Day 20 – Oh Shenandoah

Sean’s Journal: Whew! My east coast expedition was busy—lots of traffic, lots of people, lots to take in. I must admit that I’m looking forward to heading over the Appalachian Mountains and driving through the green hills and rural countryside of the Virginias, Kentucky, and Tennessee. I’ll be able to save money by camping out. The truck’s running just fine—no leaks and no new squeaks.    

Ellen / College / Future Trips. You may be wondering about my long-distance friendship with Ellen. We talk by phone about every other day. As we both see the summer coming to an end, it means she’s getting ready for her fall semester at Boise State and I’m trying to figure out what’s next. Back to college is the logical thing, but you can be sure that my American odyssey is not over. I think I’ve mentioned to my dad and Vince that I’m planning a trip from San Diego and up the west coast to Vancouver, British Columbia. Then, I’ll follow the footsteps of the V&M family across BC, over the Canadian Rockies to Banff and Calgary in Alberta, then return south through Montana and Idaho, and back to my Utah home once again. I’m not sure what the status of things will be with Ellen and me by then, but she loves the open road and the mountains and wide-open spaces of the western USA just like I do. We have many things in common.

The Westward Plan. As I do the Appalachian trek, I’ll leave the DC area on I-66, then I’ll be switching from state and scenic highways to Interstate 81–and back–as I visit Shenandoah National Park and find my way south along and atop the Appalachians. The scenic highways include the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Finally, I’ll cross over into West Virginia on I-64. Check the map. The Appalachians represent amazing geography and history. The area is worth Googling. Apparently, the name of this region came from the Spanish version of the name for a Native American tribe that lived in the area: The Apalachee. Those of us from the western states fail to realize the immensity of the diagonal swath of land that crosses so many states from south to north. I’d like to recommend a NY Times bestselling book entitled A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson who walked the 2100-mile trail from Georgia to Maine.    

Shenandoah. There is an entire culture tied to the name “Shenandoah.” He was a chief of the Oneida Iroquois people. There is a river, valley, mountain, national park, and even a beloved movie by the same name. The movie was released in 1965. It is a tender-hearted, family-oriented civil war story starring James Stewart. There are multiple international cities with the name, plus a Virginia county. A beloved American folk song is entitled “Oh Shenandoah.” Basically, the region surrounding the Shenandoah National Park is legendary in many ways. Part of the Appalachian Trail runs through the park. Here’s a link:

Charlottesville. Is this a cool, genteel name for a city or what? After I left Shenandoah, I took a double-back, side trip to Charlottesville, Virginia. Vince raves about the charm of this city and its setting on the lower slopes of the Appalachians. He said he had never seen so many varieties of trees anywhere and blossoms of many colors everywhere. I’m not sure of the season when Vince visited, but from what I’ve read there are trees blossoming about eight months of the year. Well, I’m here. The area is breathtakingly beautiful with quaint homes and historic plantations everywhere. As much as Utahns love our gorgeous mountain home and our famous red-rock canyons, we’ve got a way to go on the “quaint and charming” scale. These Virginians got a “colonial” head start on us and the weather patterns in this Appalachian region of the country contribute to a garden-green experience everywhere you go.  Another word is “pastoral.” Wow. Ellen would love this place.

I asked the locals what they like about living in this area. Their answers are: the history, the trees, flowers, bluegrass music, horses, and the food. And, out our front door, we’re an hour and a half from Richmond, two and a half hours from Washington DC and the Chesapeake Bay. Out the back door, we have the Shenandoah National Park and the Appalachians Mountains. There is almost nothing ‘not to like.’” Whoa! I’ve got to be careful here. I love Utah, but I could be born again as a Virginian. They say, “Virginia Is for Lovers.” Good grief, we have a BEAUTIFUL country. 

University of Virginia Rotunda, designed by Thomas Jefferson

FYI: My next major destinations are Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky, with an overnight stop in the mountains on the way. Why Lex & Louis? Here’s a clue: T.H. + K.D. Ponder it. 

Vince’s Response: Sean, you have described the Charlottesville I remember. You’re right, no one section of our great country has a patent on cultural interest and scenic beauty. While we’re hooked on our high, snow-peaked mountains of the West covered with pine and aspen trees, the deciduous trees of those eastern low-lying mountains and valleys have an indescribable beauty that Utah can’t match. At this point, I would invite every American to find the lyrics to America the Beautiful. These words so poetically and perfectly describe the many beautiful aspects of our land from sea to shining sea, with amber waves of grain, purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain…and alabaster cities that gleam. To use your word, Wow!

BTW: Your travel itineraries sound awesome. It’s so cool that Ellen might be involved somehow. I wish I could sit by the campfire tonight with you in those Appalachian Mountains as we grill some burgers and chug some root beer.

Bookends: (1) Oh Shenandoah, I hear you calling. (2) Take A Walk in the Woods, there’s nothing like it. (3) Virginia is for lovers and all who journey that way.