Having been in the area just short of four years, I have spent much of my spare time exploring what North Carolina and Southern Virginia have to offer. This year, for my birthday weekend (the big 3-5), I decided to venture a little farther North to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. This choice resulted in one of the best trips of the year and in finding one of my new favorite places! A fellow member of my hiking group accompanied me on this trip to unchartered territory, but we were well researched; armed with countless trail maps and trip reviews from the internet, and a very full agenda! Our home for the long weekend was Big Meadows, right off of Skyline Drive.
Unbeknownst to me, Skyline Drive is a continuation of the Blue Ridge Parkway and is every bit as beautiful. While there seem to be less sweeping views of the mountain ranges, there are still a lot of overlooks where you can pull off. Despite the fact that it was late August, the wildflowers were still plentiful as well.
Perhaps due to the heavier canopy, I saw far more wildlife in three passes on Skyline than I ever have on the BRP. We certainly learned quickly why the maximum posted speed is 35mph. Aside from the twisting and turning of the road itself (which is in great shape with fabulous rock walls lining much of the drive), seemingly suicidal deer are plentiful. These four-legged friends are quite tame, likely due to exposure to tourists like ourselves, and did not spook easily. This was sad to us, but great for photo ops and entertainment at the campground.
While the deer were our most frequent sightings (and hazards) along the drive, particularly in the fog and at dusk, Skyline Drive was also the setting for my very first black bear sighting as well as an encounter with some unruly turkeys.
I did note that we did hit the area trails, right? The hiking within Shenandoah National Park did not disappoint either! On Friday, we hiked the White Oak Canyon/Cedar Run circuit which was a strenuous 8 miles or so with significant elevation gain, but very much worth the effort. There are over six waterfalls along the trail, but unfortunately the water flow was fairly minimal. Within our first couple of miles, we encountered a rare, midday bat sighting. While the orange substance on/around the ears didn’t resemble and photos I had seen of white-nose syndrome, we were not sure if the little guy was sick or not, so we were sure to keep our distance. We also found what I later researched and believe to be a white-spotted slimy salamander. This little guy was actually a pretty good size, I would guess about 5 inches long. This hike also provided us with the opportunity to be startled several times! In waiting for my counterpart near a large rock outcropping, I almost wandered dangerously close (for my comfort anyway!) to a fairly good sized copperhead before spotting it. Luckily, it seemed quite comfortable and didn’t react poorly to my presence or proximity. A short while down the trail, we also had to zip past a ground hive of bees of some sort. They seemed content in going about their business as well and left us alone, as we did them. This had turned out to be quite the adventure and it was only day 1!
-Justine Homiak, Wake Audubon Board Member