blackwater falls

Day 58 – West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands

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Day 58 of a Year Long Road Trip Along America’s Scenic Byways

Wow, last night was bitter cold.  I thought it was only getting down to 39 degrees, a temperature I dealt with just fine in Maine.  This morning, it took an hour of running the heat, adding a pair of socks, and finally hiking to get the numbness to wear off in my big toe!  Now for all my friends that ask me about skiing, this is why I don’t like it!  While the night was cold, the day was glorious, sixty and sunny.  It was a perfect for exploring the Potomac Highlands in West Virginia.

Swallow Falls State Park

But first, the dogs and I had some geocaching to do at Swallow Falls State Park where we camped last night.  We hiked the same trail as yesterday only this time I was armed with my GPS since my phone signal was non-existent. This time we also crossed a bridge to the other side of the river.  On the short walk, we logged three caches:  an ammo can, a Tupperware container, and an earth cache of the falls.  I tried finding one more, but the black case in the rocks was too elusive for me and for my willingness to search in an unstable area between a cliff and the river with the dogs in tow.

swallow falls state park in northwestern maryland

Blackwater Falls State Park

We left Maryland and drove north to Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia.  Blackwater Falls was another earth cache, so I marked West Virginia off my geocaching list quickly.  The Blackwater River derived its name from the reddish brown appearance of the water, much like the color of tea.  The color is caused by the presence of organic matter containing tannins. 

The river begins in the Canaan Valley, plunges 57 feet to create the Blackwater Falls, and flows into several rivers before eventually reaching the Mississippi and the finally the Gulf of Mexico.  After admiring the falls, we stopped at a picnic area in the park to find another ammo can!  It was a big day of geocaching in Maryland and West Virginia!

Canaan Valley Resort State Park

From Blackwater Falls we headed south through the Potomac Highlands.  This West Virginia drive passes through Monongahela National Forest and close to the Allegheny Mountains that once were as high as the Alps.  Needless to say, the winding, hilly road is lined with state parks.  The next park we visited is known as Canaan Valley Resort State Park

During the 2.5 miles we hiked in the park, we crossed boardwalks among America’s second-largest inland wetland, enjoyed the shade of tall evergreens, and admired the views of surrounding mountains from meadows dotted with remnants of Monday’s snow.  We must have walked through three different echo systems in less than an hour!  It was really an interesting place.  We found a cache, saw some deer, and even got a picture of a woodpecker.

Dolly Sods

I had hoped to make one more stop at Dolly Sods before camping out at the Walmart in Elkins.  According to Reader’s Digest, logging in the 1880s and subsequent fires devastated the area which now “abounds with vegetation – upland wildflower meadows, blueberry and huckleberry thickets, cranberry bogs, and patches of dwarf red spruce.”  I thought it might be interesting to see.  As I left Canaan Valley Resort State Park, I plugged Dolly Sods into Gina (my gps), and it could not be located.

As a result, I looked at the generic map in the book and saw Dolly Sods was not too far away.  I kept my eyes peeled for a brown sign directing the way.  I found a VERY small one.  The size of it should have been my first clue.  I drove at least five miles at twenty-five miles per hour along a road hardly wide enough for two cars. The only thing between VANilla and at least a 1,000 foot drop to the valley was a one-foot guard rail. 

Once I finally arrived, I found out Dolly Sods was a 17,000 acre wilderness area in the 900,000 acre Monongahela National Forest.  I should have looked more closely at the generic map!  Low on gas, the check engine light glowing, and less than 2 hours from darkness were the signs of my next clue for exploring Dolly Sods.  Not this time! 

Elkins, West Virginia

Instead, I headed to Elkins, completed a driving tour of the town, and tried Kentucky Fried Chicken for the first time in over ten years. I suspect it will be another ten year before I try it again.  Where’s a Popeye’s when you need one?!?  I’ll do a little shopping at Walmart, prepare for another bitter cold evening, and hope for warmer weather as I continue my West Virginia scenic drive in the morning. ETB

Map of My Road Trip Across the USA

For a summary about my road trip across the USA, click HERE. For the interactive map, see the below link.

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

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