Stream flowing into Elakala Falls


Blackwater Falls State Park, March 2011

Last updated March 19, 2011



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Day One | Day Two | Day Three

Winters in the mid-Atlantic area can be hard to predict. Especially when planning an event far in advance. Some years, we could be digging ourselves out in February. Other years, I might be out kayaking. The original plan was to rent a cabin and go cross country skiing in the mountains of West Virginia in February. Unfortunately, other commitments kept us away until early March.

Day One, Friday, March 4, 2011

On March 4-6, 2011, Norma, scheduled a trip to Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia, not to be confused with Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland. She planned this about 6 weeks in advance. We hoped to get some good snow for cross country skiing but we had no such luck. While there were numerous cross country ski trails in the park, there was little powder. So maybe we could get in some good hiking (plan B)? Unfortunately, with a 90% chance of rain on Saturday, 100% chance of rain on Saturday night, and 80% chance of rain and snow (the wet kind) on Sunday, conditions were far from ideal for hiking either.

Plan C was to get in some good studying. Norma and I enrolled in the "Beekeepers Short Course" through the Howard County Beekeepers. We had lots of studying to do. Also, if we were stuck indoors, we could play games with Norma's family, who would be staying with us in the park cabin.

After a quick stop at the butcher in Garrett County (a cow was recently slaughtered), we headed out to Hazel's house (Norma's mother). From there, Hazel followed us. Actually, Norma drove Hazel's truck and I followed them in Norma's car.

We arrived at the cabin late on Friday the 4th. On the drive out, I saw more deer than I had ever seen in my life. The cabin was no exception as three more came to greet us soon after we pulled up. See photo.

Joyce (Norma's middle sister), Jimmy (Joyce's husband), and Harlem (their foster child) arrived a little later that night. Laah (Norma's youngest sister) showed up even later.

I got a fire going using the last three pieces of kindling. We had a half woodshed full of logs, just not kindling or paper.

Norma and I talked about going to the Purple Fiddle to hear some live music over the weekend. A day or two prior, we heard some samples from the bands scheduled to perform. I'm glad we chose not to go. One band was mediocre while listening to the other was somewhere between getting a root canal and listening to Yoko Ono.

Day Two, Saturday, March 5, 2011

On Saturday, March 5, Norma made a hearty waffle breakfast.

It was cloudy and looking like rain but it hadn't yet started. So we drove from the cabin area of the park to the north side and parked across from the Harold S. Walters Nature Center. From here, we all walked west on the yellow blazed Dobbin House Trail. See first photo.

We passed Pendleton Lake to our north which was partially frozen.

To our south, was the Canyon of the Blackwater River which was mostly hidden by trees.

The brown trail with yellow grass borders and green around that (second photo) sort of reminded me of some of the nearby trails in places such as Dolly Sods.

There was still some snow on the ground but there were signs of spring with some small early blooming plants.

The park had done quite a bit to maintain the trails, mark blazes, and build foot bridges. Clearly our cabin fee was being put to good use.

Across the Blackwater River, we could see the Blackwater Lodge and Conference Center to our south (third photo) along with the Falls of Ekala just on the west side of the lodge (fourth photo).

I think this was a little more walking than Hazel was used to and a LOT more walking than Harlem had ever done. So rather than have her fall behind, Jimmy carried her...Harlem, not Hazel. See fifth photo.

The trail split. We stayed on the left and continued walking on the red blazed Pase Point Trail. After a short distance, we crossing over Dinky Run, via bridge.

From the car, it was about 1.5 miles to our destination, an overlook of the North Fork of the Blackwater River. Here we had clear views of the river to our north (sixth photo) and to the mountains on our west and south (seventh photo).

Heading back, Jimmy, Laah, Harlem and I went ahead while Joyce, Norma, and Hazel moved at a slower pace. My faster group decided to take a longer route back. In doing so, we got quite a ways off the trail and onto sections not shown on the map. We walked into a winter wonderland. See eighth photo. Unfortunately, my global positioning system (GPS) told me that we were heading in the wrong direction so we retraced our steps then made it back to the nature center a few minutes after the slower group.

At the nature center, we learned about the history of the area, saw some fossils, and various local taxidermied animals.

Hazel waited while the rest of us walked just a quarter of a mile on Pendleton Trace Trail to the Pendleton Point Overlook. Now it started to rain. From the overlook, we had a clear view of Blackwater River below. See ninth and tenth photos. We spoke to a woman with a dog who had friends that were kayaking the river as we spoke. I felt quite humble as I thought about how these serious white water paddlers braved the rushing water in the cold.

It was a short walk but at least we got outside before the big rains came. Jimmy, Laah, and I walked about 5 miles. I think Hazel walked about 3, while Joyce and Norma did about 3.5.

It continued to rain all night. Fortunately, I was clever enough to gather twigs from outside to use as kindling that morning, before it started raining. Thus, we were able to enjoy a nice fire.

We ate a fine homemade dinner then played Jenga. See eleventh photo. I won, and Norma was the big loser...that's all that matters. But to her credit, she is usually quite good at Jenga.

We took it easy that night (twelfth photo) and I got lots of studying done.

Day Three, Sunday, March 6, 2011

On our final day, Norma and I ventured out on our own to explore other parts of the park. It was still raining and cold so we weren't too interested in doing anything more than short walks. Hence, we started our hike at the Blackwater Lodge and Conference Center, which we saw yesterday from Dobbin House Trail.

We picked up the red blazed Elakala Trail which headed west from the lodge, along the south side of the river near the cliff. After about a tenth of a mile, we came to Falls of Ekala, which we saw yesterday from the north side of the river. Water flowing into the falls was brown (see first photo and the photo at the top left corner of this page), due to tannic acid. This is why the area is called Blackwater. There was still a good bit of ice in some places (second photo).

After crossing route 29/1, we caught the orange blazed Balanced Rock Trail, heading south. The rain turned to slush. I'm glad I wore my heavy duty rain gear and gaitors. See third photo.

Turning left (east) on the blue blazed Shay Trace Trail took us over what we believed to be Shay Run. The area was full of evergreen trees.

Soon we were back at the lodge.

Next, we drove to the parking lot at the trailhead of Gentle Trail. It was only a quarter mile out to the overlook on the east side of the 57 foot tall Blackwater Falls (some sources claim taller). See fourth photo.

Wanting a better view, we drove to the west side of the falls. Another short trail took us to some stairs that led down to the falls. Actually, it was closed due to all the slippery ice but we snuck in, undetected...along with everyone else. See fifth and sixth photos. We were actually there before on October 8, 2006.

After getting our fill of the park, we headed over to Laah and Scott's farm (Scott is Laah's husband). This is the farm that was recently owned by Norma's parents.

We saw several wild turkeys.

The slush turned to snow as the temperature dropped.

As always, we said hello to the dogs (seventh and eighth photos), chickens, and goats (ninth photo). Some of the goats, like the one I'm holding in the tenth photo, were recent additions.

Scott showed us the work they had done to fix up the house and make it more homey. He had a nice room set up to display his numerous hunting trophies. See eleventh photo.

The weather wasn't very cooperative, to say the least. But that's how life works. Like Forest Gump says, "Life is like a box of chocolate, you never know what you're gonna get." Or, to quote my father, "Life is like a game of poker. You're dealt some cards and you have to make the best hand with what you've got."

So that is what we did. We chose short walks, played games, and enjoyed the company of family. We didn't get in much hiking or any skiing but we still had a good time.