|The fog was thicker than this. |
Photo credit: Katie Moun, unsplash.com
What do you do when your scenic vista plans are lost in the clouds?
Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway and following it with a Skyline drive through the Shenandoah National Park were high on our list of what we wanted to do on our fall foliage tour. The weather forecast looked good.
|This is what we expected to see along Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive.|
Mother Nature had other ideas.
As we drove into Shenandoah National Park the fog blinded us.”Is it supposed to clear up as we go up in elevation?” We asked the park entrance ranger. Nope, he told us. “When’s it supposed to clear up?” We asked, still holding out some hope. “Days.”
|This is what we actually saw.|
We drove up to the first overlook, looked, then turned back around and exited the park, eventually the visibility got better.
|Kitchy Grand Cavern bat golf mascot.|
Now what? We wondered. We planned to see my nephew Ryan, his wife Beth, and their daughter Marlee in Maryland, but they weren’t available until the next eve. The drive was only a few hours away and the day potentially stretched long in between.
Luray Caverns, the biggest caverns in the Eastern US and the most visited in the country was in between Waynesboro WA and Western Maryland, where family awaited. Why not? we thought and toddled off through backroads highways and small towns.
|Image pilfered from luraycaverns.com|
Before Luray, we came across Grand Caverns. Both were well rated (as is nearby Skyline Caverns), Luray is the far more popular of the two. Since we tend toward the road less traveled, we opted for Grand Caverns as they were smaller, cheaper ($20/adult, $17.50 with military discount versus $32/adult at Luray) and we’d never heard of them. We’re keen on taking the road less traveled.
|Grand Caverns Lodge, Grotto, Virginia.|
We arrived just in time for the next tour, so we went for it. The cave is a mile-long tour and runs seventy minutes.
|One of the larger caverns in Grand Cavern, Virginia.|
Grand Caverns’ claim to fame is that it’s the longest publicly shown cavern in the US, even through COVID. Tours started in 1806. We all toured masked.
|The Fantasia portion of Grand Caverns, Virginia.|
How would we rate it? We can’t compare it to Luray or Skyline because we haven’t toured them. Grand Caverns is a less expensive tour and I suspect the caverns may be less grand (despite their name) and more “touristy.” Grand Caverns, golf bat icon aside, is fairly low-key. Our experience is more well-known and more widely advertised attractions like Luray tend to be more “Disney,” which is not our thing. We both felt that there were a number of places we would’ve preferred to linger a bit longer.
|Our tour guide at Grand Caverns told us they called this massive stalagmite|
The George Washington.
The narrative about how the caves were used (and abused) over the years struck me as more interesting than the caves themselves. I won’t play spoiler, if that sort of thing intrigues you, visit.
|These stalactites reminded me of sharks’ teeth.|
What do they remind you of?
Grand Caverns, Virginia.
Luray tours run longer, so we figure Grand Caverns worked better for us as it gave us more time afterward to find a place to rest our heads that night, especially since we planned to camp and I avoid setting up camp, cooking, and cleaning up in the dark.
|These cave fixures, called draperies, reminded me of caramel taffy, Maybe I was hungry.|
Grand Caverns, VA.
Though we enjoy cave tours, we are too spoiled from Carlsbad Caverns, which we toured in May 2019 to be easily wowed from most cave tours; it’s the best we’ve seen. However, I can tell you my camera did not do Grand Cavern justice.
|The Shenandoah River ran muddy past this Elkton VA park. Nice picnic spot, though.|
We stopped at a sweet riverside park in Elkton Virginia for lunch.
|Kayakers on the Shenandoah River, Virginia.|
After Grand Caverns, we settled on Shenandoah River State Park campground to pitch our tent and lay our heads. That would leave us plenty of time to explore historic Harper’s Ferry on the way to see my nephew and his family in western Maryland the next day.
|Shenandoah River State Park boardwalk.|
|Chicken of the woods mushroom in Shenandoah River State Park;|
the most dramatic mushroom I’ve ever seen!
|What insect made this design in a fallen tree?|
Reminded me of moth larvae designs on the trees on Fraser Island UNESCO World Heritage site in Australia.
|This lion’s mane mushroom also in Shenandoah River Park is another tasty edible.|
|Guess I was on a mushroom mania hike; these wood mushrooms looked especially pretty too.|
Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia.
The campgrounds were walk-ins (yay, no generators nearby) and relatively private. There were even hot showers and flush toilets, which made it feel less painful to pay $27.50 for a tent campsite.
At the moment, we’re in Knoxville Tennesee on our 29th day of travel. We plan on being back in Fort Pierce by Halloween. I will continue to do highlight roundup posts for our full trip.