|Where the Chipmunks Run - Wild West Virginia
Last time we explored areas around the Canaan Valley complex located in northeastern West Virginia. This time we will explore some of the photographic opportunities in southeastern West Virginia and southwestern Virginia.
Traveling south from Canaan Valley you come to the county of Pocahontas and the town of Marlinton, W. VA. Here you will find several interesting places to photograph in and around the Monongahela National Forest. Civil War battlefields, railroads, scenic Highway 150 parkway, cranberry glades, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory just to mention a few. In addition, you'll find white-tailed deer, bear, birds and other wildlife abundant in the area.
We started our adventure by traveling seven miles north of the town of Marlinton to the scenic byway 150. This beautiful stretch of road takes you some 4000 feet up the mountain and there are several pull offs with breath taking views. As one person said, it seems you can see forever and it's so peaceful and quiet. You will find many photographic opportunities of scenic vistas of the area. Watch for white-tailed deer as you drive through the area. At the end of the parkway is the visitor center for the Cranberry wilderness area of the Monongahela National Forest. The Monongahela National Forest is 908,000 acres of diverse habitat and there are 230 species of birds that either visit or live year round in the area. Be sure to stop in the visitor's center and look at the nature displays. There are several live snakes on display and I'm sure the staff would be glad for you to play with their beautiful corn snake, course the wife didn't want anything to do with the snakes!
A short distance from the visitor's center is the Cranberry Glades Botanical boardwalk, which is the largest area of bogs in West Virginia. The botanical area covers some 750 acres and is home to more than 40 plants species. You will also find black bear, bobcats, white-tailed deer and numerous other wildlife subjects in the area. There is a mile long boardwalk for you to explore the cranberry bog. Be sure to look for the cranberries, sundews, pitcher plants and various wildflowers. Kept your eyes open for black bear that often visit the bog area to forage on the berries.
Just 5 miles down the road from the Cranberry Glades area is the Falls of Hills Creek. There are three waterfalls on the creek and all are within a short walk of each other. The first falls is 25 feet tall, the second is 45 feet tall, and the third one is 63 feet tall. I must warn you that getting down to the last waterfall requires you to go down some 225 steps. While at the falls be sure and look for wildflowers that grow along the trail.
Within an hour or so of Marlinton on Route 28 is the town of Green Bank. There you will find the National Radio Astronomy Observatory & the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope. This is one of the leading centers for the growing science of radio astronomy in the United States. The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope is the largest fully steer able telescope in the world and cost around $75 million. This is one BIG radio telescope. Tours of the facility are offered daily during the summer and on weekends in September and October.
Just a few miles down the road is the town of Cass. There you will find the Cass Scenic Railroad that has train rides up the mountain daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Special fall foliage rides are offered in September and October. There are Saturday dinner cars in the summer and the last Saturday in October is the Halloween train ride where everyone is encouraged to wear a costume.
Seven miles south of the town of Hillsboro, WV is Beartown State Park. This was one of the most interesting parks we visited. The park has unusual rock formations that were formed during the Pennsylvanian Age of history. It is believed that the elephant ear lichen which grow on some of the rocks have been growing since the day Columbia discovered the new world. A nice wooden boardwalk is provided for you to explore the rock formations. You'll need your wide-angle lenses to photograph this park.
All along this area is the Greenbrier River Trail system that runs 75 miles along the Greenbrier River. The trail is rated as one of the most beautiful in the country and was designated as the West Virginia Millennium Legacy Trail. The trail has some of the most pastoral and woodland scenery the state has to offer. There will be signs all along the main roads directing you to various parking areas for the trail.
As you cross Interstate 64 and drive south to Interstate 77 you will find several state parks. Among them are Babcock, Pipestem, and Twin Falls Resort State Park. Babcock is the most famous among photographers, because of the old Grist Mill sitting along the river. It would be a toss-up as to whether Babcock or Mabry Mill in Virginia is photographed the most. Twin Falls Resort is named for the two waterfalls at the resort. However, they were not photogenic when we were in the park. There is an old farm at the end of the park that is photogenic if you like to photograph farm scenery. Pipestem is a beautiful resort park with 17 miles of trails. There is a nature center with interpretive programs and educational materials. White-tailed deer are abundant so be careful as you drive through the park.
I might note the fall leaf color while we were in West Virginia, was muted and not as bright as I would have like for good photographic possibilities. However this southern region of the state was only about 30 to 40 per cent in color and a lot can change during the fall foliage season.
We decided on our journey toward home to go by Grayson Highland State Park, which is part of the Mount Rogers mountain range in southwestern Virginia. Elevation of the area ranges from 3000 to 5700 feet. The fall foliage was almost in its peak and the colors were bright with shades of reds and gold and the sky was a clear blue with occasional white puffy clouds. It was the kind of photographic day that makes scenic photography special. This was one of the best state parks that we visited for fall colors. There are several walking trails, camping sites, picnic areas and two old farms that you can photograph with ease. The visitor's center is at the end of the 5-mile long road and there is a scenic outlook located at the parking lot for the visitor's center. White-tailed deer and wild turkey are abundant in the park.
Well, I hope this is of some help to you especially if you are planning a trip to this wonderful mountain area. I know we will be going back one day to do some more photography in the land were the chipmunk runs wild. Till then drive safely and have a GREAT time photographing.
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Gary is represented by several stock agencies and his photography has been published worldwide. Gary and Janice run photo weekends For Everything There Is A Season at their home in McLeansville, NC. They have 3 plus acres which has been developed for birds, butterflies and insect photography. For further information about their photo weekends check out their website Gary Carter Photos.
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