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YEAR #3 - STOP #47

Today's travels had us going south by southwest following along the contours of the Shenandoah Valley. We passed by the location where Skyline Drive (inside of the Shenandoah National Park) ends and the northern entrance of the Blueridge Parkway begins.

Two years ago we traveled the entire length of both parkways, which are located on the top ridge line of the mountains, so this year we will be exploring the foothills and valleys located below.

Our destination today is the campground at Sherando Lake Recreation Area which is maintained by the United States Forest Service. Seeing as how it is managed by a division of the U.S. government it means we can use our Lifetime Senior Pass to receive a 50% discount.

We get a campsite with electricity, a drinking water spigot nearby (if we need it), clean flushing toilets and free hot showers, plus a free dump station on the way out of the park to empty our holding tanks. All this for just $17.00 a night! If we had elected to go without the electricity we could have stayed here for just $11.00 a night. Not a bad deal considering the state park we just left cost us $46.00 a night for basically the same amenities.

The last of the Fall Color here at Sherando Lake

Campsite C14 here at Sherando Lake Recreation Area

With just as many leaves on the ground as in the trees,
I'd say we are definitely past the peak of the fall color season here in Virginia.

It was so beautiful, but only lasted for just the briefest amount of time.

TUESDAY - Guess what we're doing this morning?

If you guessed going on another one of those cave tours you would be right!

Today we're headed to Grand Caverns to take another tour. Grand Caverns opened for tours in 1806 as Weyer's Cave, named after the man who discovered it two years earlier in 1804.

They have been giving tours here ever since, making Grand Caverns the oldest continually operating show cave in the United States.

The tours today are a little different than what they offered back in 1806. Back in the early days they gave you a candle, some matches and pointed you to an 18 inch round hole in the ground. You followed your tour guide into the hole and began the arduous 8 hour journey through the caverns.

Today you still get to walk through the same half mile of caverns, but the pathway has been smoothed out with concrete and gravel, the entrance has been enlarged and improved with electric lights to show you the way. Today's tour takes just a little over an hour and only involves a few dozen stairs to climb. Thankfully no ropes or ladders like in earlier times!

Just to put things into perspective.
See that well lit stalagmite down in the center of the walkway?
It's 10 feet tall and 4 feet around.

We learned something new today, it's called a shield formation.
You can follow the link to get better photos and an explaination of how they form.

We haven't seen this paticular formation on any previous cave tour we've been on. There is one room in Grand Cavern where to can see 30 of these formations in one place. Some of them are double and even a triple formation growing from the bottom of the previous one.

Here is a pair of shield formations that appear to be hinged at the top, like a clamshell.

This next photo we took while driving back home after the cave tour. If you follow Tricia on Facebook or Instagram you have probably already seen it. It was so well displayed I just had to include it here. Can you spot the two human inhabitants of the house?


WEDNESDAY - We have another sightseeing day planned today. Two years ago when we traveled through this area we passed on visiting this attraction and regretted it ever since. Well today we drove the 40 miles to make it happen.

If anyone has a United States nickel in their pocket that was made after 1938 and flips it over to the back side they'll know where we went. If you flip it back to the front side you'll know who designed and owned this archetectural masterpiece.

We visited Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, a spokesman for democracy, an American Founding Father, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the 3rd President of the United States (1801–1809).

Monticello, along with the nearby University of Virginia, which Jefferson founded, is also another UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the tenth (out of 19 in the Lower 48) World Heritage site we have visited.

Our admission tickets included two short documentary films about Jefferson and his relationship with his slaves. The visitor center is at the base of a 5000 acre mountain and Monticello is at the summit. Thankfully our ticket inculed a short shuttle bus ride to the top.

The shuttle drops you off at the back door of Monticello where you are given a short 10 minute overview of what you'll be seeing and all of the discussions that are offered underneath these huge white event tents set up all over the property.

We decided to attend two of these discussions, the first was a gentleman dressed in period clothing of the early 1800's and he cut his hair, not a wig, to look as close to Thomas Jefferson as possible. He was very well educated about everything Jefferson related and after 15 minutes of dialog about his life and ambitions he opened up the floor to questions. His entire speech was done using the vocabulary of the times and when asked about events that took place after his lifetime he was simply answer, "I know not of what you speak about." It was the highlight of the day for both of us.

The second presentation was about the gardens and trees all over the grounds. It seems Jefferson was very interested in trying to grow items from around the world on his little 5000 acre mountain.

After the two presentations we walked around the grounds. It wasn't the best time of year to experience the foilage and flowers, not much was in bloom and the leaves had already left most of the trees.

Next we went inside the home and did a self-quided tour of the first floor which consisted of the living, dining and library rooms. The second floor where the bedrooms are located was not open to the public at this time.

We spent the better part of two hours touring the area before we started back down the mountain. We elected to walk back down to the visitor center because about halfway down is the Jefferson family cemetery. Thomas Jefferson is buried here along with many relatives and descendants.

At the time of our visit they were enlarging the cemetery to create enough space to include descendants wishing to be buried here in the future.

THURSDAY - Rather than risk traveling today we decided to stay put while the remnants of Hurricane Zeta pass by us up here in Virginia.

We are forecast to have strong winds and rain most of the day so we'll have a very rare Friday travel day tomorrow.

As soon as we get set up at the next stop we'll have another cave tour to share.

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YEAR #3 - STOP #46

Today's travel day had us moving just over 100 miles southeast over the Appalachian Mountains and into Virginia. We saw a sign indicating that we were crossing the Eastern Continental Divide, who knew there was such a thing. What I do know is we spent a lot of time driving up and down long steep sections of highway to get where we were going.

We ended up right smack in the center of the Shenandoah Valley on the bank of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. We are less than 10 miles from the north entrance of Shenandoah National Park in Front Royal, VA.

You can bet we'll be revisiting that park and Skyline Drive before we pack up to move further down the road. I just hope we haven't missed the peak of the fall colors along the drive.


Tricia and I were all finished breaking camp this morning and were getting on the road when I turned on the radio in the truck to listen to some SIRIUS/XM music.

The very first song we heard being played was the Doobie Brothers very first #1 hit, Blackwater (released in 1974). Here we were leaving Blackwater Falls State Park driving over the Blackwater River and they're singing "Old black water, keep on rollin'..." and "I ain't got no worries, 'Cause I ain't in no hurry, at all."

Now I understand the black water they were singing about wasn't the Blackwater River in West Virginia, it was actually the Mississippi River in Louisiana, but it set me in a relaxed state of mind for the drive ahead.

Our mountain view from Campsite #9 at Shenandoah River State Park

South Fork of the Shenandoah River as viewed from Cullers Overlook.

SUNDAY - I awoke early this morning, took a look outside and immediately had a brief moment of panic.

My first thought was I forgot to turn off our brand new BBQ grill after cooking dinner on it last night. My second thought was I didn't cook dinner on the grill last night. My third thought was "What the hell?"

Like I said, all that thinking only took a brief moment, then I realized what was going on!

It was just the early morning sun burning off the overnight frost that had acculmulated on the top of the grill cover. The temperatures were in the lower 30°F last night and growing up in Florida, plus living there all my adult life, I haven't had to deal with this situation very often.

WEDNESDAY - Our day started early today at 6:30AM. We got up and went to the bathhouse to shower and then got on the road headed to an 8:00AM appointment at the Ford Dealership in Front Royal. Before even exiting the campground we saw more than a dozen rabbits and at least three deer, we never see them here after sunrise occurs.

We were running ahead of schedule and took the time to grab breakfast at the McDonalds near the dealership. We arrived 30 minutes early at 7:30AM and found the service department already open. After describing my problem with the Service Advisor, who happened to be a retired Ford mechanic, he was confident he knew what needed to be replaced.

He also said that the parts needed were presently on backorder, that he had two others with the same problem ahead of me, and that it would be 3-7 days before the part would arrive. He also mentioned it was at least two full days of labor to make the repair. All this is covered 100% by my extended warranty, the problem is we'll be leaving this area in 5 days.

The problem only occurs immediately after we start the engine. It makes a rattling noise for about two seconds while the engine starts running. There is an electronic module that kicks in to adjust the timing of the engine which seems to be a little behind in its duties, causing the engine to run ruff and the valves to chatter. Like I said it only lasts for a few seconds and then the engine runs just fine.

Our next extended stay at a single location isn't until mid-December, so we'll have to wait until then to get this latest problem resolved.

Also we planned ahead by loading three weeks worth of dirty laundry into ROVER before we left this morning and took care of doing that overdue chore on the way back home.

After putting away the clean laundry and grabbing a little lunch we found ourselves with some unexpected free time on our hands. I opened up Google maps and began searching for something interesting in the area to go and see. What I came up with was Woodstock Tower.

Woodstock Tower, built in 1935, is a steel observation tower built at an elevation of 2000 feet and offers 360° views of the surrounding mountains, valleys and rivers. It is a 27 mile drive from our campsite, with the last 3 miles up a very dusty gravel road that is barely 1-1/2 lanes wide, making passing oncoming traffic an adventure all on it's own!

It was still an excellant last minute find and something we would not have experienced if we spent the whole day at the Ford Dealership.

The view from the bottom...

...and the view from the top.

THURSDAY - Today we're in for a "TWOFER", otherwise known as a two for one special. It involves two of our very favorite things to do, visiting a cave tour and a National Park.

First up is our 31st cave tour. Not just an ordinary cave tour, voted as one of the Top Ten Show Cave Tours in the nation, Shenandoah Caverns is our primary reason for selecting to visit this area again.

By now you may all be tired of seeing cave pictures, I know sometimes I have trouble selecting which ones to share. Let me just say one more time, the photos don't do the cave experience justice. You have to be there, in person, to understand the size, complexity and shear volume of formations that we are seeing. Throw in the fact that you are following a sometimes narrow path where you are ducking and weaving between rocks, climbing and descending stairs and ramps, then feeling the temperature changes. If you ever have the chance, visit a cave, any cave and you'll see what I'm talking about.


Descending the 79 stairs from the gift shop to the cave floor.
Time to go deeper into the cave.
Still going down!

With the cave tour completed in was time for lunch. The nearby small town of New Market had four choices for fast food restaurants, Subway, Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds and Burger King.

Our first choice of Subway was eliminated because they didn't offer a drive-thru option, we are still trying to social distance at every opportunity. Second choice? McDonalds, because we prefer their french fries and Dunkin Donuts didn't sound like lunch to us. We ate in the truck and then got back on the road and headed for the Thorton Gap Entrance of Shenandoah National Park.

After a 20 minute wait in line to gain entrance to the park we headed north on Skyline Drive. It's 31 miles from the Thorton Gap Entrance to the Front Royal (North) Entrance so we got to travel roughly 1/3 of the 105 mile long drive. It just so happens to also be the most popular section of the drive.

Here are a several photos we took from a few of the numerous roadside overlooks, which offer the only place to pull off the road and take photos.

This is the same dead tree we photographed two years ago.

Time to head down off Skyline Drive and return to camp down in the valley.

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YEAR #3 - STOP #45

The travel day today was fairly short and thankfully uneventful, considering ROVER's check engine light was still on for the entire move. We did end up increasing our elevation by about 1500 feet and are starting to see more and more fall colors in the trees and mountain sides.

The big story for today occurred when we arrived at our new campsite. Over the last 28 months we have set up in 162 different campsites (yes we keep track of that kind of information) and today's is by far the most unlevel site we have ever tried to set up in! Our Anderson Leveler Ramps are our standard way of leveling THE POD from left to right and are designed to adjust for up to a maximum 4" difference.

It sure looks unlevel, but I promise you it isn't!

This campsite however is an unbelievable 8" out of level from left to right. In order to get THE POD even close to being level we had to use every single leveling tool we carry with us. Even so we are still a half inch to low on the patio side of the trailer. It will just have to do!

Looks more like a circus balancing act than anything else.

I guess it could have been worse. The only other Airsteam (a 1969 model) in the park has a campsite that is three feet out of level from the front to the back of their trailer.

So the lesson to be learned here is:
If you ever find yourself planning a camping trip to
Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia,
avoid campsites #17 (ours) and #26 (theirs).

THURSDAY - We are forecast to have a couple days of wind and rain, courtesy of Tropical Depression Delta, as it passes through West Virginia this weekend. So we decided to do some sightseeing before that happens.

The main attraction in the park is of course Blackwater Falls. During this time of year however the Fall Colors also compete for that distinction.

The first five slideshow photos were taken on Tricia's early morning walk, while the rest were taken mid afternoon around the rest of the park.


These first two photos were taken early morning from very near our campsite.
These next three are photos of Blackwater River Canyon from three different overlooks found within the park.
The first of many stairs leading from the parking lot down to the Blackwater Falls viewing platforms.
The view from the first platform down to the second one and the falls.
The view from the second platform, or as I like to call it, Rest Area #2!
More stairs, over 200 in all, down until you reach the final platform.
The view from platform #3, below the top of the falls. This is as close as you can get.
Look! There is another viewing platform on the other side of the river. Let's Go!
This is the view from the other side of the river. See the people on the third and lowest platform over on the other side?
This was a roadside overlook on our way to hike the Lindy Point Trail.
Some spectacular fall color along the .5 mile Lindy Point Trail.
The view from the end of the trail at Lindy Point Overlook.



WEDNESDAY - This is our final day in West Virginia so we decided to get as high as we could while still in this state.

We did that by driving some 55 miles south of the campground to Spruce Knob (elevation 4863 feet) and climbing to the top of the observation tower. This is as high as you can get in West Virginia.

The observation tower at the top of Spruce Knob.

The view from the top of West Virginia.

On the drive back home our route took us through the small town of Seneca Rocks. It is named after the rock formation that towers over the entire town. It also appears to be a destination for avid rock climbers, you won't find any rookie climbers on that rock face.

The view of Seneca Rocks from our lunch spot on the patio of Yokum's General Store and Deli.

Yokum's General Store and Deli just so happens to be where we stopped for lunch, after touring nearby Seneca Caverns, back in April of 2019. We didn't stop here again because the food is so great, it's just the only place within 20 miles to get a bite to eat.

Last year I tried their special of the day, a Ramp Burger. If you remember, a ramp is a wild onion. This time of year the ramps aren't in season, so I ordered a simple cheeseburger instead and Tricia had a BLT.

A final look at Blackwater Falls before we leave...
and one final comment too!

While our visit to Blackwater Falls State Park got off to a rather rocky and unlevel start, we would definitely recommend you visit here. Other than a few bad campsites the campground is above average and the scenery is outstanding if you get out and hike some of their trails.

And oh yeah, The Falls, simply amazing!

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