“It’s a little foggy and the roads are wet. You all need to ride your own ride. Don’t let anyone pull you; don’t let anyone push you. But, if you can, stay within sight of the taillight in front of you.
Watch for rocks and gravel on the road, and be on the lookout for deer and other critters that might want to give you a little “kiss” as you ride by.” That was Mike, our tour leader, giving us a pre-ride briefing before we pulled out from the 7-11 parking lot on the north side of Blacksburg at six o’clock sharp.
Most of us were part of the NRV motorcycle riders group that meets every Saturday morning for breakfast. We have been accused of doing more eating than riding, but today it was about touring some of the most beautiful mountains and valleys on the east coast. We were on our way for a two-day ride through the Ridge and Valley Province of Virginia and West Virginia with an overnight at Blackwater Falls State Park Lodge.
I was last of nine motorcycles to pull out of our staging area, so I watched the first eight taillights float through the fog, with perfect timing, around the sharp right turn to the entrance ramp to 460W. The damp air was saturated with lots of early-morning smells and you could feel the temperature change as we crossed over Brush and Gap Mountains. Gary joined our gaggle at Newport so we were now five BMWs, three Hondas, a Suzuki, a Yamaha, a Miata, a Jeep Wrangler and a BMW sedan.
The Swinging Bridge Restaurant is located in the tiny village of Paint Bank, VA, between Potts and Peter’s Creek Mountains. It is a destination eatery with a fine breakfast menu, but don’t go there for a cappuccino, “poached egg on a croissant,” or “crepes with feta cheese.” Instead, among other fine selections, there was the Manly Man Logger Breakfast Platter and the Lady Logger Breakfast Platter, which was half the size of the Manly Man. Not feeling all that manly, I looked around to be sure that none of the Honda, Yamaha, or Suzuki riders could hear me then quietly asked the waitress if it was OK if I ordered the Lady Logger. In a too-loud voice, she said, “Sure, you can have the Lady Logger, you want home fries or grits?”
The sun broke through the clouds as we wound our way up Peter’s Creek Mountain on Route 311. Mike had a busy day planned with lots of stops, the first of which was Humpback Bridge south of Covington, VA. The bridge stretches over Dunlap Creek, a tributary of the Jackson River that then forms the James. It is a 100-foot-long, single-span structure that is four feet higher at its center than at either end, thus the name “Humpback.” The bridge was bypassed in 1929 by a modern steel bridge and was restored as the centerpiece of a nice wayside. We quickly admired this beautiful bridge then “bugged” out with a hoard of mosquitoes keeping up until we hit 30 mph.
Cecil was in charge of the weather. It seems he has connections “above” because it rained most of 48 hours before we left then magically stopped just before we departed. The heavy rains throughout the region filled the creeks to overflowing which created a spectacular cataract at Falling Spring Falls.
Thomas Jefferson estimated the height of the falls at 200 feet in 1781. Today the drop is about 85 feet due to extensive mining of travertine before and after 1920. Much of the water is supersaturated with carbonate because it originates from limestone caves. The carbonate precipitates at the falls as a type of limestone called travertine that can be used as a liming agent. Now, there is little evidence of mining disturbances at the site; from our point of view, it was just a lovely plunge of aqua pura that disappeared in a cloud of mist into the forest below.
Just up the road is the Omni Homestead Resort Hotel, a premier destination for 23 U.S. presidents, located across more than 2,000 acres of scenic Virginia landscape. Hot springs flow into a full-service spa with private cabanas and exclusive services. Regrettably, this was not our overnight destination, but our gaggle of vehicles putted around past the front door for a glimpse of how and where the elite among us spend their leisure time. I’ve never stayed at the Homestead, but I know of several of our riding group that have—some “do” and others only “wish.”
Monterey, VA, the seat of Highland County, is home of the annual late winter Sugar Maple Festival. Mike, ever a fount of local wisdom, informed us that there are fewer people in Highland County than Fox Ridge Apartments in Blacksburg. Yes, it is a tiny village, but one with lots of history and character. One could spend a day visiting artisan shops, but after a quick refuel at the Sunoco station, we were on the road NW up Route 250 headed for the highest point in West Virginia.
Spruce Knob at 4,863 feet is the highest peak in the Allegheny Mountains. Around the 4000 foot mark, we climbed out of the mixed hardwoods into a high elevation spruce-fir forest similar to that found in northern New England and Canada. Even though the virgin red spruce was logged off 100 years ago, after which fires consumed the logging slash and organic soils, the relic boreal forest environment is re-emerging. From this rugged alpine peak, we saw multiple forested ridges bedecked by rain clouds with speckles of sunshine piercing the edges.
Spruce Knob is part of the Alleghany Front, the major east-facing escarpment in the Allegheny Mountains. It forms the boundary between the Ridge and Valley and Allegheny Plateau. This area is special not only for its elevation and unique vegetation, it is also the Eastern Continental Divide which divides the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay. But it all began with unique geology.
The region was uplifted and folded during the Alleghenian Orogeny about 300 million years ago forming the modern Appalachian Mountains as the ancient continents of North America and Africa collided due to plate tectonics processes. Sedimentary sandstones, shales, and limestones were steeply folded. The last fold in our area of travel occurred east of the Allegheny Front, an example of which is the Wills Mountain Anticline that eroded away to form Seneca Rocks and North Fork Mountain (see diagram). The yellow layers are very hard meta-sandstones or meta-quartzite that are called ridge formers. The Tuscarora (St) sandstone makes up Seneca Rocks, while the flat-lying Pottsville conglomerate (Pp) covers the top of Spruce Knob and other high elevation plateaus where the surfaces appear as a jumble of large rocks and boulders that have broken apart from freeze/thaw and periglacial processes.
OK! I know that was way more than you really wanted to know, but this is a really fascinating area. Seneca Rocks emerge from the green blanket of the forest and begs one to understand how this narrow projection, the only peak in the east not accessible by vehicle, came to be. The geology begets the soils, the soils beget the vegetation, and the elevation creates a three-dimensional gradient that mixes them all into a composite landscape. All of that natural history unfolded in front of us as we traveled up route 33.
Our first day of the ride wasn’t completely free of precipitation. We ran into a little rain shower on the way up Spruce Knob, and now on our final leg of the day, we got a little damp on our way to Blackwater Falls State Park Lodge where we would spend the night. This was the week before Memorial Day and the last week of school so the Lodge was quiet with few guests. I don’t usually associate fine cuisine with state park lodges, but a list of over a dozen entrees included Lindy Point Lasagna, Maple Glazed Salmon, Twin Oaks Sirloin, and the Mountain Man Pork Chop. Our lovely wait staff couldn’t do enough for us as we partook one of the above.
Breakfast the next morning was an equally delightful experience. We sipped coffee and tea at the table while watching the fog lift through the red spruce forest and up and off the mountain. After warming our engines we headed to the trailhead for a close look at the falls. The park is named for the amber waters of Blackwater Falls, a 57-foot cascade tinted by the tannic acid from peaty soils and decomposing heath, hemlock, and red spruce leaves. The Blackwater River originates in the southwestern end of Canaan Valley and flows northwestward through marshes and meadows. It then turns westward and flows gently down the dip slope of the Pottsville sandstone before it abruptly breaches the resistant rock and drops precipitously through the gorge. The massive sandstone ledges of the Falls are Connoquenessing sandstone of the Kanawha Formation that lies below the Pottsville. Ultimately, the waters of the Blackwater flow into the Cheat, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers.
The ride back was all sunshine, low humidity, and puffy white clouds. Mike picked up the pace which made the twisties on Routes 33, 28, and 250 lots of fun. At Monterey, we diverted east toward Staunton and returned via the Route 11/I-81 corridor with a late lunch at the Pink Cadillac Diner near Natural Bridge, VA. At least one Elvis Burger and several milkshakes were served among many other traditional treats.
Perhaps the bloke that called us an “eating group” instead of a riding group was at least half right. But hey! This was a great ride, with great food, enjoyed by a great group of folks. Call us what you will; I am ready to go on the next one.
Many thanks to Mike, Cecil, and the rest who helped make it possible.