Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Chief Logan State Park

     As a teacher, Rachel looks forward to her summers and on the first day of summer break, 2023, we kicked ours off with a local-to-us trip to Chief Logan State Park near the city of Logan in Logan County. Sensing a theme? As usual, neither of us had ever been there. I wasn't sure I had ever even heard of it. Sounded like a perfect reason to check it out. We hit the road early the morning of June 3rd, this time accompanied by Cooper, the dog.

Let's Go Parking Lesson #4: You can take your dogs to the state parks! They must be on a leash at all times within the park and you are expected to clear any poop they may leave behind so bring baggies as well. Also, make sure to bring water for your dog. Streams don't always have running water and stagnant ponds are not always safe for them to drink from especially in warmer weather.

     The drive to Chief Logan is as easy as can be. From I-64 in Charleston, follow the signs for US Route 119, known also as Corridor G because of its designation with the Appalachian Development Highway System. It's basically an interstate highway with stoplights. The lodge and recreation facilities for Chief Logan State Park are a few hundred yards off 119. One would think that, in typing Chief Logan State Park into Google Maps, it would take us straight there. One would think, but it didn’t. And boy, were we glad.

     By taking either State Route 10 (Thunder Road) or Old Logan Road toward Henlawson, the GPS had us follow the beautiful Guyandotte River around to the east side of the park where we turned on Little Buffalo Creek Rd. A few short miles drive along the picturesque valley brought us to the Chief Logan State Park museum and recreation area. Because we had Cooper, we did not go into the museum, but not everything historic was inside. Outside the museum is one of the train engines and coal cars used to bring coal out of the mines. If you didn’t know it, Logan is deep in the heart of coal country.

     When we started out, we weren't sure what to expect. At some level, based on our very limited experience in any state park except for one, we assumed the park would be not much more than a road, some trees, camping spots, some marked trails and maybe a ranger station/gift shop. The park, though, offers quite a bit more. Items of historical interest in the area include a reconstructed log cabin, a memorial to coal miners who died in the mines or from black lung disease, and a statue commemorating the namesake of the park, Logan, a chief of the Mingo (Ohio-Iriquois) Indians who once held much of the territory that is now southwestern West Virginia and eastern Ohio. The park was commissioned in 1969 with 3,988 acres of land and features a brand new lodge and conference center, an indoor recreation center, absolutely adorable cabins for rent, a pool, miniature golf, campsites, an amphitheater, and 18 miles of hiking on 12 trails ranging from easy to difficult.

     Once again, a very helpful park employee (who couldn’t stop giggling at our goofy dog) recommended a great beginner trail that happened to start about 50 yards away from the museum. We trekked along the road to the trailhead for Cliffside Trail. We were surprised to see horses allowed on the trails as well as mountain bikes. We didn’t see any of either, though. After passing through the tree-framed trailhead, we faced a short climb that wasn't terribly steep. a few dozen yards later, the trail leveled out and remained fairly easy the rest of the way. The early summer greenery was amazing and we couldn't help but marvel at it. A few rock outcroppings and boulders dotted the hillside with a nice rock-lined dry mountain stream bed that was a bit too steep for us to climb down and explore. This time.

     Cliffside trail was well marked, well maintained, and a nice easy trail. Though called cliffside, we didn’t see any cliffs. I believe we were walking above a dropoff where the hillside paralleled the road below for a while. We made the determination on this trail that we were going to make the effort to learn the trees, flowers, and bushes of our region and began photographing leaves and flowers we didn’t know so we could look them up when we got back to our car and had signal.

     Yeah, about that.

Let’s Go Parking Lesson #5: There are two kinds of trails: loops and one ways. If you don’t see an obvious loop on the map or if the description doesn’t say you are looping, you will have an additional hike to return to where you parked. Hiking longer trails can take planning and coordination of two vehicles if you don’t want to double the length of your walk.

     When we dropped down from the trail into a parking lot, we realized our failure to plan. Fortunately, the trail was only a half mile long, so our trek back wasn’t grueling. We walked along the road back to the car. Well, Rach did. Cooper and I played in the creek most of the way where we saw tracks of several deer who had wandered the creek, too, but we didn't spot any deer. Once back at the truck, we drove through the park taking in the beauty of it. The museum and shop are in the valley, but a nice twisty-turny road with beautiful vistas took us up, around, and down the mountain and then back up again to the aforementioned lodge, recreation area, and did I mention the adorable cabins with a playground, decks and wheelchair access?

     Finishing off our tour of Chief Logan State Park, we decided to try our hand at finding some geocaches in the area. Both Rach and I had played around with geocaching many years ago and thought this might be a fun opportunity to pick it back up. The West Virginia State Parks system allows geocaches in the parks, but they must be applied for, approved, maintained, and annually renewed to place them. Unfortunately, this means not all parks have geocaches and some have only a few. Three were listed for Chief Logan and we found the first quickly and easily. The second we had trouble finding because of faulty GPS readings and the third, we think, was washed away in a heavy spring rain season. I did, however, find my first tick on me.

Let’s Go Parking Lesson #6: Bug spray. If you don’t want it on your skin or have allergies, spray it on your shoes, your hat, and your butt. Naturally, boots, socks, jeans, long sleeves, and a cap are also helpful, but in the summer months, not always practical. Bug spray is. It doesn’t matter if you use natural teatree oil and other scents and herbs or if you douse yourself with the finest chemical repellant on the market, when you are walking through the woods, use bug spray. Trust me.

     Leaving the park, we still had one more task on our list. The hotdog. Checking our list, there were purportedly a few hotdog joints in the area, but they were all closed for the day or for good. Eventually we settled on Parkway Drive-In in Logan. On our list of the top 100 hotdogs in the state, Parkway was 107th, but we had to try. We pulled up to a simple cinderblock building that was absolutely hopping. Cars and trucks pulling in and out while one lady went out to everyone’s cars and took their orders. Two dogs with chili, slaw, and onions and a plain one for Cooper. He earned it. Overall, the dogs were OK. We gave them a C on our unscientific scale. The sauce tasted canned, and the onions were minced so finely they were indistinguishable from the slaw by sight or taste. The slaw, bun, and wiener were all fine. We found them comparable to the kinds of dogs you get at fundraisers and high school sports concession stands. Not bad, but not awesome.

     Back on Highway 119 north, we made sure to take a few minutes to stop at the Hatfield and McCoy Trail Welcome Center just south of the Kanawha-Lincoln county line. This is where we learned of another way to see the state, especially parts of the state most people would overlook. Motorcycle enthusiasts have created "Riding Trails" throughout WV, and parts of surrounding states. These tours take riders through the back roads of the state, showing off beautiful scenery, Appalachian culture and heritage, and some really fun twisty-turny roads (I love twisty-turny roads). Sporting names like "Dragon's Back", "Talon", and “Hellbender” each trail has one or more places to stop for picking up maps, jacket patches, and such. For those interested, they have detailed maps of the riding trail routes, as well as the wonderful “Motorsports Touring Map” put out by Freeman Maps (they also have an app, but, remember, you won’t have cell signal in a lot of places you will be exploring!

Sunday, July 9, 2023

North Bend State Park

    One of the sad truths of most of our childhoods, no matter where we are from, is that we didn’t truly appreciate all the wonders and beauty of where we grew up. Rachel and I were both born and raised in West Virginia yet decided after we were both north of 50 years old that, combined, we had only seen a handful of the state parks, historical sites, quirky locales and beautiful places located here in God’s backyard, Almost Heaven. This had to be remedied.

    We knew we wanted to see the state. We also knew that we wanted to hike the trails through the mountains and valleys and hollows. Further, thanks to Rachel’s brother, Adam, we knew we wanted to eat an Appalachian staple, the West Virginia slaw dog, everywhere we went in an effort to find the best ones in the state. We had kicked around the idea of daytrips to some of the state parks since summer of 2022, but on April 29, 2023, we finally pulled the trigger.

    “Blennerhassett Island,” she said. ”Start off big. Historical.” She had never been. I went once in middle school and the fact that I went is all I remember of the trip. Jumping in the truck, we hit I-77 northbound to Ravenswood, my old stomping ground, then took Rte. 68 north, following the Ohio River to historic downtown Parkersburg, WV. I expected to see a sign for dock parking or ferry landing, but I couldn't find it.

    Instead, I showed Rachel some of the cool places to see there including the oil and gas museum (both were discovered first in North America along the Little Kanawha River which flows into the Ohio there), the “haunted” Blennerhassett Hotel (she had stayed there a few years before and can attest to it’s alleged hauntedness), and the 6th Street railroad bridge and trestle which, when built in 1903, was the longest of its kind in the world. Finally, to figure out where to catch the ferry, I decided to check at the Blennerhassett State Park Museum and Gift Shop located at Juliana and 2nd.

    We were two days early. The ferry didn’t start running until May 1.

Let's Go Parking Lesson #1: Always check the hours of operation for your location before you go. Don’t assume just because the weather is nice and it is daytime, it will be open. Some parks or parts of parks do close certain days of the weeks and certain parts of the year aswell as in certain weather conditions. This includes the museums and gift shops at some parks. Check the WV State Park website or call park offices first.

    “What else is nearby?” I had remembered hearing about trails going through old railroad tunnels in the Parkersburg/St. Mary’s area. Googling them we found the North Bend Rail Trail and North Bend State Park about 30 miles away. North Bend State Park sits astride the North fork of the Hughes River in Ritchie County and is named for a sharp bend in the river that formed the park’s original boundaries in 1951. There is a lodge with restaurant there as well as cabins and camping sites. The park houses an amphitheater, a 305-acre lake for fishing and boating (with an ADA accessible dock for fishing) and nearly 20 walking trails (including an ADA trail) from a quarter mile to 4 miles in length and ranging in difficulty from easy to difficult.

     We jumped on Route 50 headed east and an easy 40 minutes later we turned right into Ritchie County following the signs for Cairo, WV. That’s KAY-ro, not KYE-ro. Route 14, Low Gap Run took us straight to the newly renovated North Bend Lodge sitting on the crest of the hill. We came here first for a bathroom break and second because the gift shop or lodge in the state parks is usually the best place to find park maps and walking trail maps (usually the park map has the walking trails, but some parks have special trail maps). Plus, after the last stop, we wanted to make sure everything was open and available.

Let's Go Parking Lesson #2: The maps for all locations can be found on the WV State Parks web site and app. We recommend always downloading these maps (pdfs) to your phone because you will not have reliable signal in some of these parks and especially not on some trails. Having the map already on your phone is a big help. If you operate better using paper maps, pick one up at the park.

    In speaking to the welcome center desk clerk about our plan to visit and hike each of the state parks, but wanting to break into it easy to make sure there were no aches or pains that would pop up on a hike, we were recommended to try Overhanging Rock Trail, a half mile easy to moderate trail. “But,” the welcome person suggested, “walk it backwards.”

    “Yeah, you know, we’re kind of old and not that agile.”

    “No, in reverse. Start at the end of the trail and hike it to the beginning. I think the view is much better that way.”

    To get to our trail, we had to drive around the mountain to the amphitheater which sits at the end of the road. The lovely recreation area which includes the amphitheater sits on the north side of the river next to an ADA accessible playground, basketball court, picnic shelters, restrooms, and an educational nature center that was closed when we were there. After we parked, we started down Extra Mile trail, the paved ADA trail that begins by the nature center, behind the basketball court. It is almost halfway down this trail that Overhanging Rock trail empties out. We left the paved trail and started our hike up the hillside.

    Walking the trail backwards, or rather, in reverse, in our opinion, is the way the trail should be enjoyed. Granted, this does cause one to begin with a moderate climb, but, for us, being there after several weeks of rain, it also afforded a very nice view of the small hanging rocks and fallen trees across the ravine and the mountain stream cascading down the rocks as we walked beside it. The trail took us up the left side of the stream and, eventually, above it, as well. Because of the mud, there were a few slippery areas. We had to be careful before one of us slid down the hill and into the water. There was a 50-50 chance which of us it would be.

Let's Go Parking Lesson #3: Shoes. Granted, we started the day thinking we were going to be taking liesurely walks around a historic island and so did not think to bring shoes better suited for hiking. Rachel's tie-dyed VANS were cute and comfortable, but not fit for hiking in the mud. Personally, I prefer a water-proof hunting boot for hiking, one that laces up the shin. Rachel has problems bending her ankles in high-ankled hiking boots but found some trail shoes that may or may not be life-changing. Always have good hiking footware handy, no matter where you go.

    Just before hitting the turnaround point at the top of the trail, the path took a right turn and we climbed down a flight of steps to a bridge that crossed the stream and deposited us in the middle of a large section of the sandstone hillside had been eroded away by eons of runoff. The water had carved a swath through the rock high enough in places that I, at 6 feet and change (or around 2 meters) tall, could stand upright. It was a nice place for a break.

    Collecting our wind, we followed the trail around and up over the rock under which we had just stood and there was no sign that anything like that existed. It looked like the steep hillside just dropped off. We could only see the stairs we climbed down. The steep climb was short, though, and the rest of the trail was relatively flat or at a casual slope downhill. There were some very interesting trees and rocks along the way and the trail ended (began) just a hundred yards or so from where we parked.

    It was a nice, introductory trail and it showed us where our current threshold is for hiking. We were both glad to have taken the trail backwards because of the views, but we also agreed that it would have been a much easier hike had we gone the intended direction on the trail.

Being the middle of spring, there weren’t a lot of leaves on trees and the ground cover was just starting to sprout/come back to life. One particular piece of vegetation we found was a groundcone. These little guys are part of a species of plants that do not create their own chlorophyl and so will attach to the roots of trees (primarily alders) for nutrients and water. Though they are technically parasitic, they are not invasive or, seemingly, detrimental to the trees to which they attach themselves.

    Our confidence boulstered, we left the area and set out to find one of the access points for the North Bend Rail Trail, a 72 mile stretch of former Baltimore & Ohio railway complete with tunnels that stretches from Parkesburg, WV, to Wolf Summit just west of Clarksburg, WV. We had seen a sign for an access point as we were driving through Cairo, but when we went back to look for it, we found the signs confusing. The area where it seemed to indicate one would get on the trail was not filling us with confidence and, rather than take the risk of walking on private property, we opted to research the trail a bit better and come back another time.

    It was our intention that, after visiting parks, we would find locally owned restaurants to try their version of a West Virginia slaw dog, but by the time we got back Parkersburg to the historic North End Tavern, West Virginia’s oldest restaurant dating back to 1899, we were far too hungry. A NET burger each and a glass of their house amber for me hit the spot.

    Despite two small setbacks, our day had been a beautiful, educational, and very fun adventure. We made note of the lessons we learned so far and committed ourselves to applying them next time. We will come back to Blennerhassett this summer and be better prepared to find and hike some of the Rail Trail, too.