There’s nothing like early spring in the Appalachian Mountains! Frosty mornings, sunny afternoons, and gorgeous sunsets that you can watch through trees whose branches aren’t yet covered in leaves all remind you that it’s great to be alive.
Here’s a ride report from my trip through Pocahontas County, West Virginia in April 2015.
I met my pal Jill in Sutton WV on a Friday evening and the next morning we meandered through the Monongahela National Forest to Marlinton for a late lunch at the Greenbrier Grille and Lodge in Marlinton.
Motorcyclists will admire the twisties along our route!
Marlinton stays strong despite floods and fire
Jill and I took our time exploring the Pocahontas County Seat of Marlinton, which saw its first white settlers in about 1749. By 1910, Marlinton had a tannery, two banks, two newspapers, about 20 stores, a hospital, opera house, volunteer fire department, school, water system, electric power, and a population of 1,086.
Today, despite devastating fires and floods that wiped out most of the other institutions, CJ Richardson Hardware and Furniture stands tall, the oldest surviving building in the town.
You have to be “a certain age” to appreciate a genuine hardware store where people know how deep the frost line is and give you a handwritten receipt for your purchases. The staff is friendly and proud of the store’s history. Its Yelp reviews tell it all.
Click any of these photos and they’ll pop up so you can examine them more closely.
Marlinton Opera House
Built in 1910, The Marlinton Opera House serves the community to this day, not with opera, but with a diversity of cultural events. Jill and I were there in time to watch a Beatles/Grateful Dead tribute band “Long Strange Night” warm up and do its sound check.
The pressed-metal ceiling panels are in pristine condition, and I was surprised to learn that the balustrade surrounding the balcony is American Chestnut.
A word about the American Chestnut, which was once vital to the Appalachian economy and way of life. These trees were among the largest, tallest, and fastest-growing in the eastern forest. It fed people and animals. The blight that destroyed them has been called the greatest ecological disaster to strike the world’s forests in all of history. This video gives a recap of its demise and efforts to bring it back.
Post office art
Whenever I’m in old towns I like to see if the post office has WPA art, and sure enough, Marlinton had a bucolic scene over the Postmaster’s office door. “Past Visions the Future” by Edwin Dorsey Doniphan (1939) hangs in the lobby (funded by the Section of Fine Arts under the Treasury Department, not the WPA).
Two modern murals
Artist Molly Must painted two striking murals on the sides of Marlinton buildings. “Over Bonnie” greets you as you cross the Greenbrier River bridge from Rte 39/55.
It illustrates the transformation of Appalachia in the 19th and 20th centuries. The mural features the poems and sentiments of Louise McNeill, a WV poet laureate who grew up in the area.
If you follow this ink, you can scroll over different parts of the mural for background on what you’re seeing and its significance. It’s a treat.
Marlinton’s other mural by Molly Must, “Civil War,” (pictured right) is focused on the hardships faced by those who stayed at home. It reminds passersby that West Virginia became a state in the War Between The States. The mural’s primary color is red—for spilt blood?
Again, click through to interact with the mural and learn what its parts meant to the artist. Ms. Must is living in Asheville, NC, not two hours from me. I’ll look her up next time I’m there!
Mountain Quest Inn and Institute
I was eager to get to know the owners and staff at Mountain Quest in the nearby Frost community. I will be hosting two retreats there this year.
I knew from the website that the Inn is lovely, but nothing prepared me for what I experienced with Dr. Alex Bennett after dinner.
With no light pollution, the night skies at Mountain Quest are black, save for the diamonds strewn across the Milky Way by the hand of our Creator.We carried our cameras out in hopes of catching orbs and “myst” under the stars.
I definitely caught some orbs but the picture below, taken by Alex, shows myst all around me! I was completely unaware of the bigger picture—and isn’t that a metaphor for life!
The concept of “myst” goes far beyond what I can cover in this post, but an article in the Pocahontas Times does it beautifully. Alex’s book, Journey Into the Myst, does so in great detail.
Jill left for home Sunday and I had the day alone to explore the grounds at Mountain Quest waiting for my friend Joanne aka “Gear Chic” to arrive. I hiked up the ridge that surrounds the property and flopped on the ground, basking in the sun and silence.
Okay, not silence…I could hear leaves rustling in the breeze, crows calling to each other, and birdsong. Heaven.
I posted a video of Mountain Quest’s deer herd (on my Facebook page) galloping across the frosty meadow then jumping the fence into the next pasture. Here’s a gallery of photos from my visit with both Jill and Joanne. Mountain Quest is home to ten horses, two llamas, long-horned cattle, a sheep and “Red” the goat.
Click on one of the photos to get a larger view.
Highland Scenic Highway
Joanne and I set out on Monday to tour more twisty and scenic roads. We ended our day on the Highland Scenic Highway, a National Forest Scenic Byway and the highest major roadway in West Virginia. I consider it a “must see” for everyone, no matter the number of wheels on their vehicle.
We parted ways on a rainy Tuesday, happy to have scored a perfect gap of fine weather to explore Pocahontas County in early spring. I’m looking forward to many happy return visits!
If you’ve traveled in this region, please tell me your favorite spots. As always, if I can help you plan YOUR getaway, please be in touch.