Experiencing the Extremes in Virginia

Grayson Highlands State Park overview
August 1, 2011     We arrived at Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia after a 30 mile, 1 hour trip from Piney Creek, NC.  That may be a slight exaggeration but you can easily plan to double or triple your travel time on the curvy mountain roads.  A lovely overview greeted us as we entered the park.  With temperatures in the low 60’s in the evening, Alan built a fire and we had our first roasted marshmallows of the trip.

Our primary reason for coming to this park is the proximity to the Virginia Creeper Trail near Damascus, which we had enjoyed so much last year.  Experiencing serious motion sickness on the way up to the park and coming back down again the following day as we headed out for the bike trail, I sent Alan back up the mountain to retrieve the RV.  Continual S-curve roads for 15 miles were just more than I could take.  Icing on the cake, the curves and dips on the road ate one of the tires on Alan’s bike, so we needed to have that replaced, and it started raining.  Overall, this was not how we had planned the day to go.  

Monday night Smyth County Jam
Checking with the RV Park across from the bike transport company, we were able to secure a campsite for a couple of nights.  The misfortune of the day became a wonderful twist of fate.  As Alan was going back up the mountain to retrieve the RV, I learned about an evening of bluegrass in the nearby town of Chilhowie.   The show was full of outstanding music with entertainers as young as eleven and as old as eighty-five.  At times, there were three generations playing on stage together.   There is never a program, not even the organizers know who is going to play until the musicians show up on Monday nights.  The show lasted 3½ hours, with musicians still jamming in the back room as we left.  The last Monday of the month is birthday celebration day.  Locals bake cakes, pies, cobblers and an assortment of other goodies.  All the delightful food and entertainment were available for a donation at the door.

Alan at the beginning of the Virginia Creeper Trail
The following morning, we were driven to the top of the Virginia Creeper Trail in a van with our bikes being carried behind.  Last year, we enjoyed the 17-mile downhill trail but we had completed it in 1½ hours.  This time we meandered down, spending 4 hours on the trail.   We included a stop at the Creeper Trail Café where Alan indulged in a slice of “world-famous” chocolate cake.  Even though we had discussed fishing along the trail last year, we came unprepared once again.  This time we took notes on the best spots to catch them.  On our next trip, we’ll be prepared.

As we moved north, we discovered the multitude of caverns located throughout Virginia.   We opted for a visit to the Grand Caverns Park in Grottoes, VA.  Originally discovered in 1804, it is the oldest show cave in America.  As a regionally owned park it has avoided the Disney-like commercialization of many of the other caverns.  We lucked into a private tour, so we were able to take a little extra time as I snapped dozens of pictures.

Overview from Skyline Drive in Shenandoah
Shenandoah National Park was our planned stop for the night.  Securing a roomy end spot, we enjoyed the serenity of the park.  Still seeking some local music though, I found a program offered at Skyland Resort, within the park.  The Possum Ridge String Band selections reflect the musical history of the Appalachian Mountains.  Their lively assortment of songs included waltzes, jigs, reels and polkas on instruments ranging from the hammered dulcimer to penny whistles.

Alan exited the program briefly to photograph a stunning sunset.  The layers of clouds and mountains and the bright orange and purple sky created some striking photos.  Leaving the show, a few deer were scavenging in the trees near our car.  I took some pictures, but because of their movement and the low light, they were blurred, I fumbled with the camera to omit the deer.  Yikes, a major screw-up.  I deleted all the pictures taken that day.  The striking and eerie caverns, the lovely overlooks as we entered Shenandoah, the spirited String Band, and the incredible sunset, all were erased with a push of the wrong button. 
Fawn seen on our morning walk in Shenandoah

Black Bear spotted in Shenandoah

Departing the next afternoon, we moved to Shenandoah River State Park.  Planning on fishing and kayaking, we arrived to find a temperature of 104 and low water  running over the rocks in the river.  It didn’t take us long to decide this was not what we had in mind and it was time to move on.       


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