Over Columbus Day weekend, three of our CORE members set out to re-create a trip we last completed in 2004! As weather and management direction have been known to change over time, we were a bit uncertain as to what we might encounter.
” Gary became aware that he had packed the tent and packed the poles but that they didn’t match.”
Making this trip were:
- Dave D in his Rubicon,
- Gary in his Rubicon, and
- Keith in his Blazer
Not being overly familiar with the area other than some online reading and the (fading) memory of the previous trip, we pulled out the maps of the area and decided to stick more or less to the routes followed before. But let’s start at the beginning.
We met at the Maryland Welcome Center on I-70 west of Frederick. The early morning was a bit foggy but the weather predictors had guessed that we would be headed for clearing skies as we moved west of the mountains. They turned out to be right! There was still some low level mist in the valleys but generally the skies continued clearing as we continued west.
We swung into the Sideling Hill Center on the chance that someone had decided to meet us there instead of the first meeting area but it was just the three of us. Crossing over the Sideling Hill, I had hoped to see brilliant colors in the valley but they were more muted due to a combination of dry and mild weather perhaps. At any rate, the scenery continued as we headed further west. On the previous trip, we had chosen to head southwest (and shave a few miles) by heading to Keyser but on this trip we elected to stay on the interstate a bit longer and head south into Davis. We passed by Deep Creek Lake and through familiar territory of the state forests we had visited on different trips with our friends in the Mid Atlantic Four Wheel Drive Association.
The last town we passed through on our way to Davis was Thomas WV. This little town appears to be sustaining itself with a bit of tourist traffic and catering to the many who have second homes in the area. One has to wonder a bit about how well they are doing with the current downturn in the economic fortunes of so many. The banners about town advertised a run/walk to benefit breast cancer research on Sunday.
We eventually made our way on into Davis and tried to enter via the main entrance to Blackwater Falls State Forest. It was a good thought but not a great idea as our lead (that would have been me) couldn’t get the right bearings at the first crossroads so we went back to Hwy 32 and made our way down to FR 13, the Loop Road. Those who can recall times when this may have happened before will be recipients of my appreciation for keeping their mouths closed.
Dry gravel roadways lead to dust and more dust, especially following a drought which had gone through the summer and into the fall in this area. There were others on the road in vehicles, on bikes and on foot. We tried our best to be considerate of others on the road so we made slow progress as frequently stopped to allow the others to pass without creating additional dust clouds.
We did make our way to the campsite we had wanted to use in 2004 on the far side of the stream. (On the earlier trip, the site was already taken when we arrived.) Getting up the far bank was one of the very few places where 4wd was needed the entire weekend and probably could have been navigated in 2wd but the 4×4 cut down on the amount of wheel spin, allowing us to tread a bit more lightly and have additional control.
As we set about setting up camp. Gary became aware that he had packed the tent and packed the poles but that they didn’t match. After considering the options (including a night under the open skies), he opted to use my ezUp set at its lowest setting. The next 2 mornings, we awoke to a heavy enough dew to confirm that he had made a good choice.
We set out to explore the area after that and completed the trip around the loop road which took us past the campsite we had used before and over a couple of rocky outcroppings and a rather dry streambed. We also passed the ski lift area and a number of other tourists just enjoying the outdoors like us. The road finally came to the intersection where I couldn’t get my bearings before and we drove on out to the highway and headed through the Canaan Valley State Park for some more spectacular scenery.
We then made the loop around Public Road 18 which took us to some more scenery with a couple of lookout points and around to the Olson Lookout tower to get a bird’s eye view of the surrounding area. After that, we headed on out to the highway and back to the paved road to wind up back in camp after a stop by the grocery.
A stop beside the road to gather some downed wood for a fire just before we got to camp had us all set for the night where tales of the great truths of life were exchanged around the campfire. Something about a campfire makes great philosophers of us all and being far away from the lights of the towns make the stars extra bright and beautiful. But the day had been long and soon we all headed off to our beds.
I was truly surprised to wake and find I was the first one up. The clear cool air makes for some mighty fine sleeping! After we all eventually all got moving, we headed out for the Monongahela and Dolly Sods.
The first parking area was packed! It was obviously a great day to be out and about. We wandered around a bit, stopping at the outcroppings to enjoy the view. Just a few years can make a big difference in the height of a tree! A couple of views from 2004 had disappeared thanks to some growing trees which had been just below line of sight before.
As we got to the Bear Rocks, we were treated to an aerial demonstration by a couple of helicopters doing “touch and go” exercises with a dropped line over the landscape. We also climbed around on the rocks, an adventure we had passed on before. Wow! The view was fantastic!
We headed on down past the rocks and back to pavement with plans to stop for gas at a convenient spot only to find the first station was out. Ooops. This doesn’t look good. The gasoline situation isn’t that dire, we have plenty to make the trip to the next station by the entrance to Blackwater Falls. Wait a minute. These guys have no gas either! Note that we are talking no gas, not just no regular. We turned back in the direction of camp figuring there had to be another station that way. Nope. We finally get a suggestion from guy in the grocery to head back towards Thomas. Luckily the Citgo there had gas…and a line, but they had gas.
After seeing the stars Saturday night, we decided to head back to the Olson tower to enjoy the view at night. We also stopped along the way to stock up on more fallen wood for the night’s fire. We headed towards the gravel pit which proved to be less interesting than before and seemed also to have been relatively untouched since then with the exception of a few motorbike tracks.
The trip to Olson tower after dark found the view to be different than expected. While we had a great view of the surrounding communities and the lights there at night, we found that the light from the towns obscured the view of the stars. Back to camp came next with a roaring campfire and some good conversation.
Monday morning found us sleeping peacefully again and a lazy start to the morning. We packed up and made sure the fire had cooled and any remaining chance of an ember had been drowned with water.
Gary had been hearing a noise on his Rubicon that sounded suspiciously like a loose control arm bushing which had happened before since his lift was installed, so he announced his intention to stop at the DIY car wash to clean the underside and make sure things were tight before heading back towards the interstate. So we all came home in desperate need of a shower. Lather, rinse, repeat never felt so good after a weekend of dusty gravel roads.. The vehicles were cleaner than usual before we got home though.
All in all, it was a pretty good weekend. Good friends and good conversation. The scenery was great although not quite as spectacular fall color as we had hoped. This trip is largely about scenery. A high clearance vehicle makes it easier but as noted earlier, the four wheel drive isn’t really necessary.
Hopefully we get to do it again.
Trail report written by Keith Holman. Pictures courtesy of Keith Holman.