Sunday, October 26, 2014

An Autumn Jaunt in the Mountains

Wildflowers in October

This past Columbus Day I thought that we should head out to the Blue Ridge Mountains and see the changing leaves while they were still on the trees.  In all the years we've lived in Virginia, every year we've heard that we simply have to go to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park while the leaves are i all their fall splendor.  We tried to go out and see the fall foliage last year, but we waited until the first week of November, and by the time we got there, most of the leaves had already fallen.  I wanted to avoid that this year, so we took advantage of the holiday to head a little to our west and see what there was to see.

Some friends decided to join us on our adventure, so I looked through the 50 Hikes in Northern Virginia book that we somehow acquired—seriously, I have no idea where we got the book, and we’ve had it since before we went to Thailand—to find a hike that was short enough for the little kids, but would let us see something awesome.  I found the perfect spot in the Woodstock Observation Tower, just outside the town of Woodstock (shocking!) on the western side of the national park, but not actually inside the park itself.  For the tightwad in me, that means I didn't have to pay twenty bucks for the privilege of seeing autumn leaves.

The tower itself, according to the US Forest Service, was built in 1935 by the Civil Conservation Corps.  It’s less than a quarter-mile walk up the trail from the parking area to the tower itself, so our little kids had no problem.  From the top of the tower, looking to the east, you get an awesome view of a sparsely populated valley with the Blue Ridge Mountains behind, and while we were on the tower, there were clouds moving through the valley creating a simply gorgeous picture, especially with the leaves starting to change on the mountains.  To our west, at least when we first got on the tower, you couldn’t see anything but clouds—the kids thought that was really cool (so did I, but it seems like much more fun if you say that the kids thought it was cool...).

Looking east.
We had lunch on the tower, and eventually the clouds to the west parted long enough for us to see the incredible view, which includes the Seven Bends in the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.  While we were up there, another set of clouds blew through, including one that actually enveloped the tower, which we all agreed was pretty ridiculously awesome.

Oh, and we had a valuable lesson with the kids about not reading graffiti out loud.  Important stuff for life, really.

Imagine these two in 60 years...
On the way home, we stopped in the town of Woodstock and enjoyed a little of the small-town America feel of the place.  Anne was glad that she skipped a friend’s birthday party to come along, and even Ben finally admitted it was pretty cool.  Maggie spent the day with her friends, but when she saw our pictures, she said she kind of wished that she’d gone with us instead.  I like to think that these are the kinds of experiences we have with our children that, when they are older and living away from home, they will remember with fondness and think, “You know, we did some cool stuff as a family when I was a kid.” 

How you lichen this weather? :-)

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