Thursday, October 31, 2013

Spruce Knob - High Point of West Virginia

We planned a trip to West Virginia: (a) because we'd never been there; and (b) because this appeared to be a good time to catch the fall colors in this beautiful state. The state high point is Spruce Knob, 4,863 feet, in the Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area and Monongahela National Forest, one of the more beautiful parts of the state. And state high points are something I'm interested in. 

It was October 24th, a little late in the fall color cycle, but many of the leaves were still on the trees. We left Sutton for an approximate 2 1/2 hour drive to Spruce Knob. In Riverton, a dot on the map and not much more than that on the ground, we took a paved side road which indicated that Spruce Knob was 12 miles. I was not optimistic of making it all the way. Our drive so far had been a mixture of drizzling rain at times, which turned into snow at higher elevations. I was pretty sure our two wheel drive compact car would get halted by snow and icy conditions at the higher elevation. As we drove, the two lane road transitioned into a one lane road and we felt like Israelites passing through a sea of hard-wood trees. Both on the way up, and the way down, we stopped many times for "just one more picture" of the fall colors that were so breath-taking. 
Two lane road heading up into the mountains.
Amazing fall colors.
Now a one lane road and a joy to drive.
As we get higher, snow starts to accumulate on the ground.
As I feared, the drizzly rain turned into a steady snow as we got higher and the beautiful fall leaves were either covered up by or knocked off the trees by the snow. Heart in mouth, I drove on, fearful that the next bend would present roads too slick or too covered with snow to continue any further. Several times I thought we'd about gone as far as we could, but we kept going. 
As we got higher, we found more snow and fewer leaves on the trees.
More and more snow was sticking to the road.
Hard-wood trees transitioned to spruce. 
Finally, 11 miles up the road we had a turn off to Spruce Knob (the main road continued on to a lake), one more mile to the summit. The road got a little steeper and the snow accumulation greater. Our little car, the engine that could, kept going and we were not slipping and sliding and finally made it. 
Looking at Spruce Knob from the road.
The summit is not a bare point of rock towering over the surrounding terrain, but a parking lot, with an outhouse, some trash bins and a sign welcoming you to the state high point and pointing you to an observation tower 900 feet distant. Spruce trees (thus "Spruce Knob") surround the parking lot obscuring any views, I guess creating the need for the observation tower. 
At the summit.
Judy opted to stay in the car, as the temperature was 24 degrees and snow was covering the ground. I opted for a quick walk to the tower. What views there might be on a clear day were shrouded by the clouds, but I did get a beautiful view down on the snow draped spruce below. For a Southern Californian that does not get into snow often, this was magical. 
A nice place to be when it is 24 degrees outside.
Not the first one to be here today. But we were now alone.
An interesting transition from rocks to trees.
Summit observation tower, framed by spruce.
Looking down on the spruce from the tower.
On our drive back down the mountain we ooed and awwed and stopped for many more pictures and I saw what appeared to be a fisher or mink cross the road. I got out of the car to investigate and saw it go down a hole just off the side of the road. 

We stopped near Seneca Rocks, 20 miles from Spruce Knob, to view the beautiful sentinel from a distance, but opted to continue on as we didn't have time to do any hiking if we wanted to do justice to our last destination. At Seneca Rocks, it was sunny and the temperature was a balmy 47 degrees. What a difference a little elevation can make. 
Seneca Rocks
We drove another 33 miles to Blackwater Falls State Park and into an even thicker snowfall. Fortunately the falls are just a short distance from the road down a nice trail. The falls were magical viewed through the lense of dense snowflakes. It felt like we were inside a little snow-globe and someone had just shaken it. You can see from Judy's hair that the snow was accumulating pretty fast. 
Trail down to Blackwater Falls overlook.
The canyon walls covered in pines and snow.
Blackwater Falls viewed through a living snow-globe.
Christmas come early. One of Santa's cute elves. 
A respite from the falling snow.
We stopped for a view at Pendleton overlook and got a gorgeous view of the Blackwater canyon. 
Blackwater Canyon from Pendleton Overlook
Then while Judy stayed in the car, I opted to hoof it to Lindy Point, supposedly 10 minutes down a four-wheel drive road. I walked 25 minutes without reaching it, and turned around in order not to incur the wrath of my sweetheart waiting in the car.  But again, this Southern Californian enjoyed the walk through this magical white forest with the gently falling flakes and the peaceful surroundings. It felt like Narnia, where is the lamppost? There is nothing quite like the first snow of the year, when the colors of fall are enveloped by the newly fallen, soft, snow, before the snow turns to ice and sludge and bitter cold. 
The road to Lindy Point.
Transition from fall to winter.
A creek crossing made more difficult by low-hanging, snow-covered boughs.


  1. The comparison to Narnia and its changing seasons is especially apt. The drive was made more magical by the fact that we saw only one or two other cars, making this our own private wonderland. Besides, it meant that stopping in the middle of the road for pictures didn't present a problem.

  2. Beautiful scenery! What a difference a few weeks makes-we were just a little early to catch fall colors on the East Coast. I love new snow, but I'm with Judy--I'd stay in the car with the heater on for some of those stops.