Usually the leaves in Pendleton County WV reach peak fall color around October 14-21, but the whole month of September into October was so dry this year that many leaves have dried up and fallen before obtaining their normal vibrant colors. There are still pockets of color to be found though, especially in the valleys, so you still catch some color, if you don’t wait too long.
On October 14th, at Spruce Knob Lake, the usual magnificent reflections of color on the water were not to be had, but with the sky such a beautiful, clear blue and the temperature at 70 plus degrees, there were no complaints from us.
We have never seen so many folks fishing at the lake as we did this past Saturday, as we walked the easy, level trail around the lake, taking photos and enjoying the balmy weather.
I found that the lack of leaf colors caused me to look more closely at everything else as we walked.
Interesting textures and the odors of warm fall earth, still water and decaying plants became more important.
After leaving the lake we drove up the partly gravel road to Spruce Knob, the highest point in the state. We were a little sad to see that most of the trees towards the west had already lost their leaves. The wind was not bad and it was a gorgeous view of the West Virginia hills, regardless.
We followed a trail down from the lookout tower that goes through some loose rocks onto a small level meadow. The views to the east and South were excellent from there.
A few huge boulders you can climb on walked the meadow.
I thought this one looked like a lumbering short legged creature from the stone age. I did climb up and sit on top pretending it was a horse sort of thing.
There were Mountain Ash on top of the mountain, with brilliant scarlet berries, dark green Spruce trees leaning out of the constant western wind, and the wonderfully textured sandstone aggregate rocks to admire.
You can never go wrong with a trip up to Spruce Knob and the drive back down on the east side is paved. Route 33 East to Franklin has the Germany Valley overlook as another highlight.
This maple was one of the few colorful trees we saw up close and it looks great with the sumac and Germany Valley beyond.
The Potomac Valley and other lower elevations should be pretty in the next week, especially since we finally got a rain last week. Even after the leaves fall, Spruce Knob, in Pendleton County, West Virginia is a magical place to visit. (Click on the Link for photos from 2016)
Compton Rocks is a cool geologic feature and a short hike off the Skyline Drive, near Front Royal Virginia. It is one of many short and sweet hikes in the Shenandoah National Park that you can do on a whim if you don’t have a lot of time.
Long ago volcanic activity squeezed basalt up through cracks in the earth to form these long, six sided shapes.
The rocks look like giant, extruded honeycombs, baked hard. The fairly level trail comes at the rock outcropping from the top side and you follow a small path down and around to get a good view.
One way back up is to climb through the rubble slot canyon but there are easier routes.
For a good view, follow the trail back the other direction to Compton Peak and stop at the roadside pull offs to gaze over the Shenandoah Valley below. While you are out that way you could go check out Skyline Caverns back down at the base of the mountain. Both are fun places to take kids.
It is February 20th, 2017 and we are not having winter. Out in the mountains of Pendleton County, West Virginia, the temperature is in the upper 60’s (F) in the valley and the 50’s where we are on Pike Knob. To get here you drive out Route 33 West from Franklin to a left on county road 18. A left branch of the road used to go through to Smiths Creek but has reverted back to being a privately maintained farm lane, even though the map we have says otherwise. The main road bears right , headed over the mountain, and was the main road between Franklin and Circleville years ago, before Route 33 was built. The road starts out narrow and graveled, until you pass the last farm gate and then it gets much rougher as it continues uphill. You will see trees posted with Nature Conservancy signs your right.
I get so peaceful when traveling on gravel roads in the West Virginia Mountains. The hillside farms with their cows, sheep, and woven wire fences feel like home to me. Farm gates beckon me and I can imagine living there, tucked away from the world. We notice numerous springs and drive through a small stream as we wind upward towards an old fire tower site on Pike Knob.
About two thirds of the way up the hill, big rocks jutting out of the road bed, caused us to park the car and walk the rest of the way up. A lone Subaru made the same decision not far below us.
As we climb, we see dark, rainy looking clouds starting to get hung up on the ridge and hope we can manage to stay dry on our hike to the 4300 foot summit. We didn’t bring our rain gear or packs on this short hike, just water bottles and cameras.
When we reach the low saddle, hanging between two knobs on the ridge, there is an intersection, where the old road bed drops down on the west side, a ridge path heads south and our trail winds to the North. The wind picks up and we can see the valley on the western side of the hill through the naked tree branches.
Sunlight moves across the valley in small patches, illuminating a barn and fields in the distance. We continue veering to the right along the ridge, noting some recent tire tracks probably from whoever recently sawed the downed trees along the way.
We come to more yellow signage from the Nature Conservancy, asking vehicles to keep out, but allowing deer hunting and hiking, as we walk along a ever narrowing path through Mountain Laurels and pines.
The trail in has not been very steep, and the temperature is warm when we are not exposed to the wind. Our jackets keep coming off and then going back on again.
Just as we reach the highest point, we see a wooden fence and a guy sitting on the ground against it. We say howdy and he tells us he has not been up here in 30 years, when he dropped off supplies for a friend who was doing a long distance ridge hike. The fire tower is gone, with only the concrete foundation posts and the 1956 USGS survey marker left and Pines have grown up in that spot so there is no longer a view. There are a bunch of cool lichens growing on the trees though.
He tells us about the great views a little further on, out on the grassy knoll we had caught a glimpse of back in the saddle. We had no idea we would be able to get out there and are excited to go.
We say goodbye and slide through the people stile in the fence, heading towards the open field, called Nelson Sods. There are no trail markers but you can follow an old roadbed depression out to the meadow if you drop down to the right a bit.
The View From Nelson Sods at Pikes Knob
The view is amazing and the clouds are scudding on by. We can see the backside of Nelson Rocks , one of the many fins of Quartzite and Tuscarora Sandstone that are seen standing edgewise on local ridges. Further in the distance, and obscured by the clouds today, is the highest point in West Virginia, Spruce Knob. Quite often, rains do not make it over that ridge to this, the North Mountain Ridge, so it tends to be much drier.
We enjoy the 360 degree views for awhile before heading back. Along the way we remember the wall of rock that was almost visible through the woods on our way up. There does not seem to be a trail that goes there so we head out cross country through the laurels and pines. It would have been easier if we were about the size of a fox. There were a few greenbriars and a lot of blueberry bushes along the way, but we finally emerged atop some gorgeous rocks with views to the southeast.
More cross country, downhill over rocks, towards the old road, and we emerged near our car. On the way down we met another vehicle turning at the farm gate and we stopped to say howdy. It was a man showing a friend the back way into his farm. He was friendly and agreed that he was lucky to live here.
The weather on the east side had cleared up and the skies were getting seriously blue as we came down the mountain.
Then we saw a Cd disk flashing in the sun a little ways up the hollow where we crossed the little stream. I had to investigate, and since it was still Nature Conservancy land, we were allowed to hike here.
There was something of a path leading to a humongous rock outcropping and it was starting to look a little cavey.
I found a shallow cave that pinched out pretty quick but it had a large entrance and a cool window.
We hiked further up the draw against the base of the rocks, checking out all the little springs and looking up at the overhanging ledges. It is so much fun to explore a place we have never seen before. I was surprised to find a little group of invasive ladybugs under a rock.
We could hear water gurgling underground that did not emerge until way down slope. At one point we found a dried up fish, tied by a string from a low branch. Bear bait? Then I found a just plain pretty rock.
Next, we found a peacock feather tied with orange baling twine. Very strange. It was warmer here and hard to believe it was February as we scrambled over rocks and once again got in the car to leave.
Coming back down the mountain we appreciated the late day sunlight hitting this cabin.
Then we felt a little sadness for the abandoned homestead in the valley. Considering it was February though, we never would have expected such a pleasant day wandering around, exploring whatever came our way. It is so nice to be able to appreciate the peace and beauty of the West Virginia mountains.
For the Martin Luther King weekend we drove 3 hours out to our cabin in Pendleton County, West Virginia, taking our granddaughter Vivian with us. The weather has been so dreary for the past week, with grey, drizzly skies and temperatures stuck in the 40’s that we figured we’d mostly stay inside and play games. We had been hoping for some snow to play in. I usually prefer relaxing with a good book to board games but games geared to a six year old are easy enough to handle, in between chapters.
All day Saturday and then again on Sunday, we played board games; Community, Gathering the Garden, Snakes and Ladders, Quirkle, and Trouble. In between we all read or listened on our Kindles. I stoked the fire, tore out and rewound my old knitting, cooked and read a book but eventually the fog lifted, it stopped raining, and I had to get outside.
Wet Dry Run and a Movie
Dry Run was full of water for a change, so Vivian and I headed down the hill to check out the dam we had built last year. We had spent hours playing in the creek together, and our thrown up berm of rocks was still mostly intact. We can look forward to rebuilding the small breach when the weather turns nice in the spring. I wish the creek ran all the time but with all the limestone around here, it sinks into cave-y places pretty quick.
We kept walking down the paved road, past the big spring where the town of Franklin gets their water. This spring never dries up and there is a cement holding pond for them to draw from. The county ran 5 miles of pipe to carry this spring water into Franklin back in the 1960’s when the Hanover Shoe Factory was built out on Thorn Spring Road, and in the flood of 1985, they had to replace 5000 feet of it, as well as dig all the rock debris out of the spring.
Our place is located uphill from this spring so we collect rain from our roof into an underground cistern for our water at the cabin. So close, yet so far away… No complaints, it works fine for our needs.
Continuing on our walk, we turned onto the hardly ever used, dirt lane that leads to an old hilltop meadow. We branched off at a 4 wheel drive track , back towards our hill, and then again onto the old logging road. This scenic route is much longer, but not near as steep a climb, as our driveway. Short legs only grumbled a little. It was a pretty long walk for her. We checked out lots of cool fossil rocks on the way as we followed the zig-zagging log trails back down the steep hillside to home.
Saturday night we had introduced Vivian to the first Harry Potter Movie, which went over pretty well. She did not get too scared and we were looking forward to the second one tonight. There is no TV reception at the cabin but we enjoy watching DVD’s curled up on the couch by the wood stove. Wine and cookies work too.
Reeds Creek Fish Hatchery
Monday, after eating a yummy lunch at the Fireside Cafe in Franklin, we drove out to Reeds Creek Fish Hatchery. They grow trout to stock the lakes and rivers in West Virginia, using (and reusing) water from a huge spring. There are long, open concrete tanks set in the ground with a constant supply of cold spring water flowing through the thousands of fish. The fish are grouped by size and some of them are huge. The Golden Trout are the most fun because they are the easiest to see.
The other trout we saw were dark, with spots, but I am not sure if they were Brook, Rainbow or Brown trout. When they see you coming they all start moving fast and jumping, expecting to be fed. Notice the dark one in the above photo with his mouth wide open. Visitors are not allowed to feed or touch the fish, but the hatchery gate is open until 3:30 in the afternoon and it is fun to watch them. When their fins breach the surface it looks like a whole bunch of little sharks.
It looks like a great place to find dinner if you are a Heron or an Eagle and I don’t know how they manage to keep them out. When we were there we didn’t see any dogs or anybody to ask. They were probably out stocking the rivers.
It is too bad that no one has built an Aquaponics greenhouse using the water from this hatchery. It would be a great way to make use of the nutrient rich water before it joins the creek. It is probably too far to a market where they could sell the produce, though. Someone would have to do a lot of driving.