Needing to log in just a few more miles on Northwest/Delta Airlines to be upgraded to "elite status" for 2010, I decided to fly back east "home" to Virginia to spend the weekend with my sister Pam who still lives in the area. I timed the trip to hopefully coincide with the annual migration to the Blue Ridge Mountains and Skyline Drive for the fall colors.
Arriving at Washington, DC's Dulles Int'l Airport around noontime, it was raining and nasty but by the time we go a bit west and south of the airport, the rain stopped and the skies further to the south looked like they were trying to clear. We got out onto I66 until we reached 340 to Waynesboro where we jumped up onto the Blue Ridge Parkway heading south towards Lynchburg.
The drive along the Blue Ridge was very peaceful and rather void of other vehicles. The weather must have kept some folks away as this was to be the peak for fall's foliage . . . the colors did not disappoint!
As the temperatures rose, you could see the dense fog and low clouds atop the mountains. The contrast was quite striking. Throughout the drive, the sun was darting in and out of the clouds making for some unique photo opportunities at the scenic overlooks. At one such stop, we were back in the car ready to head on when the late afternoon sun returned highlighting the beauty of the fall colors across the landscape. I jumped out to snap the photo of the lone tree with the darkened skies behind it, as the setting sun made the colors jump to life in the picture.
We decided as night approached it was time to head down into civilization to find a motel and some supper. Lynchburg was about 20 minutes away. There we found a Texas Roadhouse and a Best Western to address our evening needs. It was homecoming night so the restaurant was a bit busy. After a 30 minute wait, we were seated . . . our meal was outstanding and well worth the patience to stay.
Our motel room was the standard double with two standard beds, clean bathroom and a free continental breakfast which included fresh locally grown apples. At an AARP rate of $89, we were very happy with the accommodations provided.
Admittedly, I was disappointed that we hadn't seen any black bears during our drive on Saturday. This area is well known for their bears; heck my sister even hit one a few weeks earlier in the fall about two hours from where we stayed. But alas, no bears for us. Pam teased me a little saying she should have taken my photo with the stuffed bear in the visitors center.
On Sunday morning we got up early as we had about 150 miles to traverse back towards the city so that I could catch my 4:00pm flight back home to Milwaukee. The plan was to take the main roads back to Waynesboro and head north, this time on the Skyline Drive.
US29 is one of my all-time favorite road trips to take through Virginia. I have many fond memories of it as a kid with my dad and as a young adult with my bowling buddies. The scenery between Lynchburg and Charlottesville was beautiful, as lovely as I remembered it to be. We took I64 over to Waynesboro and hopped onto the Skyline Drive.
The leaves were noticeably darker, drier and gone from the trees. I would guess that "peak" was probably a few days to a week earlier in the month. Still, there were some nice valley views especially facing to the east. Of course, I was still on the hunt for a bear calling out "here bearsy bearsy." My sister just chuckled.
As we rounded the corned just beyond Big Meadows, there was the first car back-up of our two day drive. Moving at a snail's pace, I told her that in Alaska this would mean one of two things . . . an accident involved a cyclist or hiker or a wildlife sighting. About that time, two men carrying huge cameras on monopods were seen approaching our direction on foot. An indication of wildlife if ever I'd seen one!
Up around the next corner was another photographer shooting up into the trees . . . and there it was! A small, young black bear cub!!! Woohooo . . . we have a bear sighting! There was a park ranger in the area to keep the hikers and cars moving along. What was noticeably missing was a momma bear.
As we drove on, there was a small parking turnout where I suggested that we turn around. Closer to the bear, I could jump out, take a few photos and Pam could swing back by to pick me up heading back north. It worked out perfectly for me to jump out; walk down the 50-75 yards to the area where the treed cub was, and shoot some photos. The ranger was nice enough, only asking that I snap a few shots and then move on.
By the time I finished and started in the direction Pam would be coming from, there was another back-up as people were wondering what I was photographing up in the tree. The ranger had to come back through, to clear the road again . . . still no momma bear in sight.
Excited that I finally got to see a black bear in the wild, I was satisfied! Even during our trip to Alaska we never got to see one in their natural habitat. Sure grizzlies in Denali National Park, but not the normally shy black bears that are elusive in many areas of the USA.
We hustled the rest of our journey through Skyline Drive so that I would make my flight home. It was funny because my sister has a Garmon that didn't much like the route we were taking. "She" kept telling us to turn around and go back to get out on the main roads. The more we kept ignoring the voice, the later our ETA was for the airport. Good thing that we knew just a little more than our computer friend.
It was a wonderful whirlwind 26 hours or so with my sister. We had a grand time and thoroughly enjoyed the time spend together. And guess what? We saw a bear!