Sunday, September 27, 2015

WV Road Trip: Cass Scenic Railroad Adventure

Mr. P and I made another road trip adventure within our state bounds a little over a week ago, to Cass Scenic Railroad State Park in Pocahontas County, WV. It's about a 3.5 hour drive to get there from the capital city and, being retired, well, we just made a couple days of the trip. Listen to the sounds of the restored coal-fired, steam engine from the past as it pulled into the station! This trip was truly like turning the pages back in time, to another era, when logging became big business in our state. 

One thing very common in West Virginia is a network of curvy, steep-graded roads, as well as plenty of pasture land valleys. The road to the state park was as enjoyable as our train excursion. Signs of early fall were all around in the early morning: fog, tree canopied roads, baled hay on dewy ground, and webs of spiders' work from the night before.
There was also plenty of wildlife and livestock to be seen (and dodged) along the country roads. We saw deer, fox, geese, squirrels, turkeys, horses, cattle and sheep all along the drive. We did not see black bear (our state animal).
Just look at those sheep! A full view of the top left frame shows the one deer (center) behind the fence appearing to have a spider mask on, which I only noticed after uploading my photos. :)
We arrived at the station just in time to snap a few photos and capture a sense of the history that put this place on the map more than 100 years prior with its prominent, technologically advanced (for its time) logging industry and community.
What was once a storage facility for the coal (another big industry for this state) that operated the steam engines of the logging trains is now an artisans' gallery during the train season (May - October) for the Pocahontas County Artisans' Co-op. Just as the sign within the collage below says, "Cool Stuff made by Local Folks", and I found something special to bring home with me. You can catch a glimpse of it (below), and I'll be sharing that in an upcoming post. West Virginia's artisans have a very strong presence and are celebrated throughout our state, most notably at Tamarack Center, WV's retail artisan center, in Beckley, WV, but the gallery in Cass had a nice selection, too.
It was remarkable to experience how the restored, piston-engine Shay locomotives and former logging cars (now restored for passengers) trekked through dense, steeply-graded forests into the heart of yesteryear's logging days. We passed through an old, lumber graveyard (Hey, wait! Those rail carts can still be used today - coffee tables!)
We also learned a few things about how these trains go through switchbacks, reversing direction in order to better climb the steep grades of the mountains to the peak 4700', while billowing smoke and cinders along the way. The steep grade of Cass (11%) compares to a conventional 2% grade, which is considered steep for railroads. Depending on which car you were in, you would get covered with smoke and cinders from the billowing stack (we rode the last car, furthest from the engine, and still caught the effects!). We wore the recommended dark clothing (that could be machine-washed later).
We made two stops before reaching the summit: the first at Whittaker Station, an open field area with vast views of the hills beyond. It is here where the equipment which once hauled the logs of trees timbered in the forest as much as 3000' in the air were on display. 
Re-creations of the camp shanties in which the more skilled lumbermen lived were also on display. These shanties were merely 12' x 16', sized to be picked up by a log loader and put on rail cars in order to relocate the campsite.
Our next stop was in a location to refill the steam engine tanks of spring water. At this point, we had some passengers embark/disembark, coming/going from another train 60 miles away from/to the town of Elkins, WV. We had travelers from various states getting on and off board that day - MI, PA, IN, KS - to name just a few on our car. Boxed lunches were loaded and passed out to each of us there, and we continued up the mountain to our summit destination, Bald Knob.
Our engineer shared information of the flora seen along our path, most notably Spruce (those which were timbered in Cass' heyday), and the Mountain Ash trees, which only grow above 3800'. The Mountain Ash were full of berries (as seen in the photo above). Color in other trees was nowhere near peak (two more weeks), or even beginning, really, but we enjoyed the views no less. Our peak at Bald Knob was an elevation of 4700'. At one point, it was noted that the farmost mountainous line we were viewing in our distance was the Eastern Continental Divide within West Virginia (top frame of photo collage below). This is the watershed divide in the eastern US, wherein all waters east of the divide flow into the Atlantic Ocean; those west of the divide flow into the Gulf of Mexico.
Also noteworthy of the collage above, in the bottom right hand frame, the peak to the far right is Bald Knob, and the left hand frame at bottom shows us standing on that summit of Bald Knob.
The photo above shows the observatory deck at Bald Knob (note the sea of goldenrod all around), with the frame below it showing the view from beneath the deck. Also, see that pinpoint white in the distance in several of these frames? The right frame in the above collage shows it, enlarged. That's the Green Bank National Radio Astronomy Observatory Telescope. It is the world's largest, fully-steerable radio telescope. Can you say radio silence?? 

After a total 4.5 hours on the train trip, most of which the return was screeching brakes on rails as we came down the mountain, we hopped in our car and headed up the mountain behind the station to Snowshoe Mountain Village, WV for the night. A noted ski resort in our state, its elevation is 4848'. As snow is a couple months away, we practically had the mountain to ourselves, and woke up to the view you see in the lower frame of the collage below.
As if all these visuals weren't enough on this road trip, on our way home, we passed Mile Marker 139 on I-64 and saw the following sign on a bridge, crossing the New River.
It's hard to read, but the sign says "Mary Draper Ingles Bridge". If you have ever read the book, Follow the River (James Alexander Thom), you know the story of this woman's escape from being taken captive by Shawnee Indians in 1755, and her plight of wandering more than 500 miles by foot, crossing many of the mountains and waters you've seen pictured here, all the way from Ohio to the present day Blacksburg, Virginia area. If you've never read the account, you really should. What a woman Mary Draper Ingles was! She traversed over much of West Virginia, and this bridge marks just one of the areas where she followed the river to return home. We live along another of the rivers she followed, the Kanawha. It is a fascinating story of determination, strength, faith and love.

This was another action-packed road trip, one of many in our Wild, Wonderful, West Virginia! It was a trip that could be enjoyed by kids from 2 to 92. If you'd like to read of our last adventure, it's all in this post titled, Day Trip Adventure: Bridge Crossing - by Catwalk!, in the New River Gorge National Park.

As always, thanks for your visit!
Rita C. at Panoply

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