A Day With My Grandson

Grandson Davis enjoyed the view from the overlook deck at Seneca Rocks, West Virginia.

Weather nut that I am, I check the forecast regularly. Monday looked to be decent weather for hiking. Cooler temperatures in the higher elevations and no rain. That would work out just fine for several reasons.

Our daughter and her husband had left the previous Sunday to take our oldest grandchild to his college orientation in Richmond, Virginia. Of course, the university had nearly four days of activities for the new students and their parents.

That left the middle grandchild, Davis, and our only granddaughter, Maren, to check on. With them both being responsible teenagers, that didn’t require much.

With school out for the summer, Maren loves to help Nana with puzzles, baking, and other hands-on chores. She also mows our lawn. That left Davis and me to find trouble together.

Since we both like to hike, we visited Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia. It’s an hour and a half drive for us. We left mid-morning, but Davis didn’t take long to nod. How he could snooze in all that hilly, twisting driving I was doing, I don’t know. He woke as I slowed to photograph a Ruffed Grouse strutting its stuff on the Forest Service road near the mountain top.

Male Ruffed Grouse.

After taking a few snapshots of this often elusive bird, we were soon in the parking lot. Other than a Forest Service employee, we had the place to ourselves. However, we hadn’t even started on the trail when I realized I had forgotten the insect repellent. Fat flies buzzed nearby, but none landed on us the entire time we were there.

Spruce Knob affords beautiful views on a clear day like today. Only a few puffy clouds formed over distant mountain ranges to the west. The air was a pleasant 66 degrees with little humidity and no haze to obscure our views.

We walked the loop trail that leads from the parking lot and back. The scent of the spruce filled the air. Wildflowers and birdsongs were abundant. We basked in both.

I know I slowed Davis down by constantly pausing to photograph wildflowers, birds, and butterflies. Trooper that he is, Davis didn’t complain.

I wanted Davis to enjoy this trip. It was one he was supposed to do at the end of the school year with several students and six teachers. The trip was canceled at the last minute when three teachers came down with Covid-19. In the end, all six were sick.

They were to camp out and visit Spruce Knob, Seneca Rocks, and Dolly Sods. All were in the same geographic area of the old folded mountains and valleys.

So, while Nana and Maren were enjoying each other’s company, and Davis’s brother and parents were occupied with college orientation, Davis and I explored some of the wilds and wonders of West Virginia.

We studied the large piles of giant rocks along the path and at the slope of the mountain, long ago rounded by millenniums of erosion from wind, water, ice, and snow. The teacher in me quizzed Davis about how the rocks got where they did. He graciously played along with my lame attempts.

We saw migrant birds and birds that should be migrants but reside here year-round. Dark-eyed Juncos commonly nest in Canadian provinces. The exception is the Appalachian Mountains.

Because these beautiful ridges hold the same habitat and provide the necessary nutrients, the birds live here and farther up the Appalachian range into New England. Davis wanted to know why the other Junocs migrated when the birds we saw stayed. I hope he seeks a better answer than I gave him.

We enjoyed the views east and west and headed to Seneca Rocks, where we would eat our brown bag lunches. When we arrived at the valley picnic grounds, it was 82 degrees and humid.

From there, we could clearly see the face of the vertical rocks jutting straight up. Eons ago, they had been parallel until the collision of continents forced them to fracture and face the sky.

Unfortunately, no rock climbers could be seen. The day was likely too hot for such strenuous activity.

We gathered our things and headed up. The trailhead started at the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River. The bridge that crosses it goes by the same cumbersome name.

Davis was eager to let his long legs glide him up the well-maintained trail. My old weathered ones weren’t so cooperative. The first third of the path is the steepest. We rested according to my needs. Davis never complained or barged ahead.

We passed other hikers on their way down, and other younger hikers passed us on the way up. I noticed some of them didn’t have hiking shoes or water. We later trekked by some of those same hikers, now fatigued. We reached the top more than an hour after we had started.

The trail leads to an overlook platform that provides gorgeous views of the mountain ridge west of German Valley that the river continues to carve out. We rested and talked with other hikers who soon reached the summit.

Going down took half the time. Davis wondered about going on to Dolly Sods up the road a piece. I wisely said we would save that adventure for another outing. We still had that long drive home.

Adventures like these are the reason we moved from Ohio’s Amish country to Virginia. Now, with the birth of our fourth grandchild in Rochester, New York, we have additional opportunities to watch our grandchildren grow.

Grandson Teddy was born on May 14.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Rejoicing with others along life’s variable journey

Seneca Rocks
Seneca Rocks, WV. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

I sat on the picnic table for nearly two hours admiring the scenery and serenity all around me. I hadn’t planned on staying that long. Life’s events have a way of altering your plans.

The previous day I had safely delivered our granddaughter back to her parents in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. On the way home, I wanted to hike up the enchanting Seneca Rocks, one of the best-known landmarks in West Virginia.

I had previously taken several photos of this fascinating rock formation that juts straight into the sky. But I never had time to climb it. I did this trip.

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The switchback trail to the viewing platform at the north end of the ancient rock outcropping extends a mile and a half. In that short distance, the trail climbs 1,000 ft.

The cool morning was perfect for my adventure. An overnight cold front had cleared out the heat and humidity.

The trailhead began at the restored home of an early pioneer settler. A tour of the Sites homestead is informative and interesting. I could have been satisfied to watch the dozens of butterflies that flitted around the bee balm. But I had come to hike.

I only walked a few yards when I came to a pedestrian bridge that crossed a delightful river, the South Fork of the North Branch of the Potomac River to be exact. The stream’s lengthy name didn’t do justice to its placid beauty.

Once across the rock-laden river, the switchbacks began. I was more surprised about the excellent condition of the trail than its sudden steepness. A light breeze kept the insects away as I forged ahead beneath the leafy canopy high overhead.

It was comfortable walking in the shade of both the forest and the quartzite cliff, thrust upright from its original horizontal position millennia ago. I had the trail to myself until some early morning hikers passed me on their way down.

I made it to the viewing platform in 40 minutes. The sun’s strengthening light bathed the valley below and the mountains beyond. The businesses, houses and vehicles all looked like toys.

Just as I stepped onto the viewing area that protrudes away from the rock face, a southwest breeze picked up. Soon Turkey Vultures began to soar on the developing vortexes. I glanced back down to the river to discover an adult Bald Eagle had also started to circle in the quickly warming air. In just a few elongated loops, the magnificent bird was high above my head.

I think I smiled all the way back down to the car. I moved to a shaded picnic table to rest and eat the light lunch I had packed. As I ate, I scanned the still shaded western face of the Seneca Rocks with my binoculars.

Instead of birds, I found first one, then three, then 10 rock climbers scaling the huge, craggy outcropping. I was entranced.

I sat beneath a shade tree observing these men and women pick their way up this sacred place. One brave guy didn’t even use ropes.

I waited to leave until all had made it safely to the summit. I admired their courage, their determination, and their adept skills.

I was pleased to have walked to the top and back. It was even more satisfying seeing these remarkable folks reach their destination. They celebrated their perilous journey with fist pumps and shouts of joy that echoed far across the valley into my soul.

reaching the summit
Celebration time. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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