Go West, well East.

Over the past few days, Clan Markham made a long-desired return to West Virginia, which we’d made a brief stopover in two decades earlier. We followed up one night in Charleston with two days in Hawk’s Nest State Park in the southern portion of the Mountaineer State.

Day 1) Lunch in the Tri-State hub of Huntington took us to the Marshall Hall of Fame Café, as we allowed Cormac to make the choice of eatery. Following lunch, we wanted to get a look at West Virginia’s share of the Ohio River, so we plugged in directions in Kem’s iPhone to what was surely a beautiful Riverside Park. Once again, the map lady revealed her sadistic side, taking us on an unnecessary route that had us navigating a street that was barely wide enough for our Subaru Impreza, let alone the cars parked all along the curb. And the restroomless park was even more of a disappointment, given the only activity taking place there was a drug deal in the car next to ours, and the river that gave the park its name was chock full of garbage (c’mon river states, get yer act together).

Then it was on to Charleston, the state capital. The most notable thing about Charleston is just how many damn tall buildings they have for a city of 50,000, or not a whole lot larger than my city of Portage. They’ve got to have the most stories per capita in America, as you can see from this photo taken from one of the city’s many bridges that cross the Kanawa River.

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Before heading southward, we made a Sunday morning stop at the state capitol, where we stumbled across a peculiar site. There on the lawn was a statue of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson. While I’m not as opposed to confederate statues as I am confederate flags* (people being a bit more complex than cloth, for one), Jackson’s presence here was perplexing  (he was born in a town that would become part of West Virginia, though it was obviously in Virginia at the time).

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But West Virginia wasn’t just a union state. It seceded from Virginia to remain a part of the union. Honoring a general from the other team on your statehouse lawn struck all of us as more than a little bizarre.

Day 2) We arrived around midday at Hawk’s Nest, which Kem had long ago discovered in a state parks calendar. We were going to spend two nights in the state park lodge in the rural outskirts of rural Ansted, W.Va.

The park, as it’s name suggest, sits high in the mountains, with the state’s famed New River 750 feet below. As you can see from the photo to the right, the view was spectacular.

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We hiked down to the bottom of the hill on a trail that neither Kem nor I would describe as “moderate.” From there, we took a jet boat down river to a few hundred feet below the New Gorge Bridge.  We also met a charming and seemingly out-of-place Englishwoman who sold tickets to the boat ride. She was the bride of the boat driver. She had relocated to the Mountaineer State after one of her many visits to the states over the years. We filled her up on the recently completed World Cup final, among other conversational tidbits.

Later, we enjoyed dinner in Fayetteville, where the signs describe it as both “one of America’s coolest small towns” and “America’s coolest small town.” I never did get to the bottom of the discrepancy, though it’s possible it had once simply been a finalist but was elevated to the top spot when the former title owner lost a Starbucks or added a Wal-Mart.

Day 3) We spent much of the day getting chased by rain, initially from our visit to Summersville Lake where we did a little kayaking on the “Little Bahamas of the East.” That name comes from its clear lake waters that allow for scuba diving opportunities, though it seems strange to call it “of the East” since the real Bahamas is east of there.

With more rain coming, we opted for an indoor activity, so we headed west to Beckley and the town’s Exposition Coal Mine. I didn’t have high hopes for the small museum, so I was pleasantly surprised at what an informative and entertaining little operation it was. The museum told me a little of mining’s history, the underground mine tour laid out just how West Virginians have been extracting the ore from the ground for more than a century, and a few restored buildings gave some flavor to life in the mountains over the past 150 years.

Coal mining may not have much of a future, despite DT’s promises to the state, but it has a hell of past.

One of our last acts before shutting it down for the evening was to finally stop at the lookout area adjacent to the New River Gorge Bridge, the longest single-span arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere and the third-tallest bridge in the U.S. It is, without question, an architectural marvel, and if the rest of West Virginia doesn’t interest you, stopping by just to see the bridge is absolutely worth the trip. And, by all means, descend to the lower level for the best views of the bridge and the river below.

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Day 4) Not much to report, since it was mostly just driving. We did stop in a restaurant in Peebles, Ohio, for lunch, where a group of regulars was opining how Trump really had no choice but to say what he did in Putin’s company, and how the media were the real culprits. Sadly, my proposal to engage in a conversation at equal decibel levels about what a complete and utter embarrassment DT is got voted down by the rest of the family (all of whom, it should be mentioned, share my opinion about the DemocracyFucker).

*If you fly one today, you’re a racist. Sorry, but that’s just a fact. Since you know it understandably offends African-Americans because of its unmistakable connection to slavery and you fly it anyway, you’re just a bigot.

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