The day after Christmas I took my bike up to the Virginia Highlands. My destination was the Virginia Creeper Trail, an old railroad line that was turned into a 33-mile trail back in the 80s. It is one of the best bike trails in America in one of the most beautiful places on earth. My mom’s family settled in the region hundreds of years ago, so it always feels like home to me.
Part of the magic has to do with the geology of the region, which creates some stunning scenery. Just looking at the rocks takes you back almost a billion years. The whole region is underlain by hard volcanic bedrock. This erosion-resistant rock, known as rhyolite, comes from melted continiental crust, which takes you back to the time of the continental rift. In addition to the large rocks, I noticed lots of little colorful rocks with beautiful patterns on them, which are also some kind of volcanic matter.
I met up with my cousin Pat near Damascus, Virginia, a convenient point between the trailhead, 17 miles up Whitetop Mountain, and Abingdon, Virginia, 16 miles in the other direction. We decided to skip the mountain climb and head towards Abingdon. Our leisurely ride took us around the south fork of the Holston River. We’d stop occasionally to check out some of the more interesting geological features and massive icicle formations.
As we rode along the south fork of the Holston, we noticed a number of cabins for rent. My favorites were the tree houses. Maybe we’ll stay there next time.
After a bend in the woods, we passed a cave. I couldn’t resist checking it out. Although it seemed fairly cozy, I had already made plans to crash on the couch at the house my aunts had rented for our family gathering.
As the sun faded, the temperature dropped rapidly. We cooked a quick cup of hot
chocolate and then headed back to Damascus. That evening I stayed with my aunts, uncle and cousins. We got up the next morning and hit the trail again.
Nothing could have been more beautiful than mist rising off a waterfall in the morning sun.
Of course, with the beautiful, there is also the ugly. We found the head of a goat as well as a well-eaten wild turkey carcass. The coyotes must be hungry this year, and there must be lots of them. It made me remember that the original name of Abingdon was “Wolf Hills,” after Daniel Boone and his party were confronted by a pack of wild wolves.
I’d like to come back to the Creeper in 2014. Next time we’ll see if we can stay in one of the tree houses.