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.  

   “An Occurrence at Bullpasture River Footbridge”, funny how a certain short story can get into your consciousness  and be invoked all these years later, here’s to Ambrose Bierce! 

         There will be peace in the valley…”, Deerfield Valley, view from the shoulder of Rt 629 

“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.

        Campsite on a bluff overlooking Cowpasture River, FR 252 near Williamsville, VA

                                Cowpasture River Valley as seen from a ridge along FR-394

             Shenandoah Mountain as seen from Cowpasture River Valley, Williamsville, VA

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

“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”, published in London1649, author unknown.

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

      New River Gorge, WV

                            New River-Bluestone Lake, few miles south of Hinton, WV

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 said flatly, “I don’t care about the mountain”. And sure enough in the movie, Snowy Mountain is barely seen, its mostly all closeups. Director’s prerogative of course but what a waste in my opinion not to see this sublime backdrop. I bet Raul Walsh would’ve made damn sure to see it at some point!

“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, WV

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.

              Looking east from Bear Rocks, Dolly Sods Wilderness Area. The South Branch of  the Potomac River Valley flows between the last two ridge lines in the distance.

Looking SE from Bear Rocks, edge of the Dolly Sods plateau

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

                                   Sunrise from Bear Rocks, Dolly Sods Wildnerness Area, WV

      Champe Rocks, WV, as seen from the shoulder of Rt 28 near Seneca Rocks.

Named after Revolutionary War hero and spy, Sargent Major John Champe who settled nearby after the war, these craggy rock formations rise nearly 900 feet above the river plain of the North Branch of the South Fork of the Potomac River.  Champe was handpicked by General George Washington and Cavalry commander Major “Light-Horse” Harry Lee (General Robert E. Lee’s father) to embark on a secret mission, “an indispensable, delicate, and hazardous project,” as Washington called it, in which Champe would pass himself off as a deserter, infiltrate British lines and serve as a double agent in order to find out if any other high-ranking American commanders were involved in the treasonous activities of the hated General Benedict Arnold; and if possible, to kidnap General Arnold and bring him back to be tried for court marshal.  There were a lot of American soldiers that wanted to get their hands on Arnold, Washington especially. The story of Champe’s “defection” and months serving as a double agent in the British army, all the while gaining much needed intelligence for Washington and the cause of independence, is a fascinating story of subterfuge, coolness, quick-thinking and above all else, courage. One slip up and he would be a dead man. He stood as good a chance of being killed by Redcoats as he did by the Continentals, after all, only Washington, Lee, and a few other staffers were in on the plan. Champe was able to get messages to Washington with the welcome news that there was no conspiracy or widespread mutiny in the works, a great relief to Washington who had no idea if Arnold might be just the first of many high-profile defections to come. However the plot to kidnap Arnold was thwarted literally at the last moment when the British army, then based in New York, was suddenly ordered to Virginia for what proved to be the final campaign of the war. Sadly, the brave patriot struggled financially and lived in near poverty for the rest of his life. He died while briefly staying at Prikett’s Fort near the Ohio River in 1798 and was buried in an unmarked grave. In 1837, fifty years after the war and after several petitions by his family, his aged widow, Phebe Susan Barnard, now 80,  was finally granted a government pension of $131 a year for her husband’s brave and selfless service.

 “the very man for the business.”, according to General Washington, not a bad endorsement.

Eagle Rocks, Smoke Hole, WV

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 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.

Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge

Trail beside Blackwater River, Canaan Valley. Only a few hours drive from Washington D.C. and yet this water eventually makes its way to the Ohio River, and thence to the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. Originally most of its banks were covered in spruce and hemlock forest, hence the name blackwater, from the tannic acids that gave the water a dark, reddish-brownish color.

                               David Hunter Strother‘s 1853 engraving “Night in the Canaan”.                                   No  trace of the great primeval red spruce forest remains today.

Title:View of Skidder Set in Blackwater Canyon, Tucker County, W. Va., ca. 1880-1930. Description:This image is part of the Thompson Family of Canaan Valley Collection. The Thompson family played a large role in the timber industry of Tucker County during the 1800s, and later prospered in the region as farmers, business owners, and prominent members of the Canaan Valley communityA skidder set, used for logging and lumber production, can be seen here overlooking the Blackwater Canyon.

     Dry Fork, near Parsons

                 Day hike to the top of Ellerbee Knob, Monongahela National Forest, WV

Mixed oak-hickory forest near the summit of Ellerbee Knob

Nice reminder of why I drive all this distance to come here in the first place; just had to stop walking for a few moments as I passed thru this lovely glen, a cathedral of ferns and dappled sunlight, Ellerbee Knob Trail.

The first English-speaking men within the present limits of West Virginia were those composing the exploring expedition under Captain Thomas Batts. These, in addition to himself, were Robert Fallam, Thomas Wood, Jack Neasam, and Per-c-cu-te, the latter a great man of  Appomattox Indians. The party, acting under authority of a commission granted fourteen years before by the House of Burgesses — the Colonial legislative body of Virginia — to Major Abraham Wood: “For ye finding out the ebbing and flowing of ye waters on ye other side the Mountains, in order to ye Discovery of ye South Sea,” left Appomattox town, near the site of the present city of Petersburg, Virginia, on Friday, September 1, 1671, and toiling onward to the westward, crossed the Blue Ridge, thence over what is now known as Peter’s Mountain; and thence through the present West Virginia counties of Monroe, Summers and Fayette, until the 16th of September, when they “had a sight of a curious river like the Appomattox River in Virginia, and the Thames at Chelsea, in England, and broad as that river at Wapping, but it had a fall that made a great noise.” The party had reached the Great Falls of the Great Kanawha river, distant ninety-six miles from the Ohio. Here, on the 17th, they took formal possession of the region and proclaimed the King in these words: “Long live King Charles ye 2d, King of England, Scotland, Ireland and Virginia, and all the territory thereunto belonging; Defender of ye Faith, etc.” Guns were fired, and, with a pair of marking-irons, they marked trees; Ist, “C. R.01 (Charles Rex 1), for his Sacred Majesty; 2d, “W. B.”, for the Governor (Sir William Berkeley); 3d, “A. W.”, for Major Abraham Wood (promoter of the expedition); another for Per-c-cu-te (who said he would turn Englishman); and also another tree for each of the company. Then the homeward journey began and all arrived at the Falls of the Appomattox river on the first day of October, except Thomas Wood, who died on the expedition.  –  From: MYERS’ HISTORY OF WEST VIRGINIA, Volume 1, Chapter V, pages 51-67. Compiled by S. Myers, 1915. Published by The Wheeling News Lithograph Company.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′.

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

                                                  Summer thunderstorms, Spruce Knob

In 1763, October 7, a proclamation was issued by the King of England forbidding settlers from taking up land or occupying it west of the Alleghanies until the country had been bought from the Indians. It is not known what caused this sudden desire for justice on the part of the king, since nearly half the land west of the Alleghanies, in this State, had already been granted to companies or individuals; and, since the Indians did not occupy the land and there was no tribe within reach of it with any right to claim it, either by occupation, conquest or discovery. Governor Fauquier, of Virginia, issued three proclamations warning settlers west of the mountains to withdraw from the lands. No attention was paid to the proclamations. The Governors of Virginia and Pennsylvania were ordered, 1765, to remove the settlers by force. In 1766 and the next year soldiers from Fort Pitt, now Pittsburg, were sent into West Virginia to dispossess the settlers.                                                                                                                                                                        – THE History of Upshur County,West Virginia, From its Earliest                                                                   Exploration and Settlement to the Present Time, W.B.Cutright, 1907

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.

In 1769 Colonel Ebenezer Zane, accompanied by his brothers, Silas and Jonathan, and some other persons, came to the Ohio River from their homes on the South Branch of the Potomac River, and proceeded to locate for themselves new homes’ “The Zanes were descendants of a Mr. Zane who accompanied William Penn to his province in Pennsylvania. . . . . Having made himself obnoxious to the Society of Friends (of which he was a member) by marrying without the pale of that society, he moved to Virginia and settled on the South Branch, at the point where Moorefield, in Hardy County, West Virginia, now stands. One of his sons (Isaac) was taken by the Indians when he was only nine years old and carried into captivity to Mad River, Ohio. He became reconciled to Indian life, married a squaw, became a chief, and lived the remainder of his life with the redmen, but never waged war with the whites. It is said his descendants still live in Ohio.”  -(Thwaite’s Commentaries.)

                                                 Gaudineer Scenic Area, a National Natural Landmark                                       of virgin spruce forest atop Shavers Mountain

Some years before the Civil War a speculating land company bought a tract of 69,000 acres [280 km2] on the slope of Shavers Mountain. Their tract fronted for about seven miles [11 km] along the eastern side of the mountain. To survey and mark their holdings the company hired a crew of men who must have found rough going in this wilderness. The crew did a good job, but its chief forgot one thing – the fact that a compass needle points to magnetic, not true north. In this area the angle of declination is about four degrees, a significant source of error on a seven-mile [11 km] front … An experienced Virginia surveyor, in checking the data, discovered the error but said nothing about it. Presently, however, when the sale was being concluded and the deeds recorded, he brought the error to light, and under a sort of “doctrine of vacancy” claimed the wedge of land left by a corrected survey. His title was established, and he and his heirs found themselves owner of a seven-mile strip of forest, aggregating almost 900 acres [3.6 km2]. While timber above and below the wedge was cut, this narrow holding was undisturbed. Its thickest end, a fringe of tall spruces on the near horizon, is just east of Gaudineer Tower. From these trees came seed to produce a new forest, a happy result of a hundred-year-old mistake. -Brooks, Maurice (1965), The Appalachians (Series: The Naturalist’s America)

Quiet sunset within the spruce trees, Guadineer Scenic Area


“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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