Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A West Virginia Autumn

On the Trail of Fall Foliage in the Mountain State

After an early fall trip in September to Utah to photograph the foliage in northern portions the Beehive State, my next journey took me to beautiful West Virginia in October.  A state that I had merely passed through on way to or from other places, I had always wanted to spend some time exploring there so I spent a full week crisscrossing most of the eastern half of the state. 
The Beautiful Grist Mill at Babcock State Park
West Virginia is very mountainous, but also is a place of varied terrain.  Thus, catching fall foliage at peak in every place was near impossible. Foliage peaks typically from north to south starting as early as mid-September in northern mountain regions but not until mid-late October in middle to southern portions of the state.  I've include a peak fall color map below to illustrate what I'm writing about. 

Peak Fall Color Map in West Virginia, courtesy of West Virginia State Parks & Forests
Over the course of a full week in mid-October  I put an amazing 1,600 miles on my rental car!  West Virginia may look small on a map, but it's really.  That total also includes my journey to and from Dulles Airport in Virginia and a side trip into southern Pennsylvania, but still I racked up the miles.  I covered an area from about Lewisburg in the south to Morgantown in the north, and most everywhere in between to the east. 
Stunning Colors in Coopers Rock State Forest
Foliage varied widely depending on where I was, from mostly green to peak, to just before or just past, to leaves pretty much completely dropped.  Still, I found many great places on my trip where the foliage was just perfect.  The best places with the most at-peak foliage were at: 
  • Around Morgantown, Cheat Lake and in Coopers Rock State Forest and Chestnut Ridge Park to the north
  • Much of Marion County in the north
  • Upshur County in the northeast
  • At Babcock State Park and the historic Grist Mill (pictured above) in the south
  • Around Elkins and much of Randolph County in the northeast
  • In addition, Valley Falls State Park near Grafton was also stunning
 Peak Foliage at Valley Falls State Park in West Virginia
I also covered a number of backroads, many often unpaved, in places that I can't even remember because they were so rural. 
A Stunning Reflection of Reds and Yellows in a Lake in Cooper's Rock State Forest
Places that were past peak included the Dolly Sods Wilderness, the Canaan Plateau and Blackwater Falls State Park.  Much of Greenbrier County, the Lewisburg Area, Hawk's Nest State Park, and the New River Gorge were still too early and mostly green when I visited. 

A little church along a country road
One of my favorite - and very much unexpected - journeys was to Holly River State Park. Along the route, as was the case in much of the rural parts of the state, I had neither cell service nor GPS and sometimes I was trying to find someplace without back-up directions.  I ended turning off the main highway onto a rural road that soon become one lane, then gravel, and then a rocky four-wheel drive road over a mountain.  I eventually made it to the park, but the route I ended up taking was some of the most beautiful scenery of my trip in Upshur County.

Along the mountain backroad to Holly River State Park
But what I found was completely unexpected - and very exciting.  As I came around a bend, the trees opened up to a beautiful view of peak foliage over a ridge, with an old farm on the hillside. It turns out this was the Balli Farm, which was run by three sisters well into their 80s and 90s with Swiss origins.  It was quiet and peaceful, and the scene was just beautiful, with the autumn color, the abandoned buildings and the moody clouds.  

The Historic Balli Farm in Hacker Valley, WV
The weather was a real mixed bag - warm, cloudless, sunny days, and a cold snap one weekend that sent temperatures plummeting into the 20s overnight.  There was barely a sprinkle of rain the entire time, and it was obvious the state was very dry, judging by the very low flow in most of the creeks, rivers and waterfalls.  

Stunning Sunset at Coopers Rock State Forest
I wrapped up my week with more driving and more exploring, and a new appreciation for The Mountain State. I know I'll definitely come back again.  

Colorful Foliage at Blackwater Falls

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