I Spy

Some things are so familiar we can forget to see them; so popular they get pushed down our mental lists in favor of novelty and adventure. Such is the case with Crabtree Falls in Nelson County, Virginia, the highest vertical-drop set of cascading waterfalls east of the Mississippi. Every Virginia hiker has been there, typically rubbing shoulders up and down the trail with dozens of others. This is not the place for quiet contemplation far from the madding crowd, nor the first place that comes to mind when planning a new hike.

The falls deserve to be seen, however, in a way you have probably never seen them before: in solitude. To give them their due, we arrived at 7 AM and ascended the entire gentle trail listening only to the roar of the water. An easy 1.7 mile hike takes you past multiple cascades before you arrive at the top:



From here, many hikers turn back down to the parking lot. We wanted a longer day, though, and a lovely tunnel of green beckoned.


We pushed onward through Crabtree Meadows, with plans for a 14-mile out and back hike to Spy Rock, a rock dome with 360-degree views of the surrounding peaks. We turned south on the Appalachian Trail, which undulated for several miles before depositing us at the base of the dome. A short scramble up a near-vertical rock face landed us on top of the world:

We all look at hundreds, even thousands, of objects each day and most of them barely register. Our brains screen out the already-decoded in the name of efficiency, but everything can be seen anew when we’re ready to do so. This nondescript hemlock branch caught my eye as we descended, its tips popping with lime-green new growth.


Month after month we hike these mountains and we know what we will see, depending on the season: mountain laurel, streams, newts, wild ginger, hawks, bears, granite, and moss. These woods are familiar, and there is a finite number of things to see–but limitless ways to see them. Hello, Crabtree Falls. Hello, hemlock. Hello, Blue Ridge.


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