We could have slept in a little, but for some reason the idea of getting up and walking rather than driving to a trailhead had us up before dawn, lacing up boots and eating our makeshift breakfast. Imagine – the first footstep is progress! Laurel Springs was quiet as we walked east along Miller Road, watching the sky lighten up. We crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway and melted into the woods.
The first few miles were the usual mishmash of trails, fire roads and Parkway crossings, rural scenes and natural wonders aplenty:
At the Alligator Back Overlook we started a steep climb up to a rock outcrop. Was this Bluff Mountain? No, keep going. The trail descended through open fields of waist-high grass cut with wide paths. After a brief detour up a side path we saw the picnic/parking area we intended to cross and backtracked. Was this Bluff Mountain? No, keep going. I was on high alert for Scot’s note of “restrooms on left” but the mileage seemed off. Distance is deceiving in open areas! Finally we crossed Bluff Mountain with its lone tree on the summit.
Bluffs Lodge in Doughton Park – Jim and I stayed here during his BRP bike ride in May of 2009
More inclined to a nap than to more hiking, we left the coffee shop. But where does the MST go from here? Scot says “continue on trail at end of parking lot” but a trail seemed to appear in the woods instead. After stomping around for a few minutes we realized that perhaps we should cross the Parkway and, sure enough, there was the MST sign. Onward!
The trail continued through open fields and crossed the Parkway to enter the Doughton Park campground. Here again we were confused (well, at least I was, Danny felt more confident that we were going in the right direction) when white blazes did not appear and we felt our way through the campground. We crossed the BRP one more time and entered the RV section of the campground. Here were all the blazes!
Entering the woods again, I stepped off the trail for a nature break while Danny continued on ahead. When I caught up the scene seemed a little odd: Danny was sitting on a stump and a woman was sitting on the ground near her. I approached and said hello to the woman and she seemed frightened. Danny explained that she had startled the woman and she sat down to recover. The woman said to me that she was on her last hike because she was losing her eyesight. My first thought was, “Are you here alone?” She said, “Yes, but I’m familiar with the area.” She seemed rattled and I didn’t quiz her further – I figured Danny had already talked to her and I would just be repeating questions. The woman stood up and we watched her continue on the trail back towards the parking lot, but she was reaching out to grab tree trunks to steady herself. Was this woman driving? What was our responsibility? As she walked out of sight, I recalled that we had seen a young mother playing with a child at the parking lot a few minutes earlier. Hopefully she knew the woman or would see her and help her. Danny and I continued on our way.
The next landmark on today’s hike was the Brinegar Cabin, built in the 1880’s by Martin Brinegar and occupied by him, his wife and three children until the 1930’s. The cabin is on the National Register of Historic Places. Danny and I emerged from the woods into the parking area where people were stretching their legs, but few ventured all the way down to the cabin – which isn’t far, folks, maybe a tenth of a mile round trip. Both Danny and I had previously visited the cabin but we still checked out the grounds and admired the grand view that this humble family had from their back door. Don’t take anything for granted!
The remainder of the hike carried us across open fields. In the distance I was surprised to pick out Table Rock and Hawksbill, very distinctive formations sticking up like a cat's ears that I thought would be too far away to see. Up one last climb and we were deposited at the Devils’ Garden Overlook. I made a mental note that my book club gals would love the section from Basin Cove Overlook to the Brinegar Cabin – I’ll have to get them on the trail up there come spring.
Danny’s blog for the day is here. An article that Danny contributed to National Parks Traveler about Doughton Park is here.
I can't say as ever I was lost, but I was bewildered once for three days. ~Daniel Boone