Mountains Along Our Path

Chapter 14 - Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

By Nancy Fetzer, AKA Runswithdogs

For many years the word Shenandoah has held a special place in my heart. There was the beautiful song by that name that was popular in my youth, but mostly my fond feelings come from the movie Shenandoah starring Jimmy Stewart. The young suitor of Jimmy Stewart’s daughter comes to him to ask for her hand in marriage. He asks the eager young man, “Do you like her?”

The young man replies, “No sir, I love her.”

Jimmy says, “No, no, do you like her?”

That one scene made a lasting impression on me and as the years rolled on, I found out how poignant it was. Like is longer lasting than love and a tough lesson to learn. Boy, was I surprised how much one could love Shenandoah the Park—or would that be like?

I missed the first day of our trip due to scheduling as I was flying from the backwoods of Pennsylvania. I have the pleasure of spending a few months each summer and fall at my friend Lou’s house on a lake in Poyntelle, Pennsylvania. Its seclusion is one of the great things about it, but it does present minor challenges when traveling by plane. My flight to Charlottesville, Virginia, arrived at 10:16 p.m. (Sorry girls.)

Blueridgebelle drove her car from North Carolina to Charlottesville, so we wouldn’t have to rent a car. She was the designated driver for this trip. The esteemed honor of being the driver goes to whomever has their car at our destination or is the youngest.

Blueridgebelle usually gets the job, but this time it was in her own car. The girls told me that when they got off the plane, Blueridgebelle was standing with all the Limo drivers holding a sign that said, “Happy Hikers”.

By the time I got there Runningbehind, Thunderfoot, Blueridgebelle and my sister, Cloudsplitter, had already spent the previous night in our cabin and checked out the area. We had a cute log cabin called Camp Southern Comfort in the mountains just outside the park.

The cabin had two bedrooms on the main floor. Cloudsplitter and I had the whole finished cellar as our room which sported a ping pong table in the center. If we couldn’t sleep, we could play a few games without waking the girls upstairs.

We were very cool in the cellar, but upstairs was stuffy, so the girls would put on the air conditioning. Unfortunately, this turned the already cool cellar into a frigid room. It took a little doing to get a balance of comfort in our Southern Comfort. We settled it by opening the door downstairs which did let in some warm August mountain air.

There was a strange contraption in the backyard. It was all metal and chains, none of us could figure out what it was. Later we learned that it was for Frisbee Golf and apparently, quite popular. One learns something new every day!

Next morning Cloudsplitter and I got up at 5:00 a.m. We decided to go for a walk rather than play ping pong. I wanted to see where we were as I had arrived in the dark.

It was lovely and I congratulated Cloudsplitter on another fine choice of accommodations. On our way back to the cabin Cloudsplitter found a tick attached to her ear. She got it off, but I know quite a few people that have had Lyme disease, so I was concerned and checked each day for changes in that area. There were none!

This was one of the rare times when we had our own kitchen, so we had several meals at the cabin. Oatmeal is my breakfast of choice and it tasted great in the mountains. After breakfast we drove to Stony Man Mountain. The views on top of Stony Man were breathtaking with all the many soft shades of blues and grays of the rolling mountains. I worried about rattlesnakes, as I don’t like snakes of any kind. Cloudsplitter assured me there weren’t any and if there were, they would only be at the top.

Cloudsplitter, in her usual leader mode, led the way back down the trail. At the bottom I nearly stepped on a rattlesnake that Cloudsplitter had disturbed. It was a close call. We were just recovering from tick fear and now this.

The snake was heading off the trail slowly slithering his thick diamond body and rattles with him. Seeing as no one was hurt, we felt brave enough to take several pictures. I thanked my lucky stars and decided in the future not to rely on all of Cloudsplitter’s “expertise”.

A few months later, Runningbehind wrote this poem about the snake, immortalizing the fellow:


      The Good, Good Snake

      One lengthy rattler
      Gliding through the grass,
      Wanted to cross the trail
      Where hikers were about to pass.

      The creatures coming fast
      Put fear inside his heart.
      He quickly made a coil,
      Not knowing which way to dart.

       Strike ready as they approached, 
      “Oh! Runswithdogs,” he said,
       “So, I really do
      Have nothing to dread.”

      “I’ll respect your ways,
      You respect mine.
      Surely a way to live
      For all of mankind.”


Next day we drove a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway and had many photo ops: flowers, scenery, bears, mountains and even Mary’s Tunnel through the rock, just to name a few.

We climbed the Mary’s Rock Trail which led to, no surprise here, more beautiful views. At the summit of the trail is a huge boulder—Mary’s Rock. This is quite a popular trail and there were a few people waiting to climb to the top of the rock for the best view. Whether on the boulder or not, it was a magnificent vista.

Hightop Mountain was our next hike and we met a group of “elder” hikers from Wintergreen, Virginia, who just happened to winter in Florida. This, of course, led to some interesting conversation. They also shared with us some of their “bests” in Shenandoah. We joined them for lunch on the ledges in the sunshine. Almost all the hikers we meet are friendly and gregarious. It was my experience that nice people hike—no matter what age!

We took many photos with our signature pink hats. Cloudsplitter bought the hats for everyone at Tractor Supply a few years ago. The color was bright pink and most likely because of the color, they were on sale. She bought them for the sun protection and not the color, but the color took.

I mentioned how nice we all looked in our “pinkitivity”. Some of the hats have come and gone, but the pinkitivity of the hats remains the same and the new ones are always pink.  Besides, we can really spot each other on the mountain trails.

That night we had supper at a café before going back to the cabin. We were wearing our T-shirts with our trail names on them. Runningbehind was cold and put on her jacket. We were waiting in line when some young fellows came in behind us. After a few minutes, one of the guys asked Runningbehind what her name was. Runningbehind turned around and with a surprised look she said timidly, “Cleo.”

We knew he was asking about her trail name which he couldn’t see because of her jacket. We laughed about it, chatting some more with the guys.  He told Runningbehind that he would buy her dinner and of course she said, “No, no, that is nice, but totally not necessary.” We shortly got our seats and thanked the guys.

Of course, once we were seated at our table, we teased Runningbehind unmercifully about being such a cougar! She still has it. And good to his word, the young man bought her dinner. The rest of us had to pay.

Our next excursion was the Rose River Falls Trail. This was a change of pace for us as we usually are looking for mountain hikes and expect to go up.  This trail went down into a wooded, cool valley with waterfalls. We stopped to have a snack by the rushing river which we assumed was Rose River. As we had gone steadily downhill for this hike Thunderfoot, Runningbehind and Blueridgebelle decided to go back up before they went any further.

Cloudsplitter and I decided to go further on the Rose River Falls Loop Trail. We made the right decision. The river got larger and we had a few more miles of nonstop waterfalls and dramatic cascades, each more spectacular than the one before. The trail followed the river and was cool and shaded. There were huge boulders that we had to walk around, and you could barely comprehend how it was all formed so many years ago. Some of the balsic volcanic rock was approximately 400 to 800 million years old. That was a very interesting fact and almost an incomprehensible idea for my brain.

There were so many falls that it was hard not to stop and pose for pictures beside each one. I had an old camera and had to keep changing batteries. It was awesome and I don’t think we even saw another person until we arrived at Dark Hollow Falls, which was one of the most hiked falls in the park.

Fortunately, it was late afternoon and only a few people were there. Unfortunately, we went up the trail to the Dark Hollow parking lot and still had a mile to go along the Skyline Highway to get back to Blueridgebelle’s car where the girls were waiting. We got our exercise that day.

We did a load of laundry back at the cabin only to discover that we didn’t have enough hot water for showers. While waiting for the water to get warm, we watched Thunderfoot’s video and pictures of the previous year’s trip. She had written captions for some of the pictures which were very humorous. Slowly we all got clean.

After breakfast the following day we headed to Charlottesville to tour Thomas Jefferson’s estate, Monticello. We toured the flower and vegetable gardens, house, slave quarters, tunnels, wine cellar, smokehouse and kitchen. It amazed me what they accomplished as their tools were so primitive in comparison to what we have today. The level of living was quite high for that time as Jefferson was such an innovative man.

We each took turns taking our picture with the bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson. We all stood beside it, but when it was Runningbehind’s turn, she tucked her hand into his and it was adorable. Of course, he was unmoved by the gesture!

We got into Shenandoah National Park free via Runningbehind’s Senior Park Pass.  Luckily, I purchased one shortly thereafter as now the price has since increased significantly. The younger girls will just have to pay or stick with Runningbehind and me!

Every morning, Cloudsplitter and I got up early for a walk down the dirt road that led up to our cabin. It was a great way to escape the cold basement and warm up.  One morning we weren’t up fast enough and were awakened at 6 a.m. by Runningbehind’s alarm. She was standing at the top of the stairs banging a cookie sheet with a spoon. Ugh, it was a terrible wake up.

I had heard about people doing such things, but I never expected it from Runningbehind. She seemed so nice, but there she was, banging away. We were headed to Old Rag Mountain and she wanted an early start.

Turns out this was the best hike. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect, cool and clear. Old Rag is a popular, much hiked mountain with a boulder scramble at the top. At the overlook there were precariously balanced rocks everywhere. We came across a large group of high school cross-country runners and stepped off the trail for them as they ran by. (Now, there was a fit group.)

After we had some lunch with a view, Cloudsplitter and I went on a little further to see the famous Old Rag boulders. It was awesome but we opted not to do it. We still have some brains left. I was proud to hear Cloudsplitter say, “I no longer believe that I can’t fall.”

Of course, we couldn’t leave without seeing the summer retreat of former president Herbert Hoover, called “Rapidan.” It was a cloudy day when we set off on the lovely trail through the woods to Hoover Camp. When we arrived, it started to rain. No one was there and the buildings were locked. We ate lunch on the porch trying to get under the eaves out of the rain. It was a rustic peaceful getaway surrounded by gorgeous waterfalls and several buildings. We peeked in the windows as best we could. The rain let up, but our trip back was wet and tedious as it was very slippery.

Driving back to our cabin on the Skyline Parkway, we were treated to a different mood of Shenandoah. Each day the mountain vistas had been mostly sunshine and clouds. Due to the recent rain that had fallen, there was a thick fog passing through the mountains. It made for a dramatic, yet eerie scene, unlike any we had witnessed since we arrived. 

On our last night, we cooked a dinner of quesadillas and had a surprise early birthday party for Thunderfoot. At the dinner table that evening Runningbehind said, “Say, we should really write a book about all our adventures.” And right there, in our cabin, that night, the idea was born. 

I was first to leave the next day and luckily the airport was close. But even though I was gone, I heard about copious amounts of food being thrown in the trash. As we are all interested in doing our part to conserve and Thunderfoot, Runningbehind and Cloudsplitter could not take anything on the plane, Blueridgebelle got stuck taking a lot of it. It was a great lesson though. Our new mantra was—never over buy—one that could be added to Cleo’s “Rules for a Perfect Trip.” (A wise woman indeed.)

Shenandoah meant so much more to me as I flew away. I loved and, more importantly, liked Shenandoah!

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