Since we had nothing scheduled this past weekend, we decided to take a trip out to Shenandoah National Park and give camping another go. We planned on leaving Friday at 4pm and coming back home on Sunday. Our first camping trip was only overnight (we were home by 10am on Saturday) and at a park much closer to home. At the least, we figured it would be much cooler temperature-wise in the mountains.
In a move that was appreciated at the time, Brendan took down the car-top carrier as soon as we unloaded from the cottage a few weeks ago. This meant that our packing was confined to the back of the car and the dog would be riding at the kids’ feet. We didn’t anticipate this would be too much of a problem. Let’s just say it was a learning experience and we learned the dog needs to be in the back of the car and the carrier on the roof. Not that he misbehaved, just that it would have been so much more comfortable for everyone.
The sky and the forecast turned a bit ominous on our drive out west. But it was not raining when we arrived at camp. It didn’t look like it was going to hold for too much longer, so we opted to skip the trip to the campstore for wood and just use a BIC FlameDisk (basically a giant sterno) for cooking some burgers and dogs. The tent went up much quicker than last time and the kids and I made up some silly scary stories. Bedtime came early for all of us too. Just in time for the rain to start. At about 1am Bridget woke up and had to use the bathroom. And it was pouring. Thankfully Brendan wasn’t about to reserve us a spot far away from a toilet. He took her down and they came back. Then Johnny woke up and was scared so he crawled into my sleeping bag with me, and naturally was squirmy and not really sleeping. Then Bridget woke up again and had to go to the bathroom again so I took her down. Then we convinced Johnny to go back to his own bed and sleeping bag. But he still woke up at least two more times. It was not the most restful night for any of us.
It was still drippy and rainy in the morning, so Brendan took advantage of a brief break to boil us some water for coffee/oatmeal while the kids ate cereal in the tent. It didn’t stay dry for very long, but luckily there was a single umbrella in the car. After that we were all going slightly crazy, so we all got into the car and went for a long drive down Skyline Drive. We stopped off at a trailhead just before Big Meadows intending to hike down to a waterfall, but it ended up being one of the few trails that dogs are not allowed on. So we buckled up the (now very sad) kids again and headed down to the Visitor’s Center at Big Meadows. It was pretty foggy still (because we were up high enough in elevation the whole time that we were inside the clouds. Down at around 1500 feet it was much clearer) but the ranger we spoke with assured us that unless there was thunder and lightening the Blackberry Festival scheduled for that day was still happening and she gave us a route we could hike with the dog and that would be easier on the kids that put us just at the bottom of the waterfall we had wanted to see.
The hike to the waterfall was much easier than the hike back. The trail was a well-maintained fire road and not hard walking at all, but the kids were just not having it. Somehow we did manage to make it back to the car in one piece.
Then we enjoyed some of everything at the Blackberry Festival: Blackberry lemonade, blackberry cobbler with blackberry icecream and blackberry pulled pork.
Of course that didn’t seem to shake all the crankiness, so we took another drive towards Luray. It was a bit harrowing actually at a few intersections, the clouds were so dense that it was very hard to see. In town, it was much easier and we got a good look at the cloud cover that was surrounding us. It didn’t seem to want to break any time soon.
Then came the difficult decision: do we stay another night or do we go home a day early? I was not looking forward to cooking dinner in the rain and then eating in the tent (again). And neither of us was exicted by the idea of another night of bad sleep. The kids were disappointed to leave, but really it was the best decision. One day we’ll be able to camp for a full weekend.
We did take a different route home and came upon a distillery that we went into intending to take the tour. But Johnny wasn’t thrilled by the idea from the start, so we backed out. We did buy two bottles — one single malt whisky and one single malt spirit (in short: legal moonshine) from the store though we have yet to try them.
I always find rural Virginia stunningly beautiful, and whatever part we are driving through, I immediately want to live in. I am adding Sperryville to the ever-expanding list.
Of course, the sun came out yesterday and we pulled out another FlameDisk and made s’mores on the front porch.
We spent the better part of today exploring Mount Lassen National Volcanic Park. Brendan is feeling much better. He had himself quite a large breakfast — biscuts & gravy, eggs, toast, bacon, potatoes — that is, once breakfast actually came. It was so slow that I got fed up with waiting and went back to the room to pack.
The park is quite large. We decided to take the 30 mile road that cuts through the western part of it and stopped along the way to see various things. The volcano itself isn’t all that active. It last erupted in 1914 – 1921, but it’s still got “all the elements” for another eruption. Whatever that means.
The big thing that Brendan wanted to see were the fumeroles and mudpots. We saw some at our first stop at the sulfur springs, but then hiked to what’s called Bumpass Hell to see even more. It was actually quite pretty (although smelly). It wasn’t too hot of a day either, we were at a decent elevation (7,000 – 8,000 feet) so it was only about 75/80 max at any given point.
We gave some thought initially to hiking to the peak of the volcano, but it’s a 5 hour hike round trip, so we decided to skip it. On the way out of the park we stopped to see the rocks thrown and created by the 1914 eruptions.
Then it was back to Sacramento and the airport for our 11pm flight home. We were ahead of schedule by quite a bit so we decided to stop at a casino off the highway. Brendan now thinks that slot machines are my new calling. As soon as we got there, I sat down with $20 and made us $200. Of course, once I do that I’m ready to leave. We stayed around for a while, I spent some of my winnings, and Brendan played BlackJack until it was time to go. We had another small stop back at the Sonic next to the first hotel, “borrowed” their internet access and had Cherry Limeades until it was time to leave for the airport.