Summer in the Allegheny Backcountry

Bullpasture Gorge (10)
          Dawn in the Bullpasture Gorge, George Washington National Forest, Williamsville, VA.

Sir William Berkeley, Governor of Virginia, was informed by the Indians, in 1648, ” that within five dayes journey to the Westward and by South there is a great high mountaine, and at foot thereof great Rivers that run into a great Sea“.                                                                                                                         

Bullpasture Gorge (21)                                          First rays of sun reach the forest floor as fog is burned off, Bullpasture Gorge.

Tom Trigo-Deerfield Valley-May 26Deerfield Valley, western Augusta County, Virginia

“It is a common supposition that the Indians inhabiting this country traveled by the sun, the moss on the trees and the stars. In extreme cases they did, and ‘were ‘enabled to travel great distances by these means; yet they had their roads from village to village and from point to point, as we have our roads from place to place. Judge Veech says: “They had their trails or paths; as distinctly marked as our county and State roads, and often better located.” -History Of Monongalia County, West Virginia, From Its First Settlements To The Present Time; with numerous Biographical And Family Sketches” , by Samuel T. Wiley, 1883 

Fry-Jefferson Map

The Fry-Jefferson map, first published in 1753, was the definitive map of Virginia in the eighteenth century. Created by two of the colony’s most accomplished surveyors, Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, A Map of the Inhabited Part of Virginia containing the whole Province of Maryland, with Part of Pensilvania, New Jersey and North Carolina included their completed border survey for the western bounds of the Northern Neck and a portion of the Virginia–North Carolina dividing line. For the first time the entire Virginia river system was properly delineated, and the northeast-southwest orientation of the Appalachian Mountains was fully displayed. Published in eight known editions, or states, the map was widely copied, and served as an important resource for mapmakers like Lewis Evans and John Mitchell, whose Map of the British and French Dominions in North America (1755) was used to determine the boundaries of the United States as established in the Treaty of Paris (1783). John Henry also relied heavily on the Fry-Jefferson map as he plotted county boundaries in his New and Accurate Map of Virginia (1770), and Thomas Jefferson, Peter Jefferson’s son, used his father’s map to compile A Map of the country between Albemarle Sounds, and Lake Erie, which accompanied his Notes on the State of Virginia (written 1781).  -Encyclopedia Virginia

Lake Moomaw-pan01Lake Moomaw, Bath County, Virginia

All of the locations featured in this photo gallery lie between the “North Ridge of the Devil’s Backbone”, and “The Allegheny Ridge of Mountains”, a mountainous area that spans the border of Virginia and West Virginia.

Clover Creek (6)                 Rt. 612 ford across Bullpasture River, few miles south of village of McDowell, VA

Clover Creek (3)Historical marker along Rt. 678, Clover Creek, VA, view is looking south.  Most likely the Indians were Shawnee or Seneca, two of the most dominant tribes in this rugged region during the tumultuous French and Indian War period when all hell broke loose along what was then, the western frontier of the American Colonies.

farm-Craig Springs-Potts Creek Rd (6)Vacant farmhouse, Craigs Creek Valley, Virginia

“48 That for matter of their better knowledge of the Land they dwell in, the Planters resolve to make a further Discovery into the Country West and by South up above the Fall, and over the Hills, and are confident upon what they have learned from the Indians, to find a way to a West or South Sea by land or rivers, and to discover a way to China and East Indies or unto some other Sea that shall carry them thither; For Sir Francis Drake was on the back side of Virginia in his voyage about the World in 37 degrees just opposite to Virginia, and called Nova Albion, and by the Natives kindly used: And now all the question is only how broad the Land may be to that place from the head of James River above the Falls, but all men conclude if it be not narrow, yet that there is and will be found the like rivers issuing into a South Sea or a West sea on the other side of those Hills, as there is on this side when they run from the West down into a East Sea after a course of 150 miles:”   -“A Perfect Description Of Virginia”, publishedon London1649, author unknown.

NRG-Brooks Falls-pan01Brooks Falls, New River, Hinton, West Virginia

Bear Mountain-Sep 7 (5)       Early September atop Bear Mountain, along the Virginia-West Virginia border

Blue Grass Valley (113)Blue Grass Valley, looking north from a field outside of Hightown, Virginia.  In the middle distance is Snowy Mountain, in West Virginia. The hillside on the left foreground of the picture was used in the Civil War movie, “Sommersby“, in the opening scene when Richard Gere buries the body of his lookalike namesake. I scouted this location for that movie. When I took the British director, Jon Amiel to go look at it I pointed out Snowy Mountain in the distance, thinking it would enhance the setting to see it, he brushed me off and simply said, “I don’t care about seeing that mountain”. And sure enough in the movie Snowy Mountain is not seen, its just all closeups. We could’ve done the scene outside of the hotel parking lot!

“The Heads of the Branches of the Rivers interfere and lock one within another, which I think is best expressed after the Manner that an Indian explained himself once to me, when I enquired how nigh the Rivers of Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland arose out of the Mountains, from those that ran Westerly on the other Side of the Mountains, he clapt the Fingers of one Hand ‘twixt those of the other, crying, they meet thus; the Branches of different Rivers rising not past a hundred Paces distant one from another: So that no Country in the World can be more curiously watered. But this Conveniency, that in future Times may make her like the Netherlands, the richest Place in all America, at the present I look on the greatest Impediment to the Advance of the Country, as it is the greatest Obstacle to Trade and Commerce.” -“A LETTER FROM Mr. JOHN CLAYTON Rector of Crofton at Wakefield in Yorkshire, TO THE ROYAL SOCIETY, May 12. 1688. Giving an Account of several Observables in Virginia, and in his Voyage thither, more particularly concerning the Air.

Top of Allegheny (12)               Mountainside garden with protective deer fence, Top of Allegheny, West Virginia.

Top of Allegheny-May 29 (65)Twilight-time is fast approaching after an early evening deluge over the Civil War battlefield site of Camp Allegheny. At 4,300 feet above sea level it was the highest elevation combat action of the war.

Rt 250-Warm Springs Mt (8) Rt. 39, looking east from the summit of Warm Springs Mountain just below Flag Rock, Warm Springs, VA.

“The visitor to the Flag Rock, just opposite the Warm Springs, still has his attention turned to the prominent peak some miles to the east, where, tradition says, a young Indian maiden watched the terrible battle between the two hostile tribes of Indians, in which her lover was engaged;…. The memory of living man goes back to the time when the trees from which the Indians stripped bark for their huts, near Mountain Grove, still stood.”  – Historical Sketches of Virginia Hot Springs, Warm Sulphur Springs, and Bath County Virginia, J.T. McAllister, 1908

Cheat Mt (6)Summer blooms come late in the high country. Flowering mountain laurel along the banks of Red Run, atop Cheat Mountain, West Virginia.

Cheat Mt (16)Small campsite clearing along Shavers Fork, Monongahela National Forest , Cheat Mountain, WV

Cheat Mt (22)Spongy, moss-covered ground beneath a mature (but not old-growth!) grove of spruce and balsam fir trees, Cheat Mt.  Hard to believe that this forest was clear-cut just after WWII, the old growth was first cut in the 1870’s. West Virginia’s mountain forests helped feed America’s explosive growth during the Industrial Revolution and still supports a healthy lumber industry today, although much diminished and far better managed compared to the boom days of old.  Reforestation works, it just takes time, decades in fact. Most of the trees in this photo are about 50-60 years old.

Cheat Mt (34)Seeing is believing, this serene setting on Cheat Mountain was anything but just 50 years ago when it was logged, then strip mined for the underlying coal. Return here some quiet morning in the 2030’s and the clearing itself will most likely be long gone, as the surrounding forest continues to grow and reclaim this once ravaged mountain.

Cheat Mt-Barton Knob-FR 227 (15)

Cheat Mt-Barton Knob-FR 227 (20)

Cheat Mt-Barton Knob-FR 227 (16)

Dolly Sods (13)Billowing cumulus formations rise above the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, WV, a wind-swept area atop the Allegheny Plateau. It sounded like the Gods were bowling overhead when I took this picture as thunder claps echoed all around me, followed by a brief downpour and a cloud to cloud lightning display. I can handle glowing clouds, its the cloud to ground lightning strikes that I try to avoid!

Dolly Sods NWA (85)Much of the Dolly Sods is characterized by heath bogs and boulder fields, sure makes for tough but rewarding hiking. View is looking north, the white plumes of smoke are from the tall stacks of the Mount Storm coal-fired power plant. The U.S. Army conducted tank and artillery practice up here back in the 30’sand 40’s before the forest service took over.

Dolly Sods NWA (45)Starting in early June and throughout the short summer, the sights and smells of various flowering shrubs and wildflowers of the Dolly Sods high country are sublime. Of all the areas in the Alleghenies,  this plateau, protected in perpetuity for future generations, is by far my favorite hiking ground and refuge. Just hope I don’t come across a rusted unexploded WWII artillery shell again. Yes it was just laying out in the open on the grassy bank of a small brook, I left it alone and alas never reported its position. That was 30 years ago.

Dolly Sods NWA (116)               Grazing pasture along Dolly Sods Road, @2,000 feet below the plateau.

South Branch Potomac River-Old Fields (6)After the tempest has passed… a beautiful, hot sunny day at a lower elevation along the South Branch Potomac River near Old Fields, WV, superb place for a swim. On March 23, 1747, a young surveyor named George Washington, then engaged in surveying on the Potomac, witnessed a war dance by more than thirty Indians at the confluence of the North and South Branches, not far from here.

Spruce Knob (9)Rock slabs are a common feature of many ridge crests in the high Alleghenies. View is from Spruce Knob, highest point in West Virginia, elevation 4,863′.

Spruce Knob (3)                Boulder-strewn meadow on the slopes of Spruce Knob, view is looking south/southeast.

N.Fork-S.Branch Potomac River-Cabins (7)North Fork-South Branch of Potomac River near Cabins, WV., view is looking west (upstream). Rough-going here for walking in the river, most of the stream-bed is a jumble of rocks of all sizes, and the current is much quicker than it looks so caution is advised.


“Fathers, both you and the English are white, we live in a Country between; therefore the Land belongs to neither one nor to other; But the Great Being Above allow’d it to be a Place of Residence for us; so Fathers, I desire you to withdraw, as I have done our Brothers the English; for I will keep you at Arms length. I lay this down as a Trial for both, to see which will have the greatest Regard to it, and that Side we will stand by, and make equal Sharers with us. Our Brothers the English have heard this, and I come now to tell it to you, for I am not afraid to discharge you off this Land.” – Half King (Tanacharison), Seneca chief, council meeting with, and recorded by, George Washington in his journal, 1753


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