The Mechanic and I are celebrating our second wedding anniversary, and since the date falls midweek (June 14, in fact!), we celebrated over the weekend by hiking in Shenandoah National Park.

Looking West from Stony Man Summit

Looking Northwest from Stony Man Summit


The Mechanic, who prefers roughing it, agreed to stay at the Skylands Resort overnight, mostly so I could convince him to eat at the restaurant – I really wanted to celebrate with the famous blackberry ice cream pie! We stayed in a cabin, which was slightly deceptive, because we didn’t get our own cabin, but rather, a fourth of one of the original cabins.  It was charming, small, and rustic, but the charm mostly wore off as we watched a mouse exploring our belongings after we got into bed. Erk. The resort was fully booked, so we spent the night with all of our belongings in the rental car, while I sweltered with the sheet over my head, so the mouse wouldn’t run across the pillow. Romantic anniversary…

The weather was perfect, sunny, warm but not hot, and very windy. We saw three black bears, a few deer, lots of chipmunks, birds, inchworms, butterflies, and of course, the mouse. But what got me really excited was the hourglass in the shower. Shower ChallengeThis 5-Minute Shower Challenge is *brilliant*! I’d love to talk to whomever came up with this, because for all the things that hotels do to reduce their footprint, it’s hard to talk to people about how much water they use when they shower. This is the perfect way to do it – give everyone a game that not only brings awareness to an important conservation issue, but challenges them to see how they can help, while cheering them on to doing better. The “towel talk” is one thing, and dependent on how well trained the hotel staff are – even if you carefully hang up your towel to reuse, sometimes they still get replaced. Water usage is a conservation issue that doesn’t currently get enough attention, so it’s nice to see this challenge.

Other sustainability issues that struck us while we were there include, of course, biking and dining. The roads are so narrow and twisty and windy, that cyclists who brave the roads (and we saw many) were cranking up hills with queues of cars behind them, then whipping down hills, still with cars behind them. It’s not my comfort level, and it’s a shame that there isn’t a way to add in proper bike lanes. We did see a walking lane in Skylands, although it came to an abrupt end in the middle of the road. Walking LaneThe biggest transportation drawback to me was that even once we arrived at our hotel, we still had to drive to get just about anywhere. We explored hiking trails that were near Skyland, but I’m sure there are better ones out there. We just didn’t feel like driving to them. And you still have to drive to the various visitors’ centers. It’s a shame they can’t run shuttles between at least the visitors’ centers, resorts, campsites, and major trail heads. Reducing the vehicle travel within the park would contribute greatly to the air quality, which is the topic of a few of the displays in the Big Meadows interpretive center. Of course, The Mechanic loved our rental Mercedes Benz, a surprise and free upgrade from Enterprise, so he wasn’t as upset about driving, but after a deer jumping across the road immediately in front of us, he was even more cautious while driving. See – fewer cars would equal more wildlife survival!Our Wheels

Another thing that was slightly disappointing was the menu at the Pollack Dining Room at Skyland. Not a lot of vegetarian options. I mean, at least there were some, but I feel that national parks should put more effort into discussing food and sustainability if they are going to offer meals, especially when conservation is pretty much what national parks are all about. Even locally raised meat uses way more water than do vegetarian options, including grains and pulses. Plus, it’s cheaper. I don’t expect an entirely vegetarian menu in national parks. I mean, you’d lose a ton of visitors! But at least offer some better/other options than portabella burgers or pasta. Our meals were tasty, nevertheless, and the blackberry ice cream pie was worth breaking my no-dessert rule!Blackberry Ice Cream PieOverall, our second anniversary weekend was a definite win, and mouse aside, couldn’t have been better. The sustainability puzzle keeps me thinking, about ways to make it easier and more fun, but there are no easy answers, and I am not assuming to offer any. But I really love that shower challenge! Do you know how long a 5-minute shower is? Butterfly Whisperer


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