West Virginia 2020

Since 2020 is, for the most part, a nightmare and things like peace, common sense, reason and, most importantly,  travel may never be seen again, we’ve been forced to shake things up at my house.  This year there can be no New York City, no cruise ship sunrises, no snorkeling, no Caribbean and no true vacations.  Instead, so far we’ve spent a couple of nice afternoons in Morgantown, gone swimming and hiking at Audra and, just this weekend, spent a weekend in the mountains that make this state special.  

In a rare stroke of luck, or more accurately, as a result of our extremely low population density, West Virginia hasn’t been too bad off throughout the 2020 nightmare.  While we’ll certainly not get a real vacation here, there are definitely some spots worth spending a night or two and some sights worth seeing.  I’ll try to write this up as a normal trip, but since its after the fact and I’m at home, it might be a little lacking in detail.  

We went to Main Street Bridgeport Friday morning and drove east.   Colton slept nearly all the way to Cool Springs.  Now Cool Springs is a place probably everyone around here, Steph included, remembers from childhood.  As a kid in the 70’s Cool Springs was great.   I was there at least a few times with my grandparents and I’m sure I got candy and some sort of simple wooden toy every time.  The store seemed to have it all in this kids eyes in the 70’s.   There were always cool old things to look at scattered about the property too.  In 2020, however, despite the buildup of childhood memories, the Cool Springs we found was a little sad. I think the leftover toys are still there as are a lot of the little touristy trinkets.  Much of what was there was covered in a thick  layer of dust, even the little plastic coin purses that, I’m sure, haven’t been a thing since 1982.  Thats the way childhood memories are a lot of times and really a good reason not to try too hard to revisit them in real life. Things seen through the tired and disillusioned eyes of a 50yr old  rarely match what the mind remembers.   

The next thing we saw came a lot closer though.   East of Aurora as US 50 heads toward Maryland; my memory is from the backseat of papaw’s 1969 Oldsmobile Cutlass sitting next to my aunt Dorothy as we drove past the smallest church in the US.   I’m almost sure she had a great joke about it but of course I couldn’t tell you what it was.  Anyway, its still there on well kept grounds and looked quite cute on that beautiful Friday morning.  We stopped for a photo and now I have picture of Steph at a place I thought may have only existed only in my mind.  

Not far from there we entered the Monongahela National Forest, from which we didn’t emerge until late morning Sunday.  Into Tucker County and the little town of Thomas we went.  It was pleasant to see some signs of respect and decency there, those being Pride flags, Black Lives Matter posters, and store patrons in masks.  These were much needed to get past the fact that we had driven past trump signs in at least a dozen yards.   I got a mocha latte at cute little coffee shop, Steph went in the Christmas Store that Mom says has been there a long time and then we were back on the road for the short drive to Davis where we intended to get lunch.  I heard Hellbender Burritos was to be good, but it was closed and I had experienced Siriannis Pizza a couple times in that dark past life, but they were operating take out only.  Did I mention this 2020 nightmare thing?  

Steph had read good things about the Smokehouse inside the lodge at Blackwater Falls State Park so thats where we went.  There the food was good but the best part was sitting outside with a nice view of the surprisingly vast Blackwater Canyon.   After lunch we tackled the steps down to the bottom of the canyon for the close up view of the falls.  This is another place I have childhood memories of but haven’t seen in many many years.  Its beautiful for sure, but nothing close to what was coming.  

We stopped back in Davis for ice cream because Colton had inexplicably turned into an ice cream junkie before the trip.  This was the first place I realized that just because we’re in West Virginia, doesn’t mean we’re off the hook as far as avoiding the virus.  The ice cream shop is apparently very popular because there were probably a couple dozen people in line.  Davis and Thomas are also the gateway to the most tourist heavy parts of the state so most people there were from other states.  

Back on the road we traveled the much maligned Corridor H (US 48) to Grant County just above Petersburg.  A nice 4 lane highway but constructed far too north to be of much use to me when I can travel I-68.   It rained heavy the whole way and not long after starting toward Petersburg the DOH guy stopped us and sent us on a detour due to “multiple car accidents.”  We did several miles on two minor county roads  seeing way too much traffic due to the detours.  Eventually we found Petersburg and Weaver’s Market which was kind of neat, but kind of creepy at the same time.  From what I could tell its run by local Mennonites.  The stuff was cheap, I’ll give them that, but much of it was expired or expiring soon.  We still managed to pick up several things.  

A quick stop at Shop n Save for a few last minute things and then over to Smokehole Caverns Gift Shop.  This place was packed with people because it was a beautiful place.  Great touristy clothes, great high end West Virginia merch,  neat looking food, and what is apparently now the norm in that part of the state, a full rack of trump garbage.  It was more than a little disappointing.  An incredibly beautiful place in an incredibly beautiful part of the state that has it at its fingertips to be a jewel, instead they evoke eye rolling from out of staters and dismay from the decent folks out there.  After that, Colton and I retired to nice rocking chairs on the porch and waited for Steph.

Next stop was the North Fork Mountain Inn.  To say this was in the middle of nowhere is an understatement.  The drive from the main road was between 15 and 20 minutes up a secondary county route.  I knew it was to be a little ways and knew not to expect to go in and out more than once a day, but driving 15 solid minutes having passed one house was kind of odd for us.  At the inn, there is one main building with probably 6 -8 nice rooms and then there is a separate cabin with two identical suites.  We were in the separate cabin with a loft for Colton and a separate bedroom for us.  The rest was a living room with DirecTV, a microwave and a fridge.  The main building had a pool table in the basement and a good selection of movies to watch.  They served a nice breakfast every morning for free and you could get dinner but it was $.  All in all a nice place.  Not anywhere near our routine obviously but considering our routine won’t be within our grasp for who knows how long, it would make for a nice weekend.  Friday night was spent settling in and exploring what there was to explore.  

Saturday morning breakfast was good and we hit the road somewhat early for Seneca Rocks.  My first sighting of the majestic rocks was in 1999 when Steph and I and a couple friends rented a van to drive across the mountains to Newport News Virginia to meet another couple friends for our first and only one night cruise.  I remember driving by Yokums and parking in the same parking lot we did Saturday to make the visitors center a rest stop.  Walking the nice level trail from the parking  lot found us looking 800ft above wondering how we were going to make it there in a distance of less than 2 miles.   Turns out to be possible.  A series of switchbacks and fairly steep paths eventually gets you there.  Its definitely a workout for the heart.  The observation deck is nice and offers some impressive views.  Not far beyond there a sign is posted telling you that you are on your own beyond that point and that 15 people have died falling from the rocks.  Of Course Colton and I pushed it a little further and I have no doubt he would have continued even further had it not been for my growing hesitancy and request that he not go out of my sight.  As it was, he got a couple great photos from up there and I got a good one of him perched on the rocks above me.  Needless to say, the walk back downhill was easier.  Well, on the heart anyway.  I think coming down is harder on the knees.  Back to the car eventually and back over to Yokums for ice cream and a bathroom stop.  

Then we headed south to Seneca Caverns to Asbury’s for lunch.  The food was pretty good and we ate on the porch with a nice view.  I guess that goes without saying.  In that part of the state, if you’re outside, there is a nice view.   We opted not to do the caverns here or at Smoke Hole.  The whole purpose for this destination was to attempt to keep our distance from other people, so being in a cave with a tour group composed largely of out of state people didn’t sound wise.  In fact that Smoke Hole gift shop I mentioned earlier was crowded enough to cause concern. 

From there we drove  a little further south to Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia.  I’ve heard about it forever and but never found myself in the area to check it out.  I remember passing by in the van on the way to that cruise back in the late 90’s and regretting not having time to do it.  But we were young and bound for a cruise so driving an hour out of the the way to a mountain top didn’t fit the schedule.  Anyway, the seemingly endless drive up the mountain notwithstanding, the place was fantastic.  Words simply don’t do it justice.   In fact part of my hesitancy in writing this up was because I didn’t think my vocabulary can capture the magnificence of Spruce Knob and Dolly Sods.   

It rained the whole time we were walking around on Spruce Knob.  After the climb we had just experienced at Seneca Rocks, Colton and I thought it was pretty nice being at the top of the state where going up was literally not an option.  The rain didn’t affect us at all if you can imagine.  And consider that Steph was there.  Prior to this weekend, rumor had it that she would melt in the rain.  It didn’t happen though.  Instead she stood along side Colton and I in awe of where we were.  

It was late afternoon/early evening when we left there and even after a final stop at Yokums for the day we were still debating going to Dolly Sods.  While I had seen some photos, I still didn’t understand it.  I didn’t get why people considered it the most spectacular scenery in the state. I didn’t get why my cousin Mike Deem requested his ashes be  put there for eternity.  Well, after seeing it, I get it.  Unbelievable.  Was it the time of day, not terribly far from dusk?  Was it the post- rain semi-cloudy  multi-colored sky?  Maybe those were factors, but I have a feeling that every single hour of daylight holds in it something to make you grab a seat on the rocks and simply take it all in.   Much to my delight, when it was time to make our way off this mountain, Colton took charge and told us the way to go.  Our climb up had been very, very long and boring for him and considering we miraculously had signal on top of these peaks,  he eagerly found an alternate, yet steeper and quicker route down.  

We arrived back at the cabin quite tired from a busy day, which was precisely the plan all along.  I’m sure in some peoples’ perspective we didn’t do justice to these places having seen arguably the three best sights in West Virginia in one long day.  But we spent exactly as much time as we wanted, and in our typically efficient manner, we checked some boxes that had needed checked for a long time.  Mom has been after me to see these sights for years and its a shame it took the end of life as we knew it to make it happen.