|North Entrance to Signal Knob Overlook|
MILE 0.0 Skyline Drive begins at U.S. Highway 340 near the south edge of Front Royal. You can find food and lodging in Front Royal, mostly at the far end of town.
Going south from the Drive, U.S. 340 passes through an especially attractive part of the Shenandoah Valley. Skyline Caverns is 1.1 miles south of the Drive on U.S. 340. The "anthodites"small but pretty clusters of long white crystalsare its principal attraction.
MILE 0.05, PARKING AREA. Elevation 590 feet. Dickey Ridge Trail. As you enter Skyline Drive from U.S. 340, you come immediately to a parking area on the west (right) side of the road. Pull off and stop for a minute. This is the lowest point on the Drive, and the only place in the Park where the basement rock is limestone. But you can't see it, because it's covered by soil and broken rock that have washed down from the Catoctin formation on the ridge.
From this point the Drive climbs steadily on Dickey Ridge, finally
reaching the Blue Ridge at Compton Gap, Mile 10.4. The Dickey Ridge Trail
begins at the parking area. It goes more or less parallel to the Drive for
9.2 miles, then joins the A.T. (Appalachian Trail) near Compton Gap.
I recommend a short walk up the Dickey Ridge Trail, and return by the
same route. (Note: the terms "Dickey Ridge" and "Dickey Hill" are
Mile 0.3, ROAD, east side. This goes into the Park Service residential area.
MILE 0.6, FRONT ROYAL ENTRANCE STATION. Elevation 705 feet. There's a parking area just south of the Entrance Station. Beside it, on the west side of the Drive, are a buckeye (horse-chestnut) and several Kentucky coffee trees. Both species are rare in the Park.
Geology: The Front Royal fault crosses the Drive here, separating the limestone and dolomite of the Rockdale Run formation from the lava flows of the Catoctin formation.
MILE 1.4, PARKING AREA, west side. Elevation 970 feet. There are two modest attractions here:
Waterfall: Cross the Drive and walk south (uphill) about a hundred feet, then look to your left. There, directly in front of you, is a charming cascade of water some 60 feet high. This is the only waterfall that's visible from Skyline Drive. And like all our falls, this one is at its best in spring or after heavy rains. It may be completely dry in summer.
Geology: The rocks across the Drive from the parking area are basalt of the Catoctin formation; they were molten lava about 800 million years ago. In a fresh break the rock is mostly gray-greenthe green color caused by the mineral epidote (calcium aluminum iron silicate). Here, weathering has produced a variety of colors: gray-green, light brown, and dark gray-purple.
Near the downhill end of the rock cut you can see pale tan spots, 1/4 to 3/4 inch in diameter, on the purplish rocks. These were once gas bubbles in the lava, which were later filled by minerals. At no point do the Catoctin lavas have the porous appearance of recent lava; they have been metamorphosed by the pressure of other rocks above them, so that no bubble spaces remain except where the minerals that filled them were later lost by weathering.
Mile 2.0, PARKING AREA, west side. A paved parking pulloff, about 100 feet north of the milepost, with room for several cars. Park here if you want to hike on the Dickey Ridge Trail from the crossing at Mile 2.15.
MILE 2.15, DICKEY RIDGE TRAIL CROSSING. Elevation 1,155 feet. There's no marker or sign here, and the trail is hard to see from your car. Use the parking area at Mile 2.0 if you want to hike. On the west side, the trail goes 1.9 miles to its origin at Mile 0.05 on the Drive. On the east side it goes 2.6 miles to the Fox Hollow Trail, across the Drive from the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center.
MILE 2.8, SHENANDOAH VALLEY OVERLOOK. Elevation 1,390 feet. The view here is quite worthwhile, and if the air is fairly clear I recommend that you give it a little time. Use binoculars, if you have them. You look across the Valley, 800 feet below, and a stretch of the Shenandoah River, to the two ridges of the Massanutten Mountain, with Signal Knob at their right-hand end. The Massanutten divides the Shenandoah Valley, separating the north fork of the Shenandoah River, on the far side of the Massanutten, from the south fork on this side. The two meet at Riverton, a few miles north of Front Royal.
Front Royal is toward the right of your view, and two to three miles away. After dark, the lights of Front Royal make this overlook a very worthwhile stop.
Legend: Front Royal got its name because at one time it lay on the frontier of the land occupied by the Royal (British) troops.
Legend: "Front", in the language of the mountain people, meant "foothill". The foothills here were occupied by Royal troops.
Legend: When the town consisted principally of a tavern, and Royal troops were stationed there, the sentry's challenge was "front", and the password was "royal".
Legend: Front Royal was originally called Lehewtown. In frontier times it had so many brawling and disorderly inhabitants that the name was changed, informally at least, to Helltown.
MILE 4.6, DICKEY RIDGE VISITOR CENTER. Elevation 1,940 feet. Information, publications, slide show, exhibits, telephone, rest rooms, water; Fox Hollow self-guiding trail; access to Dickey Ridge Trail.
The Visitor Center was built in 1938 as a dining hall, and the concessioner had cabins for rent in the area just north of the building. They closed the dining hall during World War II, and did not re-open it when the war ended. It was converted to a Visitor Center in 1958.
There are views to both east and west from the building. If you walk down to the edge of the grassy area you can look west across the Valley to the Massanutten. To the far left is Hogback Mountain, with four separate bumps along its crest. Between Hogback and here is the Browntown Valley. Across the Drive, to the east you'll view Chester Gap.
The Dickey Ridge Trail is about 80 yards to the east of the Drive, on the side
across from the Visitor Center. From here the trail goes 2.6 miles north to the
Drive crossing at Mile 2.15; and 2.5 miles south to the Drive crossing in Low
Gap, Mile 7.9.
MILE 4.7, DICKEY RIDGE PICNIC AREA. Elevation 1,935 feet. Entrance is at the south end of the Visitor Center parking lot. A one-way road takes you through the Picnic Area, and rejoins the Drive at Mile 5.0. There are tables, fireplaces, several drinking fountains (turned off in winter), and a comfort station. For winter use there's a frostfree faucet in front of the comfort station, and pit toilets behind it.
MILE 5.0, EXIT ROAD, west side, from the Dickey Ridge Picnic Area. Do not enter.
MILE 5.1, SNEAD FIRE ROAD, east side. This road leads to an old
homesite; the hike is interesting and easy. There's limited parking in the
grass on the west side of the Drive. For better parking, or to make the hike a
little longer, start from the Picnic Area or the Visitor Center.
MILE 5.3, PAVED PARKING PULLOUT, west side. Elevation 1,985 feet. Room for about six cars. This is obviously an overlook, though it has no name and does not appear on the Park's list of overlooks. Vista clearing here has a low priority; the view is sometimes obstructed. From here you look westward across the Shenandoah Valley, and several loops of the Shenandoah River, to the Massanutten. To the far right is a part of Dickey Ridge; Front Royal is hidden behind it. Here, as at many of the overlooks in the North District, I like to study the farms, roads, and ponds through binoculars. The barn that you see at the foot of the ridge is about eight hundred feet below you.
MILE 5.7, SIGNAL KNOB OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,090 feet. To the far left you can look up the Browntown Valley to the two peaks of Mt. Marshall and, farther right, the four humps of Hogback. Below you is the Shenandoah Valley, with the south fork of the Shenandoah River meandering through it. The first two ridges on the far side of the Valley are the Massanutten, with the Fort Valley between them. The Massanutten divides the Shenandoah Valley for a distance of nearly fifty miles.
Legend: Massanutten is an Indian word meaning "three-topped."
Legend: Massanutten is an Indian word meaning "old field" or "potato field" (though I've been told that the Indians who lived in this area did not grow potatoes).
Legend: Massanutten is an Indian word meaning "Indian basket", referring to the supposedly basket-shaped Fort Valley.
History:: In 1726 a group of Germans moved into the Valley from Pennsylvania, and established a settlement, which they called Massanutten, to the west of the present town of Luray. They called the ridge to the west of the settlement not Massanutten, but Peaked Mountain. (That name is still used locally for the peak at the southern end. It's pronounced with two syllables: PEAK-id.) The Massanutten colony survived in peace until about 1754; then followed a dozen years of Indian attacks. Homes in the area, some of them still standing, were built like forts.
Sometime before 1750, the name of Peaked Mountain changed to Buffalo Mountain. The deep gap near the middle, now called New Market Gap, lay just to the west of the Massanutten settlement, and was therefore called Massanutten Gap. The name of the gap was later applied to the whole 50-mile ridge.
Signal Knob is the high point at the right-hand end of the Massanutten. Although there was no Civil War action on the mountain itself, there were battles on both sides of it. Signal Knob was a Confederate Army signal station. (It may or may not have been used briefly by Union troops.) Signals were relayed to another knob farther south on the Massanutten, and from there to Stony Man, on their way to Richmond.
Geology: Cross the Drive at a point a little south of the middle of the overlook, and look at the rocks from the edge of the Drive. At about eye level is a band of sandstone, two-and-a-half to three-feet thick. It separates a dark lava flow (below) from a later, lighter-colored lava flow above.
The sandstone is banded with colors varying from tan to reddish to
reddish-purple, showing that it was formed from various kinds of sand and
mud. We can conclude that many years, or more likely many centuries,
elapsed between the two lava flows. During that time streams eroded higher
ground, depositing sand and mud here. The reddish color of the sandstone
is probably the result of mineralization by the upper lava flow.