In the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, there is a vantage point high above the BSF River that is known as Bronco Overlook. It is one of the best overlooks in the 125,000-acre national park, offering an expansive view of the gorge encasing the Big South Fork River between Leatherwood and Station Camp. (The photo below was taken as the sun set on an August evening.)

Bronco+Overlook

The story of how Bronco Overlook got its name is an interesting one.

This rock outcropping above the BSF River has always been a beautiful vantage point, but it hasn’t always been open for all to enjoy. In the years before the federal government purchased the property to establish the national park (the enabling legislation was adopted by Congress in 1974, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent the next eight years purchasing property), there was a home on the edge of the cliff, and parts of its foundation can still be seen today.

When the property was purchased by the national park, the home’s owner tore demolished the structure. The road he used as his driveway remained, though, and for years was used by 4WD vehicles to access the overlook, as well as by horseback riders from the nearby Station Camp Horse Camp, which was established after the national park became a reality.

In those days, the ridge leading to the overlook was known as Sheep Ridge. The road was named Sheep Ridge Road. According to Donny Kidd — a lifelong resident of the Big South Fork region who is something of a walking history book on this land, particularly the land around Station Camp — someone stole a Bronco from North Carolina and drove it to the Big South Fork, driving it over the cliff at the end of the road.

We set out to find the Bronco — or what remained of it.

Getting set to leave Sheep Ridge Road in the Big South Fork.

Getting set to leave Sheep Ridge Road in the Big South Fork.

Getting to the overlook is easy. Motorized vehicles are no longer allowed on Sheep Ridge Road, but it’s just over a mile by foot or in the saddle from Station Camp Road to the overlook. Getting to the base of the cliff is a different story altogether.

Turns out, there’s a gap through the rock that can be used to get to the base of the cliff. I wouldn’t recommend trying it if you aren’t an experienced bushwhacker. The going is slow and rough. We bushwhack regularly, and had to break out our ropes to get down — something we almost never do.

Using paracord to help get over a waterfall through the gap to the base of the cliff.

Using paracord to help get over a waterfall through the gap to the base of the cliff.

A look back as we descended through the gap to the base of the cliff.

A look back as we descended through the gap to the base of the cliff.

It took over an hour to cover the short distance from the top of the cliff to the bottom, but there it was — the Bronco that was driven off the cliff some 20 years ago and gave this place its name.

There wasn't much worth salvaging once the Bronco rolled to a stop on its wheels at the base of the cliff.

There wasn’t much worth salvaging once the Bronco rolled to a stop on its wheels at the base of the cliff.

No one remembers many details about who stole the Bronco, or when it rolled over the cliff. But a search of the Vehicle Identification Number reveals that it was a 1986 Ford Bronco XLT, Eddie Bauer edition. It would have looked like this one:

001

Of course, it looks a little different today…

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