Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway

October 23, 2011

Kat: They say when you visit each state in America it’s like visiting another country. No more is that true than in the Appalachian mountains, where old-time music plays along hidden roads to the beat of running streams and falling leaves. The byroads that run through Virginia and North Carolina are world-famous, more so in the season of autumn, where the trees display a fascinating explosion of colour ranging between reds, oranges and yellows. We began our journey in Shenandoah National Park, a national park that runs 100 miles along the ridges of the Appalachian mountains. The road that runs through the park is called Skyline Drive and displays some fantastic views of the Virginian landscape.


We camped in Big Meadows, midway along skyline drive. While driving to the registration office we saw a small black bear scoot off the side of the road. Blink and you’d have missed it. It was the start of many wildlife encounters we would have in the park. There is a huge deer population there, which comes out at twilight and dawn. I had a staring competition with a deer that was blind in one eye when I got too close… I backed away slowly and got out of there toute suite. While my nerves were slightly shaken it reminded me of a joke we told as kids:


What do you call a deer that’s blind in one eye?

No eye deer.


We saw even more wildlife at our campsite; while cooking dinner a skunk sauntered through our campsite, the familiar white stripe of Pepe Le Pew reminding us not to get too close. We later learned that Skunks can only really see three feet in front of them so it probably didn’t even realise we were there! The next morning I saw two stags licking each others faces, but with their sharp horns you can’t get too close.

blind deer
No eye deer

That night we rattled around in our tent because the wind was so bad! The dry leaves in the trees make it even creepier to lie in bed as they rustle in the branches. Yet the next morning was completely calm; no sign of the horrible windstorm of the night before. After hanging around all morning doing some writing and reading, we went for a hike to Dark Hollows Falls, an easy 1.8 mile walk through the woods. I took some interesting long exposures before slogging it back up the hill.


The museum in Big Meadow described the conflicts between the local inhabitants who were essentially evicted from their land to create the park. Many of them were paid out, however the struggles of some reminded me of the great Aussie film The Castle. Even more interesting was the history of segregation, where African Americans were provided with their own campgrounds and picnic sites. Some of the passionate and inspired letters against the prejudice of the park system were on display.


Driving the rest of the Skyline drive we ventured onto the Blue Ridge Parkway.


Justin: The Blue Ridge Parkway is an iconic byway in America, nationally certified as a really crucial road in America where the destination is the journey. Blue Ridge is magnificent in autumn, the changing colours in the leaves are breathtaking and mix with some existing greens and whites (ice and snow) as you travel across various elevations. The photos will give more justice than my words.

blue ridge parkway
Ice and snow at the top of the Blue Ridge Parkway

One of the highlights of this trip for me was visiting a music museum which documented the history of American Appalachian mountain music which fused African banjo with English, Scottish and Irish dances, often using the fiddle. The banjo and fiddle combination formed an iconic American sound which would in time feed into a multiplicity of significant tangents which shape and define American music: bluegrass, hillbilly, country and western, blues, and so on. Exploring and getting to know this music takes you into the heart of American music itself so it’s no surprise that great American artists: Bob Dylan, Aaron Copeland, the Coen Brothers and many more, have taken time to explore this rich and importation tradition.

Bluegrass and old-time musicians

I feel that travelling through Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee really is going through the heart of America, the Blue Ridge represents the first real frontier of American settles. One in four Americans can be traced to a trail which crosses the Blue Ridge. It’s also a focal point for many crucial battles in the American Civil War too – so much American blood and footsteps and musical notes have fallen on this stretch of land – the Appalachian mountains. I feel it’s a sacred part of America, the heart and nervous systems and a gateway which leads to the southern parts, and speaking of which we’re getting large doses of good old southern hospitality and drawl. We spent today in Dollywood, a place where the surreal entertainment of the western coast mixes with Christian and the Country and Western influence of the south. Boot scootin fun had by y’all. Ciao for now. J


Kat: On a last note we have a new member of our clan: Mr Monkey!

Mr Monkey!!
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