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  • Writer's pictureMiranda

Mountain Tops and Valleys

For the past week we have been traversing, creating and learning about mountain tops and valleys. Let me explain...

But before I do, first we started out with two pretty sweet experiences. Quite literally, as we visited Hershey, PA, and toured the Hershey Chocolate factory making our own custom candy bars. It was a delicious and educational experience. Then driving a short distance to Lancaster County, PA, we had the sweet experience of observing and interacting with the Amish community which is heavily concentrated in this area of the country. We visited an Amish farmers market. Drove through the countryside observing their farms and modes of transportation. Horse pulling a black buggy is quite commonly what you picture, but also a bicycle looking scooter was very popular too. We made a final stop at one farm that had a roadside stand to purchase fresh made wheat bread, peach jam and some veggies before returning to our campsite at a KOA in Elizabethtown, PA.

Back to mountain tops and valleys...

The fog was thick the morning we woke to visit Gettysburg, about an hour drive away. The National Military Park Visitor Center was our first stop.

It served as a great place to level set our knowledge of the three-day Civil War battle of Gettysburg. A film, 360 Cyclorama painting and American Civil War museum engaged all five of us. A crucial detail in the battle was positioning, who held the high ground versus who was attacking from the valley. As we headed out to drive the self-guided auto tour of the Battle of Gettysburg grounds the kids were quick to point out the advantages and disadvantages the contours of the countryside provided.

Leaving Pennsylvania we journeyed south through the valley of the Shenandoah Mountains. The high rolling mountains could be seen from a distance and slowly encompassed us on both sides. With tops covered by trees, they are very different from the rocky, snow-covered mountains of the West but still just as beautiful. We arrived at the Shenandoah Caverns by noon, our Harvest Host site for the night. We quickly packed a picnic lunch and unloaded the Explorer from the trailer to head into the Shenandoah National Park for a closer experience.

Our vehicle climbed from the valley below to the highest peak in the park. After a stop at the Visitors Center for a passport stamp and sticker as well as advice from a Ranger on hikes, we headed out on the trail. The first hike was to the largest water fall in the Park. What should have been a 1.4 mile hike with 440ft elevation change, ended up being 2 miles longer with an additional 290ft of elevation. Oops. We didn't read the map when we should have and took a wrong turn! We ended up at a primitive campground that had bathrooms, but most of our water was consumed by the time we started our actual descent to the falls and the kids were a little bitter about the extra two miles. But humor helped the situation and they gave Chuck a new nickname "Ranger Chuck" that has stuck. The falls were pretty, but a little disappointing. We did get a photo, but not very sincere smiles, especially knowing the climb back up the mountain to get to the top of the falls where we were parked.

The views of the valley towns below and rolling mountain tops were beautiful at the numerous lookouts as we drove through the Park on the sunny afternoon. The temperature was only in the upper 60s but it was humid. After bribing our sweaty and still a bit disgusted kids with the lure of eating dinner at a restaurant that night, we ended our afternoon with a hike on a trail less traveled for the best view of the park. (Millers head Hike as recommended by the Ranger) There were no disappointments this time with the view!

And, dinner was excellent too! We highly recommend Southern Kitchen in New Market, VA. With decor and seating frozen in time from the 70s the home-cooked country fried steak, fried chicken, loaded baked potatoes, and mac-n-cheese filled our bellies. The only thing missing from the day was a shower, but that would have to wait another day as we were boon docking at a Harvest Host for the night.

A Shenandoah Cavern tour started our next day, before we left for the New River Gorge National Park about three hours away. This journey continued through the Shenandoah valley and then cut through the Appalachian Mountains on Interstate 61 going West. This road is absolutely stunning!

Why am I suddenly providing you with road numbers? Because calling out "good" roads is important in our family history. Chuck grew up riding motorcycles for family trips, bought his own cycle at age 17 and didn't even own a car until he was sophomore in college. This heightened his sensitivity to "good" roads - ones with a view, smooth pavement, good corners, and not heavily traveled. Interstate 61 is a "good" road by these standards. As he was sharing with me his excitement for the road, his Dad's influence was coming through. It is rare in conversation with Grandpa Dan that a road name or number isn't referenced. He is a lifelong motorcycle rider who is in-tune to the roads he travels.

Back to our destination...

You may not have heard of the New River Gorge National Park in West Virginia as it is the newest National Park which was designated in 2020. The focal point is a bridge constructed a little more than 40 years ago. We had timed our travels to be there for the annual event (3rd Saturday in October) that closes two lanes of the bridge for base jumpers to enjoy the 850ft drop to the river below. But a few weeks before the event it was cancelled due to COVID and the large crowd it draws to the area. So instead we explored the area mainly from the bottom of the gorge along the New River. Fishing, climbing on rocks, picnics, and even swimming on one day were all great ways to take in the beauty.

The area is known for white water rafting, but due to the season ending they weren't offering any more family-friendly trips that we could all go on. So instead, our desire for adventure was met with a zip line tour. Heights are not really my thing, but since everyone else was game Mom reluctantly did it too.

It was nice to be in one place for five days since our schedules of work and school were full. Kate had a three-day science project literally building a mountain out of a bottle, paper mache, and natural materials then erupting the volcano inside with vinegar and baking soda. Ben and Mallory worked ahead in school and I had budget and strategic planning meetings.

We also had the campground to ourselves as it closed for the season the day after we arrived, but the owners were fine with us staying into the week as they winterized their cabins and facilities. However, the kids were disappointed as our amenities each day diminished: first the hot tub, then the rec room, finally the day before we left shower curtains in the bathrooms were gone.

Our time in West Virginia ended with tour of a former coal mine to learn how this fossil fuel was mined dating back to the 1800's. A local retired coal miner was our guide through history as we rode the mining tunnels on a small train car and then walked through restored buildings of a coal mine town. Fascinating to learn the process, conditions and economy of coal mining.

As we visited, saw and created these mountain tops and valleys we were reminded of those back home who are experiencing their own mountain top celebrations as well as those who are navigating a valley of sadness or illness. Know that we prayed for you and were thinking of you.

It is with great anticipation that we leave for Kentucky, because family is coming to visit! Sharing five days of our adventure together will be a sweet time.


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Oct 22, 2021

You are taking some Grand adventures. Love it! Thanks for sharing

Shirley Kremer


Linda Peterson
Linda Peterson
Oct 21, 2021

Wow. What a fun time and such beautiful scenery.

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