Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bull Run Mountains

For those that live in the Washington, DC metropolitan area or in Northern Virginia, it is likely that, at some point, you have laid eyes upon a low ridge that runs in the Piedmont of Virginia -- the Bull Run Mountains.  This "range" of mountains, whose highest point is but 1,300 feet in elevation, runs along the Prince William-Fauquier County, Virginia line from Thoroughfare Gap in the south, to the village of Aldie in Loudoun County line, in the north.

South of Thoroughfare Gap, the "range" is known as the Pond Mountains, and continue as a low ridge to New Balitmore in Fauquier Co. on US29, Lee Highway.  North of Aldie, in Loudoun County, the "range" is known as Catoctin Mountain (which is an arguably more famous ridge, hosting the famous Presidential retreat of Camp David).

"Weathered quartzite cliff on Bull Run Mountain, a Piedmont monadnock in Fauquier County. The umbilicate lichen Lasallia pensylvanica abundantly covers the exposed rock faces. Photo © Gary P. Fleming" from

Today, however, my focus is on the Bull Run Mountains.  We begin in the south, and at the historically significant Thoroughfare Gap.  This gap, now used by Broad Run [making this a water gap, actually] Interstate 66, VA 55, and the Manassas Gap Railroad, was a pivotal location in the Second Manassas Campaign of the summer of 1862.  Through this Gap Stonewall Jackson led his corps on their 55 mile march around the Union Army of Virginia on 26 August 1862.  Two days later, this Gap was the site of a battle, as Union division under US General Ricketts tried to prevent the Confederate corps of CS General Longstreet from coming to the aide of Stonewall Jackson.

This link features the historical marker at the site of the Gap:

At this battlefield site, and still clearly visible today from the Interstate, is the old Chapman or Beverly Mill, built in 1757AD.  Here is the marker for the Mill:

Delightfully enough, the outcrop to the south of Thoroughfare Gap, at the north end of the Pond Mountains, is called Biscuit Mountain, while the southern end of the Bull Run Mountains is called Mother Leathercoat Mountain.

For those intested in hiking this southern area of the Bull Run Mountains, the Nature Conservancy has acquired the land of this section of the mountain, and made it available for public hiking:

Just to the north is another great and historically significant gap in the Bull Run Mountains: Hopewell Gap.  The Confederate forces, in their attempt to turn the flank of the blocking Union forces at the Battle of Thoroughfare Gap would use Hopewell Gap to get around their stubborn foe.  There are some intersting stories associated with the great Confederate hero of Northern Virginia, John S. Mosby, associated with this gap, as well.  This sign says a bit more:

So, if you ever travel from Washington, DC to Front Royal, Virginia, look about you as you cross the county line of Prince William and Fauquier Counties -- you are in Thoroughfare Gap, and the Bull Run Mountains sit to your north!

Live well!

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