Last month we loaded the family van and drove across the United States for an adventure in the great outdoors of the American Southwest. I planned a circuitous route with our ultimate destination being the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
All told, we spent 15 days together and drove 5000 +/- miles.
With apprehension-inducing thoughts of National Lampoon’s Vacation running through our minds, one 4:30 AM morning we bravely set off with our three children, a 50-quart cooler, travel provisions and enough outdoor gear to outfit a field battalion. We drove across Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado to reach our first High Southwest “basecamp”—a motel room—in Durango.
We experienced some seriously fun times, some true adventure, some not-unexpected “meltdowns,” and all of it through tons and tons of incredible scenery. Then, abruptly, we turned around and trucked back to Virginia via a southern route across Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Tennessee.
Safely back home, we were a bit worn out, but have indelible memories.
In due time, as work and other commitments allow, I am going to write a series of articles about the trip for Abingdon Outdoors.
To get started, I’ve put up a first gallery of photos from the trip.
This summer we’ve started earnestly fishing the South Holston River, a renowned tailwater trout fishery in Tennessee. The clear water comes from deep in South Holston Lake, making for constantly cold temperatures, even when summer’s heat affects the other mountain streams.
The tailwater is 17 miles from Abingdon, about a half-hour’s drive from town. It’s probably the largest trout fishery in the region, and consequently one of the busiest. I’ll write some more on the SoHo in some future articles, but for now here’s some nice trout we caught this weekend. All photos by Karl Thiessen.
The last two days have seen record-breaking hot temperatures across the Eastern United States, including in Southwest Virginia. Yesterday it was 103 in Kingsport and 101 in Bristol, breaking the record high temperature ever recorded in the month of June in our region. Abingdon was 100, the highest temperature here in any month in 25 years.
It’s way too hot, especially for those of us in the mountains. I’m pining for cooler weather−way cooler weather. Along those lines, the B&W photo I took above shows massive hoarfrost on one of the solitary trees up on Whitetop in 2010, the last real winter we have had in Southwest Virginia.
Just looking at that photo cools you off a little bit, doesn’t it? Wish I was high up on a mountain with snow right now.
This is a water snake I photographed at Hidden Valley lake a few weeks ago.
This photo was taken near the dam on the eastern side of the lake. The snake was almost three feet in length, which based upon the research is fairly good sized for this kind of snake. Water snakes, or Northern Water Snakes as they are sometimes known, are not poisonous but can be aggressive and have a painful bite. They feed on frogs, fish, and other water-based prey. These snakes are found throughout Virginia according to the VDGIF map of occurance for this species.
Here is a photo identifying the major peaks visible from Buzzard Rocks, the outcroppings about 200 vertical feet below the summit of Whitetop Mountain. Buzzard Rocks provides one of the best vistas towards Southwest Virginia, looking back into both Virginia and Tennessee. The small communities of Whitetop and Green Cove can be seen in the foreground.
Buzzard Rocks can be accessed via the gravel road 89 from State Route 600 near Elk Garden, via the Appalachian Trail from Elk Garden from State Route 600, or via the climb from State Route 601.
The pointy mountain labeled 3700′ is Fodderstack Mountain. This is a promentory that divides the valley towards Laurel Bloomery in Tennessee. Tennessee Laurel Creek runs down this valley between Fodderstack and the Iron Mountains towards Damascus.
Between the Iron Mountains and Holston Mountain lies Shady Valley, Tennessee. Beaverdam Creek runs down this valley from Shady Valley towards Damascus. On the other side of Holston Mountain is South Holston Lake, the TVA impoundement that is the largest lake in region.
Between Holston Mountain and Clinch Mountain (which is barely visible on the far horizon) is the great valley that encompasses most of Washington County, Virginia, including Abingdon.
For a comparison, here is another view in the evening from the same vantage point, slightly below Buzzard Rocks.
Whitetop Mountain contrasts with the almost-full foliage on the hillsides of Abingdon yesterday afternoon.
The section of the Blue Ridge Parkway that skirts around Grandfather Mountain is most impressive. This is the site of the famous Linn Cove Viaduct, where the Parkway is raised up on pylon-like stilts and skirts around part of the mountain as if suspended in midair. This whole section of road has impressive views of the mountain, and off to the east and southeast, all the way to the Piedmont region.
The photo above was taken in March near mile marker 302—right before you begin rounding Grandfather Mountain when approaching from the Blowing Rock Area. Low hanging cumulus clouds accentuate the blueish hue of the mountains. The photo views the mountains and hills to the southeast (Grandfather Mountain is not in the picture but is to the right from this viewpoint, on the other side of the Parkway from this turnoff).
This March we visited Linville Falls, one of the most famous waterfalls in North Carolina, during the 2012 Banff Film Festival in Boone (the inspirational film festival trailer can be seen here). The falls are located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile marker 316. There is a visitor’s center and a short hiking trail (about .8 miles) to the falls.
The closest viewing area shows the upper falls (not pictured here) in one direction, and beginning part of the lower falls in the other direction. The photos above and below show the beginning part of the lower falls. The lower falls churn through a cavernous semi-circle of eroded limestone, and then plummet about 45 feet into a large pool.
“Chimney Rock Overlook” can be seen from the upper viewing area, as highlighted in the photo to the right. From Chimney Rock Overlook, you can see the lower falls in their entirety, as well as the large cliffs that surround the falls and mark the beginning of the Linville Gorge.
The cliff face next to the lower falls is as impressive as the falls themselves. When we viewed the falls, there was a relatively large volume of water flowing. This caused the falls to jettison outward from the upper pool.
Linville Falls is a very popular stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway (the parking lot at the visitor center is huge), so it is recommended that if you want to visit the falls without hordes of tourists, you should try to see them during less visited times of year such as in spring or winter, or during the middle of the week.
The viewing areas were built in a manner to try to fit into the natural surroundings and are constructed of stone and logs. When they are wet, it is possible they could be treacherous. In particular, the Chimney Rock overlook could be dangerous if someone got too close to the edge of the viewing area, as a fall from that location could be fatal.
The Linville Gorge is one of the deepest gorges in the Eastern United States. I have seen claims that it is in fact the deepest, but there are several others that are comparable (including the Russell Fork Gorge in Southwest Virginia). Suffice it to say that it is deep and impressive. Experienced hikers have become disoriented and lost in this place.
The Linville Gorge reminded me of the gorge below Abrams Falls close to Abingdon, although without doubt the Linville Gorge is much deeper and longer.
If you find yourself in Boone, Blowing Rock, or on the Blue Ridge Parkway in this neighborhood, a trip to Linville Falls makes for a nice day trip and provides a nice little outdoor experience without too much effort.