A Week in West Virginia

Posted on 10/02/2023 in misc

Trip: 39
Nights: 122-129

This trip was originally going to be up the Natchez Trace in Mississippi and Tennessee. However, real life intervened, and we decided to stay closer to home. So, West Virginia it is.

We started in Harper's Ferry. I was there 12-15 years ago with my son, but Michelle had never been. We drove up on Sunday and spent the night at the KOA next to the park. I don't like staying at KOAs, and this week did nothing to change that. Despite being 20% full on an off-season Sunday night, it still managed to be loud. We were out of the KOA at 9 AM and parking at the National Historic Park at 9:05. Harper's Ferry was also almost empty, which made for a very pleasant visit. We spent the day wandering through the numerous historic buildings and museums in Harper's Ferry. After lunch at Cannonball Deli, we did a short hike on the Appalachian Trail to Jefferson Rock, then continued to the HQ of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. There we had a friendly chat with the team member on site and bought a couple of shirts that we justified because it supports the Trail. Afterward, we returned to the car and headed to our next stop at Seneca Shadows campground. It rained on us all the way and through the night.

Photo collage of harpers Ferry WV

Seneca Shadows is in the shadow of Seneca Rock, a premier rock climbing locale in the Eastern US. I don't think anybody was on the rock today as it was raining all day and foggy at times too. After wandering around the grounds of Seneca Rock, we took a slow and curvy drive to the top of Spruce Knob, the highest point in WV. We were about 6500 ft above sea level. The clouds were lower than that. So that's WV and NC, where we went to the top of the state and had visibility measured in dozens of feet, the same thing at El Yunke in Puerto Rico.

I started Wednesday morning with the hike to the top of Seneca Rock. Visibility was very close to zero at the top. Nature doesn't want me climbing to the top of mountains. After I returned from the hike, we packed up and hit the road for the short 1-hour drive to Blackwater State Park. Michelle kept telling me that the forecast for Davis, WV, was much better. It's only about 50 miles, so I was skeptical, but apparently, which side of the Allegheny Front you are on makes a big difference. As soon as we came over the mountain pass and into Canaan Valley, the sky turned blue, and the temperature jumped 10 degrees. After setting up camp, we went to Thomas, VA, to explore. I was not expecting to find a hippie town in WV, but Thomas has an artsy, hippie vibe. Unfortunately, everything was closed as it's a Thursday - Sun kind of town. After dinner at the campsite, we had our first dry evening to sit by the campfire.

Photo collage

We spent Thursday exploring the state park. We did three hikes, seeing the namesake waterfall, a dramatic canyon overlook, and a balancing rock as the payoff for each hike. The weather was nice too, mid-sixties and breezy. On one of the hikes, I heard a rattlesnake doing its best to scare us away. It sounded like it was a good 20+ feet off the trail, and I did not see it, so it was really a non-event. We ate out on Thursday night at a local pub, where the food was good and very reasonably priced.

On Friday, we made the one-hour drive to the Dolly Sods Wilderness, a unique ecosystem about 5000 feet above sea level that is more like Canada than a typical Mid-Atlantic state. Michelle relaxed with a book while I started a 5-mile hike. Dolly Sods does not drain well, and the entire hike was a muddy mess, but a stunningly scenic muddy mess that was worth the effort. The roads up to the trailhead are not particularly well-maintained Forest Service dirt roads, which was fun on its own. After the hike, we looked for a bird banding operation active near Dolly Sods. We did not find it, so we returned to town and sat outside in Thomas to enjoy a post-hike IPA. After that, we hit a local ice cream shop where Michelle's coconut chip and my green apple Carmel ice cream were fabulous. So fabulous, we went back again the next day.

On Saturday, we woke to heavy fog that burned off by 9 AM to a glorious blue sky 65F day. We started by spending 2 hours with the local birding club, leading a birding walk in the park. After lunch at the camper, we went to the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, and on the advice of the Ranger, we hit a couple of trails in search of more birds. Afternoon birding was a bust, so we returned to Davis for more ice cream and a visit to Stumptown Ales. After a couple of pints of two very good Pale Ales, we returned to the camper for dinner and one more campfire before returning to the real world.

Photo collage

The drive home on Sunday was uneventful.

As a state, WV has many factors going against it. It ranks near the bottom of every meaningful statistic regarding education, health, and general well-being. The opioid crisis has hit the state hard. Education is lacking. The economy is still too dependent on fossil fuel-related production. 69% of the state voted for Trump in 2020. However, it’s also, for my money, the most scenic state east of the Mississippi. And in about 11 days of visiting the state over the past two years, I have yet to interact with anyone who wasn’t exceedingly pleasant. We both agree that a return trip to the Canaan Valley is in order.

But not in the winter.

Photo Album

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