“Almost heaven, West Virginia” John Denver begins, setting our expectations high for a weekend in the Appalachian Mountains. Admittedly until now all I knew about West Virginia was that song I’d learn’t in 3rd grade, and the ginseng hunters of Appalachian Outlaws. The former talking it up as a paradise and the later not doing much for its reputation at all. Being just across the border from my new home state it was worth a long weekend to check it out.
Hiking the Dolly Sods Wildness in Monongahela National Forest during early Autumn gives little clue to the heavenly spectacle of red-green colours this region is known for. However its bareness reveals many interesting textures from windswept boulders to carpet-like mosses. Sometimes you have to work that bit harder to find the “pretty” – put aside preconceptions and look at something for what it is, and not what you had dreamed up in your head beforehand.
The Dolly Sods derives its name from the Dahles, a German homesteading family, and “sods”the local term for a mountaintop field. The bog and heath ecosystems of the uplands are more characteristic of Canadian landscapes than those of the U.S. While barren, twiggy grey hardwoods and laurel thickets fill the valleys, evergreens colour the ridges and peaks. The trails are rough, and often lost under the gold and plum hued leaf litter or washed out by Red Creek. Snow remains in patches at the highest altitudes and ankle rolling paths of rock wind onward. Fortunately our problems remained wind, rain and cardiovascular fitness related, rather than the possible outcome of running into live artillery and mortar shells remaining from WWII training in the area. We even made it to the local’s secret, Lion’s Head Rock, a rocky outcrop with stunning views of the mountainous surrounds.