July 25-26 2012
So that Betsy might get some much needed time to herself, I decided to take a short trip and do some exploring.
Initially I had planned to head to Central PA for some Rail-Trail riding and hiking. But, I decided to head down state and spend some time in Canaan Valley and the surrounding area.
Considering I have been to more state parks and boated more creeks in Florida than here, I decided it was time to check out my own back yard.
This was also to be a reconnaissance trip for future trips. Although I had been to Canaan Valley many, many times, it was usually driving through it on the way to somewhere else.
Click on the photos below for a larger image.
Canaan Valley is 80 miles from Morgantown and takes about 2 hours to drive to. I drove the route through Kingwood, Terra Alta, Oakland MD, and then on to Thomas and eventually Davis, the last town of any size before dropping into The Valley.
Bounded by Canaan Mt on the west and Cabin Mt on the east, Canaan Valley sits at an elevation of 3200'. The combination of relatively high elevation and cold air drainage into the Valley has made this area "A bit of Canada gone astray" when it comes to climate and natural history.
Canaan Valley (el 3200) is an oval, bowl-like upland valley in northeastern Tucker County, West Virginia, USA. Within it are extensive wetlands and the headwaters of the Blackwater River which spills out of the valley at Blackwater Falls. It is a well-known and partially undeveloped scenic attraction and tourist draw, associated with the Canaan Valley Resort State Park and the Blackwater Falls State Park.
Canaan Valley was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1974. The National Park Service citation indicates that the Valley is "a splendid 'museum' of Pleistocene habitats ... contain[ing] ... an aggregation of these habitats seldom found in the eastern United States. It is unique as a northern boreal relict community at this latitude by virtue of its size, elevation and diversity." Since 1994, almost 70% of the Valley has become the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, the nation's 500th National Wildlife Refuge.
In the late 70s and into the 80s this unique area was threatened with the proposed "Davis Power Project" which was to supply electricity to the DC area. Sound hard to believe? Read on...
In 1970, Allegheny Power requested permits for the long-anticipated hydroelectric facility in the Valley. This power plant would have supplied electricity to major metropolitan areas of the northeastern United States. The proposal involved damming the Blackwater River with consequent flooding of about 8,000 acres, including all of the wetland — roughly 25% of the Valley floor. Public objections were raised and, in the midst of the furor, the Valley was designated a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior in December 1974. In 1977, the Federal Power Commission issued a license to Allegheny for construction of a pumped storage hydroelectric project, formally known as the Davis Power Project.
Contentious public hearings ensued and the following year the project was denied a Clean Water Act permit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps' decision cited adverse impacts upon the Valley's wetlands, a relatively new concept at the time. Allegheny appealed the Corps' decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals which ruled that a Clean Water Act permit was in fact required for work to commence.
The adverse ruling by the appeals court was itself appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which in 1988 declined to hear the case. This represented the final nail in the coffin of the Davis Power Project.
I was too lazy too look around, so I checked into the Canaan Village Inn. The rooms were fine and it even had a Miniature Golf Course right next door. ;)
I had thought about camping at Canaan Valley State Park but when I saw nothing but wall-to-wall RVs, I knew it would be quieter at a hotel.
After unloading enough stuff for a 2 month stay, I went out in search of some hiking. I started out at Canaan Valley State Park.
I drove over and stopped by the Lodge where there was a monumental expansion project going on. I felt sorry for all the people who were staying there and had to put up with the constant construction noise as well as the coming and going of all the vehicles. To their credit the State Park does warn people about this with a web posting.
I noticed the "Blackwater River Trail" on the map. It is a short 1.5 mile trail which meanders through woods and fields down to the Blackwater River. When I saw the water I was sure wishing for my kayak.
As you can see, Canaan Valley is open and flat to gently rolling. It is rare to get this kind of view in "The Mountain State".
The Greenbrier Limestone is exposed in some areas of the Valley. This has the effect of buffering the soil Ph in those areas which adds to the diversity of plant life found here. Plus, it looks cool.
This photo is for CP who once asked me "Why do you have your foot in those pictures?" Scale, man - scale!
Another lovely view of the Blackwater river and distant mountains.
What a photogenic little plant!
There were many wildflowers in bloom. I used to know the names of these plants. But, I am very rusty and my memory ain't what it used to be.
Another fern ally! This is the Stiff Clubmoss (Lycopodium annotinum). It was named after me.
As you can see from the out of focus photo, I am still getting used to my new digi-snap. In fact, half the shots I took were out of focus and half of them are not worth showing.
More limestone boulders along the river. Very picturesque.
It was about here I heard the raucous call of some birds. Looking up I saw three baby flickers being fed by one of the parents. Cute!
Part of the trail went through an old field which was transitioning to woods. The main tree here was Crataegus, commonly know as Hawthorne.
I then drove the short distance to the trail head for the Back Hollow Trail. This mowed trail went mainly through open fields.
The above fuzzy picture shows Milkweed, Queen Anne's Lace and Black-eyed Susan. There were lots of butterflies visiting these plants and the perfume of the milkweed flowers was delicious!
This is some kind of onion. Not sure if it is native or not. Seems unlikely.
There were all manner of creatures feasting that day.
The next day I checked out the Beall Trail in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge
Almost immediately I saw this little cutie - Ground Cedar. It is another fern ally. The current Latin binomial is Diphasiastrum complanatum. There has been a lot of flux in the fern world lately as it relates to taxonomy. I have just about given up trying to stay current.
The bluish-green color and upright growth help distinguish it from Ground Pine (Diphasiastrum digitatum).
More ferns!! Here a mower has cut a swath right through the middle of a stand of Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum).
Here we see Hayscented Fern, Polytrichum moss and Stag's-horn clubmoss. All three are non-flowering plants which reproduce by spores. The ferns are non-flowering, vascular plants which use conduits to transfer water throughout the plant. The moss is a non-flowering, non-vascular plant which transfers water from cell to cell. So, generally speaking, mosses need moist environments to thrive. But, like all species, they can adapt if necessary.
With nothing for scale one might not know this Cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) was nearly 5 feet tall!
The trails were well maintained and well marked.
This is the so called "Bog Overlook". But, I am not sure this can be classified as a "bog".
St John's wort, seen here with yellow flowers, is common throughout the Valley. This may be Shrubby St John's wort Hypericum prolificum.
These Blueberries provided a welcome snack!
Here is a Hayscented Fern which has found a cozy little niche to grow.
There were extensive drifts of New York (Thelypteris noveboracensis) fern as well as Hayscented Fern.
Millions of fronds.
The trail led me down to the Blackwater river and more gorgeous Cinnamon Ferns.
Once again I thought how nice it would be to take a leisurely float down the Blackwater River.
The Blackwater River is a 34.3-mile-long (55.2 km) river in the Allegheny Mountains of eastern West Virginia, USA. Via the Black Fork, it is a principal tributary of the Cheat River. Via the Cheat, the Monongahela and the Ohio rivers, it is part of the watershed of the Mississippi River and drains an area of 142 square miles. It is a true blackwater stream, owing to spruce and hemlock trees in its watershed, the tannins of which impart a tea or amber color to its water.
As with other blackwater rivers, the color of West Virginia's Blackwater River results from the leaching of tannins from the decaying leaves of vegetation adjoining the stream in its upper reaches, which are slow moving. Fallen needles from stands of eastern hemlock and red spruce contribute primarily to this, although rhododendron, mountain laurel and the sphagnum bogs of Canaan Valley also contribute. The Blackwater is also typical in having transparent, acidic, and oligotrophic (very low nutrient) water.
Now for a change of scenery...
The next day I drove to Seneca Rocks which is about 30 miles southeast of Canaan Valley.
It had been quite a few years since I had hiked the popular trail to the top and I was looking forward to it.
The first of a steady stream of kids I saw coming and going on the trail. Perhaps there is a chance the obesity rate will drop...
This trail is in the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area in the Monongahela National Forest. The trail is well built and maintained. It is nice to see our tax dollars being used for outdoor recreation activities like this one.
WOW! I wish we had these kinds of steps in Whitemoore Park.
The view from the top. The 1.5 mile walk up had been a hot and sweaty one. The viewing platform has nice benches so I took the opportunity to have my lunch and take a snooze before heading back down.
Seneca Rocks is a world famous climbing area. And even I once climbed a few of the 375 major mapped climbing routes. Yes, "I could have been a contender." But my high anxiety got in the way and I did not have the stomach for the exposed routes which are the norm at Seneca Rocks.
Seneca Rocks is at the northern end of the River Knobs, which contain several other similar "razorback" ridges or "fins" such as Judy Rocks and Nelson Rocks, all on the western flank of North Fork Mountain. Seneca Rocks is a prominent and visually striking formation rising nearly 900 feet above the confluence of Seneca Creek with the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River. It overlooks the community of Seneca Rocks, formerly known as "Mouth of Seneca". The Rocks consist of a North and a South Peak, with a central notch between. Formerly, a prominent pinnacle — "the Gendarme" — occupied the notch.
Due to the hardness of the Tuscarora Formation, the height of the rocks, and the degree of climbing difficulty, Seneca Rocks offers rock climbers an opportunity unique in the east. There are over 375 major mapped climbing routes, varying in degree from 5.0 (the easiest) to 5.13 (the hardest). There are two climbing schools located in the communities of Seneca Rocks and nearby Riverton who train prospective climbers in beginning and advanced rock climbing. The school in Riverton also offers a climbers rescue course.
On the way back down, my thoughts turned to the cool waters of the North Fork South Branch Potomac River. As I looked at the swift moving water, I thought - what would Betsy do? So, off came the clothes and I soaked for a good half hour until I felt cool and refreshed. Ahh...
As I walked back to the parking area I grabbed a few quick shots of The Rocks and the visitors' center. Then it was back to the Valley.
That evening the clear skies darkened and the wind picked up. I left my hotel room and went outside. The door was nearly ripped out of my hands from the high winds. I stood there enjoying the wild windiness while keeping a good hold on the door. The rain came and with the wind it looked like news footage from a tornado in Florida. The rain was moving horizontally and beating with a fury against the trees and buildings. I thought of John Muir up in his tree enjoying just such a spectacle. Old Johnny knew how to enjoy nature!
The next day I departed the Valley. On the way back I stopped at Blackwater Falls State Park to enjoy some hiking there. How embarrassing it is for me to say I have never hiked any of the trails in the Park before this. It is so close to home! Yes, the grass is always greener...
The Shay Trace trail is like a different world from the open vistas of Canaan Valley. The shade and abundant rainfall make for ferny and verdant forest.
I am not used to seeing Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) in bloom when it is nearly August. The shade, elevation and cool temps make for a "late" bloom.
This was a lovely way to finish up a couple of hours of hiking. This is Shays Run just above Elakala Falls. The falls are only minutes from the Blackwater Falls State Park lodge and it is enjoyed by thousands of people annually. But, today, I had the falls to myself. Indeed, I had not seen one person on the trails the entire time. Perfect...
The drive back to Morgantown was uneventful. I saw numerous hogs on hogs. Most likely participants of Morgantown's so called Mountain Fest. I love that name. It is actually just a drinking and eating venue for all the obnoxious idiots who enjoy disturbing the peace with their noisy toys. (I don't mean you, Roger!!)
Fortunately our "Hornbeck Haven" is not any major route and we don't have to suffer the intrusive noise at home. (End of rant). So, it was back to the peace and quiet and the loving arms of my Winky.
Until next time...