Isn’t this an amazing photo! The Appalachian Trail follows the ridge for several miles along the left, or eastern side. I didn’t take the picture of course. I found it on the internet, along with an explanation of the geography of Burkes Garden. How was Burke’s Garden formed? There are more than a few theories about its geological origins. Some people think the valley was once a lake. Some say a meteor hit it and flattened it out. Still others suggest the area was once part of a volcano. Geologists say that this bowl was a 6,500-foot-high mountain largely composed of limestone, but with a sandstone cap. Slowly, that sandstone cap eroded, and the peak of Garden Mountain collapsed into itself.
If you were a Thru Hiker, you would see this beautiful view from the Trail but might not understand how unique Burkes Garden really is. Often called, “God’s Thumbprint” the valley is 3,000 feet above sea level and the weather is alpine, low humidity and summer temperatures rarely reach 80 degrees. The flat valley floor is only about 4 miles wide and 9 miles long and is completely surrounded by mountains.
We had to say goodbye to Tim and Laura today but Tim bravely agreed to drive us up to the Trail head and drop us off. I say “bravely” because there is just one (mostly) paved road between Burke’s Garden and the nearest town, Tazewell, 30 minutes away. The road switchbacks sharply up the mountain and then back down into the valley.
I’m so happy to be a section hiker, experiencing another aspect of the Appalachian Trail. I think I have gone back in time. Due to the remote, high-altitude isolation, only about 300 people live here. Some are Amish, farming and raising live stock, totally off-grid. There is no newspaper delivery, and no cable television; no stoplights and no working post office. Now, across the valley, Tim has to negotiate another switchbacked, not-so-paved road, up the opposite ridge and the AT trail head.
This is one of the most beautiful sections of the Trail I have ever hiked. After 3 miles of climbing up, we now have almost 8 miles of gentle, meandering down. I haven’t hiked the famous Balds in Tennessee yet, but this surely must be what it is like. I keep calling out to Gary to stop– a circle turn has me awestruck with views of mountains, unfolding in all directions. Purple mountain majesties indeed. I might have broken out in song…
Whoa– did I say gentle, meandering down? The last mile was a steep descent that had my tired legs protesting, but log stairs helped a lot. Another good thing about section hiking. Sometimes, like today, I get to choose whether to hike up or down the mountain. And tomorrow, I choose to hike down the other side!
VA 623 Burkes Garden to USFS 222. 10.7 miles