Today we soared with windmills and danced with the mountains. Well, almost.
In my effort to enjoy every possible minute during my favorite month of the year, we took off on this third day of October and headed to West Virginia’s ski country. I had heard the fall leaf color at the highest elevations was at peak last weekend so it was our mission to see if we could find it.
We did. Kind of. Our destination was the Canaan Valley area, a place we first visited in our youth for skiing and camping.
Packing our cooler and a picnic lunch, we left Staunton to begin “the loop,” a route we’ve taken throughout the years: north up Rt. 42 (a scenic Virginia highway that winds its way through western Augusta County) …
… through Harrisonburg and north to Broadway (with a quick stop at our favorite pumpkin stand) …
… and past Blue Ribbon Nursery with their always-colorful autumn display.
In Broadway where the road comes to an intersection that goes right and left, we turned west toward West Virginia. Rt. 259 is a two-lane road through rural Virginia that blends into West Virginia. From Broadway, it’s about a 15-minute drive toward the mountains to our western neighbor. It’s not called the Mountain State for nothing.
It’s a busy road so paving has to take place at some point. Today was the day for the section at the state line, and so we were stopped for about 20 minutes as we waited for the flagman to wave us through …
… and when we were moving again, we passed the parking lot of traffic in the other lane backed up and waiting to enter Virginia. We crossed the state line into West Virginia and sailed along on our way.
Along the way we passed the entrance to Lost River State Park, a scenic and well-kept vacation spot with log cabins, a popular pool during warmer months, picnic tables, horseback riding, hiking, and more. Near Mathias, it covers over 3,700 acres and borrows its name from the nearby Lost River (named because it disappears underground).
Lost River State Park includes land that was owned by Virginia’s Lee family, a hunting camp and mountain escape from the heat and humidity of Stratford Hall on the Commonwealth’s Northern Neck. The historic 1804 Lee Cabin, owned by Revolutionary War patriot “Lighthorse” Harry Lee (Robert E. Lee’s father), remained in the Lee family until 1879. Today it is maintained by the park, listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974, and is a reminder of a time when West Virginia was still part of Virginia.
The road into the park continues past the entrance, climbing up and over the mountain on a scenic drive with vistas in all directions, and descends into Moorefield. But today we didn’t turn in because our destination was points further west by way of U.S. Route 48.
Past the park there is actually an unincorporated settlement called Lost City complete with a tiny little post office.
When we reached U.S. 48, we turned west … and this was the view. An engineering marvel, West Virginia’s U.S. 48 — known as Corridor H to West Virginians and as “Robert Byrd’s Road to Nowhere” to some conservatives and environmentalists — is an east-west four-lane highway that, when completed, will extend for 148 miles and connect I-79 in central West Virginia to I-81 in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley at Strasburg. The Virginia portion has not been started but in West Virginia it is open from Moorefield to Davis, and construction continues on the unfinished portions. The far-reaching views are spectacular as the ribbon of roadway slices through mountains along the ridge tops and crosses rivers and valleys through the rugged Alleghany Mountains of Appalachia.
With a quick stop in Moorefield …
… we hopped back on and a few miles down the road we pulled in to tailgate at the scenic overlook.
This rest area for travelers and tourists showcased not only the highway disappearing into the distance but the surrounding mountains and a big, cloud-filled sky. It’s easy to travel a road with views like that.
While continuing west on U.S. 48, another engineering marvel came into view along the ridge tops of Backbone Mountain. Looming over the highway were 132 giant wind turbines that stretched along the mountains for 12 miles to the south and to the north … new-tech windmills with blades slowly turning in the wind. Each turbine is 345 feet tall, an overwhelming addition to the landscape … part of the Mount Storm Wind Farm that supplies electricity for the mid-Atlantic power grid.
Mount Storm was somewhere I had wanted to visit for years. A neighbor had traveled from Augusta to Mount Storm in the early 2000s for his job with Dominion Power, and I would listen as he talked about the winter weather at what sounded like a desolate site. At that time there was no Corridor H so he drove the back roads through Highland County and into West Virginia to the high country. I think I expected something akin to the far north … desolate and lonely on the top of a bare, wind-swept mountain.
Today we stopped at Mount Storm. It’s surrounded by the wind turbines build in the early 2000s, and is located a couple of miles from the coal power plant built in the mid-1960s. One uses the wind as its source; the other uses coal. It’s not far off U.S. 48. Drive past the Liberty gas station to the wide spot in the road that has a post office, two motels (that looked as if they may now be closed), some houses, closed businesses. And windmills (video IMG_8728).
It was not windswept and barren; there were trees and a nice breeze on a warm autumn day. But it was a place time had left behind, not so much desolate as isolated. The clerk in the post office said it was a bustling burg until about 10 years ago when Dominion Power automated the wind turbines and decreased the work force. Even she lived down the road in nearby Davis, not in Mount Storm.
We didn’t stay long because there really wasn’t anything to keep us there.
The road through town continues to Maryland so we turned around and made our way back out to U.S. 48 where the coal-fired power plant was visible across the way, it’s white steam belching into the sky.
As we passed, coal trains were waiting for their loads.
The electricity generated from this plant provides power for millions.
A nearby coal mine.
It was west of Mount Storm that we finally saw a number of leaves that had already peaked so their color was fading. They were pretty and the first of this season but we had missed the big show.
The completed section of Corridor H ends at Davis where it returns to a two-lane road.
Turning left, we drove into the sleepy little town of Davis (elevation 3,100), the highest elevation of any town in West Virginia. It marks the northern end of the scenic Canaan Valley with ski areas and outdoor recreation, and borders the Monongahela National Forest. Blackwater Falls State Park is five minutes away.
It was almost 4:00 by then and we still had miles to go. After a brief stop, we decided not to linger … no trip to the Falls on this road trip or any of the other side trips … so we made a change to our plans.
It was late in the afternoon, and continuing the usual route for our loop would involve two-lane mountainous back roads on our trip to Augusta County, so we turned around and returned to Corridor H. We would backtrack to Moorefield, then hop off on Rt. 220, following it all the way to Monterey in Highland County, Virginia. Where it intersected Rt. 250, we would turn east and back over the four mountain ranges home to Augusta County.
It was delightfully cool in the high country, unlike lower elevations where hot temps seemed out of step with the date (and the bank temperature in Moorefield on our return trip was 90 degrees).
We had never driven east on Corridor H. The views of the wind turbines showed larger concentrations of windmills along the Appalachian Front, this high plateau, before we began dropping back down into the valley.
Backtracking on the Corridor, we left the turbines behind and pointed south toward home along rural Rt. 220 that crossed and followed the South Branch of the Potomac River along the mountain range, and past small towns, country stores, Little League ballfields …
… past farmers working the fall harvest …
… with an occasional glimpse of the color show to come.
Climbing Shenandoah Mountain that sits on the border between Highland and Augusta counties, I snapped a pic of the sun as it set behind the Alleghanies.
What a great day embracing October on an unusually warm autumn day and, though we hadn’t found much leaf color, we had enjoyed yet another of our adventures, retracing some familiar trails and experiencing new ones with my favorite travel partner.
It’s autumn in the Shenandoah Valley….
Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell