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

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

West Virginia Landscapes: 2018 Scenic Calendar

Enjoy the beauty of West Virginia year-round with a 2018 Calendar of scenic West Virginia landscape photography. Professionally printed on 80 lb. glossy paper with saddle-stitched binding. Size 8.5x11”. 
Makes a great gift. $13.95 free shipping.  
For more info or to order go to this link 2018 WV SCENIC CALENDAR.

Germany Valley in autumn heads the Cover of the calendar

 

Here's January's scene of the New River Gorge.

January

February comes from Raleigh County: Blue Hole Falls

February

Beautiful Marr Branch near Fayetteville, WV is featured in March



Snowshoe Mountain is highlighted in April



Dolly Sods in Pink Azalea heads up May



June features a vista from the Highland Scenic Highway


The Cranberry River tops the month of July


Sandstone Falls is featured in August


Williams River Overlook from the Highland Scenic Highway tops September


Babcock State Park is featured in October

Colorful ferns from Canaan Valley grace November

A snowy Pipestem Falls tops December

For more info or to order go to this link 2018 SCENIC CALENDAR.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Nuttallburg: A Trip Back in Time

At Nuttallburg, deep in the New River Gorge, the National Park Service (NPS) has turned back the clock for you. Through federal grants, the NPS has restored the coal mine and town site of Nuttallburg and opened it for the public in 2011. The coal mine was first established by English entrepreneur John Nuttall in 1870 and became the second town in the New River Gorge to ship smokeless coal. Nuttallburg was a bustling mining community by the turn of the century, continuing to thrive under the direction of his heirs after Nuttall's death in 1897. In 1920 Nuttallburg gained national attention when the automobile industrialist Henry Ford took over the mines. He pioneered new engineering and management systems including a conveyor system called “button and rope.” Nevertheless, Ford’s innovations failed to thrive at Nuttallburg, and he sold his interests eight years later in 1928. 
Nuttallburg Tipple

Mining Site Restored

After passing through three different owners, the mine was finally closed in 1958. Mine structures began to decay, buildings collapsed leaving only their stone foundations behind, and a forest of trees and vines progressively concealed the disappearing town. However, due to the vision of NPS historical architect Richard Seegars, the NPS began a three phase program to restore the site. Phase I began in 2005 with the stabilization of the tipple. Phase II was directed toward refurbishing the conveyor and headhouse. Financed by funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the project was finished under Phase III which involved vegetation removal, the felling of more than 1200 trees, final structure stabilization, trail building, fencing and interpretative signs, and road renovations. Now, according to author Eve West, “Nuttallburg is considered one of West Virginia’s finest examples of an early-twentieth century coal-mining community and one of the best coal-related industrial sites.”
Nuttallburg Conveyor
To get to Nuttallburg from the Canyon Rim Visitor Center, drive north on US 19 0.3 miles to the next intersection and turn right onto Lansing-Edmond Road (County Route 5/82). Follow Lansing-Edmond Road (becomes CR 82) 6.0 miles to Winona. Turn right onto Keeneys Creek Road (CR 85/2), continue past the houses (do not cross the creek) as the road turns to gravel. Travel 4.1 miles to the main Nuttallburg parking area and restroom. Parking for disabled visitors is located an additional 0.1 miles beyond the main parking area. Due to the narrow, curvy access road, large RV’s are not recommended.
Beehive Coke Oven

The Tipple Trail

There are seven trails at Nuttallburg that rank from very easy to very difficult. The Tipple Trail ranks first in interest in my estimation. It’s an easy 0.6 mile trip. From the parking lot, you’ll pass the tipple and get good views of the imposing conveyor structure. It’s an impressive sight and quite an engineering feat as well. After passing the conveyor, the trail splits and encircles a long bay of beehive coke ovens. The lower split of the trail passes by the openings of the coke ovens. At the end of the coke ovens the trail circles around the foundation of the Company Store and returns to the tipple. 
Seldom Seen

Seldom Seen

At the Company Store a new trail takes off toward a place with an intriguing name, “Seldom Seen.” Seldom Seen served as a small residential community for some families of those employed at Nuttallburg. All that remains of the town now are a few foundation stones. It’s an easy 0.6 mile round trip.

Town Loop Trail

When back at the tipple, I recommend you take the Town Loop Trail (0.5 miles). As the name suggests, this trail loops through the old town and by several foundations. Because the town facilities were segregated, you’ll see the foundations of the white church and white schoolhouse as well as the remnants of a small home. 
Company Store

Keeny’s Creek Trail

For those who are looking for a longer hike, I suggest taking the Keeney’s Creek Trail (3.3 miles). This is a rail trail with a gentle 4% grade. This trail crosses under the conveyor and over several trestle bridges that offer spectacular views of the rugged cascades of Short Creek. Trail connections can be made from this trail to the Conveyor Trail and Town Loop Connector Trail.
Short Creek
Wherever you choose to explore Nuttallburg, you’ll find excellent interpretative signs complete with historic photos and informative explanations. Nuttallburg is a great place for history buffs and day hikers alike. For more information on the trails visit NPS Nuttallburg Trails.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Wildflowers on the Greenbrier River Trail: Part Two

The Greenbrier River Trail (GRT) is undoubtedly one of the best hiking and biking venues in West Virginia. But a closer look at the GRT reveals that there’s much more to being a traveler along this long and winding road through our State. For my wife, Phyllis, and me the main attraction is wildflowers. From the first bloodroot of spring to that last blossom of fall, we search the state for wildflowers and their hang-outs. The New River Gorge is a haven for spring wildflowers, but by summer we turn our attention elsewhere to maintain the hunt. Last July, on a tip by our friend Drema Morgan, a WV South writer and photographer, we headed out to the GRT. She reported seeing a Turk’s cap lily on the southern end of the trail. That was enough to send Phyllis and me out the door and down the road. After downloading a trail map, we decided to start at the North Caldwell trailhead at milepost 3. From Beckley it was an easy drive on I-64 East to Exit 169 at Lewisburg. From there we drove north on US 219 for ½ mile, turned east (right) onto Brush Road (Rt. 30), then, after ½ mile, continued onto Stone House Road (Rt. 38) for another three miles to the trailhead.
Deptford Pink

Wildflowers Aplenty

We had barely filled our backpacks with lunch, wildflower identification books, and photographic gear and taken a few steps out of the parking lot before some interesting flowers stopped us. The wildflowers, new to us, were everlasting peas of pink, white, and purple hues. The group of shocking pink blossoms stood out like stop signs inviting a look-see. Off to a promising start, we already felt good about summer wildflower hunting on the GRT. We weren’t disappointed. The wildflowers along the GRT were many and varied. Deptford pinks, delicate flower blossoms no bigger than the tip of your little finger, were sprinkled here and there along the trail. We also found other tiny beauties such as thimbleweed and a patch of wild lettuce. Continuing on our trek, early goldenrod caught our eyes as did some fresh joe-pye weed. A couple of my favorites, tall coreopsis and early goldenrod, glowed brightly in the sun, showing off their rich golden hues. Bouncing bet, St. Johnswort, and garden phlox lined the trail, too. 
Basil Balm

One and a Half Miles and 21 Wildflowers 

Besides enjoying some of our favorite wildflowers, blooms we had not identified before popped up to challenge us. We spent a good bit of time with wildflower identification books in hand hunched over a flamboyant dark purple and white flower. While Phyllis thumbed through the pages, I rolled on the ground trying to photograph this mystery plant. After mulling it over, we thought it fit the description of showy skullcap. Heads bobbing side-to-side scanning for more flowers, we continued walking slowly upriver. Being a rail trail the grade was slight—barely noticeable. The fine limestone gravel surface made the hiking easy, too. The only holdup to hiking were the wildflowers, many new to us, which we stopped to identify. After hiking only 1 ½ miles on the GRT, we had already listed 21 wildflowers. Our hike on the GRT was fast becoming a stroll through a long and narrow wildflower garden. But we were still looking for the prize, wildflower number 22, the Turk’s cap lily that Drema said she had spotted on the trail. 
Showy Skullcap

The Prize Arrives

We found the prize right where Drema said it would be—at the tent campsite at mile marker 4.7. The promised Turk’s cap lilies glowed in the sun like orange-gold light bulbs. Even if wildflowers don’t interest you much, the shear brilliance of Turk’s cap lilies is bound to delight. The lilies capped off a pleasant wildflower jaunt on the GRT. We doubled back at this point and enjoyed a second look at the wildflower display along the trail. As just amateur wildflower enthusiasts, we counted 22 wildflowers along the 1.7 miles of the trail that we traversed. It was easy hiking and pleasant hunting. I can only imagine what the remainder of the 80 trail miles holds in the way of wildflower wonders.
Turk's Cap Lily

References, Resources, Activities & Suggestions

Researching an 80 mile long State Park might seem a bit daunting. But there are a host of references and resources to guide you. The single best source to plan a venture on the GRT is the “Greenbrier River Trail” brochure published by the West Virginia State Parks system. In addition, here’s a listing of some informative GRT websites: The West Virginia State Park system Website. The Pocahontas County Convention and Visitor Bureau maintains a very useful site at Website; and a new website, maintained by the Greenbrier River Trail Association, is online at Website. These websites post maps, and contain listings of trail resources such as nearby grocery stores, lodging, outfitters for bike and canoe rentals, shuttles, and guided fishing trips. Also check the “Pocahontas Nature Club” Facebook Page for activities such as their annual Wild Edibles Festival. While on Facebook, check out “The Friends of the Greenbrier River Trail,” too, and learn more about the annual Great Greenbrier River Race, which includes a 3-mile Run,  a 4-mile Paddle, and a 10-mile Pedal. (Facebook Page). 
Tall Coreopsis
Last, but not least here are two things to bear in mind: 1) Poison Ivy grows along the trail, too, so keep a close eye out for it, and 2) Please don’t pick the flowers. Well that’s the long and the skinny of the Greenbrier River Trail. There’s plenty of fine outdoor fun for everyone. So enjoy! 

Greenbrier River Trail: Part One

Can you imagine a West Virginia State Park about 80 miles long and only 100 feet wide? If so, then you have pictured the Greenbrier River Trail State Park, which has the distinction of being both the longest and the skinniest State Park in West Virginia. It is long and skinny because it is a former railroad bed that has been converted into a trail. Previously part of the Greenbrier Division of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O), trains carried freight and passengers along the banks of the Greenbrier River in Pocahontas and Greenbrier Counties for nearly 80 years. But when the line became unprofitable in the 1970s, C&O eventually donated the corridor to the state in 1978. By 1980 the old railroad bed had been authorized by the State Legislature for public use as a rail trail according to Jody Spencer, Park Superintendent. Gail Hyer of the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau noted that the trail suffered damage in the flood of 1985 that wasn’t fully repaired until 1994. More damage occurred in the flood of 1996 that took three years of restoration. The flood of June 2016 also damaged the trail. Repairs are now underway, and the trail is gradually being restored.
Pocahontas Conv. Bureau
Nationally Recognized
Despite the setbacks, the Greenbrier River Trail (GRT) has not only survived; it has thrived. Today the GRT is one of West Virginia’s most successful and popular rail-to-trail conversions. Backpacker Magazine ranked the GRT as one of the top ten hiking trails in the United States. Moreover in October 1999, the GRT became one of 50 of the Nation’s Millennium Legacy Trails. Selected from nominations by the governors of the United States and its Territories, these trails reflect the essence and spirit of our nation.
Pocahontas Conv. Bureau
A Recreation Gateway
Running 80 miles down the spine of the Allegheny Highlands of West Virginia, the GRT sports unique recreational opportunities in the State. The trail traverses 30 bridges and two tunnels and is a gateway to some of West Virginia’s most refreshing scenery. The trail passes through the Monongahela National Forest; Cass, Watoga, and Droop Mountain State Parks; and Greenbrier and Seneca State Forests.  With 19 trailheads scattered along its length, the trail can be broken into dozens of short hikes, either round trip or one way. There are a few primitive campsites along the trail, for those who want to take a few days and traverse the entire length. Sources of drinking water and toilets are scattered along the route, as are grocery stops. Lodging at State Parks, local motels, privately-owned cottages, and bed and breakfasts is also available along the trail. It is little wonder that the trail is busy with bikers, hikers and horseback riders. As GRT follows the banks of the Greenbrier River through rural Greenbrier and Pocahontas Counties, the river meanders in a wide, shallow, gravel-lined bed that comforts the eye and in summer, invites fishing, wading, canoeing and paddle-boarding. The trail surface is primarily ¼” crushed limestone and electric-powered chairs and scooters are permitted for disabled use only.
Photo by Drema Morgan
But Wait, There’s More!
The GRT is undoubtedly one of the best hiking and biking venues in West Virginia. But a closer look at the GRT reveals that there’s much more to being a traveler along this long and winding road through our State. For my wife, Phyllis, and me the main attraction is wildflowers. From the first bloodroot of spring to that last blossom of fall, we search the state for wildflowers and their hang-outs. The New River Gorge is a haven for spring wildflowers, but by summer we turn our attention elsewhere to maintain the hunt. Last July, on a tip by our friend Drema Morgan, a WV South writer and photographer, we headed out to the GRT. She reported seeing a Turk’s cap lily on the southern end of the trail. That was enough to send Phyllis and me out the door and down the road. After downloading a trail map, we decided to start at the North Caldwell trailhead at milepost 3. From Beckley it was an easy drive on I-64 East to Exit 169 at Lewisburg. From there we drove north on US 219 for ½ mile, turned east onto Brush Road (Rt. 30), then, after ½ mile, continued onto Stone House Road (Rt. 38) for another three miles to the trailhead.
Turk's Cap Lilies


My next blog will have more about wildflowers on the GRT. Click here.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Exploring the North Fork of the Blackwater River: Kennedy Falls

Though the falls of Douglas are striking and dramatic, there are many more falls on the North Fork as it makes its descent into the Blackwater Canyon. Indeed, an intriguing entry in Philip Pendleton Kennedy’s Blackwater Chronicle led me to look for one of them. In Kennedy’s description of his scramble down the North Fork below Douglas Falls, he wrote: “This level of the stream, however . . .  leads you to a second large fall, a clear pitch again of some forty feet.” When I read that, my eyes widened. A second large fall as high as Douglas? I had neither read of these falls in any modern travel guides nor seen photographs of them. Was Kennedy exaggerating–merely caught up in the thrall of the cascades? 
Kennedy Falls


Following in the Footsteps

I had to find out, and the only way to do so was to follow in his footsteps. With the help of some kayakers who ran the North Fork, I found the falls. I’ll call them Kennedy Falls after Philip Pendleton Kennedy, the man who first wrote of them.


Finding Kennedy Falls

To find Kennedy Falls (Lat 39.1202, Long -79.5205) continue down the railroad grade along the North Fork. Scrambling along the stream bed is difficult at best and somewhat dangerous. If you read Kennedy’s account, you’ll know what I mean. It’s much better to parallel the stream along the road and then descend straight into the canyon at the point of the falls. Hiking about a quarter of mile below Douglas Falls should put you at the point of descent into the canyon. If you come to a rock cairn composed of sandstone cobbles, you’ve gone too far. The falls are indeed directly downslope from the cairn, but there’s an easier way down the side of the canyon. Backtrack about 86 paces or 215 feet to find the best point of entry into the woods.
Kennedy Falls

Descend into the canyon at this point and head straight down the slope. But use caution. The slope is very steep. When you reach the bottom of the canyon, you should be near the falls. Bear right and downstream a little to reach the head of the falls. You can scramble around the falls on the right to see them from below. The falls are about 30 feet high and lovely indeed. A rocky gravel bar in the middle of the stream provides a great frontal view. The levels above the falls beg for attention, too. The rocks are red like those at Douglas Falls and finely sculpted by the river. 
Kennedy Falls


Standing in the Foot Prints

Aside from some intrepid kayakers, I don’t believe many people have seen these falls. When viewing them, you could be standing right in the foot prints of Kennedy and his fellow explorers. As you turn back for cabin or camp or cottage having walked in the footsteps of these frontiersmen, perhaps you’ll feel as Kennedy did when he finished his first day exploring the North Fork:
Kennedy Falls

Kennedy’s Parting Words

“The sun broke out, and we proceeded on our way up the steep ascent–rainbow over-arching the waterfalls, and the spray everywhere golden with sunbeams. At length, reaching the top of the grand chasm, and standing again on the brink of the impending rocks where we first hailed so rapturously, the leap-down of the river–we took a last look of the wild scene and went on our way to the camp.”


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Exploring the North Fork of the Blackwater River: Douglas Falls

“Perhaps in all this broad land of ours, whose wonders are not yet half revealed, no scene more beautifully grand ever broke on the eye of poet or painter, historian or forester. The Blackwater here evidently breaks its way sheer down through one of the ribs of the backbone of the Alleganies. The chasm through which the river forces itself thus headlong tumultuous down, is just wide enough to contain the actual breadth of the stream. On either side, the mountains rise up, almost a perpendicular ascent, to the height of some six hundred feet. They are covered down their sides, to the very edge of the river, with the noblest of firs and hemlocks . . .”
Douglas Falls

The Blackwater Chronicle

Philip Pendleton Kennedy penned those words in 1852 in a colorful account called The Blackwater Chronicle: A Narrative of and Expedition into the Land of Canaan. And who could blame him for waxing poetic. He was leading a party of fellow adventurers into a raw and relatively unexplored region of West Virginia–Canaan Valley and the upper watershed of the Blackwater River. The explorers were lured by the keeper of the Tower’s Inn in Gormania who boasted: “Gentlemen, if you can only reach the fall of the Blackwater, you can take more trout in an hour than you ever took before in all your lives.” That did not prove to be an exaggeration. Kennedy and his company caught native trout, which had never before seen a baited hook, by the hundreds. 
Douglas Falls


Douglas Falls

The wilds of Canaan, however, did not easily yield their treasures. These men sloshed through dank swamps and slashed through dense laurel thickets. The going was tough, but the rewards were grand. Kennedy’s party had crossed Backbone Mountain and were descending the North Fork of the Blackwater River when they came upon an inspiring scene. Kennedy breathlessly described it this way: 

“Turning a rocky promontory that jutted the mountain side, the Blackwater, some hundred yards ahead, seemed to have disappeared entirely from the face of the earth, leaving nothing visible down the chasm through which it vanished, but the tops of fir-trees and hemlocks . . . The expedition stepped out upon the furthest verge and very pinnacle of the foaming battlements, and gazed upon the sight so wondrous and so wild, thus presented to their astonished eyes.” 
Douglas Falls

They were approaching the brink of what is now called Douglas Falls–the point at which the North Fork of the Blackwater River begins its precipitous descent into the Main Fork. Further discoveries lay ahead as chronicled by Kennedy in his book. 

Exploring the North Fork

But is there any adventure left for us in the Land of Canaan some 150 years later? Can we follow in the footsteps of these explorers and experience the wonder they felt? The answer is, “Yes!” If you’re lodging at Blackwater Falls State Park or in surrounding areas and are willing to stay a few more days, then I suggest you spend some time exploring the North Fork of the Blackwater River. It’s only 4 miles from the state park. If you do, you’ll get a taste of adventure and discover for yourself some scenic gems that few people have seen since Kennedy and his men forged the way in 1852. 
Douglas Falls


How to Get to Douglas Falls

An excursion on the North Fork should start at Douglas Falls (Lat 39.12403, Long -79.51965). Beginning from the entrance to Blackwater Falls State Park at State Route 32, drive about two miles north on Route 32 until you come to the Douglas-Coketon Road on your left. After leaving Route 32, drive about a mile to a bridge crossing the North Fork.  Immediately after the bridge look for a gravel road to the left, which is an abandoned railroad grade that runs along the length of the North and Main Forks of the Blackwater River all the way from Thomas to Hendricks. It’s a great bike path. Up to Douglas Falls, it’s also passable by vehicle. But I wouldn’t try it with my sedan. It has some deep potholes that require a vehicle with high clearance.  
Beehive Coke Ovens


Beehive Coke Ovens

Since Douglas Falls are just a mile down the road and the way is fairly level, you can hike, bike, or drive it pretty easily. On the way keep your eye out for some abandoned coke ovens on your left. One look at the structures and you’ll know why they were called “beehive” coke ovens. The way is strewn with wildflowers, too, and occasional glimpses of the North Fork of the Blackwater. Although this is a fairly flat stretch, the river does make a couple of short leaps and runs over sandstone ledges.
North Fork of the Blackwater R.


When you reach a Forest Service gate across the road, the falls will be immediately to your left. Take the path that leads down to the falls and explore them. The falls drop some 40 feet into an emerald plunge pool surrounded by huge prisms of rusty-red sandstone. The rocks are tinted red by iron-bearing minerals leached from acid mine drainage upstream. The coal mines have since been reclaimed, but the boulders are colorful reminders of the past pollution. Douglas Falls are not as high or as wide as the Great Falls of the Main Fork of the Blackwater, but they are picturesque and beautiful nonetheless. In fact I find them stunning.
Douglas Falls



Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Five Viewpoints for Photographing the Babcock Grist Mill

The Glade Creek Grist Mill at Babcock State Park is one of the most photographed sights in West Virginia drawing more than 200,000 people every year. You’ll find pictures of the mill at Babcock on calendars, postcards, magazines, and travel brochures. Most of the visitors to Babcock have a camera in their hands wanting to take home their own photos of this West Virginia icon. In photographing the Babcock Mill and the Glade Creek Falls for the last 15 years, I’ve learned that many points of view (pov) can be found to capture the falls and the mill, but generally most people settle for two traditional views.


View from the Rocks at the End of Stairs

For their first shot of the falls and the mill, most people traditionally take the stairs behind the lodge down to the pond and shoot from the rocks at the end of the stairs. From this pov both the falls and mill are close and produce good composition.


View from Sewell Road Opposite the Dam

Another traditional point of view is to walk down Sewell Road along Glade Creak on the opposite side of the parking lot and shoot back toward the mill and falls from the road. Good compositions along the road are possible until reaching the end of the pond and the small dam that forms it. From this pov, the falls and the mill adopt an eye pleasing alignment. With a little zoom added, the photo below shows the scene on the road directly above the dam.


View from the Dam below Sewell Road

Shots from these two traditional povs nearly always produce good results giving the falls and mill a serene look. However, I have experimented with three other povs that interject a different, perhaps more dynamic mood. For instance, to capitalize on reflections from the old swimming pool, I prefer to take a few shots at pool level. To get down to pool level, I take a short trail that begins at Sewell Road right above the dam and leads down to the dam abutment below the road. Safe set-ups can be made on the end of the dam or just behind it. The resulting pov offers better reflections of the pool and interesting views of the stone retaining wall below Sewell Road. The example photograph shows the scene from this location. 



View from the Lip of the Falls of Glade Creek

After shooting from pool level, I usually climb back up to Sewell Road and walk about half-way up it. Right at the rim of the falls, there’s a short trail from the road leading down to the lip of the falls. It’s not a precarious position and offers a pov that profiles the falls. The grist mill is partially obscured, but I don’t think this takes away anything  from a photo taken here. Below is an example of the scene from this pov.


View from the Large Rock in Glade Creek

The last set-up I’d like to mention is taken from atop the large rock that sits in the middle of Glade Creek and appears in the upper right of the photo above. In my opinion setting-up on this rock yields a good pov because stream action in Glade Creek and the mill are highlighted. Images from this pov are dynamic and attention grabbing. 


The mill and falls at Babcock State Park look good from just about any pov. These five spots are just suggestions.  There are many other fine locations such as on the grass on the parking lot side of the Glade Creek and down at creek level on this side. Furthermore, when Catawba Rhododendrons are blooming, povs including them are going to make good photographs, too. So relax and enjoy photographing Babcock. The Park will almost certainly reward your efforts. 

For more about the mill at Babcock see this blog entry Five Facts about the Mill at Babcock.