Chasing Waterfalls

3 20190101_113728

Hiking is so much better without the crowds…

…and when running water is involved.

A recent Shenandoah hike, Whiteoak Canyon, was the perfect trail to start the New Year. No resolution needed, simply a desire to get outside and check out some nearby wilderness that I hadn’t experienced during my previous foray into the park.

I pulled off the Blueridge Parkway and set out into the crisp winter air. This particular trail followed the Robinson River the whole way, ending at the top of a series of waterfalls. I admired the flowing water that cascaded beside me, tumbling over rocks, under fallen logs, and around natural curvatures in the land. When I stopped to regard the landscape, a tiny field mouse crept right up to my hiking boot, sniffing the air. No “stranger-danger” alarms must have gone off in his little mouse-brain; he proceeded to munch on fallen seeds, ignoring my presence while bustling around. I felt like a Disney princess.



Continuing on, the river began to gain in both speed and volume. My knees weren’t used to the downward tilt of the land, and I was reminded of how long it had been since I’d done any mildly strenuous hike. Too long, I decided.

Downward I went, stopping at one point to creep out onto a rock that made me feel like I was in the middle of the rushing river. The surrounding mountains formed a chute, ready to careen me forward to be launched into the air. I noticed Old Rag Mountain off in the distance, a steady presence on the eastern Shenandoah landscape.

20190101_122922 1
Serenity now

Then I saw the waterfall.

It wasn’t the most awe-inspiring one I had ever seen, but it was still gorgeous. I noted the way the water flowed in and around. All waterfalls are special in their own way, unique in how the H20 molecules fall alongside of rock, dirt, and organic debris – shaped by the landscape but also shaping it. This particular one looked like a water slide, which I briefly considered attempting. Nope. Frigid water and bruises wouldn’t be worth it.

At this point, the trail continued down for many more miles, so I had a quick snack before turning around to come back up. Then, just for fun, I decided to walk down a couple more yards to see what else was around. Little did I know that I almost completely missed the fantastic viewpoint! I was so caught up in my little patch of earth near the falls, that I failed to recognize that I was only partway down the flow of water. Perhaps I was too content to settle for a sub-par experiences. With a teensy bit more effort on my part, there was much more to see.

3 20190101_124405
The actual waterfall viewpoint. Hard to put into perspective, but it’s sizable.

I feel like there’s a life lesson in here somewhere.

The hike back up was was peaceful. I let my mind wander and relished the crunch of the rocks under my hiking boots, the sound of birds floating through the trees. Two red-tail hawks swooped in close and I was caught off guard for a glorious moment. At the end, I savored the keen sense of satisfaction I felt upon completing this 5 mile hike.

I got in my car, drove a mile down the road, and did another one – just for fun. 🙂

20190101_150852 1
Hawskbill Summit (hike #2 of the day)

Back to Where it All Began

20190101_145529 1

It was cold and crisp. I could see my breath wafting into the atmosphere as I stood and relished the sight. The hand warmers in my mittens were keeping my fingers nice and toasty, my wool socks protecting my toes from the sub-freezing temperatures. I scanned the horizon, noting astute differences from when I was here last. The grass was dried out, taking on an interesting orangey hue. The trees were gnarly, lacking their summer greenery, and stood out against the Blue Ridge Mountains. The chain across the road into the visitor’s center signaled that things were closed up due to the government shut-down.

This was Big Meadows. This is where it all began.

20190101_140322 1

Over two and a half years ago, I embarked on the adventure of a lifetime. I resigned from my job teaching, bought a teardrop trailer, and decided to visit all of the national parks in the lower 48 states.

I did it. I spent months at a time on the road, enjoying the gems of our country. It was an experience so profound that I could never possibly forget the joy I discovered throughout my park pilgrimage.

That is why, on January 1, 2019, I decided to pay homage to the first park on my series: Shenandoah. A mini park adventure to beat the winter doldrums was also a perfect way to begin the new year. I drove slowly along the Blue Ridge Parkway, reminiscing of Clarence (my trailer/home) and how I eagerly set up camp for the first time in Big Meadows. I was reminded of the blend of excitement and anxiety I felt back in July 2016 as I began my epic journey, not sure how it would all pan out. Never could I have imagined how much fun I would have over the course of the next year, learning how to navigate an extra 550 lbs attached to my car, hiking in all kinds of weather, and managing a (somewhat) healthy diet.

20190102_094255 1

Fast-forward to present day.

It was colder now, and the landscape looked vastly different. Birds circled overhead, as I sat in silence, leaning against my car eating a picnic lunch. So much has changed in my life, yet many things remain the same.

My love of nature.

My belief that America’s parks are public lands for the people.

My understanding of the simple beauty found outside.

My appreciation for Shenandoah, the park that started it all.

Sometimes the places that are closest to home don’t quite get the appreciation they deserve. Although Shenandoah is my “backyard” park, I chose to recognize its allure by driving its length and exploring its depths.

Shenandoah, I salute you.

Poetry Intermission

The setting sun (Skyline Drive, Shenandoah)

Just Drive (Shenandoah)

A serene road

Up, down, and slightly around

Epic sunsets

And sunrises that make you think beyond

Overlooks that communicate

A different message each part of the day

Pull-offs that push your imagination

Sights that stimulate your eyes

Then back in the car

Steer through a place of wonder

Content to be behind the wheel

Or gazing out a truck window

Watching the world

As you pass by

IMG_1179 1
Enjoying the sunshine on Angel’s Landing (Zion)

Majesty (Zion)


Regal rock reaching

Wisps of life-forces




Between the sandstone and through my ribcage

To be part of such thing transcends the moment

To belong blinks through spaces in time

Such dignity in your grandeur

My words are pennies

Wild and Scenic

Sky, rope, and rock – a recipe for happiness.

The thunderstorm the night before was disheartening. I was planning on kicking off part II of my journey with some epic climbing at a world class crag in Tennessee. I lay awake in bed picturing rain-soaked sandstone that would hinder upwards movement. Nevertheless, there was some promise of sunshine the following morning, so my brother and I loaded up our gear and headed on our merry way.

The Dean siblings getting ready to hit the trailhead

Though not an official national park, the Obed is considered a national wild and scenic river, falling under the same jurisdiction as my beloved park services. After minutes of hiking along the upper ridge, I began to settle into a familiar rhythm. Outside air, river sounds, soggy leaves underfoot… Home.

The climbing was good, but the day was even better. Sitting on a rock, chatting with strangers, and munching on trail mix brought me into a relaxing sense of freedom. My brother did most of the hard work, leading routes while I belayed at the bottom, watching the birds of prey circle overhead.

And then I thought, “This is only day 2 of part II – there is much more to come. This world is so big and longs to be explored.”

I let out a sigh of contentment before I scarfed down a Clif bar.

Spending time with this adorable lil’ girl (my niece) was the perfect way to end the day.

Shenandoah Recap

park sign

Length of Stay:

  • 3 days, 3 nights


  • Weather – a balmy 65° up in the mountains
  • I saw only one mosquito, and I quickly eradicated its life before it could destroy mine


  • Feet problems (weak arches = toe/ankle/heel problems)
  • Saying goodbye to my good friend Tyler

Favorite Hike:

  • Bearfence Scramble

Favorite Treat:

  • Locally made blackberry ice cream from the camp store

Favorite Random Moment(s)

  • Trying to get my camping stove to work. On my first night, it took about one and a half hours to make chicken and pasta. I thoroughly enjoyed the blissful feeling of success. It’s all part of the camping experience, right?
  • Finding a note on my car that read as following: “I have some questions about your MyPod. Please call Carol at…” This was the first of many MyPod inquiries and “tours”.

Bear Cubs, Vistas, and Hoover History

Within ten minutes of entering Shenandoah, a deer and her two fawns pranced through my campsite, looked at me, and then continued to chomp on some long grass five feet from my vehicle. And such began my adventure to this gorgeous, sprawling landscape in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The wildlife at Shenandoah amazed me for the entire three days. Whether it was a wild turkey trotting on the side of the road or a bear cub (teenager?) hanging out on a rock, there definitely wasn’t a shortage of animals that caught my eye and won my heart.

Bear Sighting on Skyline Drive

Skyline drive is well known for its incredible views and spectacular overlooks. I never quite realized, however, just how breathtaking each stop was. Depending on the time of day, the experience would differ slightly. On Thursday, the first full day of my adventure, I woke up early to go on a sunrise hike. The view from the top was surreal, and much more rewarding than a car-side pullover.

View from Bearfence Scramble (at approximately 5:50 am)

Shenandoah is also home to Camp Rapidan, a retreat center that President Hoover set up in the late 1920’s. This camp allowed him to escape the stress of city-life and relax in nature. The guided tour was informative and intriguing. I was able to see historical buildings, the stream in which Hoover frequently fished, and Mrs. Hoover’s decor.

images (1)
President Hoover’s Cabin at Rapidan

Already I am loving the camping lifestyle. I can’t wait for new experiences and more time spent in the great outdoors!