September 25, 2018
Last week (Wednesday, September 19), Jacqueline and I went for an excursion into West Virginia, the first time we had been there together since late June 2010. (I have passed through the "Mountain State" on AMTRAK trains a couple times in recent years, and also while driving to or from the midwest.) But unlike our previous visit, which was focused on the town of Cass and the nearby Cranberry Glades, this time we headed toward the northern part of the state. At one point (while at Dolly Sods) we were actually within about 25 miles of the western tip of Maryland!
On the westbound leg of the trip, we drove along Route 250 into Highland County, making brief stops to enjoy the scenery. At one such stop just west of Monterey, we had a nice view in what I later determined to be the Bluegrass Valley, at the very source of the South Branch of the Potomac River! It is called "Hightown" because it lies along the divide between the Chesapeake Bay watershed (to the north) and the James River watershed (to the south). We also stopped briefly at Bear Mountain, which used to be a regular stop on Augusta Bird Club field trips to that area, and at the West Virginia state line just a few miles farther along the road. (See my separate wild birds blog post for more details.)
Soon after crossing into West Virginia, we turned right onto Route 28. We had planned to have lunch in that area, but at the only eating establishment we found the kitchen was closed that day, so we had to keep driving. Heading in a northeasterly direction, we mostly avoided the high mountain crossings that impede travel when going toward the northwest in the Appalachian mountains. We passed through a picturesque town called Circleville, and stopped to take photos, but not until we reached the crossroads of Route 33 did we find a place to have lunch: the Gateway family restaurant.
A few more miles to the north lay one of our main destinations: Seneca Rocks, a dramatic geoglogical formation that is part of a long chain of rock outcroppings that stretches for many miles. Our plan was to spend time there after reaching the other main destination (Dolly Sods), so we just took a few photos and continued on.
It took another half hour to get to Dolly Sods, a wilderness area that I had been meaning to visit for many years. It was recommended to me by a former housemate and fellow UVa graduate, among others. The name "Dolly Sods" refers to a high-elevation flat pasture land once owned by a German farm family named Dahle. The side road to the top was a little rough for my car, but wouldn't be a problem for an SUV. I was shocked to see a "Road Closed Ahead" sign, but it turned out to be a false warning. I had consulted the National Forest Service website, but had only a vague idea of exactly what to expect there. In essence, it was an exploratory venture. We finally reached the road crossing at the top and soon found an overlook with dramatic views toward the east. There are many rhododendron bushes, fir trees, and other types of vegetation that are associated with northern latitudes. In fact, with an elevation over 4,000 feet, Dolly Sods is considered to be similar to Canada in terms of wildlife. We then drove about a mile south to a picnic area, and I walked for a bit along a couple trails. (I had to take it easy because of a strained Achilles tendon recently diagnosed by a podiatrist.) Finally, we drove a bit further south to the South Prong trail head, which features a boardwalk trail and plenty of birds. That will be one of our main stops the next time we visit. Time was getting late, so we had to leave.
On the way back south, we took some photos of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction project, which we had seen just after passing Seneca Rocks on the way north. There is a large industrial facility which I learned is the "Seneca Compressor Station," a sort of relay point in the pipeline network. I was taken aback that the construction was so close to Seneca Rocks itself, less than a mile away. Supposedly, the vegetation will eventually return to its natural state. I hope so.
Finally, we spent about 45 minutes at Seneca Rocks, but just missed the closing of the visitor center. We strolled across a recently-built bridge across the river, took a bunch of photos of the rocks, and then took a look at a historic cabin and garden. It was sunny in the late afternoon, perfect for taking pictures. We wanted to stay longer, but the long trip home dictated that we leave promptly, so we did. To save time, we took a different route on the way back to Staunton, turning east at the intersection with Route 33, which passes through the picturesque town of Franklin. We then drove uphill across the mountain ridge which defines the state line and returned to the Old Dominion as the sun was sinking in the west. By the time we got home it was almost dark. It was a fun and exciting trip, and we hope to go back to that part of West Virginia in the next year or two.
More photos are on the Chronological (2018) photo gallery page.