Any Virginia hiker who hasn’t yet been to this magical place has a magnificent treat in store. It’s well off the beaten path and almost 5 hours from Richmond so it took me a while to find my way, but there is no other hiking destination quite like it in Virginia. It is best explored in silent awe, which makes me hesitate to share the secret.
In a high elevation forest in a remote corner of southwestern Virginia lies a maze-like system of 400-million-year-old sandstone crevices and boulders near the summit of Middle Knob on Clinch Mountain. The route to the trailhead is on winding, steep country roads leading to a tiny parking area that is pretty much the only sign of civilization around for miles. The hike starts up a single-track dirt road on an easement provided by a thoughtful private landowner. Eventually the path enters state forest land, and begins a somewhat steeper (though still moderate) climb. The Brumley Mountain Trail is wooded and well-maintained, with occasional glimpses of mountain vistas through the trees. The shade was welcome on this sweltering July day.
As it nears the summit the trail begins to open up and then pass through long tunnels of rhododendron before depositing the lucky hiker onto massive sandstone formations. Scrambling up these formations provides 360-degree views of Virginia’s highest peaks, which grace the surrounding area.
However, the main event is still to come.
An unassuming opening at the edge of the woods at the summit leads down to 20 acres of sandstone formations formed during the last Ice Age. These monoliths, caves, and crevices form an otherworldly landscape in which one can quickly and blissfully get as lost as one cares to be.
We wandered through the labyrinth as long as we could, knowing the afternoon was dwindling and we still had a 90-minute drive ahead in order to make camp before sunset. Reminiscent of the slot canyons of the American southwest, these stones could easily take several hours of time to fully absorb and appreciate.
At last the hour of departure was nigh, and we left knowing this is a place we would enjoy again someday (and hopefully soon). You should see it too, Dear Reader, if only I could bring myself to tell you what it’s called. 😉