While growing up, our family made picnicking on Skyline Drive, in the Shenandoah National Park, a regular pastime since before I can even remember. So when I was finally able to purchase my own car and it came time to take a female friend on a date during the day, driving and picnicking along the Shenandoah National Parkway was always my first option. The female in question on this occasion wasn’t actually a girlfriend, well she was my girlfriend, I just wasn’t her boyfriend. It gets complicated, see she already had a boyfriend, so to her I was just a good companion to have around when he wasn’t and it seemed like he was hardly ever around. Whatever the situation was, it didn’t matter, we seemed to enjoy each other’s company. This unidentified young lady lived on a farm up in the mountainous region of northern Fauquier County. She even tried to teach me how to ride a horse bare back once. I never caught on to it though, I couldn’t get pass the “slide-while-you-ride” factor, horses are slippery critters.
The dirt road that led to her house was like a rollercoaster ride, only worse. But that was during the day, at night you couldn’t tell if you were driving over a steep hill or about to plummet to your death off of a cliff, that’s how steep the terrain was. My car would get to the top of one hill that was so steeply angled that the frame would get caught on the gravel road with the tires suspended off the ground. You had to rock the car back and forth and you could end up going backward or forward, depending upon which tires hit the ground first, the front or the back. We really didn’t need to pay $2 to go to Skyline Drive, to me she already lived in the mountains.
When it came to impressing the ladies, I didn’t half-step, I always tried to go the extra mile. This was one of those occasions where I wanted to make a good impression, so I stepped it up a notch. So, I went to the 7-11 and bought a bottle of Sangria, some assorted cheeses, went to the A&P and bought a loaf of French bread and two long stemmed wine glasses. I even drove all the way to Pier 1 Imports in Manassas to buy a wicker picnic basket (with the complimentary checkered table cloth included). All I needed to do now was pick her up and we’d be on our way. I drove 30 miles to the mountains to pick up the young lady, then we drove another 30 miles to some other mountains to look at other mountains, yep, this was going to be a day to remember.
An unidentified young lady sits atop an old Ford pickup truck somewhere in the mountainous regions of Fauquier County, Virginia
Back then, I guess you could say I was a bit naïve about, well, just about everything. We arrived at Skyline Drive and spent the better part of the day moving from one overlook to the other, talking and enjoying each other’s company. Finally, it came time to eat and we decided to stop somewhere and enjoy our picnic lunch. I found a good spot to park, just along a curve with a shoulder just wide enough to be clear of oncoming traffic. The spot was at the foot of a pretty steep hill, but the hill rose to a secluded area. From our vantage point I could tell that the woods above contained a hollow with cool soft grass that was just right for a romantic interlude. We unpacked the car and hiked up the hill. We stopped at a spot where there was a clear 360 degree view, we were at the crest of the mountaintop. The wine was poured, the cheese was cut, our bellies were plied and content. Now came the time for romance.
I stared deeply into her eyes and leaned forward for that first kiss. It was at this juncture that I happened to let my eyes wander away from hers, I looked down the hill toward my car. That’s when I noticed that a park ranger had pulled along the shoulder. He was already out of his car and looking over my vehicle, this scene was being played out about a half mile below us, we regained our composure and watched and wondered at what caused him to stop in the first place. The park ranger then turned his attention toward the hill, the hill we were sitting on. He looked up and down the hillside, but there was no way he could see us, but he was definitely trying. He reached into his vehicle and pulled out some binoculars. After scanning through the trees for a while, he decided to just start up the incline. He was climbing the hill but had no clue which direction he should be going. I could tell that if he continued in the direction he was headed he would miss us by quite a distance, but he continued to climb, apparently determined to find the owner of the car left on the side of the road.
After about 15 minutes of watching the park ranger hunt for us in vein through the woods, I decided it was time to let him in on where we were. I knew he’d eventually find us because it didn’t look like he was about to quit anytime soon. I called him over:
“Sir! Officer! We’re over here!”
As he approached, he spoke up while we nonchalantly continued enjoying our wine and cheese. This is how the conversation went…
“Good afternoon sir, I’m the park ranger assigned to this area, is that your vehicle at the bottom of the hill sir?”
– “Yes, it is”
“You’re having a picnic, are you? Nice day for it”
– “Yes, it’s a beautiful day”.
“Is that wine you have there in those glasses?”
– “Yes, Yago Sangria” (He needed to know that he wasn’t just dealing with anybody, he was dealing with a connoisseur of fine wines)
“And the young lady, hello ma’am, how old is she?” (He was very polite)
– “Oh, she’s 17”.
“And you sir, how old are you?”
– “I’m 19”
“Ok, well, do you know why I came looking for you up here today sir?”
– “No officer, is there a problem?” (Did I mention how naïve I was?)
“Well there are a couple of park regulations that you’re currently in violation of, where shall we start?
Your car sir, #1, you’re parked on the side of the road, that’s an undesignated area. You can only park in designated parking areas within the park, sir. And #2, you’re picnicking in an undesignated area, we have picnic areas clearly marked throughout the park. Then there’s the alcohol, there’s no alcohol allowed in the park, that’s #3. You have an open container of alcohol, #4 and you are drinking in public, that’s 5 so far. Sir, the young lady, you say you are 19 and she is only 17, that means you are contributing to the delinquency of a minor, you could go to jail for that young man. That’s 6 park violations. That’s it, I think that’s all I can find for now. What do you have to say for yourself?”
– “I’m sorry officer, I wasn’t aware of those rules”
“You weren’t aware, YOU WEREN’T AWARE? We have signs posted everywhere! How could you not be aware?” He calmed himself and thought for a minute, then continued, “But you seem like a nice young man, you called me over, you weren’t hiding from me. You do seem innocent enough and you weren’t doing anything other than having a picnic, so I’m going to let you go, but let this be a lesson to you”
– “Oh thank you sir, we’ll go back down the hill and get out of here right now”
The officer turned and started down the hill to his car, then he looked back and pointed his finger, “Don’t leave any trash, that’ll be number 7! Take all your trash with you. Leave it the way you found it!”. With that he was gone.
Seven national park violations and he let us go, that had to be some kind of record. Needless to say, the young lady and I never returned to Skyline Drive again.