Monday, October 13, 2014

West Virginia's Seneca and Champe Rocks

West Virginia.  Easily one of the most wild and untamed states in the eastern half of the country and definitively one of the most beautiful.  Each and every time your narrator has found himself within its borders, the Mountain State has never failed to impress and this weekend was nothing short of spectacular.  A long-awaited backpacking trip with a good friend of mine to the famed Dolly Sods Wilderness for an unbeatable display of autumn color and mountain views was the plan and despite some less than cooperative weather a better time could not have been had.  A full post is forthcoming on our experiences but I couldn't help but serve up a bit of an appetizer prior to that.

The four and a half hour drive to Dolly Sods from Athens, especially the last hour or so after Elkins was a constant barrage of phenomenal foliage across the rolling mountains along with some unbelievable physical landscapes.  Two geologic formations in particular were the most awe inspiring and have earned their own time and attention and I think you will quickly understand why.

Seneca Rocks in the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, West Virginia

Driving through a near constant state of rain, mist and/or fog did an efficient job of blurring out a good deal of the surrounding countryside but not even the saturated atmosphere could hide the sheer immensity and unexpectedness of one of West Virginia's most iconic scenic attractions in Seneca Rocks.

Seneca Rocks in the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, West Virginia

This towering fortress of rock rises nearly 900 feet above the North Fork South Branch Potomac River and Seneca Creek valleys and overlooks the small village of Seneca Rocks.  It's comprised of Tuscarora quartzite, an extremely weather-resistant bedrock laid down nearly half a billion years ago during the Silurian age.

Mouth of the Seneca Creek valley with Seneca Rocks to the left

The oaks, hickories and maples were putting on quite the show on the adjacent slopes and mountains around Seneca Rocks and only seemed to intensify in the foggy conditions.  I'd certainly like to see these rocky crags under a brilliant blue sky someday but there was something equally gratifying about the subtle mysteriousness of the landscape during this visit as well.

Sheer rock faces of Seneca Rocks

For myself, seeing them with my own two eyes from a distance was entirely good enough but that's apparently not the case for everyone else at Seneca Rocks.  The sheer rock faces and exhilarating views have attracted experienced rock climbers to the region for decades with a route or two being arguably some of the most difficult in the eastern part of the country.  While many adventurers have been successful, not all have made it back down with a reported 16 deaths since 1971.  

Panoramic view of Seneca Rocks; both the north and south summits with the notch in-between

Seneca Rocks sits on a ridge of the Allegheny Mountains known as the River Knobs, which has a few other notable crags and gaps, one of which you'll see here in a bit.  In an immeasurable display of pressure and force, this ridge and its resistant quartzite bedrock (which was laid flat) was long ago turned 90 degrees and verticalized during the formation of the Appalachians.  The softer, less durable surrounding bedrock material slowly but surely eroded away over the eons giving this landmark its distinct appearance.

Champe Rocks along the River Knobs of the Allegheny Mountains

Further to the north of the river valley along the same verticalized ridge is another astonishing geological wonder in Champe Rocks.  This formation is not nearly as physically impressive as the aforementioned Seneca Rocks but I found it more aesthetically pleasing and impressive in its own right.

Pair of large crags on the River Knobs rigeline known as Champe Rocks

Gazing through the mist and into the gap the pair of quartzite crags create made me feel like I'd found the entrance into Middle-earth, with untold wonders laying beyond.  Formations like these are a silent testament to the patience of nature and the constant forces of erosion driven by the geologic cycle.  Champe Rocks existed long before our species' ancestors had even been realized and will undoubtedly be there long after our extinction.

South crag of Champe Rocks

As a human who's lifespan is nothing more than a blink of an eye to a rock, it's humbling to think about how long other aspects of this world take to reach completion and what all happens in their shadows.  Time is only relative to the time keeper and I'd say places like West Virginia's Seneca and Champe Rocks aren't too worried about their next millennia or hundred.  It's comforting knowing that baring a cataclysmic event of epic proportions these spectacular sites will be around to see, more or less unchanged until well after my bones have become dust.

1 comment:

  1. gosh andrew, those scenes look like Chinese watercolors ... very zen !