I somewhat underestimated the drive time from Wilmington into West Virginia. Traffic was actually not terrible, but I did not know that my GPS would route me nearly into DC (Outer Loop: ugh) before swinging west. I had an initial target of the New River Gorge National Park, but by lunch I knew I wasn’t going to make it before the park closed. And I needed a break to stretch my legs somewhere.
So I took a detour along the Shenandoah Skyline Drive: a scenic drive in a different national park that winds over the tops of the Appalachians, with every other bend giving you a pretty view into the valley below (overheard from a group of bikers sharing an overlook with me: “See, everyone gets so stuck on the idea of camping but this is beautiful”). Also, a good ten degrees cooler up there than in the valley, a good thing when it seems like August and May have switched places.
Lunch was at a kooky, definitely playing up the redneck place called The Apple House right inside Exit 13 on I-66. Pork barbecue had a nice vinegary sauce but was on the dry and stringy side.
I finally made it into West Virginia nearing dusk, so I pulled over in Dawson and stayed at their one inn. There was a stuffed bear in the lobby. Okay. It was clean and comfortable, anyway.
Less than a half an hour away from Dawson is the New River Gorge National Park, with one of the biggest, highest steel arch bridges in the world. There’s a pretty gorgeous, if somewhat dodgy (since it’s one-way for most of the way, with very, very tight hairpin turns), scenic drive around the bridge–you cross the bridge, then wind down crumbling ochre sandstone cliffs to the river and cross a tiny, much lower bridge, then wind back up the other side. Another route lets you park and hike along the rim of a canyon, which features a postcard-perfect meandering river at the bottom and flattish mountains all around. I saw a fox and a deer (not photographed as were moving too quickly), tons of birds, some woodchuck thing (again, too quick), chipmunks and these lime green caterpillars.
Last stop in West Virginia was Point Pleasant, site of a terrible bridge failure in the 1960s, following alleged sightings of a strange Mothman creature (no, I have not see the Richard Gere film). Point Pleasant is pretty dead, but it does have a surprisingly well-stocked mini-museum about the Mothman sightings, the bridge disaster and the movie, with a lot of original clippings of contemporary news articles and eyewitness statements. Good pitstop, especially as the next 40 or so miles of US 35 were devoid of anything.
Roadtrip realization one: If you’re trying to take it easy and be spontaneous, the GPS is sort of your enemy. Or at least, the feature that updates the clock to show how much time your whimsical detours is adding is.