Mountain Lake

The original sandstone hotel which was built in 1936 remains as do an assortment of cabins.  In 2013, a new "Treetop Adventure Lodge" opened and guest rooms in the hotel as well as in the Chestnut Lodge have all been completely refurbished.  The mountinside resort is once again a thriving tourist destination, offering hiking, tennis, biking and numerous educational programs for children and adults.  Year round accommodations draw corporate functions, an assortment of reunions, weddings and of course, the casual weekend and summer vacationers.  

The Geological Formation of Natural Lakes

Once a thriving 47 acre mountain top lake, the 6,000 year old lakebed is all but dry now dry and scientists are still scratching their heads.  In its prime, this luxurious resort overlooking Mountain Lake in the Appalachian Highlands was a favorite summertime destination for countless families.  In fact, so tucked away in the mountains of the remote western part of Virginia, at the highlight of its existence the lake and its surrounding resort were the perfect venue for the filming of the legendary movie, "Dirty Dancing."  For several decades following the release of the movie, adoring fans and romantics flocked to the remote resort to capture a glimpse and possibly a dance on the gazebo overlooking the vast lake, but sadly no more.  Since 2002, the lake has continued to slowly drain, leaving nothing but a deep dry lake bed with only the northernmost part capable of collecting and holding a scant amount of water.

The small gazebo still lingers

Roughly 95% dry, this is all that remains of the majestic lake bed, Summer of 2017

Nostalgic signs still direct visitors

By default, all naturally formed lakes are the result of ancient glaciation which left deep scarred crevases in the landscape.  Over time, if the foundation of the depression was fairly solid, rainwater and other naturally occurring soures of water flowed into the depression forming a lake structure.  All freshwater lakes are considered "open" because there is always a positive flow of water that eventually leaves the lake either by overflowing its edges or seeping through cracks below the lake's surface.  Mountain Lake is a classic example of this.   Unfortunately, lake enthusiasts in the year 2018 are relegated to seeing a fairly dry lake-bed with only marginal accumulations of water.  In fact, beginning in about 2008, water levels quickly drained, leaving nothing more than a few small pools of water at the deepest part of the lake bed.  

One of the remaining stagnant puddles in the northern section of the lake-bed

Although the lake bed itself is fairly dry, visitors still marvel at its expanse and often cannot resist the urge to actually hike across what used to be a vast body of water.  Stepping off of the dock at the end of the gazebo, visitors immediately notice the lake bed is in a state of faunal succession.  Scientists are relatively certain the majority of the water escaped through large fissures and sinkhole underneath the lake, taking valuable nutrients and soil with it.  Although heavy rains and runoff occasionally replenish the northern end, it is rarely enough to support more than a few gasping fish.  What remains is a dry, rocky environment with a new growth forest in its successive infancy.  Walking along a few well trodden dusty paths, visitors immediately notice the very angular rocks that seem to litter the lake bed.  Growing on and around them are various lichens and mosses that are able to survive in the arid and nutrient poor substrate.  Immediately following heavy rains, any remaining mud bakes and buckles under the heat of the sun, stranding a few remaining salamanders who ultimately perish or become food for maurading raccoons and coyotes.  

The wooden deck still descends off of the gazebo, inviting visitors to step out onto the dry lake bed

Dry stones with little soil line the paths

Exploring the Dry Lake Bed

The dry lake bed is filled with the slow beginnings of a new forest

Remaining patches of mud carry the tell tale signs of nocturnal animals searching for stranded fish and salamanders

No more than a dozen young pine trees have started taking hold in the lake bed

Scant remains of mud quickly bake and crack in the heat of the sun

Small lizards and salamanders often perish as rainwater quickly drains

Although scientists are not completely sure, the strongest evidence points to the fact that Mountain Lake is hollowed out directly over a fissure or a series of fissures that continually drain any influx of water.  For the summer of 2017,  just enough sediment remained at the very bottom to allow very little accumulation of water.  Visitors to the lake could easily walk out across its huge expanse and marvel at the remaining sink holes that littered the muddy center.

A moss community on a rocky pathway

Colorful Cladonia sp. lichens inhabit the sandy patches

Mountain Lake

Situated in Giles County, Mountain Lake is one of Virginia's most interesting and unusual geological features.  Naturally occuring lakes are somewhat of an anomolie in the state and this mountain top lake bed is no exception. Presently, the lake bed has succumed to drainage and been reduced to a vast bog area with only a trickle of water.  In the height of its existence 20 years ago, this freshwater lake typically covered almost 50 acres, providing the region with a unique mountain recreation destination known to many generations of families.  Although the lake-bed itself is devoid of water, the stately Mountain Lake Hotel remains and the entire 2,600 acress are protected under the Mountain Lake Conservancy.  Environmental and cultural educational experienes abound and the site still remains as a favorite year round retreat destination.  Mountain Lake provided the location for the move classic "Dirty Dancing" headlined by Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Gray.  Mountain Lake welcomes Dirty Dancing fans a couple of times each year.

Interesting Mosses, Liches and Fungi of the Lake Bed

As the lake bed is continually being fed by a natural water source and rainfall and yet in turn, is continually draining through various sinkholes and fissures, the accumulation of organic material necessary for the formation of soil is unusually slow.  Visitors who decide to trek across the vast expanse will immediately notice the rocky "basement" level of the former lake and an intereting suite of plants, mosses, lichens and fungi all attempting to take hold in the nutrient poor soil,  As of the summer of 2017, several pine trees were gaining in height but the majority of the lake bed remains a collection of low lying shrubs and wildflowers.

A zen sculpture along the trail