I owe an apology to woodcutters everywhere.
After my misadventures yesterday (see previous post), I confidently announced that Google Earth had allowed me to find the missing entrance to the original Blue Ridge Tunnel. Luckily for me, I blogged about my experience and was thus kept from making (yet another) critical error.
My friend (and experienced geocacher) Kristen Jensen read my blog and did some research of her own. Turns out someone had marked the location on Panoramio, but put it north of the new tunnel not south. I looked at the Panoramio page and realized that I had misunderstood the woodcutter’s instructions. I was supposed to cross over the rail road tracks and continue up a hill following a trail that ran parallel to the new rail bed.
Sure enough, when my husband and I headed out this afternoon, we found the trail again on the other side of tracks. It was rather overgrown and I can’t really say I’m surprised I didn’t see it yesterday. Once found, however, it was quite easy to follow and the overgrowth was relatively light.
As promised, it ended in a grotto, right at the entrance of a most imposing stone structure carved out of the hill. Definitely the place.
When we arrived, we could see little lights flickering in the tunnel. Overtime, they became three fellow hikers who had ventured into the tunnel with flashlights to see how far under the mountain they could go (estimated .25 miles before they hit a drainage pipe). Apparently, there are plans to turn the tunnel and old railway into a Green Trail through Nelson County.
I got some great pictures of the tunnel (and surrounding foliage; it was a perfect fall day). We also walked inside the tunnel, but not too far, and marveled at how well the masonry has held up. On the way back, a cargo train thundered below us on the new tracks I had walked the day before.
On balance, I am rather pleased this expedition turned out the way it did. The light was better today than yesterday, and my husband had never been hiking before. I can’t image a better introduction to one of my favorite pastimes.
Buried within this story you will probably find a morality tale about the importance of local knowledge over satellite imagery, the triumph of idiosyncrasy over algorithms, and the value of a close network of friends. But personally (and artistically), I’m just glad everything worked out.
If you want to see the Tunnel for yourself, here is how to find it.
- Take Interstate 64 to Exit 99.
- Turn Left at the bottom of the exit ramp onto 250 West.
- Drive down the mountain (about 1.5 miles) until you see a railroad overpass.
- Park on the side of the road.
- Cross the road and head down the trail on the far side of the overpass.
- Follow that trail to the modern train tracks. (about 5mins)
- Cross the train tracks, and turn Right up the hill.
- Follow the path to the tunnel entrance (about 10 minutes, possibly less if you aren’t a photographer).
For those of you with GPS devices, the correct coordinates are 38° 2′ 24.13″ N 78° 51′ 44.45″ W.
The path is clear, but overgrown so I would recommend long pants and sturdy shoes (hiking boots if you have them). Also bring some water and a jacket, the temperature varies by 15 degrees depending on where you are.
And if you meet a friendly woodcutter, say hello.