What is there left to say about one of the most popular and most photographed hikes in the area?
Well, seven things that maybe aren't quite as common knowledge as the great viewpoint:
1. The formation itself is a remainder of the crash of the African Plate into what is now Virginia, some 250 million years ago, pushing up what have now worn down to be Catawba and Tinker mountains.
2. The AT section is among the most primped and attended to in Virginia, with a dozen Eagle Scout bridges to carry you over slanty pieces of the plate crash results, plus lots of stone and wooden-plank stairways to ease the 1,200-foot climb the trail makes from 311 to McAfee. And on this day when one of the wooden bridges had been crushed by a tree, the trail tenders had already created a new rock surface for that short trail distance.
3. And speaking of the 1,200-foot climb, is there a harder-working 3,197-foot viewpoint around anywhere? I don't think so.
4. One direction you can watch while you're up there is back toward Roanoke and its airport, where on a Saturday afternoon in May you could leave a camera on the runways for an hour, for your post-apocalyptic, where-have-all-the-airplanes-gone movie.
5. And on said Saturday afternoon, you and your hiking companion could wonder aloud if Virginia Tech students really are so all about the outdoors, or if maybe some professor's offering extra credit has created the ongoing stream of dozens of smiling, exuberant, Hokie-clad hikers.
6. It's a lesson in generations and eras to be on the formation amid said students as they talk about what they're texting and twittering back to lower elevations, while the only pre-geezers up here on this afternoon not only wouldn't think of carrying a cellphone to such a place, but have also forgotten their electronic device that takes pictures.
7. If The Greatest Day Hiker Of Them All can hear, from perhaps an eighth of a mile behind her on the trail, the chatter and laughter of three young women less than half her age and pretty well keeping up with TGDHOTA's pace, she will eventually bury said followers, and in doing so drag her hiking companion up the mountain in one hour and 35 minutes, even while taking time to stop and admire selected wildflowers. Her gentle pride in her hiking speed protected once again, she will walk at a still-healthy hour-and-55 to get back down.
Appalachian Trail from Va. 311 to McAfee Knob and back. 7.4 miles.
How to get there: Va. 311 west from Salem to the parking area at the high point for the road on Catawba Mountain.