We decided to spend the last day of our “Let’s Explore Some Places in Canaan Valley We Haven’t Had Time To Explore” trip expanding our knowledge of two areas we were already somewhat familiar with. We knew we had to keep an eye on the clock because I had a speaking engagement that evening in Morgantown. We wanted to explore as much as possible but still arrive at the WVU’s Core Arboretum in plenty of time.
Our first stop was at the parking lot of the Middle Ridge Trail not too far from our cabin in Canaan Valley Resort State Park. In the past we had often stopped to scan this meadow and the beaver pond below the parking lot with our binoculars. This day, things got quite interesting even without binoculars. Two women and a boy were next to their car in the lot, staring intently at the meadow across the pond. They hurried over to tell us what the young man had spotted: a large Black Bear climbing in the Serviceberry trees and browsing for ripe berries.
We were impressed that the boy had spotted the bear and we shared our binoculars so they could get a better look. We could see that one tree had experienced bears before because some of the leaves were already dying on branches that had been broken earlier by a bear gathering Serviceberries.
We had planned on hiking part of the Middle Ridge Trail that day. Since the trail went close to where the bear was, I told Jan that we could start down the Middle Ridge Trail and then go off-trail to the meadow where it might be possible to get closer views and maybe some additional photos of the bear. She was enthusiastic, so off we went. The trail was easy walking downhill, across a stream and then uphill again. Because of that topography, it was easy to figure out when we were close to the area where the bear had been. A short bushwhack through the woods led us to the edge of the meadow dotted with Serviceberry trees. When we arrived at the vantage point where we hoped to see the bear again, it wasn’t there. We carefully scanned the trees and meadow all around, but no bear. We began to talk softly, becoming more relaxed. We decided that the bear had probably noticed us coming and had wandered away. We began looking at the many kinds of plants around us and in the meadow. When we turned to examine the plants behind us, we noticed a dark shape under a tree where before there had just been ferns. The bear was standing quietly under a tree about 30 yards away!
Moving very slowly, we got out our cameras, hoping our bear would stay long enough for some pictures. As we watched and photographed the bear, it occasionally looked, listened and sniffed in our direction. It seemed relaxed, but didn’t come out from under the tree. Eventually it turned and slowly walked uphill away from us. That was exciting. It appears that Jan’s “I never get to see the bear” curse has been broken.
We walked downhill and explored the wetland formed by the beaver pond. Hiking back to the car we didn’t find anything that compared to our bear encounter, but we did see some common plants that were in beautiful full flower.
When we returned to the car, the overcast sky was starting to produce a light rain. As we were leaving Canaan Valley State Park we looked at the ridge to the east and saw that the Dolly Sods Wilderness, rising 1,000 feet above us, was fogged in … probably getting some much heavier rain.
From Canaan Valley Resort State Park, Canaan Loop Road was a short 7 miles north and 500 feet higher. Although it was overcast, no rain was falling, making it a great day for hiking.
Along Canaan Loop Road we discovered that the Wild Strawberries were ripe and ready to pick. They were delicious! Luckily we didn’t have to compete with any bears for these treats.
We decided to hike farther on one trail which we had already explored briefly on a previous trip with one of our grandkids. Since this had been a very rainy spring, the woods were lush with ferns, mosses and beautiful fungi. I was carrying my basic camera equipment and decided to take the opportunity to photograph some of the fungi.
As we continued to explore we found many Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) middens (a midden is a dunghill or refuse heap). After the squirrels had chewed off the spruce cone bracts to get at the seeds deep inside, they had tossed the bare cones in the same area. In Nature, even refuse has a story to tell!
We made several more stops to explore things in the woods and in meadows. We always found interesting plants. One unusual plant was a very purplish Boneset plant … not at all like the usual green we were used to seeing. The flower heads of the Rhododendron plants are always interesting to look at. They were just starting to open up and show their hot-pink color.
There was so much to explore along the Canaan Loop Road, we could have been there for days. After a final hike around an unusual meadow surrounded by a moat of wetlands, it was time to tuck our packs in the car and get on the highway north and westward.
Our first stop was to have a late lunch at Heidi’s Cafe on Blue Ribbon Road south of Oakland MD. This was another of those “we will have to try it sometime” places, so it fit very well with the theme of this trip. We decided we will definitely return to Heidi’s again. Next was a quick dessert at our old favorite, Saffiticker’s Ice Cream, just a half mile further north on US 219.
Then another 1.5 hours brought us to West Virginia University for my presentation for the Nature Connection Series at the WVU Core Arboretum. Our friend, Zach Fowler, Director of the Core Arboretum, has put together a great series of lectures in this awesome setting. He welcomed us warmly and soon I was wired for sound and ready to go.
I had fun speaking to an enthusiastic almost-full house. Afterwards we had fun talking with old and new friends, including someone we had met just a month before when we were birding at Magee Marsh in Ohio. On the way home we decided that in the 3 days of this trip, we had really accomplished our goals of getting to know some new places and people and learning more about some old-favorite places and people in the beautiful mountains of West Virginia.