Fall comes early in our beautiful Potomac Highlands region, with peak color at the highest points arriving late September and early October. In Davis fall foilage coincides with our annual Leaf Peeper’s festival, Sept. 24-25. The three day event is packed with activities including bird walks, a fireman’s parade, craft shows, a Blackwater Canyon bike ride, a 25K charity run, and an Oktoberfest featuring beer, music and food…and much, much more. Visit the link above for a full schedule or go to www.canaanvalley.org. It could be chilly, so bring a jacket and rain gear as early fall weather can be brisk in our high mountains.Whatever the temperature, fall in our mountains is spectacular. Don’t miss it!
Like tourists everywhere, visitors to our mountain town in the highlands of West Virginia often seek local goods to take home as souvenirs. The Bright Morning Inn, in Davis, WV sells a few such items, including local honey from Mt. State Honey in Parsons, packaged granola from LaFontaine bakery and cookbooks from the nearby Whitegrass Cafe. All are useful items welcome in almost any home.
There’s one souvenir that’s clearly different — the pop can bi-planes crafted by Neal Eakin in Morgantown. Mr. Eakin’s creations are whimsical, useful mostly for amusement. Created from pop cans he acquires from friends and family, with carefully matched patterns, they’re a testament to his extraordinary patience and good ol’ West Virginia thriftiness.
Neal Eakin was green before green was in. Every part of his planes is recycled — from coat hangers, cans and shoelaces. The only new part is the plastic bead that serves as nose piece for the propeller. And those have been so carefully color matched that you don’t really mind.
The Coke planes are wonderful, with their shiny red aluminum and classic cursive typography. Kids — mostly young boys — love them. I’ve seen handsome planes from Guiness and Yuengling cans, too, in esoteric colors. Budweiser planes are popular, in fact all the beer planes sell well.
But it’s my Mt. Dew planes that take the prize. Sitting on the porch, listening to the tiny tinny sound of the propellar spinning in the wind, the Mt. Dew plane is a sly reminder of why I love West Virginia and the wonderful, resourceful people who make living in these mountains so special.
You’d think that creatures this adorable would be more than welcome in downtown Davis, WV, home to wildlife lovers, hunters and hikers of every persuasion. But these guys are creating not a stir, but a stink. They are part of a band of four young skunks that have taken up residence in the brush along our Riverfront Park.
As wildlife goes, these skunks are picture perfect. Two are all white with black faces and paws, the others classically marked with black and white stripes. They’re fluffy and playful and fun to watch as they grub in the dirt or slurp water from puddles in the alley. The problem is they are doing all of this smack in the middle of a park, and our town’s popular dog-walking grounds at that!
Several local dogs have been skunked so far, so the word’s gotten out quickly among the dog walkers. But yesterday, one showed up on the sidewalk in front of Hellbenders Burritos, right across from Blackwater Bikes, and prime tourist grounds.
There’s something wonderful about watching these playful young skunks from the safe vantage point on my back deck. They remind us we’re sitting at the edge of a magnificent forest filled with wild animals –even when they’re as fluffy and adorable as these!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.