Slow and Steady in Shenandoah

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Just 75 miles west of our nations capital, Washington DC, is a national treasure, Shenandoah National Park.

Backstory

In 2016, heading north on the Blue Ridge Parkway we exited before seeing Shenandoah. Right then, we made the promise to do it another day. This is that, “another day!” 

We are on the spine of the Shenandoah Mountains. Imagine 100 miles with no stop lights, no traffic, no billboards or fast food, and a 35-45 mph speed limit. No WiFi and limited cell service. Most people drive Skyline Drive in 3 or 4 hours. We took 4 days to explore this gem. Scenic overlooks were around every corner, with easy hop on & off. We stopped at the ones with the cool names, such as Fancy Gap, Bacon Hollow, Naked Creek. We camped on Mathews Arm.

Shenandoah Mountain Range

The Appalachian Trail, or the AT, criss-crosses Skyline Drive. Several AT comfort stations (translation = flushing toilets) are in the middle of park campgrounds. We learned a lot about the trials & tribulations of AT-life. One night the 35-spot campground was filled with AT hikers; the next, were only a couple. Most were hiking through to Maine – or hoping to.

One morning we donned our best trail gear and hiked a portion of the AT, to Bear Fence Trailhead. This uphill trail leads to a ridge of rock where you scramble to get the best views of the valley below. Speaking of bear, we did catch a glimpse of a black bear but weren’t quick enough to get a photo. Just a bear butt scrambling into the woods. Shy little guy.

Shenandoah Valley (specifically Staunton, Virginia)

While planning, I had googled “cute main streets, Virginia”, hoping one would pop up along our route. I came up with Staunton, which we later learned is pronounced Stanton.

We picked an Airbnb for a couple nights. Abby’s place was centrally located, walking distance to everything and she allowed us to wash our clothes. (She may have actually begged us to wash our clothes… not certain.)

History

Historically, Staunton played a pivotal role in the Civil War when the Shenandoah Valley served as the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy.” Unlike many cities in the South, when Union troops arrived in Staunton, General Sheridan spared this town from destruction.

We took an architectural tour of Staunton, which didn’t meet Hali’s standards, but we learned a bit, and discovered Woodrow Wilson’s birthplace and home. Being a history buff, I did a little homework. Here are a few fun facts about our 28th President:

  • As a kid he was called Tommy. His first name was Thomas. Later in life he took up his middle name, Woodrow.
  • My local friend Phil below might contest this fact, but Mr. Wilson was our most educated president earning his PhD from Johns Hopkins. (Phil thinks Ted Nugent is the greatest American rocker of all time. But, we did find common ground in thinking Tom Petty died way too young.)
  • It was during the Wilson administration that congress ratified the 19th amendment allowing women the right to vote. In 1920 woman voted for the first time in a presidential election. (100th anniversary coming! Get out the Vote!)

Present Day

Today, Staunton is most noted for its arts, and specifically the Blackfriars Playhouse, where they “do it with the lights on.” You see, in Shakespeare’s day, actors could see their audience, and Shakespeare gave the audience roles… playing Cleopatra’s court, Henry V’s army, or the butt of some jokes. Stools on the side of the stage are for brave audience members who want to physically participate in the show, should their role be needed. 

Initially disappointed a traditional Shakespeare play was not being preformed during our visit, we bought tickets anyway. What we saw was their ensemble troupe, performing a production of what they call Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries. Honestly, I was relieved we didn’t have to endure, “Thither hath he ridden with the news. Hie thee hence, or lose your life!” – or something like that.

What we saw was 16 Winters, or a Bear’s Tale and what we got was an “…industry-changing undertaking to discover, develop and produce plays inspired by and in conversation with Shakespeare’s work.” In other words, I could understand them. And, they wore street clothes!

Back in Shakespeare’s day, plays were often sprinkled with musical entertainment too

Thanks for following us as we stick our next pin in the map, Asheville, North Carolina, aka, Beer City U.S.A.!

About Woody

We are a couple who took the first step toward a life of traveling in May, 2015. Staying within the continental US, we amp'd the adventure-factor by traveling in a VW Vanagon, circa 1985. Our mission is to share irresistible and compelling stories conceived from this lifestyle of travel.

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