We are extremely spoiled campers. In the past few years, we have made it a point to pretty much visit every campground in Northern California, and most in Socal and the lower Western states. We’ve been to some amazing lodges, cabins, and set up camp in some of the most remote and beautiful places. A better phrase to describe us would be outdoors snobs.
I’ve only visited the Northern tippy top of Shenandoah. We stayed in a nice cabin and built a big fire. It was beautiful, cozy, nice, but like I said, we are spoiled.
Our original plans for the 4th fell through, so on a whim, I checked the Shenandoah website – they had lodging available. We shrugged. Why not? As luck would have it, when Sly called the reservations desk, he timed it just right, snagging the last room – a cancellation moments earlier – at the always booked Big Meadows Lodge.
With zero expectations, we headed to the park and checked into our lodge, making it just in time to catch one of the most dazzling sunsets I have ever seen. The lodge had a very old vintage vibe, something I didn’t expect. Our cabin rooms, part of the original lodge, were built in the late 1930s at the time the land was dedicated as a national park. We opened the door to our room and were greeted by a total grandma’s attic smell. Specifically, the smell reminded me of some of the old 1930s mansions we had toured in California – musty, earthy, woody, and old. Our tiny, wood-paneled rooms were bare bones, equipped with electricity, plumbing, a simple bed, decorative stone (once-working) fireplace, and coffee maker (with starbucks coffee). We spent most of our time reading (or cooking) in our room, hanging out in the great room of the lodge, watching wildlife and sunsets from the wraparound deck, and of course, lots of hiking.
The following day, we hiked to Rapidan Camp (aka Camp Hoover) — President Hoover’s retreat from the political world, and host to many foreign dignitaries. Most of the compound was torn down in the 1960s, and sadly only three simple buildings remain. After the hike, we drove to Sklyand Lodge and attempted to picnic on a rock in the woods, but gave up when a cloud of relentless black gnats swarmed around our heads. For lack of anywhere better to sit, we retreated to my trusty Subaru, lifted the hatchback, and sat in the back of my car, while we drank our reward for the long hike: an ice cold diet pepsi. It’s a tradition we have repeated after countless hikes — flip flops and a cold soda — the definition of bliss.
Sly grilled bbq chicken with homemade sauce at the park near our cabin. We gobbled down our food quickly, partly due to hunger, and part because we wanted to catch the sunset from the lodge deck. The clouds, and possibly smog, were thick that night, but what little sun setting we saw was beautiful. We did see tons of deer and a beautiful and creepy owl.
Days 2 and 3 – more (easier) hikes, some in flip flops while carrying a cup of hot coffee (told you we were outdoors snobs), more beautiful waterfalls, and more beautiful sunsets. A huge thunderstorm rolled in one evening, just as we had completed our hike. We had escaped to the great room during a lull in the down pour, when the rain picked up once more, shutting the lights off in the lodge completely. The power remained off for about 30 more minutes, but we didn’t mind. There was still light left in the long summer day, and we just pulled up a rocking chair, opened our books, and read while we waiting patiently for our chili dinner to cook.
I’ve always been attracted to the romantic idea and wide open spaces of the West, but there was something about this place, something besides the obvious natural beauty, that struck a chord with a snob of the outdoors like myself. Maybe it was the sweeping views of rolling mountains, or maybe it was the waterfalls, warm enough to actually swim. Or maybe it’s just the fact that as the oldest mountain range in North America, there’s a sense of timelessness.