Horse Camp/Day Five/Blue Ridge Parkway/Guv’ment Tourism

These boys I have with me this week, city-slickers all, have proven to be natural horsemen. We live on a small farm just off the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP)and just adjacent to Rock Castle Gorge (BRP milepost 178, or thereabouts) and though yesterday was the first time two of them had ever sat a horse, we rode to the bottom and back without incident. We entered and departed on the southern portion of an eleven mile hiking loop described here, on-line, in a 1996 copyrighted article by Frank Logue:

“Sheltered within the deep, narrow confines of Rock Castle Gorge is a surprising variety of plant life. There are 200 species of wild flowers, 45 species of trees and 28 species of ferns alone along the 10.8-mile loop trail. The Gorge also has a stunning wildflower display boasting nearly 200 species from April through early May, all within day hiking distance of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The loop encompasses high, open meadows with an impressive panoramic view as well as the narrow confines of the Gorge itself, making for a strenuous, but rewarding day hike.

“A .8-mile section of the Rock Castle Gorge Trail shares the footpath with the Hardwood Cove Nature Trail. Self-guiding booklets can be picked up from a leaflet box on the trail. The booklet identifies 26 trees and two vines along the trail.

“As you hike down the sometimes steep trail, you might be tempted to think of this botanical haven as a slice of wilderness left untouched by man, but that idea quickly vanishes as you begin to see old home sites along the trail. The banks of Rock Castle Creek were once home to the more than 70 families who farmed the land and harnessed the stream to power their mills.

“This steep trail is less strenuous if hiked from the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Rocky Knob Campground downhill to the creek. The trail drops more than 1,000 feet in its first three miles. The predominately oak-hickory forest also features maples, tuliptrees, bigtooth aspens, basswoods and mountain laurel.

“At mile 3.2 of the hike, you will reach the sight of a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp, now a designated backcountry campsite. The only remains of the CCC camp are the foundations of old buildings. The required camping permit for this site is available at no charge from either the Rocky Knob Campground or Visitor Center.

I have done this loop on foot any number of times. The official guides list it as “strenuous” and “difficult,” but it is not that big of a deal. Stunning, yes, but not “difficult.” In the matter of horses in the gorge, I have hereofore practiced a policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” A sign at one end prohibits them–and firearms, and alcohol,and several other of life’s pleasures, including live bait–but the sign at the other end does not. And, yes, I have been caught red-handed with all of these–except live bait, the lowest of trout-inspired accoutrements–and have managed to pass each time with little more than an exchange of pleasantries.

The BRP stretches 469 miles between the Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and grew out of Roosevelt’s National Industrial Recovery Act of June 18, 1933, after Virginia’s Harry Byrd brought Roosevelt down on a tour through the Shenandoah Mountains. One common misconception is that the parkway somehow “preserved” the area as it was in the 1930s. Nothing could be further from the truth. By then, these mountains had been clear-cut repeatedly, the farms were worn out, the streams were gullied, etc., etc. This massive land-grab project is basically the creation of a slew of government-paid landscape architects. It is beautiful, though, no doubt about it. Enough of this. Read about it elsewhere, if you’re interested.

We spent the afternoon swimming and loafing at Fairystone State Park (another guv’ment project), and ended the day like we began, on horseback, a dusk rideabout along the dirt roads of my neighborhood. Today, it is the Virginia Museum of Natural History, in Martinsville. What’s the Virginia Museum of Natural History doing in Martinsville? Can you say, “A. L. Philpott?” Get the chalkboard and I’ll draw you a picture.

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  1. Becky Dale Avatar
    Becky Dale

    Pictures of Rock Castle Gorge to accompany the description:

    I like the creek one on p. 3.

  2. Salt Lick Avatar
    Salt Lick

    Nothin’ about stopping at Chateau Morrisette Vineyards, Barnie. Ain’t you going to teach those boys to drink (responsibly)?

  3. great state Avatar
    great state

    Rock Castle Gorge is one of the best hikes I’ve ever been on. The trail goes from rugged to fields to forest roads…just a great variety.

  4. subpatre Avatar

    …clear-cut repeatedly, the farms were worn out, the streams were gullied, etc. …. is basically the creation of a slew of government-paid landscape architects.

    A convenient fiction to hide the brutal eviction and forced resettlement of Blue Ridge residents; the ‘landscaping’ was arson of their homesteads. For those who dislike, or even question Kelo v. New London; it pales in comparison to Virginia’s deeds making the Parks of the Blue Ridge.

    In an effort worthy of Winston Smith, or the Soviets’ re-writing of history, the creation of the Parks has been whitewashed. From the claim Turk Mountain was named after turkey flocks, hillbilly stereotypes, to photos of chestnut blight and northern timber companies’ clear-cuts asserting exhausted soils; nothing’s been too small to distort.

    The history of the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway is a chronicle of commercial greed and influence peddling to seize the (former) inhabitant’s property. That a voice from the party of the common man and self-proclaimed champion of individuals’ rights parrots this fiction makes it doubly grotesque.

    It’s a beautiful park; even its own children acknowledge that. It’d be nice if the boys enjoyed the park and knew the truth.

  5. Barnie Day Avatar
    Barnie Day

    You conveniently omit the “massive land-grab” characterization just so you can savage the ommission of it? Lot of class, Sub. Too bad it’s all third.

  6. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I enjoy yoour descriptions. I’ve never had the time to enjoy that area very much, though I spent a couple of weekends at the president’s old fishing camp (Wilson?)

    What happened there was not so different from what happened at the national seashores or other locations where privately owned land was taken for public parks.

    Conservation is important, but we need to learn to put the proper price on it before it becomes synoymous with thievery.

  7. subpatre Avatar

    Hmmm. It looked (and still looks) like my dispute was limited to bogus excuses and the claim that landscape architects created the scenery. Both are utterly untruthful. However, a re-reading suggests I misinterpreted use of the phrase “massive land-grab project” as a disapproving statement. Apparently I was mistaken. Apologies and a re-write 🙂

    A Partisan’s Tale
    For those shocked by Kelo v. New London; it pales in comparison to the creation of the Blue Ridge parks under Democrat control. Virginia’s powerful Democrat Senator Byrd, Democrat President Franklin Roosevelt, with backing from a Democrat-controlled Congress; decided that space for leisure driving was in the public interest and some politically insignificant people would provide the land for it.

    The idea was brilliant. It was during the Depression and who knows, driving around might brighten people up! This glorious massive land-grab project was made possible by Virginia’s Democrat Governor and Democrat-controlled General Assembly, who legalized the expropriations before presenting it to the federal government.

    Whenever possible the unenlightened land donors were resettled into progressive Soviet-style artificial villages. In the public interest thousands of young men in the CCC became government-paid landscape architects as they tore down and torched former homes.

    Here’s a [serious] point to ponder:
    The Mtn & Valley was as Democrat and loyal to the Byrd machine as anywhere else. Today there’s a swath of ‘Red’ running down the area …. because they once were Democrats and learned the cost firsthand.

    Have fun with running around with the boys.

  8. Barnie Day Avatar
    Barnie Day

    You’re quite correct now, Sub. There is a swath of red running through here, one reason for this outing being that I wanted the boys to see these parks before the drilling rights are sold to the oil companies that just finished writing Dybya’s new energy bill (giving themselves something like $18 billion in tax credits in the process) and the selling of them upheld by the 7 Supreme Court justices appointed by Republican Presidents–you remember, Sub, the same court that issued Kelo. And just so you know, there was always a touch of red hereabouts. In the 1932 Presidential election, Hoover v. Roosevelt, Hoover carried one county east of the Mississippi River–Floyd County, Virginia. Democracy can be a bitch when you’re on the losing side of it, I suppose. Speaking of democracy, with a little “d,” today we’re at Monticello! Have you been there? You should go. Can’t wait to read your wine-swilling, Hemmings-humping rant on him. Apology accepted, sir.

  9. subpatre Avatar

    My objection was to dishonesty about the Parks’ formation. It’s been 70 years, yet the distortions, slanders and slurs are carried on.

    It was an injustice. Not the scale of slavery or WWII internments; but it was an awful, dehumanizing act.

    Nobody’s demanding reparations; not even apologies. The request is simply the truth be told.

    It seems some people –or ideologies– can’t abide the truth, it’s apparently not in them.

    In 1932 Hoover carried six states, every one east of the Mississippi River. See what I mean?

  10. Barnie Day Avatar
    Barnie Day

    Quite frankly, Subpatre, I can’t cite at the moment the source of my ‘one county’ assertion (and won’t spend much, if any, time looking for it) but I do think it holds in that of the six states Hoover carried, two of them–Connecticut and Vermont–don’t even have counties. Delaware has only three, and New Hampshire only four of five. That leaves Maine, with 12-15, and Pennsylvania–still carryable just with the city vote. But that’s not the point, really, is it? If I am wrong, I beg your pardon. I even beg it if I am right–as both scenarios seem to enrage you equally. I know there are always multiple sides to government ‘takes.’I know, too, the tyranny potential of any majority-rule government, and the bloody history of the application of this philosophy in this country, from the ethnic cleansing and sanctioned extermination we applied to the native Americans, to slavery, to Jim Crow aparthied, to the anti-gay discrimination that parades as just law up and down the halls of our various governments to this day. I am not a pathological liar. I am not evil. Your accusation did make me stop and check, though. Relieved to report that I am clean on both counts.

  11. You know some people have all the nerve to talk bad about the Blue ridge Parkway. My Grandfather worked in a ccc camp during the depression to support his family members and to help my grsndmother before they were married after seving in wwII and the Korean war: bringing home high medals in both wars. When he came home he was glad the parkway wasthere and it was kind of a therapy for himand the other men he served with. tOSE OF YOU WHO DO OT WANT TO APPRECITE THE BEAUTY AND THE HARD WORK THAT WENT IN TO IT stay away and let the rest of us enjoy it in peace. The people who had to leave this land were struggling to survive and I am sure they were somewhat relieved. The families can still enjoy the beauty of the land for free and they can also see the beauty of the land that there nieghbors were keeping for themselvs. Its a beautiful land that god has given us and now because the gov finally did something worthwhile with our tax dollars we can all enjoy it.

  12. this sounds like a great horse camp! i’ve been out to the blue ridge parkway before and it’s such a beautiful place.

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