, West Virginia
July 6, 2005
Near the top of the mountain, our ears finally "pop," and then the 3-mile drive from the
gate to the overlook requires me to doff sunglasses in order to see well enough to drive. The
slender thread of road is in dense shade, and the forest is dark and wet everywhere but
near stone outcroppings. Only an occasional sunlight fairy dances on the wet ground, still
covered with the leaves of last autumn. In a rare sunbeam, I catch a bushy black behind
as it disappears behind a fallen trunk. I’m not sure what it is. A bear? Whatever it is, I
see it in the distance again next day crossing the road near Masontown before it
simply drops into sunken woods along Deckers Creek.
Near the rustic concession and picnic area, pavillions with stone fireplaces are already
occupied, and the aroma of wood smoke fills the park.
These chestnut-and-stone structures were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps
(1936-1942) before the chestnut blight, and eleven shelters are on the National Register
of Historic Places. I remember when my lit class--the one with the hippie teacher whose
reading list included only anti-establishment novels--met here one evening in the 1970’s.
Nothing is different. Even clumps of laurel look the same, but we're too early for
blooms. That’s unfortunate, for this moss-covered-stone fairyland of mountain laurel is a
Photo opps aren’t lacking, I assure myself, as I head for the overlook. I remember that
when I look through the viewers, I can see WVU Coliseum, 13 or so miles away!
First, the wheelchair overlook isn’t too intimidating.
I get comfortable here before I attempt the big rock, which didn’t used to scare me at all.
People change! I’m uneasy there now, especially in wet weather, when it may be
Looking out over Cheat River Gorge, I see some rippling whitewater, miniscule
compared to other sections of this wild river that rafters enjoy. The main attractions here
are panorama and laurel forest.
The forest hides some history. Across from the camping area entrance, a trail leads to
Henry Clay Iron Furnace. Nobody knows where the name originated, since Henry Clay
was a Kentucky politician who worked hard to keep the National Road well north of here.
It makes no sense that an owner would name his business after the man whose politics
destroyed it. One hundred houses were once nearby, but the forest has obliterated all
trace of them, just as Ice’s Ferry was flooded to create Cheat Lake. History here fades,
but forests abide.
From journal Every Which Way from Morgantown