Encounter with the giant pandas

Apr 16, 2007

Nobody was moving very fast this morning either, both times we were availing ourselves of the free breakfast in the lobby at close to 9am. It was still cold and windy, just an occasional sprinkle, still not great zoo weather. I was skeptical that we’d see any pandas, but Beth convinced me to go anyway, so we checked out and jumped onto the beltway and a big traffic jam, then got off at Connecticut avenue and another traffic jam, and made it to the zoo around 11. it was seriously windy and pretty chilly, but there are plenty of indoor activities at the zoo, and we went straight to one of them, the Amazonia exhibit, which Beth remembered as being brand new in ’87 but I’d forgotten about entirely. It did look vaguely familiar once we were there, although I’m sure we’ve been somewhere similar more recently. The weather kept the zoo mostly empty the entire time we were there. We started at the southern end and worked our way uphill from Amazonia to the front of the park, past the elephants, to where the new Asia Trail starts that includes the pandas. By then it was past lunch time, but the only place to eat at the north end only had outdoor tables and it wasn’t exactly picnic weather. So we checked out the pandas, who proved me wrong by being out and about, walking around, chewing on bamboo, oblivious to the wind. They also had smaller red pandas that were hanging out in the trees, they didn’t care either. We got lots of pictures, and spent some time at the panda gift shop where you could buy most anything with a panda’s picture on it. By this time it was near 2pm and still no lunch, so we bypassed most of the other exhibits on the way back down and ended up having a late late lunch at the “Mane Restaurant” close to where we came in, which had the same stuff but at least it was indoors (and reasonably priced, too). While admission to the zoo is free, parking is $16 if you stay more than 3 hours, but it still works out to your advantage, if we’d taken the Metro we would’ve paid that much for four of us to get there and back.

It was only 3 or so and we were in no rush to get to Shenandoah since it was still cold and windy. And I mean seriously windy, like gusts to 40mph on a regular basis. We drove down to the mall area and wound around past the Lincoln Memorial to the Jefferson Memorial, where I made everybody get out of the car and walk inside. Even inside the memorial it was cold and windy, we just spent a few minutes there, checked out the gift shop in the basement, then fought a headwind back to the car and found our way to the highway and west to Virginia. By now it was getting towards rush hour and of course there was more traffic, even past the beltway out by Manassas, so it took a little longer than it should have to get to Front Royal and the entrance to the park, but the kids were watching movies so they didn’t care. It was 5:30 when we got to the entrance, which was already closed for the day, so we worked our way down Skyline Drive for 40 miles to the hotel at Skyland, which only took about an hour. There was no one but no one on the road in either direction, but we saw tons of deer right up by the sides of the road, usually in groups of 3 or 4. when Beth and I tried to do Skyland Drive on a previous trip around Virginia back in 1993, it was, to quote that year’s Christmas letter “utterly fogbound”, and there’s not much point to Skyland Drive if you can’t see more than 20 feet. That time we got off and went to Luray Caverns instead. this time fog was not an issue, because it was so freakin’ windy that the car was being buffeted around and there were little branches all over the road and leaves swirling around everywhere. We slowed down for some overlooks, it wasn’t raining but mostly overcast and starting to get dim, but we made it to Skyland after about an hour, around 6:30 or so, and checked in, then got some dinner in the lodge before continuing on to the room. We’re staying in the Craigin building, which promises to have a view, but since it was dark by the time we got to it we’ll just have to check it out in the morning. The wind was howling something fierce all through dinner, rattling the windows and keeping the temperature down around 60. The gift shop was nice and toasty though. The room was also quite warm, but the wind coming through the backdoor off the porch was rattling something in the frame and making this horrible loud growling/farting raspberry sound off and on, starting when I first opened the door to the room, and thought I’d encountered a trapped bear or something. Beth was able to put her camping experience to good use and plugged up the gaps in the backdoor with some towels and a knife and it seems to be holding just fine, but the wind is still blowing constantly. It reminds me of that story I wrote in high school about the guy in a cabin in the wood and the constant wind. Guess it was seeing the future. Except in the story the door rips off the hinges and blows away.

Anyway, we were all in by 9pm or so, there’s no phone service and no internet up here on the mountain top, but there’s still cable tv. Tomorrow is supposed to be more moderate, we’re hoping to get in a hike or two, but if it’s too cold or windy there are other possibilities.

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