Escapes: Searching for stones and serenity in Virginia’s Fairy Stone State Park


Kayaking is a great way to explore the lake at Fairy Stone State Park, created by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Nine log cabins that can be rented date to the park’s beginnings. (Ann Cameron Siegal)
June 23, 2011

Serenity for the soul was our goal. And Southwest Virginia’s Fairy Stone State Park didn’t disappoint.

My 20-year-old daughter and I settled into our lakeside cabin, trading television, cellphone service and the Internet for two rocking chairs on a screened porch with a view. A supply of groceries, hiking shoes, kayaks and books rounded out the necessities for the weekend.

Ahhh, and the filet mignon, grilled over an open fire, wasn’t bad, either.

Okay, I know, few college kids — or adults — are willing to unplug for three days, but my daughter craved some quiet time before heading into final exams, and I find short-term disconnecting rejuvenating.

Anticipation rose as we approached the park from the west, ducking off Interstate 81 onto Virginia Route 8 for a meandering, traffic-free hour-plus country drive. The only sizable town we passed was cute, welcoming Floyd, population 446.

After dropping off our gear at the cabin, my daughter, the rockhound in the family, decided that we should search for the fairy stones that give this park its name. These are small, twinned six-sided crystals, resembling crosses, that formed when the mineral staurolite crystallized under intense heat and pressure during the formation of the Appalachian Mountains.

Their rarity was enough to capture our attention, but for others, a spiritual legend surrounding them is the draw. It’s said that while playing in a spring-fed creek, fairies found their joy abruptly curtailed when an elfin messenger brought word of Christ’s crucifixion. As the fairies wept, their tears hit the ground, forming the crosses.

Park officials directed us to the most promising hunting grounds, on park property beside the Haynes 57 country market/gas station, about three miles from the park entrance. After some down-home chatter with local folks about weather and politics, we examined the shop’s collection of the wee stones. Owner Ronnie Haynes, who’s into his 43rd year of sharing searching tips with visitors, showed us examples of the types of crosses we might find: St. Andrew’s, Roman or Maltese, the rarest of the three.

It’s free, surface-only scavenging — no digging allowed. While some seek these stones as good-luck charms, my daughter just enjoys the hunt.

As dusk settled in with a constant drizzle several hours later, we emerged from the woods with muddy hands and clothes, each happily carrying a handful of definites and possibles. By then, Haynes was closed for the day, so verification of the latter grouping fell to us. After removing considerable caked-on mud from our finds, we reached our verdict: “Bingo!”

I’m the early riser in the family, so I relished paddling on the 168-acre lake the next morning as the fog lifted.  The silence and the play of dawn’s light across the water are mesmerizing. There wasn’t even a ripple, except for those made by my kayak as I glided effortlessly along. Three fishermen already had lines out and were peacefully settled into their waiting game. Nothing else stirred.

Such tranquillity belies the raucous history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries here. What was once the industrious iron boomtown of Fayerdale degenerated into a moonshiners’ haven, where hard drinking, murder and double-crossing reigned. Remnants of the old mine are still visible, but many of Fayerdale’s ruins were submerged when the Civilian Conservation Corps created the lake and the park in the 1930s.

Sprawling over 4,600 acres, Fairy Stone is the largest of six Virginia state parks that opened on June 15, 1936. Now celebrating its 75th anniversary, it’s surpassed in size only by Pocahontas State Park, established in 1946, and Grayson Highlands State Park, which opened in 1965.

There are various camping and RV options, but we chose the less-work-more-comfort offered by our cedar-sided cabin. Nine of the park’s 25 cabins are the original log ones built by the CCC.

Our cabin was so clean that we didn’t realize until we read the guest journal that there had been canine family members among the occupants before us. The journal entries, compiled over several years, are fun to read the first evening. If it’s cool, stoke the indoor wood-burning fireplace, settle back and discover what others have seen or experienced. Several saw black bears, including one lumbering down the hillside along our favorite lakeside trail. We didn’t see so much as paw prints.

Some saw beavers; we saw just the remnants of gnawing efforts and wondered why the orange-toothed architects had abandoned one huge tree three-quarters of the way through it.

We learned that the best views are from Little Mountain Trail and Stuart Knob. We savored recommended hikes, some gentle, some strenuous, over miles of winding dirt trails with frequent switchbacks. Trails are clearly marked, whether you’re following them on horseback, mountain bike, foot or a combination thereof.

With the bustling summer activities surrounding a wide and sandy swimming beach, boat rentals and a 100-seat amphitheater, we’re not sure that we’d find the same solace in season that we enjoyed in late April. But Fairy Stone State Park’s vast acreage and off-the-beaten-path location present enticing possibilities for quiet exploration year-round.

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