Admiring the Fall colours of Shenandoah, VA, USA
THE SHADOWS are beginning to lengthen in the east as we crawl along the 105 mile stretch. Newscasters succeeded in filling it with camera toting city dwellers today after proclaiming it the weekend for “peak fall colours”–we’re nose-to-tail after leaving Front Royal.
The northern end of Skyline Drive is a straight 80 miles west of Washington D.C. along Route-66 (not the Route-66), and marks the start of Shenandoah National Park. We’re here to flirt with nature, reacquaint ourselves with some earth rhythms, and flood our senses with everything Fall. It’s been a while since we escaped the District, and Shenandoah is an easy bolt-hole.
Washington D.C. is a clean and spacious city. The air drinks nicely, there’s no sooty, dirty nose to it like there can be in London; rarely do I see litter on the street, and even during peak hours the pavements feel empty. Gathering together all of the open space in D.C. would need an area 9 times the size of New York’s Central Park–it has the nation’s highest ratio of parkland per resident.
“Ahh, fresh mountain air,” says Faizal, as if he’s been trapped breathing the toxic fumes of a smoggy city since his journey out here a few months ago.
It could be any number of things: the deep crimson maple leaves, the low slung white criss-cross fences, the red and white barns with their gambrel roofs. I can’t help feeling I’m in New England.
“Do you want to stop?” says Faizal from the driver’s seat.
“No, let’s keeping going. We have to come back this way.”
“Right! Everyone’s stopping now. The viewpoints should be quiet later.”
We didn’t come back this way, we took an alternative route home along Route-211, through Sperryville, but the thinking was good. Shenandoah sees around 15% of its visitors arrive in October for a glimpse of the tawny Fall colours, it’s always a busy time of year.
Signal Knob Overlook, Gooney Run Overlook, Compton Gap, we pass them all. It’s no big deal, there are 75 to choose from. We decide our first stop will be around mile 20: Little Hogback Overlook–Fariza likes the name.
A 35 mph speed limit is in effect along the length of the road, so we settle in, roll down the windows and watch from the car as we snake our way along the ridge. The hills look like the broccoli in the bottom of my fridge: a few pockets of green have survived the virulent yellow ageing effect, but they won’t hold out forever. Red and gold leaves peel like rust from the hillside, or a bad case of wind burn from the cold gusts that whip across the ridge. A few stark, empty, stick filled voids indicate where the landscape is headed in the next few weeks.
The sun is just catching on the top of Old Rag by the time we make our final stop. I pull on my red hat, grab my camera, and for the first time wish I had some gloves. The leaves have lost their brilliance in the shadows, colours are muted, the park is shutting down for the night. Afternoons don’t last as long as they used to.
We pause long enough to survey the smooth granite summit of Old Rag in the distance and remember sitting up there in the summer sun a few months ago, munching peanut butter sandwiches. Maybe we’ll return again next year, the leaves will. They always do.