Places to go and things to see by Gypsy Bev

Posts tagged ‘Potomac River’

History Speaks Through Fairfax Stone

A scenic gravel road through wild, wonderful West Virginia in the fall of the year

A scenic gravel road through wild, wonderful West Virginia in the fall of the year

Often a gravel country road leads to places that give us a better understanding of our country’s history. Sometimes the things we find along the way don’t look as important as they really are.

Such is the case with one of the most significant landmarks in West Virginia, the Fairfax Stone located at Fairfax Stone Historical Monument Park near Thomas, WV. This stone marks the North headwaters of the Potomac River, which flows all the way to Virginia. Today the original stone is gone, but a replacement stone marks the spot so future generations will not forget how the states’ boundaries were determined.

Fairfax Stone National Historical Park

Fairfax Stone Historical Monument Park

The reason for the search for the headwaters of the Potomac River came about because the King of England gave Thomas Fairfax all the land from the Potomac River to the Rappahannock River. Naturally, Lord Fairfax wanted to know where the boundaries of his land actually were.

This was part of the Northern Neck Land Grant. The surveying for this western boundary of Maryland was done by Colonel Peter Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson’s father, and Thomas Lewis. Many historians say that George Washington perhaps set the original stone himself as a young surveyor.

Two Fairfax Stones - 1910 and 1985

Two Fairfax Stones – 1910 and 1957

Way back in 1746, the original stone was placed there  to honor a boundary dispute between Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfield of Cameron and the English Privy Council.. Later it became the spot to mark the state boundary of West Virginia and Maryland. The dispute over the boundary between Maryland and Virginia, later West Virginia, was so severe that it ended by being solved by the Supreme Court. Now it is easy to see its importance.

Fairfax Stone plaque describes its purpose.

Fairfax Stone plaque describes its history.

The original stone was a small pyramid of sandstone and had the letters “F.X.” scratched into the stone. Now an engraved six ton rock with a flat surface displaying an engraved metal plague sets over the site of the actual spring, the beginning of the North Branch of the Potomac River in West Virginia. An inscription on the plaque tells the historical significance of the stone. The marker from 1910 rests close by.

Nearby Mountaineer Wind Energy Center generates electricity.

Nearby Mountaineer Wind Energy Center generates electricity.

Even though this park contains only four acres, the Fairfax Stone Historical Monument Park attracts many historians, who want to walk where their forefathers trod. Then take a ride just south of here and view some modern history in the making – the Mountaineer Wind Energy Center, the largest wind farm east of the Mississippi that provides electricity to many of the mid-Atlantic states.

Next time you take a drive, perhaps you will want to explore some of those dirt roads along the way. You may be surprised at what you find.

Fairfax Stone Historical Monument Park can be found off U.S. Route 219 near Thomas, WV. Turn onto county Route 9 and travel .5 miles. Turn right at Fairfax Stone Monument sign and travel 1.5 miles to Fairfax Stone. Great signs help make this easier to find.

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Desolate Dolly Sods Wilderness in Allegheny Mountains

Desolate Dolly Sods - a perfect escape from civilization!

Desolate Dolly Sods – a perfect escape from civilization!

Desolate! That seems the perfect description for the Dolly Sods Wilderness. This vast, rugged back country can be found in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia in the Monongahela National Forest.

Narrow dirt road to Dolly Sods

Narrow dirt road to Dolly Sods with twists and turns just ahead

Named for a German family, the Dahles, locals added “sods”, because that is their term for an open mountaintop meadow where cattle grazed.  Over the years, the entire name has been localized to Dolly Sods.

The road to the top contains narrow, twisting, dirt roads. You just hope you don’t meet anyone coming around the bend. Add a little fog to the adventure and the trip becomes even more exciting. As you enter the wilderness area, you might feel civilization is being left behind. No guardrails line the sides of this mountain road, but hopefully the trees would catch you if you had to get close to the edge.

Flexible weather can change several times in a day. Within an hour, sun, rain, snow, and fog might all make an appearance. Cool weather prevails  and frost can occur on any time of the year. But that doesn’t deter the campers, who camp out year round.

Windy Dolly Sods

Windy Dolly Sods

Winds blow fiercely here as witnessed by the red spruce trees, whose branches grow on one side, the side away from the wind. 

During the early 1900’s this mountain top was a great source of timber for the United States. At that time, some of the trees measured 13′ in diameter – quite the giants! Those early settlers cleared the field completely of all growth and brush. Sparks from the locomotives, saw mills, and logger’s warming fires set fire to the field to burn everything off; the peat burned for years as it was seven to nine feet deep.

One Surviving Daisy

One Surviving Daisy

Today, little growth remains on the top of the Dolly Sods, but a new crop of trees is growing at lower levels. Right now this high plateau can best be described as a vast “nothingness”, but low growing blueberry and huckleberry bushes, wild strawberry plants and even a daisy can be found struggling for existence.

Many trails exist to explore the wilderness and you don’t have to worry about reptiles as they don’t want to hang around in the cold. When you finally get to the top, rocks and low growth cover the open areas. Over 17,000 acres compose this arctic-like, wilderness area, which runs about 49 miles across the top.

View from Dolly Sods Plateau

View from Dolly Sods Plateau

Dolly Sods sets on the Eastern Continental Divide with waters flowing to the east continuing to the Potomac River, while those flowing to the west help form the Ohio River and eventually the Mississippi. In 1852, an article in Harper’s Monthly Magazine described the area as:

…so savage and inaccessible that it has rarely been penetrated even by the most adventurous. The settlers on its borders speak of it with a sort of dread, and regard it as an ill-omened region, filled with bears, panthers, impassable laurel-brakes, and dangerous precipices.

A challenging rocky trail back to the parking lot

A challenging rocky trail back to the parking lot

At one point in time, a glacier covered the top of Dolly Sods. Walking the trail to Bear Rock, water lays on top of the ground since it can’t be absorbed by the rocks just below the surface.  The trail required careful steps to avoid too much water, and it became very narrow between the low growth of wild blueberry bushes. But in just a little while, the trail turned into one made of rocks and it was a game of hopping from rock to rock to reach the edge.

An interesting sidenote was the fact that the US Army used this area as an artillery training ground before troops were sent to Europe in World War II. Hard to tell what might be found in the rocks and brush.

Many seem to enjoy escaping to the world of nature.

Many seem to enjoy escaping to the world of nature.

Starting back to the parking lot, it was surprising to see how many people were out walking the Dolly Sods on a weekday at a temperature of 49. Had to wonder how they found it!

From Canaan Valley follow WV 32 south to the Laneville Road (WV 45). Turn left and go approximately 6 miles to the Red Creek Bridge, where the road changes from pavement to gravel and is now Forest Road 19. 

 

Seneca Rocks Discovery Center in Wild, Wonderful West Virginia

Seneca Rocks

Seneca Rocks

The towering Seneca Rocks with razorback ridges appear to have been shot up out of the earth in the Monongahela National Forest in eastern West Virginia. Perhaps this was due to a volcanic vein explosion years ago, but whatever the cause they are spectacular. These massive rocks rise 900 feet above the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River.

It can only be guessed about the early people who lived in this place. When the Discovery Center was built, two villages were found under that area. The most recent one was dated at 600 years ago.

The Cliffs of Seneca by David Strother for New Harpers Magazine in 1872.

The Cliffs of Seneca by David Strother for Harpers New Monthly Magazine in 1872.

One of the early explorers to reach this area in 1853 was a writer and magazine illustrator, David Strother. He sketched the massive Seneca Rocks and several years later in 1872 reworked it into a wood engraving. This special printing was highlighted in the 1872 Harpers New Monthly Magazine.

Viewing Seneca Rocks through binoculars enables you to see the observation tower at the top and even the people there. If you have time, you will want to climb to the top and view the  surrounding area from their observation deck. Many trails lead to the summit for climbers of various abilities, so find one perfect for you.

Climbing to the top served another purpose in 1943-44 as it was a training ground for West Virginia Militia during WWII. Here they practiced climbing the rock sides in preparation for the Apennines Mountains in Italy.

Seneca River

Scenic Seneca Creek

When you head over the walkway at Seneca Creek, watch carefully as you cross the bridge. Trout can be seen swimming along through the creekk, which bubbles over the rocky bottom.

This condensed version of the Legend of Seneca Creek tells an interesting Indian tale:

Snow Bird waited at the base of Seneca Rocks.

Snow Bird waited at the base of Seneca Rocks.

For as long as she could remember, Princess Snow Bird’s family lived at the base of Seneca Rock. All during her youth, she wanted to climb those rocks and as she became older, she did climb higher and higher until one day she reached the pinnacle. For a while she enjoyed her companions of warm sunshine, refreshing breeze, thoughts and dreams. But soon she became the most beautiful maiden in the land and warriors from all around came to claim her hand in marriage. 

There were too many for her to decide, so Snow Bird invited all to come on an appointed day for a challenge. After meeting them at the base of Seneca Rock, she told them that the one who could climb to the top would be her new chief. Out of the many present, only seven were brave enough to take the challenge. Snow Bird led the way and one by one six of them fell behind. Only one brave remained and as he neared the top he slipped.

Snow Bird quickly thought that if he was the one most able to make the climb perhaps she should accept him. She then reached down and grabbed his hand to pull him to safety. When they returned to the base, her father, Chief Bald Eagle, told his new son-in-law that he would become his successor and the new chief of the tribe.

Rock climbing models

Rock climbing models

Nearby is a beautiful Discovery Center with information about all the activities, explanations regarding Seneca Rocks through pictures and scenes, and of course a gift shop. Interactive displays explain the geology of the area on a level that even children can understand. Films provide another method of explaining the beautiful Seneca Rocks and the surrounding Monongahela National Forest. Figures of mountain climbers scan an inside wall to show the gear needed and explain the dangers.

Lighted topography map

Lighted topography map

Especially interesting was a topographical map of the area with buttons that lighted up different special places to visit. It gave you a much clearer idea of where you were, had been, and were going. It was interesting that they had instructions also written in Braille.

Visit Seneca Rocks where you can climb to the top or sit on a bench at the base and admire the view.

Seneca Rocks it located east of Elkins, WV near the junction of Routes 33 and 55. Enjoy the beautiful scenery on your way there.

 

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