This isn’t our usual type of post … but then nothing about this weekend was usual … except the beauty and diversity of our incredible Appalachian Mountains.
Where to begin? It is a bit difficult for me to explain it all. The short of it is that, for over a year, Jan had been planning this 3-day get together with hiking friends to celebrate my 70th birthday … and it was an absolute, total surprise to me. I had no idea! It was, without a doubt, the best time I have ever had playing in the mountains of West Virginia!
The story I was told was that we were going to the Canaan Valley area so that Jan and our friend Shelia could attend a Fiber-arts workshop. That would give Jeff and me some time to go hiking on Dolly Sods. The truth of it was … there was no workshop at Ben’s Loom Barn and … well, let me tell you all about it.
The trip started just like any other trip to the mountains. The van seemed to have more than we would normally need for a weekend trip to the mountains, but I didn’t think much about it. As usual, Jan and I always stop at Saffiticker’s and the Farmer’s Market/Candyland in Maryland on our way to and from the high mountains of West Virginia. She seemed to be buying a lot of cheese and snacks, but, oh well.
For some unknown reason Jan had been a bit mysterious about where we would be staying. I had just assumed it would be somewhere in Canaan Valley. I thought it was strange when Jan told me to turn onto the Blackwater Falls State Park road and it was even more odd when we eventually parked in front of one of the deluxe 4–bedroom cabins.
Jan asked me to stay in the van for a moment while she did something in the back. From what I could see through the rear view mirror I thought she was putting together political signs, which made no sense at all to me. Then she brought them to the front of the van and showed me ………
I started grinning and never stopped for days.
The “deluxe” cabins really are a treat with a utensil-stocked kitchen and lots of space to enjoy a group of friends. I had no idea what was coming next … well, really … what was coming all weekend.
Singly or in pairs, friends started arriving. Wonderful food had been brought so that we didn’t have to go out to eat that evening, but could just stay there as people arrived. Turns out we actually had two 4-bedroom cabins, some people camping in the campground, some coming from their homes nearby, and some traveling there for just a day.
Later, we welcomed our last visitor of the evening, my long-time friend, Chip Chase, who lives in Canaan Valley.
Chip brought a gift of apple-moonshine and after it was passed around, Carla got out her new guitar to show him. Chip began to play and created a very appropriate song about my birthday celebration. We were all amazed and delighted how the lyrics and music just flowed out!
(video (c) Jan Runyan)
Friday was a hiking day as more friends arrived, but Jan had reserved tables at Amelia’s and Sirianis for lunch and supper respectively – soooooo, we had a time schedule to keep.
It was decided to do the Beall North Trail in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge that morning.
After hiking part of the Beall North Trail, we took the turn onto the Blackwater View Trail and hiked out to a pretty site overlooking a section of the Blackwater River. I wasn’t sure why Jan kept checking her watch and insisted that we not go farther on the Blackwater View Trail. But we turned around at the overlook and finished the Beall North Trail.
The weather (shorts-weather just a few days before) had turned significantly cooler and fall-like during the night, so it was perfect for hiking.
We chatted along the way and stopped occasionally to see interesting Nature items.
We are so fortunate that all of these friends have so much in common — we enjoy Nature, hiking, West Virginia and each other.
The reason it was so important to be at Amelia’s on time was because of a special visitor who met us there: my long-time friend, Conley, the “Monster of Botany”, from Virginia. I was really surprised.
After lunch we hiked the Idlemans Run Trail, a short trail that is so full of scenic beauty, botanical wonders and interesting geology that it takes quite awhile to traverse it.
As usual, there was much discussion about plants with the “Monster of Botany”. Martin discovered what some refer to as Palm Tree Moss … quite aptly named.
Last summer when Jan and I had explored this trail, we had found a rare fern. We remembered the spot and, now 3 1/2 months later, we were able to find 2 of the 6 tiny Daisy-leaf Moonworts we had located in late June.
It seemed like everywhere we turned on this trail, there were interesting things to examine.
Martin explained the different kinds of rocks and geological structures we saw.
Although the trail is short, it took us most of the afternoon. Even during the short walk back to the cars on the Forest Service Road 80, we saw interesting, delicious things … which made us think about dinner.
So … on to dinner! Sixteen of us headed to one of my favorite restaurants, Sirianni’s Cafe in Davis. Oh Mike Goss!!! (try it sometime)
Then we returned for more laughter and stories at the cabin.
On Saturday morning we had planned to take a longer, rugged hike (Allegheny Front Vista Trail) on Dolly Sods but the weather had turned even colder and snowy. The high winds blowing snow and ice made me reconsider that trail due to the possibility of slippery rock fields. Instead I decided on a shorter, safer hike to Castle Rocks along the Allegheny Front. I have some wonderfully crazy friends! The saner, wonderful friends stayed at the cabin and waited to thaw out the 7 of us when we returned. (Cue the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song …. see end for the full lyrics)
(video (c) Jan Runyan)
The wind was howling and the snow/ice was almost impossible to look into, but we had a hearty group with proper cold-weather gear for an icy, snowy, windy hike.
(video (c) Jan Runyan)
We understood first hand how the conifers on the open plateau get to be “flagged”, with only a few, tiny branches on the windward west side.
When we reached Castle Rocks, we hid from the wind and relaxed on the leeward side. After a while, the snow stopped, the clouds began to break up and blew east to pile up above the famous view of mountain ridges which opened before us.
In a normal fall, the plants in the heath meadows around Castle Rocks would be bright crimson, gold and orange with incredible fall colors. Below are 3 photos Jan and I took during a hike there in 2012.
After our hearty crew waded through head-high brush to return to the road, several of us decided to explore a now-defunct beaver lodge nearby.
After our Dolly Sods hike we returned to the cabins at Blackwater Falls State Park for lunch. Then we traveled 4 miles to Thomas, WV, where the God-daughter of two hiking friends was performing at the Purple Fiddle.
Kipyn performs many of her own songs and some from Joni Mitchell. I asked her if she was going to sing Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”, my favorite Nature-advocacy song. She hadn’t planned to, but said she would sing it for me … and she did, dedicating the song to me. The whole concert was amazing and having that song as the finale was like the cherry on top of a sundae!
Following Kipyn’s performance, we ordered food from the Farm Up Truck. This was the dinner Jan had planned after getting rave reviews about their food. We took a whole box of delicious-smelling food back to the cabin for supper.
All weekend we had a plethora of wonderful, scrumptious food!
On Sunday morning most of our group left for home, but several of us met up with two other hiking friends for one last hike — the Moon Rocks Trail adjacent to the northern end of the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
Again we hiked through a variety of habitats, seeing many different, interesting plants and WV geology.
At the top of the Moon Rocks Trail, we discovered that there really is an American flag on the moon (rocks).
At the end of the section we hiked was a large wetland with a beautiful stand of Cottongrass in full cotton.
After our hike we stopped for lunch at another of my favorite restaurants … Hellbenders Burritos in Davis, West Virginia.
And, as always, one of our last stops on the way home was Saffitickers … which was still open for this, their last day of the season!
I would like to thank all of the people who helped Jan, those who came to help me celebrate — Ashton, Bev, Carla, Chip, Cindy, Conley, Dawn, Doug, Jacquie, Jeff, Jim, John, Kimberlee, Lee, Martin, Randy, Rebecca, Sheila, and Tom (and the ones Jan tells me wanted to come but couldn’t), and those who kept this hiking trip a secret, even when I saw them just a few days before the trip!
There’s nothing better than Appalachian Nature, the West Virginia mountains, and all of my wonderful friends!
Thank you Jan Runyan – you are the best!
Beatty’s Isle Song (to the tune of “Gilligan’s Isle”)
Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, A tale of a fateful trip. That started from a mountain port Into a wind that ripped.
The mate was a Master Naturalist, The skipper brave and true. Five brave hikers joined them that day On a 3 hour tour.
The wind was howling full of snow, The tiny group was tossed. If not for the reck’ning of the fearless guide, The hikers would be lost.
The group found refuge on the leeward side Of Beatty’s Castle Rocks. With Lee Miller; Bill Beatty, too; Randy Kesling and Dawn Fox; with Jan Runyan; Martin Tingley and Rebecca W.,
There on wild Dolly Sods!