St. John in the US Virgin Islands will delight both the serious hiker and the casual stroller. The Virgin Islands National Park maintains several exciting trails including the famous Reef Bay Trail. There are also gut walks, scrambles and short trails to interesting and out of the way places.
St. John Trails: Interview with Bob Garrison “The Trail Bandit” 11/14/2014
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was self-employed for about 30 years with an electronics design and small scale manufacturing business here in Henniker, NH. About 10 years ago I got sick of filling out government forms and paying taxes for the privilege of hiring people, so after finishing the last contract, I closed the doors, and retired. People didn’t believe me, so I had the work phone disconnected. It took a while, but they finally have forgotten about me and I am retired. If I had the money, I would have retired when I was 20, but I didn’t.
How is it that you originally decided to come to St. John and make a trail map?
I first went to St. John in 1965 because my parents had gone there and liked the place. On my first few visits I did the usual tourist stuff, and, the snorkeling was superb. After a few visits, I started to venture out on more of the hiking trails. The map that the NPS gives out has never been worth much and for a new visitor to use to find his or her way around, it is almost useless. Also, over the years, trails were not maintained and the NPS solution was to erase them from their map when they became overgrown. GPS technology had become available at reasonable prices and armed with a hand held GPS receiver, it was possible to accurately map the roads and trails. How hard can it be to make a map? Well, when I started, it was harder than it is now, and I didn’t know anything so I made the process more difficult than it had to be. My initial map was made in 2004 and was pretty good for a first effort. I had 9000 of them printed. The trail map bug had gotten me. I published an improved edition of the St. John hiking map in 2006. In 2008 I designed a version of the map for the Park Service, that shows only the approved hiking trails and that map is sold at the Park Visitor’s Center in Cruz Bay. I am almost finished with what will probably be the final edition of my St. John hiking map. I will include not only the approved hiking trails but will also show a lot of old Danish roads and trails that are not maintained or approved, but are great fun to explore. I hope other hikers will continue helping to keep the trails open.
What was the condition of the trails and the park when you first arrived?
When I first came to St. John, the trails were in pretty good shape. Over the years, the trails were neglected and many got so overgrown that you couldn’t even find them any more. In 1978, I went down the L’Esperance Road with a couple of friends. It was hard going, and early in the hike, one of my friends said “What we need here is a machete”. About 200 feet further along the trail, there was a machete lying on the ground. It was even fairly sharp. With this newly acquired weapon, we were able to make it all the way to Reef Bay. The catch-n-keep had torn our skin and clothes, but we made it. Some years later, I once again tried to follow the L’Esperance Road. It was impassable, and in places it had disappeared. I bought a machete and started to clear a path on the road. Of course, there was no way I could complete the task in one trip, so every time I returned to St. John, I cleared some more. Over the years, I finally had a path all the way to Reef Bay that people could walk. At some point, someone came in with a tractor, and removed the huge fallen trees that I couldn’t cut and widened out the first 2/3 of the trail. I don’t know who did that work, but I thank them. Gradually, trail clearing became sort of an obsession and I located and cleared many old trails and roads.
What contact have you had with park officials and local hikers?
The Park officials became aware of my work when I published my first map. The chief ranger at that time was enraged, and called me at home and screamed “YOU CAN’T JUST MAKE A MAP!” I tried to explain that the first amendment to the US Constitution has a few words to say about the freedom of the press. I met with members of the Park staff at a public meeting and discussed what I wanted to do, and they essentially said no. A reporter who published a story about what was discussed attended the meeting.
My first contact with local hikers was on a hike down what has become the Maria Hope Trail. The trail was badly overgrown and as we approached the lower end, the brush was so thick we couldn’t get through. They said that at this point, they scrambled down the hill to the gut to reach the road. They were armed with rose bush clippers and I had my machete. I suggested that if I went first, we could get through. I hacked and they dragged brush away. The first decent of the Maria Hope trail in recent times had been done. A number of the hikers were amazed at how well a sharp machete works and became converts. I have had many great hikes with the local hiking groups. I have noticed that there are some who want to keep their trails and discoveries a secret and I have left a few trails off the map at their request. These were trails in remote areas where I didn’t think many would want to go anyway. No map ever shows everything.
Were they cooperative?
The Park service has, in general, done it’s best to stop my work. I spent a lot of time trying to get the old roads and trails back on the NPS map, declared legal trails again and hopefully, maintained. There was one ranger in particular, who, if he responded at all, would have a long list of “what MIGHT be required” for a particular trail officially recognized. It “MIGHT” be required to have an archeologist and a rare plant expert sent down from the States to survey the proposed trail. There was no money available for that. The local staff experts were way too busy to be able to look at new trail or ruins. After several years of fighting for these trails, my learning more about NPS rules, and a change of leadership at VINP, some progress was made. First, a temporary superintendent put a stop to all the “MIGHT BE REQUIRED” conditions, and the present superintendent has made huge strides in getting VINP back in shape. Now a number of the old trails have been officially reopened.
What trails have you worked on?
I started, as I mentioned above with the L’Esperance road. After that came the Tektite trail, the Cabritte Horn spur, the Europa Point trail, the Tamarind Tree trail, the Water Catchment trail, the connector from the Water Catchment to the Caneel trail, the Great Sieben trail, the trail down to Par Force ruins from the Reef Bay Great House area and the trail up to America Hill. The Park Service now officially recognizes all of these. There have been many other trails that I and others have worked on enough to get through but these aren’t cleared to any standard, and are not at this time recognized by the Park Service.
Which currently unofficial trails would you most likely want to see adopted by the park and why?
I would like to see the southern extension of the Maria Hope trail be cleared and officially reopened. It is a beautiful road and passes the ruins of the Paqureau and Hope Estates. This would require making a short section of new trail to connect with the top of the Reef Bay Trail, as the building of Centerline road has destroyed the original trail bed. This would make the Reef Bay Hike a loop hike.
I would like to see the trails out to Turner Point reopened as it is beautiful out there and the eastern part of VINP is currently mostly unused as are no cleared trails or official access. The area out by Camelberg Peak is a beautiful forest with old roads and is currently little visited. A cleared trail there would make a nice loop hike with the L’Esperance road. Mary Point has old trails, beautiful views, but is currently badly overgrown with catch-n-keep and painful to visit.
How do you find old roads?
Many of the old roads that I have found are shown on the Oxholm 1800 map of St. John. I have also used aerial photographs taken back in 1954. I built a 3D viewer that was very helpful in finding old roads on these photos. Many times, if you just hike through the woods you will come across parts of old roads. Sometimes they quickly disappear and other times, they can be followed a long way. Unfortunately, modern road building has destroyed many of the best of the old roads.
Do you make new trails?
No. There are roads and trails going everywhere on St. John. The old roads were designed and built by people who knew what they were doing. St. John is so steep that most of the old roads are built up on the down hill side, with stone walls. These roads have existed for 200 years or more. If a new trail were to be built, similar construction methods would be needed. This would be more work and expense than would be worthwhile. There are plenty of existing, well built, roads and trails out there. They just need clearing and maintenance.
Have you donated any money for trail improvements?
Yes. One of the arguments for not opening any new trails, expressed by the Park Service, was that there is no money available to maintain the trails. I started a Trail Maintenance Fund that is available for that purpose. The VINP is in charge of the fund. Hopefully, those of you who like to hike the trails, but don’t have time to do trail work, will contact the VINP superintendent and donate some money to help hire others to do the work. I gave the artwork for the trail map to the Park Service. $1.00 from the sale of every map they sell goes to the trail maintenance fund.
Tell us about the new map work in progress?
The map I am working on will probably be my last one for St. John. I will include most of the old roads and trails I know about. Some are great and others don’t amount to much. They are there and people who like to explore may enjoy them. I will put the location of all the trails on my web site as .GPX tracks. Those who are interested can load any track onto their GPS receiver and accurately follow the path. My web site also has the St. John map available to upload to your GPS as an accurate base map, showing all the trails, etc. I will put a list of some of the trailhead waypoints on the web site.
How can people obtain your maps?
My maps are available at a number of stores on St. John. The Park approved version of my map is for sale at the Visitor’s Center. I also sell my maps and mail them to people. The cost for the printed maps is listed on my web site. www.trailbandit.org The web site has all the maps available for free download and there is other information there too. I will be updating the web site soon.
It has been sad to watch VINP decay over the years. Many who work for the Park seem to think that their employment is some sort of a welfare program. It is too bad that there are so many employees who can get away with doing as little as possible. It would be far better to hire contractors do the work because a contractor does a specific job and gets paid when it is completed. Park employees have been getting paid but in many cases, they haven’t done much work. Many on the staff are content with the way things have always been. I have been pleased and encouraged by the changes that Mark Hardgrove has made and the improvement in the condition of the Park since he came. Hopefully the next superintendent will keep up the good work.
Lind Point Trail
The Lind Point Trail begins at the parking area behind the National Park Visitors Center and leads to the beaches at Salomon and Honeymoon Bays. Hiking time is approximately 45 minutes and the maximum elevation gained is 160 feet at the Lind Point Battery Overlook.
The trail passes through two classes of island environments, cactus scrub between Cruz Bay and Lind Point and dry forest on the wooded slopes of Caneel Hill east of Lind Point. In colonial days, this area was known as Estate Lindholm and was dedicated to the cultivation of cotton.
After crossing a dirt road, the trail rises gradually in elevation and follows the eastern shoreline of Cruz Bay.
Night Blooming Cerius
Here the track is lined by tangles of night blooming cerius a cactus-like plant that once a year produces a magnificent white flower that opens at night and closes before sunrise the next morning. The flower is followed by the production of a delicious red fruit that tastes something like a kiwi.
On to Lind Point
About a quarter mile from the trailhead, the path splits into upper and lower branches. The upper trail will be to your right while the lower trail continues straight ahead. Both trails access Salomon and Honeymoon Bays. The lower trail is slightly shorter and less hilly, than the upper trail, but does not pass the Lind Point Battery Overlook as does the more scenic upper trail. The upper trail gains elevation through a series of switchbacks and then continues north toward Lind Point, the headland that defines the northern extremity of Cruz Bay and the northwestern corner of the island. When you get to Lind Point, a loop trail on your left leads to the Lind Point Battery Overlook.
Lind Point Battery Overlook
During the era of the Napoleonic wars, England, along with most of Europe, had united against Napoleon and his revolutionary government in France. Fearing for the security of her West Indian colonies, Britain turned her attention to the Danish West Indian islands of St. Thomas and St. John. If the French took control of these islands, they would undoubtedly use the strategic harbors of Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas and Coral Bay on St. John to set up bases from which Tortola and the rest of the British West Indian colonies could be attacked. It was a likely scenario.
Denmark never had a strong military presence in the Caribbean and St. Thomas and St. John could easily have fallen prey to the French. The British decided to make the first move. They sent a fleet of warships to St. Thomas, whereupon the Danes surrendered before a single shot was fired.
British troops occupied the Danish West Indies on two separate occasions, once in 1801, for almost a year, and then again in 1807, this time remaining until 1815. In order to secure Cruz Bay harbor, the British built a battery (fortification) on Lind Point. The “English Fort” as it was called by the inhabitants of St. John at the time, was no more than a semicircular terrace supported by a stone retaining wall upon which cannons were placed to defend the harbor. The cannons are no longer there, but the retaining wall remains. In place of the weaponry, there is now a wooden bench where you can sit and enjoy a view of busy Cruz Bay Harbor backdropped by unspoiled tropical scenery.
From Lind Point to Salomon and Honeymoon Bays
From Lind Point, the trail turns right, or east, and follows the northwestern coastline though a dry forest environment. Many of the rock formations along the hillsides are covered by epiphytes (air plants), such as bromeliads and anthuriums. Other rocks bear intricate designs created by lichen growing on the surface of the stones.
Salomon Bay Spur
The Salomon Bay Spur Trail intersects the upper and lower Lind Point trails about a quarter mile from Lind Point. This trail descends to the western end of Salomon Beach. A second spur trail connects the eastern end of Salomon Beach with the lower Lind Point Trail.
Caneel Hill Spur
For those not going to Salomon Bay, the Lind Point Trail continues straight ahead intersecting the Caneel Hill Spur Trail further east. This trail intersects both the lower and upper Lind Point trails before crossing the North Shore Road (Route 20) near the entrance to the National Park housing area. The spur then continues up the mountainside to an elevation of 300 feet where it meets the Caneel Hill Trail.
On to Honeymoon Bay
East of the Caneel Hill Spur intersection, the Lind Point Trail descends to the beach at Honeymoon Beach
near a large tamarind tree. Cross over the dirt road to get to the beach. This road heads east towards the Caneel Bay beach and the Caneel Bay Resort.
Caneel Hill Trail
St John’s Caneel Hill Trail begins in Cruz Bay about twenty yards past the Mongoose Junction parking lot and rises to the summit of Caneel Hill. The trail then descends, running along the ridgeline to the saddle, or low point, between Caneel Hill and the next mountain peak, Margaret Hill. From the saddle, the trail leads to the top of Margaret Hill from where it descends the northern face of the mountain arriving at the North Shore Road just across from the entrance to the Caneel Bay Resort. The total distance is 2.4 miles.
Be prepared. The trail to the peak of Caneel Hill is a steep and steady incline, gaining 719 feet of elevation in less than one mile.
The trail passes through typical dry forest terrain in an area once dedicated to the cultivation of cotton. In the late nineteenth century, the cotton plantations were sold or abandoned and the land was used primarily for pasture and for the cultivation of small provision garden plots until its acquisition by the National Park in the 1950s.
Mongoose Junction to the Caneel Hill Spur
About a third of the way up the trail (0.3 mile) you will come to the intersection of the Caneel Hill Spur Trail, which will be to the left running downhill. The spur trail eventually crosses the North Shore Road, and then continues on to meet the Lind Point Trail.
Continuing up the Caneel Hill Trail
At the spur intersection, remain on the Caneel Hill Trail, which continues to the right and uphill. A bench near the top of the trail will provide a welcome location to stop and rest and enjoy the spectacular northerly views
From the bench, it’s just about 100 yards further to the top of Caneel Hill.
Caneel Hill Summit
At the peak of Caneel Hill you will be treated to a magnificent panorama. Before Hurricane Hugo hit St. John and the rest of Virgin Islands in 1985 there was a wooden viewing tower atop Caneel Hill, which provided a magnificent panoramic view. The hurricane destroyed the structure, but at least the bench where one could sit and rest at the end of the strenuous climb still remained intact.
For many years the National Park, for whatever reason, had not seen fit to repair or replace the tower, but some 20 years later a St. John resident, Frank Cummings, who operates SNUBA decided to do something about it. With some persistence, he was able to obtain both permission and partial funding from the National Park to construct a new tower atop the 719-foot high hilltop. Work began in May of 2006 with the help of private volunteers the project is now complete. Additional funding was provided by Steve Black; Eric Bauman helped bring up some of the 80-pound bags of cement, teachers from the Baptist school brought up a generator, and Boy Scouts from Illinois helped bring up lumber as did volunteers from Friends of the Park.
From this vantage point you can see a great deal of the Virgin Islands archipelago and on clear days you may even be able to see as far as the mountainous El Yunque rainforest on Puerto Rico.
From Caneel Hill to the Saddle
From the summit of Caneel Hill, the trail continues to the east toward Margaret Hill. The track at first follows the southern side of the ridge between the two mountain peaks offering spectacular views of the southwestern side of St. John. It then crosses over the ridge and runs along the northern side of the mountain from where you will enjoy views of the island’s north shore and beyond. The trail continues to descend until it reaches the saddle (lowest point on the ridge) between Caneel and Margaret Hills where the trail once passed an old tamarind tree beneath which was a rustic wooden bench. In 2006, it was discovered that the this section of trail went through private property, to remedy this, the Park moved this part of the trail some 50 yards to the north.
This once abandoned Park trail was improved by local hikers and now is approved and NPS maintained. The Tamarind Trail runs between the saddle and Route 20, just west of the Caneel Bay Resort.
From the Saddle to Caneel Bay
From the saddle, the trail ascends once again, taking you back into the pristine environment of the Park following the mountain ridge to access the Margaret Hill Overlook and the summit of Margaret Hill before descending once again to its eastern terminus at the North Shore Road at Caneel Bay.
Margaret Hill Ascent
The Margaret Hill Ascent of the Caneel Hill Trail begins at the entrance to the Caneel Bay Resort on the opposite side of the North Shore Road. The trail ascends 840 feet in the course of a little over one mile to reach the summit of Margaret Hill. From here, it continues on to Caneel Hill and then down to Cruz Bay near the Mongoose Junction parking lot.
From the Trailhead to the Water Catchment Spurs
The Margaret Hill ascent is shadier, cooler, and not as steep as the Caneel Hill ascent. As soon as you leave the paved roadway and enter the lush tropical forest, you cannot help but be overwhelmed by the serene natural beauty of your surroundings. The trail rises gently, shaded by pepper cinnamon, guavaberry and genip trees. A stand of teyer palm, said to be the only indigenous species of palm on St. John, lines a section of the trail. About 50 yards up the trail is a dry stacked native stone wall overgrown with anthuriums and strangler figs.
You may notice a point where the main trail seems to fork. Here a spur trail to the left, maintained periodically by local hikers, leads to the Water Catchment Trail. The Margaret Hill Trail continues steeply up the hill to your right.
As you gain elevation, views of the north shore and outer cays begin to open up through the foliage. This will be your signal to watch for a large triangular rock on the high side of the trail that is covered with beautiful native orchids.
Water Catchment Spurs
After passing the area of native orchids you will come to a switchback in the trail where there is another spur trail on the left leading to the Water Catchment Trail. Continuing on, you will come to a third trail intersection where there is a National Park Service directional sign. The path to the left leads to Centerline Road (Route 10) and the head of the Water Catchment Trail.
On to the Summit
Continuing along the Caneel Hill Trail, you will come to another large rock reminiscent of the orchid-covered one below. At this point, the trail becomes rather steep and rocky and leads to a scenic overlook with a view to the north. It is only a few-minutes walk from this overlook to the top of Margaret Hill.
Margaret Hill Overlook
When you reach the top of the hill, there is a nice view to the south, which unfortunately is often obscured by foliage. But don’t fret, the really spectacular overlook lies about 50 yards further down the trail where there is a spur to the left leading to a large rock outcropping. The spur is marked by a National Park Service sign. Climb up on the large flat rock and enjoy!
Shortcut to the Overlook
If all you want to do is get to the Margaret Hill Overlook and prefer not to take such a long hike, you can begin your walk at the entrance to the Water Catchment Trail at Centerline Road. Walk down to the spur trail. From there it’s a much shorter walk to the overlook.
The Trail Continues
From the Margaret Hill Overlook, the trail continues to Caneel Hill and then runs back down to Cruz Bay near Mongoose Junction.
Connect the two ends of the Caneel Hill Trail by using the Lind Point Trail to get back to where you began.
Both the Hawksnest Bay and Mary’s Trail lie on the grounds of the Caneel Bay Resort. Visitors wishing to hike these trails should check with the security agent at the main gate for trail conditions and availability.
The 0.6-mile Mary’s Trail follows the rocky shoreline of Hawksnest Point passing through dry forest and coastal terrain. Along the way you will find strategically placed benches from where you can enjoy refreshing tropical breezes and impressive views.
Please note, there is now a $20 parking fee to enter the Caneel Bay property, which can be used towards purchases of meals or gift shop items.
The 0.6-mile Mary’s Trail follows the rocky shoreline of Hawksnest Point passing through dry forest and coastal terrain. Along the way you will find strategically placed benches from where you can enjoy refreshing tropical breezes and impressive views.
Hawksnest Bay Trail
Both the Hawksnest Bay and Mary’s Trail lie on the grounds of the Caneel Bay Resort. Visitors wishing to hike these trails should check with the security agent at the main gate for trail conditions and availability.
Please note, there is now a $20 parking fee to enter the Caneel Bay property, which can be used towards purchases of meals or gift shop items.
The 0.6 mile trail runs between the area at the end of the Caneel Bay Fitness Trail and the Caneel Hawksnest Beach.
(You can pick up the Turtle Point Trail at the northern end of the beach.)
Water Catchment Trail
For a long time the trail was not maintained and could be rugged going, but in 2009, the trail was improved by volunteers from the Friends of the Park and is now in excellent condition.
The Water Catchment Trail , as its name implies, provides access to the Caneel Bay Water Catchment.
The trail is also useful for making trail loop swith the
Caneel and Margaret Hill Trail by utilizing one of the two spurs connecting the two trails or where the trails intersect at the Centerline Road trailhead.
The dry forest environment is beautiful and rarely traveled and you can be relatively certain that you will not meet other hikers on this trail.
A short spur trail lying about a quarter mile from the trailhead on Centerline Road leads back to the Caneel Hill Trail. This also provides an easier access to the Margaret Hill Overlook.
The Water Catchment Trail passes an old stone retaining wall and a concrete drainage gutter that used to feed the reservoir with rainwater coming from the mountain valley via the natural gut.
The catchment is an extensive concrete slab that catches rainwater, leading it into a basin for temporary storage. From there, the water is piped through the force of gravity to the Caneel Bay Resort.
Peter Durloo House
Peace Hill and Denis Bay Trails
Peace Hill is aptly named. From the hilltop at the end of the headland separating Hawksnest and Denis Bays, you can enjoy an absolutely spectacular view of the north coast of St. John and beyond. Years ago, a windmill was powered by the constant trade winds that passed unimpeded over the hill. The semi-restored ruin now provides a dramatic backdrop to the unique tranquility of the hilltop.
The trail to Peace Hill begins at the parking area located about a half mile east of Hawksnest Beach and leads to the top of Peace Hill. It’s a short easy walk, only about a tenth of a mile on a well-maintained track with a moderate grade.
Denis Bay Spur Trail
About 20 yards up the Peace Hill Trail, a 0.2 mile spur trail on the right leads to the western end of Denis Bay near Perkins Cay. This is not an official Park trail and although not regularly maintained, it is generally in good condition.
Peace Hill Video – The Wadsworths
Cinnamon Bay Loop Trail
If you only have enough time on St. John to hike one trail, then the Cinnamon Bay Self-Guiding Trail is the trail for you. Also, because the trail is relatively short, flat and shady, it’s a perfect choice for those who would like to experience a taste of the St. John interior, but who might be put off by the prospect of a long hike on the often hilly and rugged terrain characteristic of the St. John forest. As an added bonus, the Virgin Islands National Park has placed a series of wonderfully informative signs along the trail covering everything from history and culture to nature and environmental concerns.
Concrete pathways and boardwalks installed in 2010 now make most of the Cinnamon Bay Self-Guiding Trail wheelchair friendly.
The one half mile Cinnamon Bay Self-Guiding Trail begins on the North Shore Road about ten yards east of the Cinnamon Bay Campground entrance on the opposite side of road and will lead you through the remains of an old sugar mill and bay rum factory. From there the trail circles through the surrounding forest and emerges back at the North Shore Road where you can observe the remains of the old estate house.
The twelve columns that at one time supported the factory storage room are plainly visible from the road. This stone structure was used for the storage of crude brown sugar called muscavado, molasses, barrels of rum, and crushed and dried sugarcane stalks called bagasse, which were used for fuel and fertilizer.
South of the storage room are the remains of the horsemill and the boiling house. The sugarcane crushing apparatus was in the center of the horsemill and from there the cane juice flowed down the trough and into the boiling room.
On the west side of the boiling room were the boiling trays where the cane juice was boiled down, transferred from copper pot to copper pot, and gradually thickened into sugar. The fires were stoked from the outside of the building. The large chimney still remains.
On the southwest corner of the sugar factory is the well-preserved bay rum distillery. The Danish West India Plantation Company acquired Cinnamon Bay at the turn of the twentieth century. In 1903, they began growing fruit and bay rum trees for the production of the bay leaf oil, used in the popular cologne and lotion known as St. John Bay Rum. Fruit cultivation did not turn out to be economically rewarding because of the difficulty in transporting the fruit to the European market. The fruits would often spoil before they could be sold. Bay rum oil, on the other hand, showed some promise. It did not deteriorate rapidly and had the potential to be a profitable commodity. The success of this venture at Cinnamon Bay motivated other landowners on St. John to begin bay rum production. Harvesting bay rum leaves was a labor-intensive process. Workers, who were often young children, had to climb the trees and carefully strip off the leaves. All the leaves could not be picked off the tree at one time, and neither could the leaves be picked more than twice a year to avoid damage to the tree. The leaves were put into large sacks and brought to the distillery. The harvesters were paid eight cents for a 65-pound bag of leaves.
The Forest Trail
From the bay rum distillery, the trail leads into the tropical forest and a magnificent stand of bay rum trees.
The Old Danish Cemetery
A short spur trail to the left leads to an old Danish cemetery. Anna Margarethe Berner Hjardemaal, the wife of a former owner of the estate, is buried here in an above ground tomb. Her husband, Nicolai Severin Hjardemaal, a Dane, became the owner of Cinnamon Bay in 1834.
The plantation was then called the America Hill Plantation. Hjardemaal’s wife was born in St. Croix on November 7, 1785 and died at the age of fifty-one on November 27, 1836, just two years after she and her husband acquired the estate.
Slaves on the plantation were not afforded such an elaborate interment. They were buried at the beach at Cinnamon Bay. The erosion of the shoreline and heavy ground seas has caused the remains of some the deceased to wash out into the bay. Divers have reported finding skulls and other bones under rocks and coral around the western portion of the beach and at the next beach to the west, Little Cinnamon Bay.
Mammee Apple Trees
Mammea americana , commonly known as Mammee, mammee apple, Mamey, mamey apple, San Domingo apricot or South American apricot, is an evergreen tree of the family Clusiacee, whose fruit is edible. The species is a close relative of the mangosteen (from Wikipedia , the free encyclopedia).
In his book, Me and my Beloved Virgin , Guy Benjamin describes the mammee apple:
“…brownish red globules covered with brown skin over golden yellow flesh with large seed. Very sweet o the taste, it makes a delicious preserve for tarts.”
After about a quarter mile, the trail crosses the gut. In this area you may notice several extremely large dead trees, some still standing and others which have already fallen. These trees were mammee apple trees. As late as the early 1980s these magnificent trees lined the Cinnamon Bay portion of the North Shore Road and grew in abundance in the forest near the gut. The die-off may have been caused by a depletion of the underground water table in the 1980s when an unusual amount of water was taken from the wells.
Chocolate Tree, Cacao Tree, Theobroma cacao
A short distance after crossing the gut, the trail leads back in the opposite direction. The gut will now be on your right. Here is a small stand of cocoa trees, which grow a seedpod from which chocolate is derived. The cacao tree , Theobroma cacao, is a native of the Americas. The brown pods that protrude from the trunk and branches of the tree contain the seeds from which chocolate is made. The Cacao trees found growing alongside the Cinnamon Bay Loop Trail may be the only ones on the island.
Continuing along the trail, you will pass several large mango trees, which are hundreds of years old. These and other fruit trees were usually left standing when fields were cleared first for sugarcane production and later for cattle grazing and charcoal manufacture, and thus are some of the largest trees found on the island. On this side of the gut, look for the many guavaberry trees, which can be identified by their smooth, shiny bark that looks much like the bay rum tree, but with smaller leaves.
The trail leads back to the estate house area of the plantation, and here you will find an excellent specimen of the distinctive calabash tree . The fruit of this tree, although not edible, is used to make bowls, purses and other handy items.
The estate house is directly west of the sugar factory. In the early 1900s, it was demolished by a hurricane. The house was rebuilt with the walls and roof made out of galvanized steel. The caretaker of the property lived here until the summer of 1969.
A cookhouse and oven are located west of the estate house. The oven was heated by burning coals or wood until the bricks became extremely hot. Then the ashes and remaining coals were swept out and the food was put in to bake.
Cinnamon Bay Trail
In the plantation days there was a road that ran along the north shore of St. John between Brown Bay and what is now called Cinnamon Bay. To reach Cruz Bay from the north shore bays, such as Cinnamon, Trunk, Hawksnest, Denis and Caneel, it was necessary to first go up the mountain to Centerline Road (called Konge Vey at that time) and then head west from there.
Most of these mountain routes were no more than horse or donkey trails. They generally followed the natural drainage guts in the mountain valleys. In areas where no trails had been cleared, the gut itself served as the path. The trail at Cinnamon Bay follows one of these Danish roads, which in the old days provided Cinnamon Bay with access to Konge Vey.
The Cinnamon Bay Trail connects Cinnamon Bay with Centerline Road. It begins about 100 feet east of the entrance to the Cinnamon Bay Campground on the North Shore Road just past the ruins, which are visible on the side of the road. This trail is 1.2 miles long and ascends steeply, gaining about 700 feet in elevation.
From The Trailhead to the America Hill Spur
The beginning of the trail is the most difficult part, so don’t be discouraged by the steepness and lack of shade. There is a conveniently placed flat rock near the top of the first steep ascent on the right side of the trail that can provide comfortable seating for two and may be a welcome rest stop.
The trail soon levels off and crosses a gut. At this point, you will find yourself in a relatively cool and shady forest. From here on, the ascent will be easier and shadier.
Waterfalls cascading down the Cinnamon Bay Gut after a heavy rain
America Hill Spur Trail
The America Hill Trail begins about 50 yards past the first gut crossing, marked by a steel post and leads to the ruins of the Estate House at America Hill. These ruins can be seen from Maho Bay, on the hill to the west.
The trail to the estate house runs uphill and switches back five times before you reach the mountain plateau upon which the greathouse ruins lie.
Do not climb on or go too close to the ruins as they are unstable.
America Hill Estate House
The America Hill Estate House is an excellent example of late nineteenth century Virgin Island architecture. Much attention was obviously given to an aesthetically pleasing design as well as to functionality, the limitations of the building site, and the availability of materials and labor.
In the early 1900s, America Hill served as a guesthouse where travelers could rent rooms. One of the last tenants was rumored to be Rafael Leónides Trujillo, former dictator of the Dominican Republic.
Some older St. Johnians say that the estate house was also used as a headquarters for rum-runners during the prohibition days.
As was the custom in those days, the cookhouse, or kitchen, was built as a separate structure. The remains of the cookhouse are to the right of the main building. The date 1934 is inscribed on the cooking bench. To the left of the estate house ruins are the remnants of a cistern and a well.
Thanks to the efforts of Friends of the Park trail volunteers the views from the estate house are once again spectacular, particularly if looking to the west.
From the America Hill Spur to Centerline Road
Continue up along the Cinnamon Bay Trail, keeping the gut on your right. The forest is shady and cool with light filtering through the trees. The hillside is covered with bay rum trees , and the fragrance of their aromatic leaves permeates the forest.
When you come to a fork in the trail, bear right. The other path soon ends in the bush.
During the sugar plantation days, most of this area was cleared and terraced by an enslaved labor force. The remains of these stone terraces are visible on the hillside above the trail.
Strategically placed along the trail are lines of rocks crossing at an angle. These serve to divert the flow of water across the trail and prevent erosion that would result from water flowing freely down the length of the trail. Some of these rudimentary culverts exist from the Danish days. This innovative management of the water run off has kept many of the old Danish roads in fairly good condition.
You will start to see a great deal of wild anthuriums growing near the trail. Off to the left, or upper side of the trail, try and find a fairly well preserved terrace retained by a wall of dry stacked stones. In this area are the remains of a large hole where the earth appears to be black in places. This was once a charcoal pit.
Charcoal was an important industry during St. John’s subsistence farming days. It served not only as the principle source of fuel for cooking, but also was sold for cash in St. Thomas. Charcoal was prepared by digging a large hole, then filling it with wood stacked in a triangle-like fashion. The wood was then layered with green grass, leaves and dirt. It was set on fire and left to burn for a week or two. This resulted in the production of St. John’s fine charcoal, which is still made today, although the only person I know who still sells it is Patrick from Patrick’s West Indian Delight across from the Post Office.
After a series of switchbacks to gain elevation, the trail again crosses a gut. In this area you may find hog plum fruit when they are in season. The problem is that the hog plums are invariably too high to pick off the tree. Worms, birds and insects are usually quicker than hikers to find the ripe fruit that falls to the ground.
In 2010, Jeff Chabot, group leader, and volunteers working with the
Appalachian Mountain Club in a cooperative venture with the Virgin Islands National Park and Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park cleared a new overlook along the trail, with views extending from Jost Van Dyke to St. Thomas and the northwestern cays.
This beautiful overlook replaces an older one higher up on the trail near the top, which has long since overgrown.
Top of the trail
The path turns to the right and then continues upward through the forest emerging from the bush at Centerline Road. From here, you can turn around and make the easier downhill hike back to Cinnamon. Other alternatives to return to the campground are the Maria Hope Trail to the east or the Cathrineberg Road to the west.
Maria Hope Trail
Until early in the nineteenth century, people couldn’t travel all the way from east to west on what was then called Konge Vey (King’s Road) and which is now known as Centerline Rd or Route 10. The road was divided in two by a gorge located at the saddle of the Maho Bay Valley on the north and the Reef Bay Valley on the south. This gorge was known as the defile and was impassable by donkey cart or horseback.
When travelers on horseback or wagon going between the Coral Bay side of St. John and the Cruz Bay side came to the defile, they had two options:
Option 1: There were corrals for horses on both sides of the defile. They could leave their horses in the corral on one side, cross the defile on foot and arrange to take another horse to continue east.
Option 2: They could take the Maria Hope Road down the Maho Bay Valley to the north and continue east on the north shore.
Around the year 1780, the defile was filled in by the owner of the Old Works Estate, Peter Wood, and the two sides of the island were connected by one road for the first time.
When Centerline Road was constructed along the mountain ridge, hundreds of tons of fill were brought in to make the road passable by motor vehicle. In the process, the Old Works Estate and the uppermost section of the Maria Hope Road were completely covered over with the exception of the horsemill wall the horsemill wall, which can be seen as soon as you descend the stairs to the Reef Bay Trail.
The ruins of Maria Hope Estate lie just about 200 feet from Centerline Road at the trail entrance to the Maria Hope Trail. Access to the ruins is provided by a trail going east and up just as you enter the Maria Hope Trailhead.
History of the Maria Hope Estate
The Maria Hope Estate came about through the efforts of a Dutch settler, Lucas von Beverhaut.
Von Beverhaut had come from the Dutch Antilles to Tortola and was on Tortola when British kicked out all the Dutch in 1671. As the Danes had just colonized St. Thomas and were welcoming settlers, Van Beverhaut took his cane slips and whatever equipment he could carry and went to St. Thomas in his boat. After St. John was colonized by the Danes, he took up the Maria Hope plantation on that island. Set up in 1721, it was one of the largest estates on St. John and one of the first, if not the first estate dedicated to sugar production. It was also one of the first to be abandoned.
Von Beverhaut died in 1728 and Maria Hope was taken over by William Vessup, who later reportedly stabbed a man to death on St. Thomas over a land dispute. Wanted for murder Vessup fled the island in 1732. The estate was abandoned and burned by slaves in the 1733 rebellion.
The estate went through a series of owners and consolidations and was abandoned around the start of the nineteenth century.
The road from the Maria Hope Estate to Maho Bay became overgrown and lost in the bush, until 2005 when the Maria Hope Road was cleared and made passable through the efforts of the Trail Bandit and a local hiking society.
Ownership of the Valley
Most of the valley is currently owned by a complicated association of National Park and private interests. There had been talk about the possibility of development, but it now appears that the valley will become the property of a land trust and eventually will be turned over to the National Park. The valley is a beautiful example of natural St. John forest. Enjoy!
From Centerline Road North to Maho Bay
From Centerline Road, enter the trail about 70 feet to the east of the Reef Bay Trail, by the end of the guard rail. Just after you enter the woods, turn left and down.
The 0.8 mile track descends the western side of the Maho Bay Valley, following a gut, and emerging either on the North Shore Road at the end of the steep hairpin turn west of the beach at Maho Bay or on the flats behind Maho Bay Beach. The latter is the preferable route as unlike the original road, this does not go through private property.
If you’re starting from the more difficult Maho Bay entrance the “trail” begins by the “West Route 20” road sign just east of the green building on the beach. (Use a GPS or the St. John Off the Beaten Track App)
At the top of the trail in the vicinity of Centerline Road, there are the remains of the old stone walls of a horse corral and the retaining wall for the original Danish Road, Konge Vey.
The trail passes through a beautiful tropical forest shaded by massive West Indian locust and hog plum trees as well as attractive stands of bay rum and guavaberry.
In the fall of 2005, the guavaberry trees were rich with both purple and orange varieties of guavaberries, prized for their use in guavaberry wine and guavaberry pastries. Also noteworthy are the beautiful rock formations, teyer palm and heart leaf and scrub brush anthuriums.
About half way down the trail, there are beautiful views of Maho and Francis Bays to the north and out to West End, Tortola to the northeast.
From Centerline Road, the Maria Hope Trail follows the old Danish road through dry forest and leads back to the Reef Bay Trail just below the Josie Gut Estate.
Because of the enormous amount of fill used to create Centerline Road, access to the southern half of the Maria Hope Trail is extremely difficult at this original juncture. However, a spur trail, cut by a local hiking society, found at the entrance to the Bordeaux Mountain Road just east of the mailboxes provides a difficult, although passable, access to the Maria Hope Trail. This is not an official Park trail, it is only semi-improved and is not regularly maintained. Be extremely careful. The trail is very steep and slippery.
The southern section of the Maria Hope Trail lies at the end of this spur. It is passable, but with some difficulty, especially toward the bottom of the trail. Turn left. To the right, the trail ends just below Centerline Road. Proceeding to the left, the trail leads to two spur trails. The first spur goes to the Paquerau Ruins and the second to the more extensive Estate Hope ruins, which include the remains of the greathouse, the horsemill, a cistern and an animal watering trough. Continuing south, the trail leads to the Reef Bay Trail just below the Josie Gut Ruins.
Francis Bay Trail
Hikers on the Francis Bay Trail can enjoy two excellent bird-watching stations; one on the hillside and one on the shore of the salt pond. Spur trails access historic ruins and a handicap accessible boardwalk runs along the salt pond.
The Francis Bay Trail begins at the parking area at the end of the paved section of the Mary Creek Road. The trail passes the ruins of an the old Mary Point Estate House, rises up a hill to a lookout over the Francis Bay Pond and leads to the north end of the Francis Bay Beach. Just before you reach the beach, the trail turns left, runs along the edge of the salt pond and emerges at the road near the main entrance to the beach at Francis Bay.
The stone boiling house and chimney at the trailhead were constructed by George Francis in 1874 and served as one of the last sugar factories built on St. John.
The two dates, 1874 and 1911, inscribed on the structure refer to the original completion and subsequent restoration of the building, which is now used as a National Park Service storage facility. Behind the structure are old stone walls and other ruins dating back to the subsistence farming days on St. John.
Distance and Difficulty
This is one of the easiest trails in the park being only a little more that a quarter mile in length and with only one gentle hill to climb.
The remains of the Mary Point Great House that lie near the beginning of the trail were last used as the Creque family summer home. It was apparently build over an old plantation estate house shown on both the 1780 survey of St. John and the Oxholm map of St. John published in 1800. The cornice and other architectural details indicate a reconstruction in the early 19th century.
The house at one time had a wooden frame second story and the gallery was covered by a section of roof extending from the main building. A tile covered gallery floor, surrounded by a concrete railing, remains in fairly good condition.
Unlike the traditional detached kitchens of the old Virgin Islands, the cookhouse for this residence was attached to the estate house. This kitchen contained five ovens, which were placed under a stone hood leading to a chimney. Stairs behind the cookhouse lead to another gallery above. Behind the gallery is a freshwater well, and to the west are the remains of another small structure.
Warning: The structure is unstable. For your safety, do not walk within the ruins.
A semi-improved trail in the area of the great house leads through the former estate of Franz Claasen, one of the first men of African ancestry to own property on St. John.
Story has it that during the 1733 slave rebellion, a band of rebels were headed towards the estate with the intent of killing the white owners, when they encountered a slave from the plantation. The slave told the rebels that he had already killed the owner and his family. The rebels went on their way and the family was saved. Five years later records show that “a loyal negro” Franz Claasen, was given a section of the estate “in return for his help during the Rebellion.”
Along the trail you’ll find the remains of old graves, a stone cistern, a house foundation and slave cabins.
After passing the great house ruins, the trail begins a moderate climb up a small hill at the top of which are two benches overlooking the salt pond.
Francis Bay is a favorite spot for bird watchers. There are three comfortable places to observe the birds. One is at the pond overlook along the walking trail at the top of the hill. The second is from the wooden bench on the part of the trail that runs along the edge of the pond and the third is from the boardwalk that extends out into the pond. Bring binoculars to fully enjoy these popular bird watching spots. It is probably also a good idea to have insect repellent handy, just in case the mosquitoes are active during your visit.
Birds of Francis Bay
“Nestled behind Mary Point, the northernmost point of St. John is one of the island’s most productive birding spots.
“This pond, the nearby forest and the Francis Bay shoreline provide the observer with a great variety of birdlife at any time of the year. Mangroves and other salt tolerant vegetation rim the brackish pond, which harbors migrants and local specialties such as Mangrove Cuckoo, Scaly-naped Pigeon, White-cheeked Pintail and Smooth-billed Ani.
“There also are opportunities for good views of a variety of waterfowl, herons, shorebirds and warblers. Along the beach and rocky shoreline, brown booby, brown pelican, magnificent frigatebird and various terns can be seen offshore.”
From the article “Mary Point Pond, St John” by Jim Riddle, Robert Norton and Thelma Douglas appearing in Herbert A. Raffaele’s authoritative book, “Birds of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.”
Handicap Accessible Boardwalk
The elevated handicap accessible boardwalk was constructed in 2009 through the efforts of the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park.
The 650-foot environmentally friendly boardwalk runs along the pond and includes a wooden pier that extends into the pond offering a comfortable bird watching area.
Francis Bay Trail Revisited – Blog Entry
Leinster Bay Road
The Leinster Bay Road accesses Francis Bay Beach, the Francis Bay Trail, the Mary Point School, the Annaberg Sugar Mill and Leinster Bay Trail.
The low-lying coastal flatlands bordering the Leinster Bay Road
provide ideal conditions for the poisonous manchineel tree, one
of which is marked by a National Park Service information sign.
The sap from the leaves, the bark or the fruit of this tree
can be irritating to the skin. Even standing under the tree in
the rain may cause skin irritations. The round green fruit of
this tree is also poisonous. On one of Columbus’ voyages, a crew
member sampled the seemingly edible fruit and died. Thereafter,
the fruit was nicknamed “death apple”.
There are several places along the road where you can walk out
to the narrow beach and observe the shallow reef flats.
These reef tops are the habitat for wading birds, small fish
and many species of marine invertebrates. The shallow areas called
flats are also popular with fisherman testing their skills against
the skittish and hard-fighting bonefish.
Waters Edge Walk
The National Park offers this opportunity to learn about coastal
ecology and marine life in Leinster Bay. For more information
contact the VI National Park online or phone (340) 776-8811.
The Leinster Bay Road is one of the few long flat stretches on
St. John. It is 0.7 mile long and is perfect for runners and
joggers who prefer a level surface for their sport. If you
end your run at Francis Bay, you can enjoy the luxury of cooling
off after your workout with a refreshing swim at one of the
world’s best beaches.
The Leinster Bay Trail is a flat 0.8-mile trail that follows the
shoreline of Leinster Bay from the end of the paved road beyond
the Annaberg Sugar Mill parking lot Leinster Bay Road
to the beach at Waterlemon Bay. The hiking time will be about one half hour.
The Johnny Horn Trail begins just behind the beach and continues on to Coral Bay.
The Leinster Bay Trail runs right along the water’s edge with
splendid, unobstructed views of Leinster Bay, the Narrows, Sir
Francis Drake Channel, and West End, Tortola. Moreover, it provides
land access to one of St. John’s best snorkeling locations, Waterlemon Cay, the small island that lies just offshore of the beautiful little beach at Waterlemon Bay
The small island of Waterlemon Cay once served as an arena for
settling disputes and matters of honor. The Danes had outlawed
dueling and as a result, citizens of St. Thomas and St. John
who felt the need to engage in this activity would go to Tortola
where dueling was legal. In 1800, when the British Islands
also prohibited dueling, the remote and uninhabited island
of Waterlemon Cay, far from the eyes of the Danish and British
authorities, became the new “field of honor.”
Before Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, the Leinster Bay Trail was
passable by four-wheel drive vehicle. According to the National
Park, the decision not to repair the road to a condition that
would once again allow vehicle entry was made in order to lessen
the impact on the reef at Waterlemon Cay by snorkelers arriving
The Leinster Bay Trail was once part of the Old Danish Road that
began in Coral Bay and followed the north shore of St. John accessing the plantations at Brown Bay, Leinster Bay, Annaberg, Mary Point, Fredriksdal, Windberg, Little Maho Bay and Caneel Bay (Cinnamon Bay). Today, this route consists of the Brown Bay Trail, Johnny Horn Trail, Leinster Bay Trail, Leinster Bay Road, and the North Shore Road as far as Cinnamon Bay.
Beginning from the Annaberg Parking Area the landward side of the trail abuts a low-lying area similar to that found on the Leinster Bay Road. A thicket of twisted maho trees dominate the landscape.
On the ground you’ll find numerous land crab holes with an occasional land crab scurrying into the safety of their tunnels upon your approach.
As you travel further down the trail the marshy flats on the inland side of the track give way to steep hills and rocky cliffs, before reverting once again to flats as you approach the beach at Leinster Bay where native stone walls once marked boundaries and contained livestock.
Beach at Waterlemon Bay
The Leinster Bay Trail ends at the beach known as either Waterlemon Beach or Leinster Bay Beach. A National Park sign alerts you to the fact that this beach is an official turtle nesting area and subject to certain rules.
Look for the trail that begins about half way down the beach at Waterlemon Bay and leads inland. Here you will find the extensive remains of the Leinster Bay Plantation as well as what is left of a more recent cattle operation.
The remains of a small residence and a cattle trough lie just
inland from the trail. Proceeding along the path, you will come
to an old well tower. If you look in, you will see water at the
There are three more wells on the site. One well is near the brackish
pond and two more are in the valley.
Just past the well are the ruins of the storage house, the boiling room and the boiling bench where sugarcane juice was boiled down to produce crystallized sugar.
Here you will see smooth black limestone tiles that look like
slate. These tiles, made in Denmark’s Gotlin Island in the Baltic
Sea, are often found around the burning trenches of old sugar
The ruins of the horsemill are behind the boiling room. Also remaining on this old estate are the watermill, the gatepost, the rum still and the canning room.
Archeologists have found evidence of at least twenty-six slave
houses on the hillside to the east of the plantation.
Behind the Leinster Bay ruins is an often dried salt pond, where deer often come in the early morning hours.
Other fauna you’re likely to come across in the area include a variety of land and sea birds, great blue herons and land crabs.
Johnny Horn Trail
The Johnny Horn Trail connects the Leinster Bay Trail at the eastern end of the beach at Waterlemon Bay with the historic Emmaus Moravian Church in Coral Bay. The trail is 1.8 miles long and follows the mountain ridge through a dry upland forest environment. There are some steep hills reaching an approximate elevation of 400 feet. Some sections of the trail, especially on the Coral Bay side, run through private property and inholdings.
There are five spur trails off the main trail. The first (starting
from Waterlemon Bay) provides access to the best place to cross
the channel if you would like to snorkel around Waterlemon Cay.
The second spur leads to the remains of an old Danish guardhouse.
The third trail takes you to the ruins at Windy Hill, the fourth
is the Brown Bay Trail to Brown Bay and East End and the fifth
is the Base Hill Spur.
The Johnny Horn Trail was named after Johan Horn who was second
in command to Governor Gardelin in St. Thomas and Commandant
of St. John around the time of the slave rebellion in 1733.
He was the Chief Bookkeeper and Chief Merchant of the Danish
West India and Guinea Company on St. Thomas. According to John
Anderson in his historical novel, Night of the Silent Drums,
Englishman John Charles, a former actor who became a small
planter on St. John, said the following of Horn:
He had a grimace for a face, lies for eyes, noes for a nose,
arse cheeks for face cheeks, fears for ears, whips for lips,
dung for a tongue, and to all who knew him it seems strange that
he has but one horn for a name.
Snorkeling Access Spur Trail
Right near the beginning of the Johnny Horn Trail, there is a
short spur trail that follows the shoreline of Waterlemon Bay.
By walking along this trail, you can get to a point on the shore
that is half the distance to Waterlemon Cay than it would be
starting from the beach. This way you can save your energy for
the really good snorkeling around the cay.
A patch of aloe can be found a little further up the trail between
a big rock and the remains of the old Guardhouse. It is common
to find aloes planted close to homes and public buildings. The
pulp from the leaves is used for the treatment of sunburn, burns
and other ailments.
The spur trail on the left, just beyond the aloe, takes you to
the ruins of a Danish guardhouse. This small fortification was
built on this strategic location, called Leinster Point, because
it overlooked two critical passages, the Fungi Passage, between
Whistling Cay and Mary Point, and the Narrows, which separate
Great Thatch and St. John. The guardhouse was equipped with cannons and manned by 16 soldiers.
The Trail Continues
Continuing up the trail, you will be treated to excellent vies
of Leinster Bay, the Narrows and the Sir Francis Drake Channel.
From here you can see how the proximity of Tortola encouraged
many St. John slaves to attempt an escape to freedom that the island of Tortola offered them from the
years 1834, when slavery was outlawed on the British islands
to 1848 when slavery was abolished in the Danish west Indies.
As you proceed up the hill, you will come to several areas that
provide excellent views of Leinster Bay and the Sir Francis Drake Channel.
Near the top of the hill, the trail forks. The trail to the left is a spur that leads to the ruins of the James Murphy Estate house, which lie about 200 yards from the fork, The trail to the right is the continuation of the main Johnny Horn Trail.
At the end of the 18th century, the Annaberg Plantation as well as five other contiguous estates came under the control of James Murphy, a wealthy St. Thomas merchant, ship owner and slave trader. The consolidated lands were called Annaberg, which became the largest and most successful plantation on St. John. From the estate house which he had built at the top of what is sometimes known as Windy Hill, Mr. Murphy could view the entirety of his vast holdings.
James Murphy was buried on a part of the estate a commanding view of his holdings
In 1843, the Annaberg plantation as well as the estate house became the property of Judge H. Berg, the vice-governor
of the Danish West Indies. Berg lived on St. Thomas, but when
he visited St. John, he would reside at Windy Hill. Otherwise,
the house was occupied and managed by a Mr. and Mrs. Wallace.
Preserved letters from early travelers to St. John make reference
to the presence of an extensive library at Windy Hill.
Before selling the remainder of his estates on St. John, Judge
Berg bequeathed small plots of land east of the estate house
to some of his employees. These employees and their descendants
established the village of Johnny Horn. Remains of the old houses
can be seen in several places just off the Johnny Horn Trail.
Luther K. Zabriskie, in his book, The United States Virgin Islands,
gives this description of Windy Hill when it was a boarding house:
Leinster Bay, was where an excellent boarding house, for use
by occasional visitors, was once kept. The storm of 1916 blew
this house down. The wonderful old mahogany furniture that was
the envy of all who came to stay here, was scattered in all directions.
Windy Hill may also have been used as a Masonic Lodge. De Booy
and Faris in, Our New Possessions, wrote:
Near by are the remains of a building occupied by the only Masonic
Lodge on St. John. One can almost picture the banquets held by
the Masons when they assembled here in the olden days, when feasts
were of the first importance in the life of the West Indian planter.
From The Langford Mail:
Windy Hill was the private boardhouse of a Mrs. Clin (commonly
spelled “Clen”). It was owned by lawyer Jorgenson
and entirely destroyed in hurricane of 1916.
In 1917, when the United States bought the Virgin Islands, a
reform school was established here. Mrs. Clen was in charge of
the facility. Most of what you see now is from that period.
Brown Bay Trail Intersection
Following the relatively flat ridge, you will find scenic overlooks
with views of Jost Van Dyke, West End, Tortola, and the Sir
Francis Drake Channel. About a half mile from the Windy Hill
spur, you will come to another trail intersection.
The Johnny Horn Trail continues straight ahead and the Brown
Bay Trail is on the left. It is identified by a National Park
information sign. The Brown Bay Trail is 1.6 miles long. It is
0.8 mile to the beach at Brown Bay and another 0.8 mile to the
East End Road at the other end of the trail.
Brown Bay Spur to Base Hill
Continuing straight along the Johnny Horn Trail, the path descends
gradually and crosses a gut. After crossing the gut, the trail
ascends steeply before reaching a more improved section of dirt
road near the top of Base Hill (pronounced Boss Hill). At this
point, you will have reached an elevation of 400 feet above sea
level, from which there are superb views down into Coral Harbor
and Coral Bay.
Base Hill Spur
A dirt road just south of the ridge heading east, leads to the
summit of Base Hill (“pronounced Boss Hill”) where you can enjoy
panoramic views extending from Jost Van Dyke on the north to
Coral Harbor on the south, including spectacular vistas of the
islands of the Sir Francis Drake Channel all the way to Virgin
Gorda and of the mangrove lined bays within Hurricane Hole on
St. John. The road narrows into a footpath and loops back down
to meet another dirt road, which if taken to the right, leads
back to the main Johnny Horn Trail.
Base Hill to the Coral Bay Moravian Church
From the hilltop, the main Johnny Horn Trail descends rapidly
and leads to the Moravian Church in Coral Bay near the intersection
of Centerline Road and Salt Pond Road (Route 107).
The Moravians came to St. John in 1741. They established the
mission at Emmaus (Coral Bay) in 1782. They are the oldest of
the Protestant religions and were the first to minister to blacks.
This is the fourth Moravian church to be built on this site.
The Moravian Church, constructed in 1919, is listed in the National
Registry of Historic Sites.
Brown Bay Trail
The Brown Bay Trail runs between the East End Road (Route 10) just east of Estate Zootenvaal, and the Johnny Horn Trail. The beach at Brown Bay is 0.8 mile from either end of the trail, making a total distance of 1.6 miles.
From East End to the Beach at Brown Bay
If your destination is the beach at Brown Bay, the easier access is from the trail entrance at East End. Starting from the Coral Bay Moravian Church, go east about a mile on the East End Road. You will pass Estate Zootenvaal and then cross a small concrete bridge. Turn left just after the bridge and park on the dirt road.
An animal watering trough and an old well remaining from subsistence farming days can be found on the low flat ground on the west side of the trail near the road. Twenty yards up the dirt track you will come to a fork in the road. The left fork leads to a police shooting range. The right fork is the beginning of the Brown Bay Trail.
About 100 yards up the trail, on your right, are the remains of an old concrete cistern supported by buttresses. A narrow trail leads to the cistern and other ruins of the old Hermitage Plantation.
The Brown Bay Trail continues up the hill on the south side of St. John. It passes over the ridge and then down to the coast on the north side of the island. At the ridge you will have reached an elevation of 200 feet above sea level.
As you walk along the trail you will quite likely encounter feral donkeys and herds of goats that roam freely through the bush.
On the south side of the hill you will see pipe organ cactus, century plants, maran bush, catch-and-keep and wild tamarind, which are characteristic of this cactus scrub environment. Among the larger trees found in the vicinity are tamarinds and genips, which usually bear fruit in the summer months.
Be careful not to touch the cacti that lie low on the ground known locally as suckers. The spines can be quite painful and sometimes difficult to dislodge if you get stuck.
There is a fine southerly view of Coral Bay just before the trail switches back to the right for the first time. From this overlook you can see Coral Harbor, Princess Bay, Hurricane Hole and Leduck Island. Crossing over the top of the ridge, you’ll begin your descent into the Brown Bay Valley. The north side of St. John typically gets more rain than the south side, resulting in a thicker coverage of trees and a more tropical environment, a phenomenon you will quickly notice as you cross from one side of the mountain to the other. As you descend into the valley, you will be treated to beautiful views of the Sir Francis Drake Channel and the bordering British Virgin Islands.
Approaching the bottom of the hill, there is a steep spur trail that leads down to the shore where there are the remains of an old stone structure that was once used as an abattoir.
When you reach sea level look for the short spur trail that leads to the beach at Brown Bay.
On the forest side of the main trail is a short path that passes through the forest and leads to an impressive old cemetery, surrounded on four sides by beautifully constructed stone walls. The four-feet-high walls form an approximate square about 100 feet long on each side. Two pillars, one of which has since fallen down, at one time supported a gate. Ornate metalwork surrounds the actual grave where a two-year-old boy was buried in 1860.
The Brown Bay Trail continues past a salt pond and through the low-lying forest eventually rising to met the Johnny Horn Trail.
Johnny Horn to Brown Bay – An Alternate Approach
If you are beginning this walk from the Johnny Horn Trail, proceed to the intersection of the Johnny Horn and Brown Bay Trails. The Brown Bay Trail is to the left and goes downhill.
About 20 yards from the intersection is a scenic overlook. On a clear day there is an excellent view to the east all the way to the Baths at Virgin Gorda, including Fallen Jerusalem, Round Rock, and Cooper and Salt Islands.
At the bottom of the hill, the trail crosses a gut and continues east on flat land. At the gut crossing, there are several genip trees and a large tamarind tree. Donkeys and goats often congregate around this area.
The trail then passes alongside a salt pond for about a quarter mile. A little past the salt pond, a short spur trail to the left leads to the beach. The Brown Bay Trail continues to East End Road, just east of Estate Zootenvaal.
Brown Bay has some of the most extensive ruins on the island of St. John. To explore them, proceed to the western end of the beach and then make your way further along the shoreline until you see the beginning of the ruins.
Here you will find the remains of an estate house bearing an old concrete plaque inscribed with the date 1872 and bearing the initials “G-N.” Notice the exceptionally well-crafted stone and brickwork that went into the construction of the old walls.
You will also find ruins from an even earlier time including a sugar factory with its boiling room, cisterns once used for rum distillation, an old copper boiling pot, two horsemills from different periods, a storage building, an old well, an ox pound and two graves, one being that of a child.
Brown Bay and Resistance to Slavery
When French troops finally put down the slave rebellion of 1733, surviving slaves gathered above Brown Bay and shot themselves dead rather than face capture. This occurred about ten days after the mass suicide at Ram Head.
In 1840, four slaves from the Brown Bay plantation successfully escaped across the channel to Tortola.
The L’Esperance Road runs between Centerline Road and Reef
Bay. The top of the trail can be found at a point about 0.3 miles
east of the Cathrineberg Road. The foundation of an old house
can be seen at the beginning of the road. Park here if you arrived
The L’Esperance Road dates back to Danish colonial times and runs
from Konge Vey, now Centerline Road, to the Reef Bay shoreline. The road provided access to L’Esperance, Sieben and Mollendahl Estates and a means for the plantations along the route to ship
their products via ox carts to Reef Bay where they could be loaded
onto sailing vessels for export.
Until the 1780s, Konge Vey did not connect Cruz Bay to Coral Bay because of a deep fissure or rift in the island at the saddle between the two hillsides where the Reef Bay Trail is now located. Called “the Defile,” this fissure was so steep that it was impossible to ride across it on horseback, let alone by donkey or ox cart. Because it could not be crossed, roads led from the two sides of the defile down to both the north and south shores.
During the 1780s, work began on a bridge over the defile. The tall stone retaining wall of that bridge can still be seen on the north side of Centerline Road across from the entrance to the Reef Bay Trail. With the construction of the bridge travel between Cruz Bay and Coral Bay could be made directly on the King’s Road and the roads leading down the mountainsides became less important as thoroughfares.
The L’Esperance Road, however, was still well-used as it was the road to not only Estates L’Esperance, Sieben and Mollendahl, but also, if one was coming from Cruz Bay, it was the road to Reef Bay, Little Reef Bay, Par Force and Lameshur and John‘s Folly.
The L’Esperance Road was passable by four-wheel drive
vehicles until the 1950s, when it started to grow over. Some of the
owners of the “inholdings” (the term used to designate private property located within the National Park boundaries) paid to have the road bulldozed in the 1970s, and it remained in good condition until 1995, when Hurricane Marilyn closed off the road with fallen trees, which became covered with catch-and-keep and other vines and vegetation. Through the efforts of the Trail Bandit and local hikers, the road was cleared and again passable all the way to the Reef Bay Trail.
The L’Esperance Trail was improved in 2007 by volunteers from the Student Conservation Association and was designated an official National Park Service trail that same year.
From Centerline Road to Estate L’Esperance
From the Centerline Road intersection, the L’Esperance
Road descends the western side of the Fish Bay Valley in a moist
forest environment where you will pass through stands of genip, guavaberry, turpentine, bay rum and mango trees.
A ten-minute downhill walk takes you to a spur trail leading
to the L’Esperance Ruins. The remains of a beautiful stone
bridge crosses the Fish Bay Gut.
The presence of the gut was what made the estate viable. A spring
near the water works was able to provide at least some water even
on extremely dry years.
The old estate contains the ruins of the original horse mill, a storage building, estate house and sugar factory.
The residence, or greathouse, had a gallery on the lower level.
The upper story, which was of wood frame construction also had
The cookhouse is nearby as is the cookbench. Beyond that is a structure that probably housed the overseer and beyond that is in the remains of a Dutch oven.
There are two horsemills. One is located below the greathouse
and is mostly in its original configuration. The stone retaining wall on the lower side is still intact. The other horsemill is located across the trail as you come in. This horsemill was apparently abandoned when the new one was constructed. A slave village was located below the horsemill where at one time there were 16 slave houses. The sugar factory building can be found below the estate house. Off to the right of the factory is the rum still with its cistern for cooling the distilled mash. The can house where the rum was bottled is adjacent to the rum still and cistern.
This grave found at L’Esperance belongs to Heinrich Tonis, the great grandson one of the original owners of Estate L’Esperance, Claus Tonis, A wealthy Dutch merchant who first took up the plantation in conjunction with the Governor of the Danish West Indies, Eric Bredal. This is one of the oldest marked graves on St. John.
History of the L’Esperance Estate
Early owners of L’Esperance befriended the Moravians who had come to preach on St. John and it was on this estate that the first St.
John meeting of the Moravian Church took place some time during
In 1797, when the sugar industry on St. John was at its peak, 71
people lived on the L’Esperance Estate, 92% of the land was improved, 156 acres were planted in sugar cane, 25 acres in provisions and 25 acres were used as pasture land where 38 cows grazed. Only 19 acres of the L’Esperance
plantation were undeveloped and classified as woodland.
The following is a description of the Estate in 1805:
The Estate is situated on the Western of the island. In the middle between the North and the South side. The buildings and Negro houses lie in a valley surrounded by mountains on which the cane fields are laid out. Which are sheltered from the injurious north winds…. Two small rivulets run through the Estate, whereof one waters the Works. It has not been dry in the 30 years that I have been here…. It has agreeable to the opinion of those who understand it, water enough to supply a water mill, which I have not been able to build on account of the heavy debt which rests on the Estate when I bought it. The want of workers on it, dry years and lastly hurricanes. The lands
are all, with the exception of a few acres good cane lands. The soil is mostly a black mould on clay bottom and in some places a grayish earth upon clay. To cultivate these lands properly would require from 40 to 50 more able Negros. In 15 years that I have been owner of this estate, the labor decreased by seven Negros by death…
Excerpt from a hand-written plantation report by Dr. D’Jurco
Vriehous, January 12, 1805 provided by David Knight.
In 1830, the plantation stopped its sugar production operation
and became a cattle and provision growing farm. This was a hardship
for the slaves living on L’Esperance as they were removed
from the plantation and from their families living on nearby
By 1836, only ten acres of L’Esperance were developed
and the population had fallen to 13.
L’Esperance was purchased by the municipal council for
the residence of the local doctor for the island of St. John, Jacob
D. Raphael. The law at that time required the plantation owners to
pay two cents per person for the services of the doctor, who was
called doctor two-penny.
Records from 1875 report L’Esperance to have been abandoned.
A royal palm tree is visible from the trail near the estate house,
which may be a remaining native species. There is some dispute
as to whether the royal palm is native to St. John or whether
it was brought in. One theory is that the royal palm, which
has an edible heart of palm, was harvested by Tainos living
on St. John. Because the tree is killed in this process, the
species may have been almost completely wiped out over the
From L’Esperance to Sieben
Leaving L’Esperance and continuing the hike, the road follows
the Fish Bay Gut and the environment gets moister and denser
in an environment of large mango, genip, guavaberry and kapok trees. The road crosses the Fish Bay Gut and for those taking
this route to Fish Bay, this is a convenient place to access
the gut. The road turns east at the gut and you will pass through
an area dominated by bromeliads, pinguins and anthuriums. As
the trail winds around to a southern exposure, the environment
becomes drier and the flora changes dramatically from forest
to scrub. There was once a cattle operation here and you can
still see the sections of an old barbed wire fence. Wild tamarind,
thorny cassia trees, catch-and-keep and maran bush became the
dominant species of plants because almost everything else was
eaten by the cattle. The land has not recovered appreciably,
although it has been more than 60 years since the last cattle
were raised here.
The first path off to the right leads to the ruins of the old
Sieben Estate. The plantation covered more than 150 acres. The extensive ruins include the remains of the sugar factory, rum still, estate house and various other structures. In addition to sugar, Estate Sieben was one of the few estates to grow coffee.
There was reported to be two canons here at one time, with one supposedly still remaining somewhere in the thick bush. The canons were probably placed at Sieben when the governor and commandant of St. Thomas and St. John became the owner of the estate through marriage and Sieben became the St. John Governors residence. An old drill press lies by the side of the trail.
Some History of Estate Sieben
Estate Sieben was originally granted to Johan von Sieben, the Company’s secretary, by the Danish Crown in 1721. Sieben married into a prominent Dutch family. When he died in 1734 his widow remarried the Commandant of St. Eustatius, who had fled from Statia due to his involvement with illicit trading with pirates and the subsequent loss of a good deal of the government’s money in the process.
The Story of Commandant Kaas as told to the members of the St. John Historical Society by St. John historian, David Knight 12/16/2007
A later owner of Estate Sieben, as well as Estate Mollendahl, was a gentleman by the name of Wencel Kaas. Kaas had a brother who lived in Cruz Bay and was the Commandant of the St. John Regiment, but was subsequently court-martialed. The story of the court-martial goes like this:
One of the troops, apparently under the influence of alcohol, made some disparaging remarks to the Commandant’s wife. She complained to her husband who had the soldier hauled off to the battery. The Commandant then ordered the drummer to bind the offending soldier with a drumstick shoved down his throat. The soldier choked to death. Commandant Kaas died before a verdict could be rendered in his case.
The Story of Alexander Frasier as told to the members of the St. John Historical Society by St. John historian, David Knight 12/16/2007
Alexander Frasier was the owner of Sieben during emancipation. He was one of a small group of English planters who had originally established themselves on Tortola. He had colored children Frasier had a long-standing relationship with one of his slaves who he later freed, a lady by the name of Anna West. There was a problem in Tortola. Even after emancipation there, free colored could not inherit land in the British colonies. So a number of the established planters on Tortola that had free colored children decided to reestablish themselves their families in the Danish West Indies so that their children would be able to own land and become planters.
When he died, on St. John in the year of emancipation, he left a small estate, but he died in testate, he had left no will. His probate stayed in the courts a long time. During the process the court advertised in the newspapers in England and in Scotland asking for heirs to come forward. Something that no shortage of potential heirs did.
The estate, however, was appraised at only $400 plus his compensation for the slaves on his estate who were freed at emancipation, which was $50 a slave, of which he had eleven, making the entire estate worth less than $1,000, which would surely be decreased by legal fees and court costs.
This, however, did not deter his many poor relations back in Scotland from pressing their claims. In the end, four distant relatives who were able to prove that they were the surviving heirs of Frasier’s mother, who had died just a few days after he did.
These four distant relatives back in Scotland divided up the proceeds of the estate, but back at Sieben, his common law wife and children were left with nothing. The census of 1841 documented them as: Alexander Frasier Jr., 19 years old, born on Tortola, occupation planter, member of the Jaeger Corps, the militia comprised of free coloreds, Archibald Frasier, 10 years old, born on St. John, attending school, member of the Moravian Church, John Frasier, eight years old, also born on St. John, a student and member of the Moravian Church, Henrieta Frasier, 19 years old, born on Tortola, member of the Moravian Church, seamstress, Anna West who had been his common law wife for 20 years, listed as his housekeeper.
The Estate After the Decline of the Sugar Industry
By the 1830s sugar was no longer being produced in the Sieben Mollendahl area and the estate was dedicated to provision farming, fruit trees and the raising of livestock. Its last private owner, Julius Sprauve, Sr., the first Virgin Island senator from St. John and who the school in Cruz Bay is named after, sold the estate to the National Park in 1954.
More recently, the Estate Sieben area was used as a clandestine marijuana plantation with the remains of the operation still in evidence.
The only baobob tree on St. John can be found here in Estate
In many parts of Africa, the baobob tree is thought to be sacred and magical. The first seeds from these trees were brought to
the Caribbean by enslaved Africans. Although there is only one
baobob on St. John, St. Croix has more baobob trees than any
other island in the Caribbean.
Great views of Fish Bay and the south shore of St. John can be had from behind the baobob tree.
An old Danish Road, the Great Sieben, connects Sieben to Fish
Bay. The trail, recently opened by the Trail Bandit and local
hikers, descends from the Sieben Ruins near the baobob tree and
follows the contour of the Fish Bay Valley leading to a residential
area of Fish Bay. The hand-built road constructed in colonial
times has weathered the centuries well, as can be seen by the
good condition of much of the stone retaining walls supporting
the lower side of the road. The Great Sieben passes through shady
moist forest with stands of guavaberry, West Indian Birch, genip and turpentine trees underneath which are bromeliads, anthuriums and love leaf.
From Sieben to Mollendahl
The main road crosses another ridge and once again begins to
descend the valley. On the south side of the road, there is
a cut for a property line marked with flags that can be used
as a path. There is a cemetery there with above ground graves
and cottages with galvanized roofs dating from when people
lived there in the early part of the century.
Soon after this you will come to an overlook with views of
Fish Bay, the Fish Bay Valley, the Ditleff Point Peninsula and.
on a clear day, the island of St. Croix.
Eastern Fish Bay Gut and the Bay Rum Stand
The road winds down to a beautiful bay rum stand that is growing
alongside the gut that flows down to the eastern part of Fish
Bay. Alongside the gut is a man-made wall and a fence. If you
were to follow this gut down, you wound reach the Fish Bay Road
in the vicinity of Guavaberry Farms Nursery.
Up the gut and to the west are the remains of an old shingle-walled
house that was occupied until the 1950s. At that time, most of
the houses in Cruz Bay were of similar construction.
Next to the house are the remains of a cook house, a well, an oven and an old boiling copper. Look for bats on the ceiling, some of
which may be nursing their young.
From the Eastern Fish Bay Gut to Mollendahl
The L’Esperance Road continues along the eastern ridge
of the Fish Bay Valley. After passing a turnaround area for vehicles,
the road turns right crossing the mountain ridge bringing you
from the Fish Bay Valley into Reef Bay. The improved section
of road ends shortly after the right turn, but continues as a
foot path. There is an overlook with views of the Reef Bay Valley
near the top of the path.
Between the bay rum gut and the turnaround is the entrance
to the Mollendahl Ruins. Some 50 yards further along the trail
you will come to another old house with a flat galvanized roof,
which is now in a collapsed condition due to the effects of Hurricane
Hugo in 1989.
Estate Mollendahl can be reached by a barely recognizable trail
on the west side of the road, which can be found after you
pass the gut and bay rum grove, but before the large genip
tree and the collapsed house.
A Moravian Missionary gets a Hostile Reception
Unlike the early owners of L’Esperance who had befriended the Moravian, Estate Mollendahl proved to be a hostile place for Moravian missionaries. Jacob Detwiler, a Moravian missionary from St. Thomas had come to St. John to preach. Entering Estate Mollendahl, Detwiler asked permission from the overseer to speak to the slaves. His passionate and fiery sermon took the overseer by surprise upsetting him greatly. When Detwiler left the estate, the overseer and his assistant overtook the missionary on the road and beat him severely. Detwiler died shortly after on St. Thomas the cause of death listed as “brain fever.”
The ruins include a sugar factory, rum still, horsemill and
various other structures. The boiling house had about four coppers
for boiling the cane juice. The horsemill lies above the factory
with the lower part supported by a stone retaining wall.
The flat area immediately before the boiling bench held the
lead lined box called the receiver, which collected the cane
juice and regulated the flow of juice to the coppers by means
of a spout. The holes in the wall are vent holes used to regulate
On the outside of the wall was the firing trench where fires
were built under the coppers to boil the cane juice.The structure
is rectangular which indicates that it predates the T-shaped
sugar factories like Annaberg ,
which were built between 1780 and 1820. The first factories were
all rectangular. The rum still and the storage house ruins can
also be found nearby.
The estate was equipped with cannons, some of which still remain.
History of the Mollendahl Estate
Mollendahl was first established by a wealthy Dutch wine merchant,
Gerhard Moll in 1721. By 1793. The Sieben Mollendahl Estate had
80 acres in cane, 60 acres in provisions and 150 acres in pasture
land grazing 141 cows. About half the estate was unimproved woodlands. The population was 141.
By 1808, the production of cane was discontinued stressing livestock instead. A report in 1836 listed Sieben Mollendahl as having only 35 acres of pasture and a population of 18. In 1875, this had dropped to 16 acres of pasture with only nine inhabitants.
Between 1879 and 1913, the owners of the Sieben Mollendahl plantations transferred 49 acres to small land holders. In 1915, twenty-six people lived on 11 separate properties carved out of the old Sieben Mollendahl Plantation. The lots ranged from two to nine
acres and in total 18 acres were improved. These subsistence
farmers grew provision and fruits and raised a small amount of
From Mollendahl to the Reef Bay Valley Floor
Continuing down the trail, you will notice how this old Danish
road was stabilized by a stone retaining wall on the lower
side. Along the way down there are excellent views of the Reef
Bay Valley and the shoreline. The trail continues to lead down
into the valley and as you approach the bottom, there is a
short spur that descends to the right and leads to the beach.
The main trail continues, leading to the trail which crosses
the rocky headland between Little Reef Bay and Genti Bay. The
Reef Bay Sugar Mill Ruins will be to the east, or to your left
and the beach at Little Reef Bay will be to your right,
More about the L’esperance road from the SeeStJohn.com Blog
Reef Bay Trail
The Reef Bay Trail begins at Centerline Road 4.9 miles east
of Cruz Bay. Parking for four or five vehicles is available opposite
the trail entrance. The trail runs between Centerline Road and
the ruins of the Reef Bay Sugar Factory near the beach at Genti
Bay. The well-maintained 2.4-mile trail descends 937 feet from
the road to the floor of the Reef Bay Valley. The average hiking
time is two hours downhill from Centerline Road to the beach.
Planning the Hike
The National Park Service offers guided hikes down the Reef Bay
Trail. Transportation is provided from the National Park Visitors
Center in Cruz Bay to the head of the trail. An experienced Park
Ranger will act as your guide. In addition to the Reef Bay Trail,
the walk will include the spur trail to the petroglyphs and
a visit to the Reef Bay Sugar Mill.
From the beach near the mill, you will be met by a boat, which
will take you back to Cruz Bay, allowing you to avoid the more
strenuous walk back up the trail. This popular activity is offered
for a modest fee and is available by reservation only. Call the St.
John National Park Service at (340) 776-6201 ext. 238.
Those making their own arrangements for this hike need to consider
their transportation to the trailhead on Centerline Road and
the method of return from the bottom of the trail. The simplest
procedure is to leave your vehicle in the parking area across
from the trailhead on Centerline Road, walk down the trail, and
then walk back up the way you came. No formal arrangements have
to be made; you can go whenever you want, with whomever you want.
However, the long, steep, uphill walk back is far more difficult
than the descent. This should not be a problem for those in good
physical condition who may even enjoy the challenge. Make sure
to pace yourself and bring plenty of water. It may also be a
good idea to plan a picnic either at the petroglyphs or at the
beach near the sugar factory. A cooling swim at Genti
or Little Reef Bay is another pleasant way to prepare for
the walk up the valley.
When planning your hike make sure you have all of the necessary equipment with you including proper clothing, water, sunblock, insect repellant, Trail Bandit Map and cell phone (Preferably loaded with the St. John Off The Beaten Track App).
It is also possible to exit the Reef Bay Valley without having
to go back up the way you came. One good way to do this would
be to make a loop using the L’Esperance Road as a route back to Centerline Road.
A second option would be to take the Lameshur Bay Trail to Lameshur Bay and either arrange for transportation
back to Reef Bay, or walk to Salt Pond Bay and take the bus back. The Reef Bay to Lameshur route involves backtracking
about a mile from the Reef Bay Sugar Factory to reach the trail,
then walking 1.5 miles with a rapid 467-foot elevation gain,
and subsequent descent in order to reach the road at Lameshur
Bay. This is no easier than returning uphill on the Reef Bay
Trail, and it is only recommended for those in good physical
condition. It will be necessary to pace yourself and to bring
plenty of water.
Another alternative is to walk along the Reef
Bay coast to the western end of the bay where there is
access to a road in Estate Fish Bay. Transportation should
be arranged on both sides of this hike, as it is a long way
back to the trailhead, and hitchhiking is difficult on the
infrequently traveled roads of Fish Bay.
Geography of the Reef Bay Valley
Webster’s Dictionary defines a valley as “an elongated
depression between uplands, hills or mountains, especially one
following the course of a stream.” In this sense, the Reef
Bay Valley, located on the south side of St. John is a classic
example of this geographical formation.
The steep and well-defined mountains that form the Reef Bay Valley
are among the highest in St. John and the valley follows the
course of two stream beds, locally called guts. The Reef Bay
Gut begins at Mamey Mountain and runs down the center of the
valley to Reef Bay. Parallel to the Reef Bay Gut on the western
side of the valley is the Living Gut, also called the Rustenberg
Gut, which begins near Centerline Road and meets the Reef Bay
Gut at the lower levels of the valley. A freshwater pool formed
by the Living Gut provides the location of the ancient Taino
rock carvings called the petroglyphs.
History of the Reef Bay Valley
The first human inhabitants of Reef Bay were hunter-gatherers
who arrived in St. John almost 3,000 years ago. These primitive
peoples were conquered or replaced by a farming-oriented society
who were the biological ancestors of the Tainos, the people
who Columbus encountered on his voyage across the Atlantic.
The farmers, like the hunter-gatherers, migrated from the South
American mainland and up the island chain of the Lesser Antilles
arriving in St. John about 2,000 years ago.
When Columbus sailed past St. John in 1493, he reported the
island to be uninhabited. The Tainos that lived on St. John may
have already fled the island in the wake of Carib raids or they
may have gone into hiding at the approach of Columbus’ fleet,
later to fall victim to the depredations visited upon them by
the Spanish colonizers.
In the early sixteenth century, St. John was reported to be
re-inhabited by Amerindians fleeing Spanish persecution in St.
Croix and Puerto Rico. By 1550, the island appeared to have been
totally uninhabited, and it remained that way for about 100 years.
Between 1671 and 1717, St. John was intermittently occupied
by small groups of woodcutters, sailors, fisherman and farmers.
St. John was officially colonized and settled by the Danes in
1718. By 1726, all of the land in the Reef Bay Valley had been
parceled out to form 12 plantations. At first, these estates
were devoted to a variety of agricultural endeavors such as cotton,
cocoa, coffee, ground provisions (yams, yucca, sweet potato taro,
corn, etc.) and the raising of stock animals as well as to the
production of sugarcane.
By the later part of the eighteenth century, the 12 plantations
were consolidated into five, and sugar became the dominant crop
in the valley. Only Little Reef Bay never switched to sugar growing
some cotton but primarily concentrating on ground provisions
and animals that were sold to the neighboring plantations.
Although much of the land was cleared for agricultural purposes,
a large portion of the valley was left in its natural state.
The least disturbed areas of the valley are the western side
of the Reef Bay Gut and the mountain spur between White Point
and Bordeaux Peak.
By the end of the eighteenth century, when sugar production
was at its peak, and the population of the valley was at its
greatest (300), about half of Reef Bay Valley was classified
In the nineteenth century, agriculture in the Reef Bay Valley
began to decline. By 1915, only Par Force and Little Reef Bay
in the lower valley were still active, but with only ten acres
planted in sugar. Otherwise the plantations were devoted to cattle
and other livestock, coconuts, fruit trees, and ground provisions.
Today, most of the Reef Bay Valley, with the exception of some
parcels of private property called “inholdings” is
the property of the National Park.
The Reef Bay Trail begins at the bottom of the stone stairway
on the southern side of Centerline Road.
Looking toward Centerline Road from the bottom of the stairs,
you can see an old stone wall. This was once the retaining wall
for the circular horsemill on the plantation known as Old Works
and is all that remains of the old estate, which was demolished
during the construction of Centerline Road.
Until the end of the in the eighteenth century, people couldn’t travel all the way from east to west on what was then called Konge Vey (King’s Road) and which is now known as Centerline Rd or Route 10. The road was divided in two by a deep gorge at the saddle of the Maho Bay Valley on the north and the Reef Bay Valley on the south. This gorge, called the defile, was so deep, its sides so steep and the bottom so rugged that it was impassable by donkey cart or horseback.
When travelers on horseback or wagon going between the Coral Bay side of St. John and the Cruz Bay side came to the defile, they had two options:
Option 1: There were corrals for horses on both sides of the defile. They could leave their horses in the corral on one side, cross the defile on foot and arrange to take another horse to continue east.
Option 2: They could take the Maria Hope Road down the Maho Bay Valley to the north and continue east on the north shore.
Around the year 1780, the defile was filled in by the owner of the Old Works Estate, Peter Wood, and the two sides of the island were connected by one road for the first time.
Until then the main port and business hub of St. John was Coral Bay. There was where one entered and cleared customs and from where most vessels came to pick up and deliver cargo.
The land bridge over the defile changed the dynamics of St. John as now deliveries from east of the defile could be sent to Cruz Bay overland and as Cruz Bay was so much closer to St. Thomas, it became the favored port and the main town on St. John
When Centerline Road was constructed along the mountain ridge, hundreds of tons of fill were brought in to make the road passable by motor vehicle. In the process, the Old Works Estate and the uppermost section of the Maria Hope Road were completely covered over with the exception of the horsemill wall.
From Centerline Road to Josie Gut
The Reef Bay Trail roughly follows the course of the Reef Bay
Gut, which drains the valley and flows downward toward the sea.
The top section of the trail descends steeply through the moist
sub-tropical forest of Reef Bay’s upper valley shaded by several
varieties of large trees including West Indian locust, sandbox, kapok, mammee apple and mango. National Park Service information signs provide valuable information about the natural environment
of the valley.
West Indian Locust
The first tree that you will pass, marked by a NPS sign is a
West Indian Locust. The sign reads: “West Indian Locust,
(Hymenaea courbaril) Bean Family – This tree is found throughout
the West indies and parts of Mexico and South America.The durable
wood of this handsome tree is used for furniture, shipbuilding,
crossties and posts. The tree exudes a useful gum resin.It produces
large, dark, red seed pods containing several seeds surrounded
by a strong smelling, yellow pulp that gives this tree the local
name of “stinking toe tree.” The pulp is edible and
sweet tasting. The holes you see in the bark is made by the yellow-bellied sapsucker to set a sticky, sap-laden trap for ants.
A beautiful old kapok tree grows just alongside the trail identified by a National Park Service Information sign. The kapok is known by different names in different parts of the Caribbean. In the B.V.I. it is called the silk cotton tree. Some down islanders call it the jumbie tree. In Mexico, Central and South America it is called the ceiba. The scientific name, Ceiba pentandra, comes from the Taino word for the tree pronounced tsayee-baa.
Because of its great size, its tendency to grow straight, and
because the wood is soft and more easily worked using primitive
stone tools, the kapok was chosen to make the great canoes used
by the Taino to travel from island to island.
The kapok is often associated with the supernatural. In Africa
it was said that sleeping on pillows made of kapok cotton will
bring good luck, purify and empower your material and spiritual
energy and bring good dreams and saintly vibrations. Slaves brought
to the Caribbean often slept on mattresses and pillows stuffed
with the fluffy silk cotton fiber from the kapok seedpods. Interestingly enough, this custom was often shunned by white planters and plantation overseers who believed that sleeping on kapok pillows brought about nightmares.
Another unusual tree found on the edge trail is the sandbox, recognized by its many dark pointed spines and smooth, brown bark. The sharp spines along the trunk have caused it to be called monkey-no-climb. The white prickle, yellow prickle and kapok have also been called monkey-no-climb for the same reason.
Another name for this tree is monkey pistol. The sandbox produces
beautiful seed pods that look like wooden tangerines. When the
seeds are ripe, the individual segments, which are the separate
seeds, burst apart making a sharp cracking sound like a pistol
The origin of the name sandbox tree comes from the use of the
seedpods as a desk accessory during the Victorian era. The ripe
pods were collected just before they burst apart and were reinforced with glue to keep them together. People would then place sand in them, which was used to blot ink with.
The Reef Bay Trail passes through the old Jossie Gut Estate about a half-mile from the trailhead at Centerline Road and runs right by the remains of the horsemill and the sugar factory.
The horsemill lies on a circular platform 65 feet in diameter. It is supported on the lower side by a 16-feet high stone retaining wall, which has a small storage room built into it. The upper side (on the other side of the trail) is cut into the hillside.
The sugar works at Jossie Gut, like the Reef Bay sugar works further down the trail date back to the early 19th century. The estate was owned and operated by Hans Henrik Berg from the 1820s until his death in 1862. Berg served as governor of the Danish West Indies in 1848 and again from 1853 -1862.
The remains of the Jossie Gut sugar factory lie just below the horsemill. It was built almost entirely out of native stone, with the exception of bricks, used to line the doors and windows and the buildings corners. The factory is T-shaped. The stem part of the T ends just three feet from the horsemill wall. This part of the factory was single-storied and housed the boiling house. The firing trench can be seen on the back or downhill side of the wall. The top of the T contained the storage and curing rooms. The remains of two staircases can still be seen.
Jossie Gut is also significant for using a surface water collecting and distributing system that captured water from the gut utilizing a dam and a sluice way and gutter that led to a cistern. The remains of this simple, but effective water works can be found on the upper side of the trail above the horsemill.
The name Josie Gut came about after Joseph Vanini beacme the owner of most of the estates in the valley and named the greater estate Vaninburg. He named the gut that ran through one of his holdings Joseph’s Gut and the estate itself became known as Jossie Gut
The walls and foundations of the structures found at Josie Gut
were constructed using locally obtained stone, brain coral, and
imported red and yellow bricks. These bricks, made in England
and Germany, can be found in the ruins all over the island. The
story of how they ended up in the walls of a Caribbean sugar
plantation provides some insight into the culture and morality
of the time and place from which they came.
During the plantation days, the traditional trade route to the
West Indies was called the triangle trade. The first leg of the
triangle trade was from Europe to Africa. The ships carried rum,
weapons, and manufactured goods that were offloaded in Africa
and traded for slaves.
The second leg of the trade was from Africa to the West Indies
in which the holds of the ships were crowded with a human cargo,
slave labor for the plantations in the New World.
Sailing vessels need weight, called ballast, toward the lowest
sections of the ship to balance the force of the wind on the
sails. This is accomplished today by the use of heavy keels or
lead weights loaded near the bottom of the hull area.
The simple fact that dead or dying human beings could not be
sold motivated the slavers to make certain efforts to keep their
property in a sellable condition. In order to further this goal,
the Africans captives were moved on deck from time to time to
get fresh air and to enable the crew to wash down the accumulated
filth below. In short, the human cargo was not suitable as ballast,
and some other weighty material needed to be in place in the
lowest sections of the hull.
Preferably, the ballast would be easily removable when the ship
reached the West Indies in order to make room for the hogsheads
of sugar, barrels of rum, bales of cotton, and other tropical
products that would fetch a handsome price in Europe. European
bricks were often chosen to serve as this ballast material. Not
only were they compact and heavy, but they also had value in
the West Indies where they could be sold as construction material.
Brain coral was another important construction material. It
was used primarily on arches and as corner stones. Brain coral
served this purpose well because when it is first brought from
the sea, it is soft and can be cut easily with a saw to the size
and shape needed. After the brain coral was shaped it would be
placed in the sun to dry where it would become hard and rock-like.
Stone, already plentiful on the surface of the ground, was also
uncovered during excavations for terraces, buildings and roads.
Mortar was made from a mixture of lime, seashells, water and
molasses. The lime was fabricated locally by burning chunks of
coral and seashells.
The framework and roofs of the buildings were made of wood.
Many of the larger beams were made of the extremely hard and
durable Lignum vitae, a tree that was once plentiful on St. John
From Josie Gut to the Sea
After leaving the Josie Gut area, the trail becomes less steep
and the environment gradually changes from moist to dry forest,
characterized by smaller trees and sparser shrubbery.
About one mile from Centerline Road, now well within the more
gently sloped lower valley, the Reef Bay Trail passes by the
remains of what was a small house, which was built around1930.
This section of the Reef Bay Valley is known as Estate Par
Force. The house alongside the trail was once owned by Miss
Anna Marsh, who cultivated fruit trees and raised cattle.In
those days, permission had to be granted by Miss Marsh in order
to continue down the trail to the abandoned sugar mill or to
The ruins of the Par Force Estate lie to the northeast of the Marsh House. A spur trail the Par Force Estate House Trail will take you to the ruins. The more adventurous may go into the bush behind the Marsh house and follow the gut north and up. The ruins lie on the east side of the gut.
Petroglyphs Trail intersection
About 0.1 mile past the Anna Marsh house, you will come to the Petroglyph Trail, which will be on your right (heading west).
Lameshur Bay Trail intersection
The next trail intersection will be the Lameshur Bay Trail, which leads to the left (east) while the Reef Bay Trail continues straight. For information on the Lameshur Bay Trail.
The Reef Bay Trail continues
The Reef Bay Trail continues straight (south) on relatively flat
terrain and leads to the partially restored Reef Bay sugar
factory and the beach at Genti Bay.
Many citrus trees were planted along this section of the Reef
Bay Trail, and some lime trees still remain. Two of these trees
are growing right alongside the trail. If you find ripe limes,
take a few back with you. They’re especially delicious and
make excellent limeade.
In her book, Some True Tales and Legends About Caneel Bay, Trunk
Bay and a Hundred and One Other Places on St. John, Charlotte
Dean Stark remembers collecting fruit in Reef Bay:
‘There are cultivated orange trees there (at Estate Reef Bay),
and once, to our joy, in 1948 or 1949, there was enough rain
to produce a crop of five hundred oranges. They were exceptionally
sweet and of fine flavor.”
As the trail nears the sea it passes through a low-lying marshy
area. The holes in the earth are land crab holes. This was once a popular place to gather these island delicacies. Land crabs are now protected within the National Park boundaries and hunting them is forbidden.
William Henry Marsh
In 1855, O.J. Bergeest and Company bought Reef Bay and converted
the mill to steam power. At that time, William Henry Marsh was the manager of the plantation. Marsh had come to the West Indies from England along with his brother. They both settled for a time in Antigua. William went to live in Tortola and then moved to St. John. His brother settled in New York.
William Marsh was in charge of setting up the steam engine.
In 1864, he bought the entire Reef Bay Estate at public auction.
He married a St. Johnian and had ten children. The Marsh family
acquired several other estates on St. John, and they are, to
this day, important landowners on the island.
The Turn of the Twentieth Century
Around the turn of the twentieth century, the Par Force or Reef
Bay Plantation operation covered almost the entire lower part
of the valley.
Sugar was planted just north and east of the factory behind
the marshy area. The provision grounds were planted at the northern end of the valley just before it starts to slope steeply upwards. Another provision ground was located next to the greathouse.
Coconut palms and bananas were cultivated in the lower area
near the beach. Fruit and citrus trees were planted throughout
the lower valley, but especially near the gut. Cattle and sheep grazed on three sections set aside as grassland.
The Reef Bay Sugar Factory
The Reef Bay Sugar Mill remains in extremely good condition.
A visit here may increase your understanding of the sugar making
process and help you to imagine what life was like in days gone
A good way to start your tour of the factory is to begin at
the horsemill. Horses, mules or oxen walked in continuous circles
to power the three rollers of the cane crusher in the center
of the mill. A slave (or after 1848, a “worker”) on one side of the crusher fed bundles of cane into the rollers, and a worker on the other side would receive them. He, in turn, would send the crushed stalks back through the rollers for further extraction of the cane juice. The cane juice then flowed down the trough to the boiling room. The leftover crushed cane stalks, called bagasse, were dried out and stored.
One side of the boiling room housed the boiling bench and the row
of copper boiling pots where the cane juice would be boiled down
into a wet raw sugar called muscavado. The fires were fed from
the outside of the building. Bagasse would often be burned to
provide heat for the boiling operation.
The muscavado would then be dried and packed into 1,000 pound barrels called hogsheads.
Sailing vessels bound for Europe would arrive in Genti Bay to pick up
the shipments of sugar. To accomplish this, specially constructed
boats called dories were used to bring the hogsheads to the larger
vessel. The dory would be beached and then turned on its side.
The heavy barrels would then be rolled inside. Then the dory
would be righted, launched and rowed out to the anchored vessel.
Using block and tackle on the boom of the sailboat, the sugar
could then be loaded into the cargo area below decks.
After the abolition of slavery in the Danish West Indies, the
sugar industry on St. John began to collapse. Most of the sugar
plantations on St. John were sold, and their new owners switched
to cattle raising or provision farming. The owners of Reef
Bay, however, decided to continue the sugar operation. To make
the process more economically feasible, they installed a steam
engine to power the rollers. This, they felt, would solve the
problems associated with the slowness of animal power.
At the perimeter of the horsemill, next to one of the factory walls,
is the steam powered sugarcane crusher. The steam engine, built
in Glasgow, Scotland in 1861 by the W.A. McOnie Co., is located
in the room alongside the rollers. This room was constructed
especially to house the steam engine after it was put together
The sugar operation here did not proceed smoothly. The soil on
the sugar plantations became depleted of nutrients, and the sugar
crops became smaller and smaller. Moreover, the introduction
of sugar beets in Europe and in the United States provided great
competition and lowered sugar prices. Reef Bay Estate and Estate
Adrian, which also converted to steam power, were the last operating sugar mills on the island.
On March 7, 1908, fifteen year old Maunie Dalmida was crushed
in the gear assembly next to the rollers. E.W. Marsh, the son
of W.H. Marsh, died a year later and left the property to his
four children, two of whom stayed on to run the plantation. The
sugar operation became even more difficult after the accident
because some people believed that the mill was haunted by ghosts.
In 1916, St. John was struck by a major hurricane. The factory
was closed and the sugar era on St. John finally came to an end.
By 1930, only five people lived in the Reef Bay Valley at Par
Force. They tended two acres of provisions and grazed 44 cattle.
The estate was then owned by Anna Marsh, the daughter of William
Henry Marsh, who sold small amounts of milk, citrus fruits, guavas,
mangos and coconuts. Reef Bay remained sparsely occupied until
the early 1950s.
In 1955, much of Reef Bay was sold to the Rockefeller’s
Jackson Hole Preserve Inc., which transferred the land to the
The Grave of W.H. Marsh
Behind the horsemill, about twenty yards inland from the beach,
is the well preserved above ground grave of W.H. Marsh. His two
daughters are buried nearby.
An item of somewhat esoteric historical interest is the origin
of the bathrooms located near the beach. The former island administrator and Park Ranger, Noble Samuels, took Ladybird Johnson on the Reef Bay Hike in the early 1960s.
Upon reaching the sugar factory at the end of the trail, the
former First Lady asked Noble Samuels for the location of the
bathrooms. The Park Ranger acknowledged the lack of these facilities and pointed to the bush as a possible alternative.
Ladybird Johnson later donated money for the construction of
the bathrooms which are there for your convenience today.
In the lower section of the Reef Bay Valley, there is a fresh water
pool fed by an intermittently flowing stream called the Living
Gut. It is surrounded by large, smooth rocks onto which dozens
of drawings and symbols have been carved. These rock carvings,
as well as the pool itself, are known as the petroglyphs.
High above the pool a waterfall cascades down a forty-foot cliff where strangler figs and wild orchids have taken root using cracks
and crevices in the rock face as footholds.
Waterfalls at the Petroglyphs
The fresh water provides an environment for shrimp, frogs, small fish, dragonflies and hummingbirds and at night bats zip back and forth above the pool searching for a cool drink.
The natural moisture of the area promotes lush, tropical vegetation
and the ambiance is serene and tranquil. There is an air of magic
and spirituality here that undoubtedly inspired the unknown artists
who long ago created these carvings.
If you’re coming down the Reef Bay Trail from Centerline Road,
the Petroglyph Trail will head off to your right at a point 1.6
miles from the trailhead. Coming up from the sugar mill, it is
0.8 miles to the Petroglyph Trail, which will be on your left.
From the intersection of the two trails it only requires an easy
half-mile walk over flat terrain in order to reach the petroglyphs.
Today this petroglyph-lined pool lies at the end of a spur off the Reef
Bay Trail. It has become a popular place for hikers to pause
and contemplate their surroundings while enjoying a snack or
Who Carved the Petroglyphs
An often-asked question by visitors is “Who carved the petroglyphs?”
Although no one knows for certain, the most likely answer to
this question is that the petroglyphs were created by the pre-Columbian inhabitants of St. John known as the Taino.
Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, and the
subsequent annihilation of the native population, the Tainos
inhabited the islands surrounding the Caribbean Sea. Archeological
excavations, such as the one being conducted at Cinnamon Bay
under the direction of National Park Archeologist Ken Wild, have
shown that St. John was once a major settlement site of this
One characteristic of Taino culture was the carving of petroglyphs
in caves and along rivers, streams and rocky coastlines. Petroglyphs
have not only been found on St. John, but also on many other
islands formerly inhabited by the Taino such as Puerto Rico,
Hispaniola, Cuba and the Bahamas.
The designs of the petroglyphs are similar to each other and
are artistically comparable to the images found on other Taino
artifacts such as on pottery and on carved representations of
spiritual beings called zemis.
Michael Gannon, a biologist who has worked studying bat ecology
in the Caribbean for many years, located an extremely rare
species of bat, Stenoderma rufum, at the petroglyph pools on
St. John in August of 2003.
Professor Gannon reports that this species has been recorded
on St. John back in the late 1950s, but not since.
For more information on bats visit Professor Gannon’s website.
The Tektite Project
The Tektite Project was conducted in 1969 in a cooperative effort
by the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Navy, NASA and
the General Electric Co. The purpose of the study was to investigate
the effects on human beings of living and working underwater
for prolonged periods of time.
The name of the project, Tektite, comes from a glassy meteorite
that can be found on the sea bottom.
An underwater habitat, which was built by GE and originally
designed to be the model for the orbiting skylab, was placed
on concrete footings 50 feet below the surface of Beehive Cove.
It consisted of two eighteen-foot high towers joined together
by a passageway.
Inside the towers were four circular rooms twelve feet in diameter.
There was also a room, which served as a galley and a bunkhouse,
a laboratory, and an engine room. The habitat was equipped with
a hot shower, a fully equipped kitchen, blue window curtains,
a radio and a television. A room on the lowest level called the
wet room was where the divers could enter and leave the habitat
through a hatch in the floor that always stayed open.
The four aquanauts, Ed Clifton, Conrad Mahnken, Richard Waller
and John VanDerwalker, who took part in the first Tektite Project
lived under constant surveillance by cameras and microphones
and often slept monitored by electroencephalograms and electrocardiograms to monitor their heart rates, brain waves and sleep patterns. The project lasted for 58 days and the men set a world record for time spent underwater, breaking the old record of 30 days held by astronaut Scott Carpenter in the Sea Lab II Habitat.
The 0.7-mile trail leads up through dry forest and connects with
the old Tektite Road, which was constructed to support the
Tektite Project. The trail then follows the ridgeline over
three hills and leads to Beehive Cove. Along the way are spur
trails to Cabritte Horn point and to the shoreline of Great
Lameshur Bay. This is not an official Park trail.
The trail begins 60 feet west of of the top of the steep concrete
road leading down to Lameshur Bay at the beginning of which are
the remains of an old gate.
The trail rises steeply through dry forest vegetation. Beginning
at elevation 193 and rising to 354, there is an ascent of 161
feet over a relatively short distance, so pace yourself accordingly.
At the top of hill where the trail meets the remains of an old
bulldozed road and the ruins of a stone structure.
You will be rewarded with beautiful views and refreshing tradewinds to cool you off after the steep, sunny climb.The trail continues over the ridge of the hill and begins a gentle decent leading to a grassy area with views to to east, south and west.
Cabritte Horn Point Spur
The first fork to the left descends through a grassy area to
Cabritte Horn Point from where you can enjoy spectacular views
of the southeast coast of St. John and, on clear days St. Croix,
to the south. Here, the brisk trade winds carry the smells of
maran and frangipani. Look for barrel cactus with their edible
fruits and wild orchids, which can be found growing in the grass,
on rocks, on cactus branches and in trees.
Cabritte Horn Point is also an excellent place to observe sea
birds – pelicans, frigate birds gulls and boobies.
The trail leads to a deep gorge with sheer rock walls descending
to the sea, so narrow you could easily jump over it. (You don’t
have to – the trail leads around it.)
Back to the Main Trail
Returning to the main trail, now more obviously a bulldozed road,
you begin a descent with more great views to the west.
From several vantage points on the trail, you can look down onto
Beehive Cove, the site of the Tektite project, as well as one
of the best snorkeling areas on St. John.
A short spur to the right, marked by an arrow painted on a rock,
leads down to the Lameshur shoreline. From here you can scramble
over the rocks on the coastline to the beach at Donkey Cove and
then on to Great Lameshur Bay and the South Shore Road.
The main trail continues to a knoll overlooking the rocky coast of
Beehive Cove. From the overlook, the trail continues to a point
where you can scramble down to the sea. Near the sea, is a small
cave the interior of which is lined in most part by beautiful
The Tektite snorkel area is just offshore, but this is not a convenient place to enter the water.
St. John Life Blogs about the Tektite Trail
Yawzi Point Trail
The Yawzi Point Trail begins at the eastern end of the beach at Little
Lameshur Bay and ends at the tip of the peninsula at Yawzi
Point. This narrow headland divides Great Lameshur from Little Lameshur Bays.
The 0.3-mile Yawzi Point Trail passes through thorny scrub vegetation, century plants, cactus, maran bush and frangipani.
Although it has been said that the peninsula was called Yawzi Point
because people infected with yaws, an infectious tropical disease
causing destructive skin and bone lesions, were once forced to live,
and die, here, there is no historical evidence to support this theory
and the name remains a mystery.
Near the beginning of the trail, about half way up the first
hill, you will find the remains of two old stone buildings.
About 200 yards further down the trail, a short spur to the left
(east) leads to a small cove surrounded by large rocks. A profusion
of wild spider lilies abound in and among the rocks and on
For experienced snorkelers, this is a good place to access the excellent snorkeling around Yawzi Point and on to Little lameshur Bay.
The trail continues through an area of Guinea grass and cactus
The Yawzi Point Trail ends at a rocky point where there are spectacular views of Great Lameshur Bay to the east and of the southern shore of St. John to the west.
Lameshur Bay Trail
The Lameshur Bay Trail connects the western part of the beach at
Lameshur Bay with the Reef Bay Trail. The 1.8-mile track includes
a steep hill that reaches an elevation of 467 feet. The distance
from Lameshur Bay to the Reef Bay sugar factory is 2.6 miles,
and from Lameshur Bay to the petroglyphs is 2.1 miles.
The public road leads right to the trailhead, which is clearly
marked by a National Park information sign. The road to the right
goes up the hill and leads to the rangers station and the Bordeaux
Mountain Trail. The ruins of the Lameshur Bay Plantation lie
in the immediate vicinity of the trail entrance and can be easily
accessed and explored.
Estate Lameshur Bay
The Estate at Little Lameshur was first deeded a Dane, who lived
on St. Thomas. The estate was dedicated to cotton, but was
destroyed in the 1733 slave rebellion. Re established after
the rebellion the estate was again dedicated to cotton,
but later on sugar was produced.
Sugar production ended in 1854 and subsequent to that the estate was dedicated to livestock and bay rum.
The estate house for the Lameshur Bay Plantation is the oldest estate house still lived in on the island. It can be found just off the Bordeaux Mountain Trail at the rangers station.
There are three spur trails on the route. The first leads to
Europa point, the second to the rubble beach at Europa Bay and
the third to the old Reef Bay Estate House. The Reef Bay Estate
House Spur has a spur of its own leading to the ruins of the
Par Force Plantation.
In the low lying area at the beginning of the trail you will
come upon a big tamarind tree that was split in half by lightning
in the past. Both sides are alive. A beehive in the tree is
reminiscent of the days when almost all the large trees on
St. John housed honeybees.
Another species that has chosen to make this tree its home is the termite, whose large nest is plainly visible nestled in a branch on the far side of the trail.
Genip trees in the area produce sweet genips in the summer.
Note: The genips easily pickable on the lower branches disappear
Europa Point Spur Trail
About 50 yards west of the tamarind tree you will see a narrow
trail leading south towards the sea. This is the old National
Park Trail to Europa Point, abandoned when the National Park
workers cut the trail to Europa Bay, which begins about a quarter
mile further along the Lameshur Bay Trail.
Europa Bay Spur Trail
After passing the Europa Point Spur, the Lameshur Bay Trail begins
a steady incline. The trailhead for the Europa Bay Trail can
be found about 200 yards up the hill. Unlike the original trail,
the Europa Bay Trail trail is maintained by Park workers.
For more information about this trail see the Europa Point Trail section of the trails page
For more information about this trail see the Europa Bay Trail section of the trails page
Lameshur Bay Trail from the Europa Spur West
Continuing on the main trail, just past the Europa Bay Spur Trail
entrance, you will find a stone bench, which was constructed
by the American Hiking Society in January of 1986. From here,
you can look down upon Little Lameshur and Great Lameshur Bays
and the Yawzi Point Peninsula that separates the two. The trail
continues up the valley until it crosses over the ridge at a
saddle in the mountains. At 467 feet, this is the highest point
of the trail, which descends steeply from here on. Loose rocks
on the trail can be slippery, so proceed with caution.
A stone wall mottled with lichen can be found just off the trail
near the high point. These stones are of volcanic origin and
extremely hard. They are locally known as blue bitch. As you
descend into the Reef Bay Valley, you will be treated to spectacular
views of the valley, the outlying bay, the long fringing reef,
and the shallow inshore lagoon.
From this height you will also be able to observe the opening
in the reef at the center of the bay. The bluer water at the
aperture is deep enough to allow most sailing vessels entry into
the protected harbor behind the reef. This feature of Reef Bay
supported the development of the sugar plantations in the valley
due to the relative ease with which shipments of sugar and rum
could be loaded onto ships bound for Europe.
As you approach the lower levels of the valley, you will come
to a fork in the trail. The wider, right-hand fork leads up to
the Reef Bay Greathouse. The narrower left-hand fork, which passes
through a profusion of sansevieria (mother-in-law tongue), leads
to the Reef Bay Trail. At the intersection of the Reef Bay Trail,
go left to reach the ruins of the Reef Bay Sugar Factory or go
right to access the Petroglyph Trail or to continue up to Centerline
Reef Bay Estate House Spur
The spur trail to the Reef Bay (also known as Par Force) Estate
House begins on the Lameshur Bay Trail about 100 yards east of
the intersection with the Reef Bay Trail. It is a moderate to
steep quarter-mile climb to reach the plateau upon which the
greathouse was constructed.
The Reef Bay Estate House was built in 1832 and reconstructed in
1844. In 1994, it was partially renovated by the National Park
Service. The attention to architectural detail and the sturdy
construction of this building are noteworthy. As was the custom
in plantation days, the cookhouse or kitchen was built as a separate
structure. Here the ruins of the cookhouse are located just outside
the entrance to the greathouse.
Estate Par Force Spur
A local hiking group has reopened the trail to the extensive
Par Force Estate Ruins. The trail runs from the Reef Bay Estate
House spur at a switchback on the trail and leads down the valley
to the Par Force Estate. Lying alongside the gut are the remains
of the horsemill, the sugar factory, a cistern, an ox pound and
Europa Point Trail
The Europa Point Trail is a spur trail off the Lameshur Bay Trail. Begininng from Lameshur Bay and heading west, The Europa Point Trail begins about 50 yards west of the big tamarind tree, just before the Lameshur Bay Trail begins its rise.
It is a relatively narrow but easily followable narrow trail leading south towards the sea. This is the old National Park Trail to Europa Point, abandoned when the National Park workers cut the trail to Europa Bay, which begins about a quarter mile further along the Lameshur Bay Trail.
The original trail to Europa Point became so overgrown as to be nearly impassable until it was reopened through the efforts of a local hiking group in 2005.
The trail begins in the low lying Lameshur Bay valley and passes through a dry forest environment.
As you begin to gain elevation, the environment changes to pure cactus scrub, populated by natve frangipani, pipe organ and barrel cacti, century plants, maran bush and Guinea grass.
You will come out of the forest on a grassy hilltop, with welcome fresh sea breezes accompanied by the sound of surf and the singing of birds.
The views from this point on are nothing short of spectacular.
To the west is Europa Bay and White Point
and to the east is Yawzi Point and Great and Little Lameshur Bays.
The trail continues descending towards the end of the point and the views and overlooks only get better. Just before the end of the trail there is a deep gorge that leads to the sea, which cuts through the trail at a point were the gorge is only about a foot and a half wide.
Europa Bay Trail
After passing the Europa Point Spur, the Lameshur Bay Trail begins
a steady incline. The trailhead for the Europa Bay Trail can
be found about 200 yards up the hill. Unlike the original trail,
the Europa Bay Trail trail is maintained by Park workers.
The quarter-mile track descends to the beach at Europa Bay,
passing by a salt pond just behind the beach. The salt pond is
home to several species of birds including pin tail ducks. The
best time to see the birds is early in the morning or just before
Standing on the muddy shoreline of the pond, you will meet thousands of fiddler crabs. So numerous are they that despite their diminutive size you can here the pitter-patter of their little legs as they scurry into the pond or back to their holes as soon as they become aware of your presence.
After passing by the salt pond, the Europa Bay Spur Trail continues
through the flats to the coral rubble beach at Europa Bay Waves
generally break over the shallow reef close to shore, but when
the sea is flat you can enter the water to snorkel at the north
end of the beach. The best snorkeling here (for experienced snorkelers only and only then on extremely calm days) is around the point to the south.
The beach is cooled by easterly trades and is usually quite
deserted, and thus, makes for a great picnic spot, as well as
a place to enjoy seclusion and natural beauty.
Bordeaux Mountain Trail
The Bordeaux Mountain Trail runs between Lameshur Bay and the Bordeaux Mountain Road. Centerline Road is 1.7 miles from the point where the trail meets the Bordeaux Mountain Road. The Bordeaux Mountain Trail is 1.2 miles long and there
is a change in elevation of about 1,000 feet making the trail
quite steep. It can be strenuous going uphill and slippery going
down. The trick to enjoying this walk is to be sure to pace yourself,
watch your footing, and bring sufficient water and sun protection.
The view from the intersection of Centerline Road and the Bordeaux Mountain Road, near the Chateau Bordeaux Restaurant was chosen as one of the “Ten Best Views” in the Caribbean by
Caribbean Travel & Life in their April 1996 Tenth Anniversary
Lameshur Bay Estate
At the bottom of the trail are the ruins of the old Lameshur
Bay Plantation. Exploring these ruins, you will find the bay
rum distillery, the sugar factory and the boiling bench. You
will also find a residence, a well, and an animal trough that
dates back to the more recent subsistence farming days on St.
In the early part of the twentieth century, this estate was dedicated
mainly to the production of bay rum oil. Bay rum trees were cultivated on the upper regions of Bordeaux Mountain, where you will see (and smell) many of these smooth-barked, aromatic trees. This trail was once used to transport the bay rum leaves harvested on Bordeaux Mountain, via donkeys, to the bay rum distillery located at the beach at Lameshur Bay.
The Estate House
The Estate House for the Lamesur Bay Estate, located at the rangers
station along the Bordeaux Mountain Trail is the oldest estate
house that is still lived in on St. John.
If you begin your walk from the beach, the first part of the
trail will be the steep four-wheel-drive road leading up to
a National Park ranger residence. A picturesque old stone wall
covered with bromeliads lines the dirt track. Just about a
quarter mile from the beach, the trail forks with the road
to the ranger residence turning off to the right and the Bordeaux
Mountain foot trail continuing up the mountain. The trail is
rocky and steep as it climbs along the western edge of the
Great Lameshur Bay Valley. Occasionally, swales made of rocks
cross the path. These rudimentary conduits serve to divert
rainwater across the trail instead of allowing it to flow directly
down the trail. Thus, the swales serve to prevent rutting and
erosion, which would normally result when the natural vegetation
has been disturbed.
Look for a sign with information about the Bordeaux Trail Rehabilitation Project. About 100 yards past this sign, you will find a seat, suitable for one person, made of dry stacked stone with a flat top. Take advantage of this rustic resting place, which was put
together by the trail crew. You should find more of these seats
along the way, though some have been damaged by hurricanes.
When the trail turns toward the right, you will come to a large
tree growing by the side of the path, next to which are some
flat rocks to sit on. Growing out of the tree is a strangler
fig. There is a beautiful view from here, which looks down into
Great Lameshur Bay and out at Yawzi Point between Great and Little Lameshur Bays. To the southeast is an excellent view of Ram Head Point.
Just before the trail switches back to the left for the
first time, there is a narrow spur trail to your right. This
leads to a small, shady plateau and the remains of a charcoal
pit. Look for a tamarind and a genip tree and a small stand of
teyer palms. The ground cover is love leaf.
Ascending the trail from here you will pass an area of pinguin,
or false pineapple, a spiny plant that produces an edible citrus-like
Notice how the environment changes with the elevation;
the higher up you go, the more moist and forest-like it becomes.
Leaving the cactus scrub surroundings of the lower trail, you
will pass through a dry forest environment with characteristic
vegetation such as genips, easily identifiable turpentine trees
with their reddish, shiny bark and the attractive black caper.
As you progress up the trail and the environment becomes even
more humid, you will begin to see the many bay rum trees planted
in the early 20th century to supply the distillery at Lameshur
Bay with their aromatic oil-rich leaves.
You may find another stone seat at this higher elevation, also
made by the trail volunteers. From here you can see over the
saddle in the mountains to the Sir Francis Drake Channel and
British Virgin Islands. After a few more switchbacks through
the shady forest, you will reach the end of the trail, which
emerges at the Bordeaux Mountain Road.
Across the road are the ruins of the Bordeaux Plantation. The
sugar factory was built between 1790 and 1820, during St. John’s
best sugar production years. It was a T-shaped factory representative of that period. In this case, however, a piece of the “T” is missing. It was destroyed by the road crew during the construction of the Bordeaux Mountain Road. The boiling bench is still visible, as well as two rum stills and two cooling cisterns. Parts of
the canning room also still exist. On the other side of the road are the remains of a slave village. The estate house for the plantation is up the hill on a knoll. There are three well-preserved graves near the estate house.
The plantation was founded by Thomas Bordeaux in the 1720s.
He was a Frenchman who came to the Danish West Indies, now known as the United States Virgin Islands, along with other Frenchmen as a result of the revocation of the Edict of Mann, which prohibited the French government to persecute the Protestants known as Huguenots. Thomas Bordeaux, who was a prominent citizen in St. Thomas, came to the Danish West Indies directly from France. Although he was the owner of the property, he probably never lived on the plantation. Bordeaux Plantation was later owned by Jean Malville, a Moravian of French ancestry. Malville was born in the Danish West Indies and became the first native-born governor of the islands. During the time of his ownership the plantation was called Malvilleberg.
Salt Pond Bay Trail
The quarter-mile Salt Pond Bay Trail begins at the parking area
for Salt Pond Bay (3.9 milesfrom the Moravian Church in Coral Bay) and runs downhill to the beach. Trails to Drunk Bay and Ram Head begin at the eastern end of the beach.
Drunk Bay Trail
The Drunk Trail begins at the eastern end of Salt Pond Beach and heads inland (left) towards the salt pond. It is an easy quarter-mile walk with no hills. The trail skirts the western edge of the salt pond and continues on to the rocky windswept beach at Drunk Bay.
The bottom of the salt pond is made up of a layer of red algae
giving the salt pond a reddish-brown color. The distinctive smell
of the pond comes from another layer of older red algae, which
is found just below an intermediate layer of sand.
Look for the delicate blooms of wild orchids along the trail
and watch for donkeys, deer and birds, especially in the early
Because of its location on this arid and windswept part of the
island, Salt Pond is the most likely place to find 100% natural
St. John sea salt – no fat, no carbs, no cholesterol, no preservatives.
How Does the Salt Get There?
Saltwater enters the pond from the sea by seepage at high tides
and by waves breaking over the surface during storms. Salt
Pond is one of the only places on St. John that is below sea
level. This condition prevents significant amounts of pond
water from flowing back out to sea. Constant, intense sunlight
and ever-present trade winds encourage an exceptionally high
rate of evaporation. When rain is scarce, the water becomes
extremely salty. Water can only hold a certain amount of salt
in solution and when the salinity of the pond reaches that
point, the salt crystallizes.
As the water level continues to drop, and more and more water
is evaporated, a layer of salt is left along the edges of the
pond. The longer the dry period, the higher the temperature,
and the stronger the winds, the more this salt layer will extend
towards the center of the pond and the thicker the layer becomes.
You can collect salt during these times by scooping up the salt
with your hands, if it is still wet and soft. If the salt layer
is dry and hard, use a knife or other sharp tool. (If you’ve
forgotten to bring a container, just walk over to nearby Drunk
Bay where there is a great deal of flotsam, and you’ll probably
find something you can use.)
After the salt is collected, drain off as much water as possible
and put it in the sun to dry further. You may be left with fine
powdery salt, which you can enjoy on your food immediately or,
if the dried crystals are large, you will first need to grind
them up or pound them out.
The salt obtained from salt ponds is particularly tasty and
healthy, containing all the minerals that are present in the
sea, which include all those essential to the human body. So
during the next dry spell, take the trail to St. John’s
best salt pond for collecting salt and bring some back home.
Salt Pond Mud Baths
The mud at the bottom of the salt pond is said to have beneficial qualities for the skin. The procedure as explained to me is to first apply the mud to the skin, then let it dry in the sun. Next return to the beach where you rub the dried mud into the skin and then jump in the sea to remove the leftover mud.
The trail continues to the rocky windswept beach at Drunk Bay.
The easterly trades bring ashore an abundance of flotsam, which
makes for great beach combing. Do not swim here. Breaking surf,
currents and jagged rocks and coral make it too dangerous for
Drunk Bay Art
Drunk Bay has inspired the imagination of visitors to create dozens of coral sculptures, most of which can be found by going around the large rocks to your left as you enter the beach.
Ram Head Trail
The Ram Head (often called the Rams Head) Trail can be particularly sunny and hot, so bring water and sun protection. For this reason, the best time to take this hike is early in the morning when it is still cool, possibly at sunrise.
Visiting Ram Head at sunrise, sunset and full moon can be an
impressive experience. Those choosing to undertake this adventure,
however, should exercise extreme caution. The steep, narrow and
slippery path, which can be tricky enough during the day, is
even more perilous during periods of low light. Bring a flashlight
and walk slowly and carefully.
The trail to Ram Head Point begins at the eastern end the beach
at Salt Pond Bay.
Begin by walking along the small rocks and coral rubble along the eastern shore of the bay. Here the West Indian top shell, locally called whelks, can be found adhered to the rocks near the water line. They are an island delicacy and are often prepared during carnival time.
After about 100 yards, a defined trail begins and leads up over
a hill. The trail ascends to an elevation of about 100 feet and
then descends to sea level. There are great views along the whole
length of the Ram Head Trail, however a particularly fine vantage
point can be found at the top of this hill.
There are four mature Lignum vitae trees growing right alongside
the trail near the top of the first hill. At one time, much of
the Ram Head peninsula was covered with Lignum vitaes, but most
were cut down by pre-colonial woodcutters. This is one of the
few places on the island where you will still find mature Lignum
vitae trees in their natural state.
Lignum vitae is the heaviest and densest wood in the world and
will rapidly sink to the bottom when placed in water. It resists
rot caused by insects and moisture so effectively that remains
of Lignum vitae wood used as posts for dwellings by Taino Indians
discovered in Tutu, St. Thomas were shown by carbon dating to
be more than 800 years old.
When someone’s problems were especially severe or when someone was carrying an extremely heavy emotional burden, their troubles were said to be “heavier than a lingy vitae cross.”
Blue Cobblestone Beach
The path descends to a blue cobblestone beach. This beach may
be a destination in itself providing uncrowded swimming conditions
and access to excellent snorkeling just north of the beach. Blue
Cobblestone Beach is a favorite snorkel.
On to Ram Head Point
The trail to Ram Head continues at the south end of the beach.
Walk along the coast until you see the path, which should be
marked by a National Park information sign.
This section of trail gains elevation through a series of switchbacks
and proceeds up the hill to the saddle area of the peninsula.
The predominant plant species here are the barrel or Turk’s head
cactus, which produces an edible fruit and attractive black caper
trees, identified by their dark bark and narrow leaves.
You will often see wild goats grazing along the rocky hillside.
These goats have degraded the environment by eating much of the
vegetation, resulting in the erosion of the topsoil in times
At the top of this hill you come to the saddle or low point between
two hills. A fault line cuts across the narrow peninsula here.
The views are dramatic. You can look down the cliffs on the eastern
side and see waves crashing onto the small cobblestone beach
between the cliffs. The view to the west is tranquil and serene,
in stark contrast to the windy and rugged eastern exposure.
The trail continues up the next cactus-covered hillside via
a series of switchbacks leading to the top of Ram Head Point.
Geologically, the rock that makes up this headland is the oldest
rock found on St. John. Evidence supporting this theory was
gained when geologists, using diamond tipped drills, bored
into the rock at Ram Head. They drilled down more than a half
mile before breaking through the last of the rock. The new
substance brought up by the drill was examined and shown to
be the same material that makes up the ocean floor, indicating
that no other rock was there before it.
History of Ram Head
It has been speculated that this remote and inhospitable region
provided a hideout for runaway slaves, called maroons, who
lived here just before the slave rebellion in 1733.
This was a time of severe drought on St. John. Food could not
be easily grown and was in scarce supply. The biggest problem
the maroons faced was finding fresh water. The underground springs
had dried up along with the freshwater pools of the major guts.
On Ram Head, however, the maroons could provide themselves with
food and water. Water could be found stored in the cactus that
proliferated on the peninsula and the sea around the point provided
excellent fishing. Whelks could be picked along the rocky portions
of the coast, and conch could be harvested on the grassy seabed
of Salt Pond Bay.
For these reasons, Ram Head is thought to have been a stronghold
for the Akwamu tribesman who rebelled against slavery in 1733.
When the tides of battle turned against the rebels, a group of
warriors committed suicide here rather than face capture.
Newfound Bay Trail
The Newfound Bay Trail starts east of Vie’s Snack Shack
just past a new house with a stone wall and just west of the
small pond on the north side of the road.
There appears to be some confusion as to whether the Newfound Bay Trail is a public road or private property. Following is some feedback from hikers on the trail concerning this matter. My best advise would be to ask Vie at Vie’s Snack Shack about the advisability of hiking the trail at at any given time.
The trail begins as an old washed out road bed climbing steeply
through a cactus scrub environment.
The presence of Maran Bush suggests that the area was grazed. Maran, being poison to most animals, can proliferate while other species are destroyed by the grazing. Goats that have escaped captivity still roam the area.
At a large old tamarind tree the road turns sharply to the left
and passes by an old house. It then continues uphill steeply
alongside a gut.
At the top of the hill is another large old tamarind tree. Aloes
in the area indicate that there was probably a residence nearby
at one time.
Goat bones, and fragments of old and new bottles lie nearby. There is also a pile of stones arranged in a rectangular fashion, which I am told is a grave marker.
From the hilltop there are views through the trees of both the north and south coasts of the island.
On the north side of the hill, the trail descends steeply through
a dry forest environment leading to a flat area just inshore
of Newfound Bay. Another large tamarind tree can be found here
as well as an old stone wall.
Newfound Bay was the first settlement on the east end. According
to a land record of 1764, four families had pooled their resources
and bought land there. By the early 19th century there was a
thriving community of free blacks at Newfound, Haulover and Hansen Bays, whose inhabitants made their livings primarily by fishing and charcoal making.
In 1880 it was reported that” the Widow George owned a house
where she rented rooms for the night.”
Newfound Bay is protected by a barrier reef with an opening in the center of the bay allowing boats to enter the calm watrs within and enjoy a tranquil anchorage. An onshore breeze brings flotsam to the shore making Newfound Bay a drift plastic collector’s paradise.
Turner Point Trail
The Turner Point Trail starts on the south side of the East
End Road (heading east) at the top of the last (highest) hill
before you go down into Haulover. The trail descends steeply
through a dry cactus scrub environment and leads to the beach
at Elk Bay.
Once at the beach, walk about 100 yards past a wrecked boat
and turn right into the forest. Follow the ribbons up the hill
until you reach an old road bed.
After the road flattens out a bit, the trail splits. Pink tape
to the right going up steeply leads to beautiful ruins at the
top of the ridge.
The orange tape leading more or less straight ahead at the fork
leads up to the top of the big hill further out. Great views
of the east shore from Calabash Boom to Ram Head.
Although this trail, which I will call the Turner Point Trail,
goes through National Park lands, it is not an official park
trail. Nonetheless, it has apparently been used for a number
of years. So far no one I have spoken to knows who originally
cut the trail or for what reason.
According to the Trail Bandit, “The “trail” coming
down the hill isn’t really a trail, but a hacked out way.
I didn’t do it, but it has been used for a number of years.
Steve Clark told me about it when he accused me of making it …
AH, if only I were 20 years old again, I could find all the trails
on St. John.”
January 9, 2010 Update
There exists an alternative to the trail down from the East End Road to Elk Bay. You can access Elk Bay via Haulover Bay instead. Also, the orange tape trail is now overgrown, but a marked trail down from the ruins on the ridge will take you to Water Creek, where there are ruins near the shore.
The Trail Bandit writes, “If you turn left and follow the side hill above the mangroves to the next little point, you can find the cannon that is buried muzzle up in the sand. It is about 30 feet from the water on the west side of the point, near the tip.”
The trail to the Rustenberg Ruins begins about 200 yards west of the head of the Cinnamon Bay trailhead on Centerline Road. Park your vehicle off the road across from the Cinnamon Bay trailhead and walk up Centerline Road to the Rustenberg Trail, which leads south and will be on your left.
The quarter-mile trail to the Estate Rustenberg Ruins leads through a shady forest environment with no hills to negotiate. The National Park does not regularly maintain the trail and the ruins.
The aroma of bay rum permeates the area provided by the many mature bay rum trees growing along the trail.
Once you arrive at the ruins there will be spur trails leading to various parts of the old plantation and sugar works. Look for the horsemill with the storage room built into the horsemill’s stone retaining wall.
The sugar boiling room is right next to the horsemill and the old coppers and boiling benches are still in evidence. Nearby is the cooling cistern for the rum still.
History of the Estate
Rustenberg was one of the original twelve plantations located within the Reef Bay Valley. Two parcels of 150 acres each were distributed to Jacob Magens in 1718. Magens brought coffee plants to St. John, and Rustenberg was the first plantation on the island to grow coffee. During the early eighteenth century, Estate Rustenberg produced cotton, cocoa and coffee, in addition to sugarcane. Towards the latter part of the same century, the emphasis shifted to sugar production, and by 1767, the vast majority of the plantation acreage was devoted to sugar cane.
During the nineteenth century, the profitability of sugar was declining on St. John and Rustenberg, like many other sugar plantations on the island, began to phase out production. A hurricane in 1867 was the last straw, and sugarcane was no longer grown at Rustenberg. During the first part of the twentieth century, the area around Rustenberg experienced a brief economic comeback by growing and harvesting bay rum.
Estate Mt. Pleasant and Retreat
Early on this Saturday morning, members of the St. John Historical Society gathered on the shoreline of Princess Bay for the hike to Estate Mount Pleasant and Retreat. Interpreting and leading the hikers were David Knight and Eleanor Gibney.
Our destination was Estate Retreat located on the ridge just east of the summit of Mount Pleasant. We began at the eastern end of Princess Bay ascending the hillside of Mount Pleasant on the northern side of East End Road. Although there was once a road, probably better described bridal path, that led to the Estate, we pretty much just made our way straight up the hill.
The natural native dry forest terrain made for relatively easy walking, with a minimum of those nasty invasive plant species like catch and keep and wild tamarind. Common trees in the area included amarat and torchwood. We also passed by an old lignum vitae tree and a lignum vitae stump that remained in good condition notwithstanding the passage of possibly hundreds of years.
Approaching the top of the hillside we came upon some large tamarind tree, which indicated that we were on a once cleared portion of the estate. Here we found old English port bottles and conch shells.
(Hikers finding artifacts such as these are asked to enjoy them, but to leave them in place for others to see and for archeologists and historians to study.)
On the relatively flat ridge line, about 100 yards further up the hill, we came to the ruins of Estate Retreat. From there looking to the north you could see the Sir Francis Drake Channel and Tortola through the foliage.
The first ruins we came to were those of the magazine or storage building
Just to the west of the magazine, were the remains of the small estate house and the detached kitchen.
An Estate Retreat Story
David shared with us an interesting story partly concerning Estate Retreat in the early 19th century, which came from a published account of a conversation between a Methodist Minister from Tortola and John D. Moore, the owner of Estate Hermitage
During the early 19th century, life on St. John’s East End was greatly influenced by its proximity to the British island of Tortola that lay just a mile or two off the northern coast of the East End peninsula.
East Enders, more often than not, carried on (a sometimes illegal) trade, did their shopping, went to the doctor or dentist, and visited friends and family on Tortola, rather than than traveling all the way to St. Thomas. So prevalent were these visits that Saturdays on Tortola were often referred to as “St. John Saturdays.”
British politics also greatly effected residents of East End, in particular, Britain’s firm opposition to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Even before slavery was abolished on British colonies, escaped slaves who reached British territory or those found at sea by British warships were granted freedom.
This proved a great temptation for slaves on St. John to attempt an escape across the narrow Sir Francis Drake Channel to freedom on Tortola. Between the inception of this British law and the abolition of slavery in the Danish West Indies in 1848, there were numerous escape attempts by enslaved workers on St. John, particularly from estates on the north shore and east end. Because of this, the Danish government passed strict rules concerning the security of boats, which could potentially be stolen by slaves and used as a means of transportation to Tortola. Thus, it was mandated that boats must be hauled past the high water mark, chained and locked to a sturdy post and scuttled, meaning that a hole would be made in the boat’s hull which would be sealed by inserting a wooden bung. The bung was to be taken home and placed under lock and key.
A Methodist minister from Tortola was visiting members of the faith who lived on East End estates, one of whom was John D. Moore, the owner of Estate Hermitage, the estate located just to the west of Mount Pleasant and Retreat.
The minister had heard that Mr. Moore had almost lost $1,000 and asked Mr. Moore to elaborate on the story.
It seemed that Mr. Moore had spend a day on Tortola. Unfavorable winds and currents that afternoon made for a particularly difficult “pull” (row) back to East End. Upon arrival he and his crew were so tired that they neglected to thoroughly secure the boat feeling that the hour was late and that they would return early the next morning and take care of it. They did, however, remove the wooden bung, leaving a rather large hole in the hull.
Upon returning to the bay the next morning Mr. Moore discovered that his boat was missing. Borrowing a neighbor’s boat he set out after the thieves. Just off the coast of Tortola, he caught up with two fellows, slaves on the neighboring Estate Retreat, who were trying to get to Tortola. He was able to catch up with them because they had just roughly stuffed the hole in the hull with wadding and cotton, which did not make a proper seal. As a result one of the fellows had to bale while the other rowed. The rower was also at a disadvantage as he was using only one oar and thus, the pair of fugitives made very slow headway.
The escaped slaves surrendered quietly and apologized to Mr. Moore for taking his boat, but told him to tell the mean Mr. Joe Coakley, the owner of Estate Retreat, that next time they would not be caught.
Apparently Mr. Moore was not as mean as Mr. Coakley because Mr. Moore routinely allowed his enslaved laborers to use the estate boat to travel to Tortola unsupervised, never fearing that they would fail to return to St. John.
The windy and dry East End was one of the least desirable places on St. John for establishing plantations. Many of the first residents of the area were French Huguenots, late comers to the island, who generally lacked great financial resources. They were so prevalent that the area was once known as “The French Quarter.”
The land was totally unsuited for sugar production. Some cotton was grown, but in general, the estates relied on marine resources, provision farming and grazing of sheep and cattle. Having little experience with such unfavorable conditions, many of these initial estates failed and matter only got worse after the Slave Revolt of 1733.
These marginal properties began to be bought up people coming from nearby British islands such as Anguilla, Peter Island and Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda. These new owners, many of whom were free colored were more used to these conditions and they fared better than their French predecessors. The owners also depended primarily on grazing, provision farming and support for maritime activities.
Estate Mount Pleasant came about during the early 18th century as a result of the merging of early land grants and was consolidated in 1755 by Lewin Marche for whom the bay just east of Brown Bay is named.
Between 1786 and 1800 Mount Pleasant was merged with Estate Hermitage the owner of which was Dr. Edmond Borck, for whom Borck’s Creek, the bay just west of Princess Bay is named.
In the early 1800s, Joseph Coakley, the then owner of Mt. Pleasant acquired Estate Retreat and the property became known as Mount Pleasant and Retreat.
In the 1880s James W. Moore, who had inherited the Hermitage Estate acquired the Mount Pleasant and Retreat Estates and later the Turners Point and Haulover Bay Estates were added to his list of holdings.
In 1910 Moore sold all his lands to A. H. Lockhart of St. Thomas, whose family later turned most of the property over to the National Park.
Camelberg Trail, St. John US Virgin Islands
Some intrepid St. John explorers turned me on to this not so well known hike, which follows an old Danish Road below Camelberg Mountain, as shown on Peter Oxholm’s map of St. John, published some 200 years ago.
The old Danish Road is apparent, but overgrown, the trail over the road is rough, maintained apparently by the few hikers that use it. Although the trail is fairly obvious and is marked in placed by ribbons, I used a GPS and a good map to reassure me of my location. An excellent map of St. John, containing most of the trails, as well as the old Oxholm Map of St. John can be purchased for the low price of $2.00 each or downloaded free of charge at http://trailbandit.org/newsite/free-downloads
Now I use my St. John Off The Beaten Track App, which contains the Trail Bandit Map as well as a GPS function to view your location.
At first you will be following a mountain ridge, on a relatively flat forest trail shaded mostly by native dry forest trees. In this area you’ll pass by stands of smooth shiny barked, guavaberry, aromatic pepper cinnamon and bay rum trees and beautiful rock formations, decorated by algae and colonized by anthuriums and bromeliads.
As you descend towards the L’Esperance Road, more sun penetrates the canopy and you’ll start seeing tyre palm stands and patches of bromeliads growing closely together.
The following is a description given to me by a previous explorer:
“The Camelberg Trail runs between Centerline Road and the L’Esperance Road, beginning just east of the BVI overlook on Centerline. There is parking on the south side of the road about 200 feet east of the overlook. Walk back toward the overlook, and when the bank on your left is about three feet high above the road, head into the woods. It is easy to see as others have gone before you. The route is whacked out but not cleared for a trail, so don’t fall on the pongee stakes.
This old road is superb all the way out past Camelberg and you should have no trouble following it. As you head down toward Fish Bay, the trail is less obvious, but well hacked out. You should see tapes in the trees.
As you approach the L’Esperance Road the trail forks near an some old ruins that aren’t much, but they are there. There are also many orchids here too. After the ruin, the track bears right and works it’s way down toward the gut and down to the L’Esperance Road. Ok, there aren’t any great views, but the part of the trail before you head down the hill runs through a beautiful forest. If you are interested, there is an old stone dam in the gut and a road heading to the south east from the dam.
This road is hacked out part way but there is a 100 foot section that isn’t.
Ah, just when you thought you were done: turn left and hike toward Reef Bay on the L’Esperance Road. After you pass the gut that runs down to Fish Bay, and are heading up hill toward Reef Bay, turn left on the old road that heads north. Follow this road and diagonally up to the saddle. From the saddle, stay to the left side of the valley and you will find a track that takes you along the ridge, then turns left and down to the gut. Cross the gut and walk along to the next gut, and turn left and up the second gut. Keep looking to your left, and you will see the stonework on the side of a road that heads up and back toward Camelberg. It is back from the gut a bit so look closely. Follow this road steeply up the hill. After a bit, the road runs out, (probably it switchbacks up someplace). Just make your way up and left to the top of the ridge. There are various tapes in the trees from previous explorations. Once on the ridge, you should be able to follow the track of previous travelers, all the way back the Camelberg Trail. Turn right and walk back to your parked car.”
Finding The Ruins and the Dam
Thursday. March 10, 2010
On Thursday I hiked the Camelberg Trail, an old Danish Road that had recently been rediscovered and then made passable to some degree or other.
My goal was to get photographs of the trail’s two highlights, a ruin, previously lost in the bush, and what had been described to me as “a beautiful old stone dam.”
When I reached the part of the trail that I was supposed to navigate in order to come upon these highlights, I became discouraged due to the lack of a discernible path and by the rain that had begun to fall. Little did I know that when I made the decision to give it up and to return to the top of the trailhead on Centerline Road and to my dry, warm parked car, I was standing no more than ten yards from the modest ruins. I realized this upon returning home while I pored over my maps.
I resolved to return to the trail the next day and take my photographs.
Friday, March 11, 2010
Finding the ruins was easy this time, but as the hiker who turned me on to the trail had already told me regarding the ruins: “they’re not much, but they’re there.”
After photographing the not so impressive ruins, I set out on the “track,” which was to lead me to the “beautiful old stone dam.”
Previously I had used the word “passable” to describe the degree of difficulty presented by the Camelberg Trail. Perhaps I spoke too soon or at least too optimistically. I once again became discouraged after a few minutes spent extricating myself out of a tangle of stickery bromiliads, which I had encountered in the forest after losing the “trail,” marked from time to time by ribbons tied to the trees, that I had been following.
After a few more little trail-related mishaps I found myself once again abandoning my quest to find the “beautiful old stone dam,” which in my mind had now become the “damn dam,” at least for the time being.
Saturday, March 12, 2010
Yesterday I resumed my search for the damned dam, more determined than ever to get my photos. This time, however, I followed a new route in order to access the damn dam. This was a far more gentlemanly way to get there, and one that I was confident would result in success. The new route was the L’Esperance Road, a veritable superhighway when compared to the Camelberg access.
My plan was to hike the L’Esperance Trail as far as its first intersection with the Camelberg Trail and then either follow that track up to the dam or, if that failed, continue on to the gut and scramble up the gut until I reached the dam.
I arrived at the L’Esperance Trailhead at about 3:00 in the afternoon. There were five vehicles parked there and I was struck by the realization of how popular this once hardly known track had become.
And no wonder, this is a really beautiful hike, something you realize right from the start of the trail where the road descends following the lush Fish Bay Gut. It’s an easy, comfortable walk (at least downhill) with beautiful foliage and rock formations accompanied by the sounds of songbirds and (at times) water trickling in the gut.
Yesterday a full-sized buck stood on the trail just about 20 yards away, staring at me for an instant or two, before gracefully bounding off into the safety of the forest. Another time I saw a wild boar in that same area.
Just about a tenth of a mile from the trailhead, you’ll come an old stone bridge leading to the ruins of the recently cleared L’Esperance Estate. About a mile further on there are two short spurs leading to Estate Seiban also cleared by volunteers. Seiban is the location of St. John’s only Baobob tree that at one time was so lost in the bush that many disputed its very existence.
I could go on and on about this trail. There’s a beautiful bay rum forest, an old daub and wattle cottage full of old bottles, the ruins of Estate Mahlendahl, as well as access to the Reef Bay Trail, the Great Seiban and the Camelberg trails.
But it wasn’t always like it is now. After Hurricane Marilyn struck in 1995, fallen trees became covered with catch and keep, and as more and more scrub grew up, the road was rendered just about impassable.
Along came the Trail Bandit and groups of concerned hikers who spent years clearing the road little by little. Of course there was resistance from those that oppose trail improvement, but the hikers prevailed. In 2007, volunteers, this time park approved, did some trail maintenance and the L’Esperance Road was accepted as “a valuable addition to the VINP hiking trail system.”
More recently, both Seiban and L’Esperance were cleared by Jeff Chabot and volunteers from the Appalachian Mountain Club in conjunction with the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park and the VINP.
Now the trail is a delight to all and the opposition’s nightmares of wholesale abuse of the land never materialized.
And the Damn Dam?
This was supposed to be an article about the dam on the Camelberg Trail and so it will be.
Remember, my previous attempts had been frustrated by a rainstorm and a lack of commitment that allowed me to be scared off by a tangle of bromiliads and the scratches and bruises caused by not paying enough attention in an inhospitable environment. Add to this the verbal attacks launched against me for having revealed in my blog the existence of a now passable Camelberg Trail and this DAMN DAM was starting to cause me some grief.
Between the two rough tracks leading from the ruins on the Camelberg Trail to the L’Esperance Trail, there is a gut where the dam is located.
I took the easy way out. Combining an enjoyable hike down the L’Esperance Road with a short scramble up that same gut, I easily reached the old stone dam and took my photos.
Although I had come this way in order to photograph a damn stone dam on the Camelberg Road, I returned with, not only some fairly decent photos of said damn dam, but also, a renewed appreciation for the L’Esperance Trail and to those whose selfless dedication and hard work have enabled so many to enjoy the beauty of St. John and hopefully to walk away with an understanding of its unique natural environment.
Just north of the Gifft Hill Primary School, there’s an access path that leads to the Battery Gut. Hike north along the gut until you see a path running west away from the gut. This leads to a series of ruins still in fine condition.
The old estate house has recently been used by a pig hunter, commissioned by Fish and Wildlife to reduce the pig population in the valley. He seems to have been quite successful evidenced by the line of pig skulls adorning a ruin wall, guarding the entrance to a storage vault and various skulls in the bush.
Lind Point Shoreline Scramble
The Lind Point Shoreline Scramble takes you from downtown Cruz Bay to Salomon Bay Beach by way of the rocky coast. The distance
along the shoreline is a little less than one mile.
The natural pathways found on St. John, an island of thick forest
and tangled undergrowth, generally follow the ridges of mountains,
natural drainage guts, or shorelines. Most of the trails made
by Amerindian and early European settlers, and even the modern
roads found on St. John today, follow these natural paths.
The shoreline between Cruz Bay and Salomon Bay is typical of
many coastal sections of St. John. Those interested in experiencing
this environment will have to make their way through a section
of mangroves and then climb up and down the rocks along the shore.
This adventure should only be attempted by two or more athletic
individuals who have experience in rock scrambling. It is extremely
important that you proceed with the utmost caution and are aware
and attentive at all times.
A good place to begin this walk is by accessing the Lind Point
Trail, but turn left onto the dirt track that crosses the trail.
This road takes you to what is now the National Park Service
boat launching area.
Between 1967 and 1995 there was seaplane service between Cruz
Bay and San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Croix and Tortola. The National
Park boat launch once housed the ramp, rustic offices and ground
facilities for Antilles Airboats, a seaplane company that lost
their planes to Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Afterwards, other companies took over, until they too lost their aircraft to a hurricane.
This time it was Hurricane Marilyn in 1995. After that, the National
Park announced that it would no longer lease the seaplane ramp
and that wonderful scheduled seaplane service that at one time
enabled visitors to change planes in San Juan and fly directly
to Cruz Bay is no more.
There is no defined trail. Begin by finding your way through
the tangle of mangroves that extend for about 50 yards along
the shore. This may be the most difficult portion of the walk.
Remember that wet rocks may be slippery. Once through the mangroves, you will be negotiating rocky shoreline interspersed with sections of beach.
Heading west along the coast of Cruz Bay Harbor, you can observe the barges, ferries, sailing yachts and small motor boats entering
and exiting the bay.
At the mouth of the harbor the rocks get taller, and the scramble gets more dramatic.
Right after the coastline begins to turn north, you will come to a cobblestone beach at Lind Point. An old, now unused, underwater telephone cable comes ashore here.
The coastline between Lind Point and Salomon Bay is undeveloped
and pristine. Take some time to observe the coastal marine
life that has developed with only minimal impact from the
activities of human beings.
Continuing to the east you will come upon a small coral rubble beach. There are three types of beaches on St. John, cobblestone, coral rubble and coral sand. It is interesting to note that all three can
be found along this short stretch of coastline. For more information
on the nature of St. John beaches.
Immediately after the tiny coral rubble beach, you will come to a larger cobblestone beach. Just past the vegetation line are large pieces of galvanized roofing that once were on National Park housing units up the hill on Lind Point. Imagine the force of the wind
that was able to carry this heavy metal roofing such a long distance.
(A hurricane in 1916 blew the roof off of the Methodist Church
in Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke. It was later found at Cinnamon
Bay on St. John, more than five miles away.)
Continue the scramble until you get to the sand beach at Salomon Bay. For those so inclined, this is an excellent opportunity
to reward yourself with a refreshing swim.
You can return to Cruz Bay the way you came or via the Lind
Brown Bay Scramble
Brown Bay Beach on St. John’s undeveloped northeastern shore,
normally accessed by the Brown Bay Trail, can also be reached by following the St. John shoreline between Leinster Bay and Brown Bay.
This is an absolutely delightful shoreline hike offering spectacular
views, refreshing tropical breezes and fascinating beachcombing.
This hike is definitely “off the beaten track,” and demands athletic ability and knowledge of rock scrambling. Don’t attempt this (or any) hike alone and be careful!
Begin by taking the three-quarter mile Leinster Bay Trail (the eastern half of Leinster Bay is called Waterlemon Bay, the western half is known as Mary Creek) from the Annaberg Sugar Mill parking lot to the beach at Waterlemon Bay. The shoreline walk between the beach at Waterleon Bay and the beach at Brown Bay is about a mile and a half long. Allow at least four hours for a leisurely and careful round trip journey from Annaberg to Brown Bay and back.
Once you arrive at the beach at Waterlemon Bay, follow the shoreline north. There is a rudimentary trail that will take you a short distance along the coast, but when that ends you will be on your own. At the saddle between the hills, just before you get to the tip of the headland called Leinster Point, you may find a donkey trail that will lead you across the peninsula, or you may just find it easier to walk and scramble around the point.
On the eastern side of Leinster Point, you will come to a coral and cobblestone beach fringed by beach maho trees. The ground cover is the salty, but edible, sea purslane. A shallow fringing reef lies just off the beach.
Scramble over the black rocks at the end of the beach or take
a donkey trail through the bush and go around them. On the other
side of the rocks is a coral rubble beach. There is no reef on
the western corner of the beach and you can get into the water
and take a cooling swim if you so desire. At the center of the
beach are several water mampoo, or loblolly trees that can provide
a welcome shady area where you can rest and enjoy your surroundings.
The view from this beach is impressive. To the west, you can
see the top of Mary Point and the headland called Leinster Point
that you just crossed. These two headlands define the well-protected Leinster Bay. Looking more to the north you will see the British islands, Great Thatch and Little Thatch. Between them, further to the north, is Jost Van Dyke. Tortola is the large island just
to the east of Great and Little Thatch. The tall mountain that you see on Tortola is called Sage Mountain, which at 1,740 feet, is the highest point in the Virgin Islands.
This secluded northeastern coast of St. John has become a favorite
entry point for illegal immigrants. It is common to find the
discarded clothing left by these people, who apparently change
into their saved dry clothing at this stage of their journey.
At the end of this beach you will come to some high rocks. The
scramble over these rocks is facilitated by the presence of
conveniently located hand and foot holds. On the other side
of these rocks, is a coral rubble beach behind which is a
steep bluff about 40 feet high.
Proceeding beyond this beach, a short scramble leads to another
stretch of coral rubble beach bordered by a high steep hillside
and fringed by century plants and sea grape trees.
After this beach, is a stretch of rocky shoreline which leads
around Threadneedle Point. This rocky outcropping provides impressive easterly views of the British Virgin Islands that border the beautiful Sir Francis Drake Channel all the way to the Baths
at Virgin Gorda. Looking toward the west, you can see as far
as St. Thomas and Hans Lollik.
After rounding Threadneedle Point, there will be one more long
stretch of coral rubble beach. From there to the beach at Brown
Bay is a section of rocky coast, which goes past the Brown Bay
Plantation Ruins. You can return to civilization the way you
came or via the Brown Bay Trail.
Reef Bay Coastal Walk
The Reef Bay Coastal Walk provides an alternative route to the historic Reef Bay Sugar Mill, the petroglyphs and the Reef Bay Estate House, normaly reached via either the Reef Bay or Lameshur Bay Trails. By taking short trails, walking along the beach and scrambling around small headlands, one can cover the entire perimeter of Reef Bay. The distance between the Reef Bay Sugar Mill Ruins and Parrot Bay on the western end of Reef Bay is about 1.2 miles.
About the Bay
Reef Bay refers to the large bay on the south side of St. John
between Cocoloba Cay on the west and the White Cliffs on the
east. Within the larger bay are three beaches one of which is
an inner bay. On the west is a beach called Reef Bay or Parrot
Bay. The next beach to the east is Little Reef Bay, named after
the plantation whose ruins lie amidst the vegetation behind the
beach. The third and easternmost beach makes up most of the shoreline of Genti Bay, which is an inner bay of Reef Bay. Genti Bay is
the location of the Reef Bay sugar factory ruins, which lie at
the end of the Reef Bay Trail.
A long line of reef extends parallel to the shoreline of Reef
Bay. The reef protects the beaches and coastline from the force
of the ocean swells. An extensive shallow lagoon lies between
the shore and the reef.
Parrot Bay was named after Rif Paret, an overseer on the Friis
plantation established in 1727 on the western portion of Reef
The larger Reef Bay, that encompasses Parrot, Little Reef and
Genti Bays, may also have been named after Rif Paret. Old maps
of Reef Bay show various spellings of the word Reef including
Rif, Riif, Riff, Rift and possibly Riss.
St. John historian, David Knight, feels that the name Reef Bay
is really a corruption of “Rift Bay” pointing out “that
the original name for this quarter was Rift Bay and not Reef
Bay.” There also exists the possibility that Reef Bay was
named after the long barrier reef that is the most significant
characteristic of the bay.
Only Parrot Bay at the western end of Reef Bay can be accessed
by road. From the Texaco Station in Cruz Bay, take the South
Shore Road (Route 104) east to the Fish Bay Road. Go 1.7 miles
to the intersection of Marina Drive and Reef Bay Road. Bear left
onto Reef Bay Road and go up the hill. Turn left after the concrete
strip of road ends, about 0.2 mile from the intersection. Go
0.2 mile further and park on the right side of the road across
from the house with the new green metal roof.
The path to the beach starts at the utility pole. The top of the
trail is steep. You will find a length of knotted rope secured
to various trees that you can grab onto for support as you descend
this steepest section of the trail. Be careful on the rest of
the path, as it too can be tricky and slippery at times, especially
after a rain. At the bottom of the hill, the trail levels off
and leads to the beach at Parrot Bay.
Head east along the white sandy beach. It is a delightful walk,
as there is generally a brisk, cooling ocean breeze. You will
also be treated to the sight and sound of the waves breaking
over the outer reef as well as to an excellent view of the unspoiled
south coast of St. John from Reef Bay to Ram Head Point and into
the inner valleys of Reef Bay. This is one of the few large areas
in the Virgin Islands that has not been developed and remains
in a pristine and natural state.
Much of the ground cover at the beginning of the line of first vegetation is the edible sea purslane. It has a salty taste and is traditionally used in green salads.
Further inland are seagrape and beach maho trees interspersed
with areas of mangroves.
About 30 yards before the end of the beach, there is a small
coconut grove just inland. It’s easy to get to and if you’re
in luck, there will be lots of coconuts to eat – hard ripe ones
on the ground and the even more delicious jelly nuts up in the
At the eastern end of the beach you will come to some colorful red
and white rocks around the point going left. It’s an easy scramble
over these rocks to the beach at Little Reef Bay.
The shallow lagoon gets much wider here. This is a habitat for
baby sharks, tarpon, bonefish and barracuda. The baby sharks,
mostly black tips, are quite a sight to behold. They are between
one and two feet long and, because the water is so shallow, their
dorsal fins stick out of the water, just like in the movies.
Don’t worry about them biting you, they are very shy and timid
and swim away as soon as they see you.
As you walk down the beach at Little Reef Bay you will have an extensive view of the south coast. The only human-made structure in sight will be the chimney of the Reef Bay Sugar Mill abandoned almost a century ago.
History of Little Reef Bay
A narrow strip of soft white sand, fringed by maho trees and
mangroves, lies between the lagoon and the forested interior.
Behind this vegetation is an area of low-lying flat land that
began to be cultivated in 1726, eight years after the Danish
West India and Guinea Company colonized St. John.
Of the twelve plantations in the Reef Bay watershed, Little Reef Bay was the only one that never engaged in sugar cultivation and was instead dedicated to cotton, provision crops, and the raising of cattle and other livestock. Little Reef Bay historically provided much of the food for the neighboring sugar producing estates of Reef Bay. The first owner of the land was Philip Adam Dietrichs, a Lutheran priest in St. Thomas. Because pastors received a minimal salary in those times, the governor of the colony presented the estate to Dietrichs in order to help him make ends meet.
The tasks of clearing the land, planting the crops and building the needed structures were performed by a small number of slaves who worked from sunup to sundown on that arid, windswept parcel of land in order to provide a supplementary income for the underpaid man of God. Because Dietrichs lived in St. Thomas where he continued to minister to his parishioners, an overseer was hired to wield the whip and be responsible for the success of this marginally profitable enterprise. Dietrichs eventually left St. Thomas and returned to Denmark. The estate was sold to Jannes Runnels and stayed in the Runnels family for about the next 100 years.
In 1841, Catherine Michel, a free woman of mixed race, inherited
the Little Reef Bay plantation along with 26 head of cattle,
40 sheep, 8 horses and 27 enslaved human beings. It was a hard
life for all concerned, Catherine Michel, her six children, and
the slaves. When emancipation was declared in 1848, there were
only two acres of land under cultivation to support the Michel
family and the slaves, who were predominantly women and children.
Even after emancipation in the Danish West Indies, the former
slaves were bound to their estates by labor contracts, which
they were forced to sign. The “workers” on the Little Reef Bay Estate were reluctant to continue laboring on that unproductive and poor piece of land. Catherine Michel was ill, as were her children, and by 1870 all had died, apparently of the dread disease, leprosy.
Little Reef Bay was then sold to Henry Marsh who owned the neighboring Par Force plantation where the sugar works were. In 1926, it was sold to A. A. Richardson, the island administrator, who had 30 acres of land under cultivation and a herd of 25 cattle. Richardson sold milk, mangos, coconuts, bananas and limes that were produced on the estate. In 1956, Little Reef Bay became the property of the Virgin Islands National Park.
(Information about the history of the Little Reef Bay Estate
comes from “A Brief History of the Little Reef Bay Estate,” by
David Knight and “Historic Land Use in the Reef Bay Fish
Bay and Hawksnest Watersheds, St. John U.S. Virgin Islands” by
George F. Tyson.)
Finding the Ruins
The ruins of the Little Reef Bay Plantation can be found just
about ten yards inshore of a patch of mother-in-law tongue or
snake plant (sansevieria), that was once cultivated as an ornamental,
but got out of hand. They consist of long, pointed, variegated,
dark-green leaves that rise from the ground to a height of about
three feet and grow close together. The patch extends right to
the beach line. Another clue is a tall date palm that you should
be able to see further inland than the ruins.
If you’re not keen on plant identification, here’s another way
to find them: As you walk down the beach towards the east, there
are two places where vegetation extends into the water. At these
points, you will either have to get your feet wet, climb through
the tangle of limbs, or find a passage through the bush inland.
The remains of the Little Reef Bay plantation lie behind the
second of these detours.
The ruins consist of a four-sided stone wall that once supported
a house made out of sticks woven together and then plastered
with mortar made out of lime and mud. This traditional construction
is known as “daub and wattle.” Just to the east of the house, is a taller wall that was a part of the plantation warehouse. Also in the vicinity, are the remains of a stone oven and the cookhouse.
Turn of the Century House
Just to the east of the warehouse ruins are the remains of an
old stone house covered with pink plaster. There are ornamental
plants and fruit trees near the building. In back of this house
is a stately date palm. Mother-in-law tongue, hibiscus and
bougainvillea are all growing in profusion around these ruins.
Most of these plants were obviously cultivated as landscaping
by the inhabitants of the house. Near the house are the remains
of an old cattle corral, a remnant of the fairly recent cattle-farming
operation in the valley. The estate house and warehouse were
built in the late eighteenth century; this house was built
near the turn of the twentieth century.
When the Little Reef Bay Estate was sold to Henry Marsh, a one-acre parcel was split off and given to the one loyal servant, named Margreth, who stayed with Catherine Michel and her family throughout the days of deprivation and the horrors of leprosy.
The house had remained in fair condition, roof and all, until
Hurricane Marilyn struck in 1995. This property is called an
inholding because it is still privately owned and is not part
of the National Park. The lack of access to this and other inholdings
in the Park is currently a much-discussed political issue.
The best place for swimming in Reef Bay is at the eastern end
Little Reef Bay, near the rocks along the eastern shore (to
your left if you’re looking out to sea). The beach is soft
white sand, and the entrance to the water is in sand and grass.
The water is deeper and the bottom is sandier and more comfortable than the beaches at either Parrot Bay or Genti Bay. Another plus is the almost guaranteed privacy afforded by the remote location.
At the eastern end of the beach, the trail to the Reef Bay Sugar
Mill begins about thirty yards from the first large rocks.
At the beginning of this trail, is an old stone cistern and
animal watering trough surrounded by hibiscus and bougainvillea.
The Little Reef Bay Trail connects the beach at Little Reef
Bay with the bottom of the Reef Bay Trail near the sugar mill
ruins. The well-maintained path is a little over a quarter-mile
long and passes over the rocky point separating Genti Bay from
Little Reef Bay. The trail goes up a hill and then down again
reaching an elevation of about 75 feet. The environment is one
of disturbed, second growth cactus scrub. The trail leading to
the L’Esperance Road connects with the Little Reef Bay
Trail at its highest point.
History of the Trail
Not long ago, the Little Reef Bay Trail did not even have a name.
The account of how this trail became a clear readily passable
pathway with an actual name goes like this:
The highly popular guided Reef Bay Trail hike, organized by
the National Park and conducted by knowledgeable rangers, includes boat transportation from the end of the trail at Genti Bay back to Cruz Bay. This eliminates the necessity of the highly unpopular uphill walk back to Centerline Road.
Before Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, there was a dock at Genti
Bay. Hikers were brought by dinghy from the dock to a larger
boat that would then make the voyage to Cruz Bay. After Hurricane
Marilyn destroyed the dock, the tour operators attempted to board
their passengers onto the dinghy from the shallow water near
the shore. Because there are often waves breaking near the beach,
the task of loading the dinghies with people unaccustomed to
small boats proved to be difficult and dangerous.
As an alternative to building another dock, it was decided that
Little Reef Bay, which is generally calm at the eastern end,
would be a safe place to put the hikers aboard the dinghy. (Years
ago, the only dock in the valley was on the eastern end of Little
Reef Bay because this was the only place in all of Reef Bay to
have protection from the wind, waves and swells while still having
deep water access.)
The trail from Little Reef Bay to Genti Bay was then cleaned
up by Park employed workers and has been given a high priority
for maintenance ever since.
Fish Bay Gut
The terrain of St. John is mostly mountainous. Between the mountains are valleys. When it rains, water seeking its lowest level, flows and seeps down the hillsides of the valleys and makes its way
down toward the sea. In the Virgin Islands, these rain-collecting
temporary valley streams are called “guts.”
When it rains hard, water rushes down the guts taking with it
soil and sediment that have collected during dry periods. The
bottoms of the guts are left as bare rocks. Along the edges of
the guts, the plant life grows profusely due to the abundance
of water available to them. These gut environments are usually
tropical and jungle-like.
Some of the most accessible and beautiful guts are in the Fish
Bay area. Most often hiked are the Fish Bay and Battery Guts,
which come together at an elevation of about 200 feet in the
Fish Bay Valley.
These are difficult and challenging hikes and should only be
undertaken by those in good physical condition and who possess
knowledge of rock scrambling techniques. It is extremely important
to exercise the utmost caution. The rocks may be slippery and
the ways out of the gut and back to civilization are limited.
Do not attempt this (or any) hike alone!
The Fish Bay and Battery Guts, along with the Living Gut in
Reef Bay and the Guinea Gut, are the only south side guts that
have some degree of permanent water. Pools and waterfalls along
the gut provide homes for several species of freshwater fish,
crabs and crayfish.
The gut environment is dynamic. It will change considerably
depending upon the amount of rainfall and the time of year. The
hike along these natural pathways will, therefore, vary in difficulty,
and you will have to be creative at times to find the best ways
around obstacles such as waterfalls, pools, fallen trees, thorny
vines and unfriendly plants.
The Fish Bay Gut can best be accessed from the Fish Bay Road
on either side of the bridge that crosses the gut.
In this low-lying area, the gut can be crowded with thick vegetation,
but getting through is not as difficult as it looks. Be prepared
to get wet, especially in the early morning when there is a lot
of dew on the grass or after a night of showers. As the elevation
begins to increase, there is less vegetation in the gut, and
the going is easier.
The tall trees along the sides of the gut filter the sunlight
and create an exciting tropical atmosphere. Watch for orchids
growing in the nooks and crannies of trees and rocks. You will
find bright green moss, lush tropical ferns, and an assortment
of flowering trees and other plants.
The freshwater pools contain fish whose eggs can
lie dormant for years at a time when the pools dry up. They
will hatch when there is sufficient rainfall to support life
in the pool.
Also look for freshwater crabs, which scurry for shelter when
they see you approach, and crayfish that look like little Maine
lobsters. Colorful dragonflies often hover above the pools. Here,
the forest is alive with the buzzing of bees and the songs of
birds attracted to the water in the pools.
After about a quarter mile, you will come to the intersection
of the Fish Bay and Battery Guts. The Battery Gut is the western
(left) fork and continues up alongside the Gift Hill Valley,
where it begins in the vicinity of Neptune Richard’s Laundromat.
On the way, it passes the Pine Peace School where there is an
About 0.1 mile from the gut intersection is a 70-foot-high waterfall.
There are fresh water pools on the top and bottom of the cliff.
The base of this waterfall is a wonderful place to stop and relax
for a while before the return trip down the gut.
Experienced rock climbers, however, can climb this steep rock
face, which offers a variety of hand and foot holds. Above the
waterfall, the gut becomes more overgrown. There is access from
the Battery Gut to Gift Hill Road next to the Pine Peace School.
This narrow trail will be on your left as you ascend the gut.
During the slave rebellion of 1733, the Free Negro Corps led
by Mingo Tamarin pursued a party of rebellious slaves down the
gut from Beverhoudtsberg Plantation where a battle, which was
then called a batterie, was fought at the bottom of the high
waterfall. The Battery Gut was named after this battle.
At the intersection of the two guts the eastern (right) branch
is the Fish Bay Gut, which leads to Centerline Road running for
a time alongside the old L’Esperance Road. There are several
opportunities along the way to access the L’Esperance Road before
climbing through the increasingly thick underbrush as you approach
the upper levels of the valley and Centerline Road. The rarely
traveled L’Esperance Road will provide much easier access
to Centerline Road and civilization.
The Fish Bay Gut has several fresh water pools as well as a
beautiful waterfall that descends much more gradually than the
Battery Gut waterfall; be extremely careful climbing the waterfall
because the rocks can be very slippery.