By Bonnie & Bill Neely
Shenandoah National Park in Virginia is one of the most visited in the United States and is less than two hours from our nation’s capital. It was designated by Congress in 1926 and dedicated by Franklin D Roosevelt in 1936. The scenic Skyline Drive runs through the park and is a not-to-miss drive with the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains all around you.
If you are an experienced and dedicated hiker, you might choose to follow the Appalachian Trail to make your way there, experiencing America as our first settlers did. If you are not able to do the entire 2,190 mile trail, take a selfie by the sign and pretend you did! Beautiful Shenandoah River runs through the Park and valley and the photo ops are supreme.
We chose to enjoy the leisurely lifestyle at Luray KOA near the Park and make day trips to thrill with wildlife viewing, hiking, taking beautiful photos, wading in streams and gasping delightedly at the numerous waterfalls. Shenandoah is the perfect place for getting out of city life, reveling in and exploring out-of-doors, and showing children that life is more rewarding in the wonder of nature than playing video games.
Among the many nearby attractions to plan into your itinerary are Luray Caverns, a marvelous underground tour in the vast caverns filled with stalactites and stalagmites. In Luray town we also enjoyed the Toy Museum and the Antique Car Museum. You will want to go to nearby battlefields and historic sites including Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson near Charlottesville, VA.
At our National Parks children enjoy joining the Junior Ranger Program and receiving their badge and learning about nature all around them. We always like the educational overview film at the Visitor Center of each National Park, and we find the adult Ranger- led programs and hikes to be stimulating and of great information and fun facts. We particularly enjoyed the very informative talk about the life cycle of monarch butterflies.
Caterpillars, which hatch from the eggs laid by the migrating butterflies, feed on the hundreds of milkweed plants in the meadow. In the next chrysalis stage these caterpillars develop hardened pupa, which looks like a curled spring green leaf highlighted with a glittering gold band for their transformation. When they emerge as butterflies they rest a bit to dry and stretch their wings. Although the monarchs migrate they do not each fly all the way from Canada to Mexico, but the emerging young continue the halted journey of their parents whose lifespan is 28-38 days.
In the fall plan for the Monarch Education Day at Shenandoah, when some of these butterflies are tagged for study in cooperation with Monarch Watch Program of University of Kansas. On this special day children and adults will learn all about these beautiful creatures and do fascinating related activities and then watch part of their fluttering orange and black fall migration to Mexico for the winter.