Updated on December 3, 2019
Camping Weekend in Shenandoah
First weekend of November, before all the leaves were gone in the mountains, my friend and I ventured into Shenandoah National Park for a camping trip and a last peak of autumn. And this post would be about all the things that didn’t went wrong that weekend (a lot of them did…).
Since my friend was only able to get up at 10am, the first thing that went wrong was traffic, quite a lot of that on I-495 North near Washington DC. It seemed that everyone was out for a last glimpse of autumn, after previous weekend’s bad weather. But it’s at Thornton Gap Entrance of Shenandoah that we saw the worst of it, as the queue of cars heading into park went around for 30 minutes.
So it’s past 2pm by the time we reached Big Meadows campground, the only campground still open in Shenandoah National Park for the season. Good thing there was still sites left as the ranger at the entrance was pretty sure “campground would be full tonight”. Then, after setting up tent among not-so-pleasant smoke from nearby fireplaces and a quick lunch later, it was past 3pm.
In my ideal plan it would be 1pm now, and for the rest of the day we would be exploring the southern part of Shenandoah that I haven’t been to before. After a few trails like Loft Mountain, Blackrock or Turk Mountain, we would be watching sunset at Humpback Gap, followed by some warm meals (my friend really pressed on this) in the civilized town of Waynesboro, before heading back to the wilderness of Big Meadow for a night of star gazing.
It was a clear sunny day (and night), so sunset viewing must remain on our to-do list. But since it was much later than I expected, we decided to change the location to Stony Man Summit, and before that, visit a few overlooks and trails along the way since sunset was 3 hours away.
Millers Head Trail
Apart from Limberlost Trail which I rightfully ruled out (there were barely any leaves left on trees there), Millers Head Trail was the only one in the region that I haven’t visited before. At 2.5km roundtrip, it wasn’t particularly long, ideal for people like us that were short on time.
Just at the trailhead my friend noticed some dandelion plants.
So he spread some into the air, creating a magical scene. Unfortunately, my camera’s auto focus just wasn’t keeping up.
As for the trail itself, apart from a few pine trees, there were few signs of life left.
There was a platform at the end of the trail, which was also its most popular part. Panoramic views spanned from Crescent Rock to Stony Man, where we came from to where we were heading.
Unfortunately, I was capturing the scene against sunlight (by comparison I really liked the photos from last week), so the best of my Photoshopping can only get me so far:
After that, it’s a chatful stroll back to the parking lot.
Stony Man Trail
After we got back from Millers Head, there was about an hour to sunset, about time that we head for Stony Man Summit.
Just before we reached the summit, I noticed a few trees that were rather interesting in shape.
Then there’s the summit of Stony Man. There must be at least 50 people wandering around the rocks looking for the perfect shot of sunset. A level of crowdedness I wasn’t so used to in Shenandoah.
But at the end of the day, it was a spectacular sunset, and everyone left satisfied.
Since my friend demanded a warm dinner in cold weather, we headed to the nearby Skyland dining room next. After circling around the parking lot for five minutes for a spot, we joined a horrendous line outside the restaurant made of sunset spectators moments ago. It must be the restaurant’s best day of the year I guess.
And since we had a long and cold night ahead of us, we decided to go for a few small plates beside the main courses, one of which was this “boneless chicken wings”.
I was pretty sure protein in this plate could come from any part of chicken, just not its wings. It turned out to be a glorified version (which means, a different sauce like BBQ was used to make it looked darker in color) of Panda Express’ Orange Chicken, but Orange Chicken nonetheless. If they had wings like these, no wonder chicken can’t fly.
So in between standing in line, refreshing newsfeed occasionally when there’s cellular network, going through the day’s photos while waiting for overworked chef and waiters preparing our dishes, it took us two full lengthy hours for this dinner. Good thing was that at the same time, clouds had past and skies had darkened. Before we headed to our tent for some thriller movies (did I mention it’s the weekend after Halloween?), I decided to go for some star gazing in the openness
and bitterness of Big Meadows.
For the more glamorous part, I had a beautiful picture of our universe at the beginning of this post. For the shady behind-the-scene part, everything turned out to be harsher than what I expected, from shooting stars with a F4 lens in freezing temperature (my friend could certainly attest this), to tedious post-processing of setting color and contrast and getting away all the noises.
And it’s a November night, which meant in northern hemisphere Milky Way sets at almost the same time as the sun, so what I captured weren’t the most spectacular night sky. Nonetheless, it was a clear night with still plenty of shining stars.
After that, my friend and I retreated into the tent and watched some thriller movies. After that,
we I went to sleep while my friend complained that it’s too cold that he barely slept for the night. Interestingly, he heard a lot of intermittent noise in the bushes overnight, which could be either wild animals or ghosts from our movies.
plan imagination for the next morning was to watch sunrise along some roadside overlook, before packing up and heading South for the few trails that we didn’t manage to visit on the first day, before heading back to Washington DC. But since we were sort of tired from last night’s star gazing and thriller movies it’s the weekend when things tended to go wrong, we overslept to 10am (even with an hour from daylight saving time). With other engagements later in the day, we packed up and headed straight out of the park, only making a few brief stops at roadside overlooks.
That combined with traffic meant it was 3pm by the time we got back home.