-- environmentalist and author, John Muir
We got up at the ungodly hour of 3:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning to take the long and somewhat nerve-wracking drive up Laneville Road from Canaan Valley, where we were staying just off of Route 32 in a rental cabin, to my favorite place on earth: Bear Rocks in Dolly Sods. We took the time to make ourselves coffee to drink on the way up, and we grabbed stuff to eat for breakfast, which we jammed into a backpack -- we were planning an early morning hike after our sunrise adventure and would need the energy. We guestimated that the sun would rise around 5:15 to 5:30 -- we'd been lazy and never bothered to look it up.
I've posted about Dolly Sods before.
I started to panic when the sky started getting lighter and we were still climbing the mountain, but even with an SUV on dirt forest service roads, you can only go so fast. We just had to be patient -- we would get there when we got there.
We got there in plenty of time.
Unlike previous adventures up to Bear Rocks at dawn, this time we had plenty of company, both disappointing and reassuring. One time ours was the only vehicle parked there, and we listened somewhat nervously to the rumble of bears growling and yawning in the distance. But that holiday weekend Saturday morning, with at least 10 cars already in the parking lot, the surrounding wild blueberry heath was silent except for the wind and some birds; the bears had rambled to more secluded locations, I guess.
Bear Rocks, on the eastern edge of the plateau that includes the Dolly Sods Wilderness, is a remarkably scenic, windswept summit atop one of West Virginia's highest mountains. It is perched on a ridge of sandstone cliffs and is a rock outcropping with a 2,000 to 3,000-foot drop below. A distinctive feature of the area are stunted red spruce trees with flag-formed limbs pointing to the east – a result of the almost constant and often high-velocity winds.
Bear Rocks didn't disappoint us that day -- the sunrise was spectacular, multi-hued blues, purples, and oranges painted across the sky -- and as I sat on the edge of a rock with my feet hanging down taking photos, it felt almost spiritual. I was grateful to be sharing these moments with my husband, my son and his friend. Watching the sun rise there reminds me that I'm just a very small part of this world, and that the sun will come up, again and again, whether I'm there to enjoy it, or not.
It's a peaceful place, even with numbers of other avid nature lovers and early morning photographers scampering around the rocks. There's enough space for everyone at Bear Rocks.
Looking west over Dolly Sods, the morning mist still lay in the hollows, creating a mysterious world. We headed back down FR75 to go on a hike out to Rohrbock Overlook.
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 Laneville Road. Take that left, and follow Laneville as it twists and winds through the mountainside. This is not driving for the faint of heart -- Laneville 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.
Laneville 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!
Hours: There's a gate now on the forest service road leading up to Dolly Sods -- I guess too many folks were attempting the climb and getting their vehicles stuck. The Sods is open between April and December.
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