Grammi and I have been talking about going to Washington D.C. for the last few weeks. It’s been years since the last time we where there and I remember feeling like we rushed through the Smithsonian Museums and National Monuments. I’ve always wanted to go back and take more time.
However now isn’t a good time. After being in Canton, Niagara Falls, Cooperstown and Hershey we are feeling overwhelmed with the crowds. We’re ready for a break away from the cities. We need a lonely country road, a babbling creek to soak our feet or a gentle cool breeze atop a beautiful mountain vista. So we chose the sounds of nature over a clamorous city and headed for Shenandoah National Park.
Okay, maybe we aren’t getting far enough from the crowds. All the campgrounds in the national park are full. Our timing is off. It is Friday. We know weekends are busy, but we had hoped for the best. Grammi started calling the privately owned campgrounds just outside the national park near the area we wanted to stay. Private owned parks are our last resort. She called several that were either full or exorbitantly priced. Then she talked to Pam at Gooney Creek Campgrounds. “Sure thing honey, as long as ya’ll can get by on 20 amps, I got a spot for ya. Nope, ya’ll don’t need to pay before you get here. I just need your name. I’ll hold a spot for ya.” Pam seemed genuinely friendly. So with dwindling options we took off for Gooney Creek.
Not far from the northern end of Skyline Drive near Front Royal, Gooney Creek Campground is located under a bridge next to the creek from where it gets its name. The babbling creek (yes we found a babbling creek) leads to the Shenandoah River and is a popular spot for recreational boating and fishing. Front Royal Outdoors offers canoes, kayaks and inner tubes rental with a shuttle service provided upriver. Also the nearby Skyline Caverns offers daily tours. There was plenty to see and do in the area.
When we arrived, Pam and her 92 year old mother were sitting under the shade of a porch balcony among…well for lack of a better term…”stuff”. It reminded me of a scene from the television show Hoarders. I climb out of the truck looking for a path toward where they were seated. Pam asks “What’s your name?” I give her my wife’s name thinking that she’s the one who called ahead. “Nope, I didn’t ask for her name. What’s your name?” I give her my first and last name. “Nope just your first name. I don’t care about your last name.” After slowly exhaling I repeat my first name. “Well okay Mike, follow me.” Pam climbs on a riding lawnmower, cranks it up and heads down the gravel road.
Feeling perplexed by the quick greeting, I jump back in the truck and follow along. Soon she points toward the spot where she wants me to park. “Here’s your spot. There’s the water spigot and here is the 20 amp electric. You said you can get by on 20 amps, right?” “Yes, we’ll manage with 20 amps,” I replied. This park has mostly primitive campsites. We are at one of just a hand-full with water and electric. “You can come back and pay after you set”, Pam said as she started up the lawn mower and turn to drive away.
We set up, rolled out the awning, put out the chairs and grabbed a bottle of water. We sat there and looked around. This is not too bad. We’ll be okay here. It’s a nice piece of property. A flat strip of land on the creek down in a gulley with shear cliff walls rising fifty feet or more on each side. Even though the residence and attached office were cluttered, the campsites were clean and raked, and the grounds were mowed. The bathhouse was old and in need of paint but it was clean (no worries – we have a bathroom in the camper). We took a short walk along the creek to discover a spot where the creek widens. A rope tied to a tree limb hangs over a deep pool of water. It’s a swimming hole. Unadvertised but as I learned is well known to the locals.
Campers continued to check in all afternoon. Mostly locals with tents or small older model bumper-pull trailers. They’re there for a weekend get-a-way. Maybe it’s their one last chance before school starts and the seasons change. Each time Pam would climb on the lawn mower and lead them to a spot. As she passed by she would wave and say hi to everyone she saw using their first names. She remembered everyone’s name.
Saturday morning arrived and we were greeted with a 58 degree temperature. Grammi and I tussled for the blanket. Realizing I was loosing the battle I got up to turn on the coffee pot. Coffee is freshly brewed each morning on the gas stove in a blue enamel pot that we bought for camping trips thirty-five years ago. We don’t always have electric and we certainly don’t want to give up precious counter space so this method for making coffee works for us. It just takes a little longer but somehow I’ve come to enjoy the rhythmical sounds of percolating coffee in the morning.
Somewhere grammi learned about The Route 11 Yard Crawl happening this weekend. It’s an annual event featuring 43 miles of yard sale between Stephens City and New Market. This is something grammi can get excited about. “I love treasure hunting”, she says. “We’re so lucky to find this.” So we were on the highway before 7:30 AM. Lined along the highway were people selling anything and everything imaginable. Some were selling from the trunks of their cars while others had more elaborate tents and tables set up. Cars pulled over to the shoulder of the road when they wanted to stop and look. Churches along the route offered parking and were selling an assortment of baked goods and other items. Businesses in the towns we passed also participated by putting tables of items on the sidewalks in front of their stores. Firefighters were standing with boots hoping for a donation from those passing by. The Route 11 Yard Crawl was a big event for all the towns along the route. I admit it was kind of cool to see.
Surprisingly, even though there were a lot of vehicles on the road, traffic keep moving along. There were no real big traffic jams. Drivers would stop to allow you to park or slow down to let you pull out. Everyone was friendly. We did a lot of stopping and looking. We did some buying. Grammi found some bargains. She found me a pair of hiking poles for two dollars. Two dollars! I paid over a hundred bucks for the pair I bought for her. We traveled all 43 miles. It was mid-afternoon before we came to the end and turned toward Skyline drive.
We traveled back to the north on Skyline Drive. We pulled off on an overlook. It was a beautiful view of the Shenandoah Valley. Somewhere down there were people finding treasures and making deals. I smiled as grammi was happy and I’m living a happy life. We had a good day.
The next day we woke to yet another cool morning although not as cool as yesterday. We’re packing up and going to Big Meadows Campground in the Shenandoah National Park. We feel confident we can get a campsite. The weekend campers will be checking out today.
Before we pulled away we stopped to say good-bye to Pam. We spent a little time chatting and found her to be an interesting person. She’s a 71 year old artist, a free spirit with a lot of spunk. I’m betting she was a 60‘s flower-child. She’s the oldest of three siblings and now helps out her mother who is the owner of the campground. She gave grammi a hug and told us to come back sometime. I would have no qualms coming back.