Monday, October 16, 2017

Leaf-Peeping on WV Country Roads

It seemed as though fall would never make its presence in our city, so last week we made a two-day trek to the West Virginia area referred to as the Potomac Highlands. The crooked and broken arrows on the map below show the general direction of our trip, with a yellow circle highlighting the areas visited.
Fortunately, our fall color has come just a little later than the WV Division of Forestry predicted in the map shown below. We enjoyed much colorful foliage on our trip (see circle on map for area visited).

Our highlights included stops at Seneca Rocks, Blackwater Falls, Canaan Valley and Smoke Hole Caverns, and we criss-crossed through four different counties - Randolph, Tucker, Grant, and Pendleton - as well as the Eastern Continental Divide.

Day 1: Much of the highways traveled were state roads that looked a lot like the picture below, with lots of curves, grade changes in elevations, and too many logging trucks to count. Deer darting across highways are also a known hazard this time of year, particularly near dawn and dusk, and we saw our share of those, too.
Spruce Knob Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area - our first stop
After a little over 3 hours of driving, we made our first stop at Seneca Rocks. The Appalachian Mountains were formed as a result of the uplift of the continental crust nearly 275 million years ago. Heat and pressure caused sandstone layers to metamorphose quartzite, and Seneca Rocks, part of this Tuscarora quartzite bedrock, juts at an imposing 900' above the Seneca Creek valley below. Evidence shows Native Americans inhabited this area during the Archaic Period (8,000BC - 10,000BC). Algonquin, Tuscarora, Seneca, Cherokee, Shawnee, and Mingo tribes all dwelled, traded, and fought in this area. European settlers arrived in 1746.
During WWII, soldiers climbed here to prepare for mountain warfare. Today, this area is recreational to hikers, rock climbers, sightseers and ameteur geologists. We hiked the 3 mile (round trip), 900' elevation Seneca Trail, with an observation platform as our resting, turnaround point.
Seneca Creek, Trail Start

Seneca Trail Path

Seneca Trail, rock face climbing point

Seneca Trail rock jenga

Seneca Trail Foliage
There was a 50% chance of rain during the hours we hiked and, though the clouds rolled in and out of the hills, it never rained on us. The photo below shows an enlarged image of the Seneca Rocks face, and a circle at the observation point to which we hiked.
Seneca Rocks, with observation point in view on left

Valley vista view from Seneca Rocks Observation Point

View of Seneca Rocks Discovery Center, parking lot, as seen from 900' elevation Observation Point
The estimated hike time was two hours for this trail. We completed the ascent in 40 minutes, the descent in 30. It was very tiring!

We had reservations at nearby Canaan Valley State Park Resort, the same state park where my high school girlfriends reunited this past summer. We checked into the resort by 4:30 pm, had dinner at 5, and a drizzling rain started just as we were served dinner. Lights were out by 9pm!

Day 2:
We had breakfast at Bright Morning Inn in Davis, WV, a quaint and welcoming bed and breakfast,  originally built in 1846 as a boardinghouse for lumberjacks.
Bellies full, we headed north another 12 miles to Blackwater Falls State Park. We had the entire park to ourselves on this particular morning, which was bright and clear.
Blackwater Falls, October 2017

Blackwater Falls State Park 
From here, we ventured into the Dolly Sods Wilderness. It was 10am when we left Blackwater Falls, the sun shining brightly, but it soon clouded over. By the time we turned off the narrow, side road to make our ascent to the top of the area (on a then dirt/gravel road), the fog had rolled in among the hills making visibility quite difficult. View the photo below, clockwise starting from the top left frame, and you can see the changes in the atmospheric conditions. We decided to turn around (not easy to do on the narrow road!), and headed to our next trip stop.
The road to Dolly Sods Wilderness
Of note, Dolly Sods is in the Monongahela National Forest, and contains ecotypes more common to southern Canada, with elevations ranging from 2,500 to 4,700 feet. It is now part of the National Wilderness Preservation Forest, but during WWII, it served as training grounds for target practice. Visitors are cautioned at finding UXO - UneXploded Ordnance mortars, bullets, etc - even though the US Army Corps of Engineers performed a cleanup of the area.

Our next trip stop took us back past Seneca Rocks, to Smoke Hole Caverns. A show cave featuring stalactites and stalagmites, with fresh spring water running into a coral pool and streaming throughout its twists and turns, its history is varied. Seneca Indians originally used Smoke Hole Caverns to smoke their game meats and, with smoke emanating from the single entry/exit, the name evolved. Local lore says the cavern was used during the Civil War by both the North and South (remember, West Virginia is one of two states formed during the war in 1863). After the Civil War, it is said the smoke hole was used for making moonshine during the Prohibition era. Smoke Hole Caverns has one of the highest ceilings of caverns in the eastern U.S.
It also boasts one of the world's largest ribbon stalactites
Concrete walkways, iron stairwells and various lighting throughout have undoubtedly taken a toll on the overall natural environment, but it is still a natural wonder to see the formations, approximately 300' below the mountain under which it is situated.
Our last stop for Day 2 was back to our resort destination for an afternoon Canaan Valley Scenic Chair Lift. This afforded us the opportunity to take in one more overview of the mountain range from atop of the ski resort peaks.
Throughout our two-day leaf-peeping journey, we saw plenty of scenic pastoral views and farmland.

Our trip was a nice getaway in the eastern mountains of West Virginia. But, the best view, by far, was one of a West Virginia sunrise, coming up over the mountain on our way home.
Country roads, take me home, to the place I belong....West Virginia, Mountain Momma, take me home, country roads.

(A special thanks to Christine and all the ladies of Dishing It and Digging It Link Party #171 for featuring this post!)
Rita C. at Panoply
Sharing: Amaze Me, DIDI,  BNOTP, Show & ShareInspire MeMake it PrettyThe Scoop, Dagmar's HomeCelebrate Your Story, SYS, SYCDelightsome Life H&GGrace at Home, Vintage CharmFoodie Friday & Everything Else