The Final Weekend of the Fall Season at Mathew’s Arm Campground in the Shenandoah National Park

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Images from Skyline Drive in Virginia


An overlook view to the east from Skyline Drive (more photos below. Click on each image to see a larger view): Glynn Wilson


Skyline Drive in Autumn: Glynn Wilson

Secret Vistas –
By Glynn Wilson

SHENANDOAH, Va. — It is the last weekend of the season at Mathew’s Arm, the northern most campground in the national forest.

We scouted it out on Thursday, secured a campsite and toured the first 22 miles of Skyline Drive, stopping at some of the many overlooks to snap pictures. By the time we made it back up to the campground right after sunset on Friday, at 2,750 feet above sea level, a party atmosphere prevailed here in the mountain woods. It’s nothing I’ve seen so far on this adventure for the past month into the wilds of camper van living.

Most of the campgrounds we encountered in Maryland and Virginia are sparsely populated by older folks who retired and took up RV living as a lifestyle. Sometimes on the weekends you run into short-term amateur vacationers who may or may not stick with the life. Then there are the hunters and fishermen who get out of the house for the outdoor recreation. We even ran into a horde of Boy Scout troops at the Greenbelt Belt Campground near D.C.

But something about this place actually draws younger people of college age. Maybe it’s the fame of the place, its convenience to the population centers around Washington — or maybe its the liberal policy on alcohol consumption.

Many national and state campgrounds have signs banning the possession and consumption of beer, wine and the stronger stuff, even though you know most of the rangers really don’t care as long as you keep it out of sight in a cup and don’t cause any trouble to make them have to work.

Here they sell beer and wine in the Elkwallow Waystation two miles south of the campground. I’m told further down in the Big Meadow Campground, they actually have a pub with live music. I can’t wait to see that.

One knock on Mathew’s Arm is that there are no showers, or at Elkwallow. I asked the camp host about this and he said, “You have to go all the way down to Big Meadow for that.”

I said fine. I can go a couple of days without. I’ll be headed that way Sunday.

There have been a few breakthroughs in my thinking about life on this trip.

You are now witnessing one of them, since this is the first piece of writing I’ve done in a long while not connected to the Internet. There are no electric power hookups in this campground, except for the camp hosts.

The closest cell phone towers in town are not reachable out here either with the Verizon Jetpack, although you can find a few bars at some of the overlooks. The cell phone itself does work here a little, but without the generator running to get the coffee going, process some of the photos for publication and charge the cell phone back up, that would be a useless tool as well.

The generator hours are limited to 8-10 a.m. and 4-9 p.m., so I need to hurry up to get all this done before the cutoff deadline. I am importing nearly a thousand images while I write this, and in a few minutes, I’m going to take the time to go through them and figure out which ones are worth using. When you read this you will be able to see my choices. I hope you like and enjoy them and share the link with your friends and family on Facebook.

A Skunk Tale

Before I go, however, I want to mention a couple of other things. I woke up this morning at 5:30 a.m. and decided to get outside for a few minutes before everybody else woke up. The stars were out in force on a clear autumn night. Then I heard something rummaging around in the leaves by the campsite next door.

I got out the spotlight and shined it into the brush to see what was out there, and before I let the dog out I spotted a black animal — with a white stripe on its head and back –about to creep between two tents populated by college kids. It was the biggest skunk I’ve ever seen.

I don’t know if it was the light or some scent that scared him away, but the skunk thought better of walking right through the campsite and ambled back into the trees on the other side of the public restroom. I’m glad Jefferson the Springer Spaniel didn’t see it and get out, or I would be heading down the mountain to buy a large quantity of tomato juice about now and a plastic swimming pool to use as a dog bathtub.

A Black Bear Sighting


A black bear crossing Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Forest and Park: Glynn Wilson

Another thing. As I was driving up here yesterday making more stops to shoot photos to document the beauty of this place — and one of nature’s most spectacular shows, the Autumn color changes — I stopped at one pull off in the deep woods with lots of big, ancient trees. The colors were mostly yellows and a little orange. Not as many people stop there because it does not have a view of the valley. But I found it quite beautiful.

I hiked for a little ways with the dog on the leash, then headed back to the road. I was thinking to myself: “I wonder where to look for bears?”

I had asked several rangers and found out the smallish black bears in this area don’t really go into full hibernation mode since it does not really get cold enough, so they have been spotted on a daily basis here in the fall. Just then I looked down the road to the south and a small black bear not much bigger than a cub came ambling out of the woods and crossed the road not 40 yards from where I stood.

I crept quietly up the road with the dog on the leash and tried to see if I could get a picture, but he was gone down the mountain. I pulled up to the bear trail in the van with the camera ready and the window rolled down, but no luck. Maybe next time. I did get a serviceable shot from a distance on the road, enough for proof of the sighting, LOL. You can see it here.

One other thing. After much experimentation, I discovered a manual setting on the Nikon that seems to work perfect for this scene in this light in this place. I set the shutter speed on the maximum of a 5,000th of a second and the F-stop at F8. That’s how I was able to balance the sunlight and the shadows on the Shenandoah River down in the valley by the Shenandoah River State Park. It also works in some places in the woods.

A lot of these images were shot at that setting, although the Scene preset works better in some light.

Now it’s 9:15 a.m. and I’ve got to stop writing and use the next 45 minutes to look at and process photographs before I have to shut the generator down. I will head down to the Hogback Overlook in a little while to post them so you can see the result of my labor. I hope it has value to someone out there.

See you out on the trails — or on the Web. Get outside every chance you get. Life is too short to spend all your time working and watching bad TeeVee. Enjoy the show.


Ahh, what a view of the Autumn color and the blue sky along Skyline Drive: Glynn Wilson


A shot of the Shenandaoh National Forest with near peak Autumn color: Glynn Wilson


A view of the deep woods in the Shenandoah National Park, where the bear, deer, rabbit and skunk play: Glynn Wilson


Sunset fro the Hogback Overlook: Glynn Wilson


Another view of campsite number 129 in Mathew’s Arm Campground: Gl;inn Wilson


Campsite number 129 in the Mathew’s Arm Campground: Glynn Wilson


Campsite number 129 in the Mathew’s Arm Campground: Glynn Wilson


Forest mountain solitude at the Shenandoah National Park Visitor’s Center: Glynn Wilson


My version of a selfie or a self portrait at one of the overlooks along Skyline Drive, Virginia: Glynn Wilson

Day Two: A Waterfall Hike


The Mathew’s Arm Trail around the campground and to the Overall Run Trail and two waterfalls: Glynn Wilson


One waterfall along Mathew’s Arm Trail, a 29-foot cascade: Glynn ?Wilson


One waterfall along Mathew’s Arm Trail: Glynn ?Wilson


Jefferson on The Mathew’s Arm Trail around the campground, to the Overall Run Trail and two waterfalls: Glynn Wilson

© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.