Now We're Ticked

Thursday, May 10, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Strasburg, VA to Fishersville, VA
Our 39th wedding anniversary dawned sunny and clear.  With no particular historic destination on the agenda, we decided to venture away from I-81 and drive down the scenic Skyline Drive (pictured above) in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park.  The road follows the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains for 105 miles.  As we discovered once we arrived at the park, it was indeed historically significant.
From the time when Yellowstone became the world's first area designated as a national park in 1872 through the 1920s, the national park movement in the U.S. had been a western phenomenon.  Not only did the West boast an abundance of spectacular natural scenery, much of the area still existed as federally owned territories, making park designations a simple matter.  Maine's Acadia National Park, founded in 1919, was the only national park east of the Mississippi.
Since long-distance travel during this period was impractical for most Americans, the park system needed to gain a foothold in the East to benefit more citizens.  Eastward expansion would also generate greater Congressional support for the park service.  So in 1926, Congress authorized three eastern parks:  Shenandoah, Great Smokey Mountains, and Mammoth Cave.
Shenandoah National Park
When we decided to change our course and drive through Shenandoah, we realized that the letterbox clues we had saved for our trip down the interstate would be useless.  No problem, with our handy Clue Tracker app.  In an attempt to search for letterboxes on our route, however, we stumbled upon an unpleasant surprise.
Atlas Quest, our primary database source of letterbox clues, had been hacked this morning.  Aargh!  We were confident that the site would be restored but not sure how long that would take.  We'd just have to keep checking.  As it turned out, even connecting to the internet with our smartphones turned out to be a challenge, as cell service through the mountains was quite spotty.  Often, we'd have voice service but no data.
Shortly after entering the park at Thornton Gap, we stopped at a comfort station, where we chatted with an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker from Lancaster, PA, who said he planned to cover 30 miles today.  Since the AT follows the same ridge as Skyline Drive, crisscrossing with the road, we would see it often today.  With an entry point near the station, Ken decided to take a little hike, but I declined.  The cool, breezy weather we encountered when we left our hotel in Strasburg had turned downright cold and blustery. Ken bundled up, pulled on a ski cap, and took off for a 30-minute sampling of the AT, while I cozied up in the car, still trying to connect with AQ for some letterbox clues.
A taste of the AT
Arriving at the Big Meadows Visitor Center around noon, I was able to grab enough of a signal to see that the "Under Construction" page was up on the AQ web site.  At least the creepy eyes were gone, but still no letterbox clues were available.  The wind was still whipping, so I grabbed Ken's ski cap to keep hair out of my face when we got out of the car.  This turned out to be a mistake.  Apparently that cap had picked up a little hitchhiker while Ken was on the AT earlier.
Evicting an unwanted guest
An hour later, as we were driving down the parkway, I touched a place on my scalp that felt itchy.  Warning Ken that I thought I had picked up a tick, I asked him to stop at the next pull-off.  Sure enough, Ken found a chunky wood tick cozied up in my scalp and taking a deep drink of my blood.  Since we more often encounter the much smaller deer tick, we had a bit to learn about the larger wood tick.  Our usual removal method of saturating the tick with an alcohol-drenched Q-tip until it releases wasn't having much effect on this big guy.  Nor did pouring alcohol on him meet with much success.  Ken finally tweezed it off while it was still gripping, taking a little patch of my scalp with the monster.
That unpleasant task behind us, we continued down the parkway.  Spread out along the course of Skyline Drive are 75 scenic overlooks.  Quite a few of the overlooks we passed today were closed for construction.  Signs proudly proclaimed that the work was made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. 
It seems that we taxpayers gave the park service a $17 million grant for "rehabilitation" of 16 Skyline Drive overlooks and other projects in the park.  If the work is actually needed, we certainly don't object to this particular use of federal funds.  However, what we observed was the removal and reconstruction of rock walls at these overlooks.  Strangely, all the existing rock walls we saw, many of which were constructed as part of Roosevelt's economic recovery stimulus in the 1930s, still appeared to be quite stable and strong.  Admittedly, we didn't see the walls before they were removed, but if they looked like the ones we observed, the need for "rehabilitation" is a mystery.
Another gem administered by the National Park Service is the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Though we've driven on this beautiful road many times in the North Carolina mountains, we never considered the location of the northern or southern terminus.  Today we found out.
Begun in the Depression era as a relief project to provide work for the unemployed, the Blue Ridge Parkway connects Shenandoah National Park in Virginia with Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.
Our mountain-top journey done for the day, we exited the scenic highways and headed to our hotel in nearby Fishersville, VA, discovering when we turned on the computer that the Atlas Quest web site was back up and running. What a nice anniversary gift!
"He was big, bad, and nasty.  A beast!"    
Ken, about the tick he removed from my head