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A Day Trip to Shenandoah National Park – May 19, 2009 May 27, 2009

Posted by hslu in Travel.
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A Day Trip to Shenandoah National Park – May 19, 2009

Tuesday, May 19th was a perfect day for picnic; high in the low 70’s , very comfortable with humidity in the 20 – 30% range, mostly sunny and wind from the North West around 3 mph. I told Maria the day before that we would go to picnic and asked her where she liked to go: the mountains to the west or sea shores to the east. She chose the mountain. And that’s where we went to in the afternoon of May 19th, 2009.

I got up early around 10: 00 in the morning to prepare food for the picnic:

• Rotini pasta, apple, capers and cucumber salad,

• Potato salad with a touch of vinegar and sugar,

• Roasted quail from a Vietnamese Restaurant in the Worldgate Shopping Center,

• Some Salami, Prosciutto, and Calabrese from Costco,

• A couple of cheeses from Trader Joe’s; Gouda and Jalapeño Monterrey Jack Cheese,

• A ½ bottle of 2007 Santa Cristina red wine made from 90% Sangiovese and 10% Melot.

With a couple of plastic cups, plastic forks, knifes, box of napkins, and our running shoes, we headed to the mountain around 12:30 in the afternoon. Since we didn’t have anything to eat in the morning, we got hungry before we left the town. We decided to find a park and eat what we have first. We used Maria’s GPS and found Manassas Battleground National Park near by. We stopped by the visitors’ center but saw the no picnic sign near its entrance. Disappointed, we searched again and found Ellis Barron Park in the city of Manassas about 5 miles away. We followed GPS’s instruction but couldn’t find the park. Frustrated, we wanted to through it out of the window (This wasn’t the first time though but we kept it until we get a new one) but we were too hungry to dive to another park. We turned around and found the park the second time around. It turned out that the GPS had the wrong official address for the park. But fortunately, the park was near by and we got lucky because of our persistence. The park has a good-size playground with swings, slide and exercise bars, 2 covered picnic areas with 4 tables and benches, a basketball court, and many BBQ pits scattered out near by. Several kids were there already and they were having a picnic of their own. We got our stuff out of the car and began to enjoy our late lunch at 1:40 PM. By the time we finished our lunch, it was almost 2:30 PM. More kids showed up at the playground and another kid started to ply basketball by himself. We quickly left Manassas, got on I-66 and headed west to Shenandoah National Park.

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We got there around 3:50 PM as we pulled up the entrance gate. The entrance fee was $15 per vehicle. I told the middle age female park ranger that I am 61 years old and asked her if I qualify for senior citizen discount. She said that I have to be 62 years old to get the discount and said that’s something to look for next year. She also said that once I am 62, I can purchase the America the Beautiful life time pass for $10. It basically allows me to drive a car with all its passengers in any national park for free. It also allows me to take up to 3 people in an area where per person charge is required in any national park. I laughed out and said thank you to her. She also said that there were quite a few sightings of animals in the park and asked us to look for them too.

We drove to the first visitor center, the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, about 5 miles from the north entrance. We have been here several time over the years and decided to stop by here in the interest of time. We walked inside and asked the ranger to help with information on a short trail for some light hiking. He gave us a map and suggested us to take the Fox Hollow Trail on the other side of the Skyline Drive. Maria asked him about a small waterfall but he said that was too far to hike since we only allotted 2 hours for hiking. The Fox Hollow Trail was relatively easy with a few steep and long hills along the 1.2 mile trail. It took us about an hour to walk and there were only a few fellow hikers probably because it was kind of late in the afternoon. We didn’t see any animals (not even a squirrel) but heard many birds in the thick forest.

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We finished the first the trail and wanted to jog some more to get additional exercise for the day. We heard some sound coming from another trail and though there might be a small creek near by. We ventured out to the adjacent Dickey Ridge Trail hoping to find the source of the spring. Since it was getting late, we decided to walk for another ½ hour and if we still couldn’t find the stream, we’d turn around and head back to the visitor center. Since the entire trail was 2.7 miles round trip, it could take us 2 hours to finish. By that time, it could be dark outside and we certainly didn’t want to be alone in a forest where bears have been seen (The ranger told us that he has seen 50+ bears since he started worked there 4 years ago.) Well, this trail was easier but we didn’t see any stream after our 30 minute hike. We turned around and got back to the visitor center to enjoy the beautiful view of dark green forest and the wide open blue sky.

The trip couldn’t be complete without a nice meal to cap off the evening. As we drove toward home, we relied on our GPS to find a restaurant for us. We decided to stop by Warrenton for dinner because it was about half way between the national park and home. It also was the largest town on the way home. We searched by category and found Napoleon Restaurant and many others. We decided on Napoleon primarily because its name implied that it was a French restaurant and because no other information was available from our cheap GPS.

When we arrived at the restaurant, it looked not too bad from the street level: big building and big parking lot, an outdoor terrace completed with lighting on the second floor and an entrance with a red canopy. Well, we probably got lucky this time.

After we walked in, I had this uncomfortable feeling that this wasn’t what it appeared to be from the outside: an empty bar, an empty dinning room with a table of two, no white table cloth, no wine or water glasses on the table and no fancy decorations. Well, what can you expect from a town like Warrenton? It turned out that the main dinning room only opens from Wednesday through Sunday and we had to take the dinning room in the bar. Well, I told Maria that we should take the attitude of what Chinese called “即来之, 则安之 ji lai zhi, ze an zhi: since you are already here, take the cards dealt to you and make the best out of it,” and make this an adventure for the evening. We may get lucky the second time in a row.

I asked for the wine menu first and decided to have a half bottle since I still had about 60 miles to drive and didn’t take a nap in the afternoon. I chose a cheap Pinot Gris from California for $23. She bought us the wine and had me tasted it. The wine was very fruity with citrus bouquet but had a very shallow finish. She also bought an old fashion ice bucket to keep the wine cool which I like it very much. We ordered two appetizers; Escargot ($6.95) and Frittata ($7.95), a Caesar salad ($6.50), and shared an 8 oz. Filet Mignon ($21.95.) Since by this time, the whole restaurant had only 2 guests: us, we had the entire attention of our waitress for our meal.

Well, the escargot was the worst I had ever had in any French restaurant: it was cooked in a white-wine sauce instead of baked with butter, parsley and garlic in an oven. Worse, the wine sauce was too watery and it tasted too sour to me because the chef poured too much white wine in the fry pan. I believed the chef didn’t even know how to cook this dish. Frittata, an open face omelet with cheese and basil, was nothing special to write about except that it was definitely way over-priced. I guessed that the head chef was off today and a line cook was on duty who might double as dish washer. Caesar salad was nice and fresh and the portion was nice too. The filet was tender: medium rare like I ordered but the taste was average.

We left the restaurant disappointed despite our effort to make the best of it. I guess that there is only that much one can do when the evening started with the worst escargot we’ve ever had. We’ll look for something else next time when we are in the area.

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