Archive for June, 2010

Exploring the Magic of Mountain Laurel

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

West Virginia Mountain Laurel in Blackwater Falls State Park

Every season in the WV highlands near Canaan Valley and Blackwater Falls is special. But some seasons are more spectacular than others, and as we approach the summer solstice, we encounter the magic of blooming mountain laurel.

Kin to rhododendron, which will bloom a little later here (near July 4th), mountain laurel have smaller leaves and delicate star shaped blossoms. Mostly they are pink, but occasionally you will find pure white ones.

They weren’t always beloved. Most early visitors to our mountains found the woods unpenetrable due to massive laurel and rhododendron thickets. They cursed the hellish “lorals” and moved on. It wasn’t until the 1890′s that lumberman and railroaders could tame the forest with saws and steam engines. But not completely, and certainly not the mountain laurel.

Along the roads outside Davis, WV, in Blackwater Falls State Park and woods of Canaan Valley, the wild display of laurel blossoms this time of year is simply stunning. You don’t realize how completely they occupy the understory of our woods until they bloom, trumpeting that summer, finally, is here.

This shot of laurel blooming at Blackwater Falls State Park was supplied by Bright Morning Inn guest Margaret Peterson, a birdwatcher from Oregon by way of DC. Somewhere near Lindy Point she found a bird’s nest hidden in a laurel thicket. At a time when birds, and wild places, are threatened everywhere, we rejoice in the marvelous resiliance of mountain laurel.

Shopping in Amish Country Near Davis, WV

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

Most of the folks who visit Davis, WV are outdoor enthusiasts. That’s the town’s schtick; it’s a mecca for mountain bikers, hikers, paddlers and skiers — not to mention die-hard hunters and fishermen in season. But not everyone who travels our beautiful country roads is the outdoor type. Some people just like to drive around and sightsee, maybe do a little shopping and eating, then stay overnight at a cozy little bed and breakfast, like the Bright Morning Inn.

Fortunately, there are some good restaurants and handful of interesting shops in Davis and nearby Thomas, enough for a day of exploring. But if you want more, there’s a fascinating area north of town, near Oakland, MD, and home to a small Amish community.

This isn’t commercialized Amish country, with phony “Dutch” windmills and such. It’s an area of rolling farmland called “Pleasant Valley,” with genuine small family farms lining the backroads. Most of the farmers and their wives have sideline businesses, selling vegetables or fabric or picnic furniture. But the folks who sell the rag rugs are my favorite.

The Amish have a remarkable sense of color, and their rugs are beautiful. But just as good, they’re super sturdy, and inexpensive , too. That’s why buying an Amish rug is immensely practical. The fun part comes from entering the home of the rugmaker and digging through piles of rugs the family has made over winter. The Amish who live in Pleasant Valley don’t encounter a lot of tourists, so they’re warm and friendly to outsiders who come to buy their wares — they even appreciate us!

The Bright Morning Inn’s rooms are decorated with a touch of country elegance, with hand-made rugs, cotton quilts and rough hewn pine floors. Since we try to keep things simple, these beautiful rugs are perfect for us. And for you, too, if you’re lucky enough to explore nearby Amish country on your next Davis, WV vacation.

Quilts, Amish rugs and pine floors at the Bright Morning Inn

Amish rugs are known for the beautiful colors and patterns

Rhubarb Gardening and Special Pancakes

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Giant rhubarb stalks in the herb garden of the Bright Morning Inn

Gardening in the West Virginia Highlands, with our frigid winters and brief summers, takes getting used to. Flowers love our cool summer weather; they seem to bloom forever. The flowers in Davis, WV gardens are impressive, with giant peonies early, tall hollyhocks later, and masses of gorgeous daisies and phlox in between.
At the Bright Morning Inn, near Canaan Valley, it’s our herb garden that’s the real winner. Last year we renovated the herb bed, peeling back the black plastic mulch, and moving plants around. The difference has been astounding, the bed is thick and lush and pleasantly organized for once…thanks mostly to guest Ken Morgolius, a gifted landscaper from Charlottesville.
The star plant in the herb bed this year is rhubarb, with it’s giant leaves and beautiful reddish stalks. It’s a great ornamental, but at the Inn we like to cook it in strawberry rhubarb pancakes.
If you haven’t tried them, you have no idea how delightful the sweet sour concoction can be, especially doused with pure maple syrup and butter. We simply slice the fruit thinly and lay it on the cakes before flipping. When it’s gooey and caramelized they’re done.
At the Bright Morning Inn’s restaurant,  pancakes change with the seasons. We start with the rhubarb cakes in spring, then move on to fresh peach cakes in August, sometimes with a raspberry sauce. In the fall we switch to pumpkin cakes, with a special maple butter sauce. They are sublime, and may be the most delicious cake of all. Near Christmas we offer gingerbread cakes, with apple slivers cooked inside and a light drizzle of lemon curd.
Even people who aren’t pancake eaters like the cakes at the Bright Morning Inn. And if you’re an overnight guest, you can take your coffee outside and sit near our wonderful garden while you plan for the day’s adventure.

Digging the “Forks” at Dolly Sods

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

For years I have read about the magnificent “Forks of Red Creek” within Dolly Sods Wilderness. According to the Monongahela National Forest Hiking Guide, the “Forks” is an area along the Red Creek Trail offering several campsites and an astonishing set of water features: “three swimming holes, several waterfalls, fossils in the main stream bed and a natural water slide that drops about 15 vertical feet into a large swimming hole just upstream of an impressive waterfall in a scenic setting. Needless to say, the ‘Forks’ is popular.”

While a great, if sometimes overused, camping spot, the “Forks” make a wonderful day trip. From Davis, it’s best to drive to the top of FS80, then hike the Breathed Mountain Trail, about 2.5 miles to where it connects with the Red Creek Trail. You’ll know you’re near by the roar of the water as it rushes through the narrow canyon. It’s a steep descent to the stream bed, but absolutely worth it. The scenery is spectacular, the air fresh with balsam fir, and the sound of the water energizing.

My daughter Catherine and I hiked the Forks in late May, when it was still too cold to swim. But in July and August there must be no finer place to while away the day, then retire to town for beer, pizza and a comfy bed at the Bright Morning Inn.

This is a spot that is not to be missed. My only regret is that it took me so long to find it!

Hiking in May along the "Forks" of Red Creek in Dolly Sods



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