Connecting you with nature
One of my recent Fall getaways took me to the Mountain State of West Virginia. This is a region that I think many underestimate. I’ve traveled and photographed many of the iconic western mountain regions of the US, including Washington State, Wyoming, Montana, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. I’ve also traveled to the stunning Canadian Rocky Mountain region of Banff. I’ve seen many of the most stunning mountain landscapes North America offers, and I’m now adding West Virginia to that list. In my latest blog see a few of the photos from my trip to, and surrounding, Tucker County West Virginia. If you’re inspired to visit the Mountain State, definitely visit the West Virginia Tourism website.
As the 3rd most forested state, West Virginia is the perfect place to see fall color.
The Mountain State, West Virginia
West Virginia has three state parks that are designated official Dark Sky Parks by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). There are also many other locations with low or no light pollution making stargazing, and night/astrophotography, pretty spectacular. I was thrilled to capture this image of the Milky Way on the property surrounding Canaan Valley Resort and Conference Center (a West Virginia State Park).
For another stargazing adventure, I was up bright and early at 3:00 am (yes…3:00 am!) to try and capture something from the Orionid meteor shower. For the three hours we were out, I saw many more meteors than I was able to photograph. Several were spectacular in size and color. Photographing meteor showers requires the right equipment and knowledge -- but in the end -- it’s all guesswork regarding precisely when and where a meteor will flash across the sky. In the photo below look for the small white line in the lower left – that’s a meteor from beyond!
Wish Upon a Meteor
Parts of Tucker County are in higher elevations with colder temperatures and unique climates. This means it can, and does (!) snow in the Fall. There was a snow day (or two) during my visit to the higher elevation locations in mid-October. The snow provided beautiful backdrops for the local wildlife and scenery. The two photos below were taken in Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
And what would a fall mountain snow day be without deer? Love the lashes, girl.
Mountain Snow Day
If the fall color and mountain scenery weren’t enough to cause distracted driving, the wind turbine farms were. Wind turbine farms??? Yes. It was exciting to see this corner of West Virginia apparently gone a little “green”.
Feel the Energy
We traveled through a couple of large wind farms on the way to Tucker County. Wind turbines can be standalone structures, or clustered together in what’s known as a wind farm. In the U.S., wind is now a dominant renewable energy source, with enough wind turbines to meet the energy consumption needs of about 29 million average homes. One turbine can generate enough electricity to support the energy needs of a single home.
Wind farms are usually located on top of a mountain or in an otherwise windy place in order to take advantage of natural winds. There are about 57,000 wind turbines in the United States, both on land and offshore. As long as we continue to inflate our population, demand more energy for more electronics, and try to stem climate change, sustainable energy sources like wind are necessary. On one hand, it does seem alarming that we accept placing huge metal structures like wind turbines (many which can’t be recycled) on top of incredibly majestic and scenic mountain landscapes – and that we accept the inevitable disruption and death that happens to birds, other wildlife and their habitats. On the other hand, the fossil fuels we now rely on also clearly introduce harm and risk, they are a limited resource, and there are ways to minimize and mitigate some of the environmental impacts from wind turbines. Research shows that wind projects rank near the bottom of the list of human-related bird mortalities, resulting in far fewer annual deaths than those caused by house cats, building collisions, or vehicle impacts. The Audubon Society also strongly supports properly sited wind power as a renewable energy source that reduces the threat posed to birds by climate change. For reliable information on wind energy, the US Department of Energy has an excellent web site of frequently asked questions (FAQs).
Greening the Mountain State
Canaan Valley has been described by ecologists and conservationists as "a bit of Canada gone astray". One place that shows that best is Dolly Sods Wilderness. The 17,371-acre Dolly Sods Wilderness in the Monongahela National Forest is a rocky, high-altitude plateau with sweeping vistas and lifeforms normally found much farther north in Canada, including snowshoe hare. Elevations range from 2,500 to over 4,700 feet. If you have difficulty with heights, and narrow, winding, high elevation roads, this may not be for you.
What happened to Dolly Sods isn’t a great story, but where it is today is a better ending. Through logging and agricultural use, early settlers and explorers decimated the massive forest that was once the top of Dolly Sods. The trees were 60 to 90 ft (18 to 27 m) tall and some measured at least 12 ft (3.7 m) in diameter. This area once held the greatest stand of red spruce in the world. After logging and other human uses left the area desolate, wildfires took what was left, and then for a time the US Army used Dolly Sods as a training ground. Live ammunition is still periodically discovered in Dolly Sods. Fortunately, today, Dolly Sods is a protected area with deer, black bear, raptors, and a variety of other birds and mammals making it home. Also within Dolly Sods Wilderness is the Nature Conservancy-owned Bear Rocks Preserve.
One of the best known and most scenic landmarks in West Virginia is Seneca Rocks, just outside of Tucker County in Pendleton County, West Virginia. It’s a beautiful landmark and a great attraction for skilled rock climbers. Seneca Rocks is one of those sights that’s very difficult to capture its full beauty from ground level. I’m not a rock climber, but I did my best from ground level. Seneca Rocks Park also has some wooded trails and a stream running through it, which provides good habitat for birds and other wildlife.
For all my fellow raptor lovers, I saw many raptors in this area -- Kestrels, a few Bald Eagles, Black and Turkey Vultures, Sharp Shinned Hawks and others. They were just faster than me and my camera this time!
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