To national park nerds like myself, the National Park Service Centennial has provided a unique opportunity to share our love of the national parks with our family, friends, and our social media connections. Being the die-hard national park nerd that I am, not celebrating the actual centennial on August 25, 2016, was not even an option for me. Hubs and I didn’t hesitate asking for the day off from our 9-to-5 jobs so that we could spend more than a few hours in the evening at a National Park Service unit.
With only one full day to play with in our schedule, we knew that we would have to stay close to home for our celebration. We have numerous National Park Service units within driving distance of the DC area and debated the merits of several over the course of a couple weeks. Being traditionalists, we decided that we wanted to spend the day in one of the national park-designated unit. The only national park-designated unit within a day trip range of our house is Shenandoah National Park, which is a frequent visitation location for us as it is a short 1.5 hour drive to the northern entrance from our house. Shenandoah National Park is one of my favorite places to recharge and I love spending a day driving through the park and looking for wildlife. One of my favorite ways to enjoy the park is to drive to the southern end and drive north to avoid the DC-based crowds that often fill the north to south route.
Drive Down to Staunton, VA
As August 25th grew closer, we decided that it would be best if we left Wednesday after work instead of Thursday morning. This cut about 2.5 hours of drive time from our Thursday schedule, giving us more time in the park. So, Wednesday after work, we dropped Rackers off at the kennel (NoVA folks – we LOVE Old Mill Boarding Kennel in Leesburg) and headed west. Usually we drive to Shenandoah through the country, but in order to arrive at at our hotel (Sleep Inn in Staunton, VA – a little dated, but clean and friendly) before #ParkChat started, we had to take the freeway. The sunset on the drive down was beautiful and we grabbed Sonic – which is always a guilty pleasure on road trips.
If you haven’t been to Shenandoah National Park yet, you need to go. The drive runs the spine of the park and has over 60 individual overlooks. Each overlook offers a different view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In some areas, the mountains are stacked creating an exquisite layered look, which is especially prominent during sunrise and sunset. The speed limit is 35 miles an hour, but we typically drive more slowly to be able to look for wildlife along the way.
The first critter we saw was a … woodchuck at the dog kennel. ;) In all honesty, we sometimes do not see bear or deer in Shenandoah, so we take our critters where we can get them. Thankfully, the NPS Centennial Gods were shinning down on use and we saw 3 bear (a mama and cub, and then an individual adult in a different location), 4 deer (including two spotted fawns), numerous birds, and tons of beautiful butterflies (I’ve never seen that many before!). Also, our woodchuck had found two friends and they were enjoying dinner when we arrived back at the kennel to pick up Rackers.
Blackrock Summit Hike
I selected this hike as it was in the southern section of the park (the area we visit least) and was only 1.5 miles round trip. We didn’t have a ton of time for hiking, but did want to include a hike in our activities. This hike had a 175 elevation gain and was billed as an easy hike. I am so out of shape, so we had to stop a couple times on the climb, but it was totally worth it! The views were stunning, the rocks called for exploration, and it was not packed, which is unusual for such a short hike in Shenandoah National Park.
Big Meadows Lodge
Neither Hubs nor I had ever been to the Big Meadows Lodge before. We drove out and wandered in the lodge. As we walked in to the main gathering area, we heard some wonderful instrumental music being played and little did we know that it was live! The longer we hung around, the more entranced we were by Timothy Seaman and his hammered dulcimer. We stayed for several songs and ended up buying one of his CD’s in the lodge’s gift shop. The songs we listened to were inspired by Shenandoah National Park and my favorite was Hazel River. If you have the opportunity, you should check him out.
I’m ashamed to say that while we have been to Shenandoah National Park too many times to actually count, this was the first time we had watched one of the videos in the Visitor Center. We also had not ventured into the museum part of the visitor center either. I feel like a horrible park supporter, but when it’s in your backyard you always say “next time” … which never comes. So, it was fitting that we took the time to do these things today while celebrating the National Park Centennial.
Of course, no stop to a park is complete without getting my Passport stamps. I had already picked up the standard Shenandoah National Park Service Centennial stamp on previous visits this year, but wanted to get the normal stamps with the August 25th date on them. Finally, I picked up a few National Park Service Centennial items at the gift shop. I ended up grabbing a hat and bag with the 2016 National Park Service Centennial logo on them (I already have a t-shirt and cup).
Celebrating the National Park Service Centennial
I have enjoyed every moment of celebrating the National Park Centennial and plan to continue to celebrate the rest of 2016. I’ll wrap this post up with this adorable cutout meant for Shenandoah’s Junior Ranger visitors … once a junior ranger, always a junior ranger. :)