Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2018 - 41
Pinnacle Overlook Horizontal Cumberland Gap, Virginia.
Dry Falls Highlands, North Carolina.
NC Mineral & Gem Festival,
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.
Natural Bridge State Park,
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.
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
Burkes Garden, Tazewell
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
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.
Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, Marion
Strap on those hiking boots
and head to the highlands! At
January/February 2018 41