Gooney Run Overlook to Indian Run Overlook

MILE 6.8, GOONEY RUN OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,085 feet. There is no view from the middle of the overlook. Looking to the right from the north end, you have a view across the Valley, with several meanders of the Shenandoah River in sight. Signal Knob is at the far end of the Massanutten. Farther right, on the near side of the Valley, is a part of Dickey Ridge. Gooney Run, which drains the Browntown Valley, passes about a mile straight out from the overlook, and about 1,300 feet down.

Legend: Gooney Run was originally called Sugar Tree Creek. When Lord Fairfax went hunting there his favorite hound, Gooney, was accidentally drowned. His Lordship changed the name of the creek to Gooney's Run in honor of the dog.

Geology: The overlook rests on the contact between the Pedlar granodiorite, below, and the Catoctin lava flows above. With very little walking you can see both. First cross the Drive. In the road cut are layers of basalt, separated by a layer of tuff (compressed volcanic ash.) The layers are rather hard to make out because the rocks are weathered and crumbling. Now return to the other side of the Drive, and look for a trail near the middle of the overlook.

If the trail is not too badly overgrown, follow it for about 250 feet to a ledge of granodiorite, which looks like fine-grained granite.

View from Gooney Manor Overlook
View from Gooney Manor Overlook

MILE 7.3, GOONEY MANOR OVERLOOK. Elevation 1,930 feet. (See sketch). Hogback Mountain is more or less straight ahead across the Browntown Valley, which is drained by Gooney Run and its tributaries. Many of the homes in the valley belong to people who were displaced when the park was created. Browntown itself is about halfway between here and Hogback, just outside the sketch to the right. Descending to the right from Hogback is Gimlet Ridge, which breaks up into the three small hills that enclose the Browntown Valley on the west.

To the left of Compton Mountain (at the left of the sketch) is Carson Mountain, from which the Blue Ridge descends, still farther left, toward Chester Gap. If you have binoculars, look at a point a little way down the left slope of Compton Peak. The rock ledge you see there has a good view in this direction. It's one of the objectives of the Compton Peak hike, page 91. As you can imagine, it's not a difficult climb.

History: As I told you earlier, the Northern Neck became the property of Thomas, sixth Lord Fairfax. Fairfax sold most of the land, but set aside several "manors" over which he kept seignorial rights. Two of these included land that is now within the Park—both of them in the North Section. The Manor of Leeds was on the east side of the mountain, and I'll mention it later. Gooney Manor, consisting of about 13,000 acres, included a large part of the Browntown Valley below the overlook, as well as land farther north (toward Front Royal) on both sides of Dickey Ridge. Note that the term "manor" refers to the whole property; there was no mansion.

MILE 7.9, LOW GAP. Elevation 1,790 feet. Dickey Ridge Trail Crossing. Parking in the grass on both sides of the Drive. There's a concrete trail marker, but it's hard to see from a moving car unless you're looking for it. On the east side, it's 2.5 miles by trail to the Snead fire road, and 3.0 miles to the Fox Hollow Trail near the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center. On the west side it's 1.0 mile to Skyline Drive in Lands Run Gap, Mile 9.2.

MILE 9.2, LANDS RUN GAP. Elevation 2,015 feet. Dickey Ridge Trail crossing; fire road; hikes. Ample parking space beside the fire road, on the west side.

There are two trails on the east side of the Drive, with the start of an old road trace between them. Farthest right is the Dickey Ridge trail (which is also a horse trail here.) It goes a mile and a quarter to the Appalachian Trail near the Drive crossing in Compton Gap, Mile 10.4. The other trail goes to Hickerson Hollow.

HIKE: Hickerson Hollow, Round trip 2.2 miles; total climb about 940 feet; time required 2:30. This is a fairly easy walk on a horse trail that descends through Hickerson Hollow, and joins Harmony Hollow outside the Park. The above figures apply to a hike to the Park boundary.

This yellow-blazed horse trail was opened in 1980. It follows the route of an older trail and a still older mountain road. I haven't hiked the newest version, so I can't offer any details. The old road trace is easy to follow. There were several mountaineer homesites along this route, but the evidence is now hard to find. Explore the whole hollow, if you wish. You aren't likely to get lost, even without a compass.

Trivia: Harmony Hollow is drained by Happy Creek. Both names are more than 200 years old. I don't know whether they reflect former conditions in the hollow, or whether the names were used sarcastically.

The Dickey Ridge Trail goes north from the small parking area on the west side of the Drive. It's 1.0 miles by trail to the Skyline Drive in Low Gap, Mile 7.9.

HIKE: Lands Run Falls. Round trip 1.3 miles; total climb about 325 feet; time required 1:30. This is an unrewarding experience for most people, so please read the whole description before you start. See map, page 89.

On the west side of the Drive, follow the fire road downhill for about 0.6 mile. (The road is rough—covered with fist-sized rocks—and fairly steep.) Look for a low point where a small stream flows under the road. Follow the stream about 25 feet to the right, to the top of the falls.

The falls are a series of small cascades that descend a total of about 80 feet in a narrow gorge. Except in spring, when the snows are melting, there isn't much water. There is no point from which you can see all the cascades at once. To see the first one, cross the stream to its left bank and cautiously work your way down through the rocks. If you've become attuned to small and subtle pleasures, this place has a great deal of charm. The rocks are covered with mosses, lichen, and polypody. But the hillside is very steep. The ground is carpeted with needles of pine and hemlock, and sometimes dead leaves, so that the footing is treacherous and the descent must be classified as difficult. As I said, this trip is not for everyone. We have bigger falls that are easier to see. This is for the very few hikers who are willing to go to a lot of trouble to find solitude beside a small pool on a mountain stream.

The fire road continues beyond the falls, descending another 560 feet in 1.4 miles, to the Park boundary. But there's nothing to see or do down there, unless you're botanizing: several species of plants grow at low elevation, near the boundary, that you won't find on the mountain.

MILE 9.5, UNPAVED PARKING PULLOUT, west side. Rock lovers only: Park here and walk south (uphill) a little more than a hundred yards, to the rocks exposed on the east side of the Drive. These are "migmatitic, granitic gneiss" of the Pedlar formation. The bands of lighter-colored rock "define plunging folds." The nearly vertical bands are thickest, and easiest to see, near the downhill end of the exposure.

MILE 10.4, COMPTON GAP. Elevation 2,415 feet. Paved parking lot for several cars on the east side of the Drive. A. T. crossing; Dickey Ridge Trail access; hikes. See map below.

Dickey Ridge, on which the Drive has ascended to this point, joins the Blue Ridge here. The rest of the Drive follows the Blue Ridge near its crest. The Dickey Ridge Trail ends where it meets the Appalachian Trail, about a quarter of a mile to the north. The Compton family, for which the gap and Compton Peak were named, had its home near the present site of Indian Run Spring.

Map of Lands Run—Compton Gap Area
Map of Lands Run—Compton Gap Area

An old road crossed the mountain here. On the east side of the Drive it goes 2.2 miles north to the Park boundary; it serves as both fire road and, for most of this distance, as the A.T. On the other side of the Drive the old road turned right and descended into Lands Run; it has been abandoned for many years, and has nearly disappeared. The A.T. goes 2.0 miles south to Jenkins Gap, where a short side trail leads to Skyline Drive at Mile 12.35.

HIKE: Fort Windham Rocks. Round trip 0.8 mile; total climb about 130 feet; time required 0:55. An easy hike to an interesting rock formation. See map, page 89. Follow the A.T. (fire road) north for about a quarter of a mile, to its junction with the Dickey Ridge Trail, on the left, and a service road, on the right. Turn left on the Dickey Ridge Trail and walk 300 yards to Fort Windham Rocks.

At the left-hand edge of the trail is a large boulder, with a vertical split through the middle. Most of the rocks are on the right, but about a hundred feet from the trail and rising 45 to 50 feet above it, they are deeply split, and weathering rapidly. These rocks are all that remains of the Catoctin lavas here on the summit of Carson Mountain. A short distance from here, in any direction, the Pedlar granodiorite is exposed.

If you'd like a closer look at the rocks, continue past them on the trail, then go around behind them on the far side. Around back, where the rocks are crumbling, you'll see a fine display of the subtle colors that result from weathering and lichen growth: shades of pink, brown, white, gray-green, and reddish.

HIKE: Indian Run Spring. Round trip 1.0 mile; total climb about 165 feet; time required 1:00. An easy, pleasant walk in the woods; no views. See map, page 89. Follow the A.T. (fire road) north from the parking area; two hundred yards beyond the chain, leave the road and go diagonally right on a side trail. Or, if the side trail is overgrown, continue ahead on the A.T. In any case turn right, downhill, when you get to the service road. (Check this out on the map.) After another two tenths of a mile, a side trail goes a hundred yards left to the spring. (Don't drink without boiling.) About 150 yards farther down the service road, in a grove of tall young locust trees, is a PATC Trail Maintenance Building. This was formerly Indian Run Shelter. Now it's used to store tools, and to provide shelter for trail maintenance workers.

HIKE: Indian Run Spring and Fort Windham Rocks. Circuit 2.6 miles; total climb about 340 feet; time required 2:20. A moderately easy hike that combines the two described above. See map, page 89.

Go first to the spring; then follow the service road back uphill, all the way to its junction with the fire road and the Dickey Ridge Trail. Turn right on the fire road, and go a little less than 0.3 mile. Watch for an old road trace (now a yellow-blazed horse trail) branching off to the left. Follow the road trace, which swings far to the left, crosses the ridge crest, and then curves right.

About a third of a mile after you leave the A.T., you'll reach a point where the ridge crest is only a hundred feet to your left. The Dickey Ridge Trail is just a few feet beyond the crest; if you want to shorten the hike, go on over to the trail and turn left. To walk the full distance, continue another 0.3 mile on the horse trail, to a point where it intersects the Dickey Ridge Trail.

Turn left on the Dickey Ridge Trail and go about a third of a mile to Fort Windham Rocks. (To climb them, leave the trail on the near side of the rocks and go around to the left; they're easy to climb from the side opposite the trail.) From Fort Windham Rocks, continue another 0.2 mile in the same direction on the Dickey Ridge Trail. Turn right on the A.T. (fire road) and go a quarter of a mile to your starting point.

HIKE: Compton Peak. Round trip 2.4 miles; total climb about 835 feet; time required 2:45. Views, and an outstanding example of columnar jointing. Most of the trail is fairly easy; but part of it is rather rough and rocky, and in one place it's quite steep. See map, page 89.

Take the Appalachian Trail on the west side of the Drive (the side opposite the parking area.) At the beginning, the exposed rocks are granodiorite. But 0.2 miles from the Drive you'll pass a large basalt boulder at the left of the trail—the first conspicuous evidence of the Catoctin lava that forms the crest of Compton Peak. In the next tenth of a mile you'll pass more boulders, in successively more advanced stages of disintegration, until you reach a point where the whole area, including the trail, is strewn with broken rock. This is the roughest part of the hike, but it's only about a hundred yards long.

The high point on the A.T. on Compton Mountain is 0.8 mile from the Drive. You'll see a concrete trail marker post there, and a side trail to right and left. Each goes about 0.2 mile to a viewpoint. Take the right-hand side trail first. After crossing the crest of Compton Peak, the trail goes a short distance down the northwest slope. The trail is rough and rocky here. Toward the end it's a little hard to follow, so watch the blue blazes. The viewpoint ledge is marked with a blue cross, meaning "this is it".

To the right of your view, the sharp crest in the distance is on the Blue Ridge outside the Park. To the left of it, and much closer, you can see Skyline Drive on the near side of Dickey Ridge, which takes a sharp turn to the right at Gooney Manor Overlook, near the left end of your view. On the highest part of Dickey Ridge is the tower of the F.A.A. radio beacon. From there the ridge descends to the right, toward the town of Front Royal. From a second, lower ledge, you can see farther to the right—including a part of the Piedmont.

Now return to the marker post, where the other side trail is directly across the A.T. It leads to a rather limited viewpoint; it's rather rough and rocky, and the last part of it is quite steep. If you skip it you can shorten the hike by 0.4 mile, and reduce the total climb by 230 feet. But I recommend that you go anyway, to see a fine example of columnar jointing. (This particular rock raised my interest in geology from near zero to the threshold of enthusiasm. Maybe it will do the same for you.)

Follow the blue blazes downhill to a boulder that rises ten or fifteen feet directly in front of you. Climb to the top. There's a view directly ahead, out into the Piedmont. The Blue Ridge goes to the right, with a good stretch of Skyline Drive, including Jenkins Gap Overlook, in view. Straight out from this rock, The Peak rises beyond the near ridge. At the right of your view are the two summits of Mount Marshall.

The blue blazes continue down the left side of the rock you're standing on, but I consider that route a little dangerous. To be cautious, climb down the rock the way you climbed up, and then go around it. You'll promptly pick up the blue blazes again. Follow them for about 50 yards, steeply downhill, to the base of the cliff. Then look up. The lava cracked into these prismatic columns when it cooled, some 800 million years ago. The thrusting force that formed these mountains tilted the columns to their present angle. During subsequent erosion, the downhill side of the cliff crumbled away, so that you now look up at the lower ends of the giant prisms.

MILE 10.8, INDIAN RUN OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,400 feet. You're looking across the hollow formed by Indian Run and, to the right, out into the Piedmont. (To your right, down the hollow, the Park boundary is less than a quarter of a mile away.)

In winter, after a long cold spell, the rocks in the road cut across the Drive build up impressive displays of icicles and cascades of ice.

Geology: The rocks across the Drive from the overlook are a part of the first (oldest) lava flow of the Catoctin formation. They're worth a closer look. Even if you don't care for geology you can enjoy the subtle colors of the rocks, which vary from medium gray, tan, and rusty rose, to various shades of gray-green.

Near the north end of the rock cut, about 50 yards beyond the north end of the overlook, is a good display of columnar jointing that extends for about 50 feet along the Drive. The lava, when it cooled, cracked into 4-, 5-, or 6-sided prisms from four to ten inches across—some nearly vertical, some fanning outward. Near the south end of this display (nearest the overlook), stop and look up. Fifteen or twenty feet overhead are inclined columns that have broken off, so that you view them endways. This is the same effect that you see on a much larger scale under the ledge on Compton Mountain. (See Compton Peak hike, above.)

MILE 11.75, ROAD TRACE, east side. In winter, this could be mistaken for a trail head. It goes into the woods, curves left, parallels the Drive for 0.1 mile, and then disappears.

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© Copyright 1997 Antony Heatwole, All rights reserved