Shenandoah National Park and Whitewater Rafting on the New River, West Virginia
Whilst the Westerner 2 Trek America Tour had carved through the wonders of California, Nevada and Arizona the Best of the East Trek America Tour had already taken me through several American States. The tour had left New York, New York and then quickly wound through New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Washington D.C. before arriving in Shenandoah National Park which is located 65 miles west of Washington in Virginia. Although we had travelled so far in such a short amount of time and had only stopped in Washington D.C. viewing America and its changing landscapes was a privilege and unforgettable.
Shenandoah National Park lies across a beautiful section of Blue Ridge which forms the eastern barrier of the Appalachian Mountains between Pennsylvania and Georgia. To the west and set within the valley is the Shenandoah River from which the park was named after. Massanutten, which is a 40-mile-long mountain, lies between the north and south forks of the river and providing beautiful views of the breath-taking landscape is Skyline Drive, a scenic road which winds through Blue Ridge through the length of the park. Our campsite, Big Meadows, was located at mile 51.2 of Skyline Drive and was close to three beautiful waterfalls and the Meadow with its abundant plant growth and wildlife was close by.
Most of the rocks that form the Blue Ridge are ancient granite and metamorphic rock formed from volcanic eruptions with some over a billion years old. Humans, however, have only been around this land for a tiny fraction of this time with Native Americans using the land for about 11,000 years but they have left little evidence of their presence. By 1800 the lowlands had been settled by European farmers and over time the land became over cultivated, animals disappeared, and the forests began to shrink and so people began to leave. In 1926 Congress authorised the establishment of Shenandoah National Park. The Commonwealth of Virginia purchased 280 square miles of land and donated it to the Federal Government. More than half the population had left the area and the remaining residents sold their land or were relocated with assistance from the government. President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the park in 1936 and initiated an experiment in allowing previously occupied land return to nature. In 1939 the Skyline Drive was completed. More than 95% of the park is covered by forests with over 100 species of trees. However, the forest faces challenges from poor air quality, forest pests and changes in land use. Big Meadows is the largest remaining open area and is a place where wildflowers, wild strawberries and blueberries grow attracting an abundance of wildlife and humans!
Deer, black bears, bobcats, turkeys, and animals that were rare or absent have returned with deer and smaller animals often seen in the area. Bears are mostly found in backcountry areas but can occasionally be spotted and campgrounds issue warnings about keeping food safe as bears can detect these hidden morsels and stray into campgrounds to scavenge for them! About 200 species of birds have been spotted in Shenandoah National Park including ruffed grouse, barred owls, woodpeckers and in the warmer months flycatchers, thrushes and over 35 species of warblers can be spotted. The park is also home to some slippery creatures including salamanders and two poisonous snakes the timber rattlesnake and the copperhead.
We enjoyed an afternoon hiking in Shenandoah National Park. As we were camping in Big Meadows Campground, we did some hiking around the local area. We made our way to Dark Hollow Falls which is the closest waterfall to Skyland Drive. The waterfall cascades 70 feet over greenstone and although the trail was a little steep with the ascent back to the parking area being 400 feet it was definitely worth a view of the waterfall. We also checked out Byrd Visitor Centre which provided information on the areas human and natural history and there was also a quaint little gift shop too. A short walk from the Skyline Drive is Crescent Rock which provided a fantastic view of Hawksbill Mountain and we also hiked along a short trail to Betty’s Rock. The Skyline Drive provided the best views of the park and of course there was time to drive along and view another beautiful American National Park.
From a peaceful short overnight stay in Shenandoah National Park our fantastic Trek America tour brought us to the excitement of an adrenaline-fuelled whitewater rafting adventure on the New River in West Virginia. We were good hands and in the expert company of Adventures on the Gorge (formerly the Rivermen) in Lansing. Until this point, I had never been white rafting before and so I was a little apprehensive. However, a full day on the New River was on the horizon and of course it was an amazing day! In the heart of West Virginia the guides were absolutely fantastic and as they grew up around the New and Gauley Rivers they knew the rivers very well and all about the condition of the river and the best and safest time for a heart-pumping whitewater rafting adventure.
Our whitewater rafting adventure was on the Lower New River which was around 6-hours in duration and cascaded through the thrills of 25 rapids with rapids classed II to IV. Our guide was called Randy and he talked us through how to stay safe in the boat telling us about how to grip the paddle, how to plant our feet and what to do should the raft capsize. I was eagerly awaiting the experience now and could not wait to get inside the raft. Randy and our Trek guide Shawn enjoyed a lot of banter in how adventurous they could be resulting in a lot of bouncing around and excitement. Shawn must have fallen out of the raft about five times during the most exciting rapids but each time we managed to grab him and pull him back in the raft. At one point he decided to try and pull me in the river with him, but somehow, I managed to remain in the raft as he hurtled into the river. It was funny and I was pretty happy that his plan had backfired! The river quietened during the rapids and there were pools of calm water and of course this provided time for a good swim in the cool river. It was a warm day, and I was glad to enjoy the refreshing iciness of the river! The trip along the river provided some beautiful scenery and scenic views of the New River Gorge and River Gorge Bridge but the rapids were absolutely incredible! The New River is a large volume river with shelf drops and boulders which combined to create exciting rapids. Shawn had some waterproof disposable cameras for our adventure on the river and there are photos of me literally being under a wave of water as the raft plunges through the rapids. The joy and excitement of our whitewater rafting experience are edged on our faces too. The trip also included a riverside lunch which was great and gave us energy for the remaining rapids ahead of us. Whitewater rafting is an incredible experience and I enjoyed it so much that I was very keen to give it another go on the Tully River in Queensland, Australia!