August 7,8, 2018
Martha was having 12 ladies over for bridge. We have a small house, so I decided to retreat to the mountains in the Airstream. I am embarrassed to admit I have never been to Big Meadows, and why pack up all that stuff and only go for one night, so I signed up for two. It was 91 degrees, and I worked up a good sweat by the time I got everything packed up. It’s a beautiful drive from Stanardsville on 33, then north on the Skyline Drive. We have had great rains, and everything was so green and lush, with flowers blooming everywhere.
A very nice lady, Elizabeth, checked me into the campground. I chose a site that was a foot too short. They don’t like you to have a tire on the grass, so it took me a while to wiggle the truck into a reasonable spot. I was backed up to the forest with some tent sites, but no one was in them. This is a big campground and it was busy, especially for a Tuesday, but it was a good 10 degrees cooler at 3600 ft. I explored the campground and went to the Visitor’s Center. There is a good walk-through history of the making of Shenandoah National Park. On the other side is a huge picture window looking over the meadows across the parkway. I wandered out on the porch looking for what animals might be out there. I poked through the adjacent camp store, which was big and well-stocked.
I was tired by the time I got back to camp, so I built a fire in my new Solo Stove. It worked great, as advertised. All the holes around the top and bottom allow the fire to burn efficiently and hot. Sitting around a campfire is great on a perfect night. Looking into the fire is mesmerizing. However, the smoke is another thing altogether. It seems to chase me around the fire. Move my chair and it follows me. Often I have to close the Airstream windows so the smoke doesn’t go in. Try to cook over or in it is a unique, smoke-filled challenge. The Solo Stove, as it is advertised, burns more efficiently, so there is less smoke, and it goes straight up. On this night, I am happy to report, it burned as advertised. By the time I finished dinner and the sun went down, the temperature dropped quickly. Somewhere in the night, I pulled the blanket up……in August……in Virginia!
By 6:00 in the morning, I was parking the truck next to the meadows and loaded my camera gear. I was late! There were already five people walking up the road, and two serious photographers setting out ahead of me. One was a lady with a nice Cannon camera and lens, the other a man with a tripod, big telephoto lens, long pants and rubber boots. I tried to follow him, but he was gone before I could get ready. A path led left into the field, and I followed it. There were deer everywhere. On the other side of the road, people were taking pictures of them. Soon there were 15 bucks grazing ahead of me. I approached slowly, but it was soon evident they were used to people, and hunting is not allowed in the park. I eased my way until I was within 50 feet of them and started shooting pictures. It seemed they were all 8-point bucks with fuzzy antlers, and they were all fat and healthy-looking. Trouble was they were so engrossed in eating, they rarely lifted their heads. I could see they were watching me out of the corner of their eye as they grazed along. Soon the two photographers joined me, then went ahead. The lady said she had been following them for an hour. She inched her way ahead of them until she was within 15 feet. They couldn’t care less.
In between shots, I looked down and around me. There was so much food, it was amazing – blackberries, blueberries, other berries, and a wide variety of flowers. Butterflies twitted around, sometimes zooming past for long distances. With all this food, I wondered why they were traveling so far. It was partly cloudy, which kept the light perfect for a long time. After several hundred deer shots, I continued up the trail until I saw the gentleman with his tripod set, obviously looking at something. As I approached, he pointed and whispered, “Bear.” I just caught a glimpse of his butt as he walked around a corner. The photographer and I talked for a while. He loves to come here. Living in DC, he got up at 4:00 to get here by 6:00. He said the young bear had walked around for a while, then stood up in front of him, probably checking him out. He spoke to the bear to let him know he was there, and the bear went on eating. As we were talking, the bear walked around a big bush and down the hill. The gentleman said he was going to look for birds along the trees. I followed the bear.
For about an hour and a half, I followed the bear. Same problem though – he was eating so much, he rarely lifted his head. Every couple of minutes, he would briefly check out the surroundings before resuming the buffet. He kept his eye on me, and I on him, but gaining courage, I crept closer. Then he went into some tall stuff, and I couldn’t see him. This made me a little nervous, but it must have made him nervous too because he soon stood up to look around. I clicked off 8 shots before he went back down. A doe walked down the hill before spotting the bear. She turned toward me, walking along the side of the hill, always checking the bear. I was standing still watching both. She walked within 5 feet of me as I clicked off shots. She had a big tag in her ear.
I picked up another trail heading toward the parking lot. Not concerned with wildlife now, I was amazed by the amount of berries and flowers. Then I was walking in water. The middle of the field was a wetland, obviously the headwaters of a stream, probably the Rose River. I went back to the trailer, fixed a cup of tea and downloaded pictures, too many pictures. Thinking I had downloaded all the pictures, I closed the program and reformatted the cards. An hour later I realized there was no standing bear! I had stopped the program too soon! Grrr!
That night while packing the truck, I saw a young bear right behind the trailer. I grabbed the camera and got off a few shots before a ranger came up with an air horn, quickly chasing him off. He said they had to cite two campsites for leaving food out. Brian was his name, and we chatted a bit. He told me the best places to look for bears.
I went to McLean, Virginia on Thursday to visit Sue and Jim Keith. I couldn’t help but stopping at the meadows for a brief walk. It was late in wildlife terms, 8:00. It was sunny, warm, and there were no deer, but butterflies were everywhere. I took a brief walk in the opposite direction of yesterday. I wanted to continue, but it was time to go. I hadn’t driven ½ mile before I saw a young bear cross the road. I stopped and put my emergency lights on. That little rascal scrambled right up a rock cliff and ate berries from a bush half way up. Three bears in two days! That’s pretty good, or were they all the same young bear?
Elizabeth, Brian and another nice gentleman make a great crew at the campground. They are so patient in a busy place with 200 campsites. Lots of Appalachian Trail hikers come to pitch their tents and get a good meal. I want to go back and explore those meadows a bunch more. Wonder when Martha is having bridge again.