mountains, between Tennessee and North Carolina. When the Labor Day weekend was coming up, I was quite keen on driving down from NJ. However, with work commitments, it wasn't possible to take out any more than 2 days of leave (plus the 3-day weekend). While easily doable, somehow it didn't appeal to me. I like to stagger my drives in a way that I spend 4-5 hours on the road while taking in the romance of the land (that's how I spent 7 days going from Seattle to SFO on the Pacific Coast Highway - I hope I can share that on the forum some day. For now, let me take my first baby steps here).

So, the Great Smoky Mountains plan is out, then? Yes. For now.

Like a wise man, I proposed an alternate plan that featured the highland predilections of The Boss (a.k.a. wife) and the sandy proclivities of Mini-Me (a.k.a. son). The good thing (actually, great thing) about Mini-Me is that he shares a lot of his preferences with me, from his fascination of cars, to his love for the sea, and so on and so forth. Thus, begins our sojourn, of Virginia mountains and Delaware beaches!

As I mentioned earlier, the idea was (always is) to spend no more than 4-5 hours driving in a day, spending at least a nice evening and morning at each stop, and checking out things en-route. Since Skyline Drive was always in the picture, we definitely wanted to cover at least that, as well as hit a nice beach town. With that in mind, I started exploring Shenandoah National Park (SNP) through which the roughly 100-mile long Skyline Drive passes. It looked beautiful, and the end of summer was a great time to go. The next question was which beach town? Looking east from SNP, the only real choices were Virginia Beach, the Delaware beaches, or the Jersey Shore. We've been to the Jersey Shore multiple times, and we really wanted to avoid a party town (ah, how things change!), so we settled on Dewey Beach in Delaware. Multiple things weighed-in in favor of Dewey - less crowds, easy drive time from SNP and a well-rated hotel on the beach, where I could use my points rather than my dollars. Decision made!

Upon researching accommodation around SNP, I realized we had 2 choices. One was to stay at a nice B&B in a rural setting outside SNP, or better still, stay within the national park at one of the accommodation choices it offers. I'm more inclined towards glamping than camping, so campgrounds and basic cabins were out. That left the Skyland Resort or the Big Meadows Lodge, both of which are somewhere mid-way along Skyline Drive. On the plus side, Skyland Resort had nice reviews on multiple forums, and some newly renovated rooms. Sorted.

As the day to depart approached, I ensured that Moe (The Boss' steed) was feeling up to it. After all, he's the one who has to do all the hard work. I took him to the ASC to get him clean lungs and filters, some fresh synthetic juice, a wash and shine, along with some air beneath his feet (okay, in his feet - bet that sounds nicer to that nitpicker sitting right there). Moe's been with us for 3 years now and we adopted him from another nice and caring family. He's big, can carry 7 people in his arms, our gentle giant, and most importantly, The Boss loves him. He doesn't remember much though, so as a special treat to him, I decided to get him a dashcam <> that can capture some of his memories. I'm sure he was thrilled. After all, most people who see a bear running across the road in front of them will worry about soiled underwear rather than trying to capture it on video. But more on that later - yeah, such a tease!

Till a few years ago, I would really plan out my journey and my destination, making sure I knew of things to see on the way, best hotels to stay at, yummiest food around town, etc. Lately, that has waned a bit - I don't know if it's just a passing phase, or a sign of growing old(er). Whenever I need inspiration, or just feel like undertaking a virtual journey, I hop on to T-BHP and browse away. I'd actually made a nice (albeit unformatted) PowerPoint on my West Coast drive that contained daily maps, things to do and such. But recent trips to Vermont / Florida Keys / Catskills have been devoid of all that fanfare. Anyhoo, just so that I wasn't disappointing myself again, I did get around to doing a bit of research of the surrounding areas and the best hikes that I could manage with Mini-Me.

The final plan looked so:
Day 1: Leave early-ish and reach SNP in time for at least one hike
Day 2: Start with Luray Caverns, then hike some more, while driving all the way to the southern entrance of SNP on the Skyline Drive
Day 3: Pony / horse riding at the resort, one last hike and then leave for Dewey Beach
Day 4: Build sand castles
Day 5: Visit Rehoboth Beach nearby and then get home in time

Day 1:
We left home on a bright and sunny morning and after a 6 hour drive were at Front Royal, VA, at the northern entrance to SNP. Given that we were to stay within the national park, we thought it was prudent to stock up on some bottled water and munchies for the next few days. Did a quick Yelp! search for supermarkets and found an Aldi in town. Soon enough, I was staring at the sign for the entrance to SNP. All windows were rolled down cameras were kept at the ready!

Entrance to SNP on the Skyline Drive, Front Royal, VA
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The amazing thing about Skyline Drive is that at every possible vantage point, they have created an overlook which has space for a few cars to park and for us to take in the beautiful vistas. There are about 75 such overlooks, on both sides of the 2-lane road. Such was our excitement that on our way south from the Front Royal entrance, we pretty much stopped at every overlook there was and exclaimed at the natural beauty that lay in front of our eyes!

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Despite our numerous stops, we reached the resort in good time to be able to make it for our first hike of the trip. By now, you've probably figured that we did quite a few hikes. Frankly, it was a hike too less. All over SNP, you'll find people who've come with their camping gear and are spending days hiking through the numerous trails across the park. Our first hike of the trip was to the Stony Man Summit. It's the closest hike to our resort, and one that all three of us could manage with ease.

This is what was waiting at the top!
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That's our resort in the middle of nowhere, as seen from the Stony Man Summit.
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An interesting thing happened on our ascent to the summit. There was an older couple about 50 mts. ahead of us throughout the climb. About halfway through the climb, I heard a scream "Bear!" and we froze on the spot. I frantically looked around in all directions to ascertain what was happening, but couldn't see anything. The lady who had shouted out also moved ahead. We stood frozen for a while trying to make sense of the situation. Did we just get pranked? There was no bear to be seen. After about 5 mins of playing statue, we started moving ahead again. However, now, every tree, every log I saw looked like a bear to me. Such was the paranoia. We met the lady at the summit at she asked us if we'd seen the cub. She said it was a smallish bear chasing after a doe. Having been mesmerized by the beauty of the views, I was a bit ambivalent about having missed the bear - sorry to have not seen it, and glad it didn't see / chase after us!!

Phew! After such excitement, we made it back to the resort just in time for a beautiful sunset. The way the resort has been laid out, pretty much all the rooms have a view of the valley. We were fortunate to have an unhindered view from our balcony.

The Shenandoah sunset, as viewed from our balcony!
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We called it a night after a quick dinner at the resort restaurant.

Day 2:
We woke to a beautiful morning.

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However, that didn't last long. By the time we were done with our breakfast, it started pouring. Since it was forecast to rain for a few more hours, we had perfectly aligned our plans to spend some time indoors, or shall I say, subterraneaned. We headed to Luray Caverns, which was about a 45 min drive away.

Luray Caverns are an underground cavern system which are known for their stalactites and stalagmites formations. There are several tiers of galleries in the cavern system and the deepest point is about 260 feet. The entire trek is about 1.5 miles long and takes around 45 minutes to an hour to complete. Unfortunately, I don't have too many pictures of the caverns, but BHPian chevelle has captured some beautiful pictures in their a here: I hadn't really chanced upon this link prior to my journey and found it only while writing this log - irrespective, pictures probably don't do justice to the amazement we felt out here.

The real surprise for me here was that in addition to the caves, you also get free admission to the nearby Car and Carriage Museum. The museum has some great specimens of carriages from the 1700's to 1800's and automobiles from the late-1800's to the mid-1930's. There are about 40 cars in all, and it's a self-guided tour through the collection. It was fascinating / amusing explaining to Mini-Me what "horse-power" truly meant and how the concept of transportation has evolved over time.

Some beauties from the collection.
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Whew! Coming out of the museum, it made me wonder how much this collection would cost, and what would I give to have such priceless beauties! Anyway, right next door to the museum was a garden maze. The Boss decided that since it had stopped raining, Mini-Me and I had to find our way in life. As wise as she is, she'd just accompany us to ensure that we don't get lost.

The Garden Maze:
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What can I say? Mini-Me and I made The Boss proud and guess what, we both got to eat dessert that night! It's been a while, but I can still taste the resort dining room's Signature Blackberry Ice Cream Pie!! Slurp!! Not to forget, there were a few hikes and waterfalls planned for this day as well. We'd accomplished all that, burning more than our usual calories that day and dessert was in order.

Dark Hollow Falls:
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Ever since the bear incident, we had been praying that we sight at least one bear during our travels. Someone up there must've been listening! On our way to the southern end of the drive, there was a sudden movement on the road ahead of us and we saw a young bear try to run across the road. We were doing about 35 mph and before we could say "bear", he had already done a Julius Caesar. He came (on the road), he saw (us, and the others passing through) and he conquered (our hearts!), before running back out into the forest. While the instinctive reaction of The Boss was to close her windows, mine was to press the "save" button on the dashcam. This was a priceless moment!

Spot the bear!
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By the time we headed back from the southern end, the sun had set and it was fairly dark, though not too late. However, creatures of the night hadn't wound their clocks and thankfully for us, decided to flash us. My eyes strained hard for any glowing dots (animal eyes), and all senses were on alert so as to not cause a road-kill. It was amazing how so many creatures came out on the road once it was dark. We saw multiple deer (including horned stags), raccoons, marmots, and others which we either couldn't recognize in the dark, or they scampered away too fast for us to make sense. We were hoping that we'd get another glimpse of a bear, but it was not to be. All in all, a very fulfilling day!

Day 3:
Having rained the previous day, we were hoping not to catch the wrath of the rain gods on Day 3. After all, we were headed to the beach, and what fun is a rained out beach? When we stepped outside, we found the clouds had come to say hello. Unfortunately, that meant the ponies and horses wouldn't be out just yet and they'd wait for the weather to clear up. Bummer!

The clouds kissing Moe.
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The drive down the mountains took about 20 mins as we headed east to Delaware. We did still stop at a few overlooks to say our final good-byes for this time and hiked the last trail. The beach was beckoning and there was no time to lose. It was a 3h 45m drive through some beautiful Virginia, Maryland and Delaware roads. En-route, we saw so many farms, orchards and vineyards, that we were almost tempted to give up city life and take up farming. The best part about these rural communities was that they were so self-sufficient and well-organized. I hope I live to see the day when we can drive through the Indian hinterland and see such prosperity!

We reached Dewey Beach well in time for a quick kiss of the ocean and a wondrous beach sunset. The water was a bit too choppy to let Mini-Me get in trouble, so we decided to just roam the beautiful town instead. While Dewey Beach is a nice small town, it doesn't hold a candle to Rehoboth Beach, the better known cousin down the street. We hopped on the Jolly Trolley, which is an open trolley pulled by a Chevy van, and headed to Rehoboth for a nice evening out.

Day 4:
This turned out to be such a perfect summer beach day for us that all we wanted to do was nothing. Living in the harsh winters of the Northeastern US makes you really appreciate whatever sunshine you can get. We rented an umbrella from the FNB (friendly neighborhood beach-vendor) and picked our spot in the sun.

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Mini-Me got busy making his sand castles, destroying them and building new ones. Some of them were really elaborate (for a 5-year old), with guard towers, moats, tunnels and vast dominions. The rate at which he was building would put any DLF / Lodha / Brigade to shame! Also, the rate at which he befriended cute little girls put me to shame. Not to be outdone, I proudly proclaimed to The Boss that he's got my savvy. As you can imagine, she responded with a double affirmation, "Yeah, right"! Such a stud.

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We'd reached the beach at about 10 am post a hearty breakfast, and didn't realize when the clock chimed 3 pm. While I am certain a clock chimed somewhere, The Boss said it was definitely the sound of my tummy grumbling. And cliched as it may be, the one thing I've learnt over a period of time: The Boss is always right. So we headed back to our room for a nice shower and some good food.

Evening was upon us and we caught another beautiful sunset. Dewey Beach is upon a thin coastal stretch with the ocean on one side, and the bay on another. The best part about it was that it's not as popular as Jersey Shore or Rehoboth, for that matter, and has a great stretch of beach with fabulous food options.

Sunset on the bay.
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Day 5:
Much of this day was spent roaming the streets of Rehoboth. It's a typical beach town with a nice boardwalk, lots of people / restaurants / shops and an amusement area for kids - something for everyone! Mini-Me had his rides, The Boss enjoyed her trinkets shopping and I loved the food.

The next day was school and work, and we wanted to make sure we weren't on holiday hangover mode. Well, at least not physically. The drive back on I-95 was as uneventful as can be expected. There was one instance of a nut-case overtaking a car using the shoulder - it was the only instance I've seen someone do that at speeds of 75 mph+, on the highway, in America - and I dutifully pressed the save button on my dashcam. Perhaps one day, if we have a thread containing nut-case videos on T-BHP, I can upload that here!

Thanks for partaking in on my journey. Till later!

Rudra Sen 29th September 2017 19:57

Re: Of Virginia mountains and Delaware beaches
Mod note: Thread moved to Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing.

bsdbsd 30th September 2017 21:19

Re: Of Virginia mountains and Delaware beaches
Nice travelogue and photos. Thanks for sharing. Brought back my old memories. Somehow this one-of-the-most-visited-NP is not worthy of its hype. The scenery is monotonous, though the drive itself is wonderful (skyline drive). May be because its so near to highly populated areas, many people end up visiting here. During my last visit, I started driving back after the above 'behold!' photo. Its the same thing after that for many many miles (till Smoky Mountain NP). Still, highly enjoyable for the first time!

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