Mountain Roadtrip - Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia

3rd - 6th October 2004


With our usual means of transport around the world, we are normally limited to visiting the coastal areas but we decided it was high time to see some mountain scenery for a change.    We discussed our plans to visit West Maryland's State Parks with Greg and Shirley.   Not only did they give us some valuable tips on where to visit, they also very generously lent us their Jeep for the trip!

We hoped to camp and began by transporting all our camping gear in the dinghy to Greg and Shirley's Jeep.   On our first day we decided just to make as many miles west as possible through Frederick and Cumberland out to West Maryland and find a motel. 


Taking Greg and Shirley's Jeep on holiday.

We finally stopped in La Vale near Cumberland in West Maryland and checked into the Super 8 motel.   We stopped at Wal-Mart, to supplement our camping gear with a propane stove and gas bottle, a new lamp and kettle.   Phil decided it was very thirsty work and he fancied a cold beer.   We stopped at a liquor store stocked high with so many types of beer it took him a while to make his selection.   However, when he tried to buy the beer, he was told it wasn't for sale in Maryland on Sundays.   The licensing laws in the States are so confusing.  In some states you have to go to a State owned liquor store for everything from beer to strong spirits, in other states beer and wine is available in supermarkets and in others you even have to find two different shops for wine and beer!  We were told that to buy beer, we'd have to travel to the neighbouring state of West Virginia!   It sounded extreme but was only a trip of a couple of miles and would allow us to set foot in a new state we hadn't yet visited, so off we set and after getting hopelessly lost in the centre of Cumberland, we finally crossed the river into West Virginia and tracked down Phil's beer in a drive-through liquor store - imagine that in Britain!

On our way back, we took a detour along the route of a scenic steam railway, the Historic Coal Route, which was reminiscent of the coal-mining valley towns of South Wales in recession, with many run down and boarded up buildings, once thriving pit towns. 

Next morning we drove further west to the town of McHenry, located on Deep Creek Lake.   In winter the town was a ski resort, in summer a lake boating centre and in the autumn tourists visit for the "Fall Festival" to look at the stunning colours of the leaves.    

Swallow Falls State Park

We visited the Swallow Falls State Park, where we walked the forest trails to the waterfalls.   On checking out the campsite we found just one hardy family camping.  Realising that the nighttime temperatures were forecast to be near freezing and that for only $20 more we could check into a motel we'd spotted back in McHenry, we wimped out.  The roaring log fireplaces, hot showers and balcony with lake view and a comfy bed won hands down!   That evening as frost formed on the windscreen of the Jeep outside, we were happy to be cozy in our motel, sitting in front of a blazing log fire, enjoying the view of the lake in warmth!

We'd been reading our travel guide and decided that we'd like to visit the Shenandoah valley and Skyline Drive in Virginia, only a short few hundred mile detour off our itinerary!  We hoped Greg wouldn't mind all the extra miles on his Jeep! 

Now where shall we set up that tent?

Phil tries his first meatloaf (note the forced smile!)


The following morning we drove through West Virginia, which was very scenic but obviously quite poor, with many people living in trailers. We stopped for lunch at a family run diner, where the sheriff was also having his lunch.  Phil decided if the meatloaf was good enough for the Sheriff, he ought to give it a try.  It was his first taste of the American tradition of meatloaf and gravy and maybe his last, but he looked right at home in his new lumberjack shirt from the Goodwill store!

By early afternoon we were back in Virginia and passed through the town of Front Royal to make our way up to Skyline Drive, a road of 105 miles along a ridge above the Shenandoah valley. The $10 toll meant that traffic was very light, only tourists and cyclists, so the driving was enjoyable.

We stopped at the first visitor centre called Dickey Ridge and took a short walk called Fox Hollow, around ruins of an old homestead and cemetery. The whole area used to be made up of lots of small holdings but the National Park was created when all the land was purchased by compulsory purchase from its poor owners in 1927.

It was mid afternoon and we decided it would be great to stay within the park, even if it would be more pricey than motels down in the valley.   We headed to one of the park's resorts, Skyland Resort, hoping that one of their cheaper rooms would be available.  As we drove, a black bear ran across the road right in front of us and disappeared into the trees - what an amazing sight!  We could see him sitting in the trees, checking us out. 


When we arrived at Skyland Resort, we were in luck and checked into a cozy log cabin all of our own!   Once we'd moved in, we decided to take the Nature Trail through the nearby woods. The path wasn't very well marked and luckily Phil had the presence of mind to leave a marker or two pointing the route back because finally we gave up and had to retrace our steps, afraid of being lost in the woods all night!  As soon as we got back to the clearer track, we spotted the proper path, which we'd missed!  We spotted a couple of deer as we were walking and were able to watch them for a few minutes before they spotted us! 

By now sunset was approaching and we made our way to the bar to enjoy the stunning sunset over a cool beer.  Back at the cabin later that night, we realised we were not alone.   We definitely had squatters scurrying around in the roof rafters above our bed!  


Sunset on Skyline Drive

Phil relieved to find one of his improvised signposts in the woods!

Home Sweet Home on Skyline Drive


It was tough next morning to drag ourselves out of the snuggly warm bed into the cold cabin but we wanted to walk the trail to Stony Man Summit.  The walk was wonderful up to the top of a hill with an excellent view over the whole valley. It was so peaceful, as nobody else was around.

We continued south along Skyline Drive as far as mile 65, where we left the State Park.   It was time for us to head back to Anju, so we have another 40 miles of the Park to see, if we are able to visit again.

Our route back to Maryland took us through some beautifully scenic countryside in Virginia.  In fact we saw a little more of it than we planned when we took a wrong turn and took a 20 mile detour!  Earlier I'd decided against taking a planned detour to see Culpeper, where my former employer had a production site but we almost went there anyway!

Stony Man Summit

Back in Maryland we were amazed to see hundreds of elderly people queuing outside a supermarket.   Wondering if the apocalypse had happened without our knowledge, we decided we'd better stop and buy some bread and milk.   We discovered that the queue was for flu shots and there was a nationwide panic as the British vaccine supplier had let the Americans down and there was a shortage of vaccine, causing mass hysteria!

Just one more stop to make before we headed home, we stopped at a Wal-Mart store and returned all the camping gear we hadn't used!!

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