Thursday, October 2, 2014

Damascus Adventure Part 4: Backbone Rock and Backbone Waterfall

I could have called this post "BACK to
Backbone Rock" since we were here last year.  
This year's visit was totally different.  Last
year was a damp, drippy day with slippery
stone steps and wet leaves.  Not very good
for a treacherous hike like this.

This display shows how old steam locomotives once
traveled through "The World's Shortest Tunnel" here,
just 5 miles south of  Damascus.

If anything, this is an understatement.
But it's worth the risk.  Just don't take
children up there-- PLEASE!

Going up.  And up. And up.

Don't let the greenery mislead you about the width of
Backbone Rock.  If you step off the rock you see here,
you're goin' DOWN!  A long way.

It's nice up here above the trees.  Certain trees were
starting to turn, but not many.

The scariest spots are where there's only a railing
on one side.  The kind of railing that might keep a
grocery cart from going over the cliff, but not a person.

This might help you visualize just how much you
feel "at one" with the wide open spaces.

You almost feel like you're walking on a bridge that's
not attached to anything.

Anybody have acrophobia?  That's a fear of heights.
What do you call a fear that a mysterious force is
going to grab you and hurl you off a precipice into space?

Sourwood is a real showcase in the fall.

Forget the sourwood.  Let me take my pictures and
get down from here!

That rock is just as narrow as last year.  Our hostess
at the inn told us that the mayor's wife (presumably
of Damascus) either jumped or fell to her death from
backbone rock.  But they don't want additional railings
because it interferes with the natural beauty.  I get that.

We didn't get this far last year, but on the far side of
the rock is another stairway leading down.

Notice the missing railing above.  We found the
missing piece several yards below.  Somebody had
a bad day, I'm afraid.

Every view of Backbone Rock is unique because of
lighting, shadows, and angles.

Another wooly worm (refer to a previous blog post).

This year we discovered Backbone Falls,
a small but lovely waterfall.

Watch this video for a panorama of the falls
and some amazingly calming sounds of nature.

Judy suggested I get a shot of the sunlight filtering
through from above.  Not much touched the ground.

One last view of Backbone Rock.
It seems to be little known except among the local folks.
But I love finding the obscure little secret places.

This is the last of my four blog posts about this
year's excursion to Damascus and the Virginia Creeper
 Trail.  If you missed any of them, please check them out.
 I hope some of my readers add this
beautiful area (less than four hours from Moore
County) to your bucket list.  I feel sure we'll go back.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Damascus Adventure Part 3: Virginia Creeper Trail

If you've already seen my first two posts about
our trip, today the action begins.  Biking the
Virginia Creeper Trail.

This marker in Abingdon denotes the original
first mile post of the Creeper Trail.

Many of these old markers remain along the 33 mile trail.

This authentic steam locomotive of the Norfolk &
Western Railroad marks the beginning of the
Virginia Creeper Trail in Abingdon.  Although Judy
and I walked about a mile of this end of the trail,
today's adventure would start at the other end of
the trail, at old Whitetop Station.

The Bike Station is a very reputable rental and shuttle
service in Damascus and we were well pleased with their
service.  Note their website in the picture if you'd like to
check them out.  We actually met and shared the trail with
the gentleman who does their website.  He has been photo-
graphing sites all along the trail to include in his interactive
map.  But I think I took more pictures than him!

Though the morning was chilly, the owner signed
up 11 of us for the 11 o'clock shuttle.  

"Load 'em up and move 'em out!"

This map follows our route, from east to west.

After a 40 minute ride on winding Highway 58,
we arrived at Whitetop Station.  We had also gained
1500 feet in altitude and the temperature was in the 50's.
But we were ready for that.

There's Judy in her green sweater.
"C'mon, Ken. Don't take all day."

One of the first things I spotted on the trail was a
virtual sea of one of my favorite plants: ground
cedar. Its colonies spread over entire hillsides.
I don't know these next two wildflowers.

The first big trestle we came to.

Three miles into the ride we arrived at historic Green
Cove Station.  The above history gives you a glimpse,
but there's much more to its history.

To me, this is pure Americana.

This old store still has the items on the shelves that
were there when it closed years ago.  Now how many
museums can say that? The Forest Service employee
was most informative.

I was interested to learn that the brakeman on the
last train to run in 1977 visited the museum this
summer.  These were some of his memories.
In another place, I read of how a young boy
remembered that same brakeman throwing a
piece of candy down to him from the train
as he waved from the station platform that
long ago day.

Most of these old tools were specifically for
railroad-type jobs.
Back to the trail . . .
we never knew what to expect next!

A short side trail gave us easy access to this local
Christmas tree farm with a view of the valley below.

The same farmer raised a bumper crop of pumpkins
in this valley.

Quite a dropoff to the water beneath this trestle.

From Abingdon, VA to Todd, NC, 60 miles away,
the train line once had 100 bridges and trestles.  We
crossed about 30 on our 17 mile bike ride.

One thing I like about following mountain streams is
that no two are exactly alike, so you're always
encountering something new.

We didn't stop to eat at the Creeper Trail Cafe, but
it is a well-known fixture of the trail, located in
Taylor Valley.  They tout their chocolate cake, but
I expect many bikers would devour anything set
before them at this juncture.

A nice lady offered to snap our pictures.

Not once, but twice.
More scenic beauty along the way.

The rock formations can be just as captivating as any
of the other natural wonders.

What?  Another wooly worm?!

I spy a hornet's nest!

The berries of another of my favorite plants--

If you've walked the Sandhills Farm Life Nature
Trail, this wonderful plant is found in abundance there.

We're down to the last few miles of our journey now.

I believe this was our last bridge before Damascus.

Invasive kudzu competes with a pretty
native orange blossom.  I wish we could win
the war against kudzu, but it's not likely.

This plant is common in the Virginia woodlands, but
I haven't looked it up yet.

Just before entering the Damascus town limits
we encountered the Appalachian Trail again.
No bikes.  DUH!

We're back!  We've completed the 16.8 miles from
Whitetop Station to Damascus.  And if it sounds challenging,
believe me, it's NOT!  After all, it's almost entirely downhill.
So anyone in reasonably good shape, including children as
young as 6, could conceivably negotiate this trail.  As long
as you can dodge the occasional rock or hole, can keep from
plunging down a ravine while you're eyeing some natural
wonder, and can avoid crashing into your traveling companion,
maybe the Virginia Creeper Trail would be right for you.

Arriving in Damascus, the crossroads of
seven trails, we were deeply satisfied with
how we spent our day.  And not nearly as
tired as we expected.  We took about 4 hours
to complete what many did in less than 3, but
that's largely due to my frequent stops for
picture-taking.  No regrets there.

That pretty well sums up our experience.
I'd be happy to share helpful information if
you and your family might be interested in
this adventure.  Many consider this to be the
best rails-to-trails venue in the eastern U.S.
I wouldn't argue with that.