Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hiding in the Valley of Rejuvenation

This weekend marks the beginning of the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Second Battle of Manassas. The battle actually took place August 28-30 so “real time” events will be happening on those days, but most of the bigger tours and commemorative activities will occur on the weekends. It turns out that I will not be at nearly as many of the events and tours as I had originally thought. Two key factors have contributed to an adjustment. The first is that I am starting school next week and my very first classes happen to fall on the 28th and 29th, just when some of the tours are occurring. The second is that the budget for overtime is not nearly as large as it was thought to be, which means that we are unable to do any overtime work during Second Manassas. This, in turn, means that we are restricted to only 40 hours on the clock during each week.  So we have had to get a bit creative in order to cover everything, and I am ending up with some pretty random days off.

Since I will be at the park this Saturday for an eight hour bus tour of the Confederate approach to the battle, I needed to have another day off somewhere during this week.  I was able to take that day this past Monday in order to give myself a three day weekend. It also happened that Alison’s manager approached her last week to ask if she could come in and work on Sunday, August 26. That meant that she too needed to take an extra day off during this week in order to keep her under 40 hours for the week. And thus she was able to get Monday off as well, which meant we found ourselves with a unique opportunity to enjoy a three day weekend together. 

Desiring to take full advantage of the extra time we worked to find a fun adventure for the weekend. We poured over our resources and narrowed our list of possibilities down into a doable plan centered on exploring the southern end of the Shenandoah Valley.

Thursday evening was spent at the grocery store acquiring food for the trip and then getting everything ready to go. In the morning I packed up everything except for the perishable food and Alison brought the ice chest along with her and met me out at Manassas. This gave us a nice jump start on the trip as I was able to leave work a little early and we departed from Manassas rather than McLean.

We wound our way to a small forest service campground very aptly identified as “hidden valley.”

It turned out to be a wonderful campground which was less than half full over the weekend, which allowed us a decent amount of independence and isolation. This was particularly significant when it came to the bathroom facilities, which were limited to pit toilets. Though this did present the usual challenges, it was a good deal more workable since the competition for access and usage was fairly low.

We had grand plans for our long weekend, which included a variety of outdoor activities and garnering an appreciation for the history of the region.  We began well, embarking Saturday morning on a splendid mountain biking adventure directly from our campsite.

Before we started the official trail we followed a gravel road to a beautiful Bed and Breakfast that bears a striking resemblance to Jefferson’s estate at Monticello.

After appreciating the setting of the unique B & B we embarked on the trail. As Alison had never been mountain biking before I was a bit nervous about what we would face, but it turned out that the majority of our trail took us over an old road bed, which made it manageable, while still containing enough excitement to make it interesting.

The trail took us through nearly every plausible type of terrain and obstacle including grass, mud, sand, water, rocks, and logs.

The highlight of the trail, though, was unquestionably the suspension bridge we encountered about halfway through. It was so narrow we had to walk the bikes across.

But before we did that we couldn’t help but enjoy the suspended nature of the bridge by jumping and climbing on it!

We had hoped to connect to a different trail for our trip back, but after less than 100 yards we ran into a fallen tree, and the trail bore clear evidence of extensive damage. So we decided it really wasn’t a good option to continue on the bikes!

Saturday evening we enjoyed a short hike near our campsite which bore the mysterious  appellation “Lost Woman Trail.” Thankfully, though it was a near thing, I did manage to retain my woman and keep her from being permanently lost on the trail!

We also decided to take a drive down to the nearby town of Hot Springs, which is home to one of the more impressive hotel complexes I have ever encountered. Known as "The Homestead" its amenities include the main hall (pictured here) along with multiple other wings, a huge tower, cottages, a bowling alley, two golf courses, a shooting range, and who knows what else. It was a fun diversion, but we decided to stick with our campsite for the night!

We had grand plans in place for Sunday but awoke shortly after 6:00 am to what quickly turned into a thunderstorm. The rain just kept coming, making it impossible to be outside for more than a few seconds. Thankfully Alison had an umbrella in her bag in the tent and with that we were able to make a trip to the bathroom and move some food back into the tent with us. Apart from these excursions we remained confined to the tent until about 11:30, playing various games, reading, and eating a lovely breakfast of applesauce, granola bars, and pretzels. 

The rain finally began to fade and we emerged to find a rather swampy campsite. Logical people would probably have gone home or at least modified their plans since the sky threatened to reopen the floodgates at any moment. But we decided to have faith that the rain was finished and attempt an excursion to a nearby lake. With a name like "Lake Moomaw" how could we resist?

The rain held off and we were able to enjoy a lovely picnic alongside the lake after availing ourselves of the surprisingly nice bathroom facilities (the toilets even flushed, unlike the ones at our campsite!).


The sky continued to clear and the lake looked beautiful, and as we were amongst the very few people around we decided that it was the perfect time to take to the lake in our trusty raft.  

So we filled it up and launched out into the water! We had only used the raft one other time, and that was a year ago on the Shenandoah River. That really wasn't too difficult since the river's current did much of the work. It was a good deal harder to get around on a lake than it was on the river!

Even so, we enjoyed a lovely trip around the lake which included the circumnavigation of a fairly sizable island out in the center. It took a while, but we made it, enjoying splendid views all the while.

One of our more unique wedding gifts was a “Yosemite Smores Kit,” given to us at the wedding itself. We brought it all the way across the country and saved it for an appropriate occasion. We easily had enough for four people so we decided to split it into two separate occasions. We used it for the first time a few weeks ago in Catoctin Mountain park, and finished it off Sunday night around the campfire in Hidden Valley.

It started raining once again Sunday night, but we were able to make it into the tent before it got too heavy and it stopped during the night, making the next morning a good deal easier than Sunday had been. After packing up camp we decided that we needed to make a stop at the Jefferson Pools in Warm Springs, VA.

The pools were only five miles from where we had been camping and our route took us right by them, so after reading about their history and healing prowess, we decided we needed to stop and take advantage of the opportunity to rejuvenate ourselves.

The pools are named after Thomas Jefferson because he availed themselves of their healing warmth and we figured he had pretty good taste, so we would do well to follow in his footsteps. 

The original pool first opened to the public on June 1, 1761, meaning that the pools predate the nation  (which I found pretty exciting). That pool was only for men, and it took nearly 75 years for a second, women's only, pool to open in 1836.

Today the pools are still usually segregated but for three hours each day they have "family time" where you can swim wherever you want. We deliberately went during that window so that we could soak together!

The pools did have a highly rejuvenating affect and we both felt like we had a new lease on life when we departed.

After our visit to the pools we headed toward home, but still had one last stop to make. Last summer we discovered a charming family owned creamery where they make their own ice cream. It was so good that we decided it was well worth the 15 mile diversion from our route home to pay another visit.

We partook of delectable peanut butter twix swirl and malted vanilla ice cream. Both were just as good as they sound, especially when washed down with some bottled root beer!

It was a fitting end to a fun weekend filled with both expected and unexpected opportunities for adventure.

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