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Tucker County West Virginia

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.

Writing Tip — Digging into Research

IMG_8547I recently returned from a trip to Tucker County, West Virginia. My novel is set in a fictional county of West Virginia, but shares many characteristics with Tucker and neighboring Grant County.

Because my novel is set in current times, I have a much easier time doing my research than if I was using a historical context.

Here are three rules to follow if you are fortunate enough to be able to live in the setting your characters occupy:

1. Walk the walk. Or drive the drive. However you need to move around to familiarize yourself with a location, do it. We hiked through the mountains. I drove through three local towns and the twisty, heart-stopping roads between them. Such on-the-spot research reveals aspects I couldn’t learn from just reading books. For example, I went on a night walk because this is something my characters do. Apart from just feeling what the night is like in the mountains, I learned when it’s too dark to see my feet, I get a feeling of vertigo, like every step drops into a bottomless pit.

IMG_85262. Talk to the locals. Nothing beats learning from the people who live in a location. We stayed at Blackwater Falls State Park. While one of my kids made a craft at a program in the nature center, I talked to the assistant naturalist and found out all kind of interesting facts about the area. Such as how the beautiful eastern hemlocks are under attack from an invasive insect.

3. Visit a local library if there is one. Since I am a former librarian, it’s not surprising I like to do my research in libraries. Often, libraries have resources on the local area you can’t find online. I went to the library in Parsons, the county seat of Tucker County, and read through some old newspapers on microfilm (haven’t used that in a while), researching an idea I have for a mystery novel. It was difficult to print off the microfilm machine, so I asked if any of these old newspapers were online. The librarian told me they weren’t, so visiting the local library was my only option.

If your story isn’t set where you live, and it isn’t on the third planet from Altair, do your best to visit your setting. What you learn will surprise you.

West Virginia Wednesdays — From Davis to Parsons

IMG_8584When 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.

In Scenic Routes and Byways: West Virginia, author Su Clauson-Wicker includes my drive as part of the longer Canaan Valley Loop. I would love to try the loop some day. The quotes below come from this helpful book.

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.

IMG_8567I 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.

 

 

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