Our most recent outing here in Southwest Virginia was a hike in the Channels Natural Area Preserve near Abingdon. I hadn’t heard of the Channels until a few weeks ago, so they were another new place for me–even as they are a very old place (they were formed during the last ice age).
Prior to 2014, the Channels were known to just a handful of insiders. Located on private property and with a long hike to access, not many folks made it up here. But then the Nature Conservancy stepped in and bought the land, and a non-profit called Mountain Heritage created the Brumley Mountain Trail. The result is a seven mile round trip hike out of Hayters Gap, well within reach for a day hike.
Even with the shorter approach, visiting the Channels feels like exposing a secret. Once you reach the high point of the access trail, you duck through a tiny tunnel of vegetation and down a nondescript ravine. Just as you start doubting your directions, the place seems to jump out in front of you. There’s nothing intuitive at all about the hike, although good signage from the Preserve helps quite a bit.
The Channels themselves are pathways between huge boulders, and visiting entails walking and climbing around tight slots through beautiful moss-covered walls.
There are lots of shadows and random rays of sunlight, and the textures on the rock vary quite a bit.
The whole area is about 20 acres, and every turn seems to reveal another passage. And in those spots when the sun sneaks through, it feels almost magical. Souzz said it felt other-worldly to her, like the Upside Down in the Netflix series Stranger Things (well, except we didn’t see a single Demogorgon).
This whole feature feels delightfully out of place, like something you might find in Utah. The sandstone is darker and the scale certainly isn’t Canyonlands, but dropping into the Channels is a pleasant surprise in that “what is this even doing here?” kind of way–like when your high school crush shows up at computer club.
This is the most unique place I’ve visited in my home state, and one of the nicest hikes I’ve taken anywhere.
I wish I knew more about geology, as I really have no idea how a place like this forms (although I did see the movie Ice Age on a flight to Atlanta once). Thanks go out to mother nature for taking ages to carve something like this. And thanks to the Nature Conservancy and Mountain Heritage for making our hike possible!