“We’re still in New Jersey, I can still turn around,” Ze stated, half serious, half joking as she drove us south towards Virginia in a car full of much of her life and belongs, my one Patagonia travel bag, and my outdoor Ukulele. She half smiled, but of course kept driving, as the rain lightly hit the roof container above us in a tapping, musical pattern. Almost as if the sky of Jersey was in the same state of split emotion: excited for what was to come, yet somber.
Hours later brought us clearer skies, gorgeous clouds and bright blue all above us. The start of rolling mountains that was the state of Virginia gradually increased on our horizon line. When we arrived at the entrance of Shenandoah, we realized we still had another hour and a half left of driving. A friendly NPS ranger gave us a map, and I skimmed over the various overlook driving spots until we would arrive at our campgrounds at Big Meadows.
As we made our way down the magical, winding road, we stopped at many of the overlooks along the way. The road into the park was Skyland Drive, and it’s blank miles. It’s the well-known main road that extends the entire park.
Finally, we arrived at our campgrounds. Big Meadows accepted reservations, and when we made ours there was only one campsite left. It ended up being a lucky break. A lot of the other campsites were close to roads, and close to each other. Our campsite was tucked at the end of a very short walk from the parking area, hidden among bushes and trees in a small circular grassy clearing. One other site was there, on the other half of the circle. They set up their tent right on the edge of the trees and foliage.
After we set up camp, we went on two nearby hikes. The first hike was to a waterfall, very short near the campgrounds. It was pretty popular, and we saw a few group of hikers as we went. On one point of the trail, a woman was sitting by the stream oil painting.
But the highlight of our short time in Shenandoah was the Upper Hawsbill Trail, a moderately easy round trip hike at around 3 miles. The summit of the hike brings you to a day-only shelter and beautiful large rock outcroppings. The 180 views shows the Virginia mountains in all its splendor, with silhouettes of layers of rolling earth painting the horizon with shapes and shades of green hues.
After taking some pictures, we settled down on the rocks, Ze with a blanket over her, taking out some snacks to watch the sun as it began a slow decent. Like the trails’ name sake suggests, hawks flew above us, calling out to each other. They were gorgeous both in sound and appearance, and I couldn’t believe we got to see that. Eventually, the wind started picking up, making it a little chilly, despite how hot it had been earlier. The sun, although beautiful, was a hazy bland yellow currently, and we decided to head back instead of waiting for the sunset.
As we drove around the bend of the road back to Big Meadows, bright fiery-red orange burned through the trees, in a much more impressive sunset than we had anticipated. Chasing sunsets is one of the best sort of adventures, however, so we weren’t about to let this one get away. Luckily, Shenandoah allows for plenty of opportunity to stop your car for views, and we soon were able to catch the end of the sunset, just in time for a pretty amazing view.
Back in camp, we decided to cook some Mountain House backpacking food to make it easy. The campsite sells firewood there, which we bought one pile since we only were staying for the night. Deer and fawns grazed right next to our site, paying us very little attention even though they couldn’t have been more than 15 feet from us.
Ze had some instant coffee and tea as well as some various snacks and food. We started a pretty decent fire, and I attempted to practice Banana Pancakes on my ukulele before quiet hours started in 20 minutes. As we sat there taking in the fact that we were finally on our road trip, giggling a little bit despite ourselves, we looked up to the sky where the moon looked like I had never seen it before. An amazing, almost otherworldly halo surrounded it, so bright that we didn’t even really need headlamps to walk around. It formed a complete circle around the moon.
“Aliens,” Ze announced, jokingly.
It was certainly alien in appearance, but mesmerizingly beautiful as well. At some point, we let the fire finally die. The glow of the foreign moonlight shone directly over our tent as we fell asleep, ending the start of our adventure, but with the promise of so much more to come.