Horsehead Overlook to
Crimora Lake Overlook

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

View from Horsehead Overlook
View from Horsehead Overlook

Blackrock, which gave its name to Blackrock Springs and Blackrock Hotel and Blackrock Gap. The view from there is impressive. For an easy hike to Blackrock, see page 208.

Geology: In the island, and in the roadcut across the Drive, are exposures of interbedded 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 Valley. It does not occur naturally in the Park.

MILE 88.9, A.T. CROSSING. Elevation 2,620 feet. There's limited parking on the east side. Distances on the A.T.: 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, Mile 90.0.

MILE 90.0, RIPRAP PARKING. Elevation 2,730 feet. Riprap Trail. A.T. access. A paved parking area on the west side of the Drive. A graded trail goes 20 yards uphill to the A.T. Distances on the A.T.: 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: Chimney Rock. Round trip 3.4 miles; total climb about 830 feet; time required 3:10. Good trail, fine views. See map, page 212.

Take the Riprap Trail uphill and turn right when it reaches the A.T. About 0.4 mile from the start, as the A.T. is levelling 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, and beyond it is Buzzard Rock, 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 a head of you, to the left of the trail. There was formerly a side trail to the summit, which offered a breathtaking 360 degree view. But the view is now overgrown. This is now a wilderness area; the side trail and the view have both been sacrificed for the sake of wilderness.

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 all of the Paine Run hollow, all the way up to the crest of the Blue Ridge.

Map of Riprap Area
Map of Riprap Area

HIKE: 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, page 212.

The hike starts like the one above. From Chimney Rock continue another 0.4 mile, and watch for another viewpoint on the right. From it you can see most of Paine Run Hollow. Horsehead Mountain is right out in front of you, very close. This is my favorite view into Paine Run because it's completely unobstructed—left, right, across, and down. 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 wilderness.) From the shelter site, go downstream about 200 feet to rejoin the trail, which from this point on is a former fire road. Continue for 0.6 mile, crossing the stream twice, to the marker post at the foot of the Wildcat Ridge Trail.

In April of 1990, a fire burned 560 acres in the Riprap area. It was started by a careless visitor upstream from the Riprap/Wildcat Ridge Trail junction. The effects of the fire are particularly visible on the slopes of Rocks Mountain.

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 60 yards before the switchback, to the right and somewhat back, is an overgrown view of Crimora Lake. You may be able to see it through an opening in the leaves, a few degrees south of directly west. A hundred feet beyond the switchback, look to the left for another chance to see the 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 A.T. Cross the A.T. and continue a little more than 200 yards uphill to the Wildcat Ridge parking area.

HIKE: Chimney Rock, Riprap Hollow, Wildcat Ridge, and return via A.T. 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, page 212.

As above to the A.T. intersection on Wildcat ridge, Turn left, and walk 2.7 miles on the A.T. 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 Riprap Overlook

View from Moormans River Overlook
View from Moormans River Overlook

MILE 92.0, 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. The area is open for day-use only because of the numerous hazards which remain after the flooding.

History: In the early 1700's, 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. A.T. access. The Wildcat Ridge trail crosses the A.T. a little more than 200 yards from the Drive. Distances on the A.T.: North (to the right) it's 2.9 miles to Riprap Parking, Mile 90.0. 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, Mile 90.0. Or you can make that hike a circuit, returning via A.T. Since I've described both those hikes from the other end (page 212), I won't repeat them here.

HIKE: 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, page 212.

The trail crosses the A.T. 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, the woods are dotted with 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, which is a former fire road. Turn right. Cross the stream twice, and stop at the third crossing. On the far side of the stream the former fire road becomes a narrow trail Take the side trail that goes to the left, without fording the stream. It goes about 200 feet to the site of Riprap Shelter (which was removed in 1977.) The shelter site faces the stream in a very attractive setting, with a view to the left of one of the Park's biggest swimming holes.

MILE 92.4, A.T. CROSSING. Elevation 3,000 feet. There's space for several cars on the west side. Distances on the A.T.: 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 surrounded by piles of bare earth, with a few trees and a little grass. This is a flooded, abandoned, open-pit manganese mine. The piles of raw earth are a result of the mining operation.

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 (up to now.) 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 which forms the yellow-orange mounds that you see from the overlook. The Crimora deposit has produced more manganese than any other deposit in the United States.

The first step in processing the ore consists in 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, has 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. She was Crimora Frances Withrow.

Point of view: Take another look at the flooded minepit. I've seen a similar body of pale green water, surrounded by yellow-orange earth and scattered trees, in Yellowstone National Park. It's a major tourist attraction there. Whether the flooded Crimora mine pit is an eyesore or a sight for sore eyes depends on how you look at it.

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© Copyright 1997 Antony Heatwole, All rights reserved