Shenandoah National Park, Virginia and Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
When my foot touched the ground in Wilmington, Delaware it marked a personal milestone: I could finally say I’d visited all 50 states. How does one celebrate such an achievement? By stopping at McDonald’s for a chocolate shake, apparently. I hope I didn’t overdo it.
From Delaware I drove to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and arrived early enough to cruise the entire length of Skyline Drive before stopping to photograph the sunset. Not in the mood to camp, I spent the night at a hotel in Harrisonburg but returned to the park before dawn the next morning for more photos. Just after sunrise I ran across a black bear with two small cubs. They bolted into the forest before I could get a decent shot, but 10 minutes later I spotted another bear that proved to be more cooperative.
Thinking the bear had run away, I peeked over a stone wall at the side of the road. It turned out the bear hadn’t run away – it was directly below me on the other side of the wall. I’m not sure which of us was more startled by the close encounter, but we both made a hasty retreat.
My next stop was Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. Mammoth Cave is apparently the longest cave system in the world, and that alone would make it worth a visit. But, thanks to the fact that most of the system lies under a waterproof umbrella of sandstone that prevents the formation of stalactites and stalagmites, Mammoth Cave just isn’t as visually interesting as some of the other famous caves in the U.S. (like Carlsbad Caverns, which is truly a wonderland).
Given that the self-guided tour only gives you access to a very limited section of the cave, I braved a crowd of more than 50 people and took the ranger-led Historic Tour. Tripods, unfortunately, weren’t allowed, so I was limited to high-ISO handheld photos.