West Virginia Wednesday — From Davis to Parsons

IMG_8584When I was staying at Blackwater Falls State Park in Tucker County, West Virginia, I had to drive to the county seat of Parsons to do research. The 30-minute drive proved wild and wonderful and sometimes nerve-wracking for someone not used to driving through the mountains.

In Scenic Routes and Byways: West Virginia by Su Clauson-Wicker, the route I took is placed in the larger drive called the Canaan Valley Loop. I would love to go back and drive that entire route. All the quotes are from this book.

I drove out of the state park and onto Rt. 32. I skirted the tiny town of Davis, “the highest incorporated town east of the Mississippi”, and follow 32 until I reached another very small town, Thomas. The layout of Thomas is very interesting. The town is mostly built on one side of the North Fork of the Blackwater River. The mountainside is so steep that the town is built in layer like on wedding cake, with the buildings above set back from those below.

I turned onto US 219 South. Descending Backbone Mountain, I came around a curve and found enormous wind tubines popping into view. What made it so surprising was that I hadn’t seem a glimpse of them until they loomed up, complete and colossal.

I turned right onto Sugarlands Road and then quickly found the service road that ran below the 345-foot turbines. The gate was unlocked, so I could have followed the service road as far as my car allowed. When I came back with my family, we did drive down it a short way to take pictures. 166 turbines stand long “the top of this north-south ridge for miles.”

IMG_8567Less than a mile from Sugarlands Road is a picnic area and observation parking lot. The top photo was taken there. It was my favorite view of the whole trip. The mountains rolled to the horizon like waves. The farm, a lighter green than the mountains, stood out like an island in the sea.

The finally six miles into Parsons is a six percent grade. It’s fun to drive, but I got nervous when tractor trailers suddenly roared around the curve. Tucker County High School is about half way down the stretch, and it made me wonder: how do the kids and buses get up and down this road when it snows? Slide? Glide? Collide? Maybe the county clears this first because it is US highway, but the writer and mom in me thought the school is located in a worrying place.

When I drove into Parsons, a town of over 1,000 situated in the a flat river valley by the Cheat River, I had descended 1,600 feet in a half hour.

If you are interested in taking scenic drives in West Virginia, check out Ms. Clauson-Wicker’s book. She lists many different routes and the chapter describing the road I drove is very helpful.

West Virginia Wednesdays — Cathedral State Park

IMG_8718An hour north and west of Blackwater Falls State Park is Cathedral State Park. It is small by state park standards, only 133 acres, but it offers unique sights in West Virginia. It contains, as the official website reports, “the only stand of virgin hemlock” in the state. Some of those trees are around 500 years old.

IMG_8740My family spent about an hour walking the trails. I say “walking” because the park is relatively flat for West Virginia, so we didn’t feel we were hiking at all. The park has six miles of walking trails, and I think we could have covered them all in two to three hours, including stops for taking photos. There are picnic tables, so you could bring a meal and stay the afternoon.

The park was muddy, so keep that in mind when selecting footwear. My kids were very excited to find trees so wide that, even holding hands, they couldn’t reach around the entire trunk.

Because of the name, we expected to find soaring trees. We were surprised to find a wide variety of mushrooms. I have never seen so many different kinds in one area. I don’t know if it was the wet conditions or the time of year, August, which produced them, but my kids had fun looking for them. My favorite is this lavender one. I had never seen a lavender mushroom before.

IMG_8694Cathedral State Park is a great park for anyone who loves the nature of the Appalachia mountains, but it is especially suitable for anyone who can’t do strenuous hiking. The paths are dirt and can be uneven, but there are no difficult slopes.

If you are in the area of Aurora, West Virginia, on Rt. 50, stop at Cathedral State Park and explore. Maybe you will find a hot pink mushroom.

West Virginia Wednesdays — The Falls of Elakala

IMG_8506Sounds like a more remote section of Middle-earth, doesn’t it? It also goes by the far more  ordinary name of Elakala Falls, but I prefer the name used on the map we got at Blackwater Falls State Park, where the falls are located. The falls are a series of four separate falls as Shays Run “descends into the Blackwater Canyon”, as the article in Wikipedia puts it. Our hiking map gave warnings similar to those found in this Wikipedia article, namely that once you get past the first falls, the other three become increasingly dangerous.

Early one morning during our stay, my husband and I went to hike the falls. We drove to the lodge. If you walk out the front door and turn right, you are only about a three-minute walk from the trail head, which is clearly marked. The day was overcast, occasionally spitting rain, the perfect backdrop for the dark hemlocks and spruces that overhang the trail by the falls. Under these trees grow ferns and mosses, giving the forest a magical, primeval look. If an elf or a centaur had passed us on the trailer, I wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow.

IMG_8526The path to the first falls is easy to walk and clearly marked. We crossed the bridge as the first falls tumbled beneath us. Walking down the trail that parallels Shays Run, we were able to take photos of the falls. In the evening, we brought our kids back, and my husband experimented with different camera set-ups.

During our morning hike, my husband and I looked for a trail to the second falls, and my husband thought a small path following the Run would lead us to it. But since it wasn’t marked, and my husband and I aren’t experienced hikers, we decided to stick to the marked trails of which there were many. We met no one on the trails and could take our time trying to different shots with our camera. The quiet, ancient atmosphere of the forest was soothing and mysterious.

IMG_8634If you get a chance to visit Blackwater Falls State Park, don’t overlook the Falls of Elakala. Or the Elakala Falls. Even if you only reach the first falls, it is worth the hike.

 

West Virginia Wednesdays — Blackwater Falls State Park

IMG_8546I wanted to share some of the experiences I had on my research trip to West Virginia.

My family and I stayed in a cabin at Blackwater Falls State Park. The average elevation is 3200 feet, and that height allows eastern hemlock and red spruce to dominate with a few birch and striped and red maples thrown in. It covers 2,358 acres with miles of hiking and many gorgeous views. Along with 39 cabins, the park has a lodge with a restaurant, gift shop, and pool. We also took advantage of the nature center near our cabin. By the nature center is a small lake with boats, a playground, and two tether balls. My kids became addicted to tether ball. The park is part of the huge Monogahela National Forest.

IMG_8508I wished we had arrived two weeks earlier. The rhododendrons had just finished their blooms. They start the first week of July. It would have been wonderful to see the forest glowing with these white flowers because rhododendrons grow just about everywhere in the park.

 

Another type of plant I liked were the ferns. The park boasts many different kinds, and I love their feathery, primeval look.

Of course the major feature of the park is the falls. Blackwater Falls is one of the most photographed natural features in the state. It get its name from the needles of the hemlock and spruce which turn the water the color of tea.

IMG_8437We were fortunate to come when a lot of rain had fallen. The water poured magnificently over its 62-foot drop.  We went to see them around 7 p.m., which proved to be an excellent time. There were hardly any people around, and my husband and our oldest could experiment with different camer set-ups. During the rest of our stay, we drove by the parking area many times, and it was usually parked full.

West Virginia Wednesdays

IMG_7620Over Memorial Day weekend, I went with my parents and kids to place flowers on the graves of my grandparents and other relatives.

My mother’s family had lived in Marion and Harrison counties in West Virginia for generations.  We placed flowers on the grave of my grandmother’s brother in a small family cemetery that’s now at the edge of a housing development.  The land of the development once was a farm that my grandmother’s family worked.  Her brother wanted to be buried in that cemetery because he and my grandmother enjoyed playing there when they were children.

IMG_7612It seemed odd to find a cemetery among all these new houses, but I could tell it was taken care of, so at least the graves aren’t neglected.

Next, we stopped at the large cemetery in Shinnston. My grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great grandparents on both sides of my mom’s family are buried there.

As my kids place flowers around the graves, I wondered if my distant grandparents ever thought their great-great-great grandchildren would come to pay respects almost a hundred years after their deaths. It’s a stunning thought.

IMG_7623The next day, we drove into the hills above Moundsville to place flowers on the graves of my dad’s parents.  Both sides of his family had lived in the northern panhandle of West Virginia for several generations. My grandfather served in the Navy during World War II.IMG_7641

I am so glad I got to take my kids to see our family history.  I hope they can feel a connection to the relatives who came before them and the land where our family once lived.

West Virginia Wednesdays

img_20160817_0004Stil Talkin’ Like a Mountaineer

Here are a few more quirks of the West Virginia dialect which I learned from relatives.  Like I said last week, these may be found in more areas than just West Virginia.  And not all West Virginians may talk this way.  West Virginia is a crossroads.  Not North, or South, or West, or East, the state contains a little bit of all those regions.

“push” and “bush” are pronounced “poosh” and “boosh”

“dish” and “fish” are pronounced deesh” and feesh”

“wash” and “gosh” are pronounced “warsh” and “garsh”

Words ending in “ow”, making an long “o” sound, are pronounced “er”.  For example, “follow”“hollow”, and “yellow” are pronounced “feller”“holler”, and “yeller”.

I find myself using “be” and a verb ending in “ing” when a present tense verb works just as well.  For example, if my kids are doing something they shouldn’t, I don’t say, “You can’t do that!”  I say, “You can’t be doing that!”

When writing my novel, I had a hard time choosing between whether my characters would use “y’all” or y’uns” for the plural form of “you”.  My grandparents used “y’uns” and they were from the northern part of the state.  I have friends who lived around Charleston and they use “y’all”.  My setting is north and east of Charleston but south of my grandparents’s hometown.

In the end, I decided to use “y’uns”.  When anyone reads “y’all”, the reader knows the setting is the American South.  Since West Virginia and the Appalachian Mountains are different from the South, I thought “y’uns” would signal that difference and my characters’ rural background.

 

 

 

West Virginia Wednesdays

rafting-2071983_1280Talkin’ Like a Mountaineer

I wrote in my tip about what I learned from Damon Runyon that a writer should only sprinkle in slang or words from a dialect.  Since my book is set in West Virginia, I use words my West Virginian relatives speak.  I use some of them myself, even though I grew up across the river in Ohio.

Just a note: If you are not from around Appalachia, you should understand there’s a difference between a Southern accent and an Appalachian one.  In the book The Story of English, some experts consider the Appalachian accent a cross between Midwestern and Southern. The further south you travel in the Appalachian mountains, the more southern the accent becomes.

The words I list below may not be unique to West Virginia but they are not common in the Midwest where I grew up.

No account — no good, disreputable, unreliable.  The farmer down the road was no account – he let his farm fall down to rack and ruin.

Lopper-jawed (I am guessing on the spelling) — to hang crookedly.  The door to the abandoned house hung lopper-jawed.

heap sight (I am guessing on the spelling of “sight”) — a great amount.  We had a heap sight more tomatoes this summer than last summer.

red up — clean up.  We red up the house before our company comes.country-lane-2089645_1280

fer piece — a long distance.  My nearest neighbor is a fer piece down this road.

pert near — almost or close.  “Pert” is short for “pretty”.  When that dog lunged for me, it pert near scared the pants off me.

I will have some more Appalachian words and patterns of speech next Wednesday.

 

 

West Virginia Wednesday

nypl-digitalcollections-510d47e3-5cd8-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99-001-wFestival of Lights

If you enjoy driving around to see Christmas lights, you should visit the Festival of Lights at Oglebay Park outside of Wheeling.  The Festival was started in 1985.  You follow a six-mile route through the park to see light displays covering more than 300 acres.  My family has visited the lights since I was a kid.  My most recent visit was December 2014.  It’s a lot of fun go with a carload of people.  We didn’t want to get stuck in a huge line winding up into the hills before we ever got to the park, so we arrived right at sunset.  It wasn’t very dark at the beginning of our drive, but it got dark quickly so we could enjoy the displays.  There is a per car donation and lot of other Christmas events within the park.  To visit the park’s website, click here.

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