On the way to our first run, I took what I thought we be the longer, but easier route, missed a turn, and then found myself at a gas station, desperate enough to have to do the unmanly thing of asking for directions.
“Pinnacle Natural Pre-serve? Never heard of it. You sure it is around here? I would’ve heard of it. Why you want to go there?”
“Its somewhere near Lebanon.”
“Lebanon. I know where that is. Take a left out of the parking lot and you’ll get there. Its maybe 5 miles.”
I said thanks, even though finding the town wasn’t the problem. It was finding the turn that went to the preserve. I got back on the road and, after a few blocks I was lucky enough to get a faint internet phone connection. The window stayed open long enough for me to download directions.
When we arrived at the trail head, people from the local tourist board were checking out the place. If they would have asked, as a genuine tourist, I would have told them that a few more signs would have been helpful. I would have also told them bathrooms would have been appreciated. As it was, I had to go through my change-in-the-car gyrations to get ready for the run.
We stayed on the trail near the Big Cedar Creek and were treated to a picturesque waterfall before making it to the Clinch River.
The river and its tributaries are known for their biodiversity. They contain more than 120 species of fish and about 43 species of freshwater mussels, 18 of which are on the endangered species list. Coal and other industries have muddied up the water.
Now, as the coal industry in the area falters, there is a movement to clean up the river and try to attract more tourist. There is even an attempt to create a Clinch River State Park.
Tazewell County – Bluefield, Va
After we ate the best barbecue we had during the trip (Southern Smoke in Lebanon), I thought it would be good to experience coal mine culture. While there were a number of coal-related museums and memorials in the area, the Pocahontas Exhibition Coal Mine & Museum seemed to be the most interesting. Until 1970, you could actually drive into the mine.
Speaking of drive-thrus, we stopped at the Appalachian Arts Center near the town of Tazewell. We had planned on browsing the gallery, hoping it wouldn’t be too touristy and we would actually find reasonable prices. When we drove into the parking that was partially filled with construction vehicles, we were greeted by the owner. She told us they were closed. A few weeks ago a tractor trailer barreled through the storefront. Come back in a couple of months, she said.
It took longer than I had expected to get to the mine and I was a little concerned when we dipped into West Virginia. The sign said it was open Wednesday through Sunday. It was Tuesday, so I had a problem.
OK, no mine. But the little downtown had a paved trail that turned into more of a blackish and somewhat muddy path. Seemed as good as anything else, so off I went. Parts of it were covered with water. Other parts had insanely steep inclines. Turns out, I had stumbled upon an ATV trail. Luckily, I got the run in without seeing any ATVs.
On the way back, I figured I would take a short cut by following Route 11 back to Norton, where we were staying for the night. I figured it was a good call. After all, it is paved and it does have a center line. It was filled with turns after twists after turns. And then up. And then down. And then more turns. When the caution sign said go no more than 15 miles an hour, I tended to go more like 10.
Later, I found out that the stretch is known as the Dragon’s Back. Motorcycle and sports car hobbyist flock to the area just so they can go screaming up, down and around all of the curves. In fact, the hotel we were staying out was booked through the weekend because of a Porshe group coming to take on the road.
Saltville – Smyth County
Woolly Mammoths in Virginia? Look no further than the town of Saltville, with a rich history that includes:
- An inland salty sea millions of years ago.
- Home to many prehistoric creatures during the Ice Age 10 to 20 thousand years ago, attracted by salt marshes.
- A vital source of salt prior to and during the Civil War.
- One of the first chemical plants in the U.S., opening in 1894. That also led to a major chemical spill in 1924 that made the North Holston River toxic for decades afterward.
We ran along a salt marsh trail where remains of prehistoric animals had been found, and then around town a bit to get the mileage in.
From there, we went to the museum of the Middle Appalachians, certainly worth an hour or two of our time.