Officially Summer: Rhododendron in Canaan

July 16th, 2010

Rhododendron in bloom near Blackwater Falls WV

Masses of blooming rhododendron are just one reason to visit the WV highlands near Davis and Canaan Valley. Summers are cool here, which means rhodies bloom late, in fact you can usually count on peak bloom near the fourth of July.

This photo, with its unidentified bug, is courtesy of Kurt Manwiller, our friend, guest and sometime innsitter. It was taken near Blackwater Falls, where rhododendron thickets blanket the forest.

The rhodies are fading now but you can still find many blossoms in the higher elevations near Canaan Loop Road, a remarkable 21-mile gravel road offering miles of secluded hiking and mountain biking trails. The Loop Road starts three miles out of town at Canaan Heights, a tiny scattering of homes on the high western ridge of Canaan Valley. It ends at Blackwater Falls State Park, nearLindy Point, one of our most cherished vistas.

The trail network encompassed by the Loop Road is mostly what remains of old fire service roads cut to fight the forest fires that once plagued our area. The entire length of the road is no longer passable, but there’s still plenty of access by car to secluded primitive campsites, a catch-and-release fly fishing site at Red Run and numerous spongy bogs offering cranberry and blueberry picking.

Guests at the Bright Morning Inn are surprised to discover so many wild and secluded trails within a stone’s throw of town. The terrain looks and smells like Alaska…and yet it’s so much closer to home!

Exploring the Magic of Mountain Laurel

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

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

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

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

Stalking the Elusive Lady’s Slipper

May 11th, 2010

Sensuous wild orchids known as Lady's Slippers on May 10 at Blackwater Falls

A clutch of Lady’s Slippers on trail to Pase Point

May in the highlands of West Virginia offers a spectacle of tender wildflowers. One of the most beautiful and elusive is the Lady’s Slipper, a wild orchid that grows in the moist woodlands of nearby Blackwater Falls State Park.

Today I spotted a clutch of lady’s slippers off the trail to Pase Point, part of the Dobbin House trail network that skirts the north rim of the Blackwater Canyon. The Dobbin House trails are known for challenging mountain biking track and tricky and twisting cross country ski trails.

The area was the site of a very old hunting lodge called Dobbin House, where wealthy city dwellers came to encounter what was then Virginia mountain wilderness before the Civil War. The House burned to the ground before the turn of the 2oth century, but the magnificent site would ultimately became part of the Monongahela Forest.

Visitors to the Bright Morning Inn, in nearby Davis, WV, have access to miles of fantastic hiking and biking trails, many of which lead right from our door. But the hardiest ones brave the changeable spring weather of May in search of Lady’s Slippers. They are a sweet and elusive harbinger of spring in our beautiful mountains.

Majestic Wind Turbines Near Thomas, WV

May 8th, 2010

The ridge just north of Thomas, WV, which we call Backbone Mountain, has been lined with Wind Turbines for nearly ten years. They’re a bone of contention for some, who question their adverse affect on wildlife, in this case the many varieties of bats who soar the night skies zapping insects. It’s a serious issue, as bats are endangered on many fronts.

But for purely visual spectacle, the turbines themselves are awe inspiring. Bold, white, quietly slicing through the sky, they are more beautiful than most public sculpture, and much more useful.

The electricity these turbines generate goes into the grid and is sold to people in the cities who want to do good and think that buying wind power, even if it costs more, is a good thing.

I’m still conflicted about the issue. I love the turbines, but am awfully fond of the bats, too. Let’s hope the clever scientists who invented these things will get with the biologists and devise a way to lessen the impact on wildlife. In the meantime I will continue to send guests who visit the Inn  up the road to photograph and marvel at the power of human engineering.

Forty four wind turbines line the ridges of Backbone Mountain near Thomas WV

Trout Fishing Fun on the Blackwater River

May 5th, 2010

There’s nothing like spring trout fishing to keep a person young at heart. This colorful fisherwoman, my mother, Sarah Pierson, has been trout fishing lately, at a beautiful spot on the Blackwater River near Davis, WV. She hasn’t caught much, but that’s besides the point. The real fun is just sitting in a quiet spot enjoying the breeze.

Fortunately for Mom, there’s a handicap pier along the river outside town, built by folks at the Canaan Valley Institute, and a popular spot for less nimble fisher folk. Whether you dig your own nightcrawlers, or pick up some PowerBait at the sporting goods shop in town, fishing in Davis is a great and inexpensive way to enjoy the outdoors. And when you need to take a break, or when they’re just not biting, the good part is you’re close to town, with it’s charming cafes and restaurants.

Trout are stocked often in the spring, and fishing is good all along the river from Canaan Valley and down through parts of Blackwater Falls State Park (catch and release only). So grab a big sunhat, or maybe just a visor, and head to Davis for some fishing this spring. My mother says fishing is good for your nerves, and she just might be right.

Blackwater River Fishing

Trout fishing along the Blackwater River near Davis, WV

Apple Blossom Time in Davis, WV

May 2nd, 2010

It’s hard to believe that Davis, WV was once a boomtown, with nearly 5000 people and two streets lined with stores. It was a prosperous and busy place filled with boardinghouses, like the Bright Morning Inn, a fine hotel or two, a tannery and lumbermill and, of course, a railroad running right along the Blackwater River.

Nowadays it’s mostly gone…the town has dwindled to around 500 residents and there are just a handful of shops and restaurants, mostly catering to tourists. But we do have remnants of those good ol’ days– lots and lots of old apples trees. Sometimes I think Davis is an apple orchard pretending it’s a town, they’re that ubiquitous. And now, in early May, they are in glorious pinky white bloom.

The old railway bed along the new Riverfront Park is lined with apple trees, and they’re in nearly every yard. And if you north drive to Thomas, or south to Canaan Valley you’re struck by the beautiful display.

Apples aren’t gathered and treasured the way they used to be, when Davis residents needed apples for pies and sauces.  Now you’ll mostly see them strewn across the roads or alleys, rotting on the ground, an offering to deer and other critters.

But in early May, when in their blooming glory, they remind us of how rich this funny little mountain town really is, and how giving these trees have been to us these many years.

Blooming apples in Davis, WV: Remembrance of Things Past

Spring Morel Hunting in the WV Woods

April 28th, 2010

It’s cold and wet in Davis, WV today, and just barely spring, but here on top of the mountain we’ve found morels! Yes, at an undisclosed location near Blackwater Falls, I found six beautiful morels this morning, arguably the most succulent and delicious mushrooms of all.

Brown and gnarly, morels are hard to find. They blend in perfectly with decayed leaves and soil, and are usually found beneath elm, poplar, sycamore or ash trees, though sometimes in old apple orchards, too.  Morels are luscious with butter and cream, mixed in with pasta, or just floured and fried in olive oil.

The Bright Morning Inn’s restaurant serves ramps in the spring, small wild leeks that carpet the hillsides in early spring. But we won’t be serving morels. They too scarce…and they’re one thing that we locals won’t share. But if you’re willing to visit us in springtime, a notorious slow season, we might share with you a few tips about morel hunting.

First morel found April 28, 2010 near Blackwater Falls, WV



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