Two Mile Run Overlook to Rockytop Overlook

MILE 76.2, TWO MILE RUN OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,770 feet. The sketch shows most of what you can see from here. A graded trail goes to the summit of Rocky Mount from the edge of the Drive a tenth of a mile north of the overlook. (See above.) Diagonally left is Rocky Mountain, with white quartzite cliffs. The sketch shows only the ridge that runs down from it into One Mile Run.

Geology: Looking straight out from the overlook to the far end of Two Mile Ridge, you can see two tiers of cliffs—white quartzite of the Erwin formation. The cliffs rise up from the left, level out, and then curve down to the right—evidence of the deep folding of the earth's crust that occurred when these mountains were formed. The cliffs are somewhat easier to see in winter, when the trees are bare.

View from Two Mile Run Overlook
View from Two Mile Run Overlook

MILE 76.9, BROWN MOUNTAIN OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,844. Hikes, A long overlook with a large island and a wide view framed by trees. The sketch shows the view from the south end of the overlook—across Big Run to the Rockytop ridge. Rocky Mountain (shown in part at the right-hand

View from Brown Mountain Overlook
View from Brown Mountain Overlook

edge of the sketch) has two humps, and cliffs and talus of white Erwin quartzite. Farther right is the high point on Two Mile Ridge. Still farther right, and higher, is Rocky Mount. You can't see Brown Mountain from the overlook; it's hidden behind the left-hand end of Rocky Mountain.

Geology: The rocks exposed in the roadcut across the Drive are of the Hampton formation: a coarse-grained quartzite (medium salt-and-pepper gray in a fresh break) and sandstone (finer grained, uniform light gray in a fresh break.)

I will describe two hikes that start here. First, to the top of the talus slope that you can see over there on Rocky Mountain, and return by the same route. Second, a rather strenuous circuit hike to Big Run Portal via the Brown Mountain trail, returning via the Big Run Portal trail.

HIKE: Rocky Mountain saddle. Round trip 3.9 miles; total climb about 1,140; time required 3:40. Good views, and a close look at the white Erwin quartzite. Parts of the trail are moderately steep; parts are rough and rocky. See map, page 202; you're at the upper right.

The trail starts at the opening in the wall. It descends steeply at first, then less so, following the ridge crest to a low point 0.7 mile from the overlook. The blue-blazed Rocky Mountain Run trail comes in on the left here; it's part of the return route for the circuit hike (see below). In the next quarter of a mile dittany, Cunila origanoides, grows beside the trail. It's a mint with a wiry stem; a crushed leaf has a pungent minty odor.

The trail climbs to the ridge crest by switchbacks, then levels out. After another 0.3 mile it makes a sharp switchback to the right, around a pine tree and a large rock. Another rock fifteen feet off to the left has a pleasing but narrow view through the trees, back to the main Blue Ridge.

A hundred yards farther on, start to look for turkeybeard, Xerophyllum asphodeloides, a member of the lily family. Its basal leaves look like clumps of long, coarse grass. From the middle of the clump rises a flower stalk from two to four feet tall, with long, clasping, thread-like leaves. The unopened flower spike, because of its close-packed buds, resembles a small, green, tapered ear of corn. The flowers begin to bloom, from the bottom of the spike upward, about the end of May, and should be at their best during the first half of June.

Less than a quarter of a mile beyond the first viewpoint, the trail crosses a narrow ridge crest, with a tall rock—white quartzite with black lichens on it—30 feet to your right. From the top of that rock you have a much better view than from the first one, though it's still partially blocked by trees. From here the trail descends slightly, into the saddle between the two summits of Rocky Mountain. As it levels out and then begins to ascend, watch the ridge crest to your left. When it's about 50 yards away and 15 feet up, and you can see the sky at the base of the trees on the crest, you've reached your destination. Walk up to the ridge crest. You'll come out (I hope) at the top of a talus slope, with a wide view back toward the main Blue Ridge. You can see a section of the Drive, and the overlook where you parked your car, and the ridge you walked on to get here. To the left is Two Mile Run Overlook, with Flattop beyond it. Toward the right is the head of Patterson Ridge, which comes up out of Big Run to join the main Blue Ridge. A little to the right of it, the top of Cedar Mountain appears beyond the Blue Ridge crest.

HIKE: Big Run Portal Circuit 9.9 miles; total climb about 2,465 feet; time required 9:05. Outstanding views, and the largest stream in the Park. A rather tiring hike, with a lot of climbing. See map, page 202. You're near the upper right. Your route is Rocky Mountain, Brown Mountain, Big Run Portal trail, and the Rocky Mountain Run trail.

As above, to the saddle on Rocky Mountain. Continue to the second crest, where the trail swings gently to the right and begins to descend the long ridge of Brown Mountain. After another half mile you reach a low point, with some big pines on the right. Now watch carefully. The trail begins to ascend, and swings slightly to the left, and aims for the side of a large rock. Here the ridge crest is 30 yards to your left, and 25 feet up. Climb to the crest, to a white quartzite outcropping at the top of a talus slope, and one of the greatest views in the Park. The whole Big Run Valley is spread out below you. The long Rockytop ridge forms the far edge of the Big Run watershed, and Rockytop peak is directly in front of you. To your right is a lower crest on Brown Mountain, and to the left of it the Big Run portal. To your left, the Blue Ridge stands at the head of Big Run, with Cedar Mountain rising above it. Farther right, you can see the peak of Trayfoot Mountain above the Rockytop ridge.

From here the trail continues down the ridge and finally descends by switchbacks, with alternating views of Rockytop and of the cliffs and talus slopes at the lower end of the Rockytop ridge, to the Big Run Portal trail. There you have a good view ahead of the quartzite cliffs and talus slopes that form the west side of Big Run portal. You will probably see a steel bridge to your right. (The bridge is at the edge of a wilderness area, and it may have been removed before you read this.)

Turn left onto the Big Run Portal trail (yellow-blazed, a former fire road). Continue about a mile and a third to a trail junction. Turn left onto the blue blazed Rocky Mountain Run trail and follow it, mostly uphill, for a little more than two miles. Then, as you reach the ridge crest, turn right onto the blue-blazed Brown Mountain trail, and return to your starting point at Brown Mountain Overlook.

NOTE: In May of 1986, a fire burned 4,475 acres of the Big Run watershed. It was started by a careless visitor about 60 yards downstream from the steel bridge in the Big Run Portal. The vegetation is recovering. The Brown Mountain Trail. and the lower part of the Big Run valley, are the best places to study this process.

CAUTION: Access to lower Big Run valley from the park boundary is no longer an option without prior permission. Private land along the old Big Run Fire Road is heavily posted "no trespassing." I strongly suggest that your hikes into the Big Run area start from Skyline Drive or Madison Run Fire Road. Besides the hike described on page 193 I've recommended three others, on pages 202, 203, and 206.

MILE 77.5, IVY CREEK OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,890 feet. A.T. access. Hikes. A pleasant view, framed by trees. Toward the right, outside the sketch, is the northeast summit of Loft Mountain. Farther right, with evergreens on its slope, is the south summit.

View from Ivy Creek Overlook
View from Ivy Creek Overlook

The A.T. passes through the overlook, coming in at one end and going out the other. Distances on the A.T.: North (to the left as you face the view) it's 1.6 miles to Pinefield Gap, Mile 75.3. South (to the right)it's 4.9 miles to the Loft Mountain Campstore. I will describe two hikes that start here.

HIKE: Ivy Creek. Round trip 2.8 miles; total climb about 695 feet; time required 2:30. Woods, stream; a rather easy, pleasant hike.

Take the A.T. at the south end of the overlook. You will reach the crest of a knob about half a mile from the overlook, then descends for 0.6 mile. There, with the Drive less than 100 yards uphill on the right, the trail swings left, descends, then swings right and crosses Ivy Creek—1.4 miles from the start. It follows the bank of the stream, climbing easily for nearly 0.3 mile before it swings away to the left. I find this miniature canyon delightful. The A.T. is mostly a ridgetop trail; this is the only place in the Park where it follows a stream.

HIKE: Loft Mountain Summit. Round trip 6.4 miles; total climb about 1,455 feet; time required 5:30. A medium difficult hike with woods, a stream, and a view.

As above to Ivy Creek. Continue another three-quarters of a mile to a trail marker. (From here, the Ivy Creek Trail Maintenance Building is 200 yards to the right. It has pit toilets and an unprotected spring.) Continue uphill on the A.T. to the partly open grassy saddle between the two crests of Loft Mountain. Where the trail swings sharp right, there's a ledge on the left with a fine view.

At the left of the view is Flattop, with a dirt road and clearings, and with the crest of Hightop showing above it. Farther right, a ridge runs from Flattop down into the Piedmont. The bump on the lower end of the ridge is Wyatt Mountain. County Line Mountain is right out in front of you, three miles away. At the far right is Fox Mountain with three peaks, then a dip, then two peaks more.

Continue on the A.T. to the southwest summit of Loft Mountain. At a concrete marker, the Deadening Trail goes off to the right (see page 197) Continue on the A.T. for about a tenth of a mile, then take a side trail to the right; it goes 25 yards to a viewpoint. Looking to the left from the viewpoint: at the far end of Pattersons Field is Big Flat Mountain, with the Loft Mountain Campground and two water tanks. To the far right, on the east side of the Blue Ridge, is the Ivy Creek watershed. Everything out in front of you is part of the Big Run watershed. Patterson Ridge almost divides it down the middle. The Big Run portal, at the mouth of the hollow, is four and a half miles to the northwest. Rockytop ridge rises to the left of it and Brown Mountain, with cliffs and talus slopes, to the right. Nearer than Brown Mountain, and farther right, is Rocky Mountain.

View from Rockytop Overlook
View from Rockytop Overlook

MILE 78.1, ROCKYTOP OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,860 feet. The view includes a large part of the Big Run watershed. To the left, outside the sketch, the high peak on the horizon is Trayfoot Mountain. If you follow the ridge to the left from Trayfoot you'll see an area of purple-gray talus with larger rocks above it. That, collectively, is Blackrock, which has a spectacular view. You can get there easily by trail. See page 208.

NOTE: According to the Geological Survey, "Rockytop" is the inconspicuous summit to the left of Lewis Peak (see sketch). But in this book, if nowhere else, Rockytop is the higher summit—conspicuously rocky on top—to the right of Lewis Peak.

MILE 78.35, GEOLOGY. There's a parking area on the east side of the Drive, at the foot of a small talus slope of Hampton sandstones, some of them phyllitic (which is to say that in a fresh break you can see glints or luster caused by tiny flakes of mica.) Fifty yards north (uphill) on the Drive is an exposure of Hampton quartzite—medium to dark salt-and-pepper gray in a fresh break; the surface is weathered dark gray, and stained red-brown with iron.

MILE 79.4, DIRT ROAD, east side. This is the service road for Ivy Creek Trail Maintenance Building. It's part of the circuit hike described on page 197.

Geology: You can park in the grass on either side of the Drive near the service road, or in the parking area at the Wayside to the south. From 50 to 150 yards north of the service road are coarse-grained sandstone and quartzite of the Weverton formation. The rocks on the west side have a few thin layers of phyllite, which has a lustrous sheen. Those on the east have nearly white veins of small quartz pebbles.

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© Copyright 1997 Antony Heatwole, All rights reserved