~ Shenandoah National Park, Virginia ~
Skyline Drive

Shenandoah National Park encompasses part of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the state of Virginia. This national park is long and narrow, with the broad Shenandoah River and Valley on the west side, and the rolling hills of the Virginia Piedmont on the east. Although the scenic Skyline Drive is likely the most prominent feature of the Park, almost 40% of the land area 79,579 acres has been designated as wilderness and is protected as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. The highest peak is Hawksbill Mountain at 4,051 feet.

The park stretches for 105 miles along Skyline Drive from near the town of Front Royal in the northeast to near the city of Waynesboro in the southwest. Shenandoah was authorized in 1926 and fully established on December 26, 1935. Prior to being a park, much of the area was farmland and there are still remnants of old farms in several places. The Commonwealth of Virginia slowly acquired the land through eminent domain and then gave it to the U.S. Federal Government provided it would be designated a National Park.

The park is best known for Skyline Drive, a 105 mile road that runs the entire length of the park along the ridge of the mountains. The drive is particularly popular in the fall when the leaves are changing colors. 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail are also in the park. Skyline Drive is the first National Park Service road east of the Mississippi River listed as a National Historic Landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. It is also designated as a National Scenic Byway.

In the early 1930s, the National Park Service began planning the park facilities and envisioned separate provisions for blacks and whites. At that time, in Virginia, racial segregation was the order of the day. In its transfer of the parkland to the federal government, Virginia initially attempted to ban African Americans entirely from the park, but settled for enforcing its segregation laws in the park's facilities. By 1937, the Park Service accepted a bid from Virginia Sky-Line Company to take over the existing facilities and add new lodges, cabins, and other amenities, including Big Meadows Lodge. Under their plan, all the sites in the parks, save one, were for "Whites Only." Their plan included a separate facility for African Americans at Lewis Mountain; a picnic ground, a smaller lodge, cabins and a campground. The site opened in 1939, and it was substantially inferior to the other park facilities. By then, however, the Interior Department was increasingly anxious to eliminate segregation from all parks. Pinnacles picnic ground was selected to be the initial integrated site in the Shenandoah, but Virginia Sky-Line Company continued to balk, and distributed maps showing Lewis Mountain as the only site for African Americans. During World War II, concessions closed and park usage plunged. But once the War ended, in December 1945, the NPS mandated that all concessions in all national parks were to be desegregated. In October 1947 the dining rooms of Lewis Mountain and Panorama were integrated and by early 1950, the mandate was fully accomplished.

Sources: NPS signs and website and Wikipedia

This was my second visit to Shenandoah National Park. The first visit is here.




Skyline Drive


Northern Shenandoah Valley



Massanutten Mountain

Visitor Center Front

Visitor Center rear, which faces the road


Massanutten Mountain on the right is a synclinal ridge that bisects the Shenandoah Valley. In structural geology, a syncline is a fold with younger layers closer to the center of the structure. "The Massanutten is a fifty mile long mountain that begins and ends abruptly. Whenever rock layers are exposed at the earth's surface, they erode. The harder layers resits such erosion and remain as ridges, while the softer rock is eroded into valleys. Long, parallel linse of resistanr Massanutten Sandstone form Massanutten's ridges. At the north and south ends of Massanutten the sandstone dips below the surface resulting in the abrupt ends.




Massanutten Mountain with the South Fork of the Shenandoah River windong it's way northeast to the Shenandoah and on to the Potomac. These photos were taken from the Gooney Run Overlook, elevation 2085 feet.


Left is a patchwork of human influence on Shenandoah Valley. Right is a part of Skyline Drive. Nearly all National Park roads are two-lane to minimoze the effects of man on the environment.


From the Indian Run Overlook, elevation 2400 feet


At a few overlooks, as in the photos above taken at the Hogwallow Flats Overlook, elevation 2665 feet, one can look east toward the coast. At these points the Piedmont is visible. The Piedmont is a plateau region between the Atlantic Coastal Plain and the main Appalachian Mountains, stretching from New Jersey in the north to central Alabama in the south. The fall line marks its eastern boundary with the Coastal Plain. To the west, the Piedmont is mostly bounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, the easternmost range of the main Appalachians. A fall line is the break between an upland region of relatively hard crystalline basement rock and a coastal plain of softer sedimentary rock. A fall line is typically prominent when crossed by a river, for there will often be rapids or waterfalls. A very good example of a fall line rapids is Great Falls on the Potomac River between Virginia and Maryland.
The name "Piedmont" comes from the French term for the same physical region, literally meaning "foothill". The region is named after the Italian region of Piedmont, the lowlands which abut the Alps. Essentially, the Piedmont is the remnant of several ancient mountain chains that have since been eroded away. The Piedmon'ts hills and small mountains rise as isolated peaks rather than long, straight ridges. These hills survive as subtle, eroded reminders of great mountains that existed long before the Blue Ridge. The width of the Piedmont varies, being quite narrow above the Delaware River but nearly 300 miles wide in North Carolina. The Piedmont has been dramatically altered by human activity during the past three centuries. The tilling of the soil and grazing have removed the original hardwood forests. The good soil has eroded away, but what remains is still among the most intensely used earth in the United States.


From the Browntown Valley Overlook, elevation 2890 feet. You can see I was climbing into the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Blue Ridge Mountains



On the left is a rare view down the length of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the Rangeview Overlook, elevation 2810 feet. Several of the highest peaks in Shenandoah National Park can be seen from this location. Skyline Drive meanders its way south through the Blue Ridge peaks that are visible from this overlook.
On clear days, one can view the parallel ridges of Massanutten Mountain and the Appalachians beyond in the right photo. The mountains of Shenandoah National Park contains some of North America's oldest rock formations and are home to more plant species than all of Europe, including 100 tree and more than 900 flower species.


The left photo is from the Mount Marshall Overlook, elevation 2850 feet. The right from Little Hogback Overlook at 3035 feet elevation.


From the Little Devil Stairs Overlook, elevation 3120 feet



The two ridges in this photo starting about a quarter of the way down from the top-center and drifting down to the left form Massanutten Mountain. The mountain has a shallow valley running between these two ridges, which merge near the southern end. Taken from the Hogback Overlook, elevation 3385 feet


On the left is another view of Massanutten's two ridgelines.
Thornton Hollow on the right is typical of hollows in Shenandoah National Park. They remind us of the past, of what once was. Thornton Hollow was a patchwork of fields, woodlands and homes.
When Congress officially established Shenandoah National Park in 1935, Thornton Hollow's residents were among 400 families within the park's boundaries. Thornton Hollow is still recovering from intense human use. All along the trail down into the hollow can be found artifacts, of man's occupation, like old rusting automobiles, fence posts with barbed wire and machinery.


Taken from the Hemlock Springs Overlook, elevation 3380 feet


Taken from the Thorofare Mountain Overlook, elevation 3586 feet, the highest point at which I stopped. A short hike of 100 yards brought me to these views from Crescent Rock. On the left in the center of the photo is Ida, Virginia, one of several communities where the relocated families took up residence after the park was established. To the immediate left of Ida is Breedlove Knob in shadow and Hershberger hill behind it. The depression between those hills and me is Timber Hollow. On the right is Hawksbill Mountain highest peak in the park at 4,051 feet.




Park Rangers and Talus Slopes


The southern end of Massanutten Mountain with its abrupt ending in the center distance


Views from Skyline Drive vary greatly from Clear to Slight haze to Extreme haze. The haze that often obstructs the view results primarily from industrial pollution. Sulfates, emitted by power plants and factories that burn coal and other fossil fuels cause 60% to 80% of visibility impairment. The rest comes from water vapor, dust, auto exhaust and other particulate matter in the air.

Southern Shenandoah Valley with the end of Massanutten at the extreme right center


On the left is the best shot I could get of the face of Crescent Rock. It did not look like a crescent from any angle that I could see. On the right is Park Ranger Becca Alfafara, whom I talked to for about a half hour. We discussed the history of Shenandoah, other parks she has seen and worked in and my travels. We had many destinations in common. U.S. National Park Rangers are among the friendliest people in the world. Becca is no exception.


These bare rock patches standing stark against the forest background are Talus slopes. They remain to remind us of a barren past; remnants of rock masses that froze, cracked and shattered and cast pieces in downslop heaps.
Little can survive there. Hardy lichens cling tight to rock surfaces, spiders scurry about and a few leaves fall to find their way among the rocks. Far too few leaves find their way here to build soil. The football-sized rocks shift and move with ice and heavy rain. These are no places for serious plants. Over millennia the forest will win out, just as the sand dunes will win over the forests. It takes a long, long time.


On the left is another view of Blue Ridge Mountains with the Shenandoah Valley and Appalachian Mountains in the distance. On the right are new trees growing on not much more than solid rock. Once the seed is germinated in a tiny bit of soil, some trees will survive on rainfall for the most part. The roots borrow into small cracks in the rock surface.


The Displacement
In the creation of the park (the Skyline Drive right-of-way was purchased from owners without condemnation), a number of families and entire communities were required to vacate portions of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Many residents in the 500 homes in eight affected counties of Virginia were vehemently opposed to losing their homes and communities. Nearly 90% of the inhabitants had worked the land for a living. Many worked in the apple orchards in the valley and in areas near the eastern slopes. The work to create the National Park and Skyline Drive began following a terrible drought in 1930 which destroyed the crops of many families in the area who farmed in the mountainous terrain, as well as many of the apple orchards where they worked picking crops. Nevertheless, it remains a fact that they were displaced, often against their will, and even for the very few who managed to stay, their communities were lost. A little-known fact is that, while some families were removed by force, a few others (who mostly had also become difficult to deal with) were allowed to stay after their properties were acquired, living in the park until nature took its course and they gradually died. The policy allowed the elderly and disabled who so wished to remain with life tenancy. The last to die was Annie Lee Bradley Shenk who died in 1979 at age 92. Most of the people displaced left their homes quietly.
Displacement seems to have been a major policy of the U.S. Government since its inception. Of course this kind of land accumulation was prevalent long before Shenandoah on this continent.

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