On Monday, September 30th, we drove 110 miles to Flintstone in western Maryland. We spent four nights at Rocky Gap State Park. Our reservation was in the one loop out of 11 that has electric but it had no water, nor sewer hookup. This required us to bring a full 100-gallon tank of fresh water with us from Gettysburg, PA. The drive was uneventful until we arrived at the state park. We had both entered the address of the state park in our GPS’s. Unfortunately this led us into a newly paved parking lot by the beach. When Phil checked the park office, he found a sign that said that the office had moved. Getting out of the narrow parking lot was a challenge and one of the trailer tires sunk deep in the ground. When we finally reached the campground, the registration office was closed. Phil dialed the number posted on the office window and a park ranger arrived quickly. When we reached our pull-through site, we discovered that it had a tight curve and there were numerous low branches in our way. Phil ended up climbing on the roof with a saw and branch trimmer. He spent about 45 minutes clearing lots of the branches above us, while Jan stayed on the ground and attempted to hide the evidence of our sawed branches. After clearing the branches, we moved our rig back and forth numerous times until we could find a spot that was fairly level and close enough to reach the power receptacle. It was about 91 degrees and humid so we were rather worn out by the time we got set up. The campground only had 30 amp hookups so we were limited to running one air conditioner.
Tuesday was another hot day, with a high of 89 degrees. We attempted to escape the heat of the afternoon by driving to nearby Cumberland, MD and visiting Wal-Mart and going to the movies. We cooked our dinner in the crockpot but discovered that running the crockpot and one air conditioner exceeded our 30 amps.
Wednesday was just as hot, with another day of 89 degrees. Phil spent about an hour that morning on our ladder cutting down more branches that would have been in our way when we attempted to leave the campsite on Friday. After noon, we drove through the campground and explored the beach area. It was a beautiful beach and the views were very nice. Unfortunately the heat kept us from spending much time exploring the area.
We then drove to the neighboring Rocky Gap Casino and enjoyed the air conditioning. We picked up our new member cards, which gave us each $5 for betting and $10 in food credits. We played the slot machines and walked away with net winnings of $64 and a free meal.
On Thursday we drove to Cumberland and boarded the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad for a 3-hour train ride. The journey took us from Cumberland to Frostburg where we had the opportunity to watch the locomotive turn around on the turntable and then explore downtown Frostburg. It was another hot day but the railcars were wonderfully air-conditioned and the scenery was beautiful. The narrator did a good job of pointing out the sights along the way and explaining the history of the railway. Leaving Cumberland, the route traveled west through a breach in the Allegheny Mountains over an iron truss bridge, around Helmstetter’s Horseshoe Curve and through the 914 foot Brush Tunnel under Piney Mountain. The 16-mile trek was uphill all the way, climbing grades up to 2.8%. In fact, there is a bike path beside the tracks and several passengers chose to bring their bikes on the ride to Frostburg and then coasted back downhill to Cumberland. Upon our return to Cumberland, we strolled through the small downtown shopping district.
Friday was our day to depart Maryland and head to West Virginia. Fortunately the heat wave had broken and the temperature was back in the 60s. Despite Phil’s effort on Wednesday to clear the low-hanging branches on the way out of our campsite, we still found that we were penned in between large branches on both sides. After several failed attempts to maneuver a path between the branches, Jan called the park ranger for assistance. She was told that state law prohibited them from cutting down any live trees but they would come out to take a look. The first two rangers who arrived were unable to solve our dilemma so they called for backup. Finally they put a belt around one of the large tree branches and winched it with their pickup truck. This was enough to move the branch about a foot away from our trailer and, with the other rangers pulling on some of the smaller branches, Phil was able to get our rig out of the campsite with no damage. It had taken us over an hour to escape but we were very glad to get underway.
We drove 210 miles to the small town of Mount Nebo in south central West Virginia where we spent a week at Summersville Lake Retreat. Most of the drive was on interstate highways but involved lots of ascents and descents of the hillsides. Our campsite in West Virginia was about the polar opposite of the one we’d just left in Maryland. We had a long pull-through site that was easy to access and had no obstacles. We also were excited to have 50 amp electric again, as well as having water and sewer at our site and the ability to use our satellite TV. We had spectacular views of Summersville Lake from the front of our site and a lighthouse from our living room windows.
With our stays in Maryland and West Virginia, we reached a total of 44 states in which we have camped in the past four years. We are now only missing Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware and New Jersey. We have no plans to visit any of these states any time soon.
On Saturday we headed out to explore the campground. The map showed a trail that would have taken us to Summersville Lake but, when we reached the trailhead, we saw a sign that said the trail was temporarily closed. We later learned from the camp host that an ongoing property dispute with one of the neighbors had caused the trail closure. Fortunately the host had gone to high school in this area so she was able to recommend several other places we could explore.
Jan’s car was filthy after sitting under the trees for four days in Maryland so we first stopped at a car wash in Summersville. Then, after a visit to Wal-Mart, we headed out to check on some of the sites the host had recommended. We stopped at the Long Point Overlook which provided a great view of Summersville Lake. The water level was quite low. We attempted to climb down a hill to the water but it was quite steep and the fallen leaves made the footing rather slippery. After getting part way down the hill, we abandoned our efforts and moved on.
We next stopped at the Summersville Dam. This U.S. Army Corp of Engineers project, completed in 1966, is the 2nd highest earthen dam in the Eastern U.S. It is 390 feet high and 2,280 feet long. The Gauley River located below the dam is among the world’s best whitewater runs. We then stopped at Battle Run State Park and explored the beach and fishing pier areas. The water level was so low that the sandy beach ended a long distance from the lake.
Our final stop for the day was at the Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park. This was the site of an important Civil War battle in September 1861. Although the Union army suffered more casualties, their victory here led to the eventual Confederate withdrawal from western Virginia and enabled the movement for West Virginia statehood to proceed. We hiked a portion of the Patterson Trail that took us through a ravine where two Union soldiers had been killed, and 30 wounded, as a result of friendly fire in the darkness of the thick woods.
Sunday’s weather forecast called for rain most of the day and, although it never did rain hard, the day was extremely overcast and kept us homebound watching football. On Monday we decided we weren’t going to let another rainy day forecast keep us inside. However, as we headed to Wal-Mart, the skies opened up and we ended up driving through torrential rains and strong winds. We only had one small umbrella in the car and it was not adequate for our needs. It rained most of the afternoon, causing us to scrap our plans for grilling our dinner.
Tuesday’s forecast called for the rain to hold off until about 2 p.m. so we thought it would be safe to venture out early. Once again, the weather forecast was unreliable and we dealt with drizzle on and off most of the day. We headed out in the morning to visit the New River Gorge National River, about 15 miles south of our campground. The New River is not new. In fact, it is one of the oldest rivers in the world, older than the Appalachian Mountains themselves. New River Gorge National River is managed by the National Park Service who protect and preserve 53 miles of the New River, as well as over 77,000 acres of the magnificent gorge this river created.
Our first stop was at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center where we watched a film on the history of the area and looked at exhibits dealing with the coal mining industry that supported the locals for many generations. In 1873, the arrival of the C&O Railway opened this wilderness area to coal mining. By 1905, thirteen towns had sprung up between Fayette Station and Thurmond, 15 miles upstream. A landowner or mining company would open a coal mine and build company-owned houses and a store, creating a company town. Decades later, when the coal seam was exhausted or the mine closed due to changes in the marketplace, people moved away and these towns were ultimately deserted. Today, the New River Gorge is known for its scenic beauty and excellent whitewater activities.
We next walked down the 178 steps of the Canyon Rim Boardwalk to overlooks offering scenic views of the gorge and the New River Gorge Bridge. The bridge, at 3,030’ long and 876’ high, is the longest single-span arch bridge in the world. The fog had rolled in while we were in the visitor center and the bridge was shrouded in the clouds.
When the New River Gorge Bridge opened in 1977, it reduced the time to get across the gorge from 45 minutes to less than a minute. After leaving the visitor center, we drove the pre-bridge route, the 8-mile Fayette Station Road. This 100-year-old road of hairpin turns winds down to the bottom of the gorge, across a narrow bridge, and up the other side.
The weather on Wednesday, October 9th, was beautiful so we were able to do some hiking. We returned to the New River Gorge area and hiked the 3.2-mile out-and-back Long Point Trail. This trail traverses forest and rhododendron thicket to a rocky outcrop (Long Point) with panoramic views of the gorge and New River Gorge Bridge. There were sheer cliffs at the outcrop with 100+ foot drop-offs that made us somewhat nervous. However, our bigger concern was snakes. Two of the reviewers on our Alltrails app had spotted copperheads on the trail within the past month. We kept our eyes on the many tree roots along the trail, making sure that none of the “roots” began to slither.
On Thursday we hiked the 4.3-mile out-and-back Long Point Trail. Although it had the same name as Wednesday’s hike, this trail led to a rocky outcrop above Summersville Lake.