Archive for the 'Outdoor Activities' Category
Grand Caverns is a National Natural Landmark located in Grottoes, Virginia. As America’s oldest show cave, Grand Caverns went through a series of different names and owners until finally, in 2009, the town of Grottoes “took possession of this glorious property.”
The caverns themselves are magnificent with their series of naturally formed rooms and chambers—the Grand Ball Room, Dante’s Inferno, the Persian Palace, and more. Each room and hall has its own story, which subtle signs of times and people of the past.
Starting at 10 a.m. on June 15, 2013, you have the opportunity to celebrate the history of this landmark at Grand Caverns Heritage Day: “Daytime activities will include a Civil War encampment, apple butter and soap making, crafts and demonstrations, and living history exhibits.” That evening, those with advanced reservations will be able to partake in candlelight tours and an authentic ballroom dance (period dress is encouraged). Tickets for the tours and the dance are limited to the first hundred reservations. If you’re interested in making a reservation, click here. At the bottom of the page you’ll find a form to fill out and mail to Grand Caverns.
Fun Facts (courtesy of grandcaverns.com):
“The rocks in Grand Caverns are constantly in a state of growth and a single touch can stop this process permanently.”
“There are hundreds of Civil War soldier’s signatures in Grand Caverns.”
“Grand Caverns was ranked the #2 cave in America by Parade Magazine.”
“Virginia’s caves range in size from a short crawlspace to over 20 miles of passages.”
Enjoy a day of cavern festivities, and don’t forget to book your lodging at the Iris Inn!
Geocaching has become an increasingly popular activity, and for those unfamiliar with it, it is a sort of high-tech treasure hunt: “For the traditional geocache, a geocacher will place a waterproof container containing a log book (with pen or pencil) and trade items then record the cache’s coordinates. These coordinates, along with other details of the location, are posted on a listing site” (Wikipedia). Other geocachers will use their GPS to find the hidden caches, sign their names, take any available trinkets, and then leave an item of their own.
Similar to geocaching is an activity called EarthCaching, which, instead of having a physical cache, results in locating a feature of the natural world: “Instead of leaving or removing anything from the site, EarthCachers document their observations and answer questions as a learning experience, and then report their discoveries on the EarthCache website.” Shenandoah National Park offers a beautiful place to go EarthCaching, with no fee other than admission into the park.
So, how do you go about starting an EarthCaching adventure at Shenandoah National Park?
- Set up a geocaching membership (basic membership is free).
- Check out the available EarthCaches at Shenandoah National Park, and choose which hike you’d like to do. (The Blackrock EarthCache is the closest to the Iris Inn. It’s only a 45-minute drive away and is a relatively easy hike in a beautiful area!)
- Have a GPS device or GPS app on your phone.
Both EarthCaching and geocaching are fun ways to explore different areas, and the biggest benefit is that anyone can participate. (Make sure to not leave any traditional caches at Shenandoah National Park. The park only allows EarthCaching.)
Happy hunting from the Iris Inn!
Photo by Paul Downey
“Flowers seem intended for the solace of ordinary humanity.” — John Ruskin
The reawakening of the natural world is one of the most welcomed parts of spring, particularly in regards to the vivid splash of color of newly bloomed flowers. While the progression of springtime greenery is a slower process, flowers seem to leap forward in their urgency towards warm weather.
Coming up on May 4-5, the Shenandoah National Park will be celebrating the flora of the area with its 27th Annual Wildflower Weekend: “Take a day or two to appreciate the diversity of wildflowers growing here in the Blue Ridge. More than 1,300 species of plants thrive in Shenandoah National Park, a mountain island surrounded by farmland, towns, and expanding developed areas.” (NPS). Because Wildflower Weekend is held in early May, you can expect to see wildflowers like hepatica, violets, wild geranium, jack-in-the-pulpit, wild azaleas, and numerous other floral wonders.
If you’d like to learn as well as look, the park is offering programs led by biologists, park rangers, guest naturalists, and professional photographers, and topics will include everything from wildflower identification to bird-watching. (Click here for a full list of the scheduled programs.)
Reminders from the Park:
- “Wear sturdy shoes and bring water on all hikes.” (We’re sure they don’t want any half-dehydrated, high-heel wearing participants…)
- “Evaluate your personal fitness and health to choose an appropriate program.” (We’re pretty sure none of the park rangers will carry you if you get tired while hiking.)
- “Come prepared for wet weather. Walks may be conducted in light rain, but will be canceled in case of thunderstorms.” (After all, no one wants to get struck by lightning.)
This is a great opportunity to explore the native and exotic wildflowers that take root among our mountains, so go out on an adventure, then return to relaxation at the Iris Inn!
Photo Credit: Stolz Gary M, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
“The Loft Mountain Wayside, at milepost 79.5 on Skyline Drive, serves as a hub in the park’s South District, with its popular campground, numerous trail heads, amphitheater and wayside restaurant” (National Parks Traveler). Furthermore, Loft Mountain serves as the location of various activities, including guided tours, educational sessions, and Ranger programs:
Along the Frazier Discovery Trail: “Hike to the summit of Loft Mountain for a stunning view during this 2-hour circuit hike.”
Bear Necessities: “Black bears thrive in Shenandoah National Park because of the large areas of contiguous, high quality, forest habitat. Discover additional necessities bears need and the role you play in their survival during this 20-minute talk.”
Where the Wild Things Are: “Celebrate the wild things of Shenandoah during this 20-minute talk.”
Junior Ranger: “Investigate the mysteries of Shenandoah through fun and educational activities. Ages 7-12. Adult must accompany child. 1.5 hours.”
An Ocean View: “Join a ranger for a short hike to Blackrock summit and to learn about this areas unique geology. 1.5 hours.”
Evening Hike: “Investigate a mountain forest as day changes into night. 2 hours.”
Campfire Program: “Join a Ranger for this National Park Service tradition. Dress for cool mountain nights. 45 minutes.”
(Note: These specific program schedules are from 2012, so they may vary about during the 2013 season.)
Though the weather will still remain chilly for a few more weeks still, it’s not too soon to start planning your summer getaway. Reserve your room in our B&B or in our cabins!
Many people explore the Blue Ridge Parkway for the flora, but let’s not forget about the fauna, as well! The parkway is home to some absolutely amazing creatures, each beautiful in his or her uniqueness.
One can find 42 different species of amphibians along the trails, and of course, this includes the salamander. According to the National Park Service, the Southern Appalachians are the “center of salamander diversity on earth.” Not only that, but the Blue Ridge Parkway is at the “heart of this zone.” One can also find more than 250 species of birds along the parkway, including bobolinks, eastern meadowlarks, American kestrels, great blue herons, kingfishers, and peregrine falcons. This is an ideal setting for the avid bird-watcher! Along with amphibians and birds, the Blue Ridge Parkway is also home to 50 different species of fish, 22 species of snakes, and 7 species of turtles.
Spring is still a couple months away, so many of these animals are most likely staying warm in a deep hibernation,. This, however, doesn’t mean that the forests are entirely devoid of wildlife! The white-tailed deer are as active as ever, and you may even catch a glimpse of them right outside your room at the Iris Inn. Gray squirrels also remain prevalent throughout the year, scampering across the woods with impish drive.
Photo by Richard Seaman
Just remember, though, if you’re planning to visit the Blue Ridge Parkway during the winter months, be sure to stay up-to-date with weather related closures: “The most up to date closing information about the Blue Ridge Parkway can be accessed by calling (828) 298-0398, 24 hours a day. You may also find some closing information on the National Park Service website: http://www.nps.gov/blri/planyourvisit/roadclosures.htm.”
The Iris Inn was pleased to welcome a group of cyclists as our guests, and we were even more pleased to learn of the travel journal they kept while biking Skyline Drive. The following excerpts were written by Kevin Martin, and we are delighted to share them with you in hopes of enlightening you with one person’s Skyline cycling experience:
“Skyline Drive (Front Royal to Rockfish Gap) – 108.5 miles/Road
For full disclosure reasons I decided it was only fair to let everyone know what we could be getting ourselves into, but I buried it in a cheery email with a fun-filled itinerary that I hoped would distract likely participants from clicking on the link.
The Skyline Drive is a scenic highway that runs the full length of Shenandoah National Park, from Front Royal to Waynesboro, VA for a total of 105.5 miles. The elevation gain is over 11,200 feet. In fact, the first 4.5 miles is a steady 8% grade climb of over 1,500 feet.
Day 1- The Agony: Front Royal to Big Meadows Lodge (52.5 miles)
We were all aware that the first 4.5 miles would be the longest and steepest climb of the entire route, but that didn’t make it any easier. But the day was cool and the air crisp so we took our time and steadily conquered the climb making it to our first check point at Dickey’s Visitor’s Center. Rested from what we thought would be the greatest challenge of the day we confidently set off again to tackle the remaining 48 miles.
It’s difficult to describe what transpired over the next 15 or so miles as we made it to the second highest peak on the route, Hogback Overlook (3,385 ft), but the realities of the challenges ahead were becoming imminently clearer.
We had approximately seven miles of gentle rolling hills before we hit Thornton Gap. Thornton Gap was the overlook at the foot of what was supposed to be the second hardest climb, but that’s only true if you haven’t ridden 30 miles before and had a big lunch. This was over a 1,000 foot climb with weary legs and full stomachs and it was pure torture!
The next 10 miles would be dramatic ups and downs with a final 1.5 mile ascent to our final resting place – Big Meadows Lodge.
Day 2 – The Joy: Big Meadows Lodge to Rockfish Gap (56 miles)
There are no words to adequately describe the next 25 miles because it all seemed so surreal. We stopped at check points not because we needed to out of desperation, but because were compelled to. It was a Zen-like experience that was perplexing and mysterious like some sort of Middle-Earth Eden. We practically floated over the next 12 miles toward Rockfish Gap with a joy in our heart as opposed to the tightness we felt the day before.
Epilogue: The Celebration!
Just four miles from Rockfish Gap was a wonderful Bed and Breakfast waiting for us, the Iris Inn. The Iris Inn is someplace that I find myself keep coming back to…This will make my fourth visit and I was thrilled to share it with my friends.
The place was tailor made for four weary cyclists and their support team to celebrate and chill. Dave and Heidi are incredibly gracious hosts who I knew would make everyone feel right at home. Turns out they’re used to cycling folks like us being so close to both the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive.”
Can you remember the last time you were completely awestruck by something? Be it a sea of stars in the night sky, the panoramic view from a mountaintop, or the soft, green scent of the woods in summertime, awe-inspiring moments are certainly few and far between. Besides their rarity, they are also nearly impossible to describe—how do you put into words something that overwhelms yet pacifies your senses? And it turns out that these experiences are not only pleasing to the senses, they are also healthy for the mind and body.
A recent study tested the hypothesis that that “awe can alter time perception.” Participants in the study “unscrambled sentences, watched commercials (with large, striking images), and answered questions about personal beliefs in order to create a perceived time availability index…In addition to confirming the expansion of time, the study shows that awe can ease impatience and actually make you more willing to volunteer time in the name of others. People also begin to prefer an actual experience over a material good. And just in case that wasn’t good enough, an awesome moment can increase your overall satisfaction and happiness in life” (The Atlantic).
So, how do we go about experiencing these awe-inspiring moments? Sometimes they happen by chance, for which you simply have to wait with painstaking patience. Other times though, you can seek them out. For example, the Iris Inn is located in a breathtaking setting. We overlook the Shenandoah Valley, and we are close by to some of the most beautiful areas in Virginia (in our opinion, anyway). If you need one of these moments of awe, let the Iris Inn be the catalyst for your experience.
Photo by Alvesgaspar (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Alvesgaspar)
One could argue that fall is the ideal season for hiking. The intensity of summer heat cools, the humidity lessens, and the leaves began changing with a burst of colorful splendor.
There are numerous hiking options within a short distance from the Iris Inn, and the imminent shift to fall if the perfect time to start planning an outdoor excursion. Peruse the list of trails below, and make sure to book your room at the Iris Inn!
Crabtree Falls- Hike a four-mile loop, comprised of neatly-kept trails, breathtaking scenery, and the “highest cascading set of falls east of the Mississippi.” Dogs are also welcome, so long as they are leashed.
Appalachian Trail to Spy Rock-Spy Rock is is one of the tallest mountains in the area with a “360-degree panoramic view.” The hike begins at the Montebello Fish Hatchery, proceeds across two-miles of the Appalachian Trail, and then continues to Spy Rock.
Wintergreen Nature Foundation Trails- There are nearly 30 miles of marked trails around Wintergreen, with four of them being the main trails. They cover “an array of distances and difficulties over the five-mile loop that leads you by the breathtaking Shamokin Falls to the easy one-mile trip through Allen Creek Preserve.”
Blackrock Summit Trail- This is a simple, beautiful one-mile hike located in Shenandoah National Park. The rocks for which it is named is a unique sight that supposedly resembles “the terrain of a foreign planet.”
Humpback Rocks Trail- This trail is “short, steep, but immediately rewarding,” and the “rock outcrop on top provides one of the best views of the Shenandoah Valley.” (This hike also happens to be the person favorite of the Iris Inn blogger!)
Sharp Top- Sharp Top is a strenuous three-mile hike that can take at least two-hours to finish. The effort is definitely worth it, as it overlooks the remains of a World War II bomber aircraft, as well as a panoramic view from the Piedmont to the Alleghany Mountains.
(Thank you to Albemarle Magazine for this compilation of hiking trails, which can be found in their “Take a Hike” August/September Issue.)
Copyright Virginiatrailsadam (http://virginiatrailguide.com/author/virginiatrailsadam/)
“Running is a big question mark that’s there each and every day. It asks you, ‘Are you going to be a wimp or are you going to be strong today?’” – Peter Maher
Why is running good for you? You’ve probably heard all the reasons before, but sometimes we all still need a quick refresher:
- Cardiovascular fitness
- Affordable form of exercise
- Easy to learn
- Reduces stress
- Increases flexibility
- Helps with weight-loss and muscle toning
- Increases endurance
(These facts, along with numerous others, are courtesy of RealBuzz.)
If you’re an avid runner, a jogging newbie, or you just need to wake up with a morning walk, there is a lovely area just down the road from the Iris Inn that will satisfy your exercising needs. On South Delphine, heading towards Lyndhurst, there is a small road just past the Wildlife Center of Virginia. You can either start your run/walk at the Iris Inn and make your way on foot to the entrance of the road, or you can drive there and leave your car at the gate.
As with any culture, that which surrounds the hikers on the Appalachian Trail is a world unto itself. From the jargon to the equipment, these hikers are immersed in what is more than just a hobby, an exercise, or a casual fascination. Rather, it is a lifestyle, and it takes a uniquely dedicated individual to complete the approximate 2,184 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
We were delighted to have one such dedicated hiker as a guest at the Iris Inn. Bill, also known by his trail name “Ranger Bill,” is a hiker who hails from New Hampshire. On March 16, 2012, he began his Appalachian Trail trek in Georgia, and by the time he reached our B&B, he had covered around 856 miles of beautiful scenery, inclement weather, rough terrain, and memory-making adventures. But what’s a good story without a little romance? Not only did our fearless traveler leave behind a well-paying job to pursue his trail dreams, but he also bid farewell to his lady-love, knowing they would only see each other a few times throughout his journey. The Iris Inn happened to be one of their meeting points. After two months of separation, Bill and his girlfriend Michelle were reunited and eager to spend a few days hiking Shenandoah together. (Bill was also happy to have a bit of luxury and privacy: “It was a treat to stay in Hawk’s Nest with the hot tub.”)
We wish the very best for Ranger Bill and Michelle, and we thank them for the wealth of hiking knowledge and trivia that they shared with us:
- On average, around 2,000 individuals start to hike the Appalachian Trail, but only 20% actually finish it.
-A huge goal is to keep the weight of a hiker’s pack as low as possible. This includes carrying only necessities and making sacrifices such as sawing a toothbrush in half.
-In Damascus, VA, there is a huge event known as Trail Days where there is a hiker parade with residents of the town hurling water balloons, shooting water guns, and tossing buckets of water on the hikers that pass by. Damascus also provides free showers, medical screenings, and gear vendors with sales on hiking supplies.
-A Trail Angel is someone who has either hiked the trail before or is interested in the hiking culture and in turn, provides services to hikers. This includes leaving out coolers or food and drink, giving rides to hikers, and much more. The actions of Trail Angels are known as “Trail Magic.”