If I told you that within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, there was a wilderness oasis, devoid of the drone of highway interstate traffic and the ever-present hum of electricity, where you can run your fingers along the rigid surface of billion year old exposed granite and relish in your escapism from modern development knowing you’re surrounded by 80,000 acres of protected and never-to-be-destroyed-for-any-reason forests, would you believe me?
I wouldn’t believe myself had I not touched the rocks with my own fingers, experienced the almost overpowering silence with my own ears and sighed in relief when I learned that the beauty I was completely encompassed by was actually safe. Really safe. Like I can bring my own children here someday and they will see with their eyes exactly what I saw through mine, safe. Of course, I’m speaking about Shenandoah National Park and the misty Blue Ridge Mountains of the great state of Virginia.
As I began my 35 mile trek along Skyline Drive, the signature route through the Shenandoahs, I travelled through a 700 foot tunnel in the belly of Mary’s Rock Mountain where I was reminded by a quirky sign that, ‘only 1,300,000,000 years ago this rock was still molten magma’. . . lest I forget, of course. I occasionally pass the wayward backpacker, no doubt following the 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail that transect the park, and I’m offered a casual wave and a glance that I can’t help but interpret as, “You get it, too . . . this place is special”. Although I’m visiting the park in the winter, I honestly feel a bit like a peeping tom but in the best way possible. With the trees having shed the last of the autumn leaves, I can see deep into the woods and eavesdrop on the inner workings of a forest from squirrels climbing tall knobby chestnut trees to white-tailed deer nuzzling through the fallen leaves in search of food.
At the tallest point of my journey, I pulled over at Thorofare Mountain Overlook which is approximately 3570 feet higher than my cubicle on the third floor of the Chesapeake Bay Program Office in Annapolis, MD (not that I’m measuring). It was here that I experienced the deepest silence of the journey. Sitting on a segment of a stone wall that runs almost the length of Skyline Drive built with hard work and sweat by the boys and men of the Civilian Conservation Corps early last century, my feet seemed to dangle on the edge of the world. To my right, vast, open farming segments nestled comfortably within the valley. To my left, row after row of misty near-ethereal Blue Mountains, each succeeding into a fainter shade of blue until the last mountain blends almost artistically into the horizon. Yeah, I get it. This place is special.
So, if I told you that within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, there was a place 75 miles from our nation’s capital where the mountains are enchantingly blue, the silence is deafening, and you could experience true, unspoiled nature the way nature is intended to be, would you believe me? Well, I guess you’ll just have to go and found out for yourself.