Blackwater Falls State Park and A Stay at the Farm in West Virginia

When researching places to see in West Virginia, Blackwater Falls State Park came up on most lists of top attractions to visit.   The Falls are beloved by West Virginians and tourists so I was looking forward to seeing them.   Although the focal point of this large state park, there is more to see here as well.   To get up close, there are many steps down to a platform right next to the plunging falls.   Along the way are a few different viewpoints for those that don’t want to venture down and up all those steps.

There had been so much rain prior to our visit that the Falls were roaring.   It made taking pictures a little difficult because there was so much churning foam and spray as the river hit the pool below.   The Falls are an amber color due to the tannic acid of fallen hemlock and red spruce needles.   I was really pleased to see a rainbow next to the Falls which came and went as sunlight changed in the canyon.

The park is located in the rugged Allegheny Mountains and as we drove we stopped at various viewpoints.  Mark and I talked about the difficulty early settlers must have had navigating these mountains due to the deep canyons and dense forests that are common in this Eastern part of West Virginia.   It is hard to imagine that beginning in the late 1800’s, clear cut logging took most of the trees, decimating the magnificent forests throughout the state.   The trees eventually came back when large scale logging operations ceased.    Today, 78 percent of West Virginia is forest, making it the third most forested state in the U.S. behind Maine and New Hampshire.

Lindy Point is one of the favorite places to visit here as the scenic overlook provides expansive views of Blackwater Canyon far below.   After a short walk to the point, it was breathtaking to stand there and take it all in.    People like to get out on the rocks closer to the edge, but I am not that brave so I just stepped a little ways on one of the closer ones for a photo.

We were surprised to see that this park has a good sized lodge with rooms, cabins and a restaurant where we ate dinner.   The views behind the lodge are dramatic and if staying there, what a great place to hang out and enjoy the scenery on the chairs provided.

We visited another waterfall on a short trail near the Lodge.   Elakala Falls is much smaller than Blackwater but in a very pretty forest setting.   To get the photo below, I had to do a little scrambling down a rock and tree root studded bank to the creek below.

When we arrived at our campground in Elkins, West Virginia we were greeted with “Welcome to the Farm” by the owner.   Located in the country off a narrow paved road and then an even narrower gravel/dirt driveway to the campsites is an RV park with a bit of a farm atmosphere.   The owner and his wife are musicians who used to travel and perform extensively as well as manage their farm.   At one time it was listed in a West Virginia tourism site as a place for families to see a working farm.   Today it seems rather bedraggled with an unkept apple orchard, old buildings and “rustic campsites.”  Musical events have been held here and there are two stages with a big grassy field for that purpose.

The owner was great about giving us directions to the campground over the phone explaining to me, “They call West Virginia the Mountain State for a reason and most GPS will send you on the worst mountain roads of the state.”   We took his suggestion and other than several grades to cross all went well.   He also warned me about the campground’s entrance sign that says they are closed for the season.   He noted that oil pipeline workers are always looking for a place to stay and he has to turn them away.   He is angry that pipelines are being built in West Virginia and does not want to extend his hospitality to them.   He hopes his closed sign will deter most of them.  He asked us to observe his “silent gate” rule by stopping for a moment on the driveway next to his home when passing in or out of the campground so he will know we are real bonafide campers.

This campground is set in a valley and has a large amount of property with fields and some woods to explore.   Since I love to wander, I thought this would be a great place to camp and enjoy nature.   The owner had created a sunflower shaped maze that was filled with wild goldenrod.   Monarch butterflies were migrating and decorated the flower fields.

I came upon an old railroad bridge over the creek that had been abandoned.   When I asked about it I was told it was 100 years old and had not been used for several years.  This was something new, an old railroad bridge and tracks in a campground.

The more I wandered the more I was enjoying this campground.    Mark and I also got to see that others have loved staying here as well.   While I was exploring that first day, Mark was relaxing outside our trailer when a group of people came to the camp site next door to us.    They planted a small tree and sprinkled ashes.   We found out that a former camper had loved coming here so much that he wanted his ashes spread at his favorite campsite.   As a tribute they planted the tree for him and also gathered at the small pond near the the sunflower maze and planted another sapling spreading more of his ashes.   The owner told me this was the memorial grove with half a dozen other trees of various sizes that had been planted for former campers.   Below another view from the campground.

Sometimes a place can be both invigorating and exasperating and this was our experience at  Pegasus Farm.   The country atmosphere was beautiful and peaceful but as a campground, it was not always so great.   There was no office and trying to get questions answered can be tough unless you can find the owner while he is working around the large property.   This is the first campground we stayed at where no paperwork was given with general campground information.   For a couple of days we did not know where the trash receptacle was as it was not located near the campsites.   But the main problem here was the long driveway on a blind hill that I estimate to be 1/4 mile long and so narrow that two vehicles of any size would be unable to pass each other.    This amazed me because most RV’s staying in the park were large Class A’s, including one next to us that is the biggest I have ever seen in our travels at 46 feet in length.   I kept wondering how they were getting these huge RV’s down this drive and what if they met up with another vehicle?   Whenever we ventured down the driveway to go in or out I feared we might encounter someone coming the opposite way.

One night driving back late we were halfway down the drive when we came upon a small car which flashed their lights that they wanted us to back up.   I got out to help guide Mark through the pitch blackness.   Just then another set of lights approached from the rear.   We found out the owners were in the car in front of us and now they decided to back up on the side of the hill near the cemetery to make room.   As I perched on the bank, Mark had to drive on down without me as he couldn’t locate me in the dark and needed to get out of the way of the oncoming truck.   The owner insisted on giving me a ride the rest of the way to our campsite.     Summing up the confusion he said, “Well, it always works out all right on the farm.”   Although I didn’t agree, it gave me a few chuckles thinking about what happened.

I thought I would include the above photo to show how a campground can look after almost five straight days of rain.    Although our site was not flooded, some of the others were.    When I ventured out to wander the campground including those goldenrod fields and the railroad bridge, my soaked tennis shoes would not dry out that night.   When we left to travel on to Virginia, I had a newly purchased pair of rubber boots from Walmart in the back of the truck.

Thanks for reading – in the next blog we move on to another campsite on the Blue Ridge Parkway of Virginia.

Cass Scenic Railroad State Park

I am jumping ahead from my last posts focusing on Maine to our recent travels through West Virginia.   My posts have been a few months behind and I thought I would write on more recent experiences to bring the blog better up to date.   As I write this, we have visited all the New England states and had wonderful experiences which I plan to write about in future blogs.   We will be spending the Fall in the Appalachian states and so in this post I will write about one of our favorite experiences in West Virginia, riding the trains!    When planning our stay in West Virginia, we knew we wanted to ride the Cass Scenic Railroad in the Eastern part of the state.   What we didn’t know until we arrived to our campground near the town of Elkins, was that there were other interesting train trips available in the area.   We ended up riding three different trains three days in a row and had a great time doing it.   I will start with Cass, the last one we rode and perhaps the highlight.

The Cass Railroad is actually a West Virginia State Park.   The park showcases not only the trains, but also the company town that began here in 1901.   It was built for the loggers who worked in the nearby mountains bringing lumber to the mill in the town of Cass.   The mill closed in 1960 when the timber industry declined and in 1961 the town became a state park.    Part of the sawmill still stands but is mostly in ruins.   The trains now carry passengers on the same tracks that the lumber trains once used.   In the photo above, one of the trains takes on water from the tank before heading out on a trip.

Before we hopped on the train we were able to tour the very large machine shop where train engines are serviced and repaired.    In the photo above the largest steam engine at the park is being serviced.   There was an amazing array of equipment and with so many parts and pieces laying everywhere I couldn’t help but wonder how they found anything or kept up with it all, but  there is probably a great system in place.    Since we had free rein around the shop, I had to be careful where I walked since it was so easy to trip over things.   I wonder what OSHA would think?

This is the first time we have seen so many steam engines in one place.   Eight are located here and before our trip they had a few of them running along the tracks at the same time, checking them out or getting ready to leave.    It was fun to see so much train energy at one time.    There are more of these steam engines here than any where else in the world.   In the photo below is the Cass Shop where the trains receive maintenance and the back of Number 5 in front of the shop.   Number 5 has been making runs into the mountains for almost 100 years.  This engine is also in the first photo above.

We were lucky because we ended up being in the car closest to the engine.   The cars have bench seats, a roof and open windows to make it easy to look out.   Our seats were right next to the engine as it pushed the cars up the track.   I spent much of my time standing and looking at all that wonderful steam and smoke and listening to the engine chug along.

I love riding trains, especially steam trains.   I don’t mind the smoke, grit and noise.   Although sometimes I had to put my fingers in my ears because it did get loud when the whistle blew as we were so close.   Since ash and cinders occasionally fell on us, I had to be careful to not get a piece of of it in my eyes.

The train was so close that Mark could reach out and touch the Builder Plate.   He said it was not hot, but definitely warm.   Our engine, Number 11 was originally built in 1923 and is from Feather Falls, California.   We found it funny that a train from our home state came in 1997 to Cass Railroad State Park to be added to their collection.

The train trip was very scenic the whole way with views of streams, thick forests and plenty of mountains.    West Virginia is known as the “Mountain State” and we could certainly agree after visiting.   Our objective was Bald Knob, the third highest point in West Virginia, so we were traveling up hill during most of the trip.

Once we reached Bald Knob located at 4,842 feet we were given time to wander the mountain top and soak up the views.   A large wooden platform perched on the edge offered a spectacular sight into West Virginia valleys below.  We were so fortunate to have perfect weather especially since prior to this trip it had been raining for about four days straight!   It was sunny and the clouds were lovely.

From the platform you can also see into two states, Pennsylvania and Virginia.   It was interesting to see how the Alleghany Mountains of Eastern West Virginia run parallel for many miles, looking so orderly.   To the right in the photo below you can see towards Virginia in the distance where the Alleghenies meet the Blue Ridge Mountains, our next destination after leaving West Virginia.

Our trip lasted almost five hours and was 22 miles round trip with two stops.   It was a beautiful historic ride and relaxing.   There is something about a train trip that puts you in a relaxed mood.

Mark took the photo below using the panorama mode.   The picture looks like there is no barrier between me and the train as it is moving, although that was not the case.   Even though the picture is distorted, I thought I would share since I find it funny.

Does anyone have a favorite train trip they have taken?   Would love to hear of your experiences!    Stay tuned as I share about our other train rides in West Virginia.

A Visit to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

Harper’s Ferry is such a beautiful place with lots of atmosphere that it captured my heart.   Located in West Virginia but bordered by Virginia and Maryland, it is defined by two rivers, the Potomac and Shenandoah that meet here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.   The town is also very historic with the National Park Service (NPS) managing a number of sites including some museums.  In the picture below, Mark stands looking out where the two rivers meet.  The views are really neat here.   An old railroad bridge across the Potomac to the left, can be walked on and connected to the Appalachian trail.

In 1747, John Harper, a builder of mills settled here.  He started a ferry service across the rivers, hence the town’s name.   This was once a thriving factory town powered by the rivers with a number of mills built beginning in the early 1800’s.  Walking along the Shenandoah River, you can see the ruins of cotton and flour mills like the flour mill ruin pictured below.   Floods, the Civil War and other factors took their toll on manufacturing here.  Besides the mills, there was also an important armory and arsenal established by George Washington.  It was here that  muskets, rifles and pistols were manufactured between 1800 – 1861.  Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition obtained many of his supplies here including ammunition and guns.

Harpers Ferry is a hilly town with narrow streets and buildings clinging to the hillside.   This makes it even more interesting to explore.

My favorite exploration was the walk up the hill to Jefferson’s Rock.  It involves lots of steep old stone steps to the top.  Along the way is St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, built in 1833 for Irish laborers that came to build the railroad.  During the Civil War, the priest flew the British Union Jack flag as a symbol of the church’s neutral status, sparing it from destruction.  Services are still held here each Sunday.  The view of the church with the steps reminded me of a scene from a European village.

Here is another view looking down at the side of the church as I made my way along the road.

Jefferson’s Rock was named for Thomas Jefferson who loved the view up here so much that in 1783 he was quoted as saying:  “This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”   Around 1860, the armory superintendent ordered supports be placed under the rock because it was endangering the lives and properties of the villagers below.   Today, the rock is off limits to sit or stand on.

The view is really special here.  I couldn’t help thinking though, what a difference from when Jefferson was here.  He would have had lots of peace and quiet as he stared at these hills and the rivers.  Today instead there is lots of road noise from busy Highway 340 far below which travels by the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.   Here is the view from near the rock looking left toward the Potomac.

Before walking back down the hill, I walked on a little bit of the Appalachian Trail which passes right near to Jefferson’s Rock.  I also explored an old cemetery on the hillside and checked out the Lockwood House, which served as headquarters for Union Generals and after the War as one of America’s first schools for freed slaves.  On my way back down I took this picture of the town with another old railroad bridge and tunnel through the mountain in the distance.

Harper’s Ferry is perhaps best known for John Brown, an abolitionist who in 1859 along with his army of 21 men, seized the armory with the intent to arm enslaved people and start a rebellion.    Thirty-six hours later, the raid was over when Brown and his followers were captured by the U.S. Marines.   Fifteen people died before the raiders were taken.  His raid stirred up the passions of the people on both sides of the slavery issue.  Below is a picture of his “fort “ where he and his followers barricaded themselves during their final hours of the raid and capture.    When Brown took it over, it was the Armory’s fire engine and guard house.  It is located near where the armory once stood.  The building has a rather unique history and became a building on the move.   It survived the Civil War and in 1891 was sold, dismantled and transported to Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition, (the World’s Fair).  In 1894 it was returned to Harpers Ferry and placed on a farm.  It was moved to another location again before the National Park Service acquired the building in 1960 and moved it back near the original location.

John Brown was taken to the county seat of Charles Town, where he was tried and found guilty of treason, murder and inciting slaves to rebel.  He was sentenced to death by hanging.  His trial and death became big news all over the country.   After our visit to Harpers Ferry, we drove over to Charles Town and saw the stately court house where Brown was tried.   This town was founded by George Washington’s youngest brother, Charles.  He donated four plots of land for town and county buildings including the land where the court house sits.

I will close this post with a picture from the RV park we stayed at in Maryland called Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park.  I had heard of these Yogi Bear parks which are in various locations throughout the country but never thought we would stay in one.   When researching parks in the area, this seemed to be the best so booked us a stay.  After arriving here and seeing the large water park tube slides, pools and many kid related activities such as go karts, miniature golf, paint ball range and crafts, I thought we were in for a noisy and busy weekend.  But it was quieter here than we expected, (it did rain some) and the park was really quite lovely, set off a ways from the road with woods surrounding the camp sites.  I even went one night to the outdoor theater where they were showing a silly Yogi Bear movie that came out a few years ago.   Hey, why not, I was in Yogi country!

Thanks for reading and keep following us as we travel on to Delaware and great camping at a state park!

A Day in Two States

After a month in Virginia we left for Maryland and our campsite for a week outside Hagerstown.   Hagerstown is located in the northwest corner of Maryland, close to West Virginia.  This area is known for two main attractions, the C & O Canal Historic National Park and Antietam Battlefield.  We visited both of those places, the old C & O Canal was just a few miles from us.  On this post I wanted to talk about Antietam, the bloodiest single day of battle during the Civil War.

Antietam Battlefield is located near the small town of Sharpsburg and is managed by the National Park Service.  There is a visitor center with a film and exhibits.  In the picture above, I am standing outside the visitor center with the field of battle behind me.  Today, much of the area retains the look as during the Civil War as the battlefield has been preserved.  A driving tour winds throughout the area with many monuments and plaques honoring the different regiments that fought on these fields.  Mark and I did not stop to read all these monuments as it is just too much to absorb and remember.   In this blog I wanted to note some of the interesting places that we did stop and explore along the route.

The Dunker Church pictured above, was built in 1852 and used by German Baptist Brethren.  A half dozen farm families worshipped here in the early years.   It became the focal point for Union attacks the morning of the battle.  It is noteworthy that one of the most important structures left from Antietam is a place of worship associated with peace and love.   When the fighting was over, the church was used as a medical aid station as well as a place to exchange the dead and wounded after a truce was made.   The church building was damaged by bullets and artillery shells, suffering hits to both walls and roof.   In 1864 it was repaired and continued to be used for worship.  The congregation eventually moved to a new church and the building was subsequently destroyed by a storm in 1921.  The building was restored in 1962 on the same foundation with as many original materials as possible.  Today you can view the inside of the church.  The Dunkers believed in simplicity which can be seen in their plain wooden benches.  Men sat on one side and women on the other.

The Joseph Poffenberger Farm was one of my favorite stops with an original farm house, barn and outbuildings.  Union troops occupied the farmstead and also used stored goods, wood and farm animals to keep troops fed and supplied.  This was a common occurrence not only at Antietam but also at other Civil War battlefields when farms were taken over by armies and families were left with depleted or ruined homes, lands, crops and livestock.  Today it is beautifully maintained by the National Park Service.

Known as the “Angel of the Battlefield,” Clara Barton is one of the heroes of Antietam and honored with a monument and plaque at the tour stop above.   It was on this field that Clara and her volunteers first ministered to the troops bringing bandages for the wounded and providing food to wounded and dying men.  She also provided aid on later battlefields.  Clara is perhaps best known for founding the Red Cross in 1881.

In the picture above, I am standing on Sunken Road, also known as “Bloody Lane,” one of the sites with numerous casualties.   For three hours, 2,200 Confederates, later reinforced by additional troops, held off the attacks of a combined Union force of almost 10,000.  An observer to the battle noted:  “They were lying in rows like the ties of a railroad, in heaps like cordwood mingled with the splintered and shattered fence rails.  Words are inadequate to portray the scene.”

Burnside Bridge which spans Antietam Creek is one of the most scenic areas of the Battlefield.  It was here that approximately 500 Confederate soldiers held the area for three hours until the Union finally captured the bridge, forcing the Confederates back towards Sharpsburg.  The “Burnside Sycamore” tree you can see by the bridge in the photo, would have been a witness to the fighting.  It still stands more than 150 years later.

This farm pictured above was quietly owned by the Pry family for twenty years before a knock on the door changed all that.  General George McClellan, in charge of Union forces decided to make this home his headquarters.  Thousands of soldiers and horses took over the farm, knocking down fences, trampling crops and taking livestock to feed the army.  The house and barn were used as field hospitals and the Union Army remained here for two months.  After the battle, Mr. Pry filed numerous claims with the War Department for damages to his farm.  Some of the claims were paid but not all, causing financial hardship for the family.  In 1874, the Prys sold the home and moved to Tennessee.

The youngest person to die at Antietam was a 13 year old drummer named Charley King who served with the Pennsylvania Infantry.   Musicians were important with buglers and drummers leading armies into battle.   Charley was wounded by an artillery shell and died three days later.  The drum, pictured above was found in a field and belonged to another drummer from New Jersey whose name is inscribed on the drum head.

The cost in human life was high at Antietam – of nearly 100,000 soldiers engaged in fighting, about 23,000 were killed, wounded or missing.   Although the Union Army fared better, there seemed to be no clear winner in this contest.

After Antietam we headed to Shepherdstown, West Virginia.  A few days earlier we found out that a general store there has a music jam session each Thursday night which we wanted to check out.  We had an early dinner in Shepherdstown and then walked around this cute historic town, considered the oldest in West Virginia.   O’Hurley’s General Store has been around a long time, more than 100 years and has old, creaky wooden floors and an ancient cash register.  The store has several rooms filled with all manner of things including hardware, cookware, housewares, toys, and gift items.  The music jam takes place in the large back room which also has items for sale.

A good size group showed up to play at the jam bringing an array of instruments including a harp, autoharp, guitars, mandolin, hammered dulcimers and fiddles.   The store owner cracked us up when he walked around showing everyone a sign about no talking while the group was playing.  Below, a picture of the jam in progress with Mark sitting in one of the rockers on the side of the room.  There were a number of rockers for sale that visitors could sit in while listening to the music.

We stayed for a few hours and it was an enjoyable evening of folk and Celtic music.  The funniest part was when the store clerk came in and interrupted the group saying that someone wanted to buy two red Tiffany style lamps.  The lamps were on a table against the wall and she couldn’t get to them unless a few of the musicians moved out of the way.  The musician/owner laughingly stated, “first things first.”

It was a great day in Maryland and West Virginia, with history and music!

Thanks for checking in with us.  In the next post I will write about our day at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.