If you remember, the previous post left us up high amidst the Appalachian tops some thirty minutes away from the West Virginia border. But before my story goes on to how we zigzaged our way down the mountains and what we managed to see during our rambles, I need to return for a brief moment to the very beginning of our journey, which did, in fact, start in West Virginia.
About three hours into our trip, having crossed the state of Maryland and just before entering Virginia, we cut through a tiny corner of West Virginia where a small historical town of Harpers Ferry happens to sit. With its delightful riverside outlooks and old aerial railroad, the place is a pleasure to explore.
The day was a blast, and a big school of happy vacationers slowly floated away in their bright inflatable boats, occasionally hauling along essential provisions, solid and liquid.
With hardly any envy or remorse over the choice of our recreation means, we pretended to be fulfilling a greater purpose on land than those careless boaters on water, and set out towards many distant destinations in surprisingly high spirits.
Now, with a sense of done duty, we can put ourselves back to where and when we left off. It was the beginning of our fourth day away from home, home so much loved and missed after each night’s stay in a new cheap hotel. And although we normally stay at dull look-alike establishments of major hotel chains, the one that sheltered us last in Virginia was unique in its attractive looks and old-fashioned amenities. Just how old-fashioned becomes clear when you see the cash register they use for their daily operation.
As I was told, without a handle that attaches on the right side of this monster, there is no access to the cash compartment, so the artifact also serves as a safe. Good thing they accepted credit cards.
Anyway, it was not long until we reached the first point of our route for the day, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. The observatory is located within the National Radio Quiet Zone and is famous for hosting Reber Radio Telescope, a groundbreaking engineering work by one of the fathers of radio astronomy in the 1940s.
Another interesting structure is the Green Bank Telescope, the largest among world’s fully steerable telescopes.
There were a number of other telescopes in sight, but they were either not as impressive or as accessible. As there was nothing else to see, we got going.
When we set our course to Cass, my plan was to take a ride on the Cass Scenic Railroad, but it did not happen after all. Only a day-and-a-half left, we could not afford spending two hours of our time without any advancement (that is, in correct direction) along our route. Alas, another lost opportunity in the name of efficiency.
White Sulphur Springs
I had not had high hopes for the Greenbrier Resort that we were headed to next, according to our itinerary. But I have to admit that my expectations were first exceeded, when we passed by the dozens of lavishly colorful flower-beds on our way from the front gate to the hotel building, and then left far behind, when we went in to see its exquisite interiors.
Spacious lobby with giant chandeliers; carpet- and marble-floored hallways, painted in daringly bright—yet mellow—colors and furnished with countless decorative accessories; potted plants and multi-layered curtains; you name it!
Heck, I am thinking of replacing the definition of luxury in Wikipedia with the set of these pictures.
By the way, can someone tell me what kind of tips are the Greenbrier employees receiving? I bet one does not necessarily want to be a salaried worked if the workplace is a gem like this one.
By the early afternoon the weather had improved a tad, and as we were arriving in Charleston, the sun came beaming down on us from the clear summer sky. Fine weather along with the quietness of the streets and pleasantness of the architecture added up a rather cordial welcome to West Virginia’s capital. There were surprisingly few people outside for such a nice Saturday, and taking pictures of the Capitol building—our obligatory stop in any state—without ever-bothering gapers was ridiculously easy.
The State Capitol overlooks the Kanawha River and the University of Charleston located on the other side. The river is fairly wide and calm, so I imagine it to be a very convenient accommodation for all sorts of evening outings. Among presumably more upscale townsfolk I have noticed some that enjoyed a private access to the water right from their houses’ backyards (optionally, with a pool and cozy deck chairs on a side); others preferred rushing up- and downstream in their fast scooters or smoothly drifting in comfort and coolness of their yachts.
All in all, the town’s well-attended appearance and cleanliness perfectly coexist with the simplicity of housing developments and ruffianly street art.
It was, in fact, art that we were interested to see in Charleston; more specifically, the early Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Bob Dylan photographs that were on display at the Avampato Discovery Museum in Clay Center of Arts and Sciences. Sadly, and somewhat ironically, photography was disallowed in the arts section, so that we could not make our own, far-less-than-perfect copies of the musical giant’s photo documentaries I guess. Still, we all had our share of fun, our son studying and watching various children’s interactive games and shows,
and my wife and I playing with hands-on exhibits demonstrating a spectrum of scientific concepts and phenomena. Well, then there were things just for fooling around. For instance, here is a plastic pin-based matrix for pressing out impressions;
pre-calibrated water fountains for balancing small balls;
dancing fountain recording and playback machine;
and stringless harp with light sensor-based actuators.
Before we knew it, museum’s hours of service were over, and we found ourselves on the road again, this time going slightly east for a change.
Stonewall Jackson Lake State Park was the last adventure scheduled for the day, but to comfortably enjoy the awaiting views with fair illumination we had to beat the oncoming sunset to it; though it later turned out that we should not have worried about lighting conditions so much, at least picture-taking’s sake as there was little to photograph. Instead, we just improvised a brief leisurely airing beside the local marina and another one at the footsteps of a restaurant atop a nearby hill.
It was a mistake trying to see the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in the morning (it was closed). On the other hand, with a two-year-old aboard and thirty-some-point itinerary jammed into five days, we were definitely hostages of circumstances in this case. Moreover, had we even known that the Asylum was giving late tours the night before, I doubt we would have put our child’s psychic strength to the test for the sake of our own interest.
Since we did not get in, all I have to say is that the building gives a very intriguing and convincing look, in the sense that it is undoubtedly a creepy-creepy place to browse through in the dark. Broken windows, frayed paint, bare wards, and grandiosity of the structure itself—all naturally complement each other in one austere and intimidating display.
Even in the broad daylight one goes goose-bumpy looking through a hole in one of those smashed (in an ex-patient’s failed attempt to a escape?) dirty glasses and thinking, “What if?..” I am grateful that no one, or nothing, jumped out to greet us that time.
It being a Sunday morning, and at least five hours of road away from home, we had to be pretty selective about which of the four remaining places to visit. We picked two. The first one was the Blackwater Falls State Park. It is famous for its—surprise, surprise—black-water falls, although I personally did not find the waters to be any blacker than anywhere else. Either way, the site is very pretty and popular among tourists, which is probably why it is among the state’s most photographed venues, as Wikipedia suggests.
There are 300 steps leading down to the fall, and it was great fun watching bunches of visitors (of whom some were quite young) making a huge deal out of coping with an obstacle of such scale. Too bad we left before we got to see those Achilesses accomplish the super-feat of climbing back up.
Now barely south of the Pennsylvania border again, we were about to make our last stop in West Virginia before shooting directly home. Too bad the weather was getting iffy for our final pictures. If this is how the sky looked shortly after we got out of Weston,
this is what jeered at us from above on the way to Berkeley Springs (and especially after).
By the way, notice how the “green” generation of electricity is a neighbor to its seemingly “not-so-green” consumption:
Under a light drizzle we finally reached our last West Virginia destination, the Samuel Taylor Suit Cottage (a.k.a. the Berkeley Castle). Perhaps, it is the overcast sky, or the renovation in progress, or strings of electric wires hung on a side, or the tall fences that occlude much of the view, or most likely everything together, but the castle did not make for particularly good pictures that day. Oh well.
I am sure that this same estate is a lot prettier in the fall, when backgrounded with rich bright-colored foliage, but so are probably lots of other sites in the United States, and it is just short of magical to be everywhere at once.
That grievous sight concluded another one of our road trips. Summing up: miles: +1500; days: +5; states: +2; heavy showers en route: +1; maps: +1: