The trail changed from ankle-turning, edgy rocks, to soft sands either white or silver, to root-laden, hollow dirt paths, to patches of sole-sucking bog. Our scenery changed from dense forest to unusual ground-hugging vegetation, with wind-stripped pine trees jutting courageously out from high ground. The elevation changes, while noticeable, were not dramatic, and the rocks were everywhere – big or small – and strewn about like crumbled muffins. That’s how I can best explain our fall day spent hiking through Dolly Sods, a federal wilderness area located near Davis, WV.
As we trekked a northern loop of nearly 12 miles, I appreciated our good timing. It hadn’t rained in two or more weeks, sparing us from the thick mud that hardier hikers endure throughout the year; we mostly passed by others’ dried-up footprints. But the chilled fall wind coursing across the plateau still stung our faces until the bright sun overruled it, giving us a tiny prod of its weather extremes. There are many more miles open for exploration – a southern loop, too, and the Bear Rocks Trail – and we will certainly return for more miles this nearby, strange wonderland.
But even with its traits of tundra, southern swampland and desert southwest lands, Dolly Sods never forgets its native state. Perhaps its most unusual attribute is its incredible rebound from successive eras of human-led destruction. Once heavily forested with massive trees, it was stripped bare by logging. The bared tree residue then burned until only exposed rock remained. And, as if it hadn’t been abused enough, the government used it as artillery testing ground during WWII; shells are still found there today. There may never be sequoia-sized trees in Dolly Sods again, but in a state full of battles between nature and human industry, these nearly 18,000 acres prove that miraculous recovery is more than possible.
If you’re an avid hiker and can also endure a few winding roads, I highly recommend a visit to this fascinating WV Wilderness. It sits within 200 miles of Pittsburgh, Baltimore and D.C., and offers a long weekend’s worth of hiking opportunities. The area is overflowing with other recreation as well, including mountain biking and skiing. The nearby towns of Thomas and Davis feature unique shops, craft beer, excellent coffee and food to refuel and, of course, chairs to sit and rest your tired feet. Happy trails!