Friday, September 30, 2016

Mountwood Park

Yes, that's rain blurring my picture of the entrance sign.  Yes, we pick crazy days to go explore... But we were all restless and feeling in need of some away from the cabin (or McDonald's doing my homework) time and so we went.  On the way out I messaged my friend and asked him to choose a direction for us.  He picked west.  So we hopped on Highway 50 headed toward Parkersburg looking for something interesting to go explore.  Mountwood Park was the first brown sign I saw, so we turned off toward a place named Volcano and drove along a nice little lake.

Boat rentals and launch site.
I was kind of excited to see the boat rentals!  One of these days health and bravery and adventure are going to coincide and I will go kayaking.  Keeping the possibility close is a good reminder of that goal for me.  I stopped to read all the historic markers (yes, I'm a geek like that) around the parking lot and learned a little more about the early days of the gas and oil industry in West Virginia. We all had to go to the bathroom but first we had to herd geese for a good ways.  They were healthy looking Canadian Geese who didn't seem afraid of the car or even of my maniac barking dogs, but they were cautious enough to stay ahead of us as I slowly drove to where the public restrooms were located.

Actually, they stayed with us for most of the rest of our visit and acted like a welcoming committee!

This marker, at the park's first parking lot entrance, talks about the early oil wells in the area.  Volcano, which is a couple of miles up the canyon was the first oil town in the area.

At the next marker, I learned more about some of the early technology of transporting oil and gas down the canyon.  By today's standards pumping 100 barrels might not seem like much, but then it was a lot.  William Cooper Stiles, Jr., who developed the area designed an endless cable system modeled after the mechanics of Philadelphia street cars to pump oil through a pipeline down to where it could be transported to refineries about 15 miles away.  Interesting perspective on progress and technology.

If you can't quite picture how that works, take a look at one of the pulleys that's been saved.  Imagine a series of them rotating as a heavy steel cable pulls around the edges and moves pump parts pushing crude down a pipeline to the mouth of the canyon.  It seems like quite an engineering feat!

A pulley for the original endless cable
system used to move oil and gas down
the canyon from Volcano to transport to
refineries in other locations. 

Next, we drove up the other side of the lake past the fishing pier and found a trailhead for a short hike up to Thornhill.  Thornhill is the mansion Mr. Stiles built for his family on a ridge overlooking the lake. (It was too wet to try that 3/4 mile yesterday and my guys are too maniac for me to handle on that kind of trip anyway so it's on the list for a future adventure!)
The fishing pier at Mountwood Park.

Finally, we ventured a little farther up the canyon and through most of the rest of the park.  At the Administration Building, we learned more about Mr. Stiles from this marker.  It says, "William Cooper Stiles, Jr. born in Philadelphia on July 27, 1839, was one of the earliest operators of the West Virginia and Ohio oil fields.  Mr. Stiles traveled to the White Oak region of WV in 1864 where he purchased several thousand acres and began drilling. After an ominous start, Mr. Stiles made a major strike and later revolutionized the oil industry through the introduction of the endless cable pumping system, an application conceived from the cable system powering the street cars in Philadelphia.  Mr. Stiles built the Volcanic Oil and Coal company into a major force in the local oil industry.  In 1866 at a cost of $160,000 he was the driving force in the building of the Laurel Fork and Sand Hill Railroad, a standard gauge rail system for transporting oil to refineries in Parkersburg. For his major contributions to Volcano, Mr. Stiles was known as the "father of Volcano." He also served as a county commissioner from 1881 to 1885.  W.C. Stiles, Jr. died at his beloved Thornhill on December 17, 1896."

I'd seen a couple of signs for a dog park and we had just a little break in the rain so we kept going and...

The patron saint of city dogs (if there's not one designated, there should be!) smiled down on my pretend country boys!! We found a near perfect match for their old dog park in Georgia. The rain started back up but they still took a deliriously happy romp!  It's far enough to require a little thought about going but not so far that it's going to be impossible as an occasional treat.  I'm happy there's something available that makes them so happy!

Lightning and Gizmo paused at the same
tree during their first dog park visit
in a month!
By this point, I'd seen so many references to Volcano that I was thinking it must surely still be a town... And I was curious.  Once the dogs were thoroughly soaked and willing to give up on running in their park, we drove on for probably another 5 miles.  I guess Volcano today is 3-4 houses close enough to throw rocks into each others' yards.  Kind of a sad discovery after all the build up.  But one of them did have a mailbox that I am now coveting like a mad woman!

With the addition of front wheels..
My farmer fetish is wailing

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Adventures of the Canine Kind

Lest you think I’m the one having all the fun…  The boys have been having some adventures all their own.
Despite their firm resolution that water is meant for drinking, they’ve been ‘swimming’ in the creek a couple of times.  Shhh… don’t tell them it was a bath.  Swimming sounds so much more adventurous!  Jack is an especially good swimmer.  He can cover the width of the swimming hole in just a couple of strokes.  Lightning stands on the bottom with his back legs and paddles furiously with his front paws – basically going nowhere but splashing an amazing amount of water.  And like nearly everything else in life, Gizmo just plods along at slow and steady pace, unruffled and happy to be with you.
And here’s photographic proof taken this morning that they are here and healthy.  These are the expectant faces trying to convey the message that they like strawberry pop tarts, too, and that they really truly deserve a bite off mine.  The looks were more intense until I grabbed the camera. I guess it just doesn’t rattle the same as that silvery pastry wrapper.

We were here, at the cabin, for a few days at the beginning of the month and then down in the Hagerstown MD area for about 2 weeks.  I came back up this past Wednesday.  Lightning remembered.  And coming down the lane that would unnerve a less intrepid woman, he started his “we are at the dog park” yowling.  The closer to the cabin we got, the louder he got.  And you know it… the other two couldn’t stand being out-yowled so they joined in, each upping the intensity of their carrying on. Pretty soon I didn’t know if I was bouncing and tipping back and forth from their dances or from the road!!  I think it’s safe to say they are happy up here.
Each has made some escape attempts, though.  I keep trying to tell them that we are only pretend country and this is real country up here and they just don’t have the knowledge and skills to survive like country dogs.  They look at me like I’m saying some awful purty-toned “blah blah blah… blah blah blah blah.” And then they haul butt to explore.  Every weed and tree and fence post is new and the scents are simply intoxicating to their canine sensibilities and must be sniffed out.  And marked as their own. They don’t grasp that I’d be really sad if they became some black bear’s midnight snack!
And I know they wouldn’t have the sense to back down and run the other way if they saw a bear...
Or leave the snakes alone…
Or stay off the highway if they happened to wander that far…

Or away from another house where they could be shot as an unwanted stray...
Or out of trash cans and away from assorted dead rodents…
See what I mean by pretend country?  We may have been in a semi-rural looking area in Georgia, but we lived like we were in the city.  My guys are basically dumbed-down, pampered, house dogs.
Last night was Gizmo’s shot at being the evil bad dawg… He ran off.  That boy hauled himself down to the creek, over the bridge and up the other lane on our turnoff to chase chickens.  There’s a house painted a striking shade of sky blue not far up that little road.  And there are hundreds of chickens and guineas wandering around there.  (I may be exaggerating again, but there are a lot!) I’m going to guess that the birds have turned mostly wild because of the number free ranging along the road and each hen is herding a good sized brood of chicks.  I wouldn’t expect the number or all those hatchlings in a domestic flock, especially at this time of year.  I wanted to knock him right into next month for that stunt.  I didn’t.  But I sure wanted to in those moments I was dragging him back to the car away from “Squawkfest 2016.”


I don’t traverse a submersible bridge.  It’s really called a low-water crossing or sometimes an Irish bridge.  A submersible bridge, which is really a thing, is something else entirely.  Who knew?  Well, I’m sure somewhere someone who knows a bit about architecture, engineering or bridge building would know but I didn’t. Until now.

So… let’s talk about this way to cross the creek that I actually do have.

Picture this:  A couple of pieces of big culvert pipe are laid in the creek so that the water flows through them on its way downstream.  Then slabs of cement are fitted to them on the one side and smoothed flat on the other and placed on top.  When the water is low, all of it is able to move through the pipes and on its merry way.  If there’s an abundance of water, say because the pipes have become blocked with leaves and debris or there’s a big rain storm, the water will back up.  And when it’s deeper than the bridge is high, the design will let water start to flow over the top.

Here’s the low-water crossing I use.  Yes, it’s taken some damage from logs that have escaped from an operation somewhere upstream crashing into it.  (And now there's a guy who's pulling them out above here and processing them for sale.  I guess there are quite a few run away logs?)  Hypothetically, it could be repaired.  But because there are safety concerns with this type of crossing, the County (who’s in charge of zoning and permits and things like that) says it needs to be replaced with a structural bridge in a different location.  I understand their reasoning.  People worldwide die on this kind of crossing every year because their vehicle is swept away or they get out of it when it stalls because of water getting into the engine and are sucked under in the current or bashed into other debris. It’s a horrible and painful way to die!
At the same time, a new bridge is a huge expense and headache for my friend to take on.  And this is far from the only low-water crossing in the County.  In just my few days exploring I’ve seen several and even a few places with nothing at all – they drive right through their creek to get from the road to their house.  Maybe these low-water crossings are a relic of the past, but they seem to do their job pretty well.  And just like people, just because it’s old doesn’t mean it has no value.  I would hope there’s some balancing point where safety and pragmatism meet but I guess we’ll have to wait to see how this gets resolved.

Here’s more examples of this type of ‘bridge’ from around the world.

I believe this is in Australia.
Photo from:

And here's an example from Montgomery County, NC.
Photo from:

And to illustrate just how dangerous these types of bridges can be... here's one
from Arnoldsburg, WV showing a 2011 rescue effort.
Photo from:

Saturday, September 24, 2016

First Adventure

Can you even believe my dogs still like riding in the car?  Even after being cramped in the back of a loaded Explorer for upwards of 1,000 miles and having meal times, sleep schedules, and potty breaks turn completely upside down and irregular they still perk up and get excited by the words, “let’s go for a ride.”  I think they are better road warriors than I am!!

So today, I loaded them up and we went in search of what we could see.  It started with a trip to Harrisville.  The mileage marker says it’s 4 miles but I swear… it feels more like 40!  Ok, that’s an exaggeration.  But it does feel like a lot more than 4.  My friend, when he was still here with us, called it the longest 4 miles in the whole world.

I forgot to get a couple of gallons of drinking/cooking water when I got food earlier so my plan was to stop in Harrisville and do that.  I failed.  But we sure had a good time site seeing!

Part way through town, there’s a brown sign with an arrow that says Public Creek Access.  That sounded like a good way to start our afternoon’s adventure so I turned and followed the signs through many streets worth of residential neighborhood… Finally, we arrived at the entrance to Haught Lakeside Recreational Area and a sign announcing it is the site of a Bass Tournament tomorrow (9/24/16).  I’ve never really seen a Bass before… but apparently, if I decide to take up fishing again, that’s what I will be catching.  With any luck, I’ll be catching some anyway!  Maybe I’ll drive back over and see if I can get a look and some tips for catching, cleaning and cooking a Bass.
One of the boat launches at Haught Lakeside
Recreational Area in Harrisville, WV.

It’s a lovely park laid out along one bank of a reservoir.  There are picnic shelters and a baseball diamond and a really nice playground, too.  But it was the scenery that had me intrigued.
More of the shoreline at Haught Lakeside
Recreational Area.

The supernally loud and enthusiastic eeeeee-yah'ing of a brown donkey made our exit memorable.  Even the animals are friendly around here!  He hot-footed it down the hillside, until the fence around his yard stopped him, braying like he'd only just discovered the joy of music and had every intention of using all the notes.  At once.  Of course, my boys had to answer in kind.  Manners, you know?
Our new donkey friend held back from a personal visit
only by the electric fence around his yard.

After a bit, we meandered our way back down to Main Street and I saw the brown sign pointing to North Bend State Park and we were off again.  First, we ended up on the other shore of the reservoir at Cokely Recreational Area.  I was so reminded of Idaho!!  It’s not exactly the same, but there were sure some striking similarities…  Trekking on, we entered the park.  Also beautiful!!  And more developed than I anticipated with a golf course, lodge, pool, gift shop, and lots of campsites and picnic areas.

Cokely Recreational Area.
This place made me think so much of
Idaho.  Or at least the way I remember
it from childhood... Think the roadways
around Heise.
Cokely Recreational Area.
Made me think so much of driving over
Antelope Flats in Idaho.

Cokely Recreational Area.

When I was completely lost, I pulled out the Garmin to get us home.  It showed a 15-minute trip… and then it guided me over a lovely metal bridge and down a 1-lane gravel road where I expected to hear banjo music ringing out from any one of the run-down houses.  We emerged back onto Hwy 50 less than 5 miles from where we started the day’s adventure.  How’s that for driving in circles?

North Bend State Park.
The dam holding back all the water for that reservoir that provides
recreational opportunities in the area. I saw a deer just before the
turn in here and wanted to take a photo... I could have, too, except
for the "bumper humper" who was urging me on down the road.
There were several people fishing all along the spillway. What
a peaceful and idyllic setting!!
Part of the spillway below the dam.  One of the trail heads starts here and runs
along those big rocks in the background.

Watershed draining rain and snow runoff into
the reservoir.  I bet, after a good storm, it
looks like a water fall gushing over those
downed tree branches!

Roadside driving through the park.

We crossed this bridge after leaving the park and before the road out turned
into 1-lane and gravel.  I'm a big fan of old metal bridges!!

Venomous Snakes of WV That Swim… Really Well

Don’t even try to act surprised!  You knew I’d Google it to find out what kind of snake I saw.

First, let’s make a distinction between poisonous and venomous.  I made that mistake at first and asked my friend about poisonous snakes…  Poisonous means you get sick or die if you eat them.  Venomous means they inject venom when they bite you and you might get sick or die from the reaction to it.   I have zero intention of eating a snake.  Maybe someday I’ll be that kind of brave.  But that day is not today!  So poisonous is a moot point.  I’m worried about getting bit, or one of the dog’s getting bit, and needing medical care to survive.  Venomous snakes are my concern.

Photo from Encyclopedia Britannica Kids
According to this brochure from the state agency that manages wildlife, there are only two kinds of venomous snakes found in all of West Virginia:  Northern Copperheads and Timber Rattlesnakes.


They can both swim.

Swim quite well, in fact.

Photo from Encyclopedia Britannica Kids.
Of course, there are 20 or so perfectly harmless varieties of snakes around these parts, too.  And lots of them can swim.  I guess that's supposed to give me a sense of help or comfort...

Yeah.  Not so much!

After comparing lots of pictures to my memory of what this one looked like, it was either a Copperhead or some sort of water snake.  While WVDNR says the Copperheads are shy and pretty non-aggressive and will only bite if threatened, I'm going to just go with a water snake.  That makes it a little easier to be brave!

A New Adventure

Toward the middle of July, I had an old friend pay a visit.  We had a great time together and decided I needed to venture north and visit him.  And then we decided that maybe my life could do with a real shakeup and I should just move.  So in the spirit of saying ‘yes’ to adventure, I said ok.  And that, folks, is how I ended up in West Virginia.
The hillside I see looking out the front
door of the cabin.  Makes me think of the
opening credits of Little House on the

Ellenboro is a tiny little town.  Their Wikipedia page says there are just over 360 residents, but I’m not so sure they didn’t count a few cats and dogs to get up to that number.  There’s a couple of little fast food restaurants, a convenience store/gas station, an insurance agent, a couple of other small businesses and a window factory.  The nearest grocery store is about 5 miles down the road and, while I’ve been getting by quite well, it does not have the selection of the big city grocers I am accustomed to shopping.  To find those kinds of stores, it’s 27 miles in one direction or 42 in the other.  Let’s just say those special purchases take some effort…

Part of the drive to the cabin after you
turn off Highway 50 and cross the creek.

I am staying in my friend’s hunting cabin on a burned out old farmstead that’s a couple of miles out of town.  The property, which is mostly leased out for natural gas wells, is primitive.  Power could be brought in fairly easily, but it hasn’t been done.  Right now anything electrical would require a generator.  And there isn’t one on site.  So, long story short:  there is no electricity.

Or indoor plumbing.

Or refrigeration.  Or a washer and dryer.  Or any of those other modern inventions we think we need to live.  

We don’t.  Think about camping.  There flashlights and lanterns to light your way.  And camp stoves to cook your food.  Or that nice big BBQ grill we moved with me.  Or the fire pit I’m currently assembling.

There’s a scary old outhouse. It’s functional, just frightening.  And next trip into a city, I am stopping at Home Depot or Lowes and getting the stuff to make a camping potty out of a 5-gallon bucket to shortcut some of those urgent and oh so inconvenient runs in the black of night.  Actually… I’m getting several buckets.  One for the potty, one for a clothes washer, 2-3 or whatever the plan says for a clothes wringer, and one to rig a shower.  You can go search Pinterest now or just stay tuned and I’ll post my misstep-by-misstep instructions, hints for using and a review of how well they work (or don’t) here over the next couple of weeks.

Ha!  I got all excited about 5-gallon buckets there and jumped ahead in the story.

Looking off one side of the submersible
bridge.  I'll do a whole post on it later.
There’s a creek.  The water is ice cold and pretty clear.  It's nowhere as muddy and brown as it looks in my photo... Not perfect but drinking it hasn’t hurt the dogs.  I’ve used some to rinse out a few clothes between laundromat visits.  And it’s been the site of more than one rather invigorating bath.  You have to cross the creek coming into the property by traversing a submersible bridge.  My friend calls it a submarine bridge… Which might be a good description after a storm or in the spring when there’s a lot of runoff.  A submersible bridge is made for water to flow across when it gets high enough.  Yes, you read that right.  Water flows over the top of the bridge.  On purpose.  And yes, the thought of driving across it when there’s water flowing over it kind of freaks me out. I think I could summon the bravery for it if there were only a few inches but from what I understand a few feet is not beyond the realm of possibility.  And that’s just plain scary!

The first few times down there, I saw minnows from ½ inch to 2 or so inches long.  I keep looking but so far nothing bigger for me to try catching for dinner.  Yesterday there was snake swimming for the far shore.  I didn’t scream.  Or cry.  Or jump and down.  I didn’t do much of anything but observe and try to get a good look at the shape of its head.  And then I dipped dog water as calm as you please.  And turned up an old brown glass medicine bottle.  I don’t have it cleaned up enough yet to make out more than “Vick’s” on the bottom but I think it’s a pretty cool find!