I visited this state park, located south and east of Charleston, several years ago, but the nice thing about state parks is that they only change with the seasons. I stayed in the park lodge and used the cable car, which is called the aerial tram, to get down to the New River. Being an old movie fan, I couldn’t help but think of the Clint Eastwood WWII movie Where Eagles Dare while I rode on the tram. I also took a jet boat out onto the river, where you have great views of the New River Gorge Bridge. I also visited nearby Babcock State Park. I love being out in nature and recommend visiting both parks.
New River Gorge Bridge is the second largest single span bridge in the world and the third highest in the U.S. On the third Saturday in October, the bridge is closed to traffic and people can walk across it and watch BASE jumpers jump off it. All kinds of events are planned for the day, so check out this site if you are interested.
I read a very good book about one of the most infamous episodes in West Virginia’s history, Blood Feud: the Hatfields and the McCoys: the Epic Story of Murder and Vengeance. What I liked about this book is that besides relating the events of the feud, the author explores why it’s still famous a hundred years late. There were other feuds — the ones the author researched were all in Kentucky — and they are all almost forgotten. Some of these feuds were longer and bloodier than the Hatfield-McCoy feud, so it wasn’t the violence that made it memorable. Ms. Alther puts the enduring popularity down to media attention. T.C. Crawford wrote An American Vendetta in 1888. The book “reached a wide audience and spawned spin-offs in the form of novels and silent movies.” It also created the stereotype of the violent, stupid hillbilly.
We see the media doing the same thing now. Certain crimes and trials become more well known than others because of how they are written and recorded, not because of anything inherent in the crimes or trials themselves.
When I was visiting Blackwater Falls State Park in Tucker county this summer, I needed to do some research in the county seat of Parsons. Taking US 219 south from Davis, I found the 30 minutes drive beautiful, exciting, and sometimes, nerve-wracking for someone not used to driving in the mountains, even on a two-lane highway.
Driving out of the state park, I skirted the edge of Davis, “the highest incorporated town east of the Mississippi”, then fairly soon found myself driving through the tiny town of Thomas, which has an interesting layout. Most of the town is built on one side of the North Fork of the Blackwater River. The mountainside is so steep, the town is built in layers like a wedding cake with buildings on the higher level set back from those below.
After passing through Thomas and descending Backbone Mountain, an enormous wind turbine popped into view. Its appearance was so surprising because I had had no hint of what to expect until the entire turbine loomed into sight, complete and colossal.
I pulled off onto Sugarlands Road and found the gate to a line of wind turbines open. I could taken the service road that ran under them as far as I wanted and when I returned with my family, we did follow it a short way to get some pictures. The turbines are 345 feet tall, and 166 of them line “the top of this north-south ridge for miles.”
Less than a mile past Sugarlands Road is a small picnic and observation area. The top photo is what can be seen from this spot. It was just gorgeous with mountains rolling to the horizons like waves. The farm in the photo stood out beautifully from the surrounding deeper green of the mountains.
Past this observation point, I continued to descend. At one point the road was six miles of a six percent grade. Driving that was a lot of fun, but it also made me nervous when the tractor trailers, coming up the road, swung around curve.
I noticed Tucker County High School is located a long this stretch, and it made me wonder what does the school do when it snows and the busses have to come down a slick road or crawl up one. Maybe the county clears this road first, but I could see all kinds of hazards for the bus drivers and high school students trying to make it to school on a snowy morning.
By the time I pulled into Parsons, which sits in a flat river valley along the Cheat River, I had descended 1,600 feet in half an hour.
It was a wonderful drive, and if you want to take scenic routes through West Virginia, check out Ms. Clauson-Wicker’s book.
When I visited the Grave Creek Mound, I went with a group of kids. As we pulled up to the mound, one of them looked across the street and asked, “Why is there a castle?” He was looking at the decommissioned West Virginia State Penitentiary, which served the state from 1876 to 1995. His question was understandable. It did look like somebody had plopped a European castle in the middle of an all-American town. I took the photos below from the mound, which give you a great view of the Pen and the impression that you could lead a victorious assault on the “castle” from your high, strategic position, if you happened to have an army with you. We do have some family history with the Pen. My great-grandfather was guard at the prison during World War II when young men were in short supply.
The Pen is now privately owned. I have not taken any of the tours. The place looks creepy enough on the outside. My mom taught briefly in Moundsville in the ’60’s and led a field trip of high school students to the Pen when it was still a working prison. She said the kids were goofing off and enjoying getting out of school on the bus ride to the Pen. After the tour, she said the bus ride home was very quiet.
On Wednesdays, I’m going to write about West Virginia, the setting of my books. Both sides of my family are from this beautiful state, and I grew up just across the river in an area of Ohio considered part of Appalachia.
This summer I visited the Grave Creek Mound in Moundsville. I hadn’t visited it since I was a kid. The mound is sixty-two feet high — it felt a lot taller from the top — and is around 2,000 years old. There aren’t many man-made objects in the U.S. that are that old. I felt like I was connecting with history. To learn more visit this site.