|Panorama Development to Stony Man Mountain Overlook|
MILE 31.6, PANORAMA DEVELOPMENT. Telephone, restaurant, gift shop, Information station. A. T. access. Hikes.
The small building in the parking area has an accessible restroom and a public telephone. The restaurant is open daily during the season.
A.T. access is via a 35-yard trail that starts at the turnaround circle in front of the restaurant. Distances on the A.T.: South (to the left) it's 4.9 miles to Jewell Hollow Overlook, Mile 36.4. North (to the right) it's 2.9 miles to the Drive crossing in Beahms Gap, Mile 28.5.
I will describe two hikes that begin here: Marys Rock, with outstanding views: round trip 3.7 miles; and Pass Mountain A. T. Hut: circuit 3.4 miles, a somewhat easier hike through the woods, with no views. See below.
History: The Panorama development is on the south side of Thornton Gap. The gap is named for Francis Thornton, who about 1740 bought land and built a mansion in the Piedmont nearby. Thornton owned most of the hollow to the east, as well as the "F.T. Valley" between Sperryville and Old Rag. His mansion, Montpelier, is still standing; you'll see it to the left of Highway 231 if you drive to Nethers to climb Old Rag. (Page 138.) Look back after you pass it to see the front of the building, which has columns much like those at Mount Vernon.
The road across the mountain here is very old. In 1746 the colony of Virginia was petitioned to build a road across the Massanutten (then called Buffalo Mountain), and through the gap to "Mr. Thornton's Mill." The road was built. Shortly before the revolution it was improved and operated as a turnpike by Frank Skinner (another early settler; he gave his name to Skinners Ridge, which descends from Buck Hollow Overlook, Mile 32.9.) After the revolution William Russel Barbee took over the toll road and surfaced it with gravel. Beside it he built Hawsberry Inn. (The historical marker beside the highway, U.S. 211, calls it Hawburg.) For many years Hawsberry served as an overnight stopping point for stagecoaches and wagons crossing the mountain. And it was the birthplace of Virginia's most famous sculptor, William Randolph Barbee (1818-1868).
Before the Park was established, food and lodging were available at the Panorama Tavern, which was beside the highway near the present entrance station. The tavern was replaced by the restaurant when the Skyline Drive-U.S. 211 interchange was built in the early 1960's.
Geology: Thornton Gap lies between Pass Mountain to the north and Marys Rock to the south. A geologic fault passes through the gap, separating the lava flows of the Catoctin formation from granodiorite of the Pedlar formation. Marys Rock, 1,200 feet above the gap, is granodiorite, and towers over the much younger lava flows on Pass Mountain. The mountains south of the fault were thrust high above those to the north.
How did Marys Rock get its name? Nobody knows.
Legend: Francis Thornton brought his beautiful young bride, the former
Mary Savage, to the summit of this mountain to show her the vastness of
his lands. He presented the lands to her, and they christened this summit
Marys Rock. (In some accounts, the bride was the former Mary Taliferro, or Mary Taliafero; but in all versions she was young and beautiful. One historian says that Francis and Mary climbed to this viewpoint every year, on their wedding anniversary. Another says they spent their wedding night here.)
Fact: Francis Thornton married his cousin, Frances Gregory (whose mother was Mildred Washington, aunt of George Washington.) Their children were John, William, and Mary. That wipes out the beautiful-young-bride stories, but daughter Mary has legends of her own.
Legend: Francis Thornton brought his daughter Mary to this summit, to show her the land she would inherit. Fact: Mary inherited a great deal of land from her father, but none of it can be seen from here.
Legend: Mary Thornton, as a small child, climbed to this point alone, and returned with a bear cub under each arm.
Legend: A semi-beautiful mountain girl named Mary (not Thornton) lived
in Thornton Gap. She fell in love with a handsome stranger, who lived with
her for a while and then moved on, promising to return. Every day Mary
climbed this rock, hoping to see her lover returning, until she finally gave up
and jumped off. (This story has been told in many languages, in many
different versions. My favorite is called "Madam Butterfly". You see, there
was this Japanese girl, and .... )
MILE 32.2, MARYS ROCK TUNNEL, North Portal. (For a note on the tunnel itself, see below.)
Geology: The rock cut at the tunnel entrance has exposed a Catoctin feeder dike, where lava surged upward through a fissure in the granodiorite. The fissure is filled with solidified lava. It's easy to see from your car; the dike is about six feet wide and inclined at an angle, so that it seems to lean against the tunnel entrance. Slow down for a look if there's nobody behind you, but don't stop here.
MILE 32.4, TUNNEL PARKING OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,510 feet. From here you look out into the hollow of Thornton River, with Oventop Mountain extending across the view directly in front. Skinner Ridge lies to the right of the hollow; between it and Oventop you have a V-shaped view of the Piedmont, with Sperryville at the apex. To the left of Oventop you can see more distant mountains in the North Section of the Park: on the horizon, the two close-together summits are Mt. Marshall; farther right is The Peak; a little to the left of Mt. Marshall, and lower, is Fork Mountain.
Geology: Near the crest of Oventop, a little to the left of center, are cliffs of Old Rag granite. The cliffs that rise on the west side of the Drive, across from the overlook, are granodiorite of the Pedlar formation. The rocks are strongly foliatedcracked into parallel layers so they appear to be stratified. The rocks exposed beside the Drive, from here to Milepost 39, are granodiorite.
About the tunnel: It was blasted through the ridge about 1932. It intercepted a number of water channels, so that water fell constantly from the rocksin winter forming huge icicles, and piles of ice on the road. To solve this problem, the tunnel was lined with concrete in 1959.
Various publications give various figures for the length of the tunnel. I measured it and found the following: Total length (i.e. length of the centerline of the road with rock overhead) 610 feet. Length of the concrete liner 584 feet. Length of the rock cut, at road level, 690 feet.
If you'd like a closer look at the Catoctin feeder dike at the north portal, walk through the tunnel with care, hugging the wall. Drivers won't be expecting pedestrians in the tunnel, or at the north end of it. An alternative to walking through the tunnel is to climb over it. There was once a trail that went from the parking area across the ridge to the north portal. It has been abandoned for some years, but you may still be able to follow it. The beginning, at the south end, has been blocked with brush. Once you get past that, it's a little easier.
MILE 32.9, BUCK HOLLOW OVERLOOK. This is only a wide place in the
road; you may be tempted to pass it by, especially if you're going south. But
stop; this overlook has a fine view. The elevation here is 2710 feet.
Skinner Ridge descends straight out from the overlook, with Buck Hollow to the right of it. (A hike through Buck Hollow begins at Mile 33.5, page 124.) To the right of Buck Hollow is Buck Ridge, which rises to eye level at your right, beyond the right edge of the sketch. Beyond the high part of Buck Ridge, and rising a little above it, is Hazel Mountain. On the sketch, the diagonal ravine under the high point on Mount Marshall is Big Devil Stairs.
Dendrology: Directly downhill in the gulch below the north end of the overlook, and less than 100 yards away, is a hemlock that may be the oldest and largest tree in the Park. You'll have to climb down to its base to really appreciate the size of it. Its age has been estimated at 700 years.
MILE 33.0, HAZEL MOUNTAIN OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,770 feet. Drinking fountain (turned off in winter.) Along the outer edge of the overlook are boulders of granodiorite that you can climb up on to see the view. You're looking straight out across the head of Buck Hollow to the high part of Buck Ridge, with the top of Hazel Mountain barely visible beyond it. To the right are two mountains: the nearer is Catlett Mountain; the other, more distant and more rugged in outline, is Old Rag. The high point around to the extreme right of your view is The Pinnacle.
The area around Buck Ridge, Hazel Mountain, and Catlett Mountain, is known as "Hazel Country." Hikes into the area begin at Mile 33.5 (see below.)
MILE 33.5 MEADOW SPRING PARKING AREA, east side. Elevation
2,840 feet. Hikes to Buck Hollow, Hazel Country, Meadow Spring trail,
The Buck Hollow trail and the Hazel Mountain trail both begin at the
south end of the parking area. Meadow Spring and the A.T. to Marys Rock
Summit begin on the west side of the Drive south of the parking area.
The Buck Hollow trail and the Hazel Mountain trail both begin at the south end of the parking area. Meadow Spring and the A.T. to Marys Rock Summit begin on the west side of the Drive south of the parking area.
The area shown on the map above, from Hazel Mountain and Hazel River southwest to Nicholson Hollow, was well populated before the area became a Park. It included dozens of homesites, and a network of roads and trails built by the mountain people. A portion of the old Hazel Mountain road was maintained by the Park as a fire road until 1976, when it was reclassified as a trail. Some of the roads and trails have been maintained as blue-blazed trails by volunteer members of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. Others have been abandoned and allowed to grow up and fade away, or to erode into gullies.
Nearly all the mountain homes were torn down when the Park was created. Here in the Hazel/Nicholson country several cabins, for one reason or another, were left standing. Their shingled roofs have long ago caved in, and their walls are leaning and coming down. But there's enough left, in several places, to give you some feeling of how the mountain people lived. The best examples are in Nicholson Hollow, Hannah Run, Broad Hollow, and along the Hot-Short Mountain trail. The one that's easiest to get to from the Drive is on the Corbin Cabin Cutoff trail (See page 134.)
Throughout the area you'll find evidence of the former inhabitants if you're looking for it: old road traces, rock walls, rock piles that were accumulated in clearing space for gardens and cornfields, decaying split-rail fences, gate posts, a few strands of barbed wire, many abandoned orchards, and in some places rusting washtubs, buckets, and other scrap metal.
As you can see on the map, the Hazel/Nicholson country has a network of interconnecting trails that offer a wide choice of hikes. I will describe only four hikes in the area:
From here (the Drive at mile 33.5) to Hazel River Falls and Cave. The route on the map is A-B-C-B-A. (See below.)
From Pinnacles Overlook, Mile 35.1, down Hannah Run. The route on the map is J-K-Q-R-S. See page 130.
From Mile 37.9 on the Drive to Corbin Cabin. The route is L-P-L (or a circuit: L-P-O-N-M-L. See page 134.
Using the map, and the table and notes that follow, you can put together
a hike of any desired length and difficulty. Because I've assigned a different
letter to each trail head and junction you can lay out your route, add up the
distances and amount of climbing, consult the notes that follow the table,
and then decide if your proposed hike is feasible. (Caution: note that the
amount of climbing depends on which way you're going. Thus the total
climb from A to B is 15 feet; while from B to A it's 625 feet.)
MILE 33.9, FIRE ROAD, west side. Elevation 2,850 feet. This is the service road for Byrds Nest Shelter No. 3. You can hike to the shelter from the Meadow Spring parking area, Mile 33.5. (See above.)
MILE 35.1, PINNACLES OVERLOOK. Elevation 3,320 feet. Hikes. The
overlook has an impressive view down the hollow of Hannah Run and
across the foot of Corbin Mountain to Old Rag. To the right, outside the
sketch, you can see part of the profile of Stony Man.
Hannah Run is of interest to anyone who wants to study the remaining evidence of the mountain people. Three ruined cabins and a free-standing chimney are visible from the trail. The Hannah Run trail connects with a network of other trails. (See map, page 125.) If you want to plot your own course through the network, read "Hazel/Nicholson Hikes", page 125. Here, I'll describe a one-way hike down Hannah Run, and outline a fairly strenuous circuit hike via Hannah Run and the Hot-Short and Catlett Mountain trails.
MILE 35.6, ROAD TRACE, west side. This looks like the beginning of a trail, but it isn't. Fifty feet up the road trace, and then fifty feet to the right, you'll find water flowing from a pipe. (An unprotected water source; use purification tablets.) This is the surplus from a spring that supplies the Pinnacles picnic area. Sometimes, during the summer season, there is no surplus. The road trace goes on for less than 0.2 mile, and ends at a rock outcropping. It was probably used to quarry rock for the guard wall beside the Drive.
MILE 36.4, JEWELL HOLLOW OVERLOOK. Elevation 3,320 feet. A.T. access; hikes. I will suggest two hikes that start here: A round trip to The Pinnacle, and a one-way hike via Marys Rock to Panorama; both have outstanding views.
The overlook is divided into two parts, with a bulletin board in the north part and a drinking fountain (turned off in winter) in the south part. A.T. access is via a hundred-foot trail from either end of the overlook. Distances on the A.T.: South (to the left, from the south end of the overlook) it's 1.2 miles to the parking area beside the Drive at Mile 37.9. North (to the right, from the north end of the overlook) it's 4.9 miles to Panorama, at Mile 31.6 on the Drive.
The overlook has a view into the head of Tutweiler Hollow, which joins Shaver Hollow just this side of the lake and dam. Jewell Hollow is to the right of Leading Ridge, which forms the right-hand side of Tutweiler Hollow. In the distance, toward the right, is the sharp angle of Neighbor Mountain. A more distant peak, still farther right, is Knob Mountain.
Geography: Three counties meet at the south end of the overlook: Page County to the west; Rappahannock to the north and northeast, and Madison to the south and southeast.
Legend: Outlaws hid in this area because it was easy to evade a county
sheriff, or even two of them, by stepping over a county line.
MILE 36.7, PINNACLES PICNIC AREA. Elevation 3,350 feet. A. T. access. The road makes a loop around the picnic area; the A.T. parallels the west side of the loop, about 15 feet from the pavement. The comfort stations are to the right of the road near the beginning of the loop, with pit toilets for winter use behind them. Picnic tables, fireplaces, and several drinking fountains (turned off in winter) are scattered around the picnic area. Within the loop is a sheltered pavilion with tables and fireplaces, so you can have a picnic in the rain. There's a frost-free faucet, for winter use, about 50 yards north of the covered pavilion.
From the far end of the loop, at the second parking area, you can walk 120 yards south on the A.T. to a viewpoint. This is an easy walk on a smooth trail. The view duplicates that from Jewell Hollow Overlook, but you can see farther to the right. Toward the right, the highest thing on the horizon is Hogback, with four humps. Immediately in front of Hogback is Pass Mountain. Farther right, on the horizon, are the two peaks of Mount Marshall. You can just barely see the rocky summit of Marys Rock at the right end of the view.
MILE 37.3, SERVICE ROADS, both sides. Elevation 3,230 feet. The road on the east goes to the former Pinnacles dump, which is no longer used. Fifty yards to the South, the road on the west side goes a hundred yards to the scientific research facility, at the site of a former CCC Camp.
MILE 37.9, PARKING AREA, west side. Elevation 3,000 feet. A. T. access. See map, page 134. You are at point "L", near the lower left.
A.T. access is via a 50-yard trail which begins at the south end of the
parking area. Distances on the A.T.: South (to the left), it's 1.2 miles to
Stony Man Mountain Overlook, Mile 38.6. North (to the right) it's a mile and
a quarter to the Jewell Hollow Overlook, Mile 36.4.
The Corbin Cabin Cutoff trail begins across the Drive from the north end of the parking area. This is the shortest route to Corbin Cabin and Nicholson Hollow, which is rich in ruined cabins and other evidence of the mountain people. At Corbin Cabin the Cutoff trail reaches the Nicholson Hollow trail, which in turn connects with a network of other trails. (See map.) I will suggest only two hikes that start here: Corbin Cabin via the Cutoff trail, round trip; and a circuit hike to the cabin, returning via the Nicholson Hollow trail and the A.T. If you'd like to devise other, longer hikes, see the discussion of "Hazel/Nicholson Hikes" beginning on page 125.
MILE 38.4, NICHOLSON HOLLOW TRAIL. Elevation 3,100 feet. The trail goes east from the marker post. There's plenty of parking at Stony Man Mountain Overlook, Mile 38.6.
The trail head is at point "0" on the map, page 134. As you can see, this
trail connects with a number of other trails, which I have described earlier
under "Hazel/Nicholson Hikes", page 125. Here I will only outline a
one-way hike to the mouth of the hollow.
MILE 38.6, STONY MAN MOUNTAIN OVERLOOK. Hughes River Gap. Elevation 3,100 feet. Water, toilets, A.T. access. (As you approach the overlook from the south, the high point ahead is The Pinnacle. As you enter the overlook at its north end, you look directly ahead to the profile of Stony Man.) The view here is straight out to the town of Luray, in the Page Valley. Beyond it, the low notch in the Massanutten on the far side of the valley is New Market Gap. Because of the lights of Luray and other towns in the Valley, this overlook is well worth a stop after dark.
This is a long overlook, in two parts, with a bulletin board near the middle. The drinking fountain (turned off in winter) is on the wall at the south end. A short trail goes from the south end of the overlook to the toilets, and continues to the A.T. Distances on the A.T.: South (to the left) it's 2.0 miles to the dining hall at Skyland. North (to the right) it's 1.2 miles to the parking area at Mile 37.9 on the Drive.
Trivia: This is the second-longest overlook in the Park. Hogback Overlook, Mile 20.8 to 21.0, is 75 feet longer.
MILE 39.1, PARKING AREA, west side. A.T. access, hikes. The A.T. is less than fifty yards uphill from the parking area. Several hikes can be started here, but I will recommend only one: Little Stony Man. (Hikes to Stony Man summit and hikes on the Passamaquoddy trail are best started from Mile 41.7.)
Geology: The hidden contact between the Pedlar and Catoctin
formations crosses the ridge a hundred feet north of the parking area. From
this point south, for about 25 miles, nearly all the rocks exposed beside the
Drive are greenstoneancient lavas of the Catoctin formation. I'll mention
some of the exceptions when we get to them.