Mountains to Sea:The Flow – Part 2

I’ve stood only once on The Pinnacles of the Dan River (topo). And it was perhaps the only place I’ve been where you could underhand toss a stone and have it fall a thousand feet before it landed—in this case, in the tiny thread of the Dan River headwaters far below. I can’t recall much of that hike except that it was very botanically rich. We lived in Wytheville at the time, and I was in unfamiliar territory; now, this is not that far from home, and traveling down the parkway as we often do, as the crow flies, we’re only a few miles from this striking landform.

Pinnacles of the Dan on Google Earth

Take a look at the Google Map screenshot and follow the winding path of the Dan near it’s westernmost source in Patrick County. Rather than taking the shortest path south into the piedmont, it courses south and for reasons lost to geological history, cutting its way deep into the mountains before turning south. Most of the rivers drop in elevation has already happened by the time it reaches the Pinnacles (hence the 1000 foot precipice) though the surrounding land elevation stands in great relief, Mountains against NC Piedmont through which the rest of its journey carries it. (Google Earth: find Kibler, VA)

Dan River Basin Map

This, of course, is a river system, not a single stream, and encompasses some 3300 square miles of land drained by tributaries of the Dan that I’ve never heard of: Mayo, Smith, Sandy, Bannister and Hyde Rivers, each with their own pattern of feeder creeks, springs and branches draining swamps, shopping center parking lots, pig farms, and forest before the common stream of the Dan joins the Roanoke River.

And so any drop of rain that falls in Goose Creek will eventually mingle with a drop from the Pinnacles, or Mayo or countless named and nameless creeks of the Dan and yet other feeder rivers before it all flows into the briney Albemarle Sound.

Some would consider the time I spent yesterday looking at maps a foolish waste of time. But I have now a better sense of my place in the world. I know the lie of the land in a deeper way. And when it rains again (soon, we hope) I’ll imagine two drops, one starting in Nameless Creek and the other at Pinnacles, meeting finally before merging in the Atlantic. That daydream seems to me worth the moments spent exploring this place we all call home.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I’m a map person too. Anytime I’m in a new place, the first thing I want to do is study a map to get the lay of the land and see how places relate to one another. I also look at maps to plot out future travels…finding a new road or destination to explore.

  2. Hey – I like the idea that water in Goose Creek flows into the Dan River, which is at the bottom of the hillside where I live in Danville. I knew that our river’s water comes out of the Blue Ridge Mountains: every time you get some rain up there, whether or not we’ve had any, we see a lot more water flowing over the dam that’s beside one of our main bridges. And our river gets muddy. I even know vaguely where the Dan River begins. But I hadn’t given any thought to what other streams and rivers have become part of the Dan by the time I watch it flow by.

  3. Goose Creek waters are MET by the waters of the Dan as they are both part of the Roanoke into which the Dan flows. The Dan begins a very few miles from the Floyd County line, flows south and east while Goose Creek and the Roanoke flows east then south to finally comingle.

  4. Doesn’t the Dan start in the meadow between Belcher Mountain Road and Mountain View? Also I think the North Fork of the Smith starts down the ridge from Meadow View near Edgeview Mountain Estates just off Belcher Mountain Road. With all that water, I don’t know why my wells are having such problems.

  5. I also love maps. I want to know where I am in relation to the wide world around me. And as you say, topo maps are even better!
    I always wondered where Meadows of Dan got its name. When my daughter lived in Blacksburg, and we drove to a co-op in Floyd once, I would see the Dan River signs.
    I’m enjoying your website, will explore it more as I have time.

  6. Thanks for the Dan River basin info. In one line of my family, a man sailed from England to Norfolk, VA in the summer of 1635. This man’s grandson moved to Pittsylvania county around 1750 and lived by the Dan River. He was known as “John of Dan River”.

    His offspring, that is me, used to fish the Dan right where it touches Surry county NC in the 1980’s. It was good to see the topo of the this river that I never looked at before.