Sam and I have traveled West Virginia, we’ve deeply traveled it. We know the backroads from Rupert to Carrollton to Circleville. We spend whole days taking the backway, going 5-10-15 miles an hour, just in case there’s a waterfall we haven’t seen or an old homestead on the top of some old ridge whose fields we haven’t gazed upon before. WE TAKE OUR TIME. If there are antique roses blooming messily over some fence line, we stop to smell them. We’ve bought cheap coffee from the Liberty gas station in Mt. Storm, from the Quickstop in Albright, and from the Marathon in Greenbank. We’ve eaten at Custard Stands and Dairy Queens and small-town, cinderblock diners. We’ve been all over this state, I would have said most of it. But a few weekends ago we sat down at the breakfast table, laptops out, and we found a couple days’ worth of new roads, new overlooks, new creeks, new campgrounds, new everything, completely new to both of us. Here’s how it went.
I run up the stairs and throw a bunch of clothes in my overnight bag. Raingear, swim gear, hiking gear, sandals, boots. Then I pack Sam’s overnight stuff. I run back down the stairs carrying too much on each arm and see Sam out in the driveway checking the pressure in the tires on the Jeep. I run up and down the basement stairs a few times, each trip bringing some piece of camping gear with me. I go to the fridge. Beer. Food. Water. I zoom around the corner to the living room. Camera gear. Batteries. Headlamps. Tri-pods. Backpacks. Machete. Hatchet. Lighters. I’ve done this packing list so many times it takes almost no thought.
Sam comes in the door. “Jeep’s had a once-over. Everything looks good.” He says.
“Everything should be ready. Go ahead and start hauling stuff.” I say back. We pack everything into the hatch. I add camp chairs and our WV atlas. One last check around the house for anything we might have forgotten, and we pull out of the driveway and out of our neighborhood. We drive 705 to 68 headed east, way east. We’re going to a place called Wolf Gap Recreation Area somewhere just this side of the Virginia Line. There’s a campground and an overlook but the weather looks iffy. We’re going anyways.
We go through Friendsville and Deep Creek and Gormania. We take 48 through Baker and Moorefield, it’s raining and the sky looks temperamental. We stop at an overlook on the side of the highway. It’s alright but the thistle and the chanterelles are more interesting. These are all places we’ve been too many times to count, but on the other side of Wardensville, WV we pick up fresh roads when we turn south.
We pass pretty old farm houses and drive into the national forest. A creek follows the road and we get views of it as we drive. We go several miles and then we see the sign for our stop. We turn in and drive around the loop of campsites. There is a woman and a kid sleeping in the back of a Mustang, a little odd, and a few families with tents set up. Some of the sites look unoccupied but we stop back at the front and read the information board. Camping is free, we fill out a card and mark a site. There is a single spot with cell reception, only about 5 feet in diameter. Sam finds it and looks up our weather. We are going to get rained on, so we rig up a tarp and make dinner.
We eat and talk about life and our year and how busy it will be. We talk about how happy we are to be sitting under a tarp eating dinner in the rain in this new place in our state, even if it just means we’ve found a spot for the future. We sit there for a long time. A few hours go by, the rain has slacked off and a heavy fog has rolled in. It’s the kind of fog that makes you afraid to take 3 steps out of your campsite for fear of getting taken by the monsters or never finding your way back. I stand up to stretch for a minute and Sam asks, “You think you’re getting ready for bed, Hotrod?”
“Not at all,” I say. “I’m wide awake, I think I’ll just lay there if I try to go sleep right now.” I put out my arms and lean back to stretch, and realize I am looking up at a clear sky. The stars are peaking out from the trees, they are shining at me through the layer of fog. “Sam, the fucking stars are out!” I say to him, totally and completely astonished.
“Are you serious?” He says back as he stands and comes out from under the tarp. “I’ll be damned, there they are!”
“Sam, we should go somewhere to shoot them, where should we go? We could go down the road to Trout Pond?” I ask.
“What about that trail that goes up the mountain from our campground? The sign said it was a mile and change up.” He says back to me.
I look at his face, the lantern barely lighting it. “Are you serious? You want to hike to the top of the mountain in the middle of the night in the fog?” I ask.
“You wanna do it?” He says back to me. I’ve never been good at discretion and from my time with Sam, he hasn’t either.
“Yeah! Let’s do it!” I say as I walk towards the Jeep. I gather up our gear and we walk out of our campsite into the thick fog. It’s so thick the light from our headlamps reflects off the water particles in front of us and makes us squint.
We take turns leading. The trail is wide and well-trafficked. It is desperately humid and even though the air is cool, we are quickly soaked with sweat from walking the steep grade. Our hearts are thumping as we make our way out of the fog and start to gain the ridgeline. Our trail shrinks but we follow without trouble. A rock outcrop meets us and I scramble to the top. The lights of a small town create an island in the valley, cars wind around it in the dark expanse. “Sam, come up here!” I say. He climbs to me and starts contemplating what city it must be.
“Front Royal?” He says. “Yeah, that’s gotta be Front Royal.”
I sit on the damp rock with my headlamp turned off. There is no light except for Sam’s camera and the town out there, sleepy and far enough away to let us feel wild.
We stay there a long while and then we put on our backpacks and walk down the mountain back into the fog. Sam set’s up our platform in the Jeep and we brush our teeth and climb inside. We get tucked in and we sleep good sleep. In the morning it is raining so we just stay in there, cuddled up, listening to the drops fall on the metal above us. It eventually quits, and I put on my boots and plant my feet on the ground. Soggy. I walk over to the tarp and I make us camp coffee to sip it as we pack up. The sky is gray as we turn and head to Trout Pond.
“You know Trout Pond is the only natural lake in West Virignia?” Sam says to me. “Golden Horseshoe coming in handy again!” He says with an ornery grin all over his face, knowing full well he is the nerdiest of the nerds.
“Woah!” I say back, followed by a conciliatory “Cutie!”
We drive the 14 or so miles from Wolf Gap to the lake. Pulling into the park there is a bit of confusion, we find another lake in the same complex. Rock Cliff Lake. People are swimming at a small beach area. There is a path that follows the edge of the water. It is a beautiful place, but we want to see Trout Pond. A map in the lot helps us gauge where we are meant to go, we realize we already passed the thing. “How in the hell?” I say.
“This thing must be tiny,” Sam says a little puzzled. We drive around the park for a few minutes until we see a sign that says, “Trout Pond this way,” with an arrow. We park and follow a social path. It leads us to a little tiny body of water. Warnings hang on a fence that stands between us and the lake, “Caution, Sinkhole, Don’t Cross Fence.” We follow the path to a break in the trees and get our first good look at the bowl. The water is still. The reflections of the trees on the other side are crisp.
We walk further around until we get to a small observation deck. A man sits with his two daughters, each of them is holding an individual fishing pole. “Are there fish in there?” Sam asks the man.
“Oh yeah, there’s plenty.” He says back.
Sam smiles really big and says, “Cool man, y’all have a good day!” We walk back towards the car and cross Trout Pond Run, the creek that flows into the sinkhole to create our little lake. It is small and unremarkable for the most part. Unremarkable except for its glassy collection pool, water particles seized by the earth.
We leave that place like so many others we’ve left in this state, amazed that we’d never been there before; amazed that there weren’t 100 other people there with us. We drive away, amazed there weren’t businesses just outside of the park cashing in on tourists. We aim for our house in Morgantown, amazed that it is all ours. All ours, except for the man fishing with his daughters, and we’ll share with them.
See this post and other work at Samuel Taylor Photography.