Rails to Trails: West Virginia

We spent several weeks in West Virginia hiking and biking as well as driving a number of backways. In this post we are primarily focusing on our Rails to Trails rides. In an upcoming post we will share our experience of spending several days deep in coal country – which is not the West Virginia that you see in the tourism marketing materials.

Also, just a clarification for the record – chronologically we visited West Virginia before Virginia so the trail rides we are highlighting in this post occured prior to the Virginia rides.

Mon river trail

The Mon (Monongahela River) River Trail was our first Rails to Trails ride of this journey. As you may recall from an earlier post OTR 5.2 got off to an inauspicious start ultimately requiring a 1200 mile round trip detour to Indiana for repairs to the Beast.

As a result our first round of planned rides in Pennsylvania and Maryland were postponed. If the weather co-operates we may have an opportunity to ride some of the trails as we return to Connecticut.

The Mon River trail is a 48 mile trail that sits on the right of way of the former Fairmont, Morgantown and Pittsburgh Railway. This railway began operations in 1886 and was a bulk carrier of coal, limestone, coke and sand which were and still are major sources of trade in West Virginia. The rail line was abandoned by CSX in the 1990s after a rock slide caused significant damage and CSX opted to shift coal traffic to a different route.

The trail provides a beautiful setting for biking and walking. The trail hugs the river for its full length providing great views and vistas as you follow the many curves of this meandering river.

The Mon River runs 130 miles northeasterly towards Pittsburgh where it meets the Allegheny River. The entire length of the Mon River is navigable due to a series of nine locks and dams. This engineering feat has made the river commercially viable for transporting coal by barge.

While riding we saw many coal barges being pushed up and down the river and being loaded and unloaded. The coal fired electric plant pictured above is the Fort Martin Station which is located on the west side of the river north of Morgantown. This power plant burns 2.8 million tons per year – hence the steady traffic of coal barges.

Interestingly, this plant is not a major source of air or water pollution. The scrubber systems at this plant remove over 98% of the sulpher-dioxide emissions. The river itself is very polluted – the culprits being steel and iron mills located in Pennsylvania

We stayed in Morgantown while riding the trail. Morgantown is home to West Virginia University with the campus being just up the hill from the downtown area. While the students were back on campus we did not see many college age folks in town which was surprising (perhaps Covid-19 related).

So, while Morgantown was not very lively, the trail itself warrants a couple of days in the area. Also, absent Covid-19 restrictions, WVU provides a number of attractions including a recognized art museum and a first rate arboretum.

The Beautiful, Loyal and Fierce Cardinal, West Virginia’s State Bird

North Bend trail

Tunnel #2, Brandy Gap Tunnel

After completing the Mon Trail we traveled south to Clarksburg to ride the North Bend Trail. The trail is a 72 miler running west from Clarksburg to the Ohio River at Parkersburg. This trail is one of the segments of the American Discovery Trail. The ADT runs from Delaware to California creating a 6000 mile non-motorized trail.

We began our ride at the eastern trail head in Clarksburg to bike west to Parkersburg. What we did not know at the time was that the eastern end of the trail has not been completed (not mentioned in any of the literature). In fact it took us a while to realize we were at the trail head because there was just a sign and a grass path. Nonetheless, we pushed off to the west assuming the trail would become a more developed trail as we went along. We were wrong!

As we realized the eastern portion of the trail was still a work in progress we made a decision to ride to Tunnel #2 at Brandy Gap. This tunnel is 1086 feet long! The tunnel is dark, wet and cold. At a certain point in the tunnel you can’t actually see light at the other end which was disorienting.

Having said all that – riding through the tunnel was a hoot! So we went through the tunnel pedaled on for a while (until we had another crash) and then turned around and rode back through the tunnel for a second time.

At some point we will return to this trail and having learned our lesson will start at the west end. The full trail ride takes you over 36 trestles and 10 tunnels including a tunnel twice the length of Tunnel #2.

While we have been heavily focused on bicycling the Rails to Trails bike paths we have been making sure to take some days off from cycling – and hiking instead. The views above are from Raven Rock in the Coopers Rock State Forest looking to the northwest at the Cheat River Canyon.

Greenbrier river Trail (GRT)

Greenbrier River

The Greenbrier River Trail was our final rail trail ride in West Virginia. This trail runs 77 miles along the 173 mile long river. The GRT is the longest trail in West Virginia and is one of fifty Millennium Legacy Trails ( http://www.millenniumtrails.org ) in the United States. The Greenbrier River Valley is a beautiful valley tucked in the shadow of the western approaches to the Allegheny Mountains. The river is the longest untamed river (no dams or locks) in the eastern United States and is only utilized for recreational purposes (fishing, boating, rafting).

The trail was originally a freight and passenger branch line of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. The primary freight hauled in this part of West Virginia was timber. This line was abandoned during the Great Depression and never used as a railway again. The trail is currently operated and maintained by the state as a linear state park.

We started our ride at the southern trail head in Lewisburg. Lewisburg is a great town to utilize as a base for riding this trail. It is a picturesque, small town with a number of fine dining restaurants as well as art and historic homes.

We had a great day riding north under the colorful autumnal canopy before retracing our ride back to Lewisburg. This trail also provides many opportunities to camp along the trail in the adjacent Jefferson and Washington National Forest as well as several state forests.

We would be remiss if we did not mention our three favorite coffee cafes in West Virginia: Mea Cuppa Coffee Lounge in Charleston, Range Finder Coffee in Fayetteville and Koin Coffee in Bridgeport.

Next stop: Virginia as we cross over the Allegheny Mountains and the Blue Ridge Trail to begin our next set of adventures.

Be seeing you!

Street Art Tourist: Street Art from the Road: Columbus

Artist Unknown, Discovery District

After departing Fort Wayne we decided to make a couple day stop in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus has three of the things we look for in a city: excellent third wave coffee cafes, a vibrant street art scene and distinctive neighborhoods.

While our stay was brief, we did quite a bit of walking through the various neighborhoods searching for murals. Of course, we fueled up at the coffee cafes that are conviently located in the various villages or districts.

Columbus has taken full advantage of the river waterfront (Scioto River) by creating many public greenspaces providing access to the riverfront for recreation and entertainment.

We will definitely weave Columbus into a future journey to get deeper into the museum and restaurant options (post pandemic) in addition to the coffee, street art and neighborhood history.

We hope you enjoy the selection of street art we have included in this post.

Onward to West Virginia…be seeing you.

Artist Unknown, Columbus – Discovery District
Untitled by Gabriela Torres @ms.torressss, Franklinton Arts District
Teenuh Stays The Same by Bill Miller, Short North District
Eternal by Natalia Sanchez @nauti.luz, Franklinton Arts District
Deeper Connection by Edmund Boateng, Short North District
Artist Unknown, Short North District
KNOW JUSTICE, KNOW PEACE Artist(s) Unknown, Franklinton Arts District
Panel from Mural of Hope by Maureen E. Clark @maureeneclark, Franklinton Arts District
Stolen Joy, Franklinton Arts District
Arist Unknown, Franklinton Arts District
Listen to the Hummingbird, Artist Unknown, Short North District
Here We Are by Alejandra Zanetta, Short North District

Returning Home Part 2: Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania

We accelerated the pace of our return home to the Fort as more towns, counties and states issued tighter restrictions on a daily basis. Ever in need of espresso and tea to sustain the journey we did venture into a number of towns for take out beverages and food. While passing through we usually managed to take a quick tour of the historic or downtown areas before departing for our next fika.

Below are some photos from the final days of OTR 4.0.

Thanks for following.

Be seeing you!

Huntsville First United Methodist Church, Huntsville, Alabama

First Presbyterian Church, Huntsville, Alabama

Church of the Nativity Episcopal, Huntsville, Alabama

Harrison Brothers Hardware, Upper Right, Huntsville, Alabama

Clinton Row, Huntsville, Alabama

Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina

Video Clip, Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

Crucible Coffee in beautiful Staunton (pronounced Stanton) Virginia

Top:Cardinal Coffee Bottom:Anchor Coffee

Emanuel Bell, United Lutheran Seminary, Gettysburg, Founded 1823

Lutheran Seminary, Seminary Ridge, Served as a Field Hospital for Federal and Confederate Soldiers after the Battle at Gettysburg

C.S.A. cannons on Seminary Ridge, Gettysburg Battlefield

Returning Home Part 1: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi

After deciding to shorten our trip due to the Covid-19 pandemic we are still keeping to more scenic routes, backways and small towns whenever possible as we return to Connecticut.

From Texas we passed into Louisiana and toured the low country along the Gulf before heading north and making stops in Lafayette and Baton Rouge.After Baton Rouge we continued north into Mississippi and spent a night in the beautiful town of Natchez which sits high above the Mississippi River on a bluff. From Natchez we traveled north on the Natchez Trace Parkway. The NTP is a 440 mile road that follows the path that Native Americans and later Euro-Americans used to travel by foot back to Tennessee and Kentucky after floating down the Mississippi on rafts to trading posts. The entire route from Natchez to Nashville is a national park. There are many historic sites as well as hikes and walks that can be accessed on this beautiful trip. We followed the road as far as the Tennessee/Alabama border before departing to travel east across Northern Alabama.

We will pick up the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, North Carolina and plan on driving the full route which terminates in Front Royal, VA.

We have included a collection of some of our favorites sights as we drove through Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Be seeing you!

Saint Mary Catholic Mission Church, Marathon, Texas

Gage Hotel, 1927, Marathon, Texas

Gage Hotel Lobby

Marathon, Texas

Langtry, Texas – Home of Judge Roy Bean

Uvalde, Texas

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Hackberry, Louisiana

Holly Beach, Louisiana

Cathedral of Saint John The Evangelist, 1916, Lafayette, Louisiana

The Cathedral Oak, Estimated to be 500 Years Old, Lafayette, Louisiana

Street Murals, Lafayette, Louisiana

Mississippi River, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Swamp Blues Legends from baton Rouge aka Red Stick

Martin Luther King, Jr., Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Bontura House, 1851, Natchez, Owned by Free Black Businessman Robert Smith

Rosalie Mansion, 1823, Owned by Peter Little, Cotton Broker

Line Boat Pushing Barges North on the Mississippi Under the Natchez Bluff

Natchez Trace, Mississippi

The King

Honoring the Soldiers of the C.S.A.

Tornado Damage in Tishomingo, Mississippi

Terlingua, Texas

During our time at Big Bend NP we used the town of Terlingua (pop. 58) as our home base. Terlingua is only about twelve miles north of the Study Butte (stew-dee) entrance into the park and has a well stocked general store (Cottonwood GS) for provisions and a half dozen restaurants and shops in addition to motel, camping and RV accommodations. Terlingua has two paved roads – FM 170 which runs east to west terminating at Route 118 which runs north to south from Alpine to the park entrance.

Terlingua came into existence around 1900 after the discovery of cinnabar. The commercial value of cinnabar derives from the extraction of quicksilver, aka mercury. Shortly thereafter about a half dozen mining companies staked claims and set up operations. Over time the companies were consolidated as the Chisos Mining Company but still became bankrupt in 1937 due to falling market prices. During WW2 several mines were re-opened as heightened demand caused prices to rise but by 1947 the mines were again closed.

Many of the miners that worked these mines were Mexicans who came north for the work. Many of the descendants of the Mexican miners still live in Terlingua and the surrounding area. We visited the Terlingua cemetery where a number of the miners who died working the mines are buried and which also is the final resting place for many victims of the 1918 flu epidemic. The cemetery is still in use today.

The town itself is pretty ramshackle which frankly is part of the charm. The local residents are very laid back and friendly. The Terlingua Ghost Town is where most of the restaurants and shops are located – scattered amongst the ruins of the mining company buildings and housing. Many of the current businesses occupy the abandoned mining company structures.

We found Terlingua to be an excellent spot for visiting BBNP if you decide to stay outside the park and had a lot of fun after our hikes unwinding and meeting people in the restaurants and bars in the ghost town area.

Be seeing you!

P.S. Terlingua has the most stunning sunrises which you can watch from most anywhere in town as the sun rises over the Chisos Mountains, Class 1 dark skies for awe inspiring star gazing and the loudest packs of coyotes we have ever heard.

Chicken-Fried Antelope and Grilled Quail

Marfa and Fort Davis, Far West, Texas

After departing Carlsbad Caverns NP we traveled through oil country (see Carlsbad Caverns blog) and on through a number of small Texas towns on our way south. Our first stop was in Pecos. We stayed just a short while as the traffic from the Mid-Continent Oil Field has just overwhelmed the town with heavy trucks crossing through the main intersection from all four points on the compass.

We stopped for a picnic lunch in the tiny town (pop.479) of Balmorhea (bal-mor-ray). Balmorhea has a small water canal that runs through town surrounded by Cottonwood trees offering a shady, tranquil spot for our meal and a break.

From Balmorhea we continued south on Texas Route 17 to Fort Davis. Historic Fort Davis, managed by the National Park Service sits just outside of town. This fort operated from 1854 to 1891. Throughout much of its tenure the cavalry and infantry troops stationed here were tasked with protecting emigrants heading west to California from Native American attacks. During the Civil War the Union troops were withdrawn from the fort and it was occupied by Confederate troops from Texas.

Afte the war the fort was reoccupied by U.S. Cavalry troops including several companies of Buffalo Soldiers. From that point forward the troops were again focused on providing safe passage for emigrants and commercial freight operators. With the surrender and deportation of the majority of the Native Americans towards the end of the century the fort was abandoned.

Fort Davis is a great stop if you are interested in the history of the American West. The fort is in excellent condition and you can visit recreated barracks and living quarters.

We stayed the night at the Hotel Limpia (constructed 1912) in the town of Fort Davis (pop.1210). The Limpia is a charming western hotel with an excellent restaurant – Blue Mountain Grill.

Our next stop on this leg was Marfa, Texas. Marfa (pop. 1,981) is another town in Far West Texas that started out as a water stop for the railroad. Today the rail still exists and is operated by the Union Pacific Railroad with six to ten freight trains crossing through the middle of town each day.

During WW2 Marfa was home to a Army Air Corps training base which was abandoned after the war. Marfa became famous as an artists colony after NYC artist Donald Judd moved there in 1971 and purchased some of the empty hangers to permanently house collections of his work and those of other minimalist artists.

While we enjoyed Marfa we came away somewhat disappointed after reading and hearing all of the hype about the town. The minimalist large “art” installations are just not our cup of tea. The town itself is still charming with many examples of well preserved western architecture. There are a number of interesting shops and excellent restaurants albeit the prices are inflated for the tourist trade.

If you do go to Marfa we highly recommend the Hotel Paisano as a base for your stay. The hotel was orignially constructed in 1929 and served as a hub for cattle ranchers and tourists for several decades. The hotel fell into disrepair in the early 2000’s but was purchased and entirely renovated. Today it is a charming hotel with a good restaurant and bar along with great courtyard for relaxing with a cocktail or two.

A political/cultural item we would mention regards a phenomenon we have seen in several places. As Marfa became know as an artists colony a number of “outsiders” have come to town and purchased and renovated properties effectively pricing locals out of the market. The county enacted an adobe tax on adobe structures to capitalize on the rising market which raised property taxes 60% for all owners of adobe structures. Local folks who have made no improvements to their modest adobe homes are caught up in this and are hurting.

Lastly, and very importantly there is an excellent third wave coffee shop in Marfa trading as Do Your Thing Coffee and a very good roaster in town – Big Bend Roasters.

We are off to the rugged backcountry of Big Bend Ranch State Park.

Be seeing you!

The Hotel Paisano

Santa Maria, Federico Archuleta, #el_federico

Presidio County Courthouse, Marfa, Texas

Fire Station, Marfa, Texas

Jeff Davis County Courthouse, Fort Davis, Texas

Fort Davis, U.S. Eighth Infantry, 1854 Texas Confederate Rifles, 1861

Hotel Limpia, Fort Davis, Texas

Adobe Tax

Jaguar XK 140

Alpine, Far West Texas

We made the short hop east while staying in Marfa to spend a pleasant afternoon in Alpine, Texas. A brief history of Alpine can be read below on a photo of the town placque. Alpine’s origins lie with the railroad but today it is anchored by a state university.

The good news for us is that Alpine has a vibrant street mural scene, a terrific book store and a solid coffee shop to complement the classic early 1900s western architecture. There are 45 street murals in downtown. As those of you who follow us know that is a winning combination for us.

You can see more street art and coffee experiences on our Instagram accounts: #streetartfromtheroad/#fikawithfiona

Be seeing you!

Cruising Big Bend, Tom Curry

Flying Shaman, Kerry Awn

From Paradise to Calamity Creek, Pauline Hernandez

Front Street Bookstore, Alpine, Texas

Cedar Coffee, Alpine, Texas

Holland Hotel, Alpine, Texas

Mini Cooper 1000

ABQ – White Sands – Lincoln National Forest

After our stay in ABQ we began our journey to southern New Mexico to visit White Sands National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We travel the backways as much as we can in order to take in as much natural beauty as possible. Fortunately, New Mexico offers many opportunities to travel overland on dirt roads and trails through public lands managed by the BLM and NFS.

From ABQ we journeyed overland via the Quebradas Backway which took us through rolling hills and canyons. Beautifully striated ridgelines are in view to the west throughout the length of the backway.

After completing the backway we continued further south stopping in Truth or Consequences before camping north of Las Cruces. Truth or Consequences was originally named named Hot Springs for the 40 different hot springs located in the town. The town changed its name to Truth or Consequences in 1950 to in order to have the radio show of the same name aired in town for the shows tenth anniversary. Our only recommendation if you find yourself in T or C is to stop into Ingo’s Art Cafe, have a cup of coffee and meet Ingo.

White Sands National Park is the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. It is truely unique with its ever changing landscape of wind sculpted dunes that cover 275 square miles of the Tularosa Basin. The other unique feature is that the national park sits inside the White Sands Missile Range. When missiles are being fired the park closes for obvious safety reasons – check before you go so you are not disappointed.

We think the park can be experienced in one day by driving the loop road and taking a couple of hikes into the dunes. You will also see kids sledding on the dunes.

Video Clip

Video Clip

After leaving White Sands we traveled up into the Sacramento Mountains of the Lincoln National Forest. The Sacramento Mountains rise right up out of the basin floor to an elevation of over 8000 feet above sea level. There are a number of vista points that provide surreal views of the White Sands dunefield below.

Lincoln NF has hundreds of hiking trails through out the forest. The town of Cloudcroft sits at the top of the range, a cute mountain town that is a good base camp for hiking in the forest and offers several good restaurants and coffee shops. High Altitude outfitters is an excellent shop for anything you need for your outdoor activities and Black Bear Coffee will get you caffeinated. A number of the trails utilize the railbed from the former Almagordo & Sacramento Mountain Railroad which hauled timber down through the Fresnel Canyon. The railroad shutdown in 1947 but a number of the impressive trestles are still standing and can be seen while hiking. We also came upon several abandoned homesteads while hiking in the forest.

Be seeing you!

Bandelier National Monument

As we mentioned in closing our last post we were planning on traveling south to spend two days exploring and camping at Chaco Culture National Historical Park near Nageezi, NM. Chaco Canyon was occupied as early as 900 B.C. and as an archaeological site is on par with the fantastic Mesa Verde cliff dwellings. Unfortunately, the storm that passed through northern New Mexico rendered the 25 mile dirt road into the park impassable.

Not to worry! Northern New Mexico is rich with significant archaelogical sites. In fact, there are 19 ancestral locations which can be accessed in the Four Corners Region. So after a brief stopover in the badlands surrounding Angel Peak we set our sights on Bandelier National Monument.

The Angel Peak Recreation Area is managed by the BLM. It is a beautiful area of desolate badlands, occasionally marred by oil or fracking sites scattered through out the 10,000 acres. Angel Peak is still worth a visit.

We joined Route 96 to make the drive to Bandelier NP. Route 96 runs north then east skirting the northern boundary of the Santa Fe National Forest and parallels the Old Spanish National Historic Trail. This area is sparsely settled with only five settlements along the 60 miles -between Cuba and Abiquiu. The total population of all of the settlements is apx. 500 people.

Abiquiu is where artist Georgia O’Keefe did much of her painting while in New Mexico. We plan on visiting the Georgia O’Keefe Museum when we visit Santa Fe.

Badlands in Angel Peak Recreation Area

Angel Peak (elev. 6988 feet) Background Upper Left Frame

Sangre de Christo Mountains

Rio Chama from White Rock

Bandelier National Monument is a relatively small (33,000 acres) monument but protects an area of mesas and canyons where humans lived as long as 11,000 years ago. This area features both cliff dwellings and multi-room dwellings on the canyon floor. Much of the material here is tuff (compacted volcanic ash) which allowed the Puebloans to carve into the cliffs.

There are a number of dwellings where you can climb up into cliff dwellings using ladders modeled after the ladders the Puebloans used. The Alcove House pictured below provides the opportunity to climb up a series of ladders and provide the view of the canyon that the Ancesteral Puebloans had so long ago. Additionally, there are many petroglyphs on the cliff walls.

Alcove House

Maria Climbing One of the Four Ladders required to Reach Alcove House

View from Alcove House – 140 Feet Above Canyon Floor

Large Kiva on Frijoles Canyon Floor

BNP was closed to the public during World War 2 as the buildings and lodging were appropriated for the Manhattan Project which was based in nearby Los Alamos. The Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos depicts the history of the Manhattan Project which produced the first atomic bombs which were dropped on Japan in an attempt to hasten the end of the war with Japan. Replicas of the “Fat Man” and “Little Boy” atomic bombs pictured below.

Bradbury Science Museum, Los Alamos

BNP is within easy driving distance of Santa Fe. The park offers primitive camping and there are hotels in nearby White Rock. We would recommend visiting in the off season as parking is limited and the crowds make for lines if you want to climb up into the dwellings (according to the park rangers). We recommend one to two days here in order to hike the Frey Trail, visit the Long House, the Alcove House and the Falls Trail.

Be seeing you!

P.S. The Revolt Coffee truck is parked on Route 4 in White Rock so you can grab a great coffee to go on your way into or out of the monument.

Mesa Verde National Park

This trip will take us through New Mexico and deep into (the heart of) Texas before turning east along the Gulf Coast and eventually driving back to Connecticut. As usual we began our trip in Salt Lake City where we have been storing the Beast between trips.

After a day of travel to SLC and a day of preparing the Beast for this journey we departed for Moab, UT. We spent an overnight in Moab, UT (Moab Coffee Roasters) before traveling to southwestern Colorado to view some of the finest examples of Peubloan cliff and mesa communities in existence today.

Mesa Verde National Park was created by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 for the explicit purpose of preserving the remarkable Ancesteral Peublo architecture. Mesa Verde was occupied by the Pueblo people for about 750 years beginning in 550 A.D.

MVNP is definitely a bit off the beaten path but we think more than worth the drive. The park is laid out with a loop drive that allows you to see many of the cliff villages from excellent view points. There are a number of kivas that have been excavated which are easily accessible by foot.

In the summer months you can also tour several of the cliff dwellings on ranger guided tours. The Far View Lodge offers acommodations with outstanding views of the mesa and canyons below. There is also a small musueum located in the park about twenty miles from the entrance.

There are a number of indigenous sites in the Four Corners area which could easily be combined with a visit to MVNP for an extended tour; Canyons of the Ancients and Chaco Culture National Historic Park are two major sites.

A definite recommend on our part.

Be seeing you!