Sometimes, travelers are lucky in weather. I’ve had perfectly blue skies at Crater Lake in Oregon in a single week between snow storms, had the rain let up in Amsterdam just as I arrived, and had a storm abate just long enough to visit the ruins at Ephesus before it came back in.
Other times, Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate. Smoky skies in Vancouver’s Stanley Park, torrential rain in Charleston, SC, and a late-season hurricane that caused a family cruise to skip two ports, I’ve experienced these and more. Largely, I have determined to have a positive experience regardless. Weather is fluky, and seeing a place in imperfect conditions can even lead to some amazing experiences I otherwise wouldn’t have had. Missing a port of call in St. Maarten, for instance, led to an overnight in St. Thomas, where I attended a bar mitzvah at North America’s oldest synagogue!
So a foggy day in Shenandoah National Park didn’t worry me. Surely I’d still enjoy the 105 mile drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains overlooking the Shenandoah Valley on one side and the Virginia countryside on the other. The fog would lift at some point, and the shrouded views would lead to some terrific photos. Right? Well…
My normal view during the day. That is the Shenandoah Valley, trust me.
For reference, this is what it normally looks like. Image courtesy of Jackie Gish.
While the view opened up at roughly four of the dozens of overlooks, largely this was a 105 mile drive through forest and clouds. Sometimes the road was clear and lovely.
This had me humming Into the Woods as I drove through.
Other times, it was a bit more challenging, to say the least.
This was the majority of the drive. Beautiful, yes, but a bit nerve wracking as well.
This isn’t to say that there weren’t moments of bliss, despite the weather. I think the greens of the forest are just a little greener, just a tad more magical, in the low hanging clouds. (The Park sits at roughly 3,000 feet along Skyline Drive, up to 3,500 at the road’s highest point.) Halfway through the drive is Big Meadows, with a lodge and restaurant that make for a good stopping point. Big Meadows sits along the Appalachian Trail, and a short walk along it gives a wonderful insight into one of America’s most famous paths.
Along the Appalachian Trail near Big Meadows Lodge.
One of the best “perks” of a negative weather situation is the sense of camaraderie that you can find with other visitors, commiserating over what seems like a lost opportunity to see something. Meeting the same people at each overlook, all of us hoping that maybe this one would offer a glimpse between the clouds, we all laughed at our bad luck, and over the chance encounters we had with the fog. “See you at the next overlook,” one would say. “Not in this fog, you won’t,” joked another back.
Most often, an unfortunate break in the weather is actually something I relish. Sure, it can make for some logistical issues (or shoes so wet they need to be blow dried), but it gives a different experience in a place, one I normally wouldn’t be able to have. This one, however, was a bit extreme. The beauty of Shenandoah lies in the forest and the view. One of those was completely negated.
I guess I will just have to go back!
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