Nothing Behind Me, Everything Ahead Of Me On The Great American Road Trip

One of the most quintessentially American experiences is the road trip.

Anyone who has listened to John Denver sing about country roads and the Blue Ridge Mountains can easily imagine the transcendent beauty of Shenandoah National Park.
Anyone who has listened to John Denver sing about country roads and the Blue Ridge Mountains can easily imagine the transcendent beauty of Shenandoah National Park along the Skyline Drive. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is it about road trips? The adventure? The unknown?

Maybe Jack Kerouac nailed it in his highway-focused tome On the Road when he wrote, “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road”.

Undecided about your RV vacation? Here are four tips to make your road trip a fantastic experience.

Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Skyline Drive, the 105-mile road that bisects the length of Shenandoah National Park winding along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains provides stunning views of the park’s mountains, valleys, and forests.

Skyline Drive is the only public road through the park and offers 75 overlooks with breathtaking views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west and the Piedmont area to the east. The long, narrow park flows outward, upward, and downward from the highway that splits it.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Native Indians named the valley Shenandoah, mean­ing Daughter of the Stars, for the expansive firmament that roofed their world. Daylight vistas of gently slop­ing mountains, forests, and tumbling rivers, and mountain streams are equally sparkling.

West Texas & Big Bend

Nothing beats the West Texas sky when the clouds roll in. Or when the sun sets. Or when the stars come out. Take a tour of Big Bend National Park, Marathon, Alpine, Marfa, Fort Davis, and Balmorhea State Park.

Big Bend is a stunning mix of topography and ecosystems from the rugged Chisos Mountains and the Chihuahuan Desert to the verdant banks of the Rio Grande River.

Lying some 36 miles to the north, the tiny community of Marathon is dotted with adorable old-timey eateries and other super Texas-y things. Check out the historic and beautiful Gage Hotel and Shirley Burn’t Biscuit Bakery, a Marathon institution providing fresh baked goods daily.

A remote, high-desert jewel nestled in the tall hills of West Texas, Alpine is a friendly, bustling community of a little over 5,000 people in a scenic valley that feels like nowhere else in the state.

Marfa has long been known for its art-world, off-beat cool factor, a mix of kitsch and bizarre; the Marfa Lights Festival kicks off on the Labor Day weekend (29th annual; September 4-6, 2015).

Red Rock Scenic Byway Visitor Information Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Red Rock Scenic Byway Visitor Information Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Davis is pure Texas, as genuine as the working cattle ranches on the outskirts of town. The area’s lively military history is preserved at Fort Davis National Historic Site. An internationally known attraction, the McDonald Observatory is a 17 mile drive up a pretty canyon north of town.

Don’t miss Balmorhea an oasis in the desert north of Big Bend. The San Soloman Springs feed the swimming pool, keeping the water at a refreshing 74 degrees.

Red Rock Scenic Byway, Arizona

Red Rock Scenic Byway winds through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, often called a “museum without walls.”

This highly acclaimed National Scenic Byway, begins shortly after you exit #298 off I-17 and has earned the distinction of being Arizona’s First All-American Road. Although the Scenic Byway is only 7.5 miles, it is long on spectacular sights.

Sedona’s Red Rocks are comprised of sediment layers deposited over many millions of years. The shale foundation is the remainder of ancient swamp lands. Other layers are the remainder of an ancient beachfront that deposited iron about 275 million years ago. This iron is what gives Sedona’s rocks their rich red color.

Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway, North Carolina and Tennessee

Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Cherohala Skyway crosses through the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. The name “Cherohala” comes from the names of the two National Forests: “Chero” from the Cherokee and “hala” from the Nantahala.

Located in southeast Tennessee and southwest North Carolina, the Skyway connects Tellico Plains, Tennessee, with Robbinsville, North Carolina, and is about 40+ miles long. The elevations range from 900 feet above sea level at the Tellico River in Tennessee to over 5,400 feet above sea level at the Tennessee-North Carolina state line at Haw Knob.

Worth Pondering…

When Robert Frost declared his intention to take the road less traveled in his 1916 poem “The Road Not Taken,” who could have guessed that so many people would take the same trip?

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Fall RV Camping: 3 Colorful Destinations

As summer comes to a close, the bright blues and greens that characterize the season are replaced by a deeper, more vibrant palette. As the trees start to don their bright fall colors, the best time of year for viewing the foliage is just ahead.

beauty of Shenandoah National Park
Fall is everyone’s favorite season to visit Shenandoah. The renowned and spectacular Skyline Drive offers a kaleidoscope of red, yellow, and gold. The endless rolling ridges of brightly colored trees never fails to excite. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nothing says “family camping” like fall in the air. There’s a crisp crackle outside and a coolness that feels like sweater weather. Fall camping can be just as much fun as summer camping, so this season take the family out for a few more camping trips before you prepare your RV for the winter.

Visiting national parks tops the list of reasons why many of us chose the RV lifestyleGreat Smoky Mountains National Park is the most-visited park in the National Park System and home to the largest stands of old growth forests in the Eastern U.S. Varying hues of gold, amber, reds, and even purples are mixed in with the dwindling greens of maples, beech, oaks, and the other hardwood species that make the season so colorful.

The twisting, scenic mountain road that leads out of the eastern edge of Great Smoky—the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway—is a destination unto itself. The north end of this vista-filled parkway ends in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park.

Anyone who has listened to John Denver sing about country roads and the Blue Ridge Mountains can easily imagine the transcendent beauty of Shenandoah National Park.

Fall is everyone’s favorite season to visit Shenandoah. The renowned and spectacular Skyline Drive offers a kaleidoscope of red, yellow, and gold each year from about mid-October to mid-November. The endless rolling ridges of brightly colored trees never fails to excite.

The rule of thumb is that colors generally peak in Shenandoah during the last half of October.

Sedona and Red Rock Country
Sedona and Red Rock Country, a vacation hotspot, has appeal for every member of the family. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Autumn is also a great time to visit Sedona, renowned for its stunning rock formations such as Coffee Pot Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Courthouse Butte, as well as its surrounding lush forests. The explosion of brilliant fall colors signals the best time to take a scenic drive up and down Sedona’s Oak Creek Canyon. Autumn in Sedona usually begins in early October and crescendos into the full brilliance of reds, yellows, and golden hues from the middle to end of October. The show is usually over by mid-November.

Other points of interests in the area include Montezuma Castle National Monument including Montezuma Well, a detached unit of the park, and Tuzigoot National Monument, one of the largest pueblos built by the Sinagua.

Kentucky’s vast expanses of forested terrain make it one of the best places in the U.S. to enjoy nature’s spectacular display of fall color. About 12 million acres—47 percent of Kentucky’s land area—are forested, and some 175 tree species grow wild in the state. Kentucky is rich in hardwood forests populated by trees known for their bright fall colors.

Kentucky Welcome Center
Kentucky Welcome Center, I-65, Exit 114 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a scenic drive in Daniel Boone National Forest in eastern Kentucky. At the northern end, explore the Red River Gorge and Zilpo Scenic Byways, while the southern end boasts the Wilderness Road Heritage Highway.

Among the most scenic routes in western Kentucky is the Woodlands Trace National Scenic Byway in Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area. In central Kentucky, fall is an ideal time to take the Bluegrass Country Driving Tour, which winds past horse farms with their wooden and stone fences underneath a canopy of many-colored leaves.
You won’t find a better venue than Bernheim Forest near Clermont from which to admire the sculptural grace of mature trees in a natural setting. Stroll the paths or hike the trails and take in colorful fall displays that include maples, dogwoods, magnolias, conifers, cypresses, hollies, beeches, and buckeyes.

The color changes usually begin as early as September in the higher elevations of the eastern mountains and gradually progress to the west during October and into early November.

For information about RV parks and campgrounds, check out Good Sam RV Travel Guide and Campground Directory.

Worth Pondering…

Country Roads

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Country roads, take me home
To the place, I be-long
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads.
—John Denver

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Top 10 National Parks: Is Your List Better Than Mine?

People like lists. No, check that, they love them. Particularly when they disagree with them and think they have a better list. So, here’s my personal Top 10 list of national parks.

How does it match up with yours?

10. Canyon de Chelly National Monument (Arizona)

Spider Rock, the unofficial symbol of Canyon de Chelly, is a sandstone obelisk that rises more than 800 feet from the canyon floor at the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Spider Rock, the unofficial symbol of Canyon de Chelly, is a sandstone obelisk that rises more than 800 feet from the canyon floor at the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly has sheer sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo, who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor.

The northernmost and southernmost edges are accessible from paved roads—the North and South Rim drives. The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas, ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800 foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls and a site of special significance for the Navajo. Beyond the rocks, the main canyon continues unseen for many miles.

Since Canyon de Chelly lies on Navajo land, unsupervised access is restricted to the rim overlooks and to a single trail into the canyon, leading to the White House Ruins, as for all other trips down or along the canyon, a Navajo escort is required.

Continue reading →

9. Shenandoah National Park

Vistas of gently sloping mountains, forests, and tumbling rivers, and mountain streams are stunning especially during autumn. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Vistas of gently sloping mountains, forests, and tumbling rivers, and mountain streams are stunning especially during autumn. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park is a beautiful, historic national treasure which includes the scenic 105-mile long Skyline Drive—a designated National Scenic Byway. The Park covers the crest of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains for over seventy-five miles.

The Native Indians named the valley Shenandoah, mean­ing Daughter of the Stars, for the expansive firmament that roofed their world. Daylight vistas of gently slop­ing mountains, forests, and tumbling rivers, and mountain streams are equally sparkling.

As each season arrives, and the changing leaves hit their peak of rich color, the expansive views become a tapestry of lush green in spring and summer to red, yellow, and orange in autumn. Along the way, milepost markers help you identify your surroundings—and find the perfect place to pull over and enjoy the panoramic views.

Continue reading →

8. Carlsbad Caverns National Park

The Chihuahuan Desert, studded with spiky plants and lizards, offers little hint that what Will Rogers called the “Grand Canyon with a roof on it” waits underground. Yet, at this desert’s northern reaches, underneath the Guadalupe Mountains, lies one of the deepest, largest, and most ornate caverns ever found.

Water molded this underworld four to six million years ago. Some 250 million years ago, the region lay underneath the inland arm of an ancient sea. Near the shore grew a limestone reef. By the time the sea withdrew, the reef stood hundreds of feet high, later to be buried under thousands of feet of soil.

Guided tours of varying difficulties in Carlsbad Cavern and other park caves are available. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Guided tours of varying difficulties in Carlsbad Cavern and other park caves are available. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some 15 to 20 million years ago, the ground uplifted. Naturally occurring sulfuric acid seeped into cracks in the limestone, gradually enlarging them to form a honeycomb of chambers. Millions of years passed before the cave decoration began. Then, drop by drop, limestone-laden moisture built an extraordinary variety of glistening formations—some six stories tall; others tiny and delicate.

Continue reading →

7. Zion National Park

In the heart of desert slot canyon territory in southwestern Utah is the most awe-inspiring place on the planet: Zion National Park. With the competition Zion faces from its neighboring national parks in the American Southwest just standing out in this esteemed crowd would seem to require some noteworthy scenery. Zion delivers it in spades.

Continue reading →

6. Joshua Tree National Park

Late afternoon shadows enhance the beauty of Joshua Tree. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Late afternoon shadows enhance the beauty of Joshua Tree. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park encompasses one of the most interesting and diverse patches of desert in the U.S. Its namesake species, the spiky, dramatically crooked Joshua tree, is also considered by many to be the defining characteristic of the Mojave Desert.

But this huge desert park actually lies at the meeting point of the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts. The park’s eastern and southern areas, with sub 3,000-foot elevation and plants such as “jumping” cholla cactus and spidery ocotillo, is Sonoran in character; its western areas are higher, cooler, wetter, and quite densely forested with the park’s namesake tree.

You’ll find the tumbled granite boulders to which the park owes its recent fame in the high central range. And don’t miss the towering fan-palm oases, where an entire realm of wildlife revolves around their precious water.

Continue reading →

Worth Pondering…
National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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Celebrating 75 Years: Shenandoah National Park

The success of the western national parks prompted a push to open a large national park in the east. A group of prominent Virginians, who felt this land was too magnificent to go unnoticed, began to promote the idea of a national park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

Much of Shenandoah consisted of farmland and second- or third-growth forests logged since the early 1700s. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Several sites in the southern Appalachians were considered, but in the end, with a lot of effort by Shenandoah supporters, it was decided to establish a park “within a day’s drive of millions”, making Shenandoah the perfect location for city dwellers to “escape” their busy lives.

At the park’s dedication 75 years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt agreed by saying, “…with the smell of the woods, and the wind in the trees, they will forget the rush and strain of all the other long weeks of the year, and for a short time at least, the days will be good for their hearts and for their souls.”

This statement has continued to hold true as the park has grown into one of the most popular national parks in America.

Mountain majesty

On June 25, Shenandoah National Park will be rededicated during a 10 a.m. ceremony at Big Meadows. The entrance fee to the park will be waived that day, and a full slate of activities is planned, The News Virginian reports.

The ceremony will feature “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band. The rededication event is free, but tickets are required—all of which have been taken.

“For the remainder of the day after the rededication ceremony, everyone is invited to enjoy the entertainment, hikes, and activities,” said Susan R. Sherman, executive director of Shenandoah National Park Trust (SNPT), the official nonprofit fundraising partner and booster of the park.

Vistas of gently sloping mountains, forests, and tumbling rivers, and mountain streams are stunning especially during autumn. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“This will be a big day, but we’re celebrating the 75th anniversary of the park all year long. This anniversary gives the park an opportunity to acknowledge its past, but more importantly to look toward its future.

“It’s also an opportunity to celebrate the communities that surround the park. The two are really mutually beneficial to each other. The park is a huge economic driver for the local economies of these gateway communities.”

During this anniversary year SNPT is organizing activities to encourage people to enjoy this majestic treasure. For example, it’s co-hosting a regional photo contest for professional and amateur photographers, as well as children.

The Trust has also established the Hundred Mile Club, which offers a membership package and members-only events. Those who join agree to pledge or raise $1 for every mile they hike, up to 100 miles in a calendar year, with the money benefiting the park.

75 Reasons to Visit Shenandoah National Park

To increase interest and knowledge about the park, a game was created called “75 Reasons to Visit Shenandoah National Park and the Surrounding Communities.” The questions are listed in a brochure that can be found at visitor centers surrounding the park or downloaded at celebrateshenandoah.org.

Hikers trek into the forest along the more than 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail and are rewarded with some of the most scenic views of Shenandoah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The game features a range of questions about the park and provides the public opportunity to participate in the anniversary celebration, learn more about the area, and win prizes.

A brochure contains the questions about the park and the highlights of the surrounding counties. Anyone participating in the game finds the answers, fills in the blanks, and returns the form to the park by November 1, 2011.

All persons submitting correctly completed entries receive a certificate of participation, a specially designed decal, and qualify for prize drawings in November. The Grand Prize will include a Shenandoah National Park Vacation Package for two at Skyland Resort, a limited edition print of the park that is signed and numbered by the artist, and a biplane ride over the Shenandoah Valley and Piedmont of Virginia. In addition, there will be 16 additional prize packages made possible through the support of area attractions and businesses.

Did You Know?
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park celebrated its 75th in 2009 and Blue Ridge Parkway is celebrating their 75th in 2010.

Note: This is the final in a four-part series on Shenandoah National Park and its 75th anniversary celebration.

Part 1: Make Your Destination a Journey

Part 2: Driving the Skyline Drive

Part 3: Away I Go to Shenandoah

Worth Pondering…
O Shenandoah, I long to hear you
Away, you rollin’ river
O Shenandoah, I long to hear you
Away I’m bound to go
—lyrics by Nick Patrick and Nick Ingman

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Away I Go to Shenandoah

Because of its geographic location, half the population of the U.S. is within a day’s drive of Shenandoah National Park. Last year 1.2 million visitors enjoyed its scenic vistas, streams, waterfalls, and other attractions, placing it among the top 10 most visited national parks.

Much of Shenandoah consisted of farmland and second- or third-growth forests logged since the early 1700s. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park is rich in history, with eleven sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. From President Hoover’s summer white house at Rapidan Camp, to the legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), as well as the stories of the former residents of the land, Shenandoah’s intriguing past invites visitors to explore deeper into this special place.

Camping

There are four developed campgrounds that offer sites for tents on up to RVs.

Although Shenandoah National Park doesn’t have a campground that is solely for recreational vehicles, it does have three campgrounds that will accommodate large rigs. Mathews Arm, Big Meadows, and Loft Mountain campgrounds all have pull-through and deep back-in sites, most of which can accommodate an RV with a tow vehicle. Reservations are available at these three campgrounds. Although the park campgrounds do not offer hookups, they have potable water and dump stations.

Photo Tips

Simple as it sounds, there is a big difference between taking a travel photo and making one. When you take a photo, you simply point and shoot.

When you make a photo, you think about all the elements in a scene and how they interrelate and complement each other.

You think about the lighting and the background and the foreground. And you think about the mood you want to create with your image.

Capture a panorama
Use the panoramic format mode (P), to capture the grandeur of a wide vista.

Take photos, even in inclement weather
Don’t let overcast and rainy days discourage you from taking photos. Polished by the rain, colors become more intense. On overcast days, try to include a spot of color to brighten your photo.

Did You Know?

Hikers trek into the forest along the more than 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail and are rewarded with some of the most scenic views of Shenandoah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 600-foor-long Marys Rock Tunnel was completed in 1932 and the public considered it a scenic wonder. It became iconic and tunnel images were used on everything from post cards to jewelry.

Quick Facts about Shenandoah National Park:

Skyline Drive: 105 miles long, 75 overlooks

Total Acreage: 197,438 acres

Designated Wilderness: Approximately 40% (79,579 acres) of Shenandoah is wilderness

Highest Peak: Hawksbill Mountain, 4,050 feet

Hiking Trails: 516 miles, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail

Highest Waterfall: Overall Run Falls, 93 feet

Plants: More than 1300 species

Birds: Over 200 species

Shenandoah National Park

Details

Operating Hours: Always open; however, portions of Skyline Drive, the only public road through the park, are periodically closed during inclement weather and at night during deer hunting season, mid-November through early January

End of the day at Shenandoah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Admission: $10.00/vehicle, December-February; $15/vehicle, March-November (good for 7 days); all federal lands passes accepted

Location: In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia 75 miles west of Washington, D.C. and stretches 105 miles from its northern entrance at Front Royal to its southern entrance near Waynesboro

Maximum Speed Limit: 35 mph

Camping: $15-20

Address: 3655 Hwy 211 East, Luray, VA 22835

Contact: (540) 999-3500

Note: This is the third of a four-part series on Shenandoah National Park and its 75th anniversary celebration.

Part 1: Make Your Destination a Journey

Part 2: Driving the Skyline Drive

Final article in the series: Celebrating 75 Years

Worth Pondering…

Country Roads

I hear her voice, in the mornin’ hours she calls to me
The radio reminds me of my home far a-way
And drivin’ down the road I get a feeling’
That I should have been home yesterday, yesterday

Country roads, take me home
To the place, I be-long
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads

—John Denver

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Driving the Skyline Drive

Skyline Drive, the 105-mile road that bisects the length of the park winding along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, may be Shenandoah’s predominant feature, since it provides stunning views of the park’s mountains, valleys, and forests. This road rises and dips within sight of granite peaks and zigzags among wildflowers that, in spring, brighten sections of the park’s 197,438 acres.

From the breathtaking views along the Skyline Drive, to the splendor of watching a bear and her cubs, to the thrill of hiking to a mountain summit, it’s hard to leave Shenandoah without being inspired. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive is the only public road through the park and offers 75 overlooks with breathtaking views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west and the Piedmont area to the east.

You can enter Shenandoah National Park at four places: Front Royal near Routes 66 and 340, Thornton Gap at Route 211, Swift Run Gap at Route 33, and Rockfish Gap at Routes 64 and 250 (the northern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway).

As you travel along Skyline Drive you will notice mileposts on the west side (right side if you are traveling south) of the road. These posts help you find your way through the park and help you locate areas of interest. The mileposts begin with 0.0 at Front Royal and continue to 105 at the southern end of the park. The largest developed area, Big Meadows, is near the center of the national park, at milepost 51. All park maps and information use these mileposts as a reference.

The parkway is open year-round, but the prime season runs from May through October. Peak blooming and autumn color displays occur at different times and places due to variations in elevation ranging from 649 to 6,053 feet.

You’ll admire dogwood, azalea, mountain laurel, and rhododendron during May and June, then brilliant hardwoods flaming from yellows to oranges and various shades of red from September to November. Amaz­ingly, you will see more species of trees on the Blue Ridge Parkway than in all of Europe.

Skyline Drive offers 75 overlooks with breathtaking views, many with picnic tables. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For many who travel the drive, the highway itself is a park, complete with numerous deer and black bear sightings along the way. But the vehicles are passing the real Shenandoah. More than 500 miles of trails can be accessed from overlooks along Skyline Drive, and the arduous Appalachian Trail roughly parallels it for nearly its entire length.

The long, narrow park flows outward, upward, and downward from the highway that splits it. The drive, following ridge trails walked by Indians and early settlers, transports visitors to a park built on a frontier that lingered into modern times.

Note: The clearance of Marys Rock Tunnel (just south of Thornton Gap entrance from Route 211) is 12’8”. Know you height including air conditioner and be sure you will clear.

Photo Tips

National Parks with their bounty of wildlife, grand scenery, and beautiful details offer unlimited photo-taking opportunities.

Include a strong point of interest: Since your eye needs a place to rest in the image, include something of interest—a clump of colorful wildflowers, a large rock formation, a mountain, or an odd-shaped or colorful tree.

Place the point of interest off-center: Photos are more appeal when the horizon or your point of interest is not in the center of the image. Place the horizon a third of the way down from the top (or up from the bottom) of the frame.

Did You Know?

The long, narrow park flows outward, upward, and downward from the highway that splits it. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park was built by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a government jobs program created during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Workers constructed the rock walls, overlooks, picnic grounds, campgrounds, trails, and the Skyline Drive. They also planted the mountain laurel that lines the road, and built more than 340 structures in the park, many now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The work of the CCC is commemorated by a statue of a CCC worker, Iron Mike.

Note: This is the second of a four-part series on Shenandoah National Park and its 75th anniversary celebration.

Part 1: Make Your Destination a Journey

Next in the series: Away I Go to Shenandoah

Worth Pondering…
Country Roads

All my mem’ries, gather ’round her
Miner’s lady, stranger to blue water
Dark and dusty, painted on the sky
Misty taste of moonshine, teardrop in my eye

Country roads, take me home
To the place, I be-long
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads
—John Denver

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Make Your Destination a Journey: Shenandoah National Park

Visiting national parks tops the list of reasons why many of us chose the RV lifestyle. What better way to tour these national treasures, to experience with all our senses the wondrous glacier-carved mountains, sweeping evergreen and deciduous forests, unimpeded rivers, tumbling mountain streams and waterfalls, glaciated valleys, wildflower-covered meadows, and free-roaming wildlife.

Skyline Drive, the 105-mile road that bisects the length of the park winding along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, may be Shenandoah’s predominant feature, since it provides stunning views of the park’s mountains, valleys, and forests. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most-visited park in the National Park System. The twisting, scenic mountain road that leads out of the eastern edge of Great Smoky—the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway—is a destination unto itself. The north end of this vista-filled parkway ends in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, and here RVers find plenty of nature’s bounty, teeming with beauty and out­door adventures.

The Native Indians named the valley Shenandoah, mean­ing Daughter of the Stars, for the expansive firmament that roofed their world. Daylight vistas of gently slop­ing mountains, forests, and tumbling rivers, and mountain streams are equally sparkling.

Unlike most national parks, Shenandoah is a place where settlers lived for over a century. To create the park, the Commonwealth of Virginia acquired 1,088 privately owned tracts and donated the land to the nation.

Much of Shenandoah consisted of farmland and second- or third-growth forests logged since the early 1700s. Today the marks of lumbering, grazing, and farming have mostly disappeared, as forests have slowly grown back.

Before the park opened and during its early days, some 465 families moved or were moved from their cabins and resettled outside the proposed park boundaries. A few mountaineers lived out their lives in the park and were buried in the secluded graveyards of Shenandoah’s disappearing settlements.

Shenandoah Song

A Shenandoah sunset. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anyone who has listened to John Denver sing about country roads and the Blue Ridge Mountains can easily imagine the transcendent beauty of Shenandoah National Park. Visitors from around the world travel the renowned and spectacular Skyline Drive, one of the great scenic byways of America.

Hikers trek into the forest along the more than 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail and are rewarded with some of the most scenic views of Shenandoah. Horse owners saddle up and explore the 150 miles of horse trails.

Native eastern brook trout challenge anglers in the numerous nearby streams.

And many others come to escape the pressures of a fast-paced world and spend some quiet time intertwined with the best that nature has to offer.

To the east of the park, the Piedmont country’s rolling hills act as counterpoint to the park’s spine, the Blue Ridge Mountains.

To the west, the Shenandoah River finds its way through the oak-hickory forest, home to black bears and deer and nearly 50 other species of mammals, and over 200 species of birds, including wild turkeys.

The Native Indians named the valley Shenandoah, mean¬ing Daughter of the Stars, for the expansive firmament that roofed their world. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park campgrounds generally open in April and May, but RVers are advised to check on road conditions before setting out.

Shenandoah National Park offers something for everyone! From the breathtaking views along the Skyline Drive, to the splendor of watching a bear and her cubs, to the thrill of hiking to a mountain summit, it’s hard to leave Shenandoah without being inspired.

Whether you’re looking to get in touch with nature, discover a piece of history, or simply relax and renew in a serene environment, Shenandoah offers activities for visitors of all ages and interests.

Note: The clearance of Marys Rock Tunnel (just south of Thornton Gap entrance from Route 211) is 12’8”. Know you height including air conditioner and be sure you will clear.

Did You Know?
The first Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp in a national park was Shenandoah National Park’s NP-1 established near Skyland in May 1933. The second National Park Service camp was also in Shenandoah National Park, camp NP-2 at Big Meadows.

Note: This is the first of a four-part series on Shenandoah National Park and its 75th anniversary celebration.

Next in the series: Driving the Skyline Drive

Worth Pondering…
Country Roads

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Country roads, take me home
To the place, I be-long
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads.
—John Denver

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