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Horsehead Overlook to Crimora Lake Overlook

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MILE 88.6, HORSEHEAD OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,580 feet. The overlook has a clear view over Paine Run hollow (see sketch). Trayfoot Mountain bounds the watershed on the right and Rocks Mountain on the left. From the north end of the overlook, beyond the trees, you can see up into the head of Paine Run. The massive mountain ahead and left is Trayfoot. With your binoculars, follow the ridge to the right from Trayfoot summit, past the low point, until you come to a purplish talus slope. Follow it up to the right, to the jumbled mass of broken rock on the ridge crest. That's Blackrock, which gave its name to Blackrock Springs, Blackrock Hotel, and Blackrock Gap. The view from there is impressive. For an easy hike to Blackrock, see Hike HS-23.

View from Horsehead Overlook

 

Geology: In the island, and in the roadcut across the Drive, are exposures of inter-bedded phyllite and sandstone of the Hampton formation. The phyllite is pale gray in a fresh break-thin, flaky, and soft. The sandstone is much harder. The weathered surfaces are stained with iron, from golden brown to nearly black. NOTE: The gray stone in the wall here, and in overlooks to the south, is limestone - brought up from the Shenandoah Valley. It does not occur naturally in the park.

MILE 88.9, AT CROSSING. Elevation 2,620 feet. There's limited parking on the east side. Distances on the AT: north (on the east side of the Drive) it's 1.8 miles to Blackrock Gap, mile 87.4; south (on the west side) it's 1.1 miles to Riprap parking, milepost 90.

MILEPOST 90, RIPRAP PARKING. Elevation 2,730 feet. Riprap Trail. AT access. A paved parking area on the west side of the Drive. A graded trail goes 20 yards uphill to the AT Distances on the AT: north (to the right) it's 1.1 miles to the Drive crossing at mile 88.9; south (to the left), it's 2.9 miles to Wildcat Ridge Parking, mile 88.9.

 

HIKE HS-24: Chimney Rock. Round trip 3.4 miles; total climb about 830 feet; time required 3:10. Good trail, fine views. See Map MS-8.

Take the blue-blazed Riprap Trail uphill and turn right on to the white-blazed AT. About 0.4 mile from the start, as the AT is leveling off, turn left on the Riprap Trail. It goes up and down, mostly down, for another 0.7 mile, to a talus slope that crosses the ridge. The trail swings right, then left; the white rocks on the right here are the first viewpoint shown on the map. That's Paine Run watershed below you, and you can see most of it from here. To your left is a ridge that runs down from Rocks Mountain. The rock tower you see is your destination, Chimney Rocks. Beyond it is Buzzard Rock, the mountain just to the left of the mouth of the hollow. In front of you, Trayfoot Mountain bounds the far side of the hollow. The free-standing mountain out in the hollow is Horsehead; beyond it, Lefthand Hollow runs up into the side of Trayfoot.

Geology: The rocks at this viewpoint, like Calvary Rocks and Chimney Rock up ahead, are white Erwin quartzite; throughout the area are occasional fossilized burrows of Skolithos, an ancient worm-like animal.

After another 0.2 mile, Calvary Rocks rise up ahead of you, to the left of the trail. Continue another 0.2 mile. Where the trail makes a sharp turn to the left, Chimney Rock stands free on your right, across a deep, narrow gorge. (You may see a spike in the rock on each side of the gorge; there was once a bridge here.) From here you can see the entire Paine Run hollow, all the way up to the crest of the Blue Ridge.

 
Map MS-8 - Riprap Area

Click here for a printable map

 

HIKE HS-25: Riprap Parking to Wildcat Ridge Parking via Chimney Rock and Riprap Hollow. One way 7.1 miles; total climb about 2,000 feet; time required 6:45. Views, stream, cascades, pool. This one-way hike requires that you leave a car at Wildcat Ridge Parking, mile 92.1, or have someone meet you there. Because of the 2,000-foot climb, this hike is moderately difficult. At lower elevations parts of the trail are rough, and there are several stream crossings. See Map MS-8.

The hike starts like the one above. From Chimney Rock continue another 0.4 mile and watch for a viewpoint on the right. From it you can see most of Paine Run Hollow. Horsehead Mountain is right in front of you, very close. This view into Paine Run is completely unobstructed-left, right, across, and down. Heatwole observed that, sitting on the edge of the cliff with your feet hanging over is like flying without a plane.

Less than 0.2 mile from this point the trail swings left, and begins its descent into Cold Spring Hollow. A mile and a tenth farther on, a stream comes in from the left, and we join Riprap Hollow. Thirty yards downstream is a small but very pretty waterfall. In this area, and for a considerable distance downstream, rhododendrons (R. catawbiense) are scattered through the woods. They have big, showy, violet-colored flowers that bloom in May.

The trail fords the stream; a hundred yards beyond, a side trail on the right crosses the stream to the site of Riprap Shelter, beside one of the biggest swimming holes in the park. (The Riprap Shelter was removed when the area was designated as a wilderness.) From the shelter site, you can go downstream about 200 feet to rejoin the trail. A short distance ahead the trail forks. Stay to the right on a relocated trail on higher ground that avoids flood damage on the former location. Continue for 0.6 mile, to the marker post at the foot of the Wildcat Ridge Trail.

Turn left onto the trail, cross the main stream, and continue beside a tributary. After two-tenths of a mile the trail turns left and crosses the stream. Later, after the trail swings right and crosses the stream for the last time, it climbs a third of a mile to a sharp left turn. Less than half a mile up the ridge the trail makes a sharp switchback to the left. About one hundred feet beyond the switchback, look to the left for a chance to see Crimora Lake through the leaves. Behind you, down the trail, is a leafy view of Turk Mountain.

The trail continues up Wildcat Ridge for another 1.2 miles to the AT. Cross the AT and continue a little more than 200 yards uphill to the Wildcat Ridge parking area.

 

HIKE HS-26: Riprap Ridge Parking, Chimney Rock, Riprap Hollow, Wildcat Ridge, and return via AT. Circuit 9.8 miles; total climb about 2,365 feet; time required 8:50. A rather long and tiring hike. At lower elevations, parts of the trail are rough; there are several stream crossings. See Map MS-8.

As above to the white-blazed AT intersection on Wildcat ridge, Turn left, and walk 2.7 miles on the AT to the concrete marker at the Riprap Trail intersection. Turn right and go 20 yards downhill to the Riprap parking area.

 

MILE 91.4, RIPRAP OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,920 feet. A good-sized overlook with a wide view, and a grassy island with pines and small dogwoods. On a very clear day you can see mountains along the Blue Ridge Parkway, far beyond Scott Mountain (at the left edge of the sketch). Farther right you can see the Alleghenies on the far side of the Valley. For hikes into Riprap Hollow see above. (The word "riprap" means broken stone, which the hollow has lots of.)

View from Riprap Overlook



View from Moormans River Overlook


Moormans River Overlook
Photo taken by John H. Bowman

 


A Black Bear Walking Along The
Moormans River Overlook Wall

Photo taken by Diane Lepkowski
MILEPOST 92, MOORMANS RIVER OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,975 feet. The overlook offers a clear, pleasing 180-degree view. Its most prominent feature is the Charlottesville reservoir (see sketch). Along the foot of Pasture Fence Mountain, the north fork of Moormans River flows from left to right, through Via Hollow and into the reservoir. In 1995 flooding and landslides dramatically altered the landscape along the north fork of Moormans River.

History: In the early 1700s, Charles Moorman and his son Thomas bought a great deal of land in this area. In 1741 Thomas Moorman patented 750 acres on the river that thereafter carried his name. It's reported that when Pasture Fence Mountain was first discovered by the settlers it was covered with lush bluegrass. By the time George Washington was a teenager, wealthy landowners from the eastern part of the county had fenced this mountain for grazing.

MILE 92.1, WILDCAT RIDGE PARKING. Elevation 2,980 feet. Hikes. AT access. The Wildcat Ridge trail crosses the AT a little more than 200 yards from the Drive. Distances on the AT: north (to the right) it's 2.9 miles to Riprap Parking, Milepost 90; south (to the left) it's a third of a mile to the Drive crossing at mile 92.4.

From here you can take a one-way hike through Riprap Hollow to Chimney Rock and Riprap parking, milepost 90. Or you can make that hike a circuit, returning via AT. Since both those hikes are described from the other end (Hikes HS-25 and HS-26), they won't be repeated here.  

HIKE HS-27: Riprap Hollow. Round trip 6.8 miles; total climb about 1,670 feet; time required 6:15. A moderately difficult hike to a stream, cascades, and pool. At lower elevations parts of the trail are rough, and there are several stream crossings. See Map MS-8.

The trail crosses the AT about 200 yards from the Drive, and then descends on Wildcat Ridge, swinging back and forth from one side of the ridge to the other. About 1.2 miles from the start it's on the right side of the ridge crest; it then begins a 300-yard crossover to the left side, ending in a sharp switchback to the right. A hundred feet short of the switchback is a view ahead, through the trees, of Turk Mountain. To the right, just a few degrees south of directly west, is Crimora Lake. You may be able to see it through the leaves.

Continue down the ridge another 0.4 mile to where the trail turns sharp right. The trail descends the ridge, fords the stream, then swings left and passes through a pleasant woods. Soon after you ford the stream again, it joins a larger one that flows down through Riprap Hollow. (From here on, you may see rhododendrons, R. Catawbiense. They have large, showy, violet-colored flowers that bloom during the last half of May.) The trail fords the stream and continues to the Riprap Trail, a former fire road beside the stream. Due to flooding the Riprap Trail has now been rerouted higher along the west bank. You can still see evidence of the old road/trail here and there. After about 0.6 mile you will come upon e of the park's biggest swimming holes. On the far left side of the stream is the site of the Riprap Shelter which was removed in 1977 in accordance with wilderness area policies. Return by the way you came.

 

MILE 92.4, AT CROSSING. Elevation 3,000 feet. There's space for several cars on the west side. Distances on the AT: north (on the west side) it's a third of a mile to the Wildcat Ridge Trail, near the Drive at mile 92.1; south (on the east side) it's 1.9 miles to the Drive crossing in Turk Gap, mile 94.1.

MILE 92.6, CRIMORA LAKE OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,985 feet. The overlook has a wide view, from Turk Mountain at the far left to the nearby Wildcat Ridge at the right. Rocks Mountain, with a small white talus slope, is beyond Wildcat Ridge. Crimora Lake is a little to the right of straight out from the overlook; from here, its water looks dark-colored. Farther left is a body of pale greenish water with a few trees and a little grass. This is a flooded, abandoned, open-pit manganese mine.

History: Mining of the Crimora manganese deposit began in 1867 and continued intermittently under a series of owners - many of whom lost money - until March 1946, when the mill shut down for the last time. The Crimora deposit, about 500 feet wide, 200 feet deep, and half a mile long, consists of clay with scattered lumps of manganese ore. It lies under a layer of clay and quartz fragments about 15 feet thick, and it's this material that forms the yellow-orange mounds you see from the overlook. The Crimora deposit has produced more manganese than any other single deposit in the United States.

The first step in processing the ore consists of washing off the clay, which requires tremendous quantities of water. Crimora Lake was formed by damming a stream in Dorsey Hanger Hollow to provide water for processing the ore. Clay-laden water was allowed to settle in sumps at the deep ends of the mine pits and was then recycled. Even so, a chronic water shortage, as well as competition from imported ores, kept the mine from being very profitable.

Legend: Samuel W. Donald, the second owner of the mine, named it for the daughter of a friend.

Point of interest: Take another look at the flooded mine pit. Heatwole had seen a similar body of pale green water, surrounded by yellow-orange earth and scattered trees, in Yellowstone National Park and noted that it is a major tourist attraction there.

   
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