Mountain Lake No More

September 3, 2008 at 10:54 am 10 comments

On Sunday, I took Science Blogger Ryan Somma from up to Mountain Lake. The Commonwealth of Virginia only has two natural fresh water lakes and Mountain Lake is one of them. If that isn’t notable enough for you, then I guess I should promote the lake’s other bragging rights. Ahem. Part of Dirty Dancing was filmed there.

On the way up, I pointed out the route for the annual Mountains of Misery Race and I explained how in recent years the lake’s been draining.

We arrived to the top of Salt Pond Mountain and discovered that I used incorrect tense. Draining was wrong. Drained is more like it. The water is pretty much all gone. It’s part of the cycle of the lake.

The Mountain Lake Resort has been dealt a tough hand. The water is gone. Lake-side cottages look oddly out of place. Stranded boats and docks look reminiscent of ghost towns.

Ryan with what is left of the lake

Rocks, an empty lake and what was once prime real estate

These posted rules aren’t that handy anymore

An old boat in the mud

But kudos to the resort for turning lemons into lemonade. They let you explore the dry lake bed. A nice gravel path with a bench and a portapotty lead the way. You get to see the fascinating crack patterns in the dried mud. You get to witness the perseverance of nature as vegetation takes over where the water once was. And you get to be on the lookout for forgotten goodies like old Budweiser cans fossils!

Flowers grow in the rocks

The cracked lake bed

Grass and wildflowers taking over

Grass growing in the dried mud

Worm tracks and a leaf imprint in the mud

When you go to the Mountain Lake Resort website now, there is a caption in red at the top of the page that reads, “The mountain is more than just a lake…….”

That was certainly true on Sunday. We mucked around in the mud until dark. It was by far the longest amount of time that I have spent at the actual lake area of Mountain Lake.

A stronger testament comes from my own picture collection. Between Bald Knob, War Spur, the Appalachian Trail and Wind Rocks, I head up to the top of Salt Pond Mountain pretty regularly for hikes. Then add special events like Oktoberfest in the mix and I’ve been up there a quite a bit. So…over the years, exactly how many pictures have I taken of the lake?


There are two pictures from Bald Knob where the lake happens to make a cameo appearance in the background, but that’s it.

The lake itself was indeed gorgeous and quite a sight. But whenever I headed to the top of Salt Pond Mountain, there was always something else that interested me more than the water.

More pictures from dried Mountain Lake are available on my Flickr site.

Mountain Lake – Hiking the Lake Bed
115 Hotel Circle
Pembroke, VA 24136

Length: ~1.5 miles round trip (estimated using Google Maps)

Elevation Gain: It’s pretty flat– but if you tackle the mud and the rocks, you can make the terrain tricky.

Parking: $2 at the hotel

Directions from Blacksburg, VA
Take 460 West
Turn right on VA-700
Follow VA-700 about 7 miles to the top of the mountain

Entry filed under: Hiking, Mountain Lake.

Hooray for Creative Commons! Mountain Lake: Three Years Apart

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. ideonexus  |  September 3, 2008 at 11:07 am

    The drained lake was an incredible site. It’s unfortunate that it’s absence is hurting the resort’s tourism, since the area does have so much more to offer. Plus the drained lake should be a fascinating attraction in and of itself.

    I’m sorry I never got to see the lake while it existed during my 5 years living in Blacksburg. Since this is a cyclical phenomenon, I’d recommend others check it out before the lake fills up again. It was like seeing an alien landscape.

  • 2. geekhiker  |  September 3, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    And I’ll bet the next time around you’re going to take LOTS of photos of the lake, aren’t you? πŸ˜‰

    Thanks for including the link to the article for my inner geology-geek! πŸ™‚

  • 3. tgaw  |  September 3, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    @geekhiker– Yeah….. probably.

    But the point is still valid– there is tons to see on Salt Pond Mountain without the water! πŸ™‚

  • 4. SEO Marty  |  September 4, 2008 at 8:41 am

    That is amazing. As long as I’ve lived in SWVa I never new about that. Thanks, and I agree, the link to the reason was really cool!

  • 5. TGAW  |  September 5, 2008 at 11:01 am

    Hey Marty— the first time I saw the lake was circa 1998 and 1999. I had NO idea it was up there (even though there are clearly signs on 460). I was driving to the War Spur Hike, following directions I printed from the Internet. I turned a bend and VOILA! Amazing lake. It was quite a surprise.

  • 6. Richard F Pharr  |  September 12, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    In the middle 1940’s I vividly remember my Scout Troop camping at the lake. A number of us had swam to a woden platform in the middle. A large diameter rope was connected from the swim dock to shore but it drouped in a bow fairly deep below the water line. A kid in the group, who was not a good swimmer, lost his grip on the rope and began struggling. Our Scout Master went to rescue the boy but got into trouble himself while trying to calm the boy. Luckily two adults who were camping nearby witness the incident and came to the aid of our Scout Master. Thankfully, for me the lake still holds a good memory. As a Geologist I enjoyed your article. I’ve been in the underground salt mines at Saltville as well as the gypsum mines at Plasterco. I think they’ve both been closed for years

  • 7. More on Mountain Lake « TGAW  |  September 15, 2008 at 8:01 am

    […] 15, 2008 If you are interested in more coverage of the disappearance of Mountain Lake, check out the blogs for the Mountain Lake Conservancy: Mountain Lake Conservancy […]

  • 8. Off the Beaten Paths: Hikes for T.A.C.O. Week « TGAW  |  September 29, 2008 at 1:27 am

    […] to the overlook.Β  Of course you have to drive to the trailhead, but along the way, you can stop at Mountain Lake to explore the dry lake bed or marvel at the life size chess and checkers set.Β  Your child will also get exposed to Civil War […]

  • 9. Paul D.  |  October 19, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    I frequented the throughout my time at Virginia Tech from 1976 to 1981, from 1990 to 1992 pursuing a grad degree, and any other time that I’m visiting the area in-between – most recently, thanksgiving stays at the hotel.

    In the 1970’s the hotel and conservancy land was posted against all trespassing and strictly enforced by this old fellow in a pickup truck. You couldn’t be seen anywhere on the property unless you were a paying hotel guest – meaning everyone during the long closed season. So I’ll always remember the “sneak” trips to the rocks at far end of the lake – now that big “crater” in the pictures. The only “safe” route to Bald Knob was along the powerlines from the Mt Lake Road.

    Through all that time, from 1976 until we stayed at the hotel for thanksgiving in 2004, the lake level was always completely full and flowing over the concrete weir at the pond-drain outlet that kept the lake about a foot higher than it’s purely-natural level would be.

    As big a disappointment as the drying-up lake was the demise of the huge old Hemlocks to the wooly adelgid – that once covered the slopes around the lake, and at War Spur, and at the Cascades. The last tie I hiked these areas, it was quite depressing. But it is nice to see from the recent photos of the “crater” that once was the lake that a goodly number of Hemlocks at the lake have survived and are looking better.

    I think it is time for the Hotel to consider an engineered fix for the lake’s “leaks”. But then again, if that was done, the lake might lose it’s status as the only natural lake in the Southern Appalachians.

  • 10. Nancy Rivera  |  June 6, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    Memories of long ago. As a child, this wonderful place was our playgroung. Of course we weren’t allowed near the hotel – we were local kids and “just not good enough”.What Virginia should do is make it a state park. I’ve always thought so. Of course what happened at Mountain Lake was nature doing it’s thing. Not much you can do about that. However, the state should also take over Natural Bridge and make it a park. I cried when I saw the horror the owners did there. They took a lovely place and built a wall around it. Shame on them and shame on Virginia for allowing it to happen and continuing to allow it. Eminent Domain?


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