A truly pleasant wilderness

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October 16th 2008
Published: December 22nd 2011
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View from Cold Mountain View from Cold Mountain View from Cold Mountain

Just a portion of the 360 degree view from Cold Mountain, one of the best in Virginia. Note the meadow stretching to the left
Lexington is located at the heart of the Sherendoah Valley in western Virginia.

The valley has been a place of fertile farms since colonial times.

This fertility also means that it is soaked in blood.

During the Civil War, the Sherendoah was one of the main food sources for the Confederacy.

Early in the war, the Union decided to deprive their enemy of this resource.

In 1862, Stonewall Jackson, who had lived in the area before the war and knew it well, was assigned to defend it.

He successfully defeated a Union force four times his army's size over the next four months.

The Valley Campaign is still studied at West Point.

Two years later an even larger Union army moved into the valley, with orders from Ulysses S Grant to destroy the valley so thoroughly that "crows flying across it will need to carry their own provender".

This time the Union succeeded, and the result was even more ruinous than Sherman's famous march to the sea in Georgia.

To this day, the foundations of former barns, gristmills, and houses can be seen along back-roads and creeks in the valley.

Local residents refer to that period simply as "the burning".

Stonewall Jackson home

Stonewall Jackson's house, where he lived before the Civil War stated, has been restored and is now a museum.

It’s an unusual historic house in that Stonewall Jackson was never wealthy.

This is one of the few historic houses that show how the middle class lived.

Stonewall Jackson, between his retirement from the US army and the Civil War, taught Natural Philosophy at the Virginia Military Institute.

These days, we would call the subject "general science".

The displays on Jackson at the museum portray him as a paragon of Southern virtue.

The tour guides themselves are more balanced, and will mention Jackson's many negative points.

For instance, Jackson's students uniformly considered him the worst professor at the school, and called him "Tom Fool" Jackson (and much worse!)

One student even wrote a mocking poem about Jackson that has survived to the present day, which the tour guide recited.

In Lexington, I stayed at a bed and breakfast called the Inn at Llewellyn Lodge.

The inn is a favorite of outdoor enthusiasts, because the owner is one himself and loves to share his knowledge of the area.

He also run guided fishing trips, and some pretty famous people have taken them,

There are pictures to prove it in the Inn's entrance foyer.

Cold Mountain Loop Hiking

When I mentioned I wanted to go hiking, the owner recommended Pleasant Mountain Scenic Area.

It’s a protected
The most honest historic plaque in LexingtonThe most honest historic plaque in LexingtonThe most honest historic plaque in Lexington

In a city where seemingly every street corner is historic, this is the perfect antidote.
part of a National Forest on the east side of the Blue Ridge.

It actually contains three separate mountains.

The drive to this area requires taking a winding road through a high mountain pass, followed by two narrow paved roads, and then a dirt forest road.

Personally, I like this setup, because it keeps down the number of hikers and provides solitude.

The most spectacular trail, which I took, is the Hotel Trail/Cold Mountain loop.

The parking area is next to an old field where the Appalachian trail crosses the dirt road.

I then hiked down the road a half mile to the Hotel Trail trailhead.

The trail starts by following an old road.

It passes through a former field that is absolutely covered in wildflowers.

Many of them were no longer blooming, but the foliage more than made up for this.

The trail is clearly marked with blazes on posts.

This is a good thing because the fallen leaves would have made it impossible to find otherwise.

"Hotel Trail" is an unusual name for a trail.

We have the mocking humor of late 1800's farmers to thank for it.

In that time period, it was fashionable for wealthy urban dwellers to spend their summers at grand hotels in the mountains.

A group
Wildflowers and viewsWildflowers and viewsWildflowers and views

Glorious fall view from the wildflower meadow along the Hotel Trail
of farmers in the area decided to mock this tradition by referring to their hunting cabin as "The Hotel". The Hotel Trail lead to the cabin, and the name stuck.

Nobody knows where the cabin was, but the best guess is just before a group of old oak trees at the far end of the field.

Its flat, near a water source, has fantastic views, and is near the end of the road.

The farmers are commemorated by the fact that the site has become a popular overnight camping spot.

There is a large fire ring surrounded by log benches.

After leaving the hotel site, the trail gets narrow and rocky, and starts climbing a ridge.

It crosses old stone walls in this section.

At the top of the ridge, it descends to a brook valley and follows it uphill.

The brook had very little water in it, but the foliage made the scene stunning.

There are large rocks in the valley that have slid off the surrounding mountains over the centuries.

Along the brook, the trail passes Cow Camp Gap shelter.

This is one of the shelters along the Appalachian Trail.

The shelter has a log book, and I took some time to read through it.

Most of the visitors were
Former Site of the HotelFormer Site of the HotelFormer Site of the Hotel

Former location of the hunting cabin called 'the hotel'. The current campsite is off to the right.
stopping on short hikes, but there were also some through hikers from early in the year.

Someone had made an improvised checkers board on the shelter floor with black tape and small rocks.

After the shelter, the trail splits from the brook and starts to climb.

Soon enough, it reached the Gap and joined with the Appalachian Trail.

From here, I joined the Appalachian Trail for the hike back to the parking lot.

The trail climbs Cold Mountain.

This is not the mountain from the famous Civil War novel, although it shares the name.

The climb is not particularly steep, but it is rocky.

Soon enough, the first overlook appears.

It looks down into the valley I had to drive through to get here, and the view, as always, was stunning.

After this, the trail follows a ridge up the mountain.

Cold Mountain is unusual for the Blue Ridge in that the top is not forested.

It was originally that way due to lightning, and stayed that way due to farmers grazing livestock.

The mountain became renowned among hikers for its incredible views.

After the National Forest was established, the trees began to encroach on the mountain top, and the views were reduced.

Years of hiker complaints lead to the Forest Service agreeing
Checkerboard at Cow Camp Gap ShelterCheckerboard at Cow Camp Gap ShelterCheckerboard at Cow Camp Gap Shelter

Hiker creativity on the Appalachian Trail
to maintain the mountain top in its historic (rather than natural) condition.

They now set proscribed burns, and mow, on the mountain on a regular basis.

The top is now a glorious quarter mile of mountain meadow with views in all directions to die for.

You can see every mountain in this part of the Blue Ridge.

Unfortunately, the weather, which had threaten rain all day, chose the moment I hit the field to open up.

It was fairly light rain, so I still got the view, but it also mean that I was wet and miserable in what should have been the highlight of the trip.

After the meadow, a set of steep switchbacks brought me back to my car.

I had dinner that night in one of Lexington's oldest restaurants, the Southern Inn.

They specialize in traditional southern cooking.

It’s flavorful, delicious, and really fattening.

Getting a table is difficult without a reservation, so I ate at the bar.

Main course was meatloaf.

The meatloaf here is unusual in that it’s made with pork in addition to the usual beef.

It was beautifully moist and flavorful, and may be the best meatloaf I've ever had.

Desert was called the "Black and White Parfait".

It’s a mixture of different ice creams, chocolate covered espresso
Entrance to the Southern InnEntrance to the Southern InnEntrance to the Southern Inn

The Southern Inn is one of Lexington's most traditional restaraunts, and one of its best.
beans, lady fingers, and brownie pieces.
It was worth every cent.

Additional photos below
Photos: 23, Displayed: 23


Virginia FoliageVirginia Foliage
Virginia Foliage

Foliage along the Appalachian Trail at the start of the Cold Mountain loop
Hotel TrailHotel Trail
Hotel Trail

Foliage along an early portion of the Hotel Trail
The wildflower meadow on the Hotel TrailThe wildflower meadow on the Hotel Trail
The wildflower meadow on the Hotel Trail

Early part of the trail through a meadow covered in flowers and fall foliage.
Pleasent MountainPleasent Mountain
Pleasent Mountain

Pleasant Mountain view and foliage along the Hotel Trail
Mountain ForestMountain Forest
Mountain Forest

More foliage, heading for the Appalachian Trail
Cow Camp Gap shelterCow Camp Gap shelter
Cow Camp Gap shelter

Well used shelter along a spur of the Appalachian Trail
Cold Moutain overlookCold Moutain overlook
Cold Moutain overlook

One of many overlooks along the Appalachian Trail as it climbs Cold Mountain
Appalachian TrailAppalachian Trail
Appalachian Trail

Close to the summit of Cold Mountain
Cold Mountain viewCold Mountain view
Cold Mountain view

A tiny portion of the view from the summit of Cold Mountain
Cold Mountain meadowCold Mountain meadow
Cold Mountain meadow

This artificial, but historic, meadow on the Cold Mountain summit, and its incredible view
Cold Mountain viewCold Mountain view
Cold Mountain view

Another small portion of the Blue Ridge seen from Cold Mountain
Cold Mountain meadowCold Mountain meadow
Cold Mountain meadow

More of the meadow on the summit of Cold Mountain
Cold MountainCold Mountain
Cold Mountain

Appalachian Trail crosses the summit meadow of Cold Mountain
Cold Mountain foliageCold Mountain foliage
Cold Mountain foliage

More foliage near the summit of Cold Mountain
Appalachian TrailAppalachian Trail
Appalachian Trail

passing through a fence near the Cold Mountain loop trailhead

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