My Southern Excursion, Part 4

The following is the fourth and final installment recounting my trip to Georgia. For the first three parts, see “My Southern Excursion, Part 1,” “Part 2,” and “Part 3.”

The final leg of my northbound journey had just one planned stop, at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Davis, WV. Already, I had stretched a journey that can be made in 18 hours into a three-day excursion, and too many more diversions would add a fourth day. While I would not have minded an additional day, I found my desires at odds with my wallet. After all, being unemployed necessitates a weekly visit to Connecticut as the state does not offer direct deposit. So, after ending the second day of my trip at an I-79 rest area in Servia, WV, I continued north to US-33, which would take me into the Monongahela National Forest before delivering me to WV-32 and this day’s destination.

Departing I-79 in Weston, I headed east (technically, south) on US-33. As the sun began to rise, the predawn darkness gave way to crystal-clear skies intermittently obscured by thick fog. In the moments I escaped the fog, I found myself amidst meadows and mountains whose trees had, in some places, begun their transformation from lush green to the vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges of fall. The landscape, largely undeveloped, afforded breathtaking views of forests in transition as I sped down the highway and into the Monongahela National Forest. As I had encountered the day before, however, US-33 is not prepared for sightseeing and thus makes no accommodations for capturing photographs of this natural beauty. Were it not for the tractor trailers, I may have pulled to the side of US-33 to capture some of the vistas that surround it, but doing so seemed an unwise decision. After passing through Elkins, WV, I soon arrived in Harman, where WV-32 heads north to Davis.

After a relatively short drive along WV-32, I stopped at the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters where I picked up the requisite materials for any visit to one of these protected areas: an informational pamphlet with the refuge’s map and history, and a wildlife handout describing what made this particular tract worth preserving. I then headed north along WV-32 into Davis, where I could access the northern portion of the refuge. Turning onto Camp 70 Road, I continued past the pavement’s end and across a one-lane bridge, entering the refuge and land preserved by the Canaan Valley Institute. I passed the occasional fisherman, and even some hunters encamped on Institute land, before stopping to take my first pictures of the morning. Then, finding myself at a three-way split that was not detailed on the Wildlife Refuge map, I decided to turn back and head south for fear of getting lost in the woods.

I next headed to Old Timberline Road, but finding this parking area overwhelmed by a local outing club, I headed south once again. Along Timberline Road, I discovered a fishing platform that provided a noteworthy view of a lone tree already fully turned a deep shade of red. The low shrubs surrounding this tree, retaining their muted green hues, set against the clear, blue sky, created a striking juxtaposition of color. With the Blackwater River ambling by, the platform had a serenity that belied its nearness to civilization. Satisfied that I’d taken in all the beauty this platform and Timberline Road could provide, I made my way back to WV-32 and down to Freeland Road.

It was along Freeland Road that I found the most beautiful section of the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Here, a wide meadow, bisected by an intermittent stream, leads to a gradually-rising set of mountains covered by trees in various stages of their fall foliage ritual. Opposite the meadow and road sit a rustic barn and shed, complete with quintessential pale-gray siding. At the center of the meadow, surrounding the intermittent stream, lie a set of wooden walkways that provide easy access to a stand of Canaan firs while simultaneously allowing visitors access to the heart of the meadow without disturbing its natural beauty. From these walkways, one has a panoramic view of the splendor that characterizes West Virginia’s Canaan Valley.

Once I had captured the beauty of the Canaan Valley from the southern end of its National Wildlife Refuge, I headed north once again along WV-32. In hindsight, I should have begun my exploration at the southern end after stopping at the refuge’s headquarters, but having relatively no plans for these adventures makes them that much more enjoyable. As I headed north past the refuge, I wondered if I would be able to access its eastern side. Whereas a three-way split in the road had impeded my access to its northern portion earlier in the day, I feared that the eastern access road was unpaved and likely impassible in my car. Unfortunately, my fears were confirmed when I came upon A-Frame Road. Had I not suffered a flat tire the previous day, I might have chanced a drive down the unpaved access road, but without cellphone service or a spare tire, the potential of becoming stranded in the refuge outweighed the beauty I might have encountered. With this realization, I continued north along a circuitous route that eventually delivered me to New Hampshire.

The final portion of my journey, which took me from West Virginia through Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and finally, to New Hampshire, was intended more for me to be able to say I’ve driven through this place or that, rather than to provide any scenic stops along the way. The only notable aspects of this final traverse were two electrical generation facilities owned by Dominion Resources. The first, its Mt. Storm Power Station, sits aside a reservoir created as a cooling pond that is open to recreational uses including scuba diving. The heat generated by the coal-fired power plant maintains the reservoir at a temperature that permits diving even in winter months, an oddity considering its location in the Allegheny Mountains at an elevation of 3,244 feet. The second distinguishing feature of this part of the Allegheny’s (aside from its natural beauty) is Dominion’s NedPower Mount Storm wind turbine installation. Consisting of 132 wind turbines situated over 12 miles of the Allegheny Front, their presence seems at odds with the relatively-undeveloped area that surrounds them. That being said, I can understand why Dominion built where it did. On the particular day I traveled through the area, winds were gusting up to 40 miles per hour and every turbine I could see was consistently rotating.

Arriving in New Hampshire around midnight, I was both satisfied to have completed another journey yet disappointed it had come to an end. At the same time, I was contemplating my next adventure.

Complete galleries for the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge and the rest of my Georgia roadtrip are available on Picasa at