A little ginger-colored shadow followed my as I packed my lunch, filled the water bottles, and put on my boots; Addie wanted to make sure I didn’t sneak out of the house without her.
Having had to dig a gigantic splinter out of my left foot the day before, I was limping, but I wasn’t going to let that keep me out of the woods. Forest Service Road 5064, off Caldwell Mountain Road just short of the Botetourt line, is marked by a sign indicating one mile to road’s end and a scenic view. I figured I could walk two miles, sore foot and all. Bad weather was on the way, but predictions had promised a warm sunny day, and they were right.
We crept down Rte. 42 into New Castle behind a logging truck, at a speed too slow for Old Blue’s second gear and too fast for his first. The sun was shining in a clear blue sky as bodyguards and I drove out Craigs Creek and Caldwell Mountain roads, found the Forest Service Road, and parked by the gate. We would see how far we could walk and how good the view was; sometimes “Road Ends” signs indicate only the end of driveability, and a foot-accessible trail continues; trees and brush can grow up and obscure views. The road climbs along the flank of Broad Run Mountain, winding in and out of the spur ridges. A chickadee gave voice as I paused to corral my hair and get it off my neck, and then we went on, past old, disintegrating posters listing the firewood-cutting rules for the National Forest. The bed of a deep ravine to our left rose to meet is as we ascended pine seedling lining the road. We crossed a little divide, the left ravine ended, and one appeared on the right as we started down. Someone had left a big brush pile right on the road, a violation of the rules, and we soon reached another. To our right, weathered POSTED signs adorned the trees, and the trace of an old road climbed from the dry branch below to meet a gravel road, blocked by a cable, that led into private property.
A puddle in a low spot invited Addie to splash in, as she always does, as the wind made music in the pines and a junco or chipping sparrow added a trill. Red blazes marked the National Forest boundary on our right, and beyond, trees were marked with orange paint. We climbed and descended, over the diagonal edges of shale beds in the road. A faraway hawk gave a series of plaintive, seabird-like calls. The road looped right around a spur, and we took a break so I could look at my map. That loop was the first of several big curves, and we crossed the same sandstone layers multiple times as the road wound over their edges. The aeolian whisper increased to a hiss in the needled pine branches, and the upwards gradient continued. I checked a place where flattened leaves indicated a vehicle had parked, but there was no sign of a trail. A tiny blue butterfly danced ahead.
Here was a large open area, with an abandoned mattress in the center, and Bald Mountain directly ahead. But this wasn’t the end; the road went on, down and to the right. Sparse pines stood on either side, and sponges of sea-green fruticose lichens were dotted on the roadside banks. It was almost noon when we reached the actual terminus, and here was the view: Bald, Potts, both Littles (NE and SW), Nutters, Sevenmile, Johns Creek, Aps Knob and Sinking Creek Mountains, plus Gray’s Knob, a hill between us and New Castle. Here is yet another vista that no one seems to know about, and it’s not hard to get to. I took my usual photos of the panorama and looked around to see if there was a road or trail that led any farther. A steep, gullied track that led downwards didn’t look very promising, but you never know, so we went down to check it out. As I expected, it didn’t go anywhere, so I turned to climb back up. Something sparkling among the withered ferns, pine needles and British-soldier lichens caught my eye, and it didn’t look quite like a piece of broken glass. I picked it up and rolled it in my palm—a little, irregular quartz crystal, what a cool find! Then we climbed back to the road.
The wind wasn’t cold, but in that exposed spot it was very strong and unpleasant, so I ate a quick snack and we headed back. Here was a cache of bone fragments, the remains of scat left by some predator or scavenger. A curve in the road afforded a glimpse of Bald Mountain. Chickadee and nuthatch called, and Addie plunged into the same puddle she’d hit on the way out (it was the only one). As she stirred up the mud, she set a strange gelatinous object in motion, and I recognized a cluster of wood-frog eggs, as I have some in my stock-tank pond at home. I wondered how well the tadpoles would survive in that shallow, turbid water.
Then our descent took us out of the wind, and I didn’t realize we were close to Caldwell Mountain Road, until a car went by. Around the next bend was good Old Blue. My foot didn’t feel too bad, and I’d told Michael that if the road was only two miles I might check out something else. But I decided the foot would benefit from rest, so I loaded up pack and bodyguards, and we came home.