For the first time, we turned the Jeep left out of Concordia’s driveway, continuing down the hill and past the parking area for Salt Pond Bay. We continued west along the southern shore of St. John as the road turned from pavement to dirt and back again several times. After one of the steepest hills we’d encountered on the island, we passed the beach at Little Lameshur Bay, which appeared to be quite popular even on the remote side of the island. We continued a little further on and parked near the big National Park Service sign marking the Lameshur Bay Trailhead (see map).
Just south of the parking area were the ruins of a bay rum still and lime still that were still working in 1915. Sean, Adam, and I explored the ruins before setting off on the trail.
Sean captured a video of the sea, a bit of the path between the shore and the ruins, and a bumblebee on a stalk of yellow aloe flowers.
Video: Sean M. Santos
Reef Bay Trail is the premiere hike in Virgin Islands National Park. It begins at Centerline Road on the island’s mountain spine and descends 947 to reef bay in 2.1 miles. It is popularly done as a guided tour with the Park Service wherein you are taken by taxi to the trailhead, descend the trail, and are then picked up by boat for the trip back to Cruz Bay.
The guided tour was sold out for the entire time we were on St. John, so we were obliged to approach Reef Bay from a different direction, literally. Partly because Sean and I were the only authorized drivers of the Jeep, we needed to do Reef Bay as an out-and-back. We had two options:
- Start up at the Reef Bay Trailhead, go all the way down, and then all the way back up.
- Start at sea level at the Lameshur Bay Trailhead, climb over and down a 467-foot ridge in 1.8, and end up on the valley floor of Reef Bay.
That we were staying on the far southeastern end of St. John made the decision obvious: Lameshur Bay Trail it was.
The first part of the trail was a flat path through dry tropical forest.
Then the trail began to ascend out of Lameshur Bay and up the ridge.
As soon as we crested the 467-foot ridge, the trail banked right and we began rapidly descending toward the north. The hill fell away steeply past the trees on our left, revealing the breadth of Reef Bay Valley beyond. The breeze was exhilarating.
We passed other parties coming up the hill from Reef Bay, many of whom must have started their hikes in the cooler temperatures of the morning. One was a party of five senior women with walking sticks, another was a couple, he was wearing hiking boots, and she was barefoot.
The trail banked left, and we descended even more rapidly until we came to a fork. To the left, the trail continued on to the valley floor. To the right, a series of steep switchbacks led to the remains of the Reef Bay Great House. We opted to check out the ruins before going on to Reef Bay.
As we turned the first switch back I managed to brush my arm against the barbed leaf of a wild pineapple. It lacerated my skin near my elbow, and soon I was bleeding down my arm. I decided to find a spot at the ruins to sit and do trail first aid.
The ruins stood on a sunny outcrop. The rest of the Par Force Estate was a tenth of a mile further on, and the estate house would originally have been most easily accessed from that direction. The house’s wide front porch looked out over Reef Bay Valley below (see map).
The ruins were actually double ruins. The house was originally constructed in 1832 (and rebuilt in 1844). But it had been going under extensive restoration by the Park Service, which abruptly ceased in 1994.
Adam: I wonder why the restoration stopped.
Brandon: What happened in 1994? Republicans took over Congress. Likely there were no more funds for the renovation.
So now there is the ruin of the actual house and also the ruins and remains of the tools (water tanks too cumbersome to remove, for instance) of the restoration that stopped almost twenty years ago.
After we’d had a snack and I tended to my arm, we we explored the interior of the building.
We left the estate house, and continued down the trail until we reached the valley floor.