Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2018 - 41

RobeRt StephenS

Pinnacle Overlook Horizontal Cumberland Gap, Virginia.

Dry Falls Highlands, North Carolina.
RobeRt StephenS

NC Mineral & Gem Festival,
Spruce Pine
The earth splits open at Spruce
Pine, western North Carolina's
"Gem City," and spills its riches in
all directions. A rainbow of precious
gemstones, yes, and also minerals
for industry: feldspar, ultra-pure
quartz, and mica, among others.
The town's annual mineral and gem
festival (in August) celebrates these
treasures and educates visitors with
a different mine field trip every year.
Bring closed-toe shoes and dungarees, and get picking.
ncgemfest.com
828-765-9033

VIRGINIA
Natural Bridge State Park,
Natural Bridge
Soaring more than 200 feet above
a placid creek, Natural Bridge is one
of Virginia's most beloved landmarks, and it makes a great place
to stretch the legs while traveling
along I-81 close by. Newly designated a state park, Natural Bridge has a
history that includes George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the
Monacan Indians who called it "The
Bridge of God." Check the event cal-

endar for enrichment activities.
dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/naturalbridge#general_information
540-291-1326
Shot Tower Historic State
Park, Max Meadows
Early American history meets geology at this fortress-like tower on
the New River, completed around
1807. Lead mining at nearby Austinville supplied the raw material
for shot. The 75-foot-tall limestone
tower sits atop a shaft in the mountain. A kettle at the top of the tower
produced hot lead, which fell 150
feet to cool before landing in a water-filled basin below. A tunnel from
the riverside allowed access to the
finished product.
dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/shottower#general_information
276-699-6778
Burkes Garden, Tazewell
County
How was this strange, isolated
upland valley formed? Theories
abound. Nicknamed "God's Thumbprint," the almond-shaped bowl-
large enough to hold a small farming community-may have been

an undersea valley ages ago. Or it
might be a meteor crater, or the remains of a high mountain whose
limestone cap eroded and collapsed.
Birders and hikers can use the Appalachian Trail to access spectacular
views.
visittazewellcounty.org/burkes-garden-2/
276-322-1345
Virginia Coal Heritage Trail,
Big Stone Gap
Hard by the Kentucky border, the
town of Big Stone Gap serves as a
gateway to a seven-county coal heritage region in Virginia's southwest
corner. Rich in iron ore and coal,
this remote area also nurtured a vibrant community life. Any student
of the Blue Ridge will appreciate the
depth of local knowledge about the
hardships, heartaches-and rewards
-of a coal mining culture.
visitwisecounty.com/coal-heritagetrail.html
276-762-0011
Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, Marion
Strap on those hiking boots
and head to the highlands! At
January/February 2018 41



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Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2018 - Cover3
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