MOUTH OF WILSON — Any lover of the Virginia highlands has a favorite refuge. A slender stream meandering through a nameless valley, perhaps. Or maybe a well-worn boulder at an overlook on Skyline Drive.
Chances are the Grayson Highlands will head the list for many. Top five anyhow. Many an Appalachian Trail through-hiker could wax poetic over a pint at the wistful recalling of grand vistas so different than the top-of-the-boots view on most of the 2,170-mile journey.
The midsummer berry picking season draws locals to the open slopes at Massie Gap by the scores. Pails grow heavy and hands purple with a bounty of berries blue and black. That’s two for the bucket, one for me. And then there are those who come for a glimpse of the ponies, whose constant grazing is the “awwww-how-cute” lawn mower that land managers use to keep those sweeping vistas clear.
It’s an experience as familiar as it is unique: on a clear day the hiker could be above a tree line in western Montana, or, lost in the fog often blowing across the grassy slopes, it could be a Scottish highland she’s traipsing — places longed-for or visited, if only in photographs.
Both foot and horse trails carry the adventurer deep into the wilderness. The most well-known is the Appalachian Trail, which winds around the rockiest sections of Wilburn Ridge as it rises from Massie Gap toward Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia; while another, bolder trail (named for the ridge) was cut by those with the notion that each of those rocky knobs is a summit to scale. The hiker willing to rise early and take to that trail before a late spring dawn might be lucky enough to find clouds lying low in the valleys, their dawn-pink hew matched only by rhododendron blooms.
Maybe the ponies will be grazing in a saddle between knobs, their occasional whinnying carrying far on a spruce-scented breeze.
There’s only one way to know. -Sam Dean | The Roanoke Times