Breaks Interstate Park – Buchannon County. The park that straddles the Virginia-Kentucky border is known as the grand canyon of the east because of its steep valley carved out by the Russell Fork River.
I missed a turn on our way there, so we spent more time than we should have driving in Kentucky, where roads were better, the houses were slightly more run down and the price of gas was 50 cents higher. I don’t know why.
It was a Monday out of tourist season. Gatehouse: nobody home. Visitor’s center: closed. Information kiosk: out of order. Bathrooms: seemed to be hiding (they ended up being 25 feet from where we parked). Luckily, the lobby for the lodge was open and we managed to snag some trail maps.
I plotted what I thought would be a relatively flat course and went on my way. About a mile in, I encountered this:
A mile an hour? Must be a total exaggeration.
I started down Prospectors Trail for a good hundred yards. A rocky, slippery downhill section. Then a rocky, slippery uphill section. Not a chance of me doing anything approaching a trot.
I found the Laurel Lake trail. It proved to be much more runner friendly, although no cliff views.
After the run, we rode around the park and encountered some skinny deer and a juvenile bear. Later in the day, wild turkeys crossed our path.
Birch Knob Observation Tower. I planned on running somewhere near the tower on the Pine Mountain Trail. From the tower, you are supposed to be able to see six states on a clear day (Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and Ohio).
I hadn’t quite learned my lesson about the hazards of following phone navigator directions. I found myself on a country road about one and a half car lengths wide. It was so small that I unknowingly went down a driveway at one point. I had to be very careful turning around as a curious beagle seemed to want to join the gang.
At one point, I stopped so Col could help a turtle cross the road. At another point, she removed some tree limbs. When we reached the actual park entrance, a sign along what was now a gravel road said the tower was 5 miles away. The narrow road curved up the mountainside, and then at times frustratingly started to descend. After about a mile, the gravel turned to dirt, small gulleys, jagged rocks and occasional puddles. About another mile, and we had to pull over as far as we could so six cars headed down could squeeze by. We joked that we would get to the top, and there wouldn’t be any parking spaces.
It took a good half hour to drive the 5 miles that felt more like 10. No one else was at there. We climbed the 183 steep steps to the top of the tower. While it was a great view, there was no signage and the drive twisted me around to the point where my sense of direction was out of whack. I had no clue where one state ended and the next began. I’m guessing Ohio was out of site on the hazy day.
I also didn’t find a trail to run. Given the size of the peaks on the mountain range, I might not have looked as hard as I could have.
After we exited the park, we continued on the country road in the same direction as we had been going. Within four miles, we were on a major road. At that point anything with a line down the middle qualified as a major road.
Clintwood – Dickenson County. Clintwood was the penalty for not running near the tower. It was pretty much a random decision. It was on the way back to the hotel. It had sidewalks. It was relatively flat. We parked in front of the most hopping place in town, the Food City, and I took off on a improvised run through town, a neighborhood that included mobile homes and around the high school.
Clintwood, with a population of about 1,500, is the county seat of Dickenson County. In 1880 it became the 100th and last county established, giving it the nickname Virginia’s Baby. Since then, some counties consolidated and others became cities.