While visiting friends recently in Nelson County Virginia, I drove up Rt 56 towards Montebello at night. It is a paved road, full of curves, and once past Tyro, it climbs all the way to the top of the mountain, crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway and winds back down the west side into Raphine. As I started the climb fog pressed in around me and the headlights did little to penetrate the soup. I took it slow and was glad I was one of the few on the road.
Montebello sits below the ridge and the fog stopped right there. It was clear the rest of the way up. I spent the evening visiting, sipping wine, and soaking in my friends hotub followed by a nice relaxing sleep.
In the morning I had time for a hike before my next visit and was steered towards the nearby Spy Rock Trail. You get to this by driving into Montebello (a small store and a few houses) and turning onto the Fish Hatchery road. Follow the signs past the hatchery for the designated parking area to access the Appalachian Trail.
It is a short but fairly steep one mile hike through privately owned woods on a gated forest road to the AT. You will notice a few spiffy looking cabins near the beginning of the trail and then it is just quiet woods.
When you reach the signpost at the trail intersection on the ridge a sign points you 1/2 mile North for Spy Rock. The ridge is much easier to walk on and one this way up takes about 45 minutes.
It was beginning to look like a storm was blowing in from the southwest and I was hoping to not get drenched. Three sets of people passed by heading down. It was such a beautifully comfortable Fall day.
When I got to the rock outcropping there was a woman standing there looking perplexed. She asked me if I knew the way to the top of the rock and was hoping to find her husband up there. It was not difficult to find the trail off to the left around the base and she followed me up. She was worried it was going to get dark before they managed to get back to their car, They had walked in from the top of Crabtree Falls, parking in the Meadows up top and it had taken them more than 2 hours. I suggested they walk back on my shorter route and offered to give them a ride back to their car.
The view was spectacular and the slanting light through the storm clouds intensified the colors. There was still no sign of the husband so I gave a good holler, which traveled out over the mountains ahead of me.
We walked around the bald granite rock but did not linger long with the storm clouds looking so ominous.
Back down at the rocks base we saw her husband who had done a clockwise loop emerge from the Rhododendrons. He was glad to see us and was relieved to find there was a way to get back before dark or the storm.East of Spy Rock
We only got sprinkled on a little as we quickly hiked down the forest road and my little Honda Fit negotiated the 2 small creek crossings on the Crabtree Meadow Road with no problems. Sometimes that road is impassable without 4-wheel drive and better clearance, so I was glad it was in such good shape.
It was the tail end of a sunny evening down on the East side of the mountain and I continued towards Arrington and Freshwater Cove for my next visits of this trip. Nelson County was home to me for 12 years and it still holds me tight.
Wendy lee, writing at Edgewisewoods, Gardens and Critters
Usually the leaves in Pendleton County WV reach peak fall color around October 14-21, but the whole month of September into October was so dry this year that many leaves have dried up and fallen before obtaining their normal vibrant colors. There are still pockets of color to be found though, especially in the valleys, so you still catch some color, if you don’t wait too long.
On October 14th, at Spruce Knob Lake, the usual magnificent reflections of color on the water were not to be had, but with the sky such a beautiful, clear blue and the temperature at 70 plus degrees, there were no complaints from us.
We have never seen so many folks fishing at the lake as we did this past Saturday, as we walked the easy, level trail around the lake, taking photos and enjoying the balmy weather.
I found that the lack of leaf colors caused me to look more closely at everything else as we walked.
Interesting textures and the odors of warm fall earth, still water and decaying plants became more important.
After leaving the lake we drove up the partly gravel road to Spruce Knob, the highest point in the state. We were a little sad to see that most of the trees towards the west had already lost their leaves. The wind was not bad and it was a gorgeous view of the West Virginia hills, regardless.
We followed a trail down from the lookout tower that goes through some loose rocks onto a small level meadow. The views to the east and South were excellent from there.
A few huge boulders you can climb on walked the meadow.
I thought this one looked like a lumbering short legged creature from the stone age. I did climb up and sit on top pretending it was a horse sort of thing.
There were Mountain Ash on top of the mountain, with brilliant scarlet berries, dark green Spruce trees leaning out of the constant western wind, and the wonderfully textured sandstone aggregate rocks to admire.
You can never go wrong with a trip up to Spruce Knob and the drive back down on the east side is paved. Route 33 East to Franklin has the Germany Valley overlook as another highlight.
This maple was one of the few colorful trees we saw up close and it looks great with the sumac and Germany Valley beyond.
The Potomac Valley and other lower elevations should be pretty in the next week, especially since we finally got a rain last week. Even after the leaves fall, Spruce Knob, in Pendleton County, West Virginia is a magical place to visit. (Click on the Link for photos from 2016)
Compton Rocks is a cool geologic feature and a short hike off the Skyline Drive, near Front Royal Virginia. It is one of many short and sweet hikes in the Shenandoah National Park that you can do on a whim if you don’t have a lot of time.
Long ago volcanic activity squeezed basalt up through cracks in the earth to form these long, six sided shapes.
The rocks look like giant, extruded honeycombs, baked hard. The fairly level trail comes at the rock outcropping from the top side and you follow a small path down and around to get a good view.
One way back up is to climb through the rubble slot canyon but there are easier routes.
For a good view, follow the trail back the other direction to Compton Peak and stop at the roadside pull offs to gaze over the Shenandoah Valley below. While you are out that way you could go check out Skyline Caverns back down at the base of the mountain. Both are fun places to take kids.
It is February 20th, 2017 and we are not having winter. Out in the mountains of Pendleton County, West Virginia, the temperature is in the upper 60’s (F) in the valley and the 50’s where we are on Pike Knob. To get here you drive out Route 33 West from Franklin to a left on county road 18. A left branch of the road used to go through to Smiths Creek but has reverted back to being a privately maintained farm lane, even though the map we have says otherwise. The main road bears right , headed over the mountain, and was the main road between Franklin and Circleville years ago, before Route 33 was built. The road starts out narrow and graveled, until you pass the last farm gate and then it gets much rougher as it continues uphill. You will see trees posted with Nature Conservancy signs your right.
I get so peaceful when traveling on gravel roads in the West Virginia Mountains. The hillside farms with their cows, sheep, and woven wire fences feel like home to me. Farm gates beckon me and I can imagine living there, tucked away from the world. We notice numerous springs and drive through a small stream as we wind upward towards an old fire tower site on Pike Knob.
About two thirds of the way up the hill, big rocks jutting out of the road bed, caused us to park the car and walk the rest of the way up. A lone Subaru made the same decision not far below us.
As we climb, we see dark, rainy looking clouds starting to get hung up on the ridge and hope we can manage to stay dry on our hike to the 4300 foot summit. We didn’t bring our rain gear or packs on this short hike, just water bottles and cameras.
When we reach the low saddle, hanging between two knobs on the ridge, there is an intersection, where the old road bed drops down on the west side, a ridge path heads south and our trail winds to the North. The wind picks up and we can see the valley on the western side of the hill through the naked tree branches.
Sunlight moves across the valley in small patches, illuminating a barn and fields in the distance. We continue veering to the right along the ridge, noting some recent tire tracks probably from whoever recently sawed the downed trees along the way.
We come to more yellow signage from the Nature Conservancy, asking vehicles to keep out, but allowing deer hunting and hiking, as we walk along a ever narrowing path through Mountain Laurels and pines.
The trail in has not been very steep, and the temperature is warm when we are not exposed to the wind. Our jackets keep coming off and then going back on again.
Just as we reach the highest point, we see a wooden fence and a guy sitting on the ground against it. We say howdy and he tells us he has not been up here in 30 years, when he dropped off supplies for a friend who was doing a long distance ridge hike. The fire tower is gone, with only the concrete foundation posts and the 1956 USGS survey marker left and Pines have grown up in that spot so there is no longer a view. There are a bunch of cool lichens growing on the trees though.
He tells us about the great views a little further on, out on the grassy knoll we had caught a glimpse of back in the saddle. We had no idea we would be able to get out there and are excited to go.
We say goodbye and slide through the people stile in the fence, heading towards the open field, called Nelson Sods. There are no trail markers but you can follow an old roadbed depression out to the meadow if you drop down to the right a bit.
The View From Nelson Sods at Pikes Knob
The view is amazing and the clouds are scudding on by. We can see the backside of Nelson Rocks , one of the many fins of Quartzite and Tuscarora Sandstone that are seen standing edgewise on local ridges. Further in the distance, and obscured by the clouds today, is the highest point in West Virginia, Spruce Knob. Quite often, rains do not make it over that ridge to this, the North Mountain Ridge, so it tends to be much drier.
We enjoy the 360 degree views for awhile before heading back. Along the way we remember the wall of rock that was almost visible through the woods on our way up. There does not seem to be a trail that goes there so we head out cross country through the laurels and pines. It would have been easier if we were about the size of a fox. There were a few greenbriars and a lot of blueberry bushes along the way, but we finally emerged atop some gorgeous rocks with views to the southeast.
More cross country, downhill over rocks, towards the old road, and we emerged near our car. On the way down we met another vehicle turning at the farm gate and we stopped to say howdy. It was a man showing a friend the back way into his farm. He was friendly and agreed that he was lucky to live here.
The weather on the east side had cleared up and the skies were getting seriously blue as we came down the mountain.
Then we saw a Cd disk flashing in the sun a little ways up the hollow where we crossed the little stream. I had to investigate, and since it was still Nature Conservancy land, we were allowed to hike here.
There was something of a path leading to a humongous rock outcropping and it was starting to look a little cavey.
I found a shallow cave that pinched out pretty quick but it had a large entrance and a cool window.
We hiked further up the draw against the base of the rocks, checking out all the little springs and looking up at the overhanging ledges. It is so much fun to explore a place we have never seen before. I was surprised to find a little group of invasive ladybugs under a rock.
We could hear water gurgling underground that did not emerge until way down slope. At one point we found a dried up fish, tied by a string from a low branch. Bear bait? Then I found a just plain pretty rock.
Next, we found a peacock feather tied with orange baling twine. Very strange. It was warmer here and hard to believe it was February as we scrambled over rocks and once again got in the car to leave.
Coming back down the mountain we appreciated the late day sunlight hitting this cabin.
Then we felt a little sadness for the abandoned homestead in the valley. Considering it was February though, we never would have expected such a pleasant day wandering around, exploring whatever came our way. It is so nice to be able to appreciate the peace and beauty of the West Virginia mountains.