Almost Heaven–Shenandoah Valley in the Fall ~Tanya Hanson

I live along the California coast where the weather is unusually mild. We broil when the temperature reaches 80 degrees, a rarity, and we drag out the woolies in the low fifties. Therefore, witnessing the change of seasons is always a true treat. A year ago, my husband and I took a historical tour of the East Coast at the perfect time: the leaves were turning.

Perhaps the most dramatic experience of visual delight came in the Shenandoah Valley, named for the river that lines much of its length. The valley consists of nine counties in Virginia and two in West Virginia. Famed for autumn displays like the picture below, (courtesy of Dreamstime), our group looked forward to our stay at Big Meadows Lodge, located in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, at 3,510 feet above sea level. Every balcony of the original building overlooks the valley.


The historic lodge was built in the late 1930’s with stones cut from Massanutten Mountain, which bisects the valley. Sadly, rain and fog obscured much of our views, but we still managed to enjoy plenty of local and fall color. The following pictures are mine.


The Shenandoah Valley is gorgeous any time, bordered on the east by the Blue Ridge Mountains, to the west by the eastern front of the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians, to the north by the Potomac River and south by the James River. Kind of the confluence of many of the places and rivers we’d visited.

Many legends abound as to how the valley got its name. The one I like best comes from the Iroquois, one of my favorite tribes. It is said Chief Sherando (also the name of his people) fought against the ruler of the Powhatan Confederacy–the Algonquian chief Opechancanough, (1618-1644), and was driven back to his original territory at the Great Lakes by Opechancanough’s son, Sheeva-a-nee, whose descendants became the Shawnee. I like how several tribes kind of mashed together in this account.

After this, colonial settlement of the farm-rich valley was delayed by the barrier of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In 1671, they were finally crossed by explorer John Lederer at Manassas Gap, and Cadwallader Jones in 1682.

The first permanent white settler in the valley was Adam Miller, or Mueller, who staked out a claim in 1727 on the south fork of the river near today’s division of Rockingham and Page Counties. A Native road through common tribal hunting grounds soon became the Great Wagon Road. This road, later called the Valley Turnpike, soon brought more settlers in from Pennsylvania and northern Virginia, including Quakers and Mennonites who apparently were fairly well received by the natives. The German settlers became known as “Shenandoah Deitsch” and may Scots-Irish immigrated into the valley via the Potomac River.

During the Civil War, the valley was known as the “breadbasket of the Confederacy” and became a back door for Confederate raids on Maryland, Washington, and Pennsylvania. In the 20th century, the valley’s vineyards reached maturity and the new industry of viticulture began.

Whenever you get there, the Shenandoah Valley is a terrific place to visit.


As John Denver (one of my favorites)sings:

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains
Shenandoah River

SOUL FOOD available now. ANGEL CHILD early 2013


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27 thoughts on “Almost Heaven–Shenandoah Valley in the Fall ~Tanya Hanson”

  1. Gorgeous photos, Tanya. And I love the history you added. Have you seen the movie, “Shenandoah” with James Stewart (yes?)? Great Civil War movie about a man who wants to stay neutral but slowly sees his family sucked into the war.
    I also love the old traditional song, “Shenandoah,” though I’ve never figured out if it has anything to do with the place.

  2. Hi Cate, yes, part of our drive too on the Blue Ridge Highway! It was almost surreal, seeing, touching and driving on so many places that are legendary and huge parts of history. Can’t believe its’s already been a year. Sigh. Thanks for the post today.

  3. Hi Elizabeth, oh, yes. Shenandoah is one of my favorite movies. All those handsome brothers. And Katharine Ross (mes. Sam Elliott), sigh. Oh, I love it still. I had considered mentioning it in the post today but I like to keep to a certain word count. But if anybody has missed Shenandoah, the movie, it’s a must-see. Thanks for stopping by today, filly sister!

  4. Tanya, I lived in West Virginia for many many years. My dad got transferred out there from Oklahoma where I was born and raised the summer before I was a senior in high school. I met my husband out there, and since he went to work for the FAA, I got to come back to Oklahoma where their training center is and make an OKIE out of him! LOL But that part of the country is just beautiful, especially about this time of year when everything is changing colors. I loved “Almost Heaven” too–that was such a great song, wasn’t it? And the movie, Shenandoah–I remember going to the theater to see that when I was a young girl and was just bawling all through it. LOL Thanks for these great pictures and a very interesting post–as always!

  5. Hi Cheryl, oh my, I bawled all the way through Shenandoah, especially when The Boy came home. Sheesh. The don’t make ’em like that any more. My bff Tina and I went to the show a couple of times and sat through it twice at a time. Ah, the memories. How lucky to have lived there. Wow. Hugs backactha, thanks for commenting.

  6. hi Charlene, oh, thanks as always for your comments and support! I love the cover, too, but forgot the baby is blonde in the book LOL. Oh well. He’s a cutie.

    I also love finding out tidbits about the places I’ve seen. Shenandoah was just breathtaking, and the lodge, just the place to curl up in front of the fire, Which I actually did in the pub with a Moonshine Martini. Honest. It had lots of blackberry in it, though, so it wasn’t gaggy at all.

  7. Hi Tanya! I would love to venture back east some time for the changing of the leaves. Your pictures are beautiful. Fall is such a wonderful time of year. Have a great weekend!

  8. Hi Tanya. I did this trip with my daughter when she was looking at colleges and at the same time a dear friend had a starring role in theater production in West Virginia. It was a bit out of our way but we never regretted going. That trip was awesome, and the scenery I’ll never ever forget.

    And that is a gorgeous cover. : )

  9. Hi Robena, so glad you could come by. Isn’t the college-search fun? I kinda wish I’d added William and Mary and Gettysburg College to my list all those years ago. oh well. I so agree, the scenery was beyond belief. No pix do it justice. And mine are kinda cloudy due to the rain and fog, but the best I could do. Thanks for the post and compliments on my covert! xoxox

  10. Hi Robin, thanks for coming by. You’re so sweet and so busy with your own book tour for Worth the Risk. I can’t wait to read it, BTW. Just finished a full and need to get it off so can finally breathe again and catch up on my reading. (Well, promo too and I’m SOOOO bad at it.)

    The weekend will be great, thanks. Our niece is celebrating her graduation from nursing school with a big swim party tomorrow, and on Sunday, we will attend a firefighters cancer fundraiser banquet with our whole family. (My hubby is a survivor, thank God.) So good to see you here in Wildflower Junction! xoxox

  11. This is such a great post! the leaves just started raining down yesterday. Different trees shed at different times of course but there is usually ONE DAY when, it seems like maybe the ash trees, let go of their leaves and it just RAINS.
    Other trees seem to lose their more slowly over time but when the ash leaves fall you can stand outside and leaves rain down bright yellow. The trees go bare in a matter of hours.
    It’s really beautiful.
    And yesterday was that day.
    The cottonwoods are vivid yellow right now. If you can find sugar maples they are an almost heart stopping shade of brilliant red/orange.
    It’s cold here today in Nebraska. We’ve been having increasingly cold nights but the days still keep warming up. But not today. Brisk is a good word for it. Blustery. Lovely fall weather.
    This post just made me really dwell on it and be IN THE MOMENT.
    Thank you.

  12. I love the pictures, Tanya!

    Living in Southern California, as I do, we don’t get the seasons like much of the country. We’re beginning to feel the bite of fall knocking on our door, but we sure don’t get to ‘see’ it like much of the country.

    After my husband retires, we hope to move someplace where we fully get to experience the four seasons…and I don’t mean the hotel!

  13. Love the pictures. Fall has always been my favorite time of the year. It has been a big part of our family history. We met in the spring but started “Going Steady” in the fall. He asked me to marry him in the fall and all four of our kids were born in the fall!

  14. HI Joye, thanks for the post! I love Fall myself. It reminds me that Christmas is close but I still have Thanksgiving to look forward to. I actually live in a fairly rural area (lots of strawberry fields and lemon groves) and there are dozens of still-in-the-ground pumpkin patches sprouting up all over. Love them!

  15. Aw, Mary, autumn in Nebraska is one of the things I miss most from my college days. I remember the dried up corn husks but mostly my penny loafers crunching on leaves all over the sidewalk. One October, though, it snowed way early, before the leaves had dropped, and tons of branches broke off under the weight. Oh, those were the days.

    I know what you mean about dwelling in the moment. On that trip last fall, I would just stand and try to suck up everything, e.g. Shenandoah, Gettysburg, Mt. Vernon. Thanks for the post!

  16. hi Kathy, thanks for the comment! I think the four seasons are such a delight because we don’t get ’em. But I don’t think I want to live in the snow ever again. Just a light dusting of flakes on Christmas Eve, melting by the next day LOL. xoxo

  17. Hi Connie, always so good when you stop by. Fall does sound like a very special time for you and yours! Maybe grandbabies will come in the fall too down the road! I remember many wonderful Thanksgivings at my Uncle Albert’s big ranch house in the country with brisk wind blowing. My favorite!

  18. I absolutely love the Shenandoah Valley! I’ve driven through there countless times, and no matter what the season, the place calls to me. I’m almost afraid to stop and get out of the car because I’m afraid I won’t get back in and continue on my way. It’s just that lovely. I’d settle there in a heartbeat. Thanks for the photos. Makes me want to dig out my own and take another look!

  19. Hi Roz, you are so lucky! Once wasn’t enough but it’s so far. I can only hope to get back that way again. But it was a dream trip from start to finish. I’m still in awe. Thanks for coming by to post today. I so appreciate it.

  20. Hi Tanya, Great post. I have never been past Georgia, (during the summer), so I’ve never experienced the Fall colors. Our own Sierra is starting to color up. The Aspens are getting yellow. It’s getting chilly here at 4000 feet at night. Our changes are pretty but not spectacular like those in the east. Of course we don’t have those kinds of trees to make the change.
    Mary J

  21. Tanya, I grew up in California and have always wanted to do what you did – go back East in the Fall! I went back East once but it was late Nov. and FREEZING! It was years ago and we drove it in about 3 days so I didn’t see much. I want to do a slower drive and see what you saw! It looks gorgeous! My son lives in Penn. now so hopefully, that will happen!

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