Named for a German homesteading family who farmed the area in the 1700s -- the Dahles -- and a local term for an open mountaintop meadow — a "sods," Dolly Sods is a U.S. Wilderness Area in the Allegheny Mountains of eastern West Virginia, and is part of the Monongahela National Forest. It offers an exquisite, often stark beauty but it's also a living reminder of the unintended consequences of wanton and thoughtless disregard for the environment.
Once upon a time, Dolly Sods boasted the best spruce-hemlock-black cherry forest in the world, with some enormous trees up to 12 feet in diameter. Then came the loggers, clearing away the virgin forest to feed the voracious lumber mills and line the pockets of greedy lumber barons. As the land was cleared, the 12-foot thick layer of humus covering the ground dried up. Sparks from the locomotives, saw mills, and loggers' warming fires ignited this humus layer and the extensive slash — wood too small to be marketable, such as branches and tree crowns — left behind by loggers. Fires repeatedly ravaged the area in the 1910s, scorching everything right down to the underlying rocks.
Tip #2: The Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, located on Rt 32 about 6 miles south of Davis, sells some excellent resources for the area, including hiking and terrain maps for Dolly Sods. You pass it on your way out of Davis toward Lanesville Road, so it's worth a quick stop if it's open.
Tip#3: The Leaf Peepers Festival is usually held the last weekend in September in Davis. Keep an eye on the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge facebook site (https://www.facebook.com/canaanvalleynwr) for exact dates next year!
Getting there: Set your GPS for 2nd Ave in Davis, WV. Then, fill your tank with gas and head south on Rt 32/Appalachian Highway. After Canaan Valley State Park and Resort on your right, you'll head up a hill and then start down it again. On the left is Lanesville Road. Take that left, and follow Lanesville as it twists and winds through the mountainside. This is not driving for the faint of heart -- Lanesville Road is narrow and has some hairpin curves as it curves along the contour of the mountainside and the locals drive fast. As you look over the side, the flimsy guardrail is not reassuring. No worries -- if your vehicle tumbles over, chances are a couple of trees will stop it before it goes all the way down.
Lanesville Road will deposit you at the base of Dolly Sods at Forest Service Route 19. Follow FSR 19 up the mountain. About 3/4 of the way up on the right, opposite the Rohrbaugh Plains trail head, there's a picnic area and portapotties. This is the last opportunity to use the facilities with any semblance of dignity, so don't hesitate.
At the top of the mountain you have a choice: turn left onto FSR 75 or head back down the other side of the mountain. Turn left! That'll take you along a relatively flat road (some minor ups and downs) along the ridge. You'll pass some trail heads on either side. To the right fairly early on, there's a lovely overlook (short walk out to the rocks). Definitely worth seeing -- and as the sign indicates, take your camera!
Dogs: Dogs don't do well on Bear Rocks themselves (lots of tricky crevices), but bring your dog and go hiking on one of the trails that start along FSR 75. So many good smells! Don't forget to take a bowl and some water for Fido.
Eats: Pack a picnic and some extra food. In Davis there are a couple of restaurants that are okay. No fast food, except for Subway tucked into a gas station along Rt 32. There's a Shop 'N Save grocery store and at one of the gas stations (the same one with the Subway) you can also buy some groceries, very expensively. In Thomas, the town just before Davis on Rt 219, there is a rather famous little restaurant called the Purple Fiddle. Check it out!
Website: Canaan Valley Wildlife Refuge http://canaanvalley.fws.gov/
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