Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Flashback to Fall in the Dolly Sods Wilderness

Dolly Sods is so nice why not visit it twice? As promised, I'm back to share some photos from my backpacking trip to eastern West Virginia's Dolly Sods Wilderness and Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area last fall. Your narrator had every intention of getting this out last October but it just never happened. So as I usually say on here: better late than never! I hope you enjoyed following along with Kara and I's trip to the same spots this past Memorial Day weekend in my previous post. If you missed it, I encourage you to go back and check it out for a depth of detail and history on this fascinating landscape. This time around I'll let my photos do most of the talking and just caption each one with a brief description. With that being said, I hope you enjoy this photo gallery of one of the eastern United States' most stunning locations to see autumn's glory at its peak.

* Remember to click on each photo to see it larger and in higher resolution! *

The wind-swept heath barrens and boulder fields of Dolly Sods' high plateau come alive in the most vivid of ways
come autumn when the chokeberry, blueberries and huckleberries are at their most scarlet!

Blackwater Falls State Park is an absolute must when in the area regardless of the time of year.
However, fall is especially nice when the gorge is spotted with the orange and gold colors
 of changing maples and birch trees.

Blackwater Falls from the other side of the gorge. The red maple at
peak autumn glory was an especially awesome touch!
Closer look at Blackwater Falls and its red maple. Definitely
one of the more stunning views of the entire trip!

Rolling forested mountains in peak fall foliage that go on and on and on.....

There's a special color of blue reserved for the autumn skies. I assume it's a matter of the sun's angle in
the sky combined with low humidity but whatever it is, it's always spectacular. Especially when above
such a setting as Dolly Sod's heath barrens.

I could never get tired of this landscape and its ephemeral beauty this time of the year.

Ripened cranberries (Oxycoccus sp.) abound in the boggy muskegs.
Stiff clubmoss (Spinulum annotinum) and its spore-bearing strobili. 

The Sods' tundra-like plateau is covered in boggy wetlands known as muskegs that harbor a whole wealth
of disjunct northern flora. Most everything had bloomed and set to seed long ago with only the white tuffs of
tawny cotton-sedge (Eriophorum virginicum) and ruby red pockets of sphagnum moss adding much to the scene.

However, with some careful searching there was still some of the conspicuous
narrow-leaved gentian (Gentiana linearis) blooming out in the muskeg meadows.
This was a life plant for me and one I was extremely satisfied to find still blooming!

Northern bog clubmoss (Lycopodiella inundata)
spore-bearing strobili hanging above its
sphagnum mat home.
Zoomed out view of the bog clubmoss and its
trailing vegetative stems with vertical strobili.
Such neat plants!

Phenomenal peak foliage under a perfect blue sky on the eastern edge of the Dolly Sods plateau. This view faces north
towards famed Bear Rocks of the wilderness area.

Dolly Sods showing off as if it were the Fourth of July.

The upper reaches of Red Creek on the northern end of the plateau. This small stream quickly grows in size as it
drains the entire Dolly Sods plateau and flows into a deep gorge at the southern end. 

Looking southeast over the mountain ridges and their corresponding valleys from the Bear Rocks area in the
golden light of early evening. Sort of makes you feel like you're on top of the world.

The golden light of the evening soon turned into a spectacular sunset with low light bouncing off the mountains.
This was easily one of my favorite captures of the entire weekend. Such incredible scenery.

A classic Dolly Sods sunset behind a pair of red spruce out on the heath barrens and boulder fields of Bear Rocks.

Clear cold nights and no light pollution made for some spectacular
star watching. The streaks of the Milky Way were easily visible as well.
If you  click on these night time exposures and view them in a larger format
 you can see the Milky Way even better and in higher resolution.

My friend, Tanner and I awoke early our last morning there to watch the sun rise above the Virginia mountains from
atop Bear Rocks. It was windy and freezing cold but nothing could keep us from enjoying one of the most
spectacular views in my entire life!

The fog-filled valleys and intense colors were awe-inspiring to say the least. I'll never forget this experience.

Champe Rocks emerging from the fog and mist, ensconced in autumn's finest.

Famed Seneca Rocks rocketing nearly 900 feet above the valley floor. The previous Champe Rocks photo and
 this and the next ones of Seneca Rocks were taken in 2014 but deserve their place in this post since we
 drove past these very places in the same foliage conditions but with intense light in the wrong places, 
making for poor photography conditions.

The entrance to another world through which a small stream flows at Seneca Rocks.

Tawny cotton-sedge (Eriophorum virginicum) filled bog meadow along the margins of Spruce Knob Lake.

I know I used this photo and view in my last post but I had to use it again from the actual trip it occurred on.
This view from atop Spruce Knob, West Virginia's tallest peak at nearly 4,900' was taken October 11th and while
the rest of the region was at peak foliage, here already looked like winter.

Our trip ended as it began with perfect fall foliage and clear blue skies. We took
the long way home through the Gandy Creek valley on the backside of Spruce Knob and
could not have enjoyed the bumpy gravel road drive more.

Needless to say, the foliage and weather cooperated perfectly for last fall's trip. It was easily one of the most photogenic weekend's of my life and I'd put even more photos in this post if it wasn't packed with them already. If you haven't taken the hint yet and need to have it spelled out for you: go visit Dolly Sods already! I don't know what else could be holding you back if you live within a day's drive. Hopefully these last two posts have proven just how special and magical a place it genuinely is. Spring, summer, fall or winter, you have to experience the Sods!

- ALG -


  1. Wow, that was a nice trip back down memory lane! I had such a good time exploring the 'Sods and surrounding region with you last year- I can't wait for this autumn's excursion back to the plateau!

    1. Long overdue but it was kind of fun to do it so much later to get a better nostalgia trip! It was a blast and I certainly hope we can get down there together again this summer and fall.

  2. Replies
    1. Dolly makes anyone look like an incredible photographer; the views and landscapes are just so serene and out-of-this-world!

  3. Andrew, I love your pics, thanks for sharing. I came across your page trying to ID a flower we saw out there on a trip just this past weekend. Your post has us thinking we may head back out to the Sods in fall, when was your trip? October? I'm asking so that we could also catch the colors.