~Wednesday, May 26, 2021~
We have read that one of the things to do while visiting Shenandoah National Park is to visit the Luray Caves. We really went back and forth on this one since we are big fans of touring things underground. If it weren’t for the hour drive to get to them, we probably would have voted yes. But, since we’ve already seen some amazing cave tours during our nationwide trip (like Carlsbad Caverns), we decided to sitesee above ground today.
The day’s selection…...the Mill Prong Trail to Rapidan Camp. This trail came highly recommended by the ranger I spoke with the other day. Starting at Milam Gap, only minutes from our campsite, we saw beautiful, dense foliage and shaded Hemlock trees
occasionally letting the sun peek through. There were 2 stream crossings with perfectly situated rocks across each one, allowing for easy crossings. But 2 miles in, something completely unexpected made its appearances…..the remnants of a rustic camp but not just any camp. This would be the retreat for former President Hoover and his wife Lou Henry from 1929 to 1933; the precursor to the current Camp David retreat. But why this location? Yes, it is stunning, peaceful and extremely private. But here?
As locations were being considered, Will Carson, Chairman for Conservation and Development was working with the Governor of Virginia to establish Shenandoah National Park. Carson ultimately persuaded Hoover to establish camp in the park, at the headwaters of the Rapidan River. Though the state offered to donate the land, the President turned it down, insisting that he fund the construction and land with his own money, purchasing 160 acres at $5.00/acre. The Marine Corps offered the labor as a “military exercise” where 13 buildings were constructed, i.e. lodge, 2 mess halls, cabins and a “town hall”. Hiking trails, stone fountains, trout pools and even a miniature golf course were later added. In an effort to cut operating costs, Hoover had his ship decommissioned, taking all of the furnishings and his staff to Rapidan.
Only 3 structures remain today…..the completely restored Creel Cabin, The “Brown House” (a slight contrast to the White House) and the Prime Minister’s Cabin. We were able to see all three but it was the “Brown House'' that seemed the most inviting with its refurbished deck and patio furniture. It was quite something to be relaxing on the very porch that the President once entertained the Prime Minister, friends and family so many years ago. We had just finished our lunch on that very deck, when the rains decided to pay us a visit. It was quite a downpour, so we just took cover under the overhang of the “Brown House '' and waited it out. Thank goodness the temperature was pleasant.
The Hoovers had offered the camp to subsequent Presidents, but the chain would break after Hoover failed to secure a second term of Presidency. Enter President Roosevelt who took one look at the remote location near Washington, D.C. not denying its beauty and secludedness, but opted to find a more suitable location for the use of his wheelchair. His retreat, and the retreat of many Presidents to follow, would be in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland at Camp Shangri-la, known as Camp David. The last thing we ever expected to find on our scenic hike today was an old retreat for a former President.
After an afternoon of hiking, one of our Shenandoah rituals is to pack a few snacks, a few beers, laptop and phones and head on over to the lodge (a hop, skip and a jump from our campsite). There actually is a very pretty trail that takes you from the campground to the lodge. Anyway, there are outdoor tables overlooking the valley below and the layered Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. We can’t believe more people don’t take advantage of this “little secret” (guess it’s out now). It’s the perfect spot that has cell service, call family/friends, catch up on emails, etc. while enjoying the views! About an hour in, the sky got dark, the wind picked up and the thunder and rain came. Retreating to our car, we waited it out for about 20 minutes until the rain stopped. The sun was just about to set, so instead of driving back to camp, we stopped at a few lookout points to take a few snapshots.
At least we got a little bit of a sunset. Driving at dusk is not the ideal time to be out since it is prime time for animals to feed and roam. Sure enough, seconds after Jeff and I were talking about the low speed limit (35 mph in the park), a deer darted in front of the truck, where Jeff swerved in the opposite direction to avoid hitting it. Thank goodness, Jeff’s quick reaction allowed that deer to see another day, and Hank not to head to the body shop.