Fall Leaves at Beaver Creek Reservoir

Our peek leaf color for 2021 was in November. If asked, I would normally tell you to expect it the second week of October but that certainly wasn’t the case this past year.

On November 14th, the Homestead Hikers hit the trail at Beaver Creek Reservoir and we caught some breathtaking color. The Homestead Hikers is a hiking group through the College for Older Adults with the Reynolds Homestead. Annual dues in 2021 were $10 and it’s a very fun and friendly good. There’s probably not a better investment in fun in the area.

Beaver Creek Reservoir Trail Head

First off, our Beaver Creek Reservoir is NOT the reservoir built in 1964 for the town of Crozet. That one is about three hours northeast of here, just east of Staunton, Virginia. (This is not the only place in Henry County with a more famous counterpart, so you have to pay attention).

The Martinsville Reservoir is 174 acres and is about 8 minutes from downtown Martinsville. It has a fishery maintained by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The game fish population includes largemouth bass, crappie, sunfish, catfish and yellow perch.

It also has a beautiful trail that is just incredible when the leaves change.

Meeting Up at the Trail Head

Now that we’ve established that there is some confusion over the name of this place, I’m going to call it the Martinsville Reservoir going forward. That’s how the state has it.

Both the trail and the reservoir are open for public use only on the weekends between sunrise and sunset. They are very literal about this. Memorial Day and Labor Day Mondays do not count and you will arrive only find the entrance barred by a metal gateway.

When open, there are two entrances to the park but either will get you to the trail head.

Starting the Trail

The trail is easy for all ages and abilities. It wanders all around, snaking its way down to the shoreline of the lake and then back again. If you take a gander at the Homestead Hiker’s Facebook page, Betty Kirkpatrick took an absolutely stunning photo of the group all gathered on a point that juts out into the lake a little, canopied by bright yellow and orange leaves.

The Upper Part of the Reservoir Through the Trees

It was a fun hike out and back, starting from the picnic shelter.

Picnic Facilities at Martinsville Reservoir

The picnic shelter accommodates sixty (60) people, has restroom facilities, water access, three grills, four large trash cans, and electric outlets. It can be rented from the city for $50 for the day or $30 for a half day. Check the Martinsville Parks & Rentals page for more info (and, pro tip, the area code is 276).

Just below it is the boat launch/parking area.

The Boat Launch at Martinsville Reservoir

We crossed the road after having circled back to the picnic pavilion and continued along a trail that was less obvious and more densely wooded. The trees are blazed so you should be able to find your way. The walk through fall foliage was gorgeous.

Walking Through Fall Foliage

This trail crested at a spot that overlooks that reservoir and has features left over from some previous use. I asked a private Facebook group that specializes in area history if anyone knew what the history of these were and the consensus was that this used to be a picnic area.

An Old Spigot at the Old Picnic Area

Thanks to them, I can now see that the picture below is of an old grill. I imagine that there would have been a metal grate over it back in the day. The stonework is beautiful. I can see where the black metal grills on poles are probably safer but they lack the character of this one.

Someone mentioned that there used to be numbered picnic areas here so there may be more stonework grills like this tucked away in the woods. It’s something to look for if you decide to try to follow the blazed trees on this side of the road.

An Old Stonework Grill

The trail eventually leads down to the banks of the reservoir, not far from the dam. The PHCC Loop Trail, so named because of its connection with Patrick & Henry Community College, approaches the dam from the other side. Our hike leader said that extensions to the existing trails are planned.

The Dam at Martinsville Reservoir

From there, it is a short walk to the boat launch and picnic area. The open metal shelter visible on the boat launch houses kayaks that are available to the public for kayaking from April through October. The rental for a kayak/canoe is $10 a day plus there is a $10 refundable deposit for the key needed to unlock them. There is a Canoe Rental Form available on the city’s website here.

Martinsville Reservoir Boat Launch

Non-gasoline powered boats are allowed on the reservoir but must have a permit. The permit fee posted to the Virginia DWR webpage in February of 2022 is $3 a day or $15 for a calendar year. This water is the water supply for the City of Martinsville so there may be other restrictions on what kinds of motors or boats will be permitted. The Lake Warden can answer more specific questions.

Boating fees for active, retired and disabled military veterans are waived.

If you like to fish, you might be interested in the 2020 video below where they show the construction and launch of “fish attractors” along the banks of the reservoir. They put in twenty in 2019 and another thirty-four in 2020. The attractors are made out of concrete and corrugated drainage pipe so that the fish have some structures that won’t be as prone to snag hooks as other materials might be.

Calico Rock on Philpott Lake

It is a cold, blustery day in Virginia this Saturday. It is my busy season, so I’ve worked every weekend this month. God has, for reasons of His own, taken to giving us winter storms on the weekends so I couldn’t really go out anyway. It looks like this right now, leaving me to remember warmer days.

I know others have it much worse today, but that is not really any comfort.

Snow in the Back Yard

As it happens, I had this post sitting in my drafts file. It is from my last kayaking trip for 2021. Henry County has many excellent programs for people over 50 and one of them is kayaking. Once a month, folks from the county office will take a group out on area lakes and rivers. In October, we went to see Calico Rock on Philpott Lake.

Calico Rock is, well, a little underwhelming. That is why this post was sitting in drafts in the first place. However, all things are relative and, right now, it is breathtaking to me. I feel extremely fortunate to live in a place where I can throw a kayak on top of my car (it actually takes me about 45 minutes to do that) and get out on the water.

Ryans Branch Boat Launch

I get the impression that Ryans Branch boat launch is not well known, even to locals. The ladies at the church didn’t know where it was and my cursory glimpse at Google Maps suggested that it was much further north. It turned out to be just a few minutes north of Fairy Stone Lake.

Ryans Branch Boat Launch

This trip was in late October and the leaves were still working on turning. The weather alternated between sunny and cloudy while we were out. When the sun came out, the leaves just seemed to snap with color … and then another cloud would come by.

Ryans Branch Boat Launch

To get to Calico Rock from the Ryans Branch launch, you turn right and go under the bridge. At the time of this trip, Google Maps had Calico Rock on the other side of the lake. It’s not. Trust me. Turn right and go under the bridge.

Turn Right and Go Under the Bridge

Then you just hug the shoreline. There are no turns needed. It is quite a ways back.

Hugging the Shoreline
More Shoreline Hugging

You’ll know that you are getting close when you see a house on the hill.

Approaching Calico Rock

So, Calico Rock is – unless the fellow from the county was pulling our leg – really just a kind of rock face. I’m not really sure what I was expecting.

Calico Rock

There is something to be said for scale though. The voice in the back of my head that thinks it knows obscure words keeps yelling “escarpment”. Is it? I don’t really know.

Calico Rock Up Close

So, that was Calico Rock. You may be able to see why it stayed in drafts for the past three months. Now, in the dead of winter, you may enjoy it as I do … as proof of fun activities in better weather.

There are other sites to see from Ryans Launch, although I don’t know how you would see Blue Falls without scuba gear. According to the plaque, it is an “historic feature deep under the waters of the lake”. That leaves Emberson Falls. That sounds like a trip for 2022.

More Adventuring Ideas

I hope everyone out there is safe and snug and, if not enjoying the winter weather, persisting.

In a few weeks, the forsythia will bloom. In less than six weeks, the leaves should start at least nubbing out on the trees. Winter, like all trying times, will pass.

A Short Drive: Natural Bridge

This is the third in a series of posts about a recent trip up to the Natural Bridge area about two hours north of Martinsville-Henry County. To recap, we drove up to the area and saw the zoo, Dinosaur Kingdom II, the caverns, and the natural bridge. We didn’t have to leave insanely early and we were back by dark. We even stopped for dinner in Roanoke on the way back.

Natural Bridge Caverns are nice. Worth the visit. There’s a lot to see overhead and they’ve made good use of lighting inside to showcase the fissures.

Word to the wise, here’s a typical conversation after returning from the caverns:

Me: I went to see the Natural Bridge caverns.

Neighbor: Is that the one with the big pond and the lights … (and a lot more descriptions that mean nothing if you haven’t been to Lurray Caverns).

Neighbor’s wife: No, you are thinking of Lurray Caverns.

Neighbor then regales us with stories of Lurray Caverns.

But Natural Bridge caverns is fun. I haven’t seen Lurray so I can’t tell you if one is definitely better than the other. It’s enough of a constant in conversation that I’m going to have to go see Lurray soon.

Natural Bridge has the stalagtites and stalagmites that you’d expect. One of our preteens noticed this formation that looks like a frog.


There is a pond (very small pond) with a boardwalk going around it. At the right time of year, you can see salamanders here. We were not there at the right time of year.

But the big thing in Natural Bridge is the fissures. The highlight of the tour is when the guide takes the group through one of the narrow fissures.

Inside the fissure that you are passing through, and directly overhead, is a massive boulder that fell into the fissure and got stuck. After everyone has passed under the boulder, we gathered in a room with a relatively level floor and hand rails. The guide then extinguished all of the lights so that we could experience “cave dark”.

Needless to say, the caverns may not be the best activity for anyone with a fear of the dark or of being deep underground. It is pretty cool though. And I mean that literally as well as figuratively. Take a jacket. Even on a hot day, the caverns are around 50 degrees.

After you have toured the caverns, you have to drive a short distance to get on the trail to see the Natural Bridge and Lace Falls at the end of the Cedar Creek Trail. “Karst” was a new word for me and I still couldn’t use it in a sentence.

I probably shouldn’t take pictures of placards that no one can actually read after the photo has been scaled and posted to the Internet, but I can’t help it. I have transcribed the sign below and put in bold the parts I found interesting:

It says:

The arch is composed of solid grey limestone. It is 215 feet high (55 feet higher than Niagara Falls) 40 feet thick, 100 feet wide and spans 90 feet between the massive walls. The span contains 450,000 cubic feet of rock. If man had scales to weigh it, the mass would balance about 72,000,000 pounds, or 36,000 tons. The rocks that compose the rocks, that fold and break in the layers, were imposed on them during the Appalachian Mountain building process toward the end of the Paleozoic Era, more than 200 million years ago. At it’s highest point, the bridge is approximately 1160 feet above sea level.

This was Nature’s working material. Her tool, Cedar Creek. A simple mountain stream flowing towards the seas. With these, Nature achieved her miracle. She pained her masterpiece with dull red and ochre, soft shades of yellow and cream, delicate tracings of blueish-grey.

Before white men came to our shores, the Monacan Indians considered this ancient wonder a sacred site, and called it “The Bridge of God”.

According to legend, in 1750, the youthful George Washington, engaged by Lord Fairfax, proprietor of the Northern Neck of Virginia, surveyed the surrounding acreage of Natural Bridge. During his visit, he scaled some 23 feet up the left wall of the bridge, and carved his initials “G.W.”, which may still be seen today.

On July 5th, 1774, Thomas Jefferson purchased Natural Bridge and 157 surrounding acres from King George III of England for the “sum of twenty shillings of good and lawful money.” (about ($2.40). Jefferson visited the bridge often, surveyed the area and even drew a map in his own hand. In 1803 two years after becoming the President of the United States, he constructed a two room cabin on the grounds.

From the literary classic, Moby Dick, to such paintings as The Peaceable Kingdom, Natural Bridge has been used to portray the ultimate natural wonder. Edward Hicks, one of America’s foremost folk artists, used the Natural Bridge in his oil painting of about 1825-30. Amongst many famous artists to paint or sketch an image of the bridge was Frederick Edwin Church of the Hudson River School, who came to paint the bridge in 1852, followed in 1860 by David Johnson, a second generation Hudson River School artist.

The Lee Highway, U.S. Route 11, crosses over the Natural Bridge, even today.

First thing, I’m kicking myself for not reading this whole placard while I was actually there. It was “TLDR” (too long didn’t read), in modern parlance. I would have liked to have known to look for George Washington’s initials.

Secondly, did I seriously just read that there’s a state highway on the top of this thing? I’m a little stunned at first. My next thought is, “do the people up there know what they are crossing?”. Seems like there should be some kind of disclaimer. Then I’m thinking about litterbugs tossing trash or debris over the side either intentionally or unintentionally. This just can’t be. I must have read that wrong.

If the students were here, I could ask one of them. I am really going to enjoy becoming a little a old lady and harassing college-aged kids just trying to get through their day. I’ve still got a good two to three decades before I get there but I’m making good time.

But there were no students. The replica Monacan Indian Village was closed while we were there. I believe that it is closed for the duration of the Covid pandemic so it’s anyone’s guess as to when it will reopen.

One of my companions who had been here before said that it was not a village but situated for educating groups on different topics. It looks like fun. And shady. It would be nice to at least read the placards.

After the village, the creek is the star of the show as you make your way to the falls. It’s shallow but beautiful and the rock formations are really intriguing. They seem to be evidence of the highly technical geological term “smushing”. 🙂

There are small fish throughout. Small. A lot of the older men here have told me how they used to come here and fish. I’m not disbelieving anybody but between water flow, visible fish size, and access, I’m not understanding how anyone would have been able to fish here.

Lace Falls – End of the Trail

Too be honest, the waterfall is a little underwhelming. the trail ends a good distance away from the falls. You can see them. If you have a decent zoom, you can snap a picture. Our preteens felt a little duped by the marketing lingo for the falls. “30 Foot cascade” sounded a little … more.

Be that as it may, everyone snapped a photo and sat and rested a while before turning back and heading back out. Don’t oversell Lace Falls to any in your party that are on the grouchy side and you’ll do fine. It is a beautiful walk and a nice thing to do outdoors.

Shortly after I got back and before I started drafting this post, Facebook advertised the Dixie Caverns in Roanoke to me. Then Facebook asked if I would like my targeted advertising to be more like that. I said “yes”. There was no way to respond how creepy that was in the first place though.