Returning to SNP – fog, cold, heaven

October 19, 2009

On Friday evening I made a long overdue return to the mountains of Shenandoah National Park. It was horrendously foggy and ridiculously cold, but I didn’t care. It was heaven.

Now that I live in Alexandria, I can either enter through the Front Royal entrance at the top of the park or through Thornton Gap at Rt 211. Since the goal of the evening was to reach Big Meadows campground to meet up with friends, I opted for the 211 entrance.

Passing through Sperryville on my way toward the park, I found my first surprise – two foxes darting across the road. I’d always wanted to see a fox and it was a shame that I’d set out on this trip without my camera. (I’m still without Photoshop and the conditions at the time wouldn’t have given me much of a chance anyway) It was still a neat experience though.

Once in the park, I was blessed with another extremely rare sighting. As the fog briefly broke along Skyline Drive near Skyland, there was a shape in the middle of the road with its back to my approach. As it glanced over its shoulder, it was immediately clear that it was a coyote.

I’ve only seen one other coyote in the park and that was during the last book process. My first coyote had been skinny and sheepish. By comparison, Friday’s seemed well built and confident. It didn’t stick around long before jumping over the embankment wall, but it was enough for me to quickly survey its shape and expression. That right there made the trip worth it.

The mountains are at a beautiful time of the year right now, when leaves are partially fallen and halfway through their color changes. Overall, it creates a very soft visual palette, especially on an overcast foggy day.

We made it to the campground around 9:45, but it took several hours for everyone to get there thanks to a GPS leading a car down a fire road instead of to an actual entrance. Oops.

After some food, fire and conversation, we settled in for the night. Despite wearing multiple layers of everything in addition to several blankets, that below freezing temperature still worked it magic and I was chilly most of the night.

Tune in tomorrow to hear about our hike to Whiteoak Canyon Falls.

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