26, 2007 20:44 PDT
and I arose on Friday at Benge Gap to a typically cool mountain
morning. I went for an early walk and cataloged a surprising
number of tree species just around the motel including a number
of young chestnuts blooming. The trees will soon be overtaken by
the blight, but I was treated to a perhaps one time bloom for
those chestnuts. I was taken with the sight. When the species
was abundant, the spectacle of many large chestnuts in full
bloom with their white tassels hanging from every branch must
have been unforgettable. I recall my fatherís descriptions of
the prolific chestnut bloom in the Cohutta Mountains of northern
Georgia. He was personal witness to the demise of the American
chestnut, a tree he truly loved along with many old-timers.
Apparently, there was a romantic sense and a security imparted
by the American chestnut, which has never been matched in the
East by even charismatic species like the oaks, save perhaps the
live oak. The chestnut touches the im
agination as few species do.
we headed north on the Parkway, I had a morning destination in
mind Ė Doughton Park, and more specifically, Bluff Mountain
and the abundance of grassy meadow Ė old fields The grassy
meadows of Doughton Park have always been an attraction for me.
They awaken some distant yearning. Overall, there is a pleasing
quality to Doughtonís mix of forest and meadow and the view
from Bluff Mountain is worth the short trek through very dry
woods if you need a leg stretcher. In the entire region of
Doughton Parkís 4,000 acres, there are around 30 species of
trees, perhaps 33 or 34 were a thorough search made. However,
Iíve never seen any truly large trees in the area. One enjoys
Doughton for the ambience of its ridges and meadows, not the
size of its trees.
point worth noting is that meadows speak to a human past.
Pastures were created in the 1800s as the Scotch-Irish settled
across the southern highlands. Doughton had its share. One
resident Harrison Caudill (1839- 1924) sired 22 children from
two wives Ė 6 by the first and 16 by the second. I suppose
weíre expected to pay tribute to these God-fearing types who
fathered huge numbers of children. But, their reproductive feats
are lost on me. They literally wore out their wives, who were
sentenced from an early age to pregnancy, childbirth, and
endless toil raising children. However, I suppose it is all in
the way one looks at the time. Harrison set the bar very high.
Harrisonís son Martin fathered only 16 children. Southern
highlanders were either ignorant or contemptuous of
contraception, by whatever means. It is true that large families
were needed for the added labor, but I think Caudill found and
passed the point of diminishing returns.
cultural resource at Doughton Park is the Brinegar Cabin. It
provides visitors with a peek at life in the southern mountains
as lived by European Americans. It was an austere, work-filled
existence. I doubt that few children visiting the Brinegar
Cabin, accustomed to computers, televisions, video games, cell
phones, and a constant intake of sweets and junk food have the
remotest feel for how a young person would have lived in those
and I took a hike up to Bluff Mountain to an overlook. The
dryness of the surrounding woodlands created little of interest
for me. I had seen the view before and it fallís in the
ďvery niceĒ category. Fortunately, the earliness of the
jaunt spared us from midday heat, which wouldnít have been
oppressive, but still uncomfortable due to the humidity. On our
return, we entered a large meadow where we were treated to a
wonderful show of Aphrodite Fritillary butterflies. They are
simply gorgeous. No Monarchs or Tiger Swallowtails are prettier.
The Aphrodites were fluttering around as butterflies typically
do. But when the silver spangles on their undersides were caught
in sunlight, it was an almost breathtaking sight. I canít
quite recall its equal.
up the Parkway, we passed by many lovely spots as we ended the
North Carolina portion of the trip and passed into the Virginia
Blue Ridge. Virginia, the Old Dominion, has two large mountain
ranges, the Blue Ridge and the Alleghenies, both part of the
Appalachian chain. There are many peaks rising to over 4,000
feet in both ranges, but only the Blue Ridge has peaks over
5,000. Mount Rogers is the highest and rises to an impressive
5,729 feet above sea level, eclipsing the highest peak in the
Alleghenies, West Virginiaís Spruce Knob, by almost a thousand
feet. Rogers also tops New Yorkís Mount Marcy, which stands at
5,344 feet high. However, Marcy is a great peak. Its Algonquin
name is Tahawus, or Cloud Splitter. It is steep and imposing. By
contrast, Mount Rogers is a gentle peak and so does not have the
visual impact of other comparably high peaks in the East.
Nonetheless, it is Virginia's highest point.
destination for the day was the lodge at the Peaks of Otter at
milepost 86. I had misgivings, but the accommodations turned out
to be very nice. Thankfully, there are no Televisions in the
rooms, so you donít get the usual noise emanating from
adjacent rooms when you want quiet. I suspect that the absence
of T.V.s, plus the relative high cost of lodging, reduces the
cliental and pushes up the average age. A small balcony for each
room allows occupants to gaze at the profile of Sharp Top. It is
a quality experience.
Inn overlooks a small, artificial lake and into the side of
Sharp Top beyond. Sharp Top is a beautiful, cone-shaped peak
that reaches a respectable 3,875 feet above sea level. It exudes
a presence that has touched such notables as Thomas Jefferson.
To Virginianís in the know, it is legendary. An early morning
trek to the summit to witness the sunrise has served as a source
of spiritual renewal for literally thousands.
was quite taken by the exotic profile of Sharp Top. I was
unprepared for, but pleased at, her reaction. She found and
bought a book on the history of Sharp Top and from the
authorís account, Sharp Top has had a fan club of the rich and
famous for years. BTW, Flat Top, Sharp Topís sister peak, is
slightly higher. Its elevation is usually listed as 4,004 feet.
we settled in for the evening, the form of Sharp Top cast its
spell. Although the Innís principal advantage is convenience,
the area has plenty of hiking trails with fine views. All in all
the Inn affords a quality experience that is in keeping with
pick up on our final Parkway day in Installment #10.