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!

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