Friday, June 19, 2009

Blackwater Falls Interlude

Every now and then the call of the wild urges me to escape from my computer and head for the hills. When a few free days loomed Larry and I decided on a quick trip within about 100 miles. Blackwater Falls, West Virginia at 114 miles was just about perfect. And after spending three great days hiking the trails, watching the wildlife, and camping in the great outdoors I can sing the song with feeling..."Almost heaven, West Virginia."

Blackwater Falls isn't the only waterfall in the park, but it's the biggest and most impressive. The "black water," which is actually a deep brownish red like very strong tea, gets its distinctive color from the tanins in the pine needles. You can see the red in the white water rushing over the falls. Because of the wet spring the river was raging and the flow covered most of the rocky outcrop which is probably unusual. The photos in the shops all showed much more rock and much less water. What a blessing to see the falls at their most powerful. Although I expect whatever the flow - gentle or raging - it is a sight to behold.

The walk down to the falls is a pleasure with a long boardwalk/stairs - over 200 steps for the intrepid visitor. And that is a sight in itself meandering down through the woodland with the hemlocks towering overhead. The falls are surrounded by the hemlocks which grow to amazing heights. In the Shenandoah National Park they have almost disappeared because of an insect blight, but at Blackwater Falls they are the queen of the forest.

For those who can't physically make the trek down to the Falls, there are several other options. There's a walking path that goes down to an observation area. The view is a little obscured by the trees but you can hear the roaring water and see most of the falls. And for those who want the view without any significant walk, the Gentle Path is a great option. You see the falls from the opposite side of the gorge and higher up and the observation deck is only about 200 feet from the parking lot.

Often when you take a trip, the destination is everything. One of the greatest pleasures about this was the journey itself. From the time we were ten miles from home and travelling west on route 55 we were surrounded by beauty that kept us oohing and aahing all the way to the park. This was our first trip to Blackwater Falls, but certainly won't be our last.

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