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Sunrise Hike In The Shenandoah Valley

Last weekend, my gal pal C and I ventured down south to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia -  and it was everything I thought it might be. Rippling mountain peaks, cold mountain air, and soft hues of violet casting light on the orange autumn leaves. The Shenandoah was the intended highlight of the trip, and we were eager to anchor our route with the famous Skyline Drive that runs along the National Park. It's a true American byway with a backroad feel, with dozens of overlooks providing panoramic views and the most brilliant bursts of autumn color! In the morning light, with the fog and pre-dawn blue skies, everything sparkled.

C is one of my dearest friends (and now BRIDESMAID! more on that later) and we pride ourselves that we met in Italy during our college travels. Back in Italy we passed by the time planning trips around scheduled train times, the trattorias we strolled past, and the landscapes we would see. Now that those beautiful days in Italy are long gone, we try to occasionally relive the glory days by planning impromptu little trips here in America. We often plan…but life gets in the way. This past weekend, our first actual getaway actually happened. Our planning originally had us going to New York City to visit other fellow Italy friends, but changes of events brought us southward to the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.

And let me say that seeing the Shenandoah scenery alone was a dream come true. Simply put, I have an obsession with Civil War history and the lore of the mountain hills and the Confederate legends kiiiiiiinda fascinates me (a lottttt).  So the immersion was deep - we found ourselves in the thick of it all, among the mountains and the cool air, and the history of course. It was a whirlwind of natural beauty and the idea that so much had happened there that made me feel a curiosity of the land.  My favorite moments were along the Skyline Drive seeing the sunrise, with deer grazing in the grass mere feet away from us. The overlooks along the drive offered the most sweeping views of blue peaks and blazing orange leaves.

 

Our “home base,” Staunton, Virginia, allowed us to take a quick hour drive to reach one of the access points of the Skyline Drive. We somehow got in and out of the National Park for free (oops!). Normally, it is $20 for access into the park. The Skyline Drive is a beautiful winding road along the high ridge of the Shenandoah Mountains, with nationally-renowned scenic overlooks and vistas. Every single stop, I found myself absolutely blown away with the endless mountains in every direction. The entire road is a scenic byway, and a photographer’s dream. We knew we were interested in taking many stops, taking pictures, and a beginner’s level hike. So we leisurely made our way northward, making plenty of photo stops along the way! And C was so good about research.  She chose a hike along Hawksbill, where we ran into some intimidating advanced level hikers (they had the big backpacks, the gear, and the attitude to go with it). After asking them for some hiking advice, we got the full stink-eye and judgement from them. It's funny how enthusiasts of any hobby can so quickly shed their humility. Hiking snobs! We just went along, happily aloof and appreciative of the nature. Isn’t that what it is all about? 

Hands down, for me, the best part of the morning was childish GIDDINESS we felt as we hopped out of the car for each overlook. Besides our run-in with the hiking aficionados, we were basically alone. We began our hike, a 2 mile uphill slope towards Hawksbill Summit (elevation is 4049 feet). At the top, we were out of breath but completely in awe of the view surrounding us. I love the picture C snapped of me (above) looking over those endless hills! And they really were endless, in every direction, with valleys and dense clouds of fog intermittently obscuring our view of the horizon. It was cold, brisk, and the leaves were frozen towards the top of the summit. But miraculously, we had the whole mountain top to ourselves. Admittedly, the solitude was lovely; no rush, no one vying for the best spot, no need to even talk. On the way down, we passed eager hikers who all greeted us kindly, with a hearty "good morning!" and "how's the view up top!?" See, hikers can be nice.

I am by no means an experienced hiker - in fact, I'd say this was my first real hike. I've never camped or RV'ed, but I am finding that in my mid-twenties I am falling hard for the natural wonders of the National Parks. Cities and crowds are not my thing. And while I love photography, and it motivates a lot of my travels, I would say that no picture I can take will ever compare to what the eyes can see.