Monday, October 4, 2010

Devil's Bathtub

It was the first really cold wet day of fall which meant that I finally had an opportunity to make a scouting trip to the Devil's Bathtub. I was waiting for a cold day to go because of the stories I'd heard about the snake population in the area. I figured if I went on a cold day I could out-maneuver any ninja-death-killer-attack snakes I might run across. And after having made the trip I can confirm that this is some of the snake-i-est looking terrain I've ever hiked through. There's no way I would ever venture into that part of the country during snake season, uh-uh, no way.

The devil's bathtub is located in Scott Co. Virginia, along the Devil's Fork trail. The trail follows Devil's Fork creek (duh), which is very fortunate considering the generally poor condition of the trail - but more on that later.

The trail starts at the top of the wooden stairs (yep, stairs) at the parking area. It proceeds downhill about 1/4 mile to the first of a dozen creek crossings. A hundred or so feet past the creek, the trail splits - there are several trees with yellow blazes here - you want to take the trail going left. After 50 ft the trail will split - start looking to the right to pick up the trail - I'm not sure if you can see any yellow blazes marking the trail through the woods. From here the trail generally follows the creek, crisscrossing it numerous times over the the next 1 1/2 miles.

The creek itself is made completely of sandstone rocks of every size from baseballs to refrigerators. What makes it so odd looking is the total lack of moss or grass or weeds or greenery of any kind on the sandstone rocks, they are all completely clean. There has been some obvious flooding because the creek is also littered with huge piles of trees and brush, some so large that they completely block the creek. And this is why I assume they grow all the snakes here - miles of clean standstone creek bottom - which makes millions of holes and pockets - and all of it covered in flood-washed debris.

Once you traverse the 1 1/2 miles of a rather average looking trail through hemlock and rhododendron, you'll reach the part of the creek that created the bathtub. This section of the mountain looks nothing like any of the terrain you've passed through to this point. It's a canyon carved out of sandstone by years of erosion. The trail itself comes out above the bathtub; the picture above is your first view of the bathtub and it's surroundings. Awesome!

Check out the color of the water and the bottom and sides of the bathtub! It looks a bit fake in the picture and it's not exactly the right color (a bit too green), but it's pretty close. I'm not sure what rocks are making that bluish-green, almost teal color. The weather was cloudy all day and it was raining off and on the whole time I was there, so the color did not come from a reflection of the sky. The water itself is almost perfectly clear. Notice that tree limb on the left, it's about 10 ft long and I could not touch the bottom of bathtub with it - yes I tried it, and yes, the water is frigid!

Lest you think the color of the pool is a product of post-processing, a couple of hundred feet downstream is another large pool that is the same bluish-green color. The water is so perfectly clear that you get a distorted perception of the depth. This pool is about 8 feet deep at it's deepest point, which is in that cut in the rocks at the base of the cascade where the water pours into the pool.

While overcast weather is absolutely the best for taking waterfall pictures, this isn't classic waterfall picturetaking. This place begs for days with clear blue skies overhead and bright fall colors. I'm definitely going to make a trip back up there later this fall, once there's some colored leaves on the ground; it'll be amazing. And I hear there's a 50 foot waterfall just a bit further upstream ... a sweet bonus.

Directions: Take US Hwy. 23/US Hwy. 58/US Hwy. 421 toward Gate City. In Gate City, continue going straight as the road becomes East Jackson Street and, ultimately, VA Route 71. Head east on Route 71 for a little over a mile. From here, take VA Route 72 to the left toward Fort Blackmore. Shortly after VA Route 65 and VA Route 72 merge, turn left onto VA Route 619.

Once on Route 619/653 for about 3 1/2 miles, the road splits, follow 619 to the right, travel about 1 mile more and look for the Devils Fork sign. Route 619 takes a sharp left and becomes Forest Road 619 (there is no street sign). Travel over the one-lane bridge and turn left just before the abandoned white house with a chain link fence. Follow this unmarked dirt road to the end, where you will find parking for the trail. The road to the parking lot is very rutted and may not be accessible by all vehicles, high clearance and 4wd is recommended. You cannot park along the road and walk because the property on both sides of the road is posted, you must get to the parking area at the end of the road.

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