Saturday morning was very cloudy and dreary looking, and there was a chance of thunderstorms late in the day. The sun kept poking out though so I decided to go for it – I’d headed out in worse weather and ended up having a great day.
Last week I’d noticed that the Mt. Laurel was in bloom at Mason Neck, so I was thinking, and hoping, that it would be in bloom in Shenandoah as well. That hope was what lead to me decide to hike to Camp Hoover, near the Big Meadows area. Camp Hoover was President Hoover’s summer retreat and several buildings have been preserved. Beyond Camp Hoover is the Laurel Prong trail that runs along the Laurel Prong of the Rapidan River – the last time I’d hiked this trail was in the early spring and I remember crashing through the laurel thinking how spectacular it would be when it was in bloom. In addition the area was once home to a magnificent stand of old growth hemlock trees. These hemlock trees have all been killed by the woolly adgelid. When I was here last it was about 10 years ago and the hemlocks had just recently been killed off, I was curious to see how the forest was recovering from the loss of the great trees.
As I drove up 211 toward Skyline Dr I noticed that the tops of the mountains were fully ensconced in a cloud. As I drove down Skyline Drive the fog was so thick in places that I couldn’t see 2 car lengths ahead of me. The temps were in the low 60s as well. I decided that it might be a good day to explore Big Meadows. This main feature of the park is not something that I have ever wanted to explore before because it’s usually hot and buggy and generally not appealing. Today though, the cooler temps and the fog made the meadow appealing.
I parked the car at the Rapidan Fire road parking area and was getting ready to hit the trail when the clouds parted and the sun came out! I headed out down the fire road in full sun! The walk across the meadow was nice, but not something I need to do again.
About a mile from Big Meadows I came to a speed limit sign?!?! I was wondering what a speed limit sign was doing way out there, but then I remembered that the park service uses that road to bring van loads of tourists down to Camp Hoover for tours! A little while later I turned off the fire road and onto a trail. As I was walking down the trail I started hearing “road noise” and I couldn’t figure out how I’d gotten so close to Skyline Drive! I glanced back over my shoulder and saw the tour bus heading down the fire road. ugh. I would be sharing the camp with a tour group.
The trip down to the camp was right about 3 miles. I got there in just about an hour! Pretty good I think!
When I arrived at the camp I noticed that there were little paths between the buildings that I didn’t remember from the last visit! I’d planned to spend a few minutes checking out the buildings and then head up Laurel Prong a little ways.
I spotted a Mt. Laurel bush and wandered over to take some pictures and was walking back to the buildings when I encountered the tour group. The ranger who was leading the tour invited me to join them, I kinda didn’t want to, but he said that they were heading into the Prime Minister’s Cabin – I had no idea you could go into the buildings so I took the ranger up on his invitation. They had put some exhibits in the cabin but it was pretty true to what it looked like in Hoover’s day. It was neat to glimpse into what the camp was like back then!
After I finished in the cabin I tried to leave, but the ranger said that next they were going to Hoover’s cabin and I wouldn’t want to miss that. Oh, well, I guess I was in the tour for the duration.
I was standing on the porch of the cabin waiting for everyone to come out so we could move on and I noticed the guy leaning on the rail. I knew I recognized him and it took me a minute to place him, but I finally did – I was pretty sure it was Sean our Graduate Assistant from Summer Clinic at UVA. I almost snapped a picture to show the folks from UVA but I didn’t. As we were walking to the next stop he struck up a conversation with me (I’d mentioned to the ranger that I was a teacher, I was asking about SNP’s teacher ranger program) and that’s when I knew it was him! It was pretty fun running into him!
Next we went into the “Brown House”. Not only was it actually a brown building, but it was a bit of a joke considering that Hoover’s other residence was the “White House”! HA!
It was interesting to see the insides of the cabins and see how the were built and how many amenities they had! All the cabins had electricity & running water! Part of the reason Hoover picked the location he did was because of the great stands of hemlock trees. The hemlock trees that are now gone. It was hard to visualize what the area had looked like back then.
As I was heading back to the trail I saw Sean taking a picture of his family so I offered to get all 3 of them and we chatted for a minute or two about what he’s doing these days, then he says with amazement “You walked all the way down here?” I said “Yep, and I’m walking all the way back”. He was pretty amazed.
In the tour group there was a couple about my parents age and they were dressed for hiking and had daypacks and hiking sticks. They clearly stuck out in a group of folks who were clearly on a bus trip. At first I’d assumed they were simply overdressed. But as the ranger went on and on they kept glance at their watches and a few times voiced that they were concerned about the trip back up the hill. The sky was getting cloudy again and we were anxious about rain.
The three of us ended up heading back up the trail together. I wasn’t sure about this at 1st, I generally hate hiking as a part of a group as I tend to just go with the group and not listen to my body, but I went with it! Somehow I ended up in front and set the pace and they seemed happy with it so it worked! Turns out they were RVers! They were camping at Loft Mt in their 37 ft Winnebago! They were from Vancouver and were in the middle of big tour of the states. This trip they were doing the perimeter! They’d visited most of our national parks and we headed to DC. We had a great time chatting the whole way up!
It was 2 miles from the camp to Skyline Drive – we did it in just under an hour! WOW!
Their car was parked right there, but mine was still about a mile away so we said good bye and I headed off down the AT.
I’d only gone a few feet from the parking area when I encountered a little boy and his mom. The little boy, prob about 3, started talking to me very animatedly about something, I felt bad because I couldn’t understand a single word. His mom translated for me, turns out the child was speaking in German!
The portion of the AT I was walking on was entirely flat! There were tall trees, but they were thinly spaced and there were lots of ferns growing and I was just walking in my own little world. Then, all of a sudden, I saw a large black animal cross the trail in front of me! It was a bear!!!!! Holy cow! A Bear! He was a good distance from me and not a threat to me. I was pretty sure he’d clearly seen/heard/smelled me and was trying to get away. I froze right where I was – scanning the forest to see if there were more, but there weren’t. Then I went for the camera! I had a great view of him from where I was so I started taking pictures – they looked great in the view finder, but when I snapped them they were horrible. The reason? I’d been playing with the shutter speed taking pictures of the waterfall and left it on “slow”. ugh. By the time I fixed everything, the bear was gone.
As I walked down the trail, kicking myself for not getting good shots of the bear, I was thinking it would be great if the camera had a special mode you could put it in that would override any other settings you’d put it in and take a great picture without having to take the time to reset everything, especially when you need to shoot something quick – like a bear. Then I remembered that the camera did in fact have a mode like that – simple mode. Dope Slap.
The rest of the hike was uneventful! I made it back to my car and made a quick pit stop at Big Meadows, then headed home.
The sun had been shining all afternoon on Skyline Dr, however there were thick clouds just beyond the mountains and there were no views driving down Skyline Dr – quite bizarre!
|Camp Hoover 5.29.10|