Devoted to exploring off the beaten path for beautiful waterfalls, wildflowers, and landscapes in West Virginia.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Spring Wildflowers of the New River Gorge: Stone Cliff Trail

As winter gives way to spring, wildflowers begin a mad dash to grow and reproduce. Sunlight drives this sudden spurt of flowers, for spring wildflowers must do all their lovely work while the forest is not yet fully leafed out. Spring wildflower plants must grow, blossom, set seed, and store energy for next spring while sunlight still hits the forest floor. The spring flowers cannot flourish on the forest floor if shaded by trees fully leafed out. Thus spring heralds a rush of wildflowers gracing the woodlands of West Virginia. 


First Blooms in Mid-March

Here in southern West Virginia, spring wildflowers first begin blooming in mid-March to early April near the bottom of the New River Gorge where it is the warmest. It’s no surprise then that the best place to spot spring wildflowers are on the trails that run along the bottom of the gorge. The National Park Service (NPS) maintains many such trails. In this blog I’d like to feature one of these trails and point out which spring wildflowers to look for. 

Stone Cliff Trail: A Wildflower Hot Spot

For the past four or five years, my wife Phyllis and I have found the NPS Stone Cliff Trail to be a spring wildflower hot spot. Here are directions to the trailhead as posted by the NPS: “From U.S. Route 19 north of Beckley, take the Glen Jean-Thurmond exit. Take an immediate left, and go 0.5 miles to Glen Jean. Take a right and follow the signs to Thurmond (WV Route 25). Continue for 6.0 miles to a three-way intersection. Bear right and go 1.5 miles on this road. Take a right on the gravel road, just before the bridge crossing over the New River. Continue past the boat launch to the parking area. The trail begins beside the picnic area.”

Earliest Wildflowers

Some of the earliest wildflowers grow on this trail. Bloodroot is an early spring wildflower that is common along this trail. Its brilliant white flower is always a welcome sight. After a mild winter, we spotted the first Bloodroot about the middle of March. It might blossom a week or two later after a seasonable winter. Another early spring wildflower prolific along this trail is sharp-lobed hepatica which blooms in late March and early April. Its lavender to deep purple petals really brighten up the forest floor. Trout lily are also common. They are easily identified by their curved, bright yellow flower petals and mottled green leaves. These also bloom from late March to early April. Most of the wildflowers are easiest to spot growing on the bank on the uphill side of the trail. Many also grow on top of the bank. 
Toad Trillium

Mid-April Bloomers

Later in mid-April, trilliums are found along this trail. Wake robin or purple trillium is common. Also present is the ever beautiful large-flowered trillium with its brilliant white petals arranged in a cluster of three. But the real attraction in the trillium family is the less common sessile trillium or toad trillium. Phyllis and I found toad trilliums on the Stone Cliff Trail back in 2013 and have kept watch on them every spring since then. Toad trillium differs from other trillium in that the flower head is stalkless, emerging directly from the three leaf whorl. Unlike other trilliums, the leaves are mottled green and dark green. Finally the flower petals do not open, but remain closed and standing upright. 
Spring Beauty

Many other species of spring wildflowers line the Stone Cliff Trail including spring beauty, long-spurred violet, rue anemone, star chickweed, windflower (wood anemone), golden ragwort, and Canada violet. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but suggests just how prolifically spring wildflowers grow on the Stone Cliff Trail.

Trout Lily

Monday, February 6, 2017

More Adventure from my book “Exploring the Wilds of West Virginia”: Wolf Creek Falls

Wolf Creek is well named. It’s wild, intimidating, and untamed. It charges down the slopes of the New River Gorge like a wild animal. Not surprisingly, Wolf Creek Falls are rough and rugged, too. Fortunately, you don’t have to hike far to find them because they’re just off a paved road. But as if lying in wait, they are quite hidden from the road, and undoubtedly thousands of visitors to the gorge drive right by them unaware of the awesome waterfall just a few feet from them.

Wolf Creek Falls

Hidden Treasure

To find this hidden treasure of the gorge, you’ll need to drive into the New River Gorge and back out again. Starting from the Canyon Rim Visitor Center at the north end of the New River Gorge Bridge turn right out of the parking lot and drive two-tenths of a mile. Make a very sharp right hand turn, and proceed downhill a tenth of a mile to a junction with the Fayette Station Road. 
View from Fayette Station Bridge

Fayette Station Road

Fayette Station Road is a one-way, paved road that switchbacks its way down the north side of the New River Gorge and up the south side. The road goes under the New River Gorge Bridge twice, crosses the New River on Fayette Station Bridge, and has numerous views of the gorge and the river. Four-wheel drive isn’t needed for this road, and it’s the best route by car to get a feel for the beauty and majesty of the New River Gorge. Stop before you cross Fayette Station Bridge and walk out on the bridge for great views of the New River Bridge and Gorge. As you ascend the south side of the gorge look for a trailhead in the middle of a very wide switchback. This is the trailhead parking for NPS Fayetteville Trail (#5) and Kaymoor Trail (#8) (GPS: Lat. 38.05950, Long. -81.08051).
Wolf Creek Falls

Wolf Creek Falls

Wolf Creek Falls is below the road and a little downstream from the trailhead parking. Walking downhill on the outside edge of the switchback, you’ll notice a few indistinct paths dropping down to the creek. These will lead to Wolf Creek Falls. Be forewarned, the descent is steep, rocky, and choked with rhododendron. Wolf Creek Falls has a picturesque drop, massive boulders at the bottom, and a lovely, emerald-green plunge pool. Wolf Creek Falls is truly a hidden treasure of the New River Gorge. But then, there are many other such jewels in the gorge. So if you have a taste for adventure and discovery, head for the New River Gorge.
Wolf Creek Falls

This and other waterfalls of the New River Gorge are highlighted in my new book, “Exploring the Wilds of West Virginia: A Hiker’s Guide to Beauty off the Beaten Path.” See a prior post about my book at NEW BOOK

New Book

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Wonder of White Oak Falls

“As I approached White Oak Falls on my second visit, a shaft of light was shifting across the face of the falls. I had to work fast to get this shot. I scampered up the rocks and into the basin below White Oak Falls, hurriedly set up my tripod in the stream bed, and, while trying to keep my wits, started shooting as quickly as possible. You just never know what you're going to find when you take a walk in the woods with your camera. The world changes day-by-day, minute-by-minute. How exciting!” from West Virginia Waterfalls: The New River Gorge by Ed Rehbein and Randall Sanger. Click HERE. 
White Oak Falls

The Great Mystic

White Oak Falls is the great mystic of southern West Virginia waterfalls. A beam of light seemingly sent from the heavens illuminates the falls adding a magical quality that few other waterfalls possess. What’s more it happens regularly—usually mid to late afternoon. Photographs of this blade of light crossing the face of White Oak Falls create a uniquely moody waterfall image.
White Oak Falls

Easy to Get There

White Oak Falls is both easy and difficult to get to. It’s easy in that it’s about a 1.75 mile hike from Brush Creek falls (described in an earlier post BRUSH CREEK FALLS). The trail is very gently graded and follows Brush Creek to its confluence with the Bluestone River. It then parallels the Bluestone River to its confluence with White Oak Creek. 
White Oak Falls

Difficult to Climb

It’s difficult in that the trail ends at the shores of the Bluestone where White Oak Creek meets the river. The lower falls of White Oak Creek begin right at the Bluestone, where White Oak Creek makes a couple of short drops and runs before flowing into the river. The upper falls, barely visible from the bottom, are sheltered by a large rock amphitheater protected on both sides by steep slopes.
White Oak Falls

Worth the Effort

Looking up at the falls, the right-hand side seems to be the easier path to the amphitheater. But there is a tight spot where you must hug a small round cliff to get upstream. It’s easier, but riskier. The left-hand side requires more climbing, mostly on very steep soil slopes, but I believe with a good pair of hiking boots, it’s the safer way. At any rate, it’s a difficult ascent but for the hale and hearty it’s worth the effort. 
White Oak Falls

For more about White Oak Falls see my new book “Exploring the Wilds of West Virginia: A Hiker’s Guide to Beauty off the Beaten Path.” Click here for a VIDEO and for more info or to purchase click HERE. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Exploring the Rock Pinnacle at Meadow River

Towering sandstone cliffs, a boulder-lined riverbed, and rolling whitewater rapids–sounds like the New River. But it isn’t. And there’s more. A rock walled grotto, a 30-foot sandstone pinnacle, a little stone chapel, and a couple of waterfalls. Where is this place? I’m referring to the Lower Meadow River. In some respects, it’s like the New River and then some. Indeed, if I had only one day to hike in Southern West Virginia, I’d head for the Meadow River. It offers so much and is so accessible. In my new book “Exploring the Wilds of West Virginia,” I point out a couple of hikes and points of interest along the Meadow River. Let me mention one of those in this blog—the sandstone pinnacle. 
Meadow River

How Do You Get There?

So how do you get to this wild river? It’s surprisingly easy. The best access is at the Kevin Ritchie Memorial Bridge, which crosses the Meadow River on U.S. Highway 19. While driving U.S. 19, I noticed from time to time a few cars parked off the berm just north of the bridge (GPS: Lat. 38.15305, Long. - 80.92434). I made a mental note to check it out some day. And my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. As it turns out, this is a great spot from which to explore the Meadow River both upstream and downstream. By the way, if you enjoy exploring areas that are off the beaten path, then be watchful for parking spots such as this one. They may lead you to some interesting places.

At any rate, hike down the dirt road that parallels U.S. 19. After passing a waterfall on your left, a few yards further down look for an obvious fork in the road. It’s next to a large rock outcrop with an overhanging ledge. The left fork is the best way to explore the Meadow River upstream. Take this road to its end at the Meadow River and turn left on a road that runs along the north side of the river. 
The First Buttress

Upper Meadow Walls

To explore the upstream cliffs called the “Upper Meadow Walls,” hike the road for about three quarters of a mile. Look for a faint path breaking off to the left toward the cliffs. If you come to a little camp by the river’s edge, you’ve gone too far. Backtrack about 80 paces to find the trail to the cliffs. 
The Pinnacle

The Pinnacle

The trail leads to the base of one of the tallest set of cliffs that I’ve seen in the New River Region. Called the First Buttress, it’s a vertical to slightly overhanging wall of sandstone some 120 to 140 feet high. The wall is orange and brown from weathering and will have you craning your neck to appreciate it. Continue to the right along the base of the cliffs to the Second Buttress, and remember there are surprises around every corner. In this case, you’ll be amazed by a column of sandstone some 30 to 40 feet high. Pinnacles or pillars of stone are fairly rare around here and are exciting to find. This one is mushroom shaped with a tree growing on top. The pinnacle guards the entrance to a deep V-shaped notch in the cliff wall. This secluded cove of stone, called the “Grotto” by rock climbers, has a couple of small caves, some overhanging roofs of stone, and a trickle of water down the back wall. 
The Pinnacle

There’s much more to explore at the Meadow River all of which is covered in my new book “Exploring the Wilds of West Virginia: A Hiker’s Guide to Beauty off the Beaten Path.” 

For more info or to order book online click HERE.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Fascinating Places Described in “Exploring the Wilds of West Virginia”

A New World Emerges at Summersville Lake 

When the Corps lowers the water to winter levels at Summersville Lake, fascinating landscapes emerge. Nestled in the woodlands of West Virginia, an island of dry, desiccated, desert-like scenes arise from the once water-covered land. 
Long Point

Beautiful Boulders

Perhaps the first thing you’ll notice are bold, beautiful, snow-white boulders of all shapes and sizes. The rocks are rough and angular and piled chaotically. It’s like a scene from another world. The rocks are brilliant white because they’re below the water level during the summer and being submerged for so much of the year, they aren’t stained by the oxidation and weathering of iron-bearing minerals. So the rocks are in their most pristine state. 
Long Point

Stunning Cliffs

These beautiful boulders have fallen from the gorgeous cliffs that circle Summersville Lake. Long Point stands out like a stone fortress. It’s a photographer’s delight presenting dramatic poses from several viewpoints. At Pirate’s Cove a waterfall pours over the cliffs, and at Whippoorwill trees precariously cling to the cliffs. 
Long Point

Phantom Forests

You’ll also notice tree stumps poking up between the boulders. The stumps were left when the Corps cleared the slopes of the lake in the early 1960's prior to filling it. Since all the soil has been winnowed away by the waters of the lake, the roots of the trees have been laid bare and resemble the arms of an octopus. The textures of the tree stumps are fascinating, too. The bark is gone, but the wood beneath is not rotten. Rather it’s dried, cracked, and desiccated and either chocolate brown or silver gray in color. A cluster of these old tree stumps looks like a phantom forest. 
Pirate's Cove

Three Handy Access Points

So how do you see these unusual sights? Three handy access points are described in “Exploring the Wilds of West Virginia.” One is Long Point, which is reached by a 1.75 mile trail that starts near the archery range at the lake. Second is near Pirate’s Cove. The trailhead is just north of the US 19 bridge crossing the lake. And the third is off Whippoorwill Road just south of the bridge. All three hikes are described in detail in the book.

As I mentioned, the terrain below the water level at the lake resembles a desert. The rocks are bare and craggy, and the vegetation is sparse. If you didn’t know better, you might think you were in Arizona or New Mexico. But for West Virginia, it truly is a new world.
Pirate's Cove
For more information about the book or to purchase click HERE

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Exploring the Wilds of West Virginia

New Book by Ed Rehbein

Exploring the Wilds of West Virginia: A Hiker's Guide to Beauty off the Beaten Path


For hikers who like adventure and the thrill of discovery, this book is for you. Based on twenty years of exploring West Virginia’s State Parks, National Parks, and Forest Service Lands, it’s a guide to hidden waterfalls, little-known river trails, and unique vistas in West Virginia. Originally published as magazine articles, the 21 chapters in this guidebook carefully explain how to find trailheads and navigate your way off trail, too. What’s more, GPS coordinates of key locations and trailheads are provided in the text and in a table at the end of the book. Everything is prepared for you to have a great time “Exploring the Wilds of West Virginia.”
Book Cover

About the Author

Ed Rehbein is an award-winning writer and photographer focused on sharing with others the beauty of nature in Appalachia. He has published one book and more than 60 magazine articles exploring the natural beauties of West Virginia. He coauthored a book of photography called West Virginia Waterfalls: The New River Gorge, which was recognized as a “Finalist” in the “Photography Nature” category by the International Books Awards, 2011. Three of his magazine articles appearing in Wonderful West Virginia have won national awards by the Association for Conservation Information. 

Video of places shown in book Wilds of WV

For more information or to purchase click HERE    

Monday, December 19, 2016

Six Waterfalls of the Midland Trail

“The Midland Trail is more than a road; it’s a virtual history book. Originally a crude pathway worn by buffalo and the early pioneers, it stretches from White Sulphur Springs westward to Kenova, zigzagging along rivers, over mountains and through lush valleys. Along the way it touches just about every aspect and time period of West Virginia’s story—coal mines and chemical plants, Civil War battlefields and historic churches, ancient Native American burial mounds and African-American slave quarters” (Highway to History, by James E. Casto).

To celebrate this historic road, I’ve chosen to highlight some of the waterfalls that line U.S. 60 from just east of Gauley Bridge to Charlton Heights. Some of these waterfalls, like Cathedral Falls, are well-known landmarks. But most are smaller and lesser known seasonal waterfalls that flow best in the winter and spring months during periods of rain and thaw. Although they don’t run all year long, when in season, these waterfalls are as pretty as any the State has to offer. So starting at Cathedral Falls and running west on U.S. 60 here are photographs of six waterfalls along the Midland Trail.

Cathedral Falls

Cathedral Falls

Cathedral Falls is located at a roadside stop a mile east of Gauley Bridge on US 60. This is one of the premier waterfalls of West Virginia. Lucia Hyde Robinson mentions in her Forward in West Virginia Waterfalls: The New River Gorge, a book of waterfall photography by Randall Sanger and me, that Cathedral Falls might have been named by her father, the renowned West Virginia photographer, Arnout Hyde, Jr. That would be fitting because more than any single individual, Arnout Hyde, Jr. popularized the natural beauty of West Virginia.
Hidden Falls

Hidden Falls

Lying on Laurel Branch, Hidden Falls is about a half a mile west of Cathedral Falls on U.S. 60. To be sure, this waterfall seems unimpressive, if visible at all, from the highway--thus the name Hidden Falls. But there are pull-offs on the river side of the highway for parking, and the hike up to the falls is short. Your hike will be rewarded by a waterfall with a single vertical drop of about 60 feet. Hidden Falls has the distinction of being the last waterfall in the New River Gorge. Just a half a mile downstream, the New River merges with the Gauley River to become the Kanawha River. In addition to being the last waterfall in the Gorge, it just might be the tallest, too. 
Riggs Branch Falls

Riggs Branch Falls

Another hidden, but very attractive waterfall lies on Riggs Branch just off of U.S. 60 about a half a mile west of the Glen Ferris Inn. There’s a large parking area on the river side of the road just before the highway crosses the railroad tracks. This is the safest place to park since the shoulders of U.S. 60 are quite narrow and the highway is close to the rail line at Riggs Branch. The falls at Riggs Branch are protected in a narrow cove in the sandstone cliffs near the road. 
The watershed for Riggs Branch is even smaller than that of Laurel Creek, so the best time to visit is definitely in late winter or early spring. Although not as tall as the waterfall at Laurel Branch, when the water is running well, Riggs Branch Falls are very photogenic. Half way down its vertical plunge, the waterfall strikes a hollowed out ledge in the sandstone cliff. Hitting this ledge, the water is thrust up and out before making the last vertical descent into the plunge pool. The effect is striking and dramatic making it a wonderful waterfall to photograph.
Seasonal Falls

Seasonal Waterfall

Just 2000 feet south of Riggs Branch Falls lies an attractive seasonal waterfall. Its watershed is small, so it’s best to catch it after a very heavy rainfall or several days of steady rain. Nevertheless, when the creek is full, the waterfall is quite pretty. It stair-steps over several sandstone ledges as it descends to the Kanawha River. It’s easy to find as a large pullout is right at the falls. 
Lower Wall Falls

Wall Falls

About a mile south of the previous waterfall on U.S. 60 and just before the town of Charlton lies a waterfall I’ve dubbed the “Wall Falls.” At the head of the waterfall is a wall about 20 feet high constructed of stone blocks. Although I’ve asked, no one yet has been able to tell me why the wall was built. It does form a retaining wall for the creek crossing of an old road that sits atop the wall and perhaps that’s its purpose. The watershed for this falls is quite small, so you have to also catch it in periods of heavy flow.  If you climb to the top of the wall, at Wall Falls, you’re treated with a second waterfall that descends in stair-step fashion over a substantial drop. So the Wall Falls are really two waterfalls in one. 
Upper Wall Falls
This brings our tour of the waterfalls of the Midland Trail to a close. These seasonal waterfalls along U.S 60 are at their very best in late winter and early spring. When winter seems to be its dreariest, I suggest you take a drive along the historic Midland Trail and visit these beautiful waterfalls