Almost Heaven in West Virginia


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North America » United States » West Virginia » Davis
October 21st 2008
Published: December 23rd 2011
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Land of CaananLand of CaananLand of Caanan

Dramatic view of the Land of Caanan from a mountain meadow
I spent most of the next day in the Land of Canaan.

It’s a high mountain plateau surrounded by mountains, the highest east of the Mississippi.

It’s also known as the Canaan Valley.

The unusual name comes from the earliest white settlers, who thought the area was so beautiful it reminded them of the Land of Milk and Honey from the Bible.

The plateau is so high that the weather was more like winter than fall, and the trees no longer had leaves.

Unfortunately, the area is slowly being overrun by second homes and vacation condos.

Eventually, it will resemble the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania more than the rest of West Virginia.




My first site for the day had more to do with earthly needs than heavenly ones.

My body ached after the raft trips.

I had sore muscles where I never knew soreness could exist.

My solution to this problem was a deep tissue massage, which I got at the Highland Inn and Spa.

Their rates are low, especially if you are used to city prices.

The place was decorated in a rustic meets Buddhist theme.

One hour later, my body had turned
Deer in Caanan ValleyDeer in Caanan ValleyDeer in Caanan Valley

The deer blends in with the scenery. Its the large brown hump in the center.
to jelly and I felt much better.


Canaan Valley






My next destination was the Canaan Valley swamp.

This is one of several unique bogs and swamps that exist in the high eastern mountains of West Virginia.

They have a very unusual ecology.

During the last Ice Age, plants now found in the arctic tundra migrated south to escape the glaciers.

They found conditions in the high plateaus to their liking.

The area was cold enough due to the elevation that they stayed after the ice retreated.

These bogs and swamps now contain plants that are otherwise never found this far south.

A few are found nowhere else in the United States.



The trail meandered through the forest on the edge of the swamps, and over the swamps on boardwalks.

The trees were pine and beech.

The ground was covered in mosses.

At one point, I encountered a small flock of deer munching away on the grass.

I was downwind from them, so they barely knew I was there.

Unfortunately, the deer and the grass were the same color, so it’s hard
Canaan Valley SwampCanaan Valley SwampCanaan Valley Swamp

Typical for the area, a swampy area surrounded by moist forest
to spot them in the photographs.

One unusual phenomenon of these areas, which is usually found on the west coast, is that the roots of the trees start about a foot in the air and drop to the ground.

The thin swampy soil does not support tree seedlings.

Instead, they germinate in rotting logs.

The roots grow downward from the logs to the ground.

Eventually, the log rots away, leaving the upper roots in the air.

The rotting logs are called "nurse logs".

One dramatic example along the trail had seven different trees, of different types, growing from it.


Swallows Falls State Park





After finishing the swamp hike, I drove north.

The road passed through Davis, the highest town in West Virginia, and a center of folk artists.

After Davis, the road climbed a high ridge with a wind farm on the top.

On the other side was a dramatic view of the mountains of eastern West Virginia.

Sadly, there was no place to stop and get a picture.

The road eventually entered western Maryland, where it passes through rolling hills and farms.
Nurse LogNurse LogNurse Log

Dramatic example of a nurse log. Note the five trees growing out of the barely visible rotted log at their base.


Eventually, I turned off the road and headed to Swallows Falls State Park.

The multiple road turns to this park are clearly signed, but one of the turns going back is not.

You will need to memorize the road going in to avoid getting lost.




Swallows Falls State Park actually contains four waterfalls, including the highest waterfall in Maryland.

They are not the real highlight of this park, though.

The park contains the largest tract of old-growth forest in Maryland.

The trails to the waterfalls go directly through it.

The trees here are some of the largest and tallest I've ever seen, particularly in a large group like this.

It’s almost enough to make it worth skipping the waterfalls.




The first waterfall is Tannek Falls, a pretty small waterfall in a deep ravine.

If you are short on time, skip this one.

The second waterfall is Swallows Falls itself on the Youghiogheny River.

It’s not very high, but it is beautiful.

In fall, when the water is low, it’s a fan waterfall.

The water first flows through a narrow channel and then
Swallows Falls Old Growth ForestSwallows Falls Old Growth ForestSwallows Falls Old Growth Forest

Deep in old growth pines along the trail to Swallows Falls
spread out over rocks, getting wider and wider the further it flows.

The viewpoint is directly over the rocks, so you see the flow more horizontally then vertically.

Incidentally, this waterfall can be run by expert kayakers during spring runoff.

The third waterfall is Lower Swallows Falls.

It’s a straight drop over rocks, and not much to look at.

The last waterfall on the trail is Muddy Creek Falls.

Its 50 feet high, making it the tallest waterfall in Maryland.

The water falls over layered rock that has been eroded away.

As a result, the falls is composed of many little drops, one after the other, which combine into one stream of white foam.

The trail climbs the wall of the ravine near the waterfall, giving multiple viewpoints along the way from top to bottom.




You may remember the Ford ads from a few years ago that talked about how Henry Ford, Paul Firestone, and Thomas Edison used to go camping together and discuss the future of technology.

It turns out that the site of those camping trips was Muddy Creek Falls.

There is a
Muddy Creek FallsMuddy Creek FallsMuddy Creek Falls

The tallest waterfall in Maryland, in low water
plaque in an open field at the top that marks the spot.




After this stop, the goal was to put on the miles to Ohiopyle Pennsylvania.

Part of the trip was on the National Road, the first federally supported highway in the US.

It’s now part of US 40.

The road to Ohiopyle contained some of the steepest roads of the trip so far.

They were so steep that the speed limit for trucks was 20 mph.

On one road, they are prohibited entirely.




I stayed that night in the Ohiopyle State Park campground.

The foliage was still in place, so it was a beautiful spot.

There is one aspect of this campground that they downplay on their website.

The campground is on a hillside above an active railroad line.

Trains use this railroad at all times of the day and night, and they blow their horns at a road crossing below the hill.

The noise made it difficult to get to sleep, but I slept soundly once I did.


Additional photos below
Photos: 26, Displayed: 26


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West Virginia QuiltWest Virginia Quilt
West Virginia Quilt

A quilt showing West Virginia's counties
The good Land of CaananThe good Land of Caanan
The good Land of Caanan

Beautiful scenery in the Land of Caanan
The bad Land of CaananThe bad Land of Caanan
The bad Land of Caanan

What far too much actually looks like around here
Canaan hike trailheadCanaan hike trailhead
Canaan hike trailhead

Scenery close to the trailhead in the Land of Caanan
Caanan forestCaanan forest
Caanan forest

High mountain forest in the Land of Caanan
Mountain meadowMountain meadow
Mountain meadow

Forest meadow in the Land of Caanan
Forest floorForest floor
Forest floor

Floor showing rare plants normally found in Canada
Land of Cannan creekLand of Cannan creek
Land of Cannan creek

Creek along the trail
Forest with some foliageForest with some foliage
Forest with some foliage

Some foliage still thrives along the Land of Caanan trail
Rotting longRotting long
Rotting long

The future genesis of new trees
Mountain meadowMountain meadow
Mountain meadow

Huge mountain meadow along the Land of Caanan trail
Forest swampForest swamp
Forest swamp

Wet forest area containing rare alpine plants normally found much further north
Swamp plantsSwamp plants
Swamp plants

Close up view of a swamp in the Land of Caanan
Forest swampForest swamp
Forest swamp

Another view of a high mountain forest swamp
Swallows Falls old growthSwallows Falls old growth
Swallows Falls old growth

More glorious old growth hemlocks near Swallows Falls
Swallows FallsSwallows Falls
Swallows Falls

In very low water
Lower Swallows FallsLower Swallows Falls
Lower Swallows Falls

In very low water


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