Banister Cliffs

By William T. Hathaway

Banister Cliffs

Since the beginnings of my outdoor meanderings, backed up by an insatiable curiosity, I have felt drawn to a particular spot first visited over forty years ago.

The shale/sandstone cliffs along the Banister River are located 1.4 miles downstream from the Markham Bridge. — This is the spot where on a cold Christmas weekend in 1978, much to the surprise of my fellow hikers, I discovered a small pre-dinosaur footprint preserved in a layer of shale. This distinct footprint was a trace fossil from the Triassic which was the first period of the Mesozoic era, believed to have covered a span of time between 225 and 190 million years ago. When the footprint was shown to local geologist Vernon Geyer, he implied that it was one chance in a million for one to have made such a find.

A path leading from the base to the upper reaches of the cliff terminates in an easterly-facing, warmer exposure that is well above the settling of springtime cold air. For this reason wildflowers tend to bloom a week or so before the surrounding area wildflowers. I was lucky to have found a rare anemone which was within a disjunct population located at this site and nowhere else in Virginia. The Atlas of the Virginia Flora has listed the anemone as a state record. Several fox dens and a nearby Indian fish weir add to the magical attraction of this spot.

Thanks to the generosity of the Meadows family, hikers have been allowed access to this area. Unfortunately, aggressive vines along with a flourishing undergrowth have somewhat obscured the ascending trail at the present time. Even so, the Banister cliffs still occupy an enchanting niche in my past experiences as a naturalist.