West Virginia sunrise


Columbus Day Weekend 2011

Last updated October 23, 2011



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Day One | Day Two | Day Three

Columbus Day weekend is a time of very mixed emotions for me. The weather can be spring-like with low humidity, and few mosquitos. The fall colors can be beautiful. But the days are getting short and kayaking season is almost over.

Rather than dread what is to come in the next few months, why not enjoy the moment? That is just what Norma and I did.

Hence, we headed out on the evening of Friday, October 7. We stopped at Hazel's (Norma's mother) house and spent the night there.

Day One, Saturday, October 8, 2011

On the morning of Saturday, October 8, we started heading out to Elkins, West Virginia. We hoped to find some trails we hadn't yet explored along the way but we really didn't have much of a plan so instead of hiking, we just did a scenic drive.

We passed by Laurel Fork Wilderness, which I backpacked on September 1-3, 2007.

Norma and I drove by the east side of Otter Creek Wilderness. This brought back memories of our April 12, 2009 hike. Driving south on CR28, we passed the trailhead. Fancy mushrooms (first photo) were growing just off the side of the road near pastoral creeks (second photo). I think they were Glady Fork and Dry Fork. There were some really pretty small waterfalls.

I'm not sure how this happened but somehow we drove in a loop to get back to where we started. My West Virginia DeLorme map doesn't show a tremendous amount of detail so we might have got off on the wrong road. Rather than risk running out of gas (we were low), we decided to play it safe and head to the nearest town rather than continue our search for trails.

In/near the town of Parsons, we stopped at a military surplus stand. I bought some fleece overalls for $10.

We met Joyce (Norma's middle sister), Jimmy (Joyce's husband), Harlem (their foster child), and Laah (Norma's youngest sister) in Elkins at the parade. This was part of their Mountain State Forest Festival. There were several marching bands and fine floats. See first and second photos. Actually, it really seemed more like a truck show as the floats were being pulled by pristine, heavy duty, 4x4s. It was a beautiful day to be outside. The whole weekend had fantastic weather...the kind that only comes maybe three times a year in Maryland.

As I looked around at the parade, I thought to myself, "Look at all the rednecks with their unshaven faces, camoflage hats, sleeveless shirts, and tattoos." Then I realized that I fit that description.

After watching the parade, we walked around the Elkins College campus. We saw lots of crafts and got to see a big bandsaw demonstration where they took an 18 inch diameter log and made it into one inch thick lumber. Surprisingly, it wasn't very loud. Nearby, someone was taking the scrap lumber and branding it with the event logo. See third photo.

We ate dinner at the Railyard then went to American Mountain Theater for a musical. The performers were quite talented although it was a little too evangelical for my taste and too patriotic for Norma.

That night, we stayed at the Valley View Motel in Mill Creek, which is about 20 minutes south of Elkins.

Day Two, Sunday, October 9, 2011

The next morning, Laah, Norma, and I drove out to Kumbrabow State Forest.
The 9474 acres of forest range from 3000 to 3930 feet above sea level, making Kumbrabow the state's highest forest. Acquired in 1934, the forest derives its unusual name from three prominent families instrumental in the land purchase, KUMp-BRAdy-BOWers.
- from park pamphlet

I guess the name is sort of like Sixx A.M., the hard rock band comprised of Nikki SIXX, DJ Ashba, and James Michael.

We checked out the cabin area. See first, second, third, and fourth photos. There were about 4 very nice, large cabins though unfortunately, they don't have indoor restrooms. But pit toilets are only about 25 meters away. We walked to Mill Creek Falls (fifth photo) and the creek that feeds it (sixth photo). Apparently, there is another Mill Creek Falls, also in West Virginia, that is much higher. Why there are two falls with the same name in the same state, I know not. Maybe for the same reason there are so many "Turkey Points" in Maryland.

Still in the state forest, we drove to the forest headquarters. Here we were greeted by a very friendly ranger who shook our hands. He had without a doubt the strongest hands I've ever shaken. We commenced our hike on Potato Hole Trail near a little dam with water flowing over. See seventh photo.

The trail was supposedly yellow blazed though we saw only about 4 blazes on the entire 2 mile stretch. The trail was very had to follow as it was overgrown but once you got off it, it was obvious because there were so many breyers off the path. Most of the trail ran parallel to Potato Hole Fork. The trail ended at the foundation for an old forest fire lookout tower on a branch road of the Rich Mountain Fire Trail. It was moderately scenic but there were no overlooks. On the way back, we found Joyce, Jimmy, and Harlem. See eighth photo. Our total hike was 4 miles.

It would have been nice to explore Holly River State Park, about 14 miles away, but we were running short on time.

Our drive from the forest took us past some nice autumn views. See first photo.

Our next stop was the town of Helvetia, which is like a little Swiss village.
Settled by a group of Swiss and German immigrants who came via Brooklyn, New York in 1869. In addition to farmers and herdsmen, many craftsmen and professionals were among the settlers: stone masons, carpenters and painters; wagon, shoe, watch, hat and cheese makers; musicians, teachers, ministers and doctors. Later groups from Switzerland and other parts of the U.S. boosted 1875 population to 308.
- from town sign

We ate lunch at Hutte Restaurant. The place looked like an old residence. See second photo. The meat was good but it was rather pricey for a buffet. Thus, I made sure to eat lots of expensive food. They prefer that you make reservations.

Afterwards, we hung out on a grassy area near a stream. I found a very comfortable rock on which to nap while Harlem posed for photos. See third photo. Quite photogenic, don't you think?

Laah headed home while the rest of us drove out to the Gaudineer Scenic Area.
This area preserves a small remenent of the virgin spruce forests which originally spread across the highest mountaintops of West Virginia.
- from trail sign...yes, "remenent" is how the sign spelled remnant

We walked on the half mile interpretive loop trail near the Allegheny Trail. See first and second photos. Actually, Harlem didn't walk since her legs aren't yet long enough to reach the ground. See third photo.

As the sun began to set, we made our way to the Gaudineer Overlook and Gaudineer Knob. See fourth photo.

We stopped at Cheat Summit Fort but by then it was too dark to see anything but a sign describing General Robert E. Lee's attack on the fort.

Day Three, Monday, October 10, 2011

Norma and I were up before the red dawn (see photo at the top of this page). We packed up then drove to one of our favorite backpacking areas, Dolly Sods Wilderness. I was first introduced to the place by Norma on September 9-10, 2006.

By about 0930, we started our hike at Red Creek Campground. From here, we headed west on Blackbird Knob Trail (TR511). This took us right by Blackbird Knob which we couldn't see through all the trees. This trail is given an exceptional rating for scenery in Monongahela National Forest Hiking Guide, a book that I highly recommend.

There were lots of big, open views and vibrant fall colors. See first, second, and third photos. I was reminded of my Quehanna backpacking trip on October 21-23, 2006.
Since forest vegetation in this area is sparse, good views of the surrounding hills are seen along much of the trail's length. Mountain laurel, azaleas and blueberry are common.
- from Monongahela National Forest Hiking Guide

It wasn't as sunny as the previous two days but this meant we didn't get so many harsh shadows as is typically common at this time of year. But the air temperature was ideal for hiking. Don't I look comfortable in the fourth photo?

The worst thing about Dolly Sods is all the mud. The trails often pass through places where water runs and as a result, there are lots of muddy footprints. I don't know if this could be avoided without putting forth a great deal of time and money. I think it is just the way it is and will be. But along with this water are some scenic stream crossings. See fifth and sixth photos.

There were some interesting plants ready to release their seeds (seventh photo).

I saw a grouse fly away. We both saw a milk snake (not to be confused with a milk shake). See eighth photo. That is the first of its kind that I'd ever seen. It was only about 7 inches long.

We took Harman Trail (TR525) heading northwest to the end. Here we ate lunch.

Next we headed north on Rocky Ridge Trail (TR524) for less than a mile. Then we turned right (east) on Dobbin Grade Trail (TR526).

Despite a lack of blazes, the trails were easy to follow though the signs weren't always the most helpful. You'll definitely want to bring a map. In the ninth photo, I am wondering which way to go.

We turned right (south) on Upper Red Creek Trail (TR509). I believe it was around here that we came to a stream that a beaver dammed. See tenth photo. The 12 meter long dam held back about 2 feet of water and changed the landscape. If there were once stepping stones to get across the stream, they were now underwater. Some backpackers told us to walk across the dam, claiming that is what they did. At first I was hesitant, thinking that a dam that beavers built couldn't possibly hold our weight but both these backpackers were bigger than me. Walking across, I found the dam to be amazingly solid. It is had to imagine a rodent could construct such a sound structure. See Norma in the eleventh photo just before the dam collapsed...just kidding...it held fast.

We finished our 11.5 mile hike by mid-afternoon...I'm guessing around 1530ish. After a quick stop near Bear Rocks (twelfth photo), we were on our way home.

Norma and I stopped off at Hazel's house to pick up Joyce and Harlem. Then we stopped at Jim and Lori's house (Joyce's father-in-law's house) to buy pullet (young hen) eggs for me to sell at work because my employer doesn't pay me enough [not true].

An hour or two later, we were in Hagerstown, dropping off Joyce and Harlem. Then it was home. Norma did an overwhelming majority of the driving and planned this lovely and fast weekend. How she managed to provide us with such nice weather and light traffic, I'll never know.

Most of the weekends Norma and/or I plan are focused on outdoor activities. But this one was different. We did a lot of things, taking advantage of a variety of opportunities in West Virginia. It was good spending time with Norma's family, being out in the nice weather, and doing a little hiking. About the only thing that could have made it better is if we had another day.