October 19, 2008
On a blustery fall day in mid October, Dan River Basin members gathered at the home of Wayne and Betty Kirkpatrick for the monthly “DRBA third Saturday outing.” The Kirkpatrick’s have a beautiful farm in the rolling hills of Patrick County in Stuart, VA, where they graciously hosted this Saturday’s event.
We gathered at the farm, piled into a few vehicles, then made the short drive over the base of Bull Mountain. We would be starting at an elevation of around 1400 feet and hiking to the fire tower on the summit at 3200 feet.The hike was going to take us along the access road that gradually gained elevation as it wound its way around the flanks of the mountain through hardwood hammocks and evergreens, with occasional vistas through the foliage.
Just ¼ mile up the trail, we were gazing out at familiar peaks of the Blue Ridge mountains from VA and on down into North Carolina. Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountian were the most obvious peaks that could be identified, both North Carolina Blue Ridge mountain landmarks.
It didn’t take long for the group to start spreading out along the trail into smaller groups hiking at their own pace.
The fall colors were just before peak, and we were treated to fabulous colors from the many hardwoods along the ridge. The deep crimson reds of the sourwood trees and the brilliant yellows of the hickories stood out against the green backdrop of thick rhododendrons.
The Closed Gentian was still hanging onto its wildflower purple as a reminder that summer is gone but not forgotten.
The Bull Mountain range towers above the rolling hills of Patrick County and it sometimes becomes shrouded in fog. That’s when the mountain can turn deadly for unlucky air travelers. On a side trail near the top, we took a detour to visit the Memorial to the airmen of a B-24 on a training mission that crashed on the mountain back in 1944.This propeller stands as a silent testament to that fateful day, engraved with the names of the crew. On the way home, Wayne also took us around the east side where we viewed a memorial cross high on the ridge, erected as a memorial to the Hendrickson racing family plane crash in 2005. Bull Mountain is also known for its vein of staurolite crystals, better known as fairystones or fairy crosses, that run the length of the mountain range. Although we did not spend much time hunting fairystones, just observing the rocks along the trail you could see staurolite crystals exposed in the matrix rock at certain elevations.
Arriving at the summit, we all took a break and had some lunch at the Bull Mountain Fire Tower.Exploring the northeast flank of the mountain just beyond the tower, the hickory trees seemed to be the dominate tree, and they lit the forest with yellow fire.
Although clouds continued to hover low in the sky, the rich brush strokes from Autumn’s palette could not be diminished. As we headed back down the mountain, the changes in the colors seemed to glow even brighter.
Had the light changed just enough or had the mountain air intoxicated us and heightened our senses to a point where only now could we fully appreciate the vibrant canvas of Fall’s display?
Article and Photos by Brian Williams
Edited by Vicky Thomas