Saturday, July 15, 2017

You Can Have Mar a Lago - I'll Take This Presidential Retreat Any Time!

The president, a very wealthy individual, was very well known to Americans and others well before being elected, and was regarded as a hugely successful business man.  He was swept into office with high hopes of things to come, but his administration soured rather quickly.  He was hounded and vilified by the press, became very unpopular, and needed a place to escape from the politics and heat of Washington.  He especially wanted to get away from the press and pursue the personal things that he took pleasure in as a respite from the demands of the presidency.  So he would go to his personal retreat as often as he could.

Are we talking President Trump, Mar a Lago, and golfing outings?  No, we are talking about President Herbert Hoover, Rapidan Camp, and fishing, hiking, and conversations with friends up in the mountains of Virginia.  President Hoover and First Lady Lou Hoover wanted a rural retreat that was (1) close enough to Washington, DC for weekend retreats (2) above 2,000 feet elevation to reduce mosquito populations and have cool summer nights and (3) near good trout fishing.  Rapidan Camp, now often called Camp Hoover, fit the bill precisely.  It is where Mill Prong and Laurel Prong flow together to form the Rapidan River, and is a beautiful spot.  And yesterday, on a lovely day in the mountains, I led a group of eight from the Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club on a 8.1 mile circuit hike there.  When Shenandoah National Park was created, the President and First Lady donated the camp and their land to the National Park Service.

This hike is right smack in the middle of the park, our trailhead being at mile 52.8 of the 105 mile long Skyline Drive.  Here is the track from the hike, captured by my Garmin inReach.  The orange arrow is the trailhead at Milam Gap, the purple arrow represents the counter-clockwise direction of travel, and the red arrow is the location of Camp Hoover (and our lunch break).  If you do the hike in this direction and start in the morning, you will end up at the camp at lunchtime and have less than two miles (uphill) to return to your car.

The first part of the hike is a mellow walk down the Appalachian Trail over Hazeltop, the third highest point in the park.  After that, one leaves the AT to hike the rest of the circuit on the Jones Mountain, Laurel Prong, and Mill Prong Trails.  Here is our merry group of eight about half way into the hike.

The woods along the way are thick and provide a cool shade.  We didn't encounter wildlife, unless you consider the dozen or so AT through hikers heading north to Mount Katahdin in Northern Maine.  We did hear numerous birds, including wood thrush, hooded warbler, eastern wood pewee, downy woodpecker, and eastern towhee.  It was close to 99 back in Richmond, but I don't think it got above the low 80's in the mountains.  Nearly 90 years later, the Hoovers' beloved spot still works its healing magic.  Maybe the current president should visit, eh?

When I was last here in April a year ago, there were lots of wildflowers.  On this hike, there were not as many but we did see some, like this Turk's cap, and columbine.

After hiking about 6 miles, we got to the camp about 11:40, and half of the deck was in the shade.  We ate lunch sitting in chairs in the shade while listening to the twin streams entwining to form the Rapidan.  The president loved to fish and must have spent many blissful hours here.  They also loved to entertain company and engage in spirited conversations, and became active in charitable causes that benefited the local people, who were generally quite poor.

One of the real attractions of this hike is the historic buildings, and the fact that the President actually did work while he was here.  Several of the building still stand, including the Hoovers' residence, called the "Brown House:"

and the "Prime Minister's Cabin," where the Prime Minister of Great Britain once stayed during naval armament negotiations.

You can go into the Prime Minister's Cabin and see the displays.

I can only imagine how it must have felt to come up here and escape the pressures of the job.  The Press Corps were not allowed near the place and had to stay miles away.  The babbling streams are peaceful and soothing to the ears, eyes, and brain,

and to the feet.

On the hike out, there is a beautiful little waterfall and pool.  It was very tempting to go in there for a cool dip, but we decided to save that for a future hike.

After the hike, six of us went to the Big Meadows Wayside for a bit.  It was too tempting to not get the blackberry milkshake, so I did enjoy one.  We watched happy thru-hikers, sans packs, munching down on burgers, fries, and drinks.

We didn't really see wildlife on the hike to speak of, but on the drive out, we did spot this doe and her fawn along the Skyline Drive.

I really enjoyed this hike with a fine group of fellow hikers, and look forward to another one.  I am glad that the president and his wife enjoyed this little peace of heaven while they could, and am appreciative that we, the people can also enjoy it for as long as there is a United States.  Although this is not a political blog, I will leave us with some words of wisdom from the former president that we would each do well to reflect on:


  1. That sure looks like a great place to hike and visit and thanks for the bit of history too.

    1. You are welcome. It's one of those hikes that I never tire of.