Tag Archives: western Virginia

Autumn Drive Along the Skyline

Afton Mountain

Mr. Mitchell and I woke Thursday, grabbed the picnic basket, cooler, and our jackets, and headed to the southern section of Skyline Drive. The mountains were calling! I love October and leaf season, and look forward to it every year.

The mountains had been calling for a while but a busy autumn had delayed our annual trek to Shenandoah National Park to see the leaves. With heavy rain in the forecast for Sunday, we wanted to do some leaf peeping before precipitation and wind hit, sending leaves to the ground and leaving behind bare trees.

As we drove up I-64 to Afton from the Shenandoah Valley, leaf color was definitely in the process and had occurred since the weekend just four days earlier when it was still green.


Skyline Drive, South Entrance Station

There were five cars ahead of us in line waiting at the entrance station. Our son and his wife were on the Drive last weekend and counted 16 cars ahead of them so this was a short wait, not to mention we usually try to avoid weekends in October.

The $25 daily fee (that is good for seven days) is in danger of being almost tripled with a proposal by the National Park Service to raise the entrance fee to $70. If enacted, it would also affect 16 other National Parks, the most popular ones in the system, possibly putting the parks out of the price range of many who would no longer be able to afford enjoy America’s playground. There is a 30-day comment period now through November 23, 2017, to share your opinion about the proposed fee increase (link to comment is here). I already wrote to let them know I was against it.

Beagle Gap

Hikers were at Beagle Gap where the color was not yet at peak.

Leaves, berries, vistas, flora and fauna … the following are photos (iPhone and Nikon) of the day. We picnicked at Loft Mountain Campground where we have spent many years as a family tent camping and hiking. It was in the 40s and cold with a wind … perfect for an autumn day.

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Chasing Autumn in Rockingham County in Western Virginia

Friend Barb and I took Tuesday to chase autumn and spend time together enjoying the beautiful Shenandoah Valley where we both live. Besides the fun of back roads and stunning mountain vistas that we both enjoy, we found all kinds of fall décor for our houses.

Our first stop was Myers Pumpkins just east of Harrisonburg, a family-run farm that provides already-picked pumpkins and gourds, chrysanthemums, pick-your-own pumpkin patch, corn maze, and corn stalks ready for decorating. This was a new place for me that Barb introduced to me, and they were well stocked.

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Blue Ridge Parkway, Humpback Rocks Farm 2017 Free Concert Series

If you’ve not been to Humpback Rocks Farm’s concert series, plan to visit the Blue Ridge and get lost in the music of the mountains! Wander the historic farmstead, hike Humpback Rock trail, picnic, and soak in the beauty of Virginia while you kick back to listen while talented musicians entertain guests under the big old tree near the cabin.

And it’s all FREE on select Sunday afternoons at 2:00pm on the farm located at Milepost 5.8. Bands will include some old favorites and several new ones. Power and sound equipment has been upgraded, thanks to some generous donations, and there will be more concerts this summer than ever before.

June 18 – Farm Use String Band
July 2 – The Lovell Coleman Band
July 16 – The Bill Wellington String Band
Aug 6 – Harmony Hill
Aug 20 – Grassy Ridge
Sep 3 – The Mutton Busters
Sep 17 – Blue Mountain Sunrise
Oct 1 – Uncle Henry’s Favorites

This is possible through Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway — Humpback Rocks Chapter. Roles for volunteers are available: help with set-up, table attendant(s), clean-up, and parking attendants to help with the overflow crowds, all while enjoying fabulous mountain music! Follow the Humpback Rocks Chapter Friends on Facebook for the latest on participating bands.

Mark your calendars and then join in the fun! Bring a chair, lunch or snack, and be ready if clogging breaks out. Most of all, come prepared to have fun. See you on the mountain!

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Sights Along Western Virginia’s U.S. Route 11

dscn5543-2For a scenic drive while traveling north-south in western Virginia, historic U.S. Route 11 runs from Winchester at the northern border of the Commonwealth to Bristol in the south. Built in the early 1900s, it runs parallel to I-81 and provides a slower pace that showcases life away from the fast lane. Traffic is light and tractor-trailers are rare. It has become my preferred route between Staunton and Roanoke so this week I once again found myself on this back road while leisurely driving to the Star City for lunch with friends. Leftover snow from a few days earlier covered fields and mountain ridges, and along river and creek banks.

dscn5548-2With the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and Appalachians to the west, the views are breathtaking any time of year. In Botetourt the James River meanders along Rt. 11 for a short distance. In Lexington I crossed over the Maury River. Along the way I passed historic and quirky sights such as the Pink Cadillac Café, Natural Bridge, vineyards, Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company in Lexington, Virginia Gold pear orchard, 30-acre sunflower field in Botetourt, Virginia Safari Park, and many more.


dscn5553-2As Rt. 11 heads north, the tiny village of Buchanan in Botetourt County marks the entrance to the Shenandoah Valley.

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Photos of Skyline Drive in late November

[Originally posted November 2014. Updated.]

??????????The Friday before Thanksgiving … we took the day to play in Shenandoah National Park. It was sunny but a very cold 22 degrees with some wind and few visitors. I wrote about our day with photos (see The mountains were calling) … here are more photos from a wonderful day on the mountain.

??????????From Staunton, we took I-81 north to the Weyers Cave exit, then drove to the traffic light at Keezletown Road and turned left, following it to Rt. 33 east of Harrisonburg. Turning right, we drove east on Rt. 33 toward the mountains and jumped onto Skyline Drive at the Swift Run Gap entrance. A sign at the entrance was a reminder to visitors that the Drive closes daily during hunting season (November 14-January 8, 2017) from 5 p.m. until 8 a.m. The sign in this photo says 15 miles to Big Meadows. Our destination was Skyland which is about 10 miles beyond Big Meadows so we had a nice leisurely drive ahead of us. It was relaxing.

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November in Western Virginia


This view was found on a back road west of I-81 and south of Lexington looking east toward the Blue Ridge Mountains. November … brown begins to permeate the Virginia landscape in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving and into winter. Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell


Updated: Shenandoah National Park forest fire closes part of Skyline Drive

Shenandoah National Park 1 forest fire

Rocky Mount fire in Shenandoah National Park. April 18, 2016. Photo by Alan Williams with National Park Service.

By Lynn R. Mitchell

[Also check for fire updates at Bearing Drift.]

A forest fire in Shenandoah National Park that has grown to more than 3,000 acres has disrupted National Parks Week that began Saturday, the same day the Rocky Mount fire broke out in the southern portion of the Park.

Tuesday evening Park spokeswoman Lisa Wilkolak confirmed that Skyline Drive remains closed in the southern section between Swift Run Gap and Loft Mountain Campground.

A narrow plume of smoke rising from the Blue Ridge Mountain ridges within the Park was spotted from Harrisonburg on Saturday and became larger over the weekend as the fire spread. Abundant natural fuel combined with extremely dry conditions, low humidity, and high winds contributed to the fire growing to more than 3,000 acres.

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Last day for the 2016 Highland Maple Festival

By Lynn R. Mitchell

That’s my child bonding with a sheep.

It is known as Virginia’s Switzerland, this rural, mountainous, southern-most location for gathering maple syrup, and it is right here in our back yard. Just 45 miles west of Staunton, picturesque Highland County hosts its 58th annual Maple Festival during the weekends of March 11-13 and March 18-20.

Make plans to meander back roads, stuff yourself on pancakes drenched with locally-harvested maple syrup, or fill up on mouth-watering maple chicken. Be entertained by local cloggers and bluegrass bands while enjoying the wildly popular fresh maple donuts made by the local Ruritans. Stroll the main street of Monterey, population 150, to check out the many vendors peddling crafts, maple products, and Kettle Korn. Take in the beauty of this rural setting populated with sheep and cattle. Relax. Slow down. Breathe the cold, fresh, mountain air.

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Fiery Shenandoah Valley winter sunset

By Lynn R. Mitchell

1Sunset. Monday, January 25, 2016. Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell

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Day 3: Clean up after the Blizzard of January 22-23, 2016

Snow 17

Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell

By Lynn R. Mitchell

8:30am: Good morning from my snowy corner of the world west of Staunton. It was a frigid 10 degrees overnight with clearing skies after the snowstorm moved out, and a full moon. There’s between 18 inches and 3-4 feet of snow (from drifting) … a winter wonderland with snow-flocked trees and piles of the white stuff along the road and driveway.

To see photos from throughout Virginia during the blizzard, see Day 1: Live-blogging the January 22-23, 2016 blizzard and Day 2: Live-blogging the January 22-23, 2016 blizzard.”

The snowplows came through in the middle of the night to clear the road. Our thanks to VDOT. And our thanks to Dominion Virginia Power for their part in keeping the lights and heat on through the blizzard.

By this time yesterday we had been up for 3.5 hours as the snow continued to fall and the wind howled. Today we have awakened to a cold sunny morning after the full moon came out overnight and illuminated everything. I woke up briefly sometime in the early hours to see the moon and then went back to sleep.

Our neighbor — bless his heart — is out there again clearing our driveway for the third time during this storm. Today neighbors will check in on each other, clear driveways, and make sure everyone is okay.

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Shenandoah National Park closed for weekend snowstorm

Shenandoah National Park logo 2By Lynn R. Mitchell

Shenandoah National Park located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia posted the following about the upcoming snowstorm:

We are sure those of you in the area are aware of the forecast. There is the possibility of a significant and potentially dangerous snow storm. We are planning accordingly.

Park operations will be suspended for the duration of the storm, with no search and rescue personnel on duty. Plows and other operations will resume once the storm has passed.

We are strongly encouraging those with plans to be in the backcountry to postpone. PATC cabins that are accessed via Skyline Drive will be closed.

We want all of our visitors and our employees to be safe! We will update this information as we have updates from the National Weather Service.

 Be safe.
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‘When will it snow?’ Flashback to winter of 2006-07 in Shenandoah Valley

By Lynn R. Mitchell

A look back … daughter Katy catches the first snowflakes of the season in December 2006.

While bemoaning the lack of snow in the Shenandoah Valley this season, I was thinking about another year when we were late with the white stuff. Even though it seemed late to us at the time, looking back I realized it was December of 2006 when I posted a photo of my teenage daughter who was also missing snow.

In fact, she was missing it so much that she jokingly tried to make “snow angels” when the first flurries showed up on December 7. In true mom/blogger fashion, I took a picture and posted it along with the following:

 While putting finishing Christmas touches at our house … and with the little white lights twinkling outside in the evening dusk … the snow started coming down making it feel very seasonal! Already the deck is covered.

The mountains of West Virginia (visible from my house) are expecting 6 inches of the white stuff tonight. The forecast for our area is for only a dusting or perhaps a tad more.

But … oh, the excitement of the first heavy snow flurries of the season!

And … oh, the excitement of my snowboarding kids who are waiting for the slopes to open!

Update: Wind advisory in mountains. Temperature in the teens here; high Friday of 35 degrees.

Snow flurries this year didn’t show up until January — indeed, warm temps at Christmas had up opening doors and windows — but there has been no measurable snowfall. Even the surrounding mountains are hurting and ski resorts like Wintergreen, Massanutten, and Bryce have been depending on recent cold temps to make snow.

I wrote a post in early December wondering, “When will it snow?”

We’re still waiting….

Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell

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The Homestead’s winter holiday season

By Lynn R. Mitchell

The inviting, comfortable front porch at The Homestead in Hot Springs is probably one of my favorite places at this oasis in the western mountains of Virginia where winter brings lights and holiday decor….

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This weekend: Afton’s Bethlehem Village presents the greatest story ever told

Bethlehem starBy Lynn R. Mitchell

Afton, Virginia’s, Bethlehem Village has been around for over a decade and returns this year, much to the delight of thousands who have made it an annual Christmas tradition. One of the nation’s longest-running and largest re-enactments of the true story of Christmas, it is free and open to the public, running nightly December 18-22, 2015, from 6-9:00 p.m. On Sunday, December 20, gates will open early from 5-9:00 p.m., with an Hispanic tour at 7:00 p.m. that day.

Imagine a little village that existed long before colorful Christmas lights, reindeer, or Santa Claus. Roman Soldiers walk the streets, Wise Men appear with their camels, shop keepers are going about their everyday lives yet this village is on the brink of something immense, the birth of one who would forever change the course of human history. Experience this village as it really was. Come to Bethlehem and see for yourself the magic and wonder of the first Christmas.

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