Need to know about Shenandoahs

Not sure if this is the right forum, but since IMHO seems to be the place for ambigously forumable threads, I suppose it is.

Anyway, I’m slowly writing a novel and the action has just moved from the D.C. suburbs to Virginia. I’d like to know more about Va., especially the Shenandoahs. Anything you have will be helpful. I’m especially interested in your impressions of the landscape, geography, and biology. (The action takes place in a socially isolated environment and is a bit fantastic, so I don’t really need info on history or politics, though I’d still be interested). I’d like any facts you have and also your subjective impressions.

Thanks in advance, I really appreciate it,


Just some random ramblings. I’m drawing on some 30-year-old memories, so there might be some mistakes.

I’ve never heard them called the Shenandoahs before, and I’ve spent a lot of time there. So you might ask the locals if they call them that. The mountains are generally called the Blue Ridge, and the Shenandoah is the river that runs north-south to the west of them. Shenandoah is also the name of the national park that runs from Front Royal south to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I don’t remember exactly where the name change occurs.

The Blue Ridge is not particularly wide, and the Skyline Drive runs along the ridge, and of course it’s a national park, so there’s nothing very isolated about it. To the west, in the valley and ridge, things get a bit more isolated. To the southwest, in North Carolina, even more so.

The forests in the park are quite young. Before the park was created, in the 1930s IIRC, the area was largely denuded by loggers, and by people doing subsistence farming. There are also some small copper mines. Everyone was thrown off their land to make room for the park. There are still traces of old buildings, but not as many as you might think.

Topographically, the area is not very rugged compared to, say, the Smokies. The mountains become higher toward the south, though never very high, and the rocks become somewhat more metamorphosed. So in the north, the rocks are quite blocky, whereas to the south it becomes more phyllitic. The peaks are generally, though not always, the Catoctin Greenstone, a metamorphosed basalt. The geologic structure is a large anticlinorium (concave-upwards fold with lots of smaller folds within it) which has been thrust eastward along a large fault zone. The shallower western limb of the anticlinorium is the Blue Ridge, while the steeper eastern limb is essentially the lower ridge called Southwest Mountain. The rocks themselves are Precambrian. There have been several periods of mountain building, starting with the Taconic Orogeny in the Ordovician.

One interesting area is Big Meadows, which is around mile 50, and was once a chestnut forest. The chestnuts were all killed by the blight, but even recently there were still some pretty high trunks, because chestnut has a high tannin content.

There are a few nice hikes in the area, especially Old Rag Mountain (long hike) and Stony Man (short hike).

You can get publications by the US Geological Survey on the park and its surroundings, which also talk a lot about the fauna, some about the flora, and some about the culture of the area.

Hope this helps a little.

What do you mean by “the Shenandoahs?” There is Shenandoah National Park ( and the Shenandoah River. Maybe what you’re thinking of is the Appalachian mountains, if you’re looking for a “socially isolated environment.” The area around Shenandoah National Park isn’t all that isolated or rural anymore. West of it is, though, like western Virginia and West Virginia (the state).

Larry Borgia, glancing over your title made my heart skip a beat - I thought maybe, for once, someone might be referring to my Shenandoah (the PA one). Alas, as always it’s the Virginia version you inquire about. :frowning: :smack:

Thanks so far guys.

Just to clarify, I’m really looking not so much for facts as for subjective impressions of the area, particularly your impressions of the landscape, geography, flora and fauna, etc.

Also, by"socially isolated" I didn’t mean poor or cut off from society. What I meant was that the action is taking place in a special school (sort of a cross between Hogwarts and Charles’ Xaviers school for the gifted and talented, but hopefully with my own ideas too) so the characters are not going to be having much interaction with the locals. That’s why I’m more interested in the landscape, which will be very important.

Also I will gladly transplant anything you have about Pennsylvania to this setting, Krys92gp. As I said, this isn’t going to be very realistic anyway.

And thanks for the clarification about The different meanings of "Shenandoah,"nyctea scandiaca. As you can see I’ve got alot to learn!

Thanks Kelly5708, that’s what I was looking for, although I’d also like to hear how the area looked to you. My ex-gf is going to take me on a long drive there in a few weeks, so I’ll check out a little bit of it myself, but I’m very interested in what you all have to say.

Howdy! I live in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, around Culpeper way (see if you can find it on a map!)

There are very few roads that run through this area. Interstate 66 begins in Washington DC and runs west. I believe it terminates in western Virginia, but I’d have to check my road atlas. The first hour of that drive, from DC to about Manassas, is 100% suburbanized. Fairfax, Vienna, Tyson’s Corners. The only notable thing about Reston is that there’s a strain of Ebola named after it. Aside from the battlefield parklands, Manassas looks like the sort of place that anti-sprawl activists have nightmares over. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

Rt 29 is the other major road, that heads roughly SW. Where 29 and 66 cross (in Gainesville) traffic is always terrible. Actually the backup starts on 66 in Manassas and doesn’t let up for the next 4 exits. If you continue westward along 29, you’ll (finally) leave the DC exurbs and head towards Charlottesville. The view becomes increasingly more beautiful the farther S you travel on 29, as the Blue Ridge pulls into view. The road lists and swoops and goes around blind turns. At night, when it’s foggy (and it is often foggy at night in the summer and fall), it can be a little disconcerting. There are truck stops and decrepit flea markets along the road. For some reason, there are about a million 7-11s around here. In the day, you can see cattle farms and horse farms lining the road. The cops are vicious along 29 in picking up speeders!

White Oak Canyon is my closest Shenadoah Nat’l Park entrance. Ever since “Outside” named it one of the most beautiful day hikes in America, the place is swamped of a summer weekend. It is pretty though. I enjoy hiking up to the lower falls, which takes about an hour if you’re in decent walking shape.

A few notes about living out in the country. It’s quiet out here. Damn quiet. Nerve-wrackingly quiet at times. Sometimes when you hear scampering noises, and you grew up in the big city on a steady diet of horror movies, your imagination runs away with you a little. The moo of a cow is surprisingly loud, and contrary to what you might think from the movies, horses are nearly silent at night. I can hear the cows from the neigbors more than 1/2 mile away, but I have yet to hear the horses that are within 30ft of my house.

It’s hard for me to be subjective about the area without considering its history. I mean, yeah, it’s pretty, beautiful in places. You drive through a stretch of forest, and then come upon an overlook, which is rarely very impressive, but is pleasing. It’s all on a scale a human can comprehend without going “Oh, wow.” Which is a good thing, I think. Not everything has to be the Grand Canyon.

In the summer it’s almost always more or less hazy, when it’s not downright foggy. Even on a day you may think is pretty clear, if you try taking an unfiltered photo, you get haze. In the winter it’s quite bracing, and it’s always something to see the icy springs coming out of the roadcuts.

The human stuff is pretty sucky National Park architecture. Usually they go for the rustic, but there’s one place called Panorama (at Thornton Gap, I think) which is an abomination of government architecture.

It’s all very tame. The area’s been settled since forever. Monticello and John Adams’s homes are in the Blue Ridge, geologically though not physiographically.

But it’s important to realize there’s a deep strain of sadness that runs through this beauty. I don’t know much about the Indians that were once there, but the Civil War was largely a Virginia war, and armies marched up and down these valleys, often not knowing where the other was. When the met, you got slaughter. Phil Sheridan did the scorched earth thing with the whole Shenandoah valley.

As I said in my earlier posts, the lives of the people in these mountains was a hardscrabble life, but it was their life, and it was taken away from them. Some families still live in the hollows, where the park gets narrow. Most went to towns.

So I think a proper subjective feel for the place needs the history, not just a road, and trees, and bears.

That’s all I’ve got.

Check out this link

You will find some of the Trout Streams in the Park itself in season there are a shockingly large number of folks along the banks. It can get pretty crowded.

There is also great fishing and hunting down the Shenandoah River outside the park. A summer or so ago I was fly fishing and this Asian male and his girlfriend came down and stood stood 10 feet away from me on shore, fine - picnickers right? Suddenly a shotgun goes off 10 feet away and slightly to the right - and I mean slightly – he is shooting at the ducks over the river and nearly over my head - he misses of course – my impression this guy bought a shotgun at Wal-Mart saw it was Duck or goose season and took off for the Shenandoah – & things like that happen out there – ALOT

Although the Smoky Mountains are the section of Appalachia south of the Blue Ridge, they both take their name from the same phenomenon, the bluish haze that seems to cloak the ridgetops and trail into the valleys on all but the clearest post-thunderstorm days. (The effect is more pronounced in the Smokies, but it is present in the Blue Ridge.)

Looking across the valleys, I always recall seeing lots of dark green evergreens. (I haven’t been through, recently, so I could not tell you whether they were spruce, pine, fir, or whatever.) However, my memories of the Spring are winding through forests of mixed varieties, with lots of mountain laurel and flowering dogwood brightening patches of woods with their pale blossoms. (The blue haze was originally natural water vapor mixing with oil residue from the trees, but lately it has been “enhanced” by regular old pollution from the Great Lakes and Mississippi valley cities.)