Colder nights began to settle in as we embarked on our journey south, leaving the hills of western Pennsylvania for the mountains along the border between Virginia and West Virginia. Our drive took us over 200 miles, through a tiny section of rural Maryland followed by a wide swath of the West Virginia countryside as the changing leaves displayed their best autumn colors on all sides.
We paused for lunch and to stretch our legs at Seneca Rocks in the Monongahela National Forest, a popular location for rock climbers to test their skills. The sky was overcast and threatening rain, so we didn’t spy any climbers making the ascent, but we did take some time to explore our surroundings and snap a few photos.
Since the first recorded ascent of Seneca Rocks in 1939, climbers have explored a maze of more than four hundred routes across the rock face. If you aren’t interested in scaling the rocky cliffs, the location hosts a discovery center open Wednesdays through Sundays during our visit, which happened to be a Monday, and now closed for the season until the end of March. The park itself is open year-round during daylight hours and features trails, picnic areas, fishing, and other outdoor activities. We walked a very short trail before eating lunch and eventually wandering through the historic structures and gardens.
This area was heavily traveled by the Algonquian, Tuscarora, and Seneca nations as they sought trade and engaged in war along the Potomac River, known as the Great Indian Warpath or locally as the Seneca Trail. Evidence of two villages which may have thrived as recently as 600 years ago was discovered during excavation of the site of the current visitor center. The first European surveyors passed through around 1746, leading the way for settlers roughly 15 years later. A homestead originally constructed in 1839 sits on the grounds at Seneca Rocks, surrounded by vegetable and herb gardens filled with heirloom varieties, as well as a number of fruit trees.
The first recorded ascent of the rocks in 1939 uncovered an inscription from a possible surveyor in 1908, but Native Americans undoubtedly were the first to scale the cliffs. A romantic legend exists telling the tale of a Seneca princess, skilled at climbing, who proposed a contest to her father, Chief Bald Eagle. She’d begin climbing the rocks, and the first prospective suitor to take her hand would become her mate. The legend tells that seven suitors began the climb, with six eventually turning back or falling to their deaths. The final suitor reached the top and the new couple surveyed the land of the Seneca realm that would one day be theirs to rule. Despite the fact that the Seneca homeland was in western New York and the chief mentioned in the legend was a Lenape leader in central Pennsylvania, the mystique surrounding Seneca Rocks reinforces the romanticism of the myth.
We finished our visit to Seneca Rocks as the rain began to fall, and we climbed back into the RV to continue on our journey to Bolar Mountain Campground on the shores of Lake Moomaw. The campground is fairly remote, located deep in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest but the drive is scenic and relaxing (with the exception of the rain in this case). After a few winding curves and steep climbs and descents, we turned onto the nearly single lane road leading into the campground. The check-in booth was empty with a sign directing us to register with the camp host in Loop 1. We were unprepared for arrival – I usually have the reservation form downloaded – so we couldn’t remember our site number and were counting on the host to guide us. We had little to no cell signal to easily check online (which was mostly remedied the next day after hooking up our mobile booster when needed).
When we found the camp host site, we discovered yet another sign directing us to check-in at the camp store. It was now growing dark and raining steadily, and none of the maps listed a location for the camp store. So we resorted to reading the water-logged reservation slips posted at a few of the sites. We thought we were in Site 5, and the dates on the slip matched our reserved dates, so we pulled in and decided to check in the next morning, assuming the camp host returned or we discovered the location of the camp store.
The rain stopped overnight and the next morning was crisp and clear. The camp host hadn’t returned, but Ashley happened to run into another host from a different part of the campground who informed us that we didn’t have to check-in, our host would be back tomorrow, and to just enjoy our time. So that’s what we did. I’d like to point out that this campground is run by a private contractor, just like the Loleta Recreation Area, and both campgrounds are located in national forests. The run-around with checking in really wouldn’t have been as annoying had we arrived earlier in the day (although we arrived well before 6PM) and not in the rain, but we’ve never had any issues at state parks, Harvest Host locations, or private campgrounds since we started RVing full-time. It will be interesting to see how other campgrounds in national forests fare as we eventually travel west. The check-in booth remained closed during our visit and we didn’t find the camp store until we were leaving the campground on our last day, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
As I mentioned earlier, Bolar Mountain is fairly remote and the drive into the campground is definitely out of the way. This isn’t a warning statement, just informational for anyone deciding to visit. The campground features 123 sites, 32 of which are electric. The sites vary in size, but the reservation website lists the lengths just like most other sites. We didn’t see many larger rigs here, but a handful of sites had longer fifth-wheels so as long as you book a site based on your RV length, I don’t see an issue with RV size at this campground (despite maybe using the dump station, which seemed a little tight to me).
Lake Moomaw, which was completed in the early 1980s, features boating and fishing, and a number of premium campsites lie along the banks. The water level appeared very low during our visit which created a kind of eerie feeling to me, and the boat launch platform in our loop was no longer floating on water – it was simply resting on the open shore. The water level is controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers through Gathright Dam, the construction of which was authorized by Congress with the Flood Control Act of 1946. Due to setbacks, construction on the dam didn’t begin until 1974 and was finally completed in 1979. Lake Moomaw then began to fill, and the reservoir was filled by 1982. This displaced the small town of Greenwood which was located at what is now the southern part of the lake. Water levels are currently about 15 feet below average, which appears to be a pattern that has developed beginning in July over the past five years according to the data found at lakesonline.com. The Corps of Engineers manages the water levels to mitigate some of the negative environmental effects posed by the dam and to help manage fisheries downstream.
We enjoyed a hike on the Vista Trail as well as a walk around the other loops, which were very spread out from each other. The land around (and now under) Lake Moomaw originally belonged to the conservationist Thomas Gathright, who stocked the area with grouse, bear, deer, turkey, and fish. His game reserve stretched for 17 miles along the Jackson River. Together with another conservationist, Benjamin Moomaw – who was known for his interest in local folklore – the land of Bolar Mountain gradually morphed into what it is today.
The temperature definitely began to drop during our stay, but the chilly morning air lead to some picturesque views of the fog on the lake. As I stood watching the clouds, fish would occasionally disturb the glass-like stillness of the water, breaking the surface and sending ripples outward. A single boat motored by later in the day, seeking to bring some of those fish to shore. The history of Lake Moomaw may be mired in controversy – the building of the dam, flooding a town, opposing conservationists fighting for what they believed – but the serene morning calm allows an observer to forget about the history for a few moments and simply enjoy the view.
See the fog moving as the morning breeze began to blow
We’ve since departed Bolar Mountain and are making our way south, with a week spent in Asheville, North Carolina (the subject of the next installment), followed by stops in South Carolina and Georgia before entering Florida in late November/early December. We’re anxious to reach our next destination, but striving to find contentment in the present moment. Thanks again for following along and we hope to cross paths sometime soon!