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My Ten Favorite Things About West Virginia

My West Virginia days are behind me, and I'm already drafting posts about my new location, but before I move my reader on, I have one final post about the Mountain State. Obviously, I was going to a love a state filled with mountains and mountain roads mountain hikes and mountain adventures. But West Virginia offered many other quirky enjoyments and I'm so glad I ended up there.

1) The crazy roads. The roads of southern West Virginia twist and turn endlessly. You might think, oh, that's only 100 miles away, I'll be there in less than two hours. Nope. Three plus hours later, you feel like you just stepped off a ship adrift in a stormy sea and need to find your land legs again. And in the ice, the possibility of plummeting over an edge is very real, so you'd better have good snow tires. I didn't always understood why the roads had to be so twisty-turvy, but they were. Another little quirk - in some places, there is only a single paved center lane, with a few feet of gravel on either side, presumably because there isn't enough traffic and funding to justify paving maintaining an entire road. It seems to work just fine. 

SUV going under covered bridge

woman and dog in car

2) I drove past a mobile home that had a warped and faded deck built out front with some scaffolding around it, presumably to hang some sheets or tarps from for a little sun protection. But rather than a sunshade, a large, sparkling, elaborate chandelier hung down over the old picnic table in the center of the deck. No, I didn't snap a picture, but try to imagine it. Epic.

3) The birds. First, there are cardinals everywhere. I loved the flashes of bright red on all my hikes. This people in this Facebook group are constantly submitting fantastic photos of these cheery birds. Then, a bald eagle swooped down over my car on I-64 and followed along for two seconds. And then another bald eagle landed at this lake in the photo below. If you squint, you can see him sitting in the far tree, dead center of the photo. And I stumbled across the Three Rivers Avian Center and am now a proud sponsor of Hoolie, the Great Horned Owl.

dead trees emerging from a lake

4) Piggly Wiggly is a real grocery store. I thought these were only in movies, but nope, they are real. And I was probably way more excited to go into one than I should have been.

5) West Virginia is on the western edge of the eastern time zone and therefore has a late sunset. When I left Maine on November 21, sunset was at 4pm. Here, on the shortest day of the year sunset was at 5:06 pm. In the dead of winter, every minute of sunshine matters.

6) The state flower, the rhododendron. I'm sure they are beautiful in bloom, but what I appreciated is that the green leaves stay green year round. It's a special thing to walk through a forest in winter and have it somehow feel a bit lush and tropical.

7) The independent spirit and the sense of pride in place. I loved all the little holiday displays that places had set up, including a whole old time town set that someone built on their property with a welcome sign for people to come in and enjoy. I went up and over so many unmarked roads (including one I discovered too far in to turn around was unplowed), exploring the world, just hoping my car wouldn't break down because nobody would be coming by for a long time to help me. Nothing that puts only yourself at risk seems to be off limits, unlike in other states where your personal activities are heavily regulated (more on that in my first Mississippi post next week). And - bonus! - they are leading the country in vaccinations against COVID-19, thanks to their reliance on Mom & Pop stores. 
stage set of an old-fashioned jail house

snowy road

8) There are historical markers everywhere. There's always something to learn. If you've got time on your hands, go for a drive and stop every time you see a marker. The Civil War, African-Americans, coal mining, the railroad and John Henry, famous writers and singers, and of course, alien sightings and The Mothman. You'll find plenty. What I especially liked was reading about the history of immigrants in West Virginia. For example, because of coal mining and the Coca Cola factory, the small town of Thomas (current population 548) was once home to people from 18 different countries and much of the signage in town was written in six to eight different languages. Hard to imagine given how plain white and English speaking West Virginia is now, and how sad to have lost all that cultural richness.

Civil War historical marker

9) Gas stations have payphones! What?! I went looking for a vacuum to clean out my car one day and stopped at six different gas stations. Not a single one had a car vacuum, but they all had payphones. I also went into a bar that still had a payphone. It makes sense because much of West Virginia doesn't have cell coverage, so why would people who live there have cell phones? But still, it was unusual to see. On a kind of related note, I also stumbled across a gas station that was full service, which was a pleasant surprise on a 30 degree day. 

10)  Ronceverte. I found endless entertainment in the name of this town, which means Greenbrier in French. This means that someone showed up, found that the name Greenbrier was already taken (it's the name of the county and the river and the famous resort) but was so fixated on having that name that they chose to still use it in a different language. Kind of seems fitting for a state that also doesn't have its own name. And I found endless entertainment on this nicely designed walking tour of this has-been, seemingly dead town. Sometimes, activities are as much fun as you make them be.

railroad coaling tower

old church