Monday, January 27, 2014


When my husband proposed an October trip to West Virginia, I was skeptical. I had a hard time (okay, impossible time) coming up with any of the state's main attractions. All I could think of was John Denver's song "Country Roads." Bob assured me that we would have plenty to do, and that we could drift over into neighboring states along the way. At the very least, we should catch the tail end of the autumn colors. I was pretty sure his ulterior motive was the fact that he hadn't yet checked the West Virginia box on his "States I Have Visited" list, but with a sigh I consented to his plan.

I should know by now not to doubt Bob's travel ideas. Whenever he plans a trip, it's full of fun surprises. This trip turned out to be a blast.

We flew in to Charleston Airport, spent the night in a hotel about an hour north of the city, and set off early the next morning for our first destination: Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia.
Charleston and Spruce Knob are circled, with a badly made *0
marking the approximate location of Blackwater Falls

Meet Henry Gassaway Davis. Never heard of him? Me neither, but the residents of Elkins appparently like him quite a bit. No wonder, as he was a self-made millionaire (coal mining, logging, and railways) and West Virginia's U.S. Senator from 1871 to 1883. At age 80 he was/is still the oldest nominee for Vice President. He ran on the Democratic ticket with Alton B. Parker as the Presidential nominee. They lost to Teddy Roosevelt and Charles Fairbanks. Yeah, he deserves a nice statue. He does look a bit depressed, however. Maybe this is just after he lost his bid for the Vice Presidency.

Our first real stop along the way was at Seneca Rocks, a craggy mass rising 900 feet above the stream at its base and the only true peak on the eastern coast of the United States. It is a pinnacle my rock-climbing son would love:
When we stopped at a little grocery store for a few supplies, I got my first whiff of West Virginia culture:
I guess it's okay to be drunk AFTER church, but not before or during.
I love the neologism: until + till = untill
I couldn't resist this homemade candy and bought a bag.
Potato-peanut butter pinwheels aren't too bad.
We started our ascent on the forest service road to the "summit" in late autumn:
Gradually the climate began to change. The fallen leaves that covered the ground . . .
. . . began to give way to what looked like sifted powdered sugar:
For a while the unlikely marriage of the brilliant colors of fall and the pristine white of winter kept drawing us out of the car for more photos. The road was narrow without much of a shoulder, but we seemed to be the only tourists making the trek to the alpine heights.

In just a few miles, the technicolor turned into black, gray, and white:

Meanwhile, the higher we got, the lower the outside temperature dropped:
I got out of the car long enough to snap this photo of Bob, but then I got back inside while he tramped on to the Observation Tower. (My California blood is just too thin for 24 degrees.) While he was gone, I had time to ponder West Virginia's moniker: The Mountain State. Seriously? Hmmm.
Spruce Knob is the high point of the Allegheny Mountains, a southern ridge of the Appalachians.These are just not the kind of mountains I am used to seeing--the Sierras and the Rockies--but as far as hills go, they are really beautiful:
We started back down through the winter wonderland . . .
. . . stopping for yet more pictures along the way. (I'm pretty sure my snow-weary sisters in Montana and Minnesota will snicker as they read this.)
Gradually Mother Nature shrugged off her ermine coat . . .

. . . to reveal her rather ostentatious ball gown underneath:

Yup. You can tell by the number of photos that we are Southern Californians.

Our next stop was Blackwater Falls State Park. Although it is at an elevation of only 2,897 feet, the weather was fairly blustery. It was a rather gloomy day, the dull gray skies hesitating between simply pouting and a full-blown tantrum.

We felt as if we had inadvertently walked onto the set of Disney's movie Frozen:
It was eerily quiet, even with the turbulent rush of the falls over a 57-foot-tall sandstone cliff:
It doesn't show up well in my pictures, but the water was a strange tea-like color, caused by the leaching of tannins from the surrounding pine forest:
We had only taken a few photos before the pouting definitely erupted into a tantrum and the sky began to clobber us with ice pellets:

Going back up the stairs we had just come down was suddenly  more challenging, but hey, we Californians can appreciate a good snowstorm when one hits us:

Time to head out to our bed and breakfast in the booming metropolis of Davis (population 650, but strategically located near a ski resort and hence ready for tourists).

That night before turning in we ate at the restaurant across the street, Hellbender Burritos. Coming from the land of Real Mexican Food as we do, we were naturally pretty skeptical about what we might discover in this restaurant, especially after noting the restaurant's subtitle: "A West Virginia Burreatery." Really? Much to our surprise, it turned out to be a destination restaurant--a place worth driving to just to eat there.

 In case you're wondering, a hellbender is a bona fide species of salamander native to the eastern United States. What it has to do with burritos is anyone's guess, but after eating a couple of their burritos, I didn't care about the name anymore.

The menu itself notes, "If you're looking for authentic Mexican food, you've come to the wrong place. But, if you're looking for unique, West Virginia inspired meal-sized burritos filled with homemade ingredients, Hellbender Burritos is for you. Barbecue burrito? Frito Pie Burrito? Buffalo Burrito? Yes, yes and YES!"

Bob and I bypassed the three aforementioned selections in favor of the Hoodoo Voodoo Burrito and the Lost Hiker Burrito:
The New Orlean's inspired Hoodoo Voodoo consists of olive tapenade, shredded carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, feta cheese, and garlic mayo. The Lost Hiker contains guacamole, sauteed mushrooms, cheddar jack cheese, lettuce, and bleu cheese dressing. Weird and weirdly good--both of them.

It didn't hurt that the key lime pie we had for dessert was just about the best key lime pie I've ever had.
 You know, I'd go back to West Virginia just for a second go-round at Hellbender's. It was Almost Heaven.


  1. Okay, so cut me some slack next time.... I loved the fall leaves and freshly fallen snow. One of my favorite snow storms of all time, although I haven't really been in a good snow storm for many, many years. The burrito place is a gem. I was just looking on Trip Advisor and someone rating the restaurant was talking about it being one of the worst burritos he's ever had. He didn't get the memo - he was looking for beans and rice in his burrito. If that is what you are there for, it will be a disappointment. I loved West Virginia.

  2. I did cringe at your enjoyment of all that snowy scenery, but I loved the progression of pictures from fall leaves to snow covered fall leaves to snow. We don't get those beautiful autumn colors. I might enjoy the snow more if we did.

  3. Loved your metaphors and similes--you are a true English professor! But the colorful progression, both up the mountain and down, was stunning, and I can't believe you hiked down all those steps to the falls. I agree with your assessment of those mountains being "hills." Dave and I had the same reaction while touring New England and the Northeast.