After a really nice long week in Philadelphia at Earle and Jenn’s for Mother’s Day, we decided to head south. In the space of about four hours, we tripped through parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, eastern West Virginia, and finally, western Virginia. That is amazing to us Californians, where we live in a state where you can drive for over twenty hours and still not get out of it.
We managed to enjoy about three days in the Shenandoah Valley outside Harrisonburg at a beautiful KOA park, and had a really nice time exploring the Appalachian Trail for a bit. We hiked about 7 miles through dense woods and ended up having a really nice lunch at a trail maintenance cabin in the middle of nowhere. Nobody around. I’m guessing that because it was still before the Memorial Day weekend, there weren’t a lot of people on the trail yet. We saw five people the whole day, including a young girl hiking alone who had already put 800 miles behind her and was headed another 1300 miles or so for Maine.
We had to leave the Shenanadoah Valley early on a Saturday morning to head south towards Roanoke, Virginia. We had about a week to kill before we reached a park in Asheville, North Carolina where we had a reservation, so I got online and was trying to find someplace that looked interesting in Roanoke. I wasn’t having much luck. Finding a place is always a challenge, as I often try to find something that’s out in the country somewhere beautiful, but also close enough to the city to allow Sandy to get a decent wi-fi connection so she can work.
Luckily I got lucky. While searching, I finally found a place not far from Roanoke that looked unusual. It was called the Virginia Highland Haven Airstream Park and on the website they indicated they were an “airstream-only” park. We had never found one of those before and didn’t even know they existed. Since most RV parks take all kinds of RV’s, (It’s all about keeping the park as full as you can, as often as you can) we were kind of curious to see just why they had made that decision.
So when I made my reservation. I got a recording and about four hours later got a call back. The man on the phone explained that he was “the host of the week” which was also a new thing for us. Most RV parks have a permanent host as well as workers who maintain the grounds, manage the store and the like. So, this was looking even more interesting. An RV park where people take turns managing?
He asked me to be patient while he looked through his paperwork and explained that they didn’t have a computer system and did everything by paper. He said, “Yah, I can fit you in. You are lucky because we shut down reservations after the 24th.” I asked him why they would do that. “Well, because of the Memorial Day holiday, of course. We will be booked.” Well, I guess I should have known that, right?
So now that I knew that we had a reservation, I decided to do a little homework. I got on their website, found a tab marked “History” and started to read up. It seems that in the 1950’s, Airstream trailers hit a high point in popularity. Wally Byam, the founder of Airstream, decided to promote the founding of caravan clubs. Airstream owners from a particular state or city would band together to have regular rallies each year, and sometimes plan caravan trips with their members. The first club was founded in 1955 and soon there were clubs all over the country.
In Virginia they had a fairly large club which was started in 1964. By 1970, they had over 200 members, so they started looking for a place where they could host a rally from time to time, and also provide a place for other Airstream campers. So some of the people got together and decided to try and look for a nice patch of woods they might purchase which would be theirs exclusively. After a while, they located a place not far outside of Roanoke with seventy-five acres and they were able to purchase it for $8,500 in the 1970s. They advertised among the other club members indicating they wanted to put in around forty sites on top of these mountaintops – so they asked if anybody else wanted to join. Eventually they ended up with forty-six shareholders and that is how many camping sites they have today.
Over the next three or four years they proceeded to make some major changes. Because the area was located on two mountains, they started by grading off the mountaintops and filling in the space in between. This created a long kind of runway shaped park – one long strip. Over the next couple of years, they proceeded to pour concrete pads and they put in their first thirty-two spaces. They planted trees, put in electrical and sewage – and eventually built some other items like a clubhouse, horseshoe pits, and a trail down to the river.
Since that day, they have kept it exclusively Airstream, and from time to time, some shareholders move on, and others come in and take their place. Luckily for us, they also make it available for non-shareholders, and at very reasonable rates. I’m guessing it helps them with maintenance costs and also keeps some new blood coming into the park.
Intrigued by the idea, we took off early on Saturday. As we came south through Roanoke, we headed down the Blue Ridge Parkway, and soon were climbing at a fairly steep rate into the hills. We ended up arriving at the park a little bit before two in the afternoon. On the website, they had given rather elaborate instructions on how to get there, and even though we had GPS, as we got into the mountains we started to lose connectivity. But we found our way, making numerous turns off the main highway and eventually ended up on what seemed the top of the world. The view was incredible.
We drove in and found the host about 18 sites down the runway and were told to go ahead and park in Site 15. They had a shareholder meeting, and would come and find us later to get us registered. So we did just that, Sandy backing in the trailer and me doing my best to give her instructions. The problem was that because the park is built on a long road like a narrow runway, backing in was a bit difficult. There’s a road down the middle with a bunch of sites on the right side and a steep drop-off on the left to the woods.
The sites were set up almost perpendicular to the road and each one had a narrow gravel pad with really nice lawns between each site. With a 30-foot trailer, we knew it was going to be a challenge cutting it in backwards, and simultaneously trying to not mess up the grass and still keep the truck from doing down the hill.
As we started to move our trailer in, a couple guys came by and said, “Good luck! Take your time! We’re all going to the meeting, so you don’t even have to have anyone watch you while you’re trying to pull in!” That made us feel better. And then another guy came by and said, “This place is little bit difficult, I always tell everybody it’s gonna take me 35 minutes no matter what, so you all just hang tight and eventually I will get it in there.” Nice! A confidence builder.
Well, that made us feel better about what we were about to do, and we actually got the Itch On into place in about five minutes. Sandy did an excellent job (with only some minor grass mashing) and three or four “backs and forths” to get it into position. Still, we were a little bit upset with ourselves because, up until then, we thought we were getting pretty good at it after seven months of practice.
Little did we know, we did a great job! It wasn’t too much later that another guy with a 30 foot trailer came in and it took him nearly a half hour to get it in place. By the time he was done he had managed to pretty much tear up the grass in front of his site. Huge ruts in the rain-soaked lawn. We sympathized with their plight, and I am pretty sure he and his wife were cussing a Blue Ridge blue streak. But it didn’t matter to us, because now we were in place and had 180° sweeping view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. With the exception of maybe two or three buildings way off in the distance, all you could see (as far as you could see) was forest-covered mountains eventually fading into blue. And because the whole area drops downhill to the riverbed it feels like you’re sitting on a cliff top and looking across the top of the world. Sandy said, “I could easily live here in Virginia if it wasn’t so far from California.”
Over the next couple of days, we had several people come up to us, and invite us to happy hour get-togethers. Sandy was feeling a little under the weather, so we passed on those and decided to just stay at home and enjoy the vista. The weather had been unsettled for weeks, but with a view to the west, we could really enjoy watching storm clouds and lightning displays sweep across the mountains before us.
On the second day, we took advantage of the nature trail and found our way to the park waterfall a half-mile down the mountain. Just above the falls was a large rock outcropping with a few shallow caves below. Sandy was following me, and as she neared the rock a huge buzzard came thrashing out of one of the holes. She screamed and scared the crap out of me. But it was worth the hike.
We’ve only got a few days left here, but we are really enjoying the peace and quiet – and also the strange sight we see as we look down the row and see nothing but aluminum eggs all the way to the end. In the last site, just before the runway drops off hundreds of feet into the woods, we found this little gem. It’s very old, very quaint, and entirely too small for Sandy, Pippin and me.
This place has made us very thankful that a group of people had a vision nearly fifty years ago, and they made that vision happen. It’s been a wonderful place to stop for a while.