While taking some back roads on a mega US road trip
this month, I ended up driving around a part of the planet I hadn't seen in depth before -- absolutely wonderful eastern West Virginia. The gorgeous piece of US real estate is often best known for its silver screen appearances, and something I always loved about those flicks was the fabulous scenery happening; even creepy cult fave Wrong Turn
showcases some beautiful backgrounds. Extremely good coffee? Found it. Brew pubs? Not so much. Drop-your-jaw drives and mountains forever? That's road tripping eastern West Virginia style.
Some drives worth doing in eastern West Virginia
include my fave from this trip, a twisting trek over Shenandoah Mountain on US 250 on through Monongahela National Forest (that's it at left -- head west into the Allegheny mountains from Staunton, VA). I was driving into Phillippi
where, yes, there is a Crislip Holler and a cool covered bridge, and stopped atop the pretty pass to read about Stonewall Jackson's civil war breastworks, still visible off the road, and do some hiking amid the trees. Mist was rolling down the mountains when I hit the highway again to haul up and down some nine percent grades -- use that excuse to stay in second gear, because that's the speed to see the scene here. Alternatively, "here" could be Highway 33 west from I-81 to meander into West Virginia's Potomac Highlands via 28 south to 250, where the white tailed deer bounce faster than my VW van can corner.
In the northeastern tip of West Virginia, I spent some time in historic Harper's Ferry National Park on the borders of Maryland and Virginia, where the park service leads daily walks past some Civil War spots -- good thing, as you can't park a car on most of the one winding road leading downtown. Birds on the bordering Shenandoah River, like the Louisiana heron (I believe; I'm no birdwatcher) at left, captivated me for hours -- if you're used to fast water, rivers so still that they grow green surfaces
are something to see.
Stop at the Harper's Ferry Visitor Center, about one mile west of the Shenandoah River bridge off U.S. Route 340, to get the lay of the land and chat with some very friendly National Park Service folks.
Lodging can be had, of course, but camping is the summertime thing in West Virginia. I spent some nights in the National Forest, where you can always pull in for free, and one in the Harper's Ferry KOA; that's it at right on a misty mountain morning. KOA campgrounds offer free wifi these days, which was one of my big motivators -- kinda surreal to tap on a laptop in a campground. Drattedly, this KOA's wifi was awol for part of my stay, but it's a central spot for camping very near US 340, three state borders and the Harper's Ferry visitor center.
I had a dyno time in Shepherdstown -- drop by this college colony that's home to Shepherd University and the Contemporary American Theater Festival, just north of Harper's Ferry, for a ginger-banana-peach-cinnamon smoothie in the very cool Lost Dog coffee shop. See some art, hear some music and take away an XXX oily bag of French Roast.
People playing sack and people performing Civil War reenactments; Betty's Restaurant, which serves a mean looking dinner platter but doesn't take credit cards, near the Stone Soup Bistro and China Kitchen -- yeah, I like this town. The place to party? Didn't find it -- let us know if you've got the secret handshake and map.
If you go to Eastern West Virginia
West Virginia's mining history is long and deep -- educate yourself about what may lay just beyond a scenic vista. Understand how the Civil War split now-neighboring Virginia and created West Virginia. Now hit the road.
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Photos: Kathleen Crislip