West Virginia

Drive along West Virginia Highway
Before departing Florida this summer, a friend had recommended we spend some time in West Virginia.  Even though we have driven up and down the east coast more times than I can remember through the years, we had never taken time to explore this part of the country.  Stopping at the Visitor’s Center at the north end of the state, we collected a variety of pamphlets and maps.  We were surprised to learn that this small state offers 51 state parks, forests and wildlife management areas. 

Blackwater Falls
Taking advantage of the park system, we spent our first few nights at Blackwater Falls State Park.  Waking our first morning to frost, we bundled up and headed out to the trailhead for the falls.  A short trail provides a multilevel observation area for the park’s namesake.  There are also 24 miles of trails ranging from easy to strenuous and, for winter visitors, there are cabins and a lodge open year round.

Green Bank Telescope (Photo from Wikipedia)
As we drove south we spotted the Green Bank Science Center/National Radio Astronomy Observatory.  Not taking time to stop, we didn’t realize what we had bypassed until after the fact.  The 485-foot telescope works 24/7 to receive (never send) signals from stars and galaxies by collecting the radio waves they send. Reminds me of the movie, Contact, with Jodi Foster, in which they are looking for communication from extraterrestrial life.  But if they’ve heard from any aliens, the information has not yet been shared.   The National Radio Quiet Zone was instituted to protect the signals coming to the telescope, and is responsible for a 13,000 square mile cell phone dead zone.

Waiting for our train's arrival.
Arriving next at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, we had just missed the last train ride of the day.  The park consists of the Depot, “Company Store” and 20 houses that were originally built for the management and supervisory employees of the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company. The loggers and mill workers camped in the surrounding mountains.  These former homes, built in the early 1900’s, are available as weekly rentals through the summer months.  Offering 1-hour trips to Whittaker for a train experience or a 4.5-5 hour trip to Bald Knob Overlook at 4,700 feet, we choose the trip to Bald Knob.  The crystalline blue skies provided us with an incredible view of the area.

Overview from Bald Knob
Since Cass Park does not offer camping, we stayed in a nearby private facility.  As we sat around our campfire, the evening after the train ride, we were startled by extended and loud bellows from a grizzly.  Housed on the grounds, in cages, were 5 grizzlies, a 750-pound tiger and foxes.  Luckily, we found out about the extra guests before sitting down to enjoy our campfire.  Otherwise, we would surely have  abandoned our fire and, maybe, our campsite. 

Taking a break on the Trail.
Staying near Cass, we were perfectly situated to hop on our bikes and take a ride on the 80-mile Greenbrier Bike Trail.  While choosing not to do the entire trail, we did spend the better part of a day cycling along the trail bordered, for most of its  length, by the Greenbrier River.  The wide, firmly packed limestone trail and 1% grade made for an easy ride.

Glade Creek Grist Mill
After setting up camp at Babcock State Park, we headed to the Glade Creek Grist Mill.  Built in 1976, this mill was constructed from the parts of several old mills and is a fully functioning mill when the river levels are high enough to turn the works.  Historically, over 500 gristmills lined the rivers of West Virginia, so this is a living reminder of that era.  Cornmeal ground at the mill is available for sale.  It’s probably one of the most photographed spots in the state.  On our 3 separate visits to the mill, there was always a cadre of photographers surrounding the area.

New River Gorge Bridge
While staying at Babcock, we drove to the nearby New River Gorge Bridge.  This engineering wonder, at 3300 feet, is the world’s 3rd longest steel single-span arch bridge.  The road runs 876 feet over the water of the New River.  We drove over, around and under the bridge, checking it out from all angles.  Prior to this bridge, it took 45 minutes to drive from one side of the Gorge to the other, now it takes 45 seconds.  We did not take advantage of the Bridge Walk.  If desired, you can participate in a walk under the bridge on a 2-foot catwalk, attached to a safety cable. With Alan’s fear of heights, we decided this would be an activity he might not enjoy, so we passed on the opportunity.

Along the Scenic Highway
As we left the state, we drove along the West Virginia Scenic Highway.  The vivid multi-colored quilt of maples, beech trees and poplar lining the road made this a memorable drive.  We'll be back.  

Heading home now and signing off until our next adventure.

New River Gorge
Glade Creek Grist Mill
Train ride through the mountains
Deer at Bald Knob
Reflection of the Grist Mill
Fall trees at Whittaker train stop

Greenbrier River
Cass Company Store

Cass Depot
View of New River Bridge from the River

Summersville Lake WMA

Reflection in Glade Creek

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