“Lift thine eyes, oh, lift thine eyes to the mountains, whence cometh thy help” counsels a soaring, lush trio for women’s voices from Felix Mendelssohn’s 1846 oratorio, Elijah (Opus 70), an adaptation of Psalm 121. I thought of this song the first time I swam at Mint Springs back in the 80s; it felt like swimming in a giant bowl created by the surrounding mountains. We all love the mountains we see from Crozet—but what are we looking at? I have long been curious to know which mountains I am seeing—what are their names and their stories?
My prayers were answered recently when I discovered —via a hiker friend on Facebook—an amazing app called Peak Finder AR, which uses satellite GPS to label every mountain peak I can see. I just hold my phone up vertically, aim it at the mountains, and voila! Peak Finder labels them. By pressing the camera icon, I can take a photo with an overlay of the name identifications. This app sells for only $5 and is compatible with both iPhone and android. And if you have travel plans, it works all over the world.
However, I have never written such a difficult article—especially since the spatial part of my brain is largely missing! For one thing, the mountains blend together, and look different from different angles. Also, there are many repetitions in their names. There’s a Hightop Mountain to the north and a High Top Mountain to the east. There’s a Little Yellow Mountain to the west and a Yellow Mountain to the south. There’s a Bear Den Mountain to the west and another with the same name to the east! But I, personally, now feel much more confident about what I’m seeing, and I hope to share this new knowledge. For now, I must focus on simply identifying the mountain peaks we see when we look west, north, east, and south—not their history or geology. Most of them were named for their shape (such as Humpback or Saddleback Mountains), their once bountiful wildlife (such as Fox or Elk Mountains), or for the families that once inhabited them (such as Gibsons or Taylors Mountains). Many local roads are also named for the mountain peaks and gaps.
We owe special thanks to Andrew Walker and Ruth Emerick at the Albemarle County Office of Geographic Data Services for developing a custom map (here), as well as to Pete Satterwhite, Facilities Manager at Mountainside Senior Living, who took us to the roof and helped us get our bearings. He knew half the mountain names already!
The most imposing mountain we see from Crozet—the one that looms over the Dairy Queen to the west, and dominates views in Old Trail—is Bucks Elbow Mountain, whose long level ridge resembles a deer’s back, with the steep drop-off on the south side indeed resembling a buck’s bent hind leg. The small mountain in front of that—ie, between the viewer and Bucks Elbow—is Beaver Creek Mountain, upon which Emerald Ridge is built. Continuing southwest from Bucks Elbow—right where a calf might be found if it followed close on its father’s heels—is the smaller, but no less imposing, Calf Mountain—which has a noticeable diagonal cut for power lines that looks like an angled part in the mountain’s hair (legend has it that Calf Mountain got its name from a farmer’s logging, which when viewed from a distance looked exactly like the shape of a calf!). Lying low in front of Calf Mountain is Little Yellow Mountain, which cradles Mint Springs Lake.
Continuing southwest from Calf is Bear Den Mountain, which can be viewed straight on from the Septenary Winery veranda, and beyond that (still moving right to left) is Afton Mountain, which dips west towards Waynesboro. One of its peaks is called Scott Mountain, upon which Royal Orchard and Scott Castle perch. Rockfish Gap runs over Afton, between Bear Den and Elk Mountains. One has an excellent view of all these peaks from the Wayland’s Crossing patio in the Old Trail town center.
Jarmans Gap is located between Calf and Bear Den Mountains, and can be reached by car following the long and rutted Old Jarmans Gap Road (route 611, which bears right just before Chiles Peach Orchard) about 5 miles up.
South of Rockfish Gap (moving right to left) we find Elk Mountain (home of Swannanoa), Humpback Mountain (with its famed Rocks), and Crawford Knob—with lesser peaks such as Dobie Mountain, Turks Mountain, and Round Top along the way. Continuing on to look straight south, we see Ennis Mountain, Yellow Mountain, and Pilot Mountain (a low, sharp peak). The southeastern view encompasses Castle Rock, Long Arm, Israel, and Ragged Mountains (where the reservoir is located).
Continuing east reveals Gillums, and Taylors Mountains (as in Taylors Gap Rd. in Ivy) as well as Sharp Top. Far to the east we see Round Top, Lewis Mountain, Sugarloaf, Turners, and Cowherd Mountains—with the colorfully name Wolfpit along the way.
Pasture Fence Mountain sprawls northwest of Crozet, with Loft Mountain further north. Brown’s Gap passes between Pasture Fence’s lesser peaks of Cedar and Little Flat Mountains, accessible by following Rt. 810 (Brown’s Gap Turnpike) to its end.
Straight north we find Fox Mountain—with its smaller peaks High Top, Martins, and Gibson Mountains—and a little to the east, Currant and Buck Mountains. Looking straight north we see (moving left to right) Saddleback and Pigeon Top Mountains, with its lesser Bray Hill peak.
These mountain names are as colorful and mysterious as the mountains themselves—we are blessed to live among them. As John Muir (1838-1914)—known as the Father of our National Parks—said, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”
I hope we have helped you to identify at least a few of the majestic peaks you gaze at as you hike, bike, dine, and sip your adult beverage in and around Crozet. To learn more, download the Peak Finder app and/or visit Albemarle County’s Office of Geographic Data Services’ GIS Web with its mountain overlay at www.gisweb.albemarle.org/Map/Viewer.aspx.
Andrew Walker provided this explanation of the full page map, as well as Albemarle County’s disclaimer:
Mountain Protection Areas
This dataset shows properties which exist at various elevation values that include 700, 800, 900, 1000, and 1200+ feet based generally on location of critical slopes and areas of visual impact. This dataset defines areas considered as mountains as defined in the Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan. It is not a Zoning District. The intent of protecting these areas is to help prevent impacts to water quality and public drinking water reservoir capacity; promote soil conservation and the conservation of forest resources, retain plant and animal habitat, and retain scenic values associated with the mountains; protect and promote the economic impact of these resources and tourism; and, promote the public safety by, among other things, controlling land-disturbing activities in the mountain areas that can contribute to or be impacted by debris flows. For more information, please contact the county’s Community Development Department (CDD) at 434-296-5832.
Disclaimer: Albemarle County has provided these data layers for informational purposes only. Data layers were compiled from various sources and are NOT to be construed or used as a “legal description”. Data layers are believed to be accurate, but accuracy is not guaranteed. www.albe marle.org/department.asp?depart ment=gds&relpage=2908.