I have passed between the hand cut stone foundation and water well of Dobbin House, WV dozens of times. Imagining what it would have taken to survive in a place that in 1850 saw snow 12 months of the year and a healthy population of Eastern Mountain Lion, wolf, and bear. What was most impressive to this Davis, WV transplant is a simple hole in the ground, dry stacked with rock, and the boyish thoughts of “how deep is it”? Turns out it is not the water well that is deep, but the history. And not in your traditional way. In, fact the Dobbin’s House encampment poses a short story that has captured one brief moment in history that will never be duplicated.
Pile of foundation debris from Dobbin House
The Dobbin House was built near the Falls in 1858 and provided a popular lodge for visitors to the Falls during the 1860s and ‘70s. A published account of a May 1879 visit to the Falls by Harper’s New Monthly Magazine further popularized the site. The real significance to this blog falls squarely on the shoulders of William Henry Jackson. Jacksons’ legacy gave the world its first images of the land that would become Mesa Verde and Yellowstone National Park, instrumental images perpetuating the conservation of public lands. By 1885 the Dobbin House was vacated and in disrepair, on the other hand, Blackwater Canyon was a virgin landscape harnessing natural resources on a biblical scale, saving itself for William Henry Jackson and his glass plate camera.
This picture of Blackwater Canyon is the only one of its kind. It’s not the virgin timber that sets it apart, but the perspective of looking down the barrel of Blackwater Canyon. Steep canyon walls appear to fold on top of themselves down the threadlike river valley. The land in the foreground of Jackson’s photo including what’s under his feet is GONE, forever. This aspect of the magnificent Blackwater Canyon will never be seen by the human eye again. Thank you Mr. Jackson!
Once the canyon trees were clear cut, extensive strip mining along the North Branch of the Blackwater River from Coakton to the confluence of the Blackwater turned the land upside down to support one of the largest coke oven producers in the United States. Back to June 22, 2015 and this is what is left of the land still scared by an overgrown high wall that comes along with strip mining. A water well and piles of cut stone dating back 157 years with a traversing path between the two. I headed in a direction which would give me a shot a seeing what Jackson might have seen. Once I could go no further because of the 60 foot sheer high wall below, it was time to find a substantial Hemlock tree to climb. After scrambling up 25 feet or so here is what I saw….Not even close.
There will be no calamity today folk’s. If we work as a team and listen to our guides’ professional direction, the ¼ mile long, class III rapid know as Calamity, will be renamed Miracle, and our guide Liz, God. After a hot shower and a cold beverage one can walk over to the Blackwater Outdoor Adventures headquarters to view pictures of the day’s adventure, which are immediately available for purchase via CD. Patrick McCann, the owners of BOA, asks how the trip went. “Smooth as butter, guess that pre trip tip paid off.” Patrick replied with “some days you get to watch the show, and some days you ARE the show”. Grateful for not feeling famous.
Blackwater Outdoor Adventures, also known as BOA, is not the adrenaline addicted thoroughbred that West Virginia whitewater is known for. “We appeal to the other 85% of guests who want a whitewater or river experience that is adventurous to relaxing” according to Patrick. Rafting is just the tip of the iceberg at BOA. Self-guided Cheat river excursions are his specialty. BOA shuttles guests up river by van to two different put-ins depending on how long a trip you seek. Choosing your method of river travel is like a trip to the Ice Cream Shop, so many varieties, none of them bad.
My personal favorite are the canoe rentals due to their graceful ease of paddling downstream and the abundant storage space provided for coolers, dogs, fishing gear, or a third person. And what is up with the trendy, in shape, lumber sexuals standing on surf boards, using kayak paddle’s to maneuver around bikini clad tubers sipping on umbrella drinks. “It’s the newest thing in water sports”, a Stand Up Paddle Board, or SUP, that is designed for river use, which BOA has a small fleet of. Very cool! I’ll pass, but how about those tubes? There are mountains of tubes to keep huge groups cool on hot summer days, even tubes for you cooler! If it is kayaking you want to try there are several varieties to choose from depending on what stretch of river one finds themselves on. Once the water in the Cheat Narrows is low enough, but the adrenaline is still high, inflatable kayaks called ducky’s are taken on class II and III whitewater.
BOA is located on the bank of the Cheat River and is so perfectly situated that it is the end point for all self-guided river trips. Just pull your boat up the shore to a waiting trailer, walk to the car, grab your duffel bag and head to the newly built shower house for a rinse. I really like to embellish the experience by relaxing on the front porch of the 100 year old farm house, swapping stories from the day, and retiring river side for the night. Yes, there is overnight camping on the BOA campus, making for a most complete experience! No better way to Get Tuckered’.
I knew this time last week the call of the Mountain Laurel bloom would find itself front and center for this week’s Tucker County blog. Last night there was a break in the rain and the fog had lifted, so off to a personal favorite high alpine bog atop Canaan Mountain to check in on Mother Nature’s progress. For those that don’t already know, Mountain Laurel is everywhere! So don’t worry about where my special bog is, it’s a secret anyway. Drive Canaan Loop road, Forest Road 80, or Dolly Sods (FS 45) road, get out of your car, get Tuckered’, and find your own special bog.
Timing is everything. The pointed, rosy pink flower buds, as seen in the pictures, develop and swell for a two week period before flowering. Once flowers open, temperatures between 50 and 75 F make blossoms last the longest. I am going out on a limb here to say the next two weekends and maybe a third will be prime for viewing, painting, and photography. Heat, cold, wind and heavy downpours shorten flower cluster longevity. The last sentence is our disclaimer if you miss the Mountain Laurel show. Wild and wonderful is unpredictable…timing is everything.
Happy Trails, Brian