Gap is a wind gap located in the Blue Ridge Mountains
between Charlottesville and Waynesboro, Virginia, United States.
Joining the Shenandoah Valley to the Piedmont region of the state,
it is the site of the mountain crossing of Interstate 64, U.S.
Highway 250, and the former Blue Ridge Railroad which later became
part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway and is currently part of
the CSX line. With an elevation of about 1,900 feet (580 m), it is
one of the lowest gaps between Manassas Gap and the James River.
Rockfish Gap lies along a drainage divide between
southeast-flowing streams that drain to the James River and
northwest-flowing streams in the Shenandoah River system.
The scenic Skyline Drive, which runs north through Shenandoah
National Park to Front Royal, and the Blue Ridge Parkway, which
runs south to a point near Cherokee, North Carolina, each
generally following the mountain ridgetops, meet at Rockfish Gap.
The Appalachian Trail also passes through the gap.
Rockfish Gap is underlain by
greenstones of the Catoctin Formation, a late Neoproterozoic
geologic unit exposed throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains in
Virginia, Maryland, and southern Pennsylvania. Catoctin
greenstones were originally erupted as basaltic lava flows 550 to
565 million years ago and later metamorphosed and deformed during
the late Paleozoic Alleghanian Orogeny (300 to 330 million years
ago). Rockfish Gap lies astride a north-northwest trending
fracture zone; some fractures are intruded by diabase dikes of
Jurassic age. The broken bedrock along this fracture zone is more
easily eroded than unfractured bedrock - likely the reason for the
formation of the gap at this location.
In the 18th century, early trails used
by Native Americans were gradually expanded to accommodate the
westward expansion of Virginia colonists. The Three Chopt or Three
Notch'd Road had been established in the Colony of Virginia
between Richmond and the Shenandoah Valley by the 1740s. Most
likely, the road followed an ancient Monacan trail from the
village of Orapax (east of Richmond) to the western Shenandoah
Valley. This well-planned route required only one major river
crossing, the Rivanna at Charlottesville, with inns or taverns
spaced about 10 miles apart. By 1782, carriages could cross the
Blue Ridge at Rockfish Gap.
In 1818, President of the United States James Monroe, former
presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and Chief Justice
of the United States Supreme Court John Marshall joined 24 other
dignitaries at a meeting held in the Mountain Top Tavern at
Rockfish Gap. Under Jefferson's leadership, they selected nearby
Charlottesville as the site of the new University of Virginia.
Railroad, highway crossings
Engineer Claudius Crozet of the Virginia Board of Public Works
oversaw construction of the railroad tunnel under Rockfish Gap in
the 1850s as part of the state-owned Blue Ridge Railroad. This
tunnel was later used by Confederate General Stonewall Jackson to
move his foot cavalry during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign of the
American Civil War. The original tunnel was replaced by the
Chesapeake and Ohio Railway with a new one on a slightly different
alignment in the mid 20th century. The railroad is now owned by
CSX Transportation and is operated under lease to Buckingham
Branch Railroad, a Virginia-based short-line railroad. The old
tunnel is still intact, and has been considered for possible
re-use as a rail trail or bikeway.
In the early 20th century, a road which was designated U.S. Route
250 in 1935 was built across the gap. In 1972 and 1973, sections
of the new Interstate 64 were completed across Afton Mountain at
Fog, hazardous driving conditions
has been the site of several large multiple vehicle collisions on
Interstate 64 during fog conditions on Afton Mountain, which peaks
at about 1,915 feet above sea level. In April 1992, there were 2
fatalities in a 60-car pileup. In late April 1998, another wreck
involving 65 cars sent 40 people to area hospitals. Less than
three weeks later, there was another 18-car crash. Fog was a
factor in all three incidents.
Motorists approaching from
lower elevations sometimes suddenly encounter a dense fog as they
approach the summit of the gap. A lighting system within the
pavement to help designate lanes automatically activated by fog
sensors was installed by the Virginia Department of Transportation
(VDOT) to improve safety during such weather conditions.
In the early 2000s, some of
the abandoned buildings at Rockfish Gap were the victims of arson
attacks. A portion of the Skyline Parkway Motor Court was burned
in 2002. On July 9, 2004, the main building of
the Skyline Parkway Motel was damaged beyond repair in an arson