I pulled over into a small gravel turn off by a bridge, heading south on Rte. 340 in eastern Virginia. David’s back needed a break after a good chunk of the day spent driving, and it was time to reconnoiter. We’d gotten to the Shenandoah Valley later than we’d hoped (escaping the snare of traffic getting out of the NYC area to the southeast is never as easy or as fast as one hopes), and our plan to drive along the Shenandoah River at the head of the valley, then to go up on Skyline Drive for a leg of our trip before heading back to the interstate to spend the night, was looking tough to pull off. We were hungry and it was going to start getting dark soon.
“Let’s just go up on the Skyline Drive for a bit to this point on the map,” I said, pointing to a dot marked Skyland. “If we need to turn around, we can do it there.” Driving through the entrance gate to Shenandoah National Park, which encompasses the Skyline Drive, we saw a posted sign naming the places to eat and sleep and camp along the road. When we got to Skyland, we found a restaurant with a wall of windows looking out over the valley, the sun turning orange as it began to sink into the western ridge. There was also a room available, with the same broad view of the valley. Rather than driving out of the mountains back to Interstate 81 to spend the night, we slept at Skyland Resort, at 3600 feet.
The next morning we woke to a view of mist hugging the snakes of the river below. We did a short hike to the rocky summit of Stony Face Mountain, then continued to drive along Skyline Drive, almost all of which is above 3,000 feet. The views were stunning. In Waynesboro, Skyline Drive dips down into a gap and becomes the Blue Ridge Parkway, which we drove for the first 70 miles. Again, stunning views, as the road swept back and forth and twirled around the ridge, views to the west, then views to the east. Blooming mountain laurel made a pink hedge along some parts of the road, and at higher elevations there were trees of rhododendron of a deeper, almost fluorescent pink. At one point we drove through a high meadow, with rolling fields and a view of a grand house sitting on a crest of land.
When we finally made our way back to the interstate to finish the drive to Knoxville, we agreed we want to finish driving all of Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway sometime in the next five years. Driving a ridge is a treat we’ll give ourselves again.